Nov. 8, 2016, was a huge victory for gun owners and the firearms industry. Our new president, strongly endorsed and supported by the NRA, has promised to protect the Second amendment from encroachment. National concealed-carry reciprocity and the Hearing Protection Act actually look like they’ll have a chance of passing Congress and we, the firearms community, can finally breathe a sigh of relief. We are not so embattled, and for the moment life is good. But there were other consequences as a result of the election, and I guess it depends on which seat you are sitting in as to whether they are good or bad.

After The Boom

The AR-15, or modern sporting rifle (MSR) as we have come to know it, has never been more popular. In recent years, many shops with CNC machinery have become manufacturers and some sold to even smaller shops with variances. A lot of these small manufacturers gambled on Hillary Clinton winning the presidential election and tapped out their lines of credit to build inventory in time for the post-election panic buying. With diminished post-Trump-victory demand and an oversupplied market, prices for ARs have never been cheaper. As a result, we can expect to see a number of these smaller manufacturers disappear.

But one company sure to weather the storm is Savage Arms. In January of 2017, Savage introduced its new line of MSRs. The line includes two rifles with .223 Wylde chamberings so they can fire both 5.56mm NATO and .223 Remington cartridges reliably and accurately without pressure issues. The MSR 15 Patrol carbine is an enhanced civilian-legal version of the military’s M4 Carbine while the MSR 15 Recon possesses a BlackHawk AR Blaze trigger, a free-floating handguard and a collapsible BlackHawk buttstock and pistol grip. I received the latter for testing.

Family Resemblance

My initial examination of the carbine didn’t reveal any surprises. If you’re expecting anything dramatically different than what we’ve become accustom to in AR-15 rifles, you will be disappointed. But what I discovered is the Savage MSR 15 Recon is a well-built gun using some great components and assembled with a good degree of attention to detail. The Savage gun uses a direct gas impingement system just like the original AR-15. However, it uses a mid-length gas system, which reduces the port pressure, helps reduce wear by lowering the bolt carrier velocity and makes the gun softer on recoil. Savage calls the mid-length system appropriate for the 16.13-inch barrel length, and I wholeheartedly agree.

Savage uses a 1-in-8-inch-twist barrel on the MSR 15 Recon. Here we see a number of innovations that help set the rifle apart from competitors. The barrel’s 5R rifling has five lands and grooves arranged so there is no land or groove directly opposite (180 degrees) of each other, which might cause an uneven constriction on the projectile. The lands are slightly slanted and less likely to collect bullet jacket material, which should aid in accuracy and makes the barrel easier to clean. Savage claims the 5R rifling cradles the bullet just enough to impart spin without unnecessary constriction.

To protect the barrel, Savage gives it a surface hardening treatment called Melonite QPQ. Besides making the barrel harder, it also has a lower friction coefficient than chrome and should ensure a long life. As mentioned, the gun has a .223 Wylde chamber.

Savage goes the extra length and laser-engraves the rifle’s serial number on the bolt. I could see where this would be especially helpful when guns are involved in group cleaning sessions such as with a department or agency. The bolt carrier’s gas key is correctly staked and should provide a lifetime of trouble-free use.

Extra Touches

A 13.5-inch, free-floating M-LOK handguard is used on the Savage MSR 15 Recon. It’s a rock-solid unit, and I like its small diameter. It covers the gun’s gas block to give the carbine clean and uncluttered lines and provides plenty of rail space on top for different sighting options. BlackHawk’s folding backup sights are also included.

Savage uses its own forgings to machine the upper and lower receivers. The stylized lines give the lower a decidedly “billet” look, though it is not. There are grooves on the front of the magazine well for those who like to shoot with their support hand in this location instead of on the handguard. There are also indexing cuts on the rear of the magazine well, bilaterally, to give shooters a place for their trigger fingers to rest when they are not on the trigger. The lower has an integral winter triggerguard.

One interesting feature of the Savage MSR lower receiver is that it is drilled and tapped for a setscrew that, when tightened, eliminates all of the play and movement between the upper and lower receivers. The tip of the screw bears against the bottom of the rear lug of the upper receiver for rigidity.

As mentioned, the Savage MSR 15 Recon is outfitted with a BlackHawk AR Blaze trigger, a single-stage unit designed for duty use. It features a full-mass hammer, and all of the components are given a boron treatment to eliminate the need for lubrication. My test sample had a smooth and crisp trigger pull, breaking at 5.25 pounds with a firm reset. This is a sensible trigger pull for those who will use this gun for tactical applications, but those interested in target work and 3-Gun competition will likely want to switch to a lighter pull.

The pistol grip used on the Savage MSR 15 Recon is also a BlackHawk part. Ergonomically, it is one of the best grips I have used. It has a “bottle taper,” meaning it’s slim at the top and fatter at its bottom, and it’s heavily textured. The Recon also uses a BlackHawk six-position collapsible stock. It features a wedge-shaped cheekweld and a 1-inch recoil pad. Though the recoil from .223/5.56mm rounds isn’t punishing, the pad gives the stock extra length, and its tacky rubber composition prevents it from sliding off of a ballistic vest.

Range Workout

I tested the MSR 15 Recon’s accuracy at the range on a blustery Tucson winter day. Winds gusted to 15 mph, and I tried to time my shots during windless lulls. If I thought the wind affected a group, I reshot it. For optics, I used a Bushnell AR Optics 1-4x24mm scope with a 30mm tube. It has .223/5.56 BDC reticle for mid-range accuracy and target turrets. I mounted it in a Weaver Tactical SPR mount. This combo proved to be a perfect match for the Recon for short- to mid-range work. I didn’t feel handicapped at all using the 4X scope to shoot groups at 100 yards.

The scope’s clear and bright optics made it easy to hold the crosshairs on the little 2-inch Shoot-N-C targets. While the trigger was a little heavier and had a little more creep than I would prefer for target work, I was able to shoot some very nice groups. All of the groups were fired from a warm barrel with no effort made to allow it to cool. Savage doesn’t claim the MSR 15 Recon to be a target gun, but it did produce sub-MOA groups—not just once, but with three of the five different loads used!

Shooting the Recon on steel, I dialed the Bushnell’s magnification down and shot with both eyes open. I liked the long handguard and the ability to grip it far forward, with its slim diameter permitting me to hook my thumb over the top rail.

The Takeaway

Admittedly, I am many years removed from active 3-Gun competition, but the Savage MSR 15 Recon impressed me as a gun whose only limitation would be the shooter. The rifle worked and worked well, with absolutely no stoppages during the 300-round test. It possesses all the accuracy needed for competition, law enforcement or security work.

For those wanting to test the waters in 3-Gun competition, the Savage MSR 15 Recon makes a lot of sense. It provides a solid platform that can be added to as the competitor’s skill level increases. Savage Arms lists the MSRP of the Recon at $999 but, like most other guns—especially AR-style rifles—you’ll find the real-world price to be substantially less.

Savage MSR 15 Recon Specs

Caliber: .223 Wylde
Barrel: 16.13 inches
OA Length: 33.5-36.75 inches
Weight: 7 pounds (empty)
Stock: BlackHawk Axiom
Sights: BlackHawk flip-up
Action: Direct impingement semi-auto
Finish: Matte black
Capacity: 30+1
MSRP: $999


Savage MSR 15 Recon Performance

Load Velocity Accuracy
Black Hills 77 TMK 2,750 1.18
Federal 64 Power-Shok 2,946 0.77
Federal 69 Gold Medal Match BTHP 2,802 0.71
Hornady 62 Black FMJ 3,060 1.15
Hornady 75 Match BTHP 2,790 0.85

*Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity in fps by chronograph and accuracy in inches for three 5-shot groups at 100 yards.

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This article was originally published in “AR Rifleman” 2018. To order a copy, visit

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