I have to admit, when I first heard that Savage Arms was getting into the MSR market back in December of 2016 my initial reaction wasn’t very positive. For starters, the MSR market was already extremely saturated as most every other manufacturer had already gotten into and established themselves in the MSR market. Second, Savage was very late to the game as many feel the peak sales years for MSR-type rifles had already passed them by. So why invest the money, resources and time into a market segment that’s already flooded with options?
That initial impression and reaction is why it has taken me so long to review one of Savage’s MSR offerings. Our friend Charles wrote up a review for the MSR15 Patrol model about a year and a half ago and he gave it very high marks as an all around duty/patrol rifle, but neither of the two initial MSR15 options really piqued my interest. As January 2018 rolled around Savage introduced a number of new bolt-action models which kept me preoccupied through the first half of the year, but as summer started to fade I finally put in a request for a MSR10 Hunter in .308 Winchester.
The reason I opted to go with a MSR10 over a MSR15 is because the MSR10 isn’t just another cookie-cutter AR, but instead is a unique proprietary design with roughly 3/4″ of length removed from the receivers. As a result the bolt carrier and charging handle are unique to Savage and aren’t interchangeable with other brands of AR-10 components.
The upper and lower receiver on the MSR10 Hunter are both forged from 7075-T6 aluminum and receive a matte black hardcoat anodized finish. As noted the receivers are of proprietary length and the mag well is designed to accept LR-308 or SR-25 style magazines. A single 20-round Magpul magazine is included with the rifle.
The upper receiver assembly is of the flat-top design and features an incorporated flange for attaching the forearm. The receiver features a forward assist and brass deflector as well as a durable flip-down plastic dust cover for the ejection port. The charging handle is standard mil-spec style with a slightly extended catch lever. The bolt is an E9310 High-Pressure piece fitted with dual ejectors, and both the bolt and bolt carrier are nickel-boron coated. Unlike a standard AR15, the Savage MSR10 utilizes a firing pin spring.
The barrel is a button rifled 5R unit that measures 16″ in length and features a 2-3/4 inch long proprietary screw-on 4-port muzzle brake that direct gas upward and to the sides. The gas system is slightly longer than mid length and is what Savage refers to as “mid-length+.” An adjustable gas block is employed to allow the user to easily tune the gas system for best performance with a given ammunition and/or when attaching a suppressor.
The free-floating forearm is an M-Lok style made by Midwest Industries and attaches to the receiver via four fine thread hex head bolts. It is of a fairly slender design measuring just under 1-3/4 inches in width and just shy of 2-1/4 inches in overall height, while the overall length with mounting flange is comparable to a 13-inch conventionally mounted AR-15 forearm. A gap is provided in the top rail to allow for adjusting the gas system.
Moving on, the lower receiver assembly comes fitted with a full compliment of Blackhawk components. The buttstock is a Blackhawk Axiom Carbine Stock with Pad and the pistol grip is the Blackhawk Knoxx Grip. A Blackhawk AR Blaze Trigger comes standard as well. Fire control markings adorning either side of the receiver accompanied by a standard bolt release lever on the left and mag release button on the right.
Overall length of the Hunter model in .308 Winchester is 35-inches with the buttstock collapsed and 39-inches with it fully extended. Weight is listed at 7.8 pounds without optics and the MSRP as of this writing is listed at $1,481.00.
The MSR10 Hunter is also offered in 6.5 Creedmoor and .338 Federal – both with 18-inch barrels and the same MSRP as the .308 Win. model.
First impressions of the MSR10 Hunter upon arrival were very good and quite surprising to say the least. What shocked me most about the rifle was that it didn’t feel any heavier than my carbine length Smith & Wesson M&P15-TS. This lighter weight is primarily due to Savage’s shortening of the receivers and bolt carrier group, and for most the weight savings will be greatly welcomed as AR-10’s aren’t typically known for being lightweight.
As I started looking the rifle over more closely I was very impressed with the overall quality of the components and assembly. Proper stakes were found on all the parts that should be staked, the hard black anodized finish on all the aluminum parts was very uniform and consistent, as was the melonite finish of the barrel and muzzle brake.
The Blackhawk Knoxx grip offers a very comfortable feel in the hand, but myself and most everyone else who handled the rifle noted that it seemed to have a very short reach to the trigger. After some measuring and comparing I found that the reach on the MSR10 is approximately 0.015″ shorter than that of a standard AR-15. This difference was consistent across the four different grips tested on both platforms, but due to the shape of the backstrap on the Knoxx grip it feels much shorter.
The Blackhawk AR Blaze trigger was also a very pleasant surprise with an out-of-box pull weight averaging 3.1 pounds. The trigger has some noticeable take-up, but the reset is reasonably short – at least compared to a standard mil-spec trigger. The break on the Blaze trigger isn’t as crisp as it is with my Rock River Arms Two-Stage Varmint trigger, but I can definitely live with it.
The Blackhawk Axiom Carbine butt stock is also very comfortable and the honeycomb rubber butt pad does a good job of taming the recoil. The location of the adjustment lever to change the length-of-pull took a little getting used to , but I do like it’s placement and the design is much better than that of the standard mil-spec carbine stock. QD sling mounts are also incorporated into either side of the Axiom’s adjustment lever which may not be the best place for them.
My favorite piece of furniture on the MSR10 Hunter however is the slim and trim M-Lok forearm which is made by Midwest Industries (MI). While most forearms are round in shape, this one is more oval shaped making it thinner than it is tall so it lays very well in the hand. Both of my personal AR’s are fitted with Troy Industries Alpha rails which are smaller in diameter than most of your round free-float tubes and quad rails, but this rail from MI is even slimmer. I did have to purchase a Magpul M-Lok bipod adapter separately be be able to mount my Harris bipod to the rifle, and I feel Savage should provide at minimum one short length of compatible rail with the rifle for mounting such accessories.
Bushnell Optics was nice enough to extend their loan of the previously reviewed Elite Tactical DMR-II Pro 3.5-21x50mm rifle scope so that I could use it for this review as well. A set of Tasco aluminum 34mm high rings was used, though it should be noted this placed the scope higher than ideal which resulted in a poor cheek weld.
Federal Premium was kind enough to provided a selection of ammunition for this review. The list is as follows:
- Federal Premium 150gr Trophy Copper
- Federal Premium Big Game 165gr Partition
- Federal Premium Edge TLR 175gr
- Federal Fusion 180gr
- American Eagle Predator & Varmint 130gr JHP
In terms of accuracy I found Savage’s MSR10 Hunter to provide a similar level of accuracy of what I typically get from my other AR/MSR-type rifles when shooting factory ammunition. I say that because I have never been able to shoot rifles of this type as accurately as I can most any other type of rifle. The ergonomics just are not to my liking with the shorter reach to the trigger and the angle of the grip. Try as I might I’ve just never been able to get very comfortable or consistent with AR/MSR-type rifles.
That said I still managed a few sub-MOA groups with the MSR10 Hunter. Groups at 100 yards didn’t fare as well as those at 200 yards, but that’s probably more shooter or conditions related than ammo or firearm related. Numerous 100-yard groups had four shots touching and one outlier. Best group at 100 yards was right at one-inch and was shot with Federal Premium’s Big-Game 165gr AccuBond load.
Groups at 200 yards were a little better with a couple coming in at just over 1/2 MOA. Best group at this distance was shot with the Federal Premium 150gr Trophy Copper load and came in at 1-1/4 inches. Federal’s Big-Game 165gr AccuBond load wasn’t far behind with a best of 1-1/2 inches.
During testing the adjustable gas system on the MSR10 Hunter made fine tuning the rifle to a given type of ammunition quick and easy. Ensuring the gas system is tuned for the ammunition at hand offers the shooter three key benefits:
- minimizes recoil
- lessens wear on rifle components
- ensures proper cycling of the system
Adjusting the gas system is as simple as turning the adjustment knob clockwise or counter-clockwise using the tip of a bullet or anything with a small enough diameter tip (screwdriver, allen wrench, etc) to fit the 4 holes in the knob. If the rifle cycles properly with the first shots, you can try adjusting the gas system down a couple of clicks and try again. Continue until the rifle fails to cycle properly, then start working up one click at a time until the rifle cycles reliable and consistently.
Now as good as the MSR10 Hunter is, there are a couple minor things that I feel could be improved upon to make it even better. None of them are major issues, and they mostly deal with ergonomics so they may not apply to everyone, but they are things I felt the vast majority of people would likely agree with me on after they spend some time with one of these rifles.
First up would be the butt stock and it’s lack of comb height adjustment. Nothing fancy is needed here and I do really like the shape and function of the Axiom stock, so if Blackhawk could simply modify the design to accept snap-on cheek risers similar to Magpul’s MOE stock it would be perfect.
My second issue is with the grip. As previously noted the supplied Blackhawk Knoxx grip provides a noticeably short reach to the trigger which makes it rather difficult (and uncomfortable) to exercise proper trigger engagement with the first pad of your finger. Swapping out the supplied grip with an Ergo SureGrip Ambi added about 1/4″ (0.240″ to be exact) to the reach which was a significant improvement, but ideally the reach would need to be extended another 1/4″ or so for my liking. For reference I have average size hands wearing a medium glove. A trigger shoe would work well for this, but at present I’m not aware of anyone making one for AR triggers. For the record, I think the short reach to the trigger is (in part) a negative side effect of Savage’s shortening of the receivers.
My third nit-pick is with the charging handle – more specifically the latch. I would like to see Savage equip these rifles with something slightly larger that offers more purchase area – something like Badger’s Tac Latch or similar. Most customers who purchase one of these rifles will be mounting an optic on it, and depending on the optic chosen the ocular bell may extend rearward of the charging handle making it very difficult to charge the rifle. I ran into this issue when I initially mounted my NightForce SHV 4.5-14x50mm in an American Defense Recon mount to this rifle, and given the much stiffer buffer spring compared to an AR/MSR15 the added purchase area on the latch would make charging the rifle quite a bit easier.
Last but not least we have the supplied muzzle brake, which according to my shoulder does little to nothing to lessen felt recoil and only amplifies the report of the rifle. While shooting the MSR10 Hunter both with and without the brake in place neither myself nor two other shooters could discern a noticeable difference in felt recoil or muzzle jump.
Overall the MSR 10 Hunter proved to be a very pleasant surprise in that it wasn’t just another basic “me too” AR-type rifle. Savage Arms did an excellent job of identifying the shortcomings of the common AR-10 rifle and then selected quality components to address those shortcomings. The result is a well put together package equipped with premium components right out of the box so that the end user won’t have to spend more money “upgrading” their rifle down the road.
To put this into perspective, just think of how much extra money you would spend “upgrading” your typical off the shelf mil-spec AR-type rifle.
Better Trigger: $100-300
Better Grip: $20-60
Better Buttstock: $60-350
Free-Float Forearm: $150-300
Nickel-Boron Coated BCG: $120-190
Extended Charging Handle Lever: $30-80
Adjustable Gas Block: $25-100
Bare minimum you would spend over $500 to upgrade mil-spec components on a typical AR-10 to bring it up to the same level as the MSR10 Hunter comes equipped off the shelf. When you price the MSR10 Hunter against some of it’s competitors (the S&W M&P10 or DPMS Compact Hunter for example) you’re getting a lot more bang for your buck with the Savage.
Savage’s tag line for their MSR series of rifles is “Better comes standard,” and the MSR 10 Hunter easily hits that mark.
Detailed specifications for the MSR10 Hunter and all of Savage Arms other offerings can be found on their website at www.SavageArms.com