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If you have this magazine in your hands I don’t have to remind you that ammunition costs are at a premium right now. The price of centerfire rifle ammo of all kinds is higher than it has been in my lifetime. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the purchase price of most firearms has leveled off and a tremendous number of deals are to be had by the discriminating consumer.

mp.gifAs this goes to print, Smith & Wesson has a winner for both those who desire a quality black rifle and those who are looking to save money on their ammunition bill. The S&W M&P15 rifle series is a hit, no doubt about it. They are quality firearms and, as of late, S&W has been offering some fantastic deals on them through their legions of dealers.

Recently, S&W introduced the M&P15R. This is essentially the same as the M&P15 .223/5.56mm carbine with one distinct difference. The “R” model is chambered in 5.45x39mm. The 5.45mm is the Russian version of our 5.56mm.

The M&P15R is definitely a working gun and comes in a stock configuration without the fancy extras. You can add them yourself. Regarding the lower receiver, it is essentially the same as every other M&P15 carbine. It has a retractable stock, Mil-Spec pistol grip and standard AR-style controls.

The upper receiver again resembles a normal M4. The barrel is 16 inches with a NATO-spec compensator up front. An A2 front sight housing with gas block is found up front with the upper receiver arriving in flat-top mode. A carbine-length forend surrounds the barrel and gas tube. The polymer components are black with the steel and aluminum parts being parkerized.

As the “15R” did arrive in stock configuration I felt compelled to put a couple of extras onto it. Coinciding with the arrival of the gun I received a single point sling adapter from BlackHawk. The adapter completely replaces the lower receiver back plate on retractable stock models.

Swapping out the factory plate for the BlackHawk model would require the removal of the stock and buffer tube. For this I would need a special wrench. I happened to have a MK-16 Combo Tool. This unique item is akin to a Swiss Army knife for black rifles. It has all the tools you need to perform basic cleaning and maintenance on your AR/M4. The centerpiece of the tool is a receiver nut wrench. The MK-16 tool is available from Brownells.

Speaking of Brownells, they have a fantastic feature on their website now—instructional video clips. Simply go to their website and click on the “Instructional Videos” link on the main page. Before I installed the single point sling attachment I went on the site and watched their clip on how to convert your AR from fixed to retractable stock.

The next change I made was to install a Badger extended charging handle latch in place of the factory model. All you need for this part switch is a small punch or Allen wrench. The swap took maybe five minutes tops.

As for sights, I would use both iron and optical. For the iron rear sight I mounted a DPMS M4 carrying handle. The unique part of this set-up was the CSAT (Combat Shooting and Tactics) rear sight aperture from XS Sights. This component completely replaces the factory aperture and gives you a rear sight that works for both up-close and long-range engagements. Installing the CSAT rear sight aperture can be done on your workbench or table without special tools, save a punch. XS provides detailed step-by-step instruction for you. The installation took me perhaps 10 minutes.

The optical sight was the new Leupold Prismatic. The Tactical Prismatic 1x14mm is a 1-to-1 power unit with a unique reticle. The Prismatic uses a red illuminated reticle but it does not have to be turned on to use the optic.

The reticle is a unique combination of crosshairs transposed on a circle. The center of the crosshair includes a small dot for precision aiming. When illuminated, the reticle has eight separate intensity settings. The included mounting bracket is adjustable for height and it mounts directly to your Weaver-style/Picatinny rail.

Range Time
To feed my test rifle, I took fodder from Wolf and Silver Bear as well as some Bulgarian surplus ammunition. The first range session would give me a chance to complete my chronographing and zeroing chores as well as to see how the gun would shoot from the bench.

During session number one, I zeroed the iron sights for 100 yards. Groups were respectable. The 5.45×39 is not going to replace the .223 in the precision department, but then again it’s not supposed to. I was pleased with the gun’s performance.

For my next outing I would get a bit more serious and conduct more tactical training and run through some drills. I conducted failures to stop four round rapid fire drill, forward movement, and transition from primary to secondary. By the time I finished my second range session I had the barrel smoking hot.

The only issue that I encountered was with the “30-round” magazine. I found that when it was stuffed completely to capacity the magazine had feeding issues. I backed the round count down to 25 and did not have any more trouble with it. Keep in mind that “30-round” AR/M4 magazines in my expierence should only be loaded to 28 rounds.

During additional testing sessions I used the Prismatic optic from Leupold. With the optic sight in place I worked with the carbine in both CQB and ranges out to 50 and 75 yards. I’ve had this sight on a couple of different weapons and it has thus far stood up to the recoil of a thousand or so rounds.

Accessories
You need more than just a gun and ammunition for a successful field outing or range trip. During my review of the M&P15 I used a new pair of gloves from BlackHawk. Their new SOLAG HD (heavy duty) gloves have hard knuckles and padded finger protection. The Coyote brown models are constructed with NOMEX material to protect you hand from flash fires and burns. These gloves are tough but still thin enough that you can run a rifle or pistol without a problem.

Everyone with a fighting rifle/carbine needs a bayonet, right? Well, I think they do. The M9 bayonet was a big step up from the Cold War-era M7 model. The M7 was little more than a pointy piece of steel, it never was a knife. The M9 featured in this piece came from the Sabre Defence catalog. You can actually cut with it and the M9 comes with a wire cutter on the sheath. Ask any field soldier about communication wire and many will tell you stories of ruining a pocketknife trying to cut it. I tested the M9 wire cutter out on Mil-Spec communication’s wire and it made short work of it.

Lastly, I picked up Kelty Falcon field pack just as I began this review. The Kelty pack is extremely well made and rides so comfortably on your back that it made me want to put it on and hike. The Falcon was obviously engineered by outdoor folks as it has a plethora of useful features. It is also covered in MOLLE (modular lightweight load-carrying equipment) webbing so you can add all your cool extras to it.

Final Notes
While the cost of ammunition is at an all-time high, there are still deals to be had for discriminating shooters. For those that need to train often and whose ammo consumption is high, an alternative such as the economical 5.45x39mm round is something to consider.

As for the hardware, I have found the M&P15 rifles to be top notch. The “R” model held up that standard. For those who already own an M&P15 carbine in 5.56mm, S&W offers 5.45mm upper receivers to convert your existing gun. Aside from the magazine issue that I previously addressed, the gun performed solidly.

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