The MSR Reborn

By Holt Bodinson

To say Savage has entered the AR market with vigor is an understatement. Bringing to the 2017 market four very distinct models ranging from a basic mil-spec AR-15 rifle to a precision AR-10 long-range shooter, Savage more than turned a few heads at the latest SHOT Show. Needless to say, we were anxious to work with the new line and, to start with, requested their basic AR labeled the “MSR 15 Patrol.” Savage let us know in no uncertain terms that “MSR” does not stand for “Modern Sporting Rifle” but for “Modern Savage Rifle.” Creative marketing at its best!

While I want to get into the “Patrol” model in some detail, here’s a brief description of the other the models. First, all four MSR’s feature a barrel cut with 5R rifling, a rifling design developed by well-known barrel maker, Barrett “Boots” Obermeyer, to minimize bullet deformation, to reduce jacket failures in fast twist barrels and to lessen powder fouling. This rifling form is very popular with precision shooters and is increasingly seen in factory production barrels.

With 5R rifling, the barrel has 5 grooves and lands. The lands and grooves are offset from one another which minimizes bullet deformation. The grooves are cut in such a way the lands end up being wider at the base than at the top. This sloped, rather than sharp angled, form of the lands both reduces powder fouling, makes cleaning easier and lessens jacket failure. Not only are Savage AR barrels cut with the 5R form but are also surface hardened with a Melonite QPQ process.

Another common feature of all models is the BLACKHAWK! brand of stocks and triggers. Not only BLACKHAWK!, but Savage, along with other well-known brands such as Bushnell, Weaver, Federal Premium and Speer, are now clustered together under the umbrella of the Vista Outdoor Corporation.

The Patrol model handled well and proved exceedingly
accurate with Federal’s 69-grain loading.

BLACKHAWK! stock, furniture and trigger predominate in the Savage MSR line.

The next step up from the basic Savage Patrol model is the MSR Recon with a retail of $999. The Recon features a custom forged lower with some distinctive lines, a BLACKHAWK! AR Blaze trigger, a free-floated M-LOK handguard and BLACKHAWK! furniture. It sports a .223 Wylde chamber facilitating the safe use of both .223 Rem and 5.56x45mm NATO ammunition.

The next model in the MSR family is the MSR 10 Hunter with a retail of $1,481. Chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor or .308 Win, the Hunter features a custom forged upper and lower, BLACKHAWK! AR Blaze trigger, a free-float M-LOK handgaurd and BLACKHAWK! furniture.

The final model in the line is the MSR 10 Long Range with a retail of $2,284. Chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor or .308 Win, the Long Range features a custom forged upper and lower, a non-reciprocating, side-charging handle, a fluted heavy barrel, free-float M-LOK handguard, BLACKHAWK! AR Blaze 2-stage, target trigger and a fully adjustable Magpul PRS Gen3 buttstock.

Now for our test gun, the Savage MSR 15 Patrol with a price of $825. Think of i
t as a mil-spec rifle—mil-spec upper (flattop) and lower, mil-spec trigger averaging 7.3 pounds—but with some non-mil-spec upgrades.

The Patrol gets a 16.125-inch barrel with 5R rifling, a 1:8-inch twist, a Wylde chamber and a Melonite QPQ hardened finish. The stocking is basic BLACKHAWK! with a simple but distinctive looking handguard, a highly textured pistol grip and a 6-position, collapsing buttstock. The rear sight is a BLACKHAWK! detachable, windage adjustable, polymer, flip-up model while the front sight is a custom, A-frame, gas-block design with elevation adjustment.

The more upscale MSR Recon (top) features a custom forged lower, Blaze trigger
and M-LOK handguard. If long range competition is your game, Savage’s MSR 10 LR
(bottom) is a refined, target-grade rifle chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor and .308 Win.
The MSR 10 Hunter (not shown) rounds out the line chambered in the same calibers
for a field-ready hunting rifle.

The most interesting, cost-cutting feature of the Patrol model is its ersatz forward assist. The forward assist housing is there, but there’s no forward assist plunger. In its place is a pinned-in, solid, ersatz, assist-looking button. I have to wonder how much a real forward assist would have cost. Anyway, given the quality of even our least expensive ammunition and the fact we’re probably not going to be wallowing around in the mud with a rifle in our hands, a forward assist probably won’t be missed. On the other hand, it’s nice to have if ever needed.

The Patrol is a well-balanced, nice handling rifle, weighing 6.5 pounds. The trigger is a little gritty and heavy for accurate offhand work, but when you’re shooting off a bench, it’s immaterial.

Since under the Vista Outdoor banner are housed Savage, Bushnell, Weaver, Federal Premium and Speer (among many others), the Patrol was fitted with a Bushnell 1-4x24mm AR/223 scope, featuring a 100 to 500 yard BDC reticle and 0.1 mil target turrets, held in a Weaver SPR 30mm tactical mount. The test ammunition provided consisted of Federal 55-grain FMJ, Speer 64-grain Gold Dot and Federal Premium 69-grain Sierra MatchKing—a good cross-section of popular bullet weights.

Shooting 3-shot groups at 100 yards, I quickly concluded the Patrol had no taste for the 55-grain FMJ (2,846 fps), delivering 2- to 2.5-inch groups. Next, the 64-grain Gold Dot (2,774 fps) wasn’t a barnburner either generating groups running between 1.5 and 2 inches. Ah, but things really perked up when the Patrol was fed 69-grain Sierra MatchKings (2,551 fps). Suddenly, I was getting groups ranging from 0.51 to 0.74 inches. Bullet weight counts apparently. It would be interesting to know if all the Savage MSR 5R-rifled barrels reflect the same preference. Personally, I favor bullets in the 69- to 77-grain class in all my AR’s. Whether on targets or on game, the bullets at the heavier end really deliver the energy and accuracy necessary downrange.

In Savage’s words, “MSR” now stands for “Modern Savage Rifle.” The company
has thankfully ended the practice of putting the caliber on the lower (above).
Instead, the caliber marking including twist is clearly written on the right
side of the barrel near the muzzlebrake. The Wylde .223/5.56 chamber and
1:8-inch twist combined with R5 rifling proved a good combination for
Federal Premium ammo topped with 69-grain Sierra MatchKings.

The Bushnell AR/223 scope performed well. Optically, it’s fine. The 0.1 mil turrets provided accurate adjustments. Since the 100- to 500-yard BDC reticle is calibrated for bullet weights between 55 and 62 grains—weights which proved inaccurate in the Patrol—I wasn’t able to test the BDC system. Bushnell currently offers a number of other AR scope options. Two I like are a 1-4x24mm first focal plane scope with an illuminated reticle, and a 4.5-18x40mm scope optimized for the Savage MSR rifles (according to Bushnell).

So, whether your needs are simple as in a MSR 15 Patrol model or more demanding like the refinements found in the MSR 10 Long Range rifle, Savage has done an exceptional job of meeting a variety of needs and price points in its new 2017 Modern Savage Rifle series.


MAKER: Savage Arms
100 Springdale Rd
Westfield, MA 01085
(413) 568-7001

ACTION: Gas, direct impingement, semi-auto
CALIBER: .223/5.56 (Wylde chamber)
BARREL LENGTH: 16.125 inches
OVERALL LENGTH: 32.5 to 35.75 inches
WEIGHT: 6.5 pounds, FINISH: Matte black
SIGHTS: Gas-block front, rear BLACKHAWK! flip-up
Price: $825

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