DPMS Panther's new Mini SASS rifle benefits from an almost-military pedigree. Several years ago the Army put out a solicitation for a new semi-automatic sniper system (SASS) to replace its aging M21 and M24 sniper rifles. The new rifle had to be chambered for the 7.62 NATO cartridge, be man-portable, and possess sub minute-of-angle accuracy. After much testing and evaluation, the field was narrowed to Knight's Armament Company's entry and a rifle submitted jointly by DPMS Panther and Remington's Military Products Division.
In the end, the Knight's Armament rifle won the contract. But the lessons learned during this exercise were not lost on DPMS. The company eventually offered a version of the gun designed to meet the military specifications but meant for civilian consumption.
The original DPMS SASS rifle featured a full-length rail system, match-grade trigger, and adjustable stock, and possessed accuracy that far surpassed the military's requirement. It continues to be one of the most popular rifles in the DPMS lineup.
So successful was the 7.62 x 51mm rifle that DPMS officials decided to build a 5.56 x 45mm version of the gun. Called, appropriately enough, the Mini SASS, this new rifle has many of the same features that made its big brother so popular.
With a weight of 9.45 pounds without optics or magazine, the Mini SASS is not overly heavy for a sniping system. And its 18-inch barrel is a perfect compromise length, balancing the benefits of a short barrel for portability but with enough length for effective velocity and accuracy. To stabilize the heavier bullets, the barrel is button rifled with a 1:8 inch twist. It has a medium weight contour with its profile reduced at the muzzle to accept a Panther Flash hider, designed for use on any standard AR-15 flash hider threads.
As for the firearm's looks, I thought the barrel was made of carbon steel at first glance, but found out it is actually made from 416 stainless steel and then Teflon coated a non-reflective black. DPMS flutes the barrel and, while it is my opinion that this is a mostly cosmetic function, there are others that make the argument that the increased surface area helps keep the barrel cooler longer and makes it more rigid. DPMS uses a 5.56 x 45mm chamber on the Mini SASS and it will chamber and function fine with all 5.56 x 45mm and .223 Remington ammunition.
About two inches longer than a carbine gas tube, the mid-length gas system used on the Mini SASS lowers the port pressure. This, claims its advocates, extends the service life of the weapon.
DPMS uses a free-floating four-rail handguard on the Mini SASS that extends past the low-profile gas block. Because of this, the front sight is actually mounted on the rail system. Flip Mangonel front and rear sights are included in the DPMS Mini SASS package.
You'll note that there are two notches on the front sight. One is for mounting the front sight on a railed gas block and the other position is for rail mounting. which is the one you'll use for the Mini SASS. Both front and rear sights only require the user to lift it, giving the spring-loaded support a chance to deploy.
Of Good Stock
DPMS outfits the Mini SASS with the Magpul PRS (Precision Rifle Stock), which is high quality and highly adjustable.
The PRS features a whopping 3.25 inches of adjustable pull length. Important if the rifle will be used with multiple shooters or even just one shooter. Whether you're wearing a vest, heavy winter jacket, or in shirtsleeves you'll have the ability to customize your length of pull. Additionally, the cheek piece is adjustable for height.
Decide to change the optics on your rifle? Depending on the mount you use, you may need to change the height of the comb. MagPul's PRS gives you the ability to instantly modify your stock to fit your needs.
Like all of MagPul's products the PRS stock is built to withstand the rigors of use in a hostile environment. Its buttplate is machined from billet and has a rubber buttpad; its extension shafts are constructed from steel and phosphated black; and aluminum ball detent knobs are used for adjusting the stock. On the rear of the buttstock is a place where you can pull the stock tightly against your shoulder with your offhand when shooting from a supported position.
On the Range
Before shooting the rifle at the range, I took stock of its accessories. As part of the Mini SASS package, DPMS includes a Harris Swivel Series Bipod with nine- to 13-inch adjustment attached to the bottom rail with a Command Arms adaptor. While this is a fine setup for field shooting, I was going to do all of my accuracy testing from a cement bench using a rifle rest for support. I fired all of my groups from a seated rest, five shots to a group, and did not allow the barrel to cool between shots.
For accuracy testing I mounted a Trijicon 3-9x40 AccuPoint scope. I used an Armalite scope mount and, unfortunately, the rear of the scope sat too low and required that I remove the detachable Mangonel rear sight. Using a scope with extended eye relief would have cured this problem, as would taller rings. Of course, the Armalite mount can be easily and quickly removed in an emergency and the rear sight could be attached in just seconds.
I like the clarity of the Trijicon AccuPoint and find the brilliance of the amber-aiming chevron to be just what my aging eyes need. Its eyepiece is adjustable for focus and the brightness level of the aiming point is also adjustable. In low-light situations its tritium backup ensures you'll never lose your aiming point. I took an IPSC cardboard target and put 12 one-inch target pasters on it so that I wouldn't have to walk down range and change targets continually. I fired all groups with the scope set on its 9-power magnification.
I fired a variety of loads through the Mini SASS and was very pleased with the results. Black Hills 69-grain Match King turned in the single best five-shot group; it measured just .63 inches center to center. Hornady's 75-grain BTHP TAP also recorded a respectable group at just .66 inches, but what really surprised me was Black Hills' 50-grain V-Max group that printed a .82-inch group. I would have guessed that the projectile was too light to be stabilized with that degree of accuracy from a 1:8-inch barrel.
Throughout the T&E I was impressed with the Mini SASS' trigger pull. Even though my trigger gauge read 4.5 pounds, it was so crisp that it actually felt much lighter. DPMS uses the excellent JP trigger on the Mini SASS and it has very little take up and virtually no overtravel.
DPMS technicians adjusted the trigger at the factory and I did not feel the need to monkey with either the engagement or overtravel screws. But just in case you'd like to make your own adjustments, a short manual and a CD with movie instructions are included with the package.
Like its heavier caliber brother, the DPMS Mini SASS possesses more than adequate accuracy for its intended mission. In fact, I am sure that with continued load experimentation the rifle may even be capable of one-half MOA accuracy. One thing is certain; during my 400-round evaluation I experienced zero malfunctions or stoppages. Every load I fed the rifle chambered, fired, extracted, and ejected without a bobble.
Assembled with top quality parts, there isn't any reason other than maybe personal preference that you would need to replace parts on the Mini SASS. If you were to add up the cost of all the custom features like the stock, rail system, and match trigger, you'll discover that the suggested retail price of $1,599 represents a tremendous value.
Mike Detty is an NRA-certified rifle, pistol, and shotgun instructor. A certified rangemaster and competition shooter, Detty served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and holds a degree in criminal justice from the University of Arizona.