It’s an ever-present image on the modern battlefield. A bitter rival to the Iron Curtain’s AK-47, the M16 and its civilian counterpart, the AR-15, have been an integral part of America’s arsenal since the 1960s. Fast-forward some 40 years and the first frenzied days of Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego where I was issued a cherry M16A2 service rifle – I couldn’t get enough of the storied black rifle.
I wanted my very own. Unfortunately a $1,000 assault rifle was above my pay grade. Nevertheless, the idea of owning Eugene Stoner’s creation remained firmly entrenched in my brain-housing group for many years. With the passage of time, I was finally able to get my hands on one – a Smith & Wesson M&P15 to be specific. Ten days later, the rifle and I hit the range with a variety of ammunition and about a hundred NRA approved targets.
Although the M&P15’s accessories may seem Spartan – standard issue includes a hard-plastic gun case, operators manual and a ten round magazine – the weapon itself is a credit to its creator. Sporting a black anodized finish, the M&P15 is one hell of a handsome rifle. A dull matte coat compliments the surface, which is much finer than the majority of AR rifles on the market today. Fabricated from 7071 T6 aluminum, the weapon comes in at 7.5 pounds.
Gas-operated, chambered in 5.56 NATO, with 1 in 9-inch twist, Smith & Wesson has expanded the M&P15 rifle line to include numerous variations. I opted for the classic M4-type shooting platform. It includes a bayonet lug, flash suppressor, detachable carrying handle (perfect for superior Magpul sights) and a collapsible three-position stock. Smith & Wesson is required to replace the standard magazine release with a “bullet button,” for rifles sold in states like California.
Equipped with a single-stage trigger, the M&P15 has a crisp pull, breaking at around seven pounds. The rifle itself is quite solid. Upper and lower receivers match perfectly, creating an endearing flashback for this former Jarhead. I found it to be nearly identical to the government issued Colt M4 issued during my final tour in Iraq. Disassembly is rather simple, and anyone familiar with the M16 will surely recognize the M&P15’s inner mechanisms.
Hitting an outdoor range in Southern California, I brought along several ammunition variations and healthy slice of high hopes. I mean, this isn’t a fly-by-night AR manufacturer, but rather a tried and true fabricator of rifles and handguns since 1852.
At the range, I set targets at 100, 200, and 500 meters. Utilizing Winchester 55 grain FMG, Wolf 55grain HP, and your standard issue military-grade ball, I quickly set about putting rounds down range.
Unfortunately, the M&P15 is not a tack driver right out the box. After some ten rounds, I managed to find the rifle’s zero at 100 meters. In terms of basic mechanics – the Winchester and Wolf ammo cycled flawlessly. The military grade ball ammo was a bit tricky. Suffering from a failure to feed and a single stovepipe, the rifle quickly chambered the aforementioned rounds with a simple tap, rack, bang corrective measure. I’m reticent to fault the weapon here because the ammunition itself showed mild corrosion.
In regards to accuracy, the M&P15 (after it was dialed in) was spot on. At 100 meters I managed to pull half-inch groups with the Winchester and Wolf loads. Although I’m not a huge fan of peephole sights, but they are very effective at close-range engagements.
Moving on to the 200-meter target, the half-inch groups remained relatively consistent (several rounds pulled left, most likely shooter error), although it quickly became apparent the rifle would benefit greatly from some form of telescopic sight.
After a few deep breaths, I took a seat, steadied the rifle on some sandbags, loaded up ten-rounds of the 55 grain Winchester FMG, and directed my vision down range. In the distance, out there in “no-mans land,” I could just barely make out the black circle of my target at 500 meters. I had to smile – the task at hand seemed ridiculously hard. Nevertheless, with two volleys from the Winchester and Wolf loads, the rifle proved to be scary accurate. Scoring six-inch groups with a few wild shots hitting low, the weapon demonstrated excellent precision. Equipped with an ACOG or similar tactical scope, the M&P15 would certainly defy common expectations of AR-type rifles.
Overall, Smith & Wesson’s M&P15 is a first-class weapon. An aesthetically pleasing rifle, constructed with military-grade specifications, and an uncanny ability to reach out and touch ones’ target, Smith & Wesson has managed to create a classic. Of course, the price tag can get a bit hefty, but as the old adage goes, you get what you pay for. An M&P15 runs for $709 to $1500. Ultimately, though, you can’t go wrong with a Smith & Wesson M&P15.
Cover courtesy of KCRsporting.