Savage Arms has been around since 1894, when Arthur Savage founded it. Initially, its focus was primarily on rifles (first lever-actions, then bolt-actions), handguns and ammunition. Savage entered a .45 ACP handgun into the 1906–1911 Army trials for a new .45-caliber semiauto pistol, only to come in second place behind what many consider to be the greatest handgun design of all time: the Colt that would be designated the M1911.
Legend has it that in 1919, Chief Lame Deer approached Savage to purchase lever-actions for his reservation. The chief got discounted rifles for his tribe in exchange for support and endorsement. Lame Deer also gifted Arthur Savage with the Indian head logo that would become Savage’s logo. This logo would endure over the years until 2015, when it was replaced with a stylized “S.”
Despite a couple of forays into military arms, Savage has been mostly known for lever- and bolt-action rifles. Then, in 2016, Savage surprised everyone with the release of its first ARs—the MSR-15 (Modern Savage Rifle) and MSR-10 rifles. The MSR-15 line of rifles keeps with the Savage tradition of moderately priced firearms that provide the most accuracy potential.
When I first held the Savage MSR-15 Recon in my hands, I was pretty excited—I love seeing old companies known for making traditional guns branch out into ARs. I’ve always loved ARs, and even with a totally saturated market, my love hasn’t wavered. Today, I love them as much as ever, and if every gun company were to make ARs, I’d be a happy man.
Not only that, but the Recon felt good in the hands. It’s light, it’s nimble, and it’s built well. It has nice lines—svelte, with a cool-looking custom-forged receiver—but I wasn’t that thrilled with the general appearance. It’s just … black. No FDE, no OD Green. It’s not bad, but it’s nothing to stir the blood. So, I decided to have it coated. I mulled it over, trying to figure out what I wanted it to look like as I watched the snow fall outside my office window. It became obvious: Kryptek Yeti. The Kryptek Yeti really makes it pop. It used to be that for a pattern such as this, you had to have it hydro-dipped, which isn’t very durable; and, after a short while, it looks pretty beat-up.
A firearm can be as individual as its owner, especially when it comes to ARs: The modifications are almost infinite.
One of the increasingly popular ways to personalize a firearm is with Cerakote. Brock Gardner and crew at MCM Firearms did an excellent job for this article; they did the MSR-15, the Bushnell scope, Warne mount and the Magpul magazine. This company is a one-stop shop for just about any customization, gunsmithing and coating you might need.
I’ve never had MCM do anything but Cerakote, so I can’t speak for the other work this company does. But judging by how well MCM did with the coating, I’m sure it does fine work. If you’re looking to have done the Kryptek Yeti patterns or one of the other good-looking Kryptek patterns, MCM Firearms is the only shop licensed by Kryptek to do it. The Kryptek patterns cost more than standard Cerakote ($350 for both receivers, handguard and standard buttstock), but they really look good. For DIYers, this company also sells licensed Kryptek stencil kits for $40 (one-time use).
Cerakote, however, not only makes it look good, it’s also tough and makes any surface it covers pretty much impervious to corrosion. The Yeti pattern … sexy. It turns this Savage into a “winter warrior,” which is exactly what I was going for. ARs are always tested in hot weather; it’s about time one was tested in the cold. And this one was—in the cold, frozen tundra of Wisconsin. Who knows, with certain cold-weather countries not acting right, cold-weather performance might become important. Flat Dark Earth on ARs has been the norm for over a decade now. Maybe Kryptek Yeti will be the pattern of the future for our armed forces.
“… Savage has been mostly known for lever- and bolt-action rifles. Then, in 2016, Savage surprised everyone with the release of its first ARs—the MSR-15 (Modern Savage Rifle) and MSR-10 rifles.”
The barrel is 16 1/8 inches long, with 5R rifling. It uses the quench-polish-quench (QPQ) method of Melonite treatment, which is superior to chrome lining in every way (aside from cost). It’s harder and more corrosion resistant—both inside and outside the barrel—so it’s going to last longer. It has a lower coefficient of friction than chrome. It’s also more accurate, because it’s precisely cut like a stainless steel barrel, and because it’s a treatment and not plating, it’s perfectly uniform. It is slightly more expensive than chrome lining but not by a significant amount—not like a stainless steel barrel. It’s actually a cheaper process than chrome lining; it’s just not common process at this time, so prices are higher. The rifle uses a .223 Wylde target chamber, which means it’s perfectly at home with a .223 Remington or 5.56 NATO cartridge sliding up into it. The Wylde chamber offers the ability to use both, without loss of accuracy or issues of overpressure. It can also shoot the heavier—and longer—80-grain projectiles.
The MSR-15 Recon features a mid-length gas system for less wear and tear on the 16-inch barrel than a carbine-length gas system, which was designed for a 14-inch barrel. Unless you’re sporting an SBR with a shorter barrel than the standard 16-inch civilian carbine, mid-length gas systems provide the proper amount of gas into the receiver for reliable cycling of the bolt and reduced wear on the rifle, as well as reduced recoil. The free-float handguard is a slim profile. Once you start using it, it’s hard to go back to thicker grips. I like the full hand grip you can acquire with the slim profile; it’s fast to point as you transition from one target to the next. It uses Magpul’s M-LOK system, which currently looks like the arms race winner over the Key-Mod (which, to many, looks like… rocket ships… or phallic symbols).
The KNOXX AR pistol grip is made by sister company Blackhawk! and has an excellent feel to it, with excellent texture for a solid grip and a palm swell similar to some of the most recent handgun grips coming out of Europe. The whole grip melds to the hand like two puzzle pieces coming together. The KNOXX Axiom A-Frame carbine stock has a proprietary honeycombed butt pad that grips the shoulder, keeping it in place, and offers recoil reduction. This isn’t really necessary in a 5.56 rifle but would play more of a role with larger-caliber ARs such as the MSR-10.
It has a textured, wide-face adjustment cam lever for fast ease of use, even with gloved hands. A fit-adjustment screw allows the user to adjust the amount of play the stock has: looser for fast adjustments, tighter for a more-secure shooting platform.
The Axiom has four QD attachment points (two on each side) and a slot to thread a sling in the rear. The trigger equipped on the rifle I received for testing is a Blackhawk! AR Blaze model and is nickel-boron treated. It is okay but nothing to jump up and down about. Models that are currently shipping do not come equipped with the AR Blaze trigger; instead, they have an “enhanced nickel-boron trigger,” as it is called.
Anticipation of shooting the new rifle had me bursting at the seams, so I headed to the range without further delay. As I ran through my initial accuracy tests, I wasn’t thrilled with the groups I was getting; I pride myself in tighter groups. I tried various scopes and all sorts of different weights of ammo, and my results seemed to be all over the board. I tried five different types of ammo, ranging from 50 to 65 grains. With five five-shot groups at 100 yards, I got averages of 2.37-,1.82-, 1.78-, 1.52- and 1.38-inch groups—none of which I find acceptable for any AR. I started by narrowing it down to two problems I’d look at first. The first one would require me to acknowledge the onset of “old-man eyes” that need reading glasses.
However, quickly dismissing that as hogwash, I moved on to number two. The trigger was very sticky and felt as if it would get “caught up” at points, and when I pressed through it, it would jerk. I talked to the good folks at Savage, and they quickly sent out a replacement trigger group.
In the meantime, I decided to change scopes. The Bushnell AR Optics 1-4×24 is a great scope for all-around, real-world utility, but I wanted to see what the rifle was capable of.
“…the Recon felt good in the hands. It’s light, it’s nimble, and it’s built well. It has nice lines—svelte, with a cool-looking custom-forged receiver…”
So, for the bench, I swapped it for something with more magnification to assist the “old-man eyes” I’m in denial of. I used a Meopta ZD 6-24×56 RD. It was my first time using it, and it was very impressive. Once the new trigger arrived, I installed it, and it felt better. Pull weight might have been slightly heavier, but it was less sticky. That’s not to say that it felt great, but it was a noticeable improvement. In addition, the improvement on the range was immediately noticeable.
The Black Hills 77-grain OTM had the best group, with an impressive 0.513, followed by the Federal 73-grain Gold Medal Berger (.87) and the SIG Sauer 77-grain OTM (.882). The best average was Black Hills (.789), then SIG Sauer (.95) and Federal Gold Medal Berger (1.102). The two other loads I’ve had great accuracy with in other rifles but that this rifle didn’t care for—were the DoubleTap Tactical 69-grain HP, which averaged 1.329, and the Speer Gold-Dot 64-grain GDSP, which averaged 1.578.
|SIG Sauer .223 Rem.
77-grain OTM Match Grade Rifle
|Federal Gold Medal Berger .223 Rem. 73-grain BT Target OTM||
|Black Hills 5.56mm
|DoubleTap Tactical .223 Rem.
69-grain HP Boat Tail Match
|Speer Gold Dot .223 Rem.
NOTES: Velocity was an average of five shots, as tested with a Caldwell Chronograph G2 placed 5 yards in front of the muzzle. Accuracy was measured using three five-shot groups at 100 yards using a Meopta ZD 6-24×56 RD scope and a Warne mount.
Take the Recon off the bench rest, and it really shines. Each feature and accessory is well thought out, and it all comes together in a package that’s nimble, ergonomic, reliable and capable of very good accuracy with the right load.
“The MSR-15 line of rifles keeps with the Savage tradition of moderately-priced firearms that provide the most accuracy potential.”
And that winter testing? Not a hiccup. While the winter hasn’t been brutal, temperatures in the negative single digits will test a lot of gear. No worries with the MSR-15 Recon—not a single malfunction. The biggest concern will be some polymer magazines (I’ve cracked feed lips at -12 degrees F). The Savage MSR-15 Recon offers a great feature set at a reasonable price, with an MSRP of $999 and retailing at around $820. It’s two or three steps above a budget AR, as far as price goes, but Vista Outdoor’s numerous brands allow for sharing of resources. This enables Savage to bring to the market an AR with features and accessories that other makers would have priced higher.
As much as I love tradition, it’s exciting to see a company reinvent itself for current shooter preferences. Savage is thought of as an old-school lever- and bolt-gun maker. However, to see this manufacturer step up and make an AR rifle—it’s a great sign of a company not resting on its laurels or tradition. Savage would have been one of the last companies I would have expected to make an AR.
I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks!
CALIBER: .223 Wylde chamber: .223 Rem./5.56mm
ACTION TYPE: Direct-impingement; semiauto
RECEIVER: Forged, matte-black, hard coat anodized; flat-top rail
BARREL: 16 inches; Melonite QPQ; 1:8-inch twist; 5R rifling; .223 Wylde target chamber
TRIGGER: (As tested) Blackhawk! AR Blaze, 8 pounds, 4.5 ounces (currently shipping with enhanced nickel-boron triggers)
SIGHTS: Blackhawk! flip-up sights
FURNITURE: Blackhawk! KNOXX AR pistol grip; KNOXX AXIOM carbine stock; free-float M-LOK handguard
WEIGHT: 7 pounds
OVERALL LENGTH: 33.5–36.75 inches
ACCESSORIES: 30-round Magpul magazine
MSRP: $999 (MSR-15 Patrol: $852)
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the February 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.