The last time I tested a Smith & Wesson M&P10 rifle, my expectations were shattered—in a most positive way because the gun performed far better than I expected it to. I had just wrung the rifle out during an NRA Outdoors long-range shooting school held in Utah and Wyoming. Over the course of two days of high-intensity shooting, Several other outdoor scribes and I successfully shot basic, stock M&P10 rifles, with their pencil-thin, 18-inch barrels, at distances up to 1,000 yards. The only modification to the 308 Win.-chambered rifles was the addition of a Magpul PRS buttstock. Using rifle scopes with custom-cut turrets, we were, to a man, astonished at how well the M&P10 shot. The highlight of the school, for me, was shooting a group at half a mile that you could cover with your hand.
Given that sort of performance from a stock M&P10, I naturally had high hopes for the newest member of the M&P10 clan when Smith & Wesson this year announced the arrival of a new version of the rifle from S&W’s famed Performance Center. The new gun would be chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor—an inherently accurate cartridge. For the uninitiated, the Performance Center is where modern gun-making technology meets old-world craftsmanship. The gunsmiths at the center specialize in taking production guns to the next level in terms of appearance, reliability and accuracy.
According to S&W’s Matt Spafford, “When designing the Performance Center M&P10 6.5 Creedmoor, each component was selected and manufactured to enable accurate, long-range shots with the popular 6.5 Creedmoor caliber.” The rifle starts with the same basic components as any M&P10. The receivers are machined from 7075-T6 aluminum and have a hard-anodized black finish to protect the surface. Fit and finish on the rifle are very good. The upper mates to the lower receiver without a hint of wobble, and nothing rattles on this gun.
It has a beefed-up carrier and bolt to handle larger calibers. The carrier and gas key are chrome lined, and the firing pin is chrome plated. From this point, the Performance Center rifle diverges sharply from the basic M&P10. Here’s a closer look at what makes this gun worthy of the Performance Center stamp.
THE M&P10, RE-IMAGINED
Starting at the business end, the new Performance Center M&P10 in 6.5 Creedmoor uses a 20-inch, medium-contoured barrel versus the 18-inch, thin-profiled barrel of the original M&P10. Made of 4140 carbon steel, the barrel has a 1:8 twist rate and 5R rifling. Many claims have been made for 5R rifling, including higher velocity, less fouling and better accuracy. I can’t vouch for that with any empirical data, but I can say that every rifle I’ve shot to date with 5R rifling has demonstrated decent accuracy.
According to S&W’s Spafford, 5R rifling benefits the shooter “by causing less bullet deformation for better consistency of accuracy from shot to shot and greater bullet stability over multiple shots.”
The muzzle of the barrel is threaded 5/8×24 for attaching a muzzle brake or suppressor and comes with a thread protector in place. The barrel surface is hardened and protected, inside and out, with S&W’s Armornite finish, which is actually a salt bath nitride process that hardens the surface of the steel, giving it greater corrosion resistance and slightly greater lubricity. Another big change from the stock M&P10 is the use of a fixed-length Magpul MOE rifle stock, which mates to a rifle-length receiver extension tube.
The stock feels more substantial and solid than collapsing stocks and might contribute to accuracy as a result. However, its straight-back lines will require you to experiment when mounting optics to achieve comfortable eye alignment. The stock has a 1.25-inch sling loop at the bottom rear and 1.5-inch push-button QD swivels front and rear.
“Federal’s new Gold Medal 130-grain Berger Hybrid Load actually performed a little better, in MOA terms, at 200 yards than it did at 100 yards.”
For the handguard, the Performance Center partnered with Troy Industries to design and manufacture the Performance Center-specific 15-inch Troy Alpha M-LOK free-float handguard. There’s a host of accessory mounting options with a full-length Picatinny rail up top and a total of 52 M-LOK slots at the 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9 and 11 o’clock positions.
The Performance Center made a solid choice of pistol grips for the rifle, choosing to use the Magpul MOE Plus grip, which complements the rifle nicely. This grip has a one-piece reinforced polymer body with wraparound rubber overmolding to provide a sure grip under all weather conditions. It has a beavertail backstrap for improved ergonomics and a hard polymer protective bottom edge. The standard grip cap accepts optional battery and lube storage cores. With the new barrel and furniture boosting the unloaded gun’s weight from 7.7 pounds to slightly more than 9 pounds, this Performance Center rifle is no lightweight.
Then again, it wasn’t designed to be a featherweight mountain rifle; it was designed to be a stable, solid platform to help you place bullets on target at distance. Even so, the combination of the Magpul grip and Troy handguard gives this rifle a trim, handy feel. It still has a definite weight-forward balance, but that can be an asset when shooting off sticks or a rest at distance in wind.
Southpaws will love this gun, because controls on the rifle are truly ambidextrous. On the left side of the receiver, you’ll find a standard safety selector, along with a paddle-style magazine release and bolt release. The right side of the receiver has a standard safety selector and paddle-style bolt release but uses a traditional push-button magazine release. One of my gripes with the original M&P10 (and most factory AR-platforms rifles, for that matter) is the trigger. The one on the gun I used in the long-range school broke at an average pull weight of 5 pounds, 15 ounces and had a little creep in it. The Performance Center gun’s two-stage match design trigger, machined by hand to Performance Center specifications for optimal trigger pull weight and feel, is a considerable improvement. After a very light initial take up, it stacks quickly and breaks cleanly and crisply, with no creep.
I found that it broke at an average pull weight of 4 pounds, 9 ounces, as measured on a Lyman trigger gauge. That 1-pound-and-change reduction in pull weight might not sound like much, but it makes a big difference in a trigger that breaks as cleanly as this one.
Functionally, the rifle ran flawlessly throughout testing. It fed, fired and ejected with no issues using the supplied P-MAG 10 LR/SR Gen M3 7.62X51 (308 Win.) magazine. It was a little rough on spent 6.5 Creedmoor brass from a couple of factory loads, but that’s to be expected.
For accuracy testing, I set the rifle up with a Steiner GS3 4-20X50mm scope, which has become one of my favorites for testing. The scope was mounted in a rock-solid, cantilevered Weaver Tactical SPR 30 mount. It proved to be a great combination. I began by running five different factory loads, ranging from 120 to 143 grains, over my CED M2 chronograph and found that the drop-off in velocities out of the 20-inch barrel from factory-stated velocities wasn’t all that significant. Variations ranged from 179 fps to 92 fps slower than factory numbers, with two Federal loads showing the least velocity loss.
Accuracy testing followed. Shooting three five-shot groups per load on a windy day, results showed a little horizontal stringing but were quite good for the conditions. Three of the five loads produced best groups of 1 inch or better, despite the wind. Top accuracy honors went to Hornady’s Professional Hunter 143-grain ELD-X load, which produced average groups measuring 0.79 inch and a best group measuring 0.76 inch.
However, 100-yard groups only tell part of the story. Long, low-drag bullets may take a little time and distance to fully stabilize. When they do, it’s not uncommon for such bullets to perform as well or better, in minute of angle (MOA) terms, at longer distances. That proved to be the case with a couple of the tested loads. While I didn’t have a chance to test the rifle at distances I would consider to be truly long range, I did shoot several of the best-performing loads at 200 yards. The results provided a solid hint of the rifle’s true accuracy potential. Federal’s new Gold Medal 130-grain Berger Hybrid load, for example, actually performed a little better at 200 yards, in MOA terms, than it did at 100 yards. The load produced average groups measuring slightly over 1 inch (1 MOA) at 100 yards, with a 1-inch best group. But at 200 yards, it shot average groups close to ½ MOA (1 inch) and a best group measuring 0.72 inch. Even that tight group showed a little horizontal stringing, and I believe the load would have done even better if I hadn’t had to contend with wind gusting to 16 mph.
“For the uninitiated, the Performance Center is where modern gun-making technology meets old-world craftsmanship.”
Notably, at 200 yards, the Hornady ELD-X load also shot sub-MOA (2-inch or under) groups, as did the Winchester Match 140-grain BTHP load, and I have little doubt that any of these loads would deliver very good results at longer distance with this gun. Coyotes and game animals on the receiving end will, of course, be somewhat less enthusiastic about the new Performance Center rifle.
Avg. Muzzle Velocity (fps)
Avg. 100-Yard Group (inches)
Best 100-Yard Group (inches)
|Federal Premium Gold Medal Berger
|Federal Fusion 140-grain||
Hornady Professional Hunter
|Hornady Full Boar 120-grain GMX||
|Winchester Match 140-grain BTHP||
NOTE: Five-shot groups were fired in wind 6–16 mph at 100 yards. Velocities were measured with Competitive Edge Dynamics M2 chronograph.
S&W PERFORMANCE CENTER M&P10 6.5 CREEDMOOR
ACTION: Gas-operated, semi-auto
BARREL: 20-inch carbon steel
CAPACITY: 10-round magazine supplied
RATE OF TWIST: 1:8 twist, 5R rifling
BARREL FINISH: Armornite salt bath Nitride
MUZZLE: Threaded (5/8-24) with protector
RECEIVERS: 7075-T6 Aluminum
STOCK: Magpul MOE
GRIP: Magpul MOE Plus
TRIGGER: Two-stage match
HANDGUARD: Free-float Troy Alpha M-LOK
WEIGHT: 9.05 pounds (unloaded)
LENGTH: 39.5 inches
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the September 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.