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I’m often asked, “If you could only choose one AR, which would it be?” Of course, that’s a bit simplistic, but it’s pretty common nonetheless. And when you test a new rifle every week like me, it’s easy to get lost in the complexity and variety of the AR market. While I might have deflected that question early on, it’s become a bit easier to answer lately. While there are a few high-quality manufacturers out there, Daniel Defense is one of the best.

Daniel Defense rifles have always worked for me, no matter what conditions I’ve shot them in. I’ve tested numerous models with various barrel lengths and configurations, and they just seem to run every type of ammo all the time. These are simple, strong and reliable ARs that are built to keep running in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. On top of all that, Daniel Defense rifles are also among the most affordable and accessible of top-tier ARs, including those from LWRCI, Primary Weapons Systems, BCM and Seekins Precision.

Reliable Rifles

All of the aforementioned companies build superb ARs, and I’ve tested each of their rifles to find flawless performance—some over 10,000 rounds. The differences are in mechanics (piston versus direct impingement), ergonomics, design and, to a certain extent, price. None of them are cobbled together to meet some bottom-level price point. Instead, these are among the best ARs you can get without any performance or handling compromises in the field.

Daniel Defense offers the most extensive line of rifles, and each gun is priced competitively with other high-quality ARs. On top of that, Daniel Defense manufactures most of its rifle components in-house to ensure absolute quality control. To that end, every single Daniel Defense AR I’ve tested has worked no matter the condition.

For example, the first Daniel Defense carbine I tested was an MK18 equipped with a SureFire suppressor. I ran this gun in semi-auto, full-auto, suppressed, unsuppressed and with several types of ammunition. It never failed. It remains in my safe to this day, and I’ve used it extensively to test ammunition, teach CQB courses and work with SWAT teams. It’s one of the most reliable short-barreled rifles (SBRs) I’ve run on the market. SWAT teams, military units and professionals often choose the MK18 as their primary entry weapon.

Daniel Defense’s equivalent SBR in 300 Blackout, the DDM4 300S, performed just as well. It is one of only two 300 BLK SBRs I’ve tested that has reliably cycled both sub- and supersonic ammunition unsuppressed without fail or adjustment. Several sound suppressors were also used with no adverse effect on the carbine’s functioning. It remains one of the few short-barreled 300 BLK rifles that runs just about anything you put through it with a suppressor on it or not.

Need More Power?

One of the latest Daniel Defense rifles I’ve tested is the DD5V1 in .308 Winchester/7.62mm NATO. Like every other rifle the company makes, the DD5V1 works time and time again. It’s relatively lightweight and incorporates several design improvements, including a proprietary bolt carrier group and a simple system for keeping the barrel attached to the receiver without a barrel nut.

Within the KeyMod handguard you’ll find a mid-length gas system and a free-floating, chrome-moly steel barrel with a 1-in-11-inch twist rate for enhanced accuracy over a broad range of ammunition. The cold-hammer-forged barrel has extended feed ramps as well as Daniel Defense’s Strength-2-Weight (S2W) profile to help reduce weight. Finally, the barrel comes capped with a Daniel Defense Superior Suppression Device (SSD) to reduce flash and muzzle rise.

Adaptable and ambidextrous, the charging handle has two different-length knobs. It operates an improved bolt carrier with enhanced extractor geometry, dual ejectors, an oversized cam pin and a proprietary low-friction coating. All of this results in an incredibly reliable and accurate .308 AR.

Tier-One Testing

Daniel Defense has never shied away from hard-use testing on its rifles. Given how many end up in the hands of professionals, Daniel Defense does not release rifles that don’t work. It means high-round-count testing in harsh environments outside of a normal range. The company’s media events are similar. Rather than line everyone up behind a bench, Daniel Defense equips its rifles with the latest and greatest gear and lets writers put them to work. The last Daniel-Defense-sponsored event I attended involved shooting from a helicopter and working through an abandoned prison in daylight and at night using gear from the Tactical Night Vision Company (TNVC).

I used the new DDM4V7 extensively at this event, and it’s the first Daniel Defense rifle to feature an M-LOK handguard. Modeled after the slim and trim DD5V1 handguard, the forend is 15 inches long, covering most of the 16-inch barrel. Along with this carbine, I was also able to run an integrally suppressed DDM4 ISR rifle. This setup allows consumers to purchase one rifle utilizing a 9-inch barrel with an integral sound suppressor for a 16-inch overall length. One tax stamp for the upper receiver and you can attach it to any lower. Like all Daniel Defense rifles, the one I tested was reliable and accurate. It is capable of shooting both sub- and supersonic ammunition. Along with these new rifles, we also put the DD5V2 through its paces at long range and during a couple of “stress” courses.

In the prison—now a state-of-the-art training facility—we spent a couple hours clearing rooms with MK18s and DDM4V7s. This was some of the most challenging tactical work I’ve done. Then, after a break, we came back at night to do it all over again, this time in total darkness using TNVC night-vision gear and SureFire infrared lights. It all culminated in a force-on-force event using UTM projectiles in low- and no-light conditions.

Finally, we ran the MK18 and DDM4V7 from a helicopter—some of the most fun you can have with an AR. Our rifles were suppressed and either semi-auto or select-fire. We each were able to shoot targets while hovering and on the move. As expected, each rifle performed flawlessly. I was even able to get several “doubles” on steel while on the move from the helicopter—not bad for a short rifle.

Proven Performance

While I get to have a lot of fun at the range, the majority of my work revolves around real-world applications. Most of my testing focuses on what a professional buying an AR will actually do with it. Rather than throw a few rounds downrange from a bench and supply mostly meaningless data, my tests try to simulate life. If it’s a competition gun, my courses of fire simulate that. Hunting rifles are hiked unto the backcountry and, if possible, used on a hunt. Precision rifles are tested at long range—as far as 1,200 yards, even a mile. Working rifles are tested from vehicles, around obstacles and in the harshest conditions I can withstand, in temperatures ranging from below 0 to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I test these guns in dusty, muddy, windy and wet conditions. In short, while the latest and greatest weapons might look good, this kind of testing proves what actually works when it’s pushed hard. Few guns seem to always work, but Daniel Defense rifles always seem to do just fine.

Are they perfectly tuned? Not always. Like most production guns, they can be “over-gassed,” but that isn’t important to most professionals. A perfectly tuned, soft-shooting AR that does not run whatever it is fed will get you killed; sometimes you just want it to go bang with every trigger press.

I use Daniel Defense rifles to test optics, sights and accessories like suppressors. This kind of testing requires removing as many variables as possible. That means trusting a reliable rifle. That’s why Daniel Defense is always on my list.

No one AR maker does it all. But Daniel Defense is one company that comes about as close as it gets. If you are looking for an AR built to extremely high standards that will work when you need it, make sure you check this company out.

Daniel Defense DD5V1

  • Caliber: 7.62mm NATO
  • Barrel: 16 inches
  • OA Length: 33.38-37 inches
  • Weight: 8.3 pounds (empty)
  • Stock: Collapsible
  • Sights: None
  • Action: Direct impingement semi-auto
  • Finish: Black, Tornado, Mil-Spec+
  • Capacity: 20+1
  • MSRP: $3,044-$3,198

Daniel Defense DDM4 300S

  • Caliber: 300 BLK
  • Barrel: 10.3 inches
  • OA Length: 26.75-29.88 inches
  • Weight: 5.77 pounds (empty)
  • Stock: Collapsible
  • Sights: None
  • Action: Direct impingement semi-auto
  • Finish: Matte black
  • Capacity: 30+1
  • MSRP: $1,836

Daniel Defense DDM4V7

  • Caliber: 5.56mm NATO
  • Barrel: 16 inches
  • OA Length: 32.25-35.88 inches
  • Weight: 6.2 pounds (empty)
  • Stock: Collapsible
  • Sights: None
  • Action: Direct impingement semi-auto
  • Finish: Black, Tornado, Mil-Spec+
  • Capacity: 30+1
  • MSRP: $1,679-$1,847

Daniel Defense MK18

  • Caliber: 5.56mm NATO
  • Barrel: 10.3 inches
  • OA Length: 26.75-29.88 inches
  • Weight: 5.88 pounds (empty)
  • Stock: Collapsible
  • Sights: None
  • Action: Direct impingement semi-auto
  • Finish: Mil-Spec+
  • Capacity: 30+1
  • MSRP: $2,004

For more information, visit danieldefense.com.

This article was originally published in “Gun Annual” 2018. To order a copy, visit outdoorgroupstore.com.

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