Recently there has been a growing trend towards semiautomatic .308s rifles, the most popular being the AR-10. Although still a relatively niche group, manufactures have steadily introduced more products into the marketplace for this category including DPMS, Ruger, and Aero Precision ($1549). Brownell’s has a wide range of .308 semi-auto, direct impingement rifles (link). Today I’ll be taking a closer look at one of those, the Smith & Wesson M&P10. Released in 2013, the rifle is backed by Smith & Wesson’s lifetime service warranty and retails at a suggested $1,619.00 (it is $1,449 at Brownell’s)
- Ambidextrous Magazine Catch, Bolt Catch
- Ambidextrous Safety Selector
- Patented S&W Enhanced Flash Suppressor
- Gas Block with Integral Picatinny-Style Rail
- QD Sling Swivel Attachment Point
- 5R Rifling
- Armornite® Barrel Finish
- 9310 steel bolt
- Chromed Firing Pin
- Optics Ready
At first glance, the M&P10 shares several components with its AR-15 brethren. Clamped on the barrel is a mid-length A2-style handguard. The gun also arrived with a standard A2-style grip and six position M4 style stock. It’s one of those loose fitting, hard plastic units without any rubber on the butt pad. While understandable that Smith & Wesson is trying to keep costs down in order to achieve a certain price point, a few small upgrades can go a long way in making a gun feel special. C’mon Smith and Wesson, is it really asking too much for a Magpul MOE grip?
Smith & Wesson M&P10 Barrel
The M&P10 boasts an 18” thin contour barrel constructed from 4010 steel with a 1 in 10” twist and 5R rifling. The barrel itself isn’t chrome lined however the bore has been treated with a corrosion resistant finish. The asymmetrical pattern produces lands which are not as sharp as a conventional 4 or 6 groove. This results in less squeezing of the bullet as it travels down the barrel leading to reduced deformation and potentially higher accuracy. 5R rifling is also known for less copper buildup and being easier to clean. From experience I’ve come to trust this type of rifling in my own long distance rigs in the form of Bartelin and Remington 5R barrels.
To be honest I was somewhat shocked at how light the rifle was. At just under 8 pounds unloaded, it felt more akin to an AR-15 than any AR-10 I’ve held. The rifle was remarkably maneuverable due to its short overall length and balanced weight distribution due in large part to the skinny barrel. Most able bodies could certainly carry this gun for several hours without too much exertion.
The fit and finish on this gun is superb. There weren’t any noticeable tooling marks, and the finish is smooth and evenly applied. One particular pet peeve of mine is a disdain for sloppy fit between the upper and lower receivers resulting in excessive play. While it doesn’t affect accuracy, given the choice, I much prefer a tighter lockup which the M&P10 delivered with no wobble whatsoever between the upper and lower receivers.
Moving to the firing mechanism, another big positive is the trigger. It felt clean and crisp for a single stage. Admittedly not quite a Timney or Geissele, it broke at an average of 5 pounds 7 ounces from five attempts on my Lyman digital trigger pull gauge. The pull is significantly lighter and more polished than a standard mil-spec trigger or even the horrid one my FN SCAR 16S came with. Both of those can only be described and gritty and heavy.
M&P10 Flash Hider
Lastly the uniquely shaped flash hider is worth mentioning. At 3.5” it is significantly longer than its peers. I don’t understand the reasoning behind choosing this over a shorter one such as an A2 birdcage. The added length essentially negates the advantages going with an 18” barrel over a 20”. Fortunately the barrel is threaded in the commonly accepted 5/8×24 pitch allowing the owner to choose between a host of different muzzle devices.
M&P10 Manual of Arms
Ergonomically the rifle is easy to maneuver for both right and left handed shooters. The M&P10 is configured with ambidextrous controls for the magazine catch, bolt catch and safety available on either side of the lower receiver. For those experienced with the AR platform, the skillset should translate directly over to the M&P10. No extensive retraining required.
Styrka S7 Magnified Optics
Mounting longer optics onto the M&P10 could pose a problem. Due to the handguard, there is no Picatinny rail up front therefore one may run out of rail over the upper receiver when fitting optics with lengthy eye relief. Luckily for us Vortex Optics was nice enough to send over a 30mm Precision Extended Cantilever mount effectively moving the optic forward to make this a non-issue.
After driving to my home range, Frontline Defense located in Warrenton, NC, I was ready to begin some live fire tests. They offer ranges out to 1000 yards, perfect for the long distance shooter. I brought seven different types of ammunition to try out. I didn’t get a chance to setup my barrel attaching MagnetoSpeed V3 chronograph since Ammo was limited and I wasn’t sure I would have enough to both chrono and test for accuracy (ideally done separately). Conditions were rather rough with gusts blowing up to 15 mph. As can be seen from the results, I’ll be the first to admit my shooting was largely subpar that day. However we did manage to test against an 18” Palmetto State AR-10 rifle with similar specs. After verifying both guns I’m confident the results at least appear to provide a general sense of accuracy.
As for the accuracy testing methodology, 5 shot groups were fired at a target 100 yards away. Accuracy was overall impressive for a gun of this type. It was unusual to see a rifle shoot well across such a wide variety of different bullet weights and seating depths. Felt recoil was noticeably stronger with Defender and Federal Gold Medal Match ammo.
|.308 Win Cartridge||Advertised Velocity||5 Shot Group|
|Colt 168 grain FMJ||2559||2.78”|
|Freedom Munitions 175 grain HPBT Remanufactured||2620||1.59”|
|Hornady Steel Match 155 grain BTHP||2610||1.49”|
|Noveske Varmageddon 110 grain Ballistic Tip||2950||1.62”|
|Defender 165 grain Soft Point||2650||2.38”|
|Creedmoor 167 grain Lapua Scenar||2660||1.57”|
|Federal Gold Medal Match 168 grain BTHP||2650||1.34”|
Comparison: S&W M&P10 vs Palmetto State Armory AR10
My friend Dom brought along his Palmetto State Armory AR-10 to compare. It is equipped with an equivalently long 18” stainless barrel. His rig ran a few hundred dollars less overall coming in at roughly $900, pieced together from a $650 upper and $250 lower.
The PSA AR10 weighed about a pound and a half more than the S&W M&P10 due primarily to its heavy profile barrel and quad rail.
To compare accuracy we shot a group from each type of ammo on an adjacent target. Group after group the two went neck and neck all afternoon. We were particularly amazed at the consistency of the groups. We did not find one load where one rifle completely outshot the other. In fact, they even exhibited similar point of impact shifts relative to zero when switching between loads. Perhaps over longer distances the differences in barrel harmonics and timing would make a more noticeable change to the POI.
Although the Palmetto State AR-10 shot with comparable precision, it suffered three embarrassing stovepipes caused by failures to eject. The likely reason is an excessively dirty bolt or chamber, which Dom admits he rarely cleans. Luckily, a bit of lube sprayed directly into the receiver kept the rifle, for most part operational, albeit limping through the remaining firing sequences.
I was very impressed of the performance from the lighter M&P10. It was able to compete admirably against the much heavier barreled Palmetto State AR-10. No barrel break-in or a thorough initial cleaning, and of course zero stoppages all day.
With the sun quickly setting and the light fading by the minute, we brought the M&P10 over to the 1000 yard range to take a couple shots at longer distance. To save time, instead of starting at 200 yards and moving back incrementally, I dialed into the ballistics calculator the Creedmoor 167gr Lapua load and trusted the velocity it spewed out. I moved directly to 600 yards, dialed in the scope adjustments and the first shot fired, much to our surprise, rang the torso sized steel silhouette target downrange. I have no doubt some a dose of luck was involved but I’ll certainly take it. With limited rounds left, I was able to manage a single hit on the 800 yard target before expending the remaining rounds. There wasn’t enough daylight remaining to switch to another load and start over. Personally I feel with some more time, match grade ammo, and a higher power scope, stretching it out 1,000 yards would not have been difficult. The rifle certainly proved it has the capability to shoot well at long distance.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent shooting the Smith & Wesson M&P10. I thought I’d be in for a day of shoulder punishment but the light and handy rifle remained remarkably well-composed. It chewed through a slew of ammo types with zero malfunctions. Although the price may seem somewhat stiff for a basic optioned rifle, actual street price comes in several hundred dollars lower. At my nearby North Carolina Bass Pro Shops, I saw one on the rack for right around $1,100.
Defender Ammunition Company
Without the support of our ammo suppliers we would not be able to do nearly the amount of gun reviews that we do today.
Big thanks go to our Ammo Sponsor Defender Ammunition Company for supplying ammo for our tests and reviews on an ongoing basis. For this review we shot a few magazines of Defender’s 165gr Soft Point .308 Winchester ammo with great success.
One of the world’s most iconic firearms brands, Smith & Wesson sent the M&P10 rifle for review.
Styrka Optics is a relatively new company specializing in hunting scopes. The scopes are backed by a lifetime warranty and even offer free annual cleanings. Their product line is segmented into three groups, S3, S5, S7, each occupying a different price point. Styrka provided the S7 optic for this review.
Vortex Optics provided the cantilever scope mount base that allowed use of the Styrka S7 scope on the S&W M&P10 rifle.