Savage MSR 15 Recon: Gun Review
The Savage MSR 15 Recon with the ammo tested and a few groups.author photo

The most popular rifle in America for the last several years has been the AR-style semiautomatic. A lot of traditional rifle makers were reluctant to enter the AR market and some still have not, but the smart money follows the money, and shooters are spending theirs on these rifles.

Savage has decided to jump in for 2017. Never one to dip a dainty toe into the pool, Savage plunged in with a huge cannonball splash by introducing four rifles at once.

Two AR Platforms

The first two rifles, the MSR 10 Hunter and MSR 10 Long Range, are on the AR-10 platform, which is based on the .308 Winchester size cartridges. The initial offerings in these rifles will be .308 Winchester and 6.5 Creedmoor. Savage and Federal Premium Ammunition are owned by the same company, so I can only hope that they will soon follow with a chambering in .338 Federal, which I think is one of the unsung heroes in an AR hunting rifle.

Savage MSR 15 Recon: Gun Review
The Savage MSR 15 Recon is chambered in .233 Wylde, which provides the best accuracy potential for .223 Rem and 5.56 NATO ammo.author photo

The other two rifles, the MSR 15 Patrol and MSR 15 Recon, are both the AR-15 size platform and are chambered in .223 Wylde, so it can fire both .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO (5.56x45mm) ammunition.

The two cartridges are not interchangeable. While it’s fine to fire both in a 5.56 NATO chamber, it is unsafe to fire 5.56 NATO ammo in a .223 Remington chamber. The obvious solution is to go with a 5.56 NATO chamber. The problem with that is the 5.56 NATO is a battle chamber design and is cut very generously in all dimensions to allow for a wide range of ammo to work under a very wide range of battlefield conditions. The result is that the accuracy of a sporting rifle with a 5.56 NATO chamber is not always the best it can be.

Once an obscure compromise found only in a few rifles, the .223 Wylde chamber has become very popular. It allows the use of both .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO ammunition, but is a bit tighter than a 5.56 chamber, so at least in theory is more accurate. I know from experience that it works very well, and I have two rifles with Wylde chambers that are capable of ½ MOA accuracy.

Savage MSR 15 Recon: Gun Review
The Blackhawk flip-up rear sight is adjustable for windage.author photo

I received the Savage MSR 15 Recon for this review, which delighted me because this is the rifle I would have picked, given a choice. It's a short, carbine-length rifle with a 16-inch barrel and an adjustable buttstock. But it has a few extra features that make all the difference.

Handguard

One good feature is the longer, 12-inch free-floating handguard that uses the M-LOK system to install rails or other accessories. This handguard is slim and fits much better in the hand than some of the giant rail forends that were so popular not so long ago.

With a low profile gas block on the mid-length gas system, the handguard extends well past the gas block. I am a devotee of a support-arm hold farther out on the rifle’s handguard. This stems from my experience 3-gun shooting, and has proven to be much more effective in managing the rifle for rapid fire than some of the more conventional hold points. It requires a longer handguard, as is featured on this rifle. I fired some multi-target, rapid-fired drills using a hold on the front of the handguard with the C-Clamp, thumb-over-the-top grip, and found this gun to be very controllable.

With the installation of a muzzle brake and maybe an aftermarket trigger, this gun is competition ready for 3-gun.

Sights

The Recon comes with flip-up back-up iron sights (BUIS), with the front sight mounted on the end of the forend rail. This provides a much longer sight picture when using the irons. The Blackhawk flip-up BUIS are a hybrid of plastic frame with an alloy sight. The front is adjustable for elevation using a standard AR-15 front sight tool. The rear is adjustable for windage with a knob on the right side. The front sight flips up by pushing a button on the left side, the rear by pushing a lever at the rear of the sight.

Savage MSR 15 Recon: Gun Review
The Blackhawk flip-up front sight can be adjusted for elevation with a standard AR-15 front sight tool.author photo

Scope Use

The iron sights can easily be removed, although the rear is a low enough profile when folded that I had no trouble mounting a Bushnell AR223 1-4 scope in a Weaver Premium MSR mount. This scope, which Savage provided for use with the Recon, is great for tactical work and would even be a decent choice for 3-gun competition. While the illuminated BTR reticle provides outstanding low light performance and accurate holdovers out to 500 yards I found it difficult for a very precision hold on a 100-yard target, which might have accounted for some of the flyers in my groups. Some of that is no doubt due to my aging eyes, however. I do like the scope a lot and the built in Throw Down PCL lever makes power changes very fast—a good feature for 3-gun or defense.

I usually mount a 24X scope on any AR I am reviewing for the accuracy test. In this case I used the scope that came with the gun. Unfortunately, there was not enough time or ammo to return to the range with the high power scope and shoot the accuracy test again.

Clearly this gun is capable of very good accuracy as demonstrated by some of the tight groups I shot. One five-shot group with Federal Premium ammo with a 69-grain Sierra bullet measures .95-inch. (For the record, this is my favorite load for any precision shooting in an AR rifle. I have hit targets in competition with it out to 920 yards. )

Savage MSR 15 Recon: Gun Review
The bolt carrier group is mil-spec.author photo

Barrel

The16-inch barrel on the MRS 15 Recon has 5R rifling, a Melonite QPQ finish and is fitted with a squirrel cage flash hider. The twist rate is 1:8 so it can handle heavy bullets easily. In fact it should handle the entire spectrum of .223 ammo bullet weights. I don’t believe you can “over-stabilize” a bullet. The only possible issue with a fast twist rate is with some very thin-jacketed lightweight varmint bullets that can come apart in flight if spun too fast, but I have no doubt this gun will handle anything from 50 to 80 grains with ease.

Trigger

The Recon uses a Blackhawk AR Blaze trigger system. This is a mil-spec trigger than has been polished and hardened for a better trigger pull. It is much smoother than the average “mil-spec” trigger. But at 6 pounds 3 ounces with a lot of travel, it’s still a bit too “mil-specky” for my trigger-snob taste. I suspect this trigger also may have accounted for some of the fliers I experienced when shooting groups. When a trigger pull is almost 90 percent of the weight of a gun, it’s hard to maintain precision. Make no mistake, though—for the price of this rifle, this is an excellent trigger, and most shooters will be delighted with it. But if you want it to be all it can be for precision shooting, you will need to install an aftermarket trigger, which is the case with most every other AR-style rifle.

Savage MSR 15 Recon: Gun Review
The Blackhawk buttstock has a serious recoil pad.author photo

Features and Controls

The receivers are forged aluminum alloy and the lower is machined for a unique look. The bolt carrier group and charging handle appear to be mil spec. The safety is right-hand only, as are all other controls. The Blackhawk grip is hard plastic with a molded-in gripping surface. The buttstock is from Blackhawk and is adjustable for six positions. It has a very serious recoil pad on the rear. I can attest personally that like all adjustable buttstocks it will thin your beard and moustache while bringing a tear to your eye.

This gun performed well as I shot a few hundred rounds using three ammo products from Federal and Fusion (see all range results below). Some of the shooting was from a bench rest, through a chronograph for groups. The rest was fired off-hand doing some drills with multiple targets and rapid fire. I did not experience a single stoppage, jam or failure, and I am pleased to report that this gun ran perfectly 100 percent of the time. Considering that it’s a brand new gun with no break-in before starting my test, that’s outstanding performance.

Savage MSR 15 Recon: Gun Review
The Savage MSR 15 Recon uses a Blackhawk grip.author photo

The gun ships with a 30-round PMAG. MRSRP is only $999, and you can expect street price to be somewhere south of that.

In sum, the Savage MSR 15 Recon is a very well designed rifle that is a great choice for home defense, competition, hunting, or just plain shooting fun.

By the way, I detest the abbreviation “MSR,” which stands for Modern Sporting Rifle, and if you ever see it in my writing, rest assured the editor added it to the copy. Except with this gun—the manufacturer calls it Modern Savage Rifle.

That, I am good with.

SPECIFICATIONS

Savage MSR 15 Recon
Description: MSR 15 Recon
Action Type: Direct-impingement semi-auto
Chambering: .223 Wylde (.223 Remington/5.56 NATO)
Capacity: 30 (other magazines with higher capacity are available aftermarket)
Finish: Matte black hardcoat anodized receiver and Melonite QPQ barrel
Barrel Length: 16.125 inches
Rifling: 1:8
Configuration: Right-hand
Sights: BLACKHAWK! flip-up iron sights (with top rail for mounting optics)
Stock: BLACKHAWK!
Length: 33.5-36.75 inches
Weight: 7 pounds
MSRP: $999

ACCURACY TESTS

Three separate groups of five shots per each load were fired from a solid rest at 100 yards. Velocity was measured in feet per second with an Oehler 35P with the first screen 15 feet from muzzle. Temperature: 20 degrees F., overcast and windy.

Cartridge: .223 Rem.

Manufacturer: Federal Value Pack

Bullet: 55-grain FMJ

Number of Shots: 13

High Velocity: 2977

Low Velocity: 2535

Extreme Spread: 142

Average Velocity: 2879

Group 1: 3.5 in.

Group 2: 1.9 in.

Group 3: 3.7 in.

Average Group Size: 3.0 in.

Number of Shots per Group: 5

Number of Groups in the Average: 3

Savage MSR 15 Recon: Gun Review
The Savage MSR 15 Recon has great accuracy potential. This group measured .95-inch.author photo

Cartridge: .223 Rem.

Manufacturer: Fusion

Bullet: 62-grain Fusion

Number of Shots: 15

High Velocity: 2666

Low Velocity: 2589

Extreme Spread: 77

Average Velocity: 2625

Group 1: 1.4 in.

Group 2: 2.0 in.

Group 3: 3.1 in.

Average Group Size: 2.1 in.

Number of Shots in the Group: 5

Number of Groups in the Average: 3

Cartridge: .223 Rem.

Manufacturer: Federal Premium Gold Medal Match

Bullet: 69-grain Sierra MatchKing

Number of Shots: 13

High Velocity: 2977

Low Velocity: 2835

Extreme Spread: 142

Average Velocity: 2879

Group 1: .95 in.

Group 2: 1.5 in.

Group 3: 1.3 in.

Average Group Size: 1.2 in.

Number of Shots in the Group: 5

Number of Groups in the Average: 3