Last week, I had the opportunity to spend three days in the windy wilds of Wyoming doing field testing of Mossberg's new .223 platform rifles. I regularly take handguns and tactical weapons to the range for testing, but I'm convinced the best way to test a hunting rifle or shotgun is to use it in real-world hunting conditions.
In this instance, .223 caliber rifles were perfect to target the booming population of prairie dogs that had made the fields where we setup downright dangerous to cross. Prairie "dogtowns" - large networks of burrows - leave pasture lands with hundreds of holes where livestock can easily injure a leg.So, the landowners have no problems with hunting guides bringing in groups to simultaneously help limit the prairie dog populations and get in some recreational shooting at anything from up-close to hundreds of yards.
It's a great combination if you're looking to test rifles.
Mossberg's MMR rifle. This one's a MMR precision, others include the MMR Hunter in a choice of Mossy Oak camo treatments. If you look closely, you'll see Mossberg's very cool forward handguard- everyone liked it. Jim Shepherd photo.
At the time, only the Mossberg Varmint Predator (MVP) bolt-actions were not under an embargo. Yesterday, word from Mossberg's Linda Powell that the new Mossberg Modern Rifle (MMR) is OK to announce. You can read Mossberg's formal announcement and technical information in today's news section ("Mossberg Announces Mossberg Modern Rifles).
With this new announcement, Mossberg joins the myriad of companies now offering an AR-platform rifle. The company also becomes the first company to formally recognize the platform as the "modern rifle". Like most hunting rifles before it, the "modern rifle" can trace its roots directly to military applications.
Unlike the predecessors, however, this rifle has had a more difficult time connecting sporting applications in the minds of consumers (and critics). I think that's because it is still the primary weapon platform of armies around the world.
Today's "modern rifle" chambered in 5.56/.223 is capable of taking small game - and in the hands of a good shooter, taking down deer and virtually any predator. In heavier calibers, it's a reliable rifle capable of any hunting application.
For me, it's not much of a stretch to realize that.
For the hunting writers who were along on the trip, however, it isn't so easy.
Compared to the more elegant looking bolt action rifles, the modern rifle is not nearly so elegant. Honestly, it's pretty darned ugly by comparison.
The utilitarian design speaks to the fact it is a tool originally designed for shooting in situations where suppressive fire can be a good thing. That means you need lots of rounds at hand and the ability to quickly refill the ammo supply.
The goal was achieved- reliably- with a magazine well that can accommodate magazines holding as few as five to as many as 30 rounds. Today, there are even 60 and 100-round magazines available from Surefire, but they aren't widely available.
The 30-rounders, however, are available available virtually anywhere.
With Kody Glause's expert assistance, John Sundra put hits on prairie dogs well beyond 400 yards- in a stiff wind. Jim Shepherd photo.
While the guys with me were more than capable of getting on the trigger with these out-of-the-box rifles and putting rounds accurately into targets at significant distances in some tough wind conditions, they simply didn't like the design.
It's one of the places where my being primarily geared toward the non-hunting applications of the rifle touched off some lively discussion -simply by asking exactly what it is the hunting-oriented guys don't like.
Their comments weren't centered their inherent preference for the more elegant-looking bolt gun, although "butt ugly" and "unnecessarily complicated contraption" did pop up in our conversations.
Their real objections centered on weight and the trigger. Those are valid points.
When loaded with a double-digit capacity magazine and equipped with a high-quality optic, the modern rifle is generally heavier than the standard or lightweight bolt-action hunting rifle. Mossberg's basic hunting configuration MMR tips the scales at 7.5 pounds -without optic or ammo.
Not a major problem if you're a casual hunter like me. But every ounce counts when you're humping up and down mountains hunting big game. My companions were highly experienced, big-game hunters who had hunted around the globe.
For them, weight really matters. That's why they like light barrel hunting rifles and don't see the need for high-capacities. They spend hours working up specific ammo and rifle combinations for their specific hunting application. They are equally particular about the optic.
Their heavier-caliber rifles are "major" calibers; not designed to be fired in competition-or even be especially pleasant to shoot. They are designed to stop dangerous game.
The modern rifle isn't always applicable in those situations. If you disagree, look at the behemoths the military uses for their long-range precision shooting. You don't want to hump one of those very far - or very often.
And we're in agreement on the triggers. Modern rifle triggers, compared with the beautiful triggers available in virtually all bolt action rifles, generally do suck.
They were designed for situations when fine motor skills are deteriorated and adrenaline is pumping. In those situations, you don't want a fine trigger that breaks like a glass rod with barely two pounds of pressure. You want a trigger you can squeeze for a precision shot, but is considerably more difficult to accidentally discharge in shoot and move situations.
When I pointed out that there were any one of a number of great after-market triggers available for the modern platform, I was reminded that "even inexpensive bolt guns today have great adjustable triggers".
Since we were also shooting Mossberg's affordable MVP bolt guns -and they had very good adjustable triggers (and accepted modern rifle magazines)- that was a hard argument to refute.
But the modern rifle isn't a platform that's ordered or purchased in its ultimate or optimal configuration and then left that way forever.
This platform - as demonstrated in Mossberg's rollout models, can be had in configurations designed for hunters, recreational shooters and personal defense/tactical configurations.
From any of those base platforms, you can then personalize your own model with any one of the hundreds of parts or accessories that make it distinctly "your" rifle.
Mossberg's entry into the AR world adds another player to an already crowded playing field, but I don't think that's a bad thing.
They're a gun company with a reputation for solidly built, affordable firearms. They're also known for hunting rifles.
Their rolling out a rifle designated the "Modern Rifle" and in configurations that make it appropriate for anything from varmint eradication to precision or practical competition and basic home defense refutes the "assault rifle" characterization that has dogged the AR-platform since its initial civilian applications.
All the MMR models available today are chambered in 5.56mm NATO/.223 Remington - but like the modern rifle itself - it's likely that there will be other calibers offered in the future. I'd be willing to bet those future calibers will be targeted toward hunters.
And they ran reliably and were accurate. I ran two test models over two long shooting days, and I didn't clean or lube either during that time. They ran fine -and the triggers got better after I put several 30-round magazines through each.
They were also equipped with some terrific riflescopes from Swarovski. With that glass, I found myself making shots over 400 yards in steady winds in the 20-25 MPH range. With a 35-grain bullet, that's no small deal. In calm conditions, the rifles were capable of shooting MOA at 100 yards.
Today, a lack of accuracy with the "modern sporting rifle" is not a valid argument.--Jim Shepherd