Today there are many opportunities to own a great rifle. There are even high dollar celebrity branded rifles that allow you to pay a premium to get the other guy’s name on your gun. No kidding. And then there are the basic claptrap rifles that work most of the time and are OK for plinking. They are a little loose and tie up on occasion, but hey, we are only shooting rats at the dump, right?
Then there are the better rifles in between such as Bushmaster and the classic Colt. But in the upper strata of dead accurate, dead reliable rifles that represent real value for the money there is Daniel Defense. You can pay more for a rifle, but with the Daniel Defense basic model you’ll get something you can count on. A rifle you can count on may not have the same relevance to you and I as it does to the brave young men and women that are going into the sandbox, but then I suspect we all would rather have a rifle that works all of the time.
My rifle is the M4 carbine with a 16-inch barrel and short gas tube. The front sight on this rifle stands alone, on some models the rail forend is long and extends past the sight. There are a number of options to choose from on the Daniel Defense website. Some are much more expensive than my rifle, which lists at about $1760. The fit and finish of the rifle is good. The pins that keep the AR-15 tight and functional are properly fitted, flush with the receiver, and the stock isn’t loose. The finish is even and the parts mesh together as they should, not as if they were rushed out the door. The rifle’s barrel is a chrome-lined, hammer-forged unit with a 1 in 7 twist. Never mind that someone may have told you that you do not need a chrome-lined barrel in .223. Yes, you do! And we told you that in the Cheaper Than Dirt! blog way back in 2011.
To avoid erosion and premature burning out of the barrel, chrome-lined .223 caliber bores are a must. The bolt and the carrier keys are properly constructed and the key is staked, as it should be. My personal rifle features the slightly beveled magazine well that makes for faster magazine changes. Even if you don’t need fast, smooth is always good. The MagPul enlarged trigger guard is good, different, and works with gloved hands. The rifle came with a hard case and one magazine.
Since I have quite a few magazines on hand, the single magazine wasn’t a big deal. However, the rifle was supposed to be shipped with a forend grip and there wasn’t one in the box. I purchased this rifle pre-shortage and it had been around the shop a while, it may even have been a used rifle. Did the guys at the shop snitch the forend grip? Well, if it was a slightly used gun, who knows? I bought a different brand forend grip and was good to go. By the way in the current shortage and panic buying, it seems quite a few folks have purchased a Modern Sporting Rifle and a ton of ammunition. They felt pretty good until the credit card bill came or Junior needed new running shoes. The guns are then resold at a loss I would call a whipping. Be an astute shopper and you may find a few of these when the current panic buying slows down.
The Omega free-floating rail is the superior forend design and this adds quite a bit to the rifle’s versatility and accuracy. The Omega forend cures a number of problems including the propensity of damage to the bolt that may occur with a conventional forward handgrip. The conventional attachment may result in flex on the barrel and the bolt may strike the chamber off-center, cracking a locking lug.
The Omega forend is the far superior set up for rigidity as well as mounting lasers and lights. No matter what type of gear you choose to mount on the Omega rail, reliability is maintained and point of impact as related to the point of aim does not shift. This forend will not be swapped out for any other. The rifle came with fixed front and rear sights. The Daniel Defense sights are excellent battle sights, capable of delivering good accuracy well past 100 yards.
The adjustments of the rear sights are exact and once set, the sight locks into the indents in a positive manner. The sight does not fold down but it is removable. I like this one a lot. While many of us will wish to mount an optical sight, the rifle does yeoman service just as issued. The rear sights have the typical large and small aperture for short- and long-range use. I have found the standard sights excellent examples of the fixed iron sight and well suited to my needs.
The rifle is used for informal practice and instruction. As a certified NRA instructor, I find quite a few parents with little interest in firearms themselves have children interested in firearms. The Daniel Defense rifle has given quite a few teens their first taste of a centerfire Modern Sporting Rifle rifle. Quite a few of them later went on to military careers and the DD M4 gave them a head start on understanding the AR-15 rifle. One of these young men placed at the top of his class at Paris Island—so, it works!
A Bright Clear Optic
During the evaluation of this rifle for Cheaper Than Dirt!, I mounted a Bushnell First Strike sight. This is a bright, clear, reflex sight with good features at an attractive price. The First Strike does not feature an on and FMJ that is the classic off switch, but rather the red dot is activated when the sight cover is removed, by use of a light sensor.
Adjustments are good and the sight is mounted on a special riser for use on the AR platform. I found the sight to be an excellent design for fast work on man-sized targets to 50 yards, offering the advantage of focusing on only one spot on the focal plane. The sight is also accurate enough for use at longer range, although conversely, I did the best work off of a solid bench rest with the iron sights and small aperture.
I have quite a few years in on this type of iron sight and the AR-15 platform. The First Strike is affordable, offers good quality, and the clarity is good. This type of sight offers brilliant speed, at moderate range, and I like that. For personal defense or coyote and other varmints, the First Strike is ideal. The riser allows the user not to worry about canting the head to get a good sight picture and the field-of-view is excellent for those that are able to master shooting with both eyes open. Eye relief is often a personal choice and the First Strike offers plenty of adjustment.
Feeding the DD M4
One of the brilliant success stories in the recent past is Black Hills Ammunition and its line of purpose-designed .223 ammunition. Although it offers a Varmint Grenade in 36 grains and various 52-, 55- and 60-grain loads among others. The star of the show, in my opinion, is the MK 262 Mod 1 77-grain Open Tip loading. (Black Hills offers some 20 or so choices counting both new and remanufactured loads, and there is something for everyone.) Black Hills Ammunition developed loads for the Army Marksmanship Unit, the Naval Warfare Center, the Marine Corps shooting teams and others.
The developments included military brass; flash-suppressed powder and high velocity with a 77-grain Open Tip bullet. While many .223 loads break 3,000 fps mark with a 55-grain bullet, 2,750 fps with a 77-grain bullet is nothing to sneeze about. After considerable research, the Sierra MatchKing bullet was chosen. A big modification to the original Sierra bullet was made when Sierra modified the design to include a cannelure. The cannelure was essential to prevent setback in the case when the round feeds in a self-loading rifle. The load proved accurate in long-range rifles but also useful and reliable in short-barrel rifles as well.
When the open tip bullet strikes an animate target, the bullet doesn’t expand or fragment—the hollow nose is simply for balance. The bullet has a heavier base and this means the bullet will yaw and then tumble in the target. The nose breaks off and the bullet often breaks at the cannelure. As a result, the Black Hills 77-grain load has earned an awesome reputation. It is true that the 62-grain Penetrator loading is more effective against light cover but the Black Hills loading is the first choice for combat use. This is easily the most accurate military cartridge ever issued and a good choice for all-around use in the Modern Sporting Rifle rifle. The load is more inexpensive than many and there is little reason to use it for plinking—unless you enjoy long-range challenges and actually connecting at distances at which wind drift plays a role.
For casual shooting the Black Hills remanufactured line offers the 55-grain .223 load; it’s accurate enough for off-hand fire well past 100 yards—and affordable. It is after all great fun to fire the AR-15 quickly, to learn to use the trigger well, and to take an instant second shot at a target. However, just the same these days, I am very interested in that crow in the distant pasture and the 77-grain Open Tip Match load just looks right and does the business.
As for absolute accuracy, it is difficult to gauge with the iron sights. With the First Strike reflex sight, it is more about speed that gilt-edged accuracy. I am not opting out of my responsibility as a gun tester; I have fired the rifle extensively and have a good idea of its potential, and that potential is respectable. The Daniel Defense rifle is as accurate as any MSR I have fired and more accurate than most. It performs better in this regard than quite a few bolt guns I have fired. The only .223 in recent memory that smoked the DD M4 was a heavy barrel Howa with Nikon scope, and this was indeed an awesome combination. I must also point out that the difference between the DD M4’s 1.5-inch 100-yard group and the Howa’s .5-inch group at 100 yards would scarcely matter when taking out a coyote, although prairie dogs at 300 yards are another matter.
The DD M4 is more versatile. With the majority of loads tested, including several inexpensive promotional brand 55-grain full metal jacketed loadings, the rifle has turned in groups of 1.5 to 2.5 inches, and I believe this has much to do with ammunition quality. With the Black Hills 55-grain FMJ bulks load, this average has been slightly bettered. Move to premium loads with highly developed projectiles and things get interesting. The Black Hills 52-grain is a light, fast load that gives good results, and the 60-grain JSP is among the best all-around service loads. But the 77-grain OTM has delivered several groups hovering around the 1-inch standard for three shots at a long 100 yards. The average is closer to 1.25 inches, still outstanding for this type of rifle.
I have grooved into the trigger, but with, say, a Wilson Combat trigger group and optics geared more toward precision than shorter-range speed, the rifle might deliver greater accuracy. I could care less. This rifle suits me and being able to hit what I am shooting at known and unknown ranges is more important than theoretical accuracy. On a related subject, while I clean and maintain my rifle, the DD M4 is nearing 2,000 rounds of ammunition without a single failure to feed, chamber, fire or eject and with a high standard of accuracy during this time. And let me repeat—high accuracy is good and certainly important, but for most of the use I put the rifle to, 1 MOA is as good as 3 MOA—my hold and how I tickle the trigger is the limiting factor. While there are more expensive variations on the theme, the DD M4 is clearly good enough for this demanding shooter.