One way to test out a new gun might be to run it through the world-famous Popper Palooza course of fire.
What’s that, you ask? Picture this. You’re standing at a table with four fully loaded AR-15 magazines in front of you. That’s 120 rounds of ammo at your disposal just asking to be burned. Your front perimeter is filled by a horde of 100 “popper” targets arranged in a vast semi-circle of metallic “threats” just asking to be shot. (In case you don’t know, a “popper” is a heavy steel target weighing, oh, about a billion pounds by my estimate, which falls over slowly and with prodigious drama when you hit it in the right place.) Your mission is simple: knock them all down as fast as you possibly can. It sounds easy. After all, you have 20 extra rounds with which to miss. But when the clock’s running, the crowd is watching, and the barrel heats up to infinity degrees from rapid fire, not so much…
I recently had the opportunity to run a brand new gun, Springfield Armory’s SAINT, through a Popper Palooza, a “Field of Chaos,” and a plethora of other fun shooting exercises for a couple of days at a preview event in the Nevada desert. You may have seen references to the SAINT. Springfield Armory has been teasing this product launch with ads and social media references for the past few months, and now we know that the SAINT is Springfield Armory’s first foray into the AR-15 modern sporting rifle market. Chambered in 5.56mm NATO, you can shoot both 5.56mm and .223 Remington ammunition.
After shooting somewhere over 1,000 rounds from a pair of SAINTs, I can say that it’s not another “me too” product. The folks at Springfield Armory put a lot of thought into what a defensive rifle should be and designed it according to that roadmap. Let’s take a quick look.
One of the standout features of the SAINT is its structural integrity. Normally, the AR-15 design is characterized by loosely assembled parts, which tend to rattle around and move a bit under use. Upper and lower receivers are held together with friction pins and the adjustable buttstock tends to shake. Sometimes, the forward hand guard has its own brand of movement. Not so with the SAINT. The company implemented an adjustable Accu-Tite compression fit that locks upper and lower receivers together like a single-piece unit, yet it’s still just as easy to disassemble as any other AR-15. The Bravo Company buttstock is also perfectly fit to the buffer extension tube. In short, the first thing that you notice when you pick up SAINT is the rock-solid feel.
The SAINT combines some classic design elements with some new. The receiver has a flat-top design, so there is no carry handle as on the original AR-15 rifles. The receiver top has a rail segment machined in, so it’s ready for a scope or red dot of your choice. Springfield Armory does include a flip-up rear sight, so you can shoot it using iron sights right out of the box. The classic features include a fixed front sight, gas block unit, birdcage style flash hider and a two-piece polymer handguard.
The SAINT rifle features some quality furniture. All of the non-metal components are sourced from Bravo Company. The buttstock is a BCM Gunfighter model, featuring a wide and smooth top for comfortable and stable cheek placement. It’s got sling attachment points on both sides, and a rubber butt pad helps the rifle stay glued to your shoulder. The pistol grip is a Bravo Company Mod 3, with a hinged trapdoor that offers storage. You’ll notice that it features a more vertical orientation, which will support the “face forward” modern combat stance. When your shoulders are squared, an angled pistol grip requires a severely bent wrist – the vertical grip is far more natural.
The handguard is an exclusive model for Springfield Armory, at least for now. Between the hand guard and barrel are two aluminum heat shields. As I’ll describe a little later, these are a welcome addition. Even with heat shields underneath, the handguard is slim. It’s got KeyMod holes at the two, six, and eleven o’clock positions so you can attach accessories or KeyMod compatible rail segments. Summing it up, the Bravo upgrades are very nice, and a welcome surprise given the rifle’s price point.
I’d also call out the trigger as a stand out feature of the SAINT. The pull weight is standard mil-spec, somewhere in the six-pound range, but you’d never know that by the feel. The internal trigger parts are micro-polished and treated with Nickel Boron. The contact surfaces are slick. The result is a trigger that operates with no scraping or gritty sensation. It moves smoothly and has a crisp break.
At the Range
I had a unique opportunity to shoot the SAINT – a lot – before its release. Over two days (and one night) at a couple of different ranges outside of Las Vegas, I torched off somewhere over 1,000 rounds of 55-grain and 69-grain Federal .223 Remington ammo. After being assigned two different rifles for the training and testing event, I configured one with a Trijicon MRO Red Dot optic for short-range use and the other with a Bushnell Elite SMRS 1-6.5x scope for longer distance shooting. Before I get into details, I should note that both optics worked just fine with the fixed A2-style front sight. With the Trijicon MRO mounted, I could see the front sight in the bottom half of the MRO’s glass. You might hear this referred to as a 1/3 co-witness setup. That just means that you can still see your iron sights through the glass, but they’re “out of the way” in the lower part of your view through the optic. The fixed front sight didn’t interfere with sighting on the scope on other rifle either; at high magnification, the front sight was mostly invisible.
To get a feel for how the SAINT handles for short-range shooting, some been-there-done-that pros from Apex Expert Solutions taught us some nifty techniques for bailing out of cars with rifles in tow, shooting from inside cars, and accurate rapid-fire shooting at close range. While the lessons taught us some new skills, they also served to provide plenty of practical hands-on trigger time with the SAINT rifles.
The first thing you notice when shooting the SAINT is the smooth recoil. Part of the reason for that is the rifle’s mid-length gas system. This means that gas travels farther down the barrel before being bled off to operate the action. By the time gas reaches the port and travels back to the receiver, pressure is a bit more mellow and predictable; hence the smoother recoil. The SAINT also uses a heavier tungsten buffer weight in the receiver extension tube. As the bolt carrier group travels rearward in the tube, the heavier buffer also slows and smooths the action. In summary, I found that the SAINT is noticeably less snappy than most other AR rifles.
I also had the opportunity to shoot the SAINT at longer ranges for an afternoon. Using Federal Premium 69-grain match-grade ammunition, I fired a couple of hundred rounds at steel plates placed 50 to 600 yards down range and everywhere in between. Using my backpack as a rest from the prone position, I had no trouble hitting plates all the way out to the farthest target as long as I estimated the wind correctly.
While long-range plinking was fun, the volume shooting events were yet to come. Remember Popper Palooza? There were 18 people shooting that course with our SAINT rifles. Let’s just say this. If you want to know why folks who shoot a lot wear gloves, try firing 120 rounds from an AR-type rifle in about 60 seconds. That rifle will get hot—shockingly bacon-frying hot. Fortunately, the folks from Safariland and Mechanix Wear provided plenty of gloves to help keep the skin attached to our hands. My SAINT rifle performed perfectly, although I left a couple of Poppers standing. That’s what happens when you try to shoot too fast, right? I had no malfunctions or jams even though I tried my best to melt that brand-new rifle.
As it turned out, the Popper Palooza event was just a warm-up for the real volume shooting trial. After the sun went down, we were led to an event called “Field of Chaos.” While we had an idea of what that meant, none of us expected to face a 250-yard deep shooting bay filled with over 350 garden gnomes, each with a Tannerite “suicide vest” strapped on. So picture this: 18 shooters, each with a Bushnell Elite SMRS scope-equipped SAINT rifle, standing at a bench weighed down with 4,000 rounds worth of pre-loaded magazines, all waiting on the “GO!” signal.
While I can’t exactly prove it, I’m thinking the resulting blast from the first volley shook the very foundations of downtown Vegas, some 40 miles away. I figured the gamblers would get over it because we Gnomeland Security folks were doing important work for the safety of our nation. The gnome threat is real, folks. But more to the point for a rifle review, it was yet another opportunity for a quick, dirty, and very hot reliability test. A couple of minutes and a few hundred rounds later, my SAINT was running like a champ with no malfunctions, and I was yet again very happy for the built-in heat shields and shooting gloves.
After two solid days of non-stop shooting with the SAINT, I can say that I like it. The rifle is all business. Yes, the upgraded Bravo furniture is cool, but more importantly, it supports the mission of the rifle. Those additions make it easier to shoot more effectively, and that’s what a defensive rifle should be all about. The receiver, barrel, and bolt carrier group all live up to Springfield Armory quality. You’ll find attention to detail throughout, even in places you don’t see. For example, you’ll find the durable Melonite finish even underneath other parts like the front sight. The interior of the receiver extension tube is treated with a dry lubricant for smoother and quieter operation. And the list goes on.
The retail price of the SAINT is only $899, but it’s put together like a rifle costing half again as much. That’s why I’m using my hard-earned money to buy both rifles I used.
|Springfield Armory SAINT|
|Receiver:||Type III hard-anodized aircraft grade 7075 T6 aluminum|
|Barrel:||16-inch Chrome Moly Vanadium; Melonite-coated exterior|
|Barrel Extension:||M4 feed ramps|
|Gas System:||Mid-length, direct impingement, .750-inch diameter gas port|
|Bolt and Carrier:||M16 BCG w/ Carpenter 158 steel bolt, shot-peened and magnetic particle inspected, staked gas key|
|Buffer:||Carbine “H” Heavy Tungsten|
|Trigger:||Micro-polished Mil-spec, Nickel Boron coated|
|Sights:||GI “F” height front sight, low profile flip-up rear sight|
|Pistol Grip:||Bravo Company Mod 0 grip with oversized trigger guard|
|Receiver Extension:||Six-position adjustable mil-spec, 7075 T6 Type III hard-anodized aluminum|
|Stock:||Bravo Company stock with rubber butt plate, custom receiver extension fit for no-rattle operation, fixed and two QD sling attachment points|
|Handguard:||Bravo Company PKMR two-piece with heat shield, KeyMod accessory attachment|
|Weight:||6 pounds, 11 ounces|
|Length:||35.5 in. fully extended / 32.25 in. collapsed|
|Magazine:||One 30-round Magpul PMAG Gen M3|