Have you ever driven a really expensive car, eaten a $100 steak or stayed in a too-fancy-for-me hotel? If you have, and you’re like most gun folks I know, you really enjoyed the brief dance with decadence yet there’s always a little niggling voice inside saying, “This is wonderful, but it’s just too much of a good thing.”

Furthermore, you can’t really afford it so your little voice serves the useful purpose of keeping your finances intact. However …

You won’t hear such things bouncing around inside your cranium when you sit down to fire the Daniel Defense Delta 5 precision bolt-action rifle. If you hear anything from the little spoilsport between your ears, it’ll be something along the lines of “Woo-hoo! More! More ammo! More distance! Different targets! Let’s get shooting!”

And, you’ll happily comply.

A New Direction

The Delta 5 is the first bolt action produced by uber black-rifle builder Daniel Defense and was formally introduced to a select group of gun writers last December at a secret location in Georgia. The group included many of the top word-slingers in the business and — by some monumental miscalculation — Your Humble Servant was also invited. Of course, I didn’t argue and took my scribbling seat with all the other semi-luminaries.

On a sunny but cool morning precisely at 8, CEO Marty Daniel stood up in a lakeside cabin, sunlight illuminating him so perfectly I was sure a special-effects crew was stationed outside, and hoisted the Delta 5 for the bunch of us. To say everyone was shocked would be hyperbole, but there were audible noises and tongue clucks rippling through the room like a gust of wind through a wheat field.

Searching for some literary device to frame a story about this entirely new product line, I later asked Marty if this was a “left turn” from their place as one of the best AR-platform builders in the world. He didn’t miss a beat.

“It’s not so much a left turn, it’s just a continuation,” he said, drawing attention to one of the singular features of this most unusual gun. “The engineers have done a really good job of taking the modularity of an AR we know so well, and building it into a bolt-action rifle. The Delta is a math symbol that means ‘the difference’ so that’s why we named it ‘Delta 5’ — it’s so different from anything on the market.”

Whoa! Did he say “modularity” and “bolt-action rifle” in the same sentence?

We all know one thing to be true: Precision bolt-action rifles must either be built by a specialized gunsmith using parts from widely disparate manufacturers, or be purchased from semi-custom builders at a price equivalent to two semesters at a state university. In either case, switching out parts on the assembled gun — shooters being unrepentant tinkerers — means a trip back to the gunsmith.

But with the Delta 5, things have changed — Significantly.

Kitchen-Table Gunwork

First off is the barrel-mounting system, which makes you smack yourself in the forehead and say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” On almost all bolt-action rifles, the barrel screws directly into the front of the action. Headspace, the critical dimension ensuring your gun will feed and fire — and not become a small pipe bomb inches from your face — is then determined (and adjusted via machining the various parts) from the closed bolt face.

With the Delta 5, the barrel is attached via a barrel extension, much like an AR. Headspacing is achieved through the bolt/barrel extension combination. It’s not truly “self-headspacing,” but in practical terms, it is. I was given the technical explanation on how this works, but my eyes glazed over halfway through the discussion and we don’t want this article to grow another 10 pages. So I’ll just say it works via magic gun fairies.

To change barrels on the Delta 5 you remove the barreled action, undo the barrel nut, install a new barrel, tighten the barrel nut to the proper torque and then re-install the entire barrel/action assembly into the stock. With proper wrenches you can literally change out a barrel in minutes at your kitchen table. Daniel Defense currently offers .308, 6.5 Creedmoor and 7mm-08 Remington barrels in Heavy Palma contour, but my question regarding potential future calibers was met with grins and shoulder shrugs. (If I had to bet, we’ll be seeing other calibers and maybe even a long-action Delta 5 sometime in the future.)

Daniel Defense makes their own cold-hammer-forged stainless steel barrels in-house. Owners of other DD rifles know their barrels are some of the most accurate and long lasting mass-produced M4 barrels in the industry. Claimed round-counts of some of the Delta 5 test barrels are eye opening. They’re accurate and long lasting — you probably won’t be swapping Delta 5 barrels out because you burned one out.

An Avalanche Of Features

Daniel McLeroy, Product Design Director of the Delta 5, explained the idea of a custom-but-not-custom rifle. “One of those things we wanted to do,” McLeroy said, “was to produce those high-end custom features you normally have to go to a gunsmith for, and have them right out of the box.”

Following the modularity mantra, most of the parts of the Delta 5 follow the Remington 700 pattern, so there are plenty of aftermarket goodies to trick out your gun — if desired. The bolt handle uses 5/16-24 threads and is easily swapped while the bolt itself is a 3-lug, 60-degree-throw with a floating bolt head. Naturally, the barrels are threaded for muzzle brakes or suppressors.

The action is likewise stainless and features an integral recoil lug and a 20-MOA integrated Picatinny rail on the top. The receiver is bedded into a mini chassis within the stock and has two integral pillars allowing for robust screw compression to minimize impact shift due to thermal and humidity changes. The gun feeds from 5-round PMAG 5 7.62 AICS Short Action magazines.

The action also comes from the factory mated with the popular single-stage Timney Elite Hunter trigger — adjustable from 1.5 to 4 lbs. This makes complete sense on such a rifle. After all, why make your engineers lose sleep designing a really good trigger when you can buy an already-proven model in truckload quantities?

The stock is almost a story in itself. The black carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer furniture is relatively lightweight and more adjustable than Elizabeth Warren’s ancestry. The cheek riser is changeable for height, yaw and drift, while the buttstock has an adjustable length of pull, toe-in and height. It features 15 M-LOK attachment points along the forend and one near the butt. There are also three M-LOK QD sling points.

The overall gun is short (around 40″ OAL) and features a stubby 20″ barrel in the .308 version (24″ for the 6.5 Creedmoor). It’s also fairly lightweight for a precision rifle, with our test gun tipping the scales at 12.6 lbs. empty with scope attached.

McLeroy, a hardcore pig hunter, loves the fact the Delta 5 just isn’t a “match queen” but nimble enough to be a real-world rifle for hardcore hunters. “One of the best things I like is, it’s light enough to pack around,” he said. “I can carry this to my stand, climb up, and if I see something out at 600 yards, I can dial it up and have the confidence to take the shot.”

But how does it shoot?

Ho-hum At The Range

The Delta 5 deserves a quality optic, so we put a Leupold Mark 5HD 7-35×56 FFP scope atop it and headed out. It really was too much scope for our shorter home range, but who’s going to turn down a chance to mess around with such great glass?

Truth be told, I really didn’t need to shoot the gun at all since I had already burned up plenty of ammo in Georgia several months earlier. However, as a dedicated journalist, I felt it was my sworn duty to burn even more powder in such a cool gun. (On a more-serious note, I did want to see how an off-the-line production version would perform.)

I wasn’t disappointed. Daniel Defense will only claim “sub-MOA” for the rifle, but I would suggest it’d be legally defensible to say the gun is at least “sub-half-MOA” because most groups using Black Hills 158-gr. ELM-M .308 were just one ragged hole at 100-yard spittin’ distance. At the maximum 200-yard line at our local range, I managed a 0.949 three-shot group. For the math-challenged, this translates to just under a half-MOA. Had I more time and ammo to really fit and tweak the gun, I’m confident the group size would shrink further.

However, I can verify the other end of the range spectrum isn’t a problem. At the writer’s event I managed to hit 4×4 feet targets at 1,500 yards with no problem and whacking an 18 steel at 800 yards from an elevated sniper tower almost became monotonous — almost.

One area of concern among the writers was bolt function. Daniel Defense intentionally made the bolt tolerances loose to enhance feed reliability but the result on the early test guns were the bolt sometimes bound up. Our test gun had none of the slop evident in the prototypes and the bolt ran like polished glass even when dirty.

The Little Voice Again …

We’re supposed to be completely objective about the guns we review. I sometimes have to chide our writers about being too gushy, but be warned! I’m going full-on, starry-eyed fanboy here — the Delta 5 is one of the best precision rifles I’ve shot in a long time at any price.

Therein lies the final piece of this puzzle. With an MSRP of $2,199, the Delta 5 delivers the performance and features of a true custom rifle at a price you’d find difficult to build a gun for yourself — even if you had the necessary skills and tools. In fact, I told several people “The Delta 5 is like a XXX-brand rifle for half the price.” (Use your imagination to replace the Xs.)

If you’re a serious competitor, a law enforcement sniper or a long-range hunter, the Delta 5 could well offer the best cost/benefit ratio in a current bolt-action rifle. I’d compare it to a Rolex dive watch, a Mark Levinson stereo amplifier or a Baileigh table saw — not inexpensive, but a serious tool for serious practitioners.

Moreover, even if you don’t quite fit the mold of a hard-core rifle shooter or competitor, I’d suggest sometimes it is completely rational to buy yourself something nice, especially when the price is so reasonable given the quality.

And if you’re still worried about the little voice, just buy him some more ammo and he’ll instantly shut up once you have the Delta 5 in your hands!


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