In 3-gun competitions, having an accurate rifle doesn’t matter much if the shooter doesn’t know how to work it. The interaction between the shooter’s body mechanics and the rifle is so important that pro-level shooters spend many hours on the range and in the shop tuning their rifle to exactly fit their body and shooting style. What they come up with at the end of the day is a unique firearm. Having spent the last few years perfecting my own AR-15, I was a little hesitant to switch over to the SCAR 16S when I joined Team FNH USA. But after a couple months of tinkering and adapting the gun to my own shooting style, it’s starting to grow on me . . .
When I started getting into 3-gun competitions, I didn’t immediately jump on a top-shelf AR-15 rifle. I still didn’t know if 3-gun was for me, so I cheaped out – my first choice was a WASR-10 AK clone. Being a poor college student, the affordable price of the gun combined with readily available low-priced ammo made it the perfect beginner’s competition rifle. Add a muzzle brake on the end of the barrel and strap on a chest rig and I was good to go for most competitions within driving distance of Penn State.
As I kept practicing with the rifle, I started to understand it better. I could predict how accurate I would be in a given situation and adjust my strategy accordingly. I knew its ballistics like the back of my hand, and anything 150 yards and closer, I was dead-on. I loved that AK, and if it weren’t for my teammates I probably would still be shooting it today. But after hearing me complain about the slow reload process and lack of long-range accuracy one too many times, they convinced me to dump the AK and get an AR-15 instead.
Transitioning to the AR-15 was difficult, but after a couple months I finally came to understand it at the same level did my AK. I’ve been running the exact same rifle for a couple years now, and I finally have everything set up exactly the way I want it. It was perfect, exactly suited to the way my body works and how I like to shoot. That’s when FNH USA handed me a SCAR and I had to start from scratch all over again.
When Dan and Robert first ambushed me about joining the team, my first concern was about whether I could compete at the same level as the rest of the team. But right after my shooting ability, my next worry was the rifle I’d have to use. I had fired a SCAR 17S before, and I wasn’t pleased. The combination of the short handguards and the reciprocating charging handle weren’t my cup of ballistic tea. And the rifle just seemed… bulky. The prospect of having to use a SCAR 16S for an entire year didn’t seem like much fun to me at the time.
Shows you what I know. Five months and a whole ton of trigger time later, I’m running the gun harder and better than I ever ran my AR-15. And I don’t think I could ever go back.
The first modification I made was absolutely essential. The original SCAR trigger is terrible for competition shooting, and the reason is that it was designed for combat. It’s heavy and over-engineered, which is great for going “downrange” into the “sandbox,” but for competition shooting something a little lighter with a much crisper break was in order. One call to Timney later and I had a replacement trigger in my hands.
While we’re mucking around down in the lower receiver area, the other modification I made was to the grip. The SCAR takes standard AR-15 grips, and since I had become used a Magpul MIAD grip on my old competition rifle, I figured it would be a good idea to stay with what works. Magpul was more than happy to ship one off, and it works great.
The second most important modification was adding an extended rail to the gun. A couple different shops make extended rails for the SCAR platform, but this particular one is an FNH USA extended rail kit – it even came in a blue and white box.
The extra rail acreage lets the shooter get a more aggressive grip on the gun, which allows for greater maneuverability and makes the gun feel much lighter. It also gives you an advantage if you ever need to shoot through a hole in a wall at a long distance target, since you don’t need to stick the rifle into the hole quite so far to let it rest on the handguards instead of the barrel.
Hand in hand with the extended handguards were some rail covers. The guys over at Ergo Grip make a set of slim rail covers that, in my opinion, provide an excellent gripping surface while keeping your hands from being ripped apart by an abrasive Picatinny rail. The Texas state flag (from customgunrails.com) was just a little extra state pride-related bling with no real competition related purpose. That said, people at the local matches seem to love it.
Change #3 was something that was necessary when I had the shorter handguards, but with the extended rails it has become more of a nifty gadget than a necessity.
When I was running my gun with the shorter handguards, I kept the charging handle on the right side of the gun. That kept it out of the way of my thumb, but it left open the possibility of it getting snagged on something. The side folding charging handle I helped design solves that problem by keeping the charging handle close to the gun, but big enough when deployed to clear the larger mounting devices used for optics.
Thanks to the extended handguards, I no longer have any trouble keeping my hands forward of the charging handle, so I’ve swapped it over to the left side of the gun. Nevertheless, I still find having that extra bit of length is helpful in keeping my knuckles from being busted, especially with the gigantic nuts that Warne uses on their scope mounts.
Finally, the last thing that has made all the difference is the choice of optics. When I started shooting the rifle, Leupold, a Team FNH USA sponsor, had sent me a Mark 6 1-6 scope for the gun and it was massive — not only in its dimensions, but also in the weight of all that glass. My SCAR started off being much lighter than my AR-15, but with the addition of the scope, it was practically a boat anchor.
Following the Zombies in the Heartland match, I needed to send the Mark 6 scope back to Leupold. I had somehow managed to break an optic that was designed for heavy use in combat zones, and they needed to see it back in the shop. To replace it, I slapped on a Leupold Mark AR Mod 1 1.5-4x scope that I had picked up at the local Bass Pro Shops for about $450. And honestly, I much prefer it over the $2,000+ alternative.
While the scope doesn’t have the extra 2x magnification of its big brother, it uses a standard Mil-based reticle instead of the pre-computed ballistic reticle. And it also weighs half as much, which is a big improvement. The addition of a SwitchView throw lever makes it perfect.
When I first got my new SCAR, I wasn’t a big fan. Out of the box, it just didn’t fit my shooting style or my body mechanics. But after a couple tweaks, and about 3,000 rounds later, there’s no way in hell that FNH USA is ever getting this rifle back. The only question I’m left with is what I’m going to do with my old competition AR-15 . . .