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Smith & Wesson M&P15 Rifle

S&W's new AR15 is an excellent addition to the crowded market for law enforcement carbines.

August 01, 2006  |  by Mike Detty - Also by this author

I drove from my home in Tucson to the SHOT Show in Las Vegas this year-it's a scenic drive that takes a little more than seven hours. Entering the city, I passed a large police motorcade that was just beginning on the other side of the highway. I could see that regular traffic had been blocked for this procession, and I thanked God that I did not get caught up in the logjam that followed. I figured it was caused by a visiting dignitary or politician who was in town, and I didn't give it a second thought until I checked into my hotel room and turned on the TV.

All of the local channels were covering the funeral of Sgt. Henry Prendes of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Prendes had been gunned down just days earlier. The motorcade that I had seen coming into the city was for his funeral. Realizing that, I felt great remorse for thinking of it as an inconvenience. I decided to learn what had happened to Prendes.

Las Vegas police say this is what happened: An aspiring rap artist ambushed Prendes, 37, when he answered a domestic violence call at the man's house in southwest Las Vegas. The AK-47-wielding gunman held off officers who were armed with handguns and shotguns, firing more than 50 rounds during the confrontation. His withering fire kept officers from rescuing Prendes until a plainclothes officer with the Gang Unit arrived with a carbine. He braved the barrage of fire, attempted to rescue Prendes, and was wounded in the leg. Many officers say that his weapon and courage saved the day by allowing other officers to get close enough to take out the suspect.

Reading this account the day before the SHOT Show, I could only draw one conclusion: Cops need rifles. And they should have them in their patrol cars, not locked away in storage.

I was thinking about that as I walked the floor of the show. There, I found a lot of new candidates for police patrol rifle duty, including Smith & Wesson's M&P15.

Field Trip

The M&P15 patrol carbine is a flat top .223 AR-style carbine with an M4 collapsible buttstock, handguards, and 16-inch barrel. Other than the fact that it wears the S&W logo, I could see nothing that differentiated this rifle from any of the other basic AR-15s available from numerous manufacturers. Just another AR, I thought...I was unimpressed, though I did dutifully put in a request for a test and evaluation sample.

Months went by and in April I received a call from Dick Williams at SureFire. He invited me to a writer's seminar in Wyoming that was co-sponsored by Winchester Ammunition and S&W. The participants would have a chance to shoot plenty of ammo through the new M&P15 and get a chance to view new SureFire products. It sounded more like a vacation than work to me, and I gladly accepted.

On Memorial Day, I flew into Denver and was met by Winchester Ammunition's Mike Jordan. Together we made the four-hour drive to Silver Spur Ranch located just outside Encampment, Wyo. Along with four other writers, I'd have two days to shoot as much Winchester ammo through the rifle as I desired.

We started the first day by sighting in our rifles at 100 yards. My test rifle had already been fitted with an Alpen Aspen 6-24X50mm scope. It was an awkward setup for a carbine. The scope's front objective was less than a quarter inch from the front sight assembly, and I had to turn the scope up to at least 8-power just to get the inverted shadow of the front sight. I also had to back away from the rear of the lens to get proper eye relief. It was uncomfortable to use and, unfortunately, there were no alternative scopes available. Despite this, I was able to get the scope on target and managed to fire one, five-shot group that was under an inch with Winchester's 45-grain hollow point bullets.

Our choices for ammo included the abovementioned load and Winchester's premium 50-grain ballistic Silvertip bullets, which gave very similar accuracy results. S&W rifles the M&P15's barrels with a 1:9 twist, like most other manufacturers of M4 style carbines, and both of these loads are designed for varmint hunting and are lighter than I would have chosen to evaluate the carbine. Over the years, I have tested many rifles with 1:9 barrels and found that 69-grain bullets have provided me with the best accuracy. Because of our limited ammunition choices, we had to make do, though I have no doubts that the heavier bullets would be wonderfully accurate.

Our guides, Spur Outfitters, supplied us with portable shooting rests and that made precision shooting possible even in the field. Silver Spur has thousands and thousands of acres teeming with prairie dogs, ground squirrels, and other rodents. Because it is a working cattle ranch, the tunnels that these varmints dig are more than just a minor nuisance. Both cows and horses can and have fallen through into these dens and broken legs. Most ranch owners welcome anyone who wants to shoot prairie dogs on their property.

Our guides would drop us off in a field, set up our shooting benches, and let us shoot for an hour or more before taking us to another destination. Shots ranged from 15 yards to more than 400 yards, with most of our best results occurring between 100 and 200 yards. The action was fast and furious and, oftentimes, we'd fire as quickly as we could obtain a sight picture and press the trigger. The only real time we had to cool the barrel was when we were loading our 30-round magazines.

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