photo by Tom McHale

From the Range: Savage Wins with New MSR Competition Line

The new family of competition-ready MSR 15 and MSR 10 rifles from Savage Arms are packed with top-shelf features.

What, you say? Another Modern Sporting Rifle?

Yes.

After all, the market is never too crowded for something that brings unique value to the table.

Recently, I spent some time wandering the bays of the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) Multi-Gun National Championships in Boulder City, Nevada. You can think of Multi-Gun like 3-Gun except that some matches are in 2-Gun format.

The Nationals is a true 3-Gun event, meaning competitors will transition between pistol, shotgun, and AR rifle / Modern Sporting Rifle within a stage. It's fast-moving, built for speed, and the guns are tricked out accordingly for that purpose. That's where the new Savage Modern Sporting Rifle Competition family comes in.

The new Savage MSR-10 Competition HD and MSR-15 Competition.
The new Savage MSR-10 Competition HD and MSR-15 Competition.photo by Tom McHale

The company just announced three new rifles, each of which is designed and tuned for competition use out of the box.

The Mac Daddy of the family is the MSR-10 Competition HD. It’s a .308 Winchester rifle, arguably created through the persistence of Team Savage shooter Patrick Kelley. As the driving force behind the creation of the “Heavy” Division of Multi-Gun, you might say that Savage followed his lead on the project. There are also two “standard” MSR 15 rifles: one chambered in .223 Remington / 5.56mm NATO and one in the new long-range-optimized .224 Valkyrie.

At the Multi-Gun Nationals, I had an opportunity to get a first-hand tour and quick shooting session with the new rifles from Mike Bush, Engineering and Design guru at Savage. Since the different caliber offerings share the same features, we can cover what makes them special all at once.

So, what does “competition optimized” really mean when we talk about features? Let’s take a closer look.

BARRELS

The carbon-fiber-wrapped barrel and adjustable gas system just forward of the hand guard.
The carbon-fiber-wrapped barrel and adjustable gas system just forward of the hand guard.photo by Tom McHale

Starting with the barrels, the new rifles maintain Savage's long-standing reputation for accuracy, but with some outside assistance. The barrels for all three rifles were designed by Savage but manufactured by Proof Research. Why? The barrels are wrapped in carbon fiber to minimize barrel motion and foster barrel-flex consistency. All the MSR-10 and MSR-15 models have 18-inch barrels.

TUNABLE MUZZLE BRAKE

The tunable muzzle brake is designed and manufactured by Savage. Its purpose is to direct gas in such as way that the muzzle doesn’t move when you fire. The reason it’s tunable is so you can adjust fo
The tunable muzzle brake is designed and manufactured by Savage. Its purpose is to direct gas in such as way that the muzzle doesn’t move when you fire. The reason it’s tunable is so you can adjust for your specific ammunition.photo by Tom McHale

While we’re talking about the barrel, we ought to mention the tunable muzzle brake. It’s designed and manufactured by Savage, and its purpose, like all muzzle brakes, is to direct gas in such as way that the muzzle doesn’t move when you fire. The reason it’s tunable is so you can adjust for your specific ammunition.

You’ll see small ports on the top and right side. Starting with the side port, drill out the hole just a hair larger to prevent the barrel from moving to the side under recoil. Bring your portable drill to the range and shoot, test, and drill accordingly with your match ammo.

When you have the side-to-side motion solved, do the same thing with the top hole to prevent upward muzzle flip.

While the "drilling holes" approach is more tedious for initial setup, there are no moving parts or adjustment screws to come loose over thousands of rounds of high-speed competition shooting. It’s a good tradeoff I think.

GAS SYSTEM

The gas system is adjustable with a positive click knob located just above the barrel and forward of the hand guard.
The gas system is adjustable with a positive click knob located just above the barrel and forward of the hand guard.photo by Tom McHale

The gas system is proprietary and placed to siphon off gas on the downward side of the pressure curve, so there’s much less violent conflagration happening as gas enters the operating system. It’s also adjustable with a positive click knob located just above the barrel and forward of the hand guard.

The idea is that you can tune the recoil action to your specific ammo preference—keeping the ideal bolt speed, guaranteeing function, and minimizing recoil. It couldn’t be easier to operate; just stick a bullet tip in one of the holes and rotate. No tools or disassembly required. If you want to mark the holes for different ammo types for short and longer ranges, that would make great use of the quick adjust feature.

SLING CONNECTORS

There’s an ambidextrous quick-attach sling connection on the back of the receiver. This is complemented by two sling points mounted on the forward portion of the handguard.
There’s an ambidextrous quick-attach sling connection on the back of the receiver. This is complemented by two sling points mounted on the forward portion of the handguard.photo by Tom McHale

You’ll see other accessories that facilitate the intended use of the Savage MSR Competition Series. For example, there’s an ambidextrous quick-attach sling connection on the back of the receiver. This is complemented by two sling points mounted on the forward portion of the handguard.

The idea is to make it easy for competitors to add and remove a sling between stages. For some, a sling might be useful, while on others, the sling could become a hindrance and tangle you up. As a side note, the forward attachment points are external M-LOK pieces, so they can be positioned anywhere along the handguard.

They’re shaped with a nice contour, so they also can act as a grip aid to help the shooter achieve the same exact hand placement every time they should the rifle without looking. I found that my thumb rested precisely on the left side point.

MAGWELL

huge magazine well extension to facilitate super-fast magazine changes
Note the huge magazine well extension to facilitate super-fast magazine changes. The safety levers are non-traditional from mil-spec too. They are much thicker and far easier to operate. The one on the right side is just a bit smaller so it stays out of the way of your firing grip. If you’re a lefty, you should be able to reverse them.photo by Tom McHale

The magazine well has a huge, and I do mean huge, funnel extension. Your next-door neighbor could insert a magazine with their eyes closed, and that’s exactly the point. The large opening makes an easy target that allows you to guide fresh magazines into place while looking at the target or where you’re running next—and it's removable if you want.

SIDE CHARGING HANDLE OPTION

All three rifles feature a left-side-charging handle in addition to the normal AR top charging handle. This allows for the attachment of a wider variety of optics that might interfere with the top han
All three rifles feature a left-side-charging handle in addition to the normal AR top charging handle. This allows for the attachment of a wider variety of optics that might interfere with the top handle.photo by Tom McHale

On the left side of the receiver, you'll see something very un-AR-like: a charging handle. The standard “top of receiver” charging handle is still there, but when optics are added, the default AR-15 placement becomes harder (and more importantly slower) to reach. So, the Savage folks placed an additional, large charging handle on the left, so you can operate it while maintaining a firing grip and keeping your eye on the scope. This handle is non-reciprocating, so no worries about it bashing up your support hand.

INTERNALS

Inside, the bolt and carrier are treated with nickel-boron. Not only does that provide low friction and durability for round-to-round reliability, but it’s also easier to clean. That’s an important feature on a competition rifle that’s going to fire a lot of rounds in short order.

GRIP

The pistol grip is a rubberized Hogue model.
The pistol grip is a rubberized Hogue model.photo by Tom McHale

The pistol grip is a rubberized Hogue model, and the included buttstock is a Magpul CTR. That provides a large and well-rounded cheek weld area. The CTR also features a lock mechanism to keep the stock from moving while running the course and tossing the rifle into drop barrels and such.

RANGE PERFORMANCE

The author testing out the new MSR 15 Competition at the range.
The author testing out the new MSR 15 Competition at the range.photo by Tom McHale

So how do they shoot?

Let’s start with the big guy, the Savage MSR-10 Competition HD (Heavy Division). Simply put, the recoil of this rifle feels somewhere in between a standard .223 MSR and a .308 AR-10.

I’d make a loose comparison to a lower-recoiling cartridge like 6.5mm Creedmoor. Why? Recoil is still recoil, and all that energy generated by the .308 cartridge is still there, it’s just tamed and redirected. The combination of the adjustable (gentle) gas system and tuned muzzle brake shift, mellow, and redirect the recoil force that you would normally feel on your shoulder.

For competitors (and all the rest of us), the more important element is that the muzzle stays right on target after the initial shot, so follow-ups are quick and effortless. That's mostly controlled by the tunable muzzle brake. I did my trial shooting from a standing, unsupported position and had no problem with quick double taps. In Multi-Gun competitions, fractions of a second matter, so that’s kind of a big deal, not to mention the whole purpose of this rifle.

The author didn't get enough range time with the rifles for an accuracy test, but he shot them from a standing, unsupported position and had no problem with quick double taps.
The author didn't get enough range time with the rifles for an accuracy test, but he shot them from a standing, unsupported position and had no problem with quick double taps.photo by Tom McHale

As for the .223 / 5.56 MSR 15 model, the previously mentioned recoil taming features combined with the weight of the rifle make this a pussycat to shoot. Recoil is nonexistent as is muzzle flip. If you compete in standard class Multi-Gun competitions, there’s no excuse for you not to put lots of shots on target quickly. Slow down, sight, and squeeze. Sounds so easy on paper, doesn't it?

SIDE-MOUNTED CHARGING HANDLE IS A PLUS

The author found the side-charging handle useful and easy to operate.
The author found the side-charging handle useful and easy to operate.photo by Tom McHale

I found that I really liked the charging handle on the left side of the receiver. Not only does it clear any optic, but it’s also placed fairly far forward on the receiver. I’ve always found the standard top-mounted AR-15 charging handles awkward to reach—and they don’t give you a lot of leverage in the event of a jam. This one is very natural to use, even when your head is down on the rifle, sighting your target.

Given that my first shots were at a major event, I didn’t have the opportunity to do any formal accuracy testing from the bench. I don’t have any concerns in that area, however, as Savage has a long-standing reputation for outstanding accuracy. Throw in the attention to detail on the new barrel design, and I suspect this will be a tack driver in all three calibers.

The rifles are priced at $2,875 each.
The rifles are priced at $2,875 each.photo by Tom McHale

So, another new AR rifle? Yes. But don’t compare this one to an off the rack tactical, plinker or hunter model. At $2,875 for the MSR 15 models and $3,449 for the MSR 10, it’s not a direct comparison to a general-purpose rifle, even a premium one. Just as the family name hints, this rifle is built for winning. It’s packed with top-notch enhancements for that, and those cost money.

Of course, there’s nothing preventing you from using it however you like if you value premium performance.

The Savage MSR 10 Competition HD (top) and the MSR 15 Competition.
The Savage MSR 10 Competition HD (top) and the MSR 15 Competition.mfg photos

SPECS

  • Manufacturer: Savage Arms
  • Action: Semi-Auto
  • Finish: Carbon-Wrapped Stainless PROOF Barrel; Type 3 Hard Anodized
  • Rifling: 223 Rem: 6 groove, RH; 224 Valkyrie: 6-Groove, RH; 308 Win: 6 groove RH
  • Sights: NA
  • Trigger Pull Weight: 1st Stage: 2.5 lbs.; 2nd Stage: 4 lbs.
  • Stock: Magpul CTR Collapsible
  • Overall Length: MSR 15: 35.38 - 38.63" - MSR10: 36.13 - 39.38"
  • Weight: MSR 15: 7.9 lbs.; MSR 10: 9.05 lbs.
  • Features: Nickel-boron bolt carrier, 5R rifling, custom-length adjustable gas block, non-reciprocating side charging handle, Magpul CTR buttstock, Savage tunable muzzle brake, two-stage trigger, Hogue pistol grip, rigid free-float handguard with M-LOK anti-glare grooves and red QD sling mount, red ambidextrous selector switch, red receiver end plate with QD mount, red removable custom mag well flare, ambidextrous magazine release.