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Smith & Wesson M&P 15 Semi-Auto Rifle
 

It's been several months since I picked up the M&P 15.  I've had a chance to work with my original configuration I started with a number of times.  For the most part, things worked quite well.  Smith & Wesson put together a pretty good AR in their M&P line.  I am happy to say I had no serious issues. 

While I enjoyed the 1 to 4 variable Millet MDS-1 optic that I had mounted, I ended up removing it.  Dialed down to 1x, it was OK for close quarters work, say out to about 25 yards.  And at 200 yards, the 4x was welcomed.  However, the more I used it, the more I realized it was heavier than what I really wanted.  The glass quality was poor and you could see distortions in it.  The illumination for the reticle failed after a couple of trips to the range.  And it was heavy....did I mention that?  I opted to recycle the DMS-1 optic to my M&P 15-22.  Why put it on that rifle since I already said it was too heavy?  The M&P 15-22 has a polymer upper and lower receiver and so is lighter than its bigger 5.56 brother.  Adding the DMS-1 gives it the extra weight that makes it feel all that much more like a 5.56 AR-15.

Since I am mentioning things that didn't stay on the rife, the MagPul MOE handguard also went into the spare parts bin.  Once I started using the rifle, especially with the vertical grip/bi-pod for some 100 yard prone drills, I found it really wasn't up to the task.  It didn't fit tight and I didn't like the grip it gave (too loose) when firing offhand.  Others have reported in various forums that the MOE handguard isn't up to the stress of a vertical grip....and I would have to agree with them.

I am happy to report that the inexpensive vertical grip/bipod unit proved to me that I wanted one of these for my upcoming practical rifle course at Front Sight.  Since I was not convinced that the Chinese knock-off of the original US made Grip-Pod was going to hold up at Front Sight, I ordered an original Grip-Pod LE model to replace it.  The knock-off will see duty on the M&P 15-22.  (yes, it does seem to get its big brother's hand-me-downs).
 

So....I did a little web research, spent some time in a few of the busier black rifle forums, and made a few changes.  Of course, none of my new choices were cheap (are they ever?).  I picked up a new Troy handguard to replace the MOE handguard.  This particular model from Troy was the 7" CAR/M4 Drop-In BattleRail.  It is a quad rail mil-spec M1913 Picatinny rail.  It also accommodates the push button quick disconnect swivel.  It is a two piece handguard that installs in the normal fashion.  It does have 4 screws to ensure the upper and lower halves are securely mated.  It is not a free float handguard.  I picked up a set of MagPul polymer ladders which fit the rails very nicely and made for a comfortable grip.  I left a portion of the bottom rail exposed for attachment of the Grip-Pod when needed.

One thing I should note, having now spent some time with this setup at the range.  The BattleRail does not include any type of heat shield.  The large holes do help dissipate the heat, but that doesn't keep your hand cool.  I've no  doubt that if I force fed the M&P15 a healthy diet of 30 round magazines without a break, it would get uncomfortably hot.  For the kind of practice and drills that I do, this doesn't appear to be an issue.  If you like emptying mag after mag, you may see it differently. 
 

As I mentioned, the DMS-1 scope was removed.  In its place sits a new ACOG 3.5x35mm optic, model # TA11J-G.  It employs a fiber optic powered reticle for day time use and a tritium light source for low/no light shooting.  As you may know, the ACOG is widely used by our troops in the Middle East.  It comes in more "flavors" than one could imagine.  I bought a TJ11J-G model, which has a green reticle which is range calibrated for a .223(5.56) 55 gr bullet out to 1000 yards.  I'm not holding my breath expecting to hit things at 1000 yards <grin>.  I've never owned an optic with glass so clear.  Looking through it.....there is no distortion.  It is crystal clear right out to the edges. 
 

This is what it looks like in its current configuration.....with the Troy handguard, ACOG 3.5x35 optic, and Grip-Pod LE vertical grip.  In a couple of months, I'll be taking a practical rifle course with my range buddy, Gary, at Front Sight.  I'm really looking forward to seeing how it goes. 

 

Update:  August 30, 2010

In preparation for Front Sight, I've picked up a case of Hornady 55gr FMJ Training Ammo.  These are steel cased rounds with the empty cases coming from overseas and the cartridge assembly using bullet and powder supplied by Hornady.  I put some down range today to check the zero on the carbine.  With a higher powered scope, the same carbine has done better with the same ammo.  The reticle on the ACOG nearly covers the 1.5" diameter bullseye in the above photo. 

If you haven't tried the Hornady .223 55 gr training ammo, you might consider putting a few down range to see how your rifle likes them.  The price is certainly right and the accuracy, as far as I am concerned, is good enough for a training course.  I'll be evaluated at Front Sight on a course of fire from 3 yards out to 200 yards.  The above accuracy will very much satisfy my needs at those distances. 
 

In contrast to the Hornady Training ammo, here is a target shot with Wolf 55 gr FMJ ammo.  This 100 yard 11 shot group measured 4.07" and is quite typical (at least it is when I am pulling the trigger).  The Hornady Training ammo group, albeit just 3 shots, measured 1.42".  The black bull measures 5.5" across.  Two other 100 yard 5 shot groups, using this same setup and Hornady Training ammo, measured 2.25" and 1.99". 
 

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