Mantis BlackbeardX Review: New AR-15 Laser Trainer With ‘X-Factor’ Data
There’s no real substitute for live-fire trigger time behind your personal AR-15 rifle, but the new BlackbeardX auto-resetting trigger and laser system from Mantis gives you the ability to go through thousands of valuable training repetitions with your personal rifle whenever you want. More than that, it acts like an eagle-eyed coach for every single shot you take.
The end result? You can save a ton of money, scientifically destroy bad habits with good data, and improve your shooting in everything from your grip and trigger press to shot placement and reloads. As I’ve also discovered, you can have a lot of fun doing it and even bring new shooters into the fold safely and in a comfortable environment.
After two months blasting lasers on the range, in my basement, and even right next to my desk during the workday, here’s what I’ve come to love – and somewhat dislike – about the BlackbeardX from Mantis.
At face value, the BlackbeardX is a fusion of two Mantis systems: the MantisX and Blackbeard auto-resetting laser bolt. The Blackbeard bolt provides you with a laser training system that activates a laser every time you pull the trigger. The bolt provides the laser and sear for the trigger, and the magazine powers the laser and resetting the trigger.
The real magic is the inclusion of Mantis’ MantisX system, which tracks your movement before, during, and after each shot to provide detailed feedback on everything from your grip and trigger pull to pressure from your support hand and follow through. It is housed in the magazine, which has a Bluetooth feature to connect it to your mobile devices.
There are only two main parts and an accompanying free app that make the whole thing work. Installation is as simple as swapping out your bolt. The app also offers various drills, a shot timer, and other features alongside the data.
I’ve tried the bolt in five AR-15s with no issue, but Mantis does note it will not work with the Fostech Echo 2, Springfield SAINT Victor, or lowers that feature a sear block. The whole system can also be tied into Mantis’ Laser Academy to add an additional level of organized training.
I’ve played with several laser training systems and owned a few myself. The most basic simply projected a laser after each shot and then required you to re-rack the gun for the next shot. I’ve used those and other “trigger-resetting” bolts. I broke one that seemed quite frail just trying to install it, and none of them offered anywhere near the same trigger pull that my personal ARs provided.
But I’ve also gone as far as blank-firing and pneumatic systems used by the military. Those offered a bit of kick and noise to go along with the laser, but they were also balky, sometimes dirty, and expensive (often to the tune of millions of dollars). They also required modifications to the gun to work.
I found the triggers on the five ARs I tested remained close to what they were during normal operation. The pull weight didn’t noticeably change, and I could still run my very fast RMT Nomad trigger kit as fast as I could pull the trigger. For some mil-spec triggers, some of the grit was lessoned but barely.
With the BlackbeardX bolt and magazine, what you see is what you get. Two simple parts. The laser bolt can be adjusted with the included tools to match the zero of your scope, which I found very simple. To adjust the laser, there is a small switch on the bolt that keeps it turned on while you make adjustments. The magazine has lights to indicate the charge when in the charging process, and there is a small blue light on the bottom with a button to activate the Bluetooth feature.
Speaking of Bluetooth, it was very simple to connect the BlackbeardX to the app. Once downloaded, the app prompts you to connect. Just hit the button on your BlackbeardX. When the light remains a solid blue, you’re ready to start using the app, which was also intuitive and simple. However, I do recommend watching the demonstration video so you don’t miss out on any features.
Laser options include red, green, none, and infrared. The weight on the bolt and magazine comes in at just shy of a pound. For perspective, a standard loaded AR mag will come in at just over one pound. So, the gun will be lighter once you remove the metal bolt, but only slightly.
As for battery life, I have yet to drain it to the last bar even after several days with 1-2 hour training sessions with the Bluetooth on. I don’t know how long it will last, but you would need to work hard to drain it before the next charge.
What Makes It ‘X’
The Blackbeard laser bolt and magazine are fantastic training aids on their own, but the real magic is a bit smarter. Previous Blackbeard owners may recall that the training magazine was smaller, while the new BlackbeardX version more closely resembles a standard 30-round AR magazine. That additional space hosts the MantisX system.
Simply install the MantisX app on your phone, and now you can track all sorts of amazing data points for every shot you take. Are you slapping the trigger, pushing with your support hand, or shifting your shot with your trigger press?
Normally, you would have to spend a good deal of range time – ideally with a coach – and ammo to figure out where you are going wrong. The MantisX feature does all that for you wherever you choose to train. Here are some samples I just did in a few minutes:
But it’s the breakdown in solutions that really have me more excited than anything else. Here’s what I got when I decided to shoot sloppy and fast:
You basically have a skilled range coach tucked away in your gun because the MantisX tech is tracking you before, during, and after the shot. I can’t tell you how many times I found myself chasing bullet holes around a target trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. With the BlackbeardX, you can tap on your various reported errors in the app and the system will show you what caused it and how to correct it.
Sure, you can use this for tactical training (hostage drills), plinking (plate drills), and speed drills to improve your everyday shooting. But you can also really dig into your distance marksmanship fundamentals, too. There’s even a Marine Corps’ qualification section that takes you from 200 yards to 500 yards. It’s a fast way to find your mistakes, fix training scares, and get on target without blowing through a case of ammo.
Beyond daily training, the BlackbeardX has a lot of additional uses. First, it’s a safe and easy way to get a new shooter comfortable with a real rifle at home. I used it to get my wife – a left-handed shooter – behind an AR for the first time that wasn’t at a bench. She actually enjoyed it, and the MantisX technology helped me see what she was doing. As a righty teaching a lefty, that was a really nice benefit.
It's also an easy way to break into new shooting styles safely. I’ve seen plenty of bullet holes in barricades over the years. BlackbeardX allows you to run those same barrier drills safely as you learn to maintain your bore height with optics while shooting. Plus, you can practice a course several times without firing a single live round.
Once you get the Blackbeard installed and sighted in, you could even use it to sight in a different optic on your rifle. I actually have one I am swapping out. I have it zeroed just the way I want, and now I can pop on a new scope and re-zero without wasting time on the range. All it would take is a few live-fire shots to put on the final touches.
Are you a firearms trainer? Well, then you should love this. It is a fast and easy way to dig into what shooters are doing wrong. I can certainly see it used as a training aid for instructors and coaches with multiple students.
Pros & Cons
There are other options you could go with, but for the price and simplicity, the BlackbeardX has impressed me. I also enjoy plinking with a CMMG .22 AR-15 bolt conversion kit to save money when training. But this still requires cleaning, adds wear to the rifle itself, and only moderately adds recoil to my training routine.
Still, the system isn't perfect. Here are my top pros and cons:
Saves on ammo costs
Very easy to install and use
Use your own gun and trigger
Safer training at home and range
Durability has been solid after several months
Long battery life
Quick and helpful feedback
Somewhat lighter than actual AR bolt and magazine
Charging handle does not function
No bolt-hold-open feature for reload drills
Somewhat pricey, but not when compared to the competition
Easy to “play” instead of train
It’s tempting to get sucked into the fun of zapping targets like a video game, but don’t skip out on the fundamentals and more refined training. If you skip using the app, you may actually find that you are creating more training scars. I personally love the marksmanship training inside the MantisX app. It’s by far what I plan to use the most.
Since there is no recoil or noise, you also still need to hit the range for live-fire shooting from time to time. That’s a great time to see if the muscle memory is sticking for you and see if you are truly improving. However, now you can train much more for less with data-driven feedback before you hit the real range.
Final Thoughts & Video
I remember being promised awesome laser training technology for firearms when I was younger. By and large, they have been a disappointment, and the budget ones have simply broken over time. The expensive military trainers were cool but never within reach as an ordinary shooter.
To date, BlackbeardX is the first AR-platform laser trainer that I genuinely loved. I actually foresee bringing it along for range days with friends so we can see where other shooters are having issues.
If you’re not sold yet and want to see the system in action, here’s a detailed breakdown from Mantis on the new BlackbeardX and how it works: