Not long after our second invasion of Iraq, the Army put out a solicitation to firearms manufacturers for a new Semi-Auto Sniper System (SASS). Aging M21 and M24 sniper rifles needed to be replaced with a new, man-portable semi-auto rifle chambered for the hard-hitting 7.62x51mm cartridge. Among the requirements was that the rifle possess a minimum of 1 minute-of-angle (MOA) accuracy. Eventually the field was narrowed to a submission from Knights Armament and an entry jointly submitted by DPMS and Remington’s Military Products Division. Though Knights Armament eventually won the contract, the lessons learned by DPMS in the selection process evolved into the DPMS SASS, a rifle built for civilian and law enforcement consumption based on the military prototype.
Featuring a four-rail handguard, match trigger, adjustable stock and a host of other custom features the DPMS SASS rifle also boasted accuracy that surpassed the military’s requirements. Its reception with the shooting public has been so well received that it’s constantly on a back-order status with the factory. In fact, it was this rifle’s success and popularity that inspired DPMS officials to offer the Mini SASS, a rifle chambered for the 5.56x45mm cartridge that shares many of the same features of its larger brother.
There’s nothing different about the upper or lower receivers used to build the Mini SASS. They’re exactly the same parts DPMS uses to build their other AR-style rifles. Machined to Mil-Spec from aircraft grade aluminum, hardcoat anodized and then Teflon coated for wear resistance, the upper and lower receivers become the platform for a number of custom features that combine to create the Mini SASS.
The heart of the Mini SASS and key element to its wonderful accuracy is its barrel. At first glance I thought it was a carbon steel barrel but closer inspection revealed that it is machined from 416 stainless steel and to give it a stealthy appearance, DPMS technicians Teflon coat it a non-reflective black. DPMS uses an 18-inch barrel on the Mini SASS, a perfect compromise length balancing the benefits of a short barrel for portability but with enough length for effective velocity and accuracy. To stabilize the heavier bullets the barrel is button rifled with a 1-in-8-inch twist. DPMS air gauges the Mini SASS barrels to ensure uniformity and accuracy. It’s a medium weight profile barrel that terminates with a Panther flash hider at the muzzle. DPMS also flutes the barrel and some experts argue that the increased surface area helps keep the barrel cooler and more rigid. It also gives it a pretty neat look.
DPMS chose to use a mid-length gas system on the Mini SASS for optimum function. The extra 2 inches of length on the gas tube helps drop the port pressure and many argue that will result in improved reliability and service life. It makes sense to me; the less pressure the bolt is under when it unlocks from the barrel extension, the less wear it will incur. A free-floating 4-rail handguard is used on the Mini SASS and covers the low profile gas block, therefore the front sight is mounted on the handguard’s top rail. DPMS includes their folding low-profile Mangonel front and rear sights with the Mini SASS package. Lifting the sight allows a spring-loaded support to deploy and the sight stays in position.
Given its intended role as a precision weapon DPMS fits the Mini SASS with the excellent Magpul PRS (Precision Rifle Stock) that boasts a full 3.25 inches of length of pull adjustment. Shooters can vary their length of pull depending on whether they are wearing a winter coat, ballistic vest or shirtsleeves. The PRS stock also has an adjustable cheek piece so that the shooter can tailor the stock for perfect fit if they change optics that have different ring heights. Like all Magpul products the PRS is built tough to withstand the rigors of serious use. Its buttplate is machined from billet and has a rubber butt-pad; its extension shafts are constructed from steel and phosphated black and aluminum ball detent knobs are used for adjusting the stock. For shooting from a supported rest the buttstock has a place on its underbelly where the off hand can pull the buttstock against the shoulder.
DPMS equips the Mini SASS with a swivel series Harris Bipod whose legs can adjust from 9 inches to 13 inches and can rotate to either side for instant leveling on uneven ground. It is attached to the bottom rail of the handguard via an adapter from Command Arms Accessories. Because I would be shooting from a cement bench I removed the bipod and used a Caldwell rifle rest for support.
I used an ArmaLite scope mount to attach a Trijicon 3-9x40mm AccuPoint scope to the Mini SASS. I like the clarity of the Trijicon AccuPoint and find the brilliance of the amber-aiming post to be just what my aging eyes need. Its eyepiece is adjustable for focus and the brightness level of the aiming point can also be varied. In low light situations it has tritium backup so that you’ll never lose your aiming point. Unfortunately, the rear of the scope was low enough that I had to remove the Mangonel rear sight. Using taller rings would have eliminated this problem—I just didn’t have any available.
I fired all groups with the scope set on 9-power, 5 shots to a group without time for the barrel to cool. I used a number of 1-inch target pasters on an IPSC target for my aiming points so that I could spend more time shooting rather than walking downrange to replace targets.
Black Hills 69-grain Match King bullets turned in the single best group that measured just 0.63 of an inch center-to-center. It’s not surprising; this particular load consistently prints the best groups with guns possessing 1-in-8-inch or 1-in-9-inch twists. Another consistently accurate round, Hornady’s 75-grain BTHP TAP, also turned in a respectable 5-shot group that was just 0.66 of an inch. On a lark I brought along a box of Black Hills’ 50-grain V-Max bullets, although I was certain that the round was just too light to provide good accuracy with the 1-in-8-inch barrel. I was wrong. That load produced a 0.82-of-an-inch group.
Besides good optics and a steady rest the other factor that made shooting the Mini SASS so accurate was its trigger. DPMS uses a JP trigger on the Mini SASS rifle and their techs adjust the pull to a crisp 4.5 pounds. In fact, it was so crisp that I was surprised to see how heavy my trigger pull gauge registered when I tested it. This particular trigger is adjustable for sear engagement and overtravel, but my sample’s trigger was so nice that I didn’t dare mess with it. For more daring types, DPMS includes the JP trigger manual as well as a CD-ROM with complete instructions for installation and adjustment of the trigger.
The Mini SASS really didn’t hold many surprises for me. Its action is typical AR but the care of its assembly and the quality of its components is what makes the rifle noteworthy. Besides its laser-like accuracy I was also impressed with the reliability. I fired over 400 rounds and never cleaned the gun during the evaluation. It continued to chug along and fed, fired, extracted and ejected every load I fed it without a burp. There were no stoppages of any sort.
If you think that the suggested retail price of $1599 is a little steep then I would suggest that you sit down with a calculator and add up all of the custom features the Mini SASS possesses: Magpul stock, JP trigger, rail system, Mangonel sights, and so on. You couldn’t build a rifle from parts that would come close to that price!
The DPMS Mini SASS is a serious piece of precision equipment that will be most appreciated by those that truly understand weapons, their limitations and capabilities. For those, the Mini SASS may represent the best value on the market for a gun of this type. It’s tough, it’s good looking and it does everything that is asked of it.
Not long after our second invasion of Iraq, the Army put out a solicitation…
by Dave Spaulding / Feb 20, 2009