Smith & Wesson’s M&P 15 VTAC Rifle: A Review One Year Later

The Smith & Wesson M&P 15 VTAC I with Warne RAMP scope mount and Bushnell Tactical Elite optic.

The Smith & Wesson M&P 15 VTAC I with Warne RAMP scope mount and Bushnell Tactical Elite optic.

Most gun reviews allow for a short acclimation period, a couple hundred rounds at the range and a rushed story and photos to meet an editorial deadline. We thought it might be interesting to do a “one year later” review on a gun – just to see how it holds up over time and use. While announced by Smith & Wesson all the way back in their 2009 new products catalog, I picked up the M&P VTAC I just under a year and a half ago. It was new in box, found with a small stash tucked away in a Smith & Wesson warehouse somewhere. Now in its second iteration, the M&P 15 VTAC remains as popular as ever. Let’s take a look.

A Tour of the Smith & Wesson M&P15 VTAC I

Let’s take a look at what makes the Smith & Wesson M&P15 VTAC special. The simple explanation is that the VTAC models are preconfigured factory produced hot rods. The VTAC is more than a “marketing bundle” where various third-party accessories are bolted on and factored into the price. The base rifle itself includes premium upgrades that set the VTAC apart before any toys are hung on the rails.

Core Component Upgrades

When talking premium upgrades, you have to start with the Barrel. The VTAC I features a 4140 steel 16 inch barrel with a 1:7 twist. The aggressive twist rate stabilizes longer (and heavier) projectiles like 77 grain bullets. Numerous components are chromed for wear and ease of cleaning including the bore, chamber, gas key and bolt carrier.

JP Enterprises Single Stage Match Trigger and Speed Hammer

The big deal about the Smith & Wesson M&P15 VTAC is the inclusion of a first-rate trigger. AR type rifles aren’t exactly celebrated for their quality triggers, but the JP Enterprises Single Stage Match Trigger is outstanding. Oh, it also features the JP Enterprises Speed Hammer upgrade.

Even though I’ve become accustomed to the feel after shooting a few thousand rounds, it will still offer a surprise break when I’m concentrating on precise shots. It has no detectable take up and no over travel. By my measurement, it breaks extra crispy at 3 1/2 pounds.

Viking Tactics Handguard by JP Enterprises

The 12.5 inch aluminum handguard is attached to the receiver with a steel nut, resulting in a free floated barrel. The handguard itself is completely round, with a light texture applied to the aluminum surface. It’s insanely configurable with use of three included rail segments that can mount to the top of the hand guard via a line of seven screw holes or on the bottom or sides using rail backers that attach to the oblong grooves in the hand guard.

SureFire FH556-212A Flash Hider / Silencer Adapter

The original VTAC included a Surefire flash hider.

The original VTAC included a Surefire flash hider.

The included Surefire flash hider is a dual purpose accessory. It’s primary purpose is to reduce flash signature in order to protect the shooters night vision and conceal position. This one also helps prevent muzzle rise. This particular flash hider also serves as a no-tools mount for SureFire FA556K, FA556-212, FA556MG, or MINI suppressors. The Surefire flash hider attaches to the VTAC’s standard ½” by 28 tpi threaded barrel, so it’s easy to configure most any muzzle device you want.

VLTOR Modular Stock

The VLTOR ModStock has waterproof compartments for extra batteries or beef jerky - your choice.

The VLTOR ModStock has waterproof compartments for extra batteries or beef jerky – your choice.

The VLTOR stock offers six positions for varying lengths of pull. Not only does this accommodate different shooter dimensions, it allows quick reconfiguration to properly fit when the user is wearing body armor or other gear. The stock also contains two waterproof compartments large enough to house (3) CR123 or (2) AA batteries in each compartment. You might also want to use these compartments for critical spare parts – firing pin, springs, or perhaps beef jerky. The stock also has three different sling mounts: top, center and a quick-detach stud swivel mount if you prefer that to simple loops.

The gizmos are nice, but what I like most about this stock is the ergonomic design. The top offers an extra wide and smooth surface, owing to the storage compartments on either side. The shape makes for a comfortable and solid cheek weld surface. I also like the butt design. It slopes down and towards the muzzle, and is coated with a textured rubber pad which helps establish a solid position against your chest or shoulder.

Surefire G2 Light and VTAC Light Mount

Smith & Wesson includes a 60 lumen Surefire G2 tactical light with tail switch that mounts wherever you want with the included Viking Tactics light mount kit and hand guard rail segments.

Viking Tactics 2 Point Sling

If you haven’t used the Viking Tactics Quick Adjust Sling, try it. After one-time “permanent” length adjustment, you can use the quick adjust pull tab to cinch your rifle in tight or loosen it for firing flexibility. When sized correctly, you can even shoot from your offside shoulder without adjustment to the sling. It’s handy.

This rifle arrived pretty much loaded – with one exception. I immediately replaced the standard hard plastic grip with an Ergo Tactical Deluxe Grip. Now it was ready for the configuration games.

Read the rest at OutdoorHub!

Gun Review: Rock River Arms 6.8 SPC CAR Rifle

The Rock River Arms 6.8 SPC CAR. Shown here with a 5 round magazine and a Hawke Optics Panorama EV scope.

The Rock River Arms 6.8 SPC CAR. Shown here with a 5 round magazine and a Hawke Optics Panorama EV scope.

When .223 just isn’t enough…

Contrary to that provocative opening line, I’m not going to embark on a “nyah, nyah, nyha, this caliber is more betterer or less betterer” than some other. Instead, I’m going to take this opportunity to celebrate diversity. You know, like hippies.

Attention to detail is excellent. Note the double-staked gas key. The bolt / carrier fit was very snug.

Attention to detail is excellent. Note the double-staked gas key. The bolt / carrier fit was very snug.

One of the reasons that the AR or MSR (Modern Sporting Rifle) platform is so insanely popular is because it’s so darn flexible. More so than White House Spokesperson Jay Carney at an Obamacare press conference. It’s not only flexible in terms of fit (with adjustable stock options) and accessorizing (with everything from tactical lights to chainsaws), it’s flexible in terms of caliber.

Somehow or another, I got a bug up my backside to try out an AR rifle in 6.8 Remington SPC caliber. Why? Well, no good reason other than why not. That and the fact that I live in ‘Murrica.

What’s the 6.8 Remington SPC you ask? It’s a proposed solution to stopping power complaints of 5.56mm military round. It’s not as heavy and bulky as the 7.62 (.308) cartridge so one can carry plenty of ammo. It was designed for improved short-barrel performance via a joint effort between US Special Forces, the Army Marksmanship Unit and Remington. Splitting the difference between 5.56mm and 7.62×51 NATO, it’s easily adaptable to AR rifles by swapping bolt, barrel and magazine. As it shares the same overall length as the 5.56mm and .223 Remington, no changes to the AR lower receiver are required. The cartridge case is derived from the .30 Remington, so unfortunately you can’t make your own brass from scrounged-up .223 casings. As a side note, unlike the .223 / 5.56mm, it uses a large rifle primer.

Features of the Rock River Arms 6.8 SPC CAR

Rock River Arms makes a fine AR rifle. A few years back, the DEA ordered 3.2 truckloads of them and some units of the FBI and US Marshalls piggybacked onto that contract. Since that time, the RRA models have earned a solid reputation.

If you order direct, you can have a rifle customized to your specs. The Badger Tactical latch handle shown here was an option I'm glad I added.

If you order direct, you can have a rifle customized to your specs. The Badger Tactical latch handle shown here was an option I’m glad I added.

If you order your rifle in advance instead of buying one off the shelf, you can customize to your hearts content and a rifle will be built according to your specifications. Some of the options available include:

A2 or A4 upper receiver.

Chrome moly or chrome-lined barrel.

Flash hiders: Want a Smith Enterprise Vortex or muzzle brake? No problem.

Gas block / sight base: choose standard, low-profile or flip up ready versions are all available.

Standard or ambidextrous safety levers and magazine catches.

Handguards, grips and buttstocks: too many options to list here.

Trigger guards and bolt handles are also customizeable for normal or gloved use.

For this review, I ordered the 6.8 SPC CAR with an A4 upper receiver, the Rock River Arms Quad Rail Free Float hand guard, chrome-lined barrel, gas block sight base, Smith Enterprise Vortex flash hider and Badger Tactical Bolt Latch. Designed as an optics-ready rifle, this version is a bit of a Cadillac.

Read the rest at OutdoorHub.com!

Gun Review: Springfield Armory EMP 9mm Pistol

Suggested Retail Price: $1,345.00 www.springfield-armory.com

The Springfield Armory EMP – What’s in a name?

Springfield Armory EMP 9mm Enhanced Micro Pistol gold dot ammo

The Springfield Armory EMP 9mm Pistol

Contrary to popular belief, the Springfield Armory EMP will not generate a burst of Electro-Magnetic Pulse radiation, thereby knocking out any still-operational Chevy Volts on the eastern seaboard.

Nor is it named after the Experience Music Project Museum in Seattle, originally conceived to recognize the mind-blowing music of Jimi Hendrix.

It’s not related to the Emporia Municipal Airport (EMP) in Lyon Country, Kansas.

Some think that the EMP was named in reference to the Earth Microbiome Project, whose mission is to identify and catalog all microbial life on planet earth. Including those elusive cooties.

And no, the original Springfield Armory EMP design was not sketched out on a cocktail napkin at New York’s swanky Eleven Madison Park Restaurant.

While closer to home, it’s not an homage to the Erma EMP-35 submachine gun manufactured by Germany from 1930 to 1938. While it’s a 9mm also, the Springfield Armory EMP has no full auto selector. Nor does it have a 32 round magazine like the EMP-35.

Give up?

It’s the Springfield Armory EMPEnhanced Micro Pistol – chambered in 9mm or .40 S&W.

Springfield Armory EMP 9mm features

Springfield Armory EMP 9mm ambidextrous safety

The Springfield Armory EMP features ambidextrous safety levers

Like the Springfield Armory 1911 TRP we recently reviewed, the Springfield Armory EMP 9mm is loaded with custom features and extras. A dollar store handgun this is not. You will get what you pay for in feature set and quality of construction.

The Springfield Armory Enhanced Micro Pistol was designed from the ground up to function reliably with the shorter cartridge size of the 9mm and .40 S&W rounds. With a wide variety of 9mm ammo we tested (outlined in more detail below) we did not experience any function problems from the first round on. The Enhanced Micro Pistol demonstrated no ammunition preference in terms of reliability. Other small 9mm pistols have been known to require certain projectile weights or weight / power combinations in order to function, so we found the ammunition indifference to be a big plus with the Springfield Armory EMP.

Like the Springfield Armory TRP, the Springfield Armory EMP, or Enhanced Micro Pistol, features fully ambidextrous safety levers. Both are extended, but the right hand lever is ever-so-slightly narrower. Most likely to favor the majority of shooters who are right-handed. In our testing, we did not find the right hand lever to get in the way of holsters, nor did it hang up on clothing when carrying concealed.

Springfield Armory EMP does not use a barrel bushing

The EMP design does not use a barrel bushing. Barrel to frame fit is tight with no discernible movement.

The sights are steel and mounted front and back via dovetail cuts, so they are easily adjustable for windage. No adjustment was necessary on our test gun – with all ammo tested, windage was dead on comparing point of aim and point of impact. Like the TRP, the sights are manufactured by Springfield Armory, but are supplied with Trijicon tritium inserts. The ramped rear sight has two tritium dots while the front sight features a single tritium dot.

The magazine release button is checkered, and due to the reduced grip size, we found it easy to activate without changing our firing grip. Magazines drop freely from the EMP to facilitate rapid mag changes.

The trigger is aluminum and features three hole cutouts for a bit of weight reduction, but mainly to add to its sexy appearance. There is an adjustable over-travel screw. The EMP came from the factory with no detectable over-travel, but if you like a little, feel free to adjust.

Springfield Armory EMP accessories and case

The Springfield Armory EMP includes 3 magazines, holster, dual magazine carrier, a lockable hard case, and more.

The frame and slide are well-rounded and optimized for carry. The back strap is checkered, while the front strap is smooth. The EMP features and extended beavertail and the grip safety offers a memory bump that makes safety disengagement positive. During our testing, we had no issues getting reliable and consistent grip safety disengagement, regardless of grip style.

Springfield Armory does a swell job of providing lots of goodies in the box. You’ll get the pistol of course, You’ll also get 3 magazines manufactured by Mec-Gar for Springfield Armory. These are embossed with a large EMP logo to help you keep them straight from any other 1911 magazines you may have lying around. You’ll also find a kydex paddle-style belt holster and dual magazine carrier. And of course a cleaning brush, instructions, a coupon sheet for lot’s of discounted accessories like extra factory magazines, a couple of keys for the integral lock, and allen wrenches for sight adjustment and grip removal. All of this comes packaged in a custom foam-lined and lockable hard plastic case.

You look marvelous darling!

One of the things that drew us to the Springfield EMP 9mm for a full evaluation is it’s appearance. Yes, we’re that shallow. We’ll test just about any gun if it looks hot at the range.

Springfield Armory EMP frame front strap cocobolo grips

The Springfield Armory EMP 9mm is one great looking pistol. The cocobolo grip panels really complement the matte black frame and satin stainless steel frame.

The grips are a thing of beauty. We’ve always been suckers for nice wooden grips. The Springfield Armory EMP features Cocobolo hardwood grips. As everyone know, Cocobolo is a tropical hardwood derived from the heart of the dalbergia retusa tree. In fact, if you hold the grips up to your ear, you can hear the ocean and smell pina coladas. More importantly, Cocobolo is not only beautiful and sexy, it’s hard, durable and loaded with oils. The oils serve to protect the wood from water, sweat, cleaning solvents, and other abuses. The grips are checkered, except for smooth diamond-shaped areas around the mounting screws. There is also a really sooper dooper Springfield Armory logo embossed into each grip. Did I mention that these grips look marvelous?

The frame is constructed from forged aluminum alloy with a black-anodized hard-coat finish. With the 1,000 or so rounds we’ve shot and plenty of daily carry, we’ve not had any issues with scratching or chips.

The slide is forged stainless steel. It’s got a satin finish. In average Joe’s English, satin finish translates to not shiny.  We observed at least two practical benefits from the satin stainless finish. First, the top of the slide does not produce glare in sunny conditions. The front and rear sights are a black matte finish, so visibility in bright conditions is great. A second benefit is that the satin finish hides things that might detract from the EMP’s marvelous appearance. Fingerprints don’t show, holster wear will be nearly invisible, and micro-abuses will be subdued in appearance.

The aluminum trigger finish matches that of the slide, so it makes for a nice visual complement.

What can we say? The EMP looks marvelous!

Note: The Springfield Armory EMP is also available with the same frame and slide finish, but with grey-toned G10 grips for extra durability. The G10 model is also a fantastic looking gun – just a tad more tactical in appearance.

9+1 capacity

Springfield Armory EMP 9mm magazines

The Springfield Armory EMP ships with 3 magazines.

There are at least two benefits to having a 1911 platform gun chambered in 9mm. First, you can make it smaller, as evidenced by the Springfield Armory EMP. The smaller diameter and shorter overall length of the 9mm cartridge allows for a grip that is both shorter front to back and narrower side to side. The second bennie is that you can fit more bullets into the same amount of space, all other things being equal.

One thing to note, if you’re topping off the full 9 in the mag plus 1 in the chamber load, don’t be a sissy when you seat the magazine. Inserting a magazine full with 9 rounds into the EMP with a loaded chamber requires a vigorous spank. This is a good habit with any gun as many undesirable malfunctions are caused by improperly seated magazines. If your smack a full magazine into an EMP, it will seat with a satisfying and positive click, so no worries there. Just don’t coddle it. It’s a gun after all and designed to be handled with authority and confidence.

The EMP’s three included magazines are manufactured in Italy by Mec-Gar especially of the Springfield Armory EMP. One side is stamped accordingly while the other features a large EMP logo. One minor frustration with the EMP magazines is the lack of witnessing holes to see how many rounds are loaded in the magazine. Even one hole towards the bottom that allowed a quick visual confirmation of full magazine status would be nice to have.

Shooting the Springfield Armory EMP 9mm pistol

We headed to the range on several occasions to run the EMP through its paces. The velocity testing was done after two previous range trips where we had put about 200 rounds through the Springfield Armory EMP. As a side note, no cleaning has been done to date. Just because we’re curious to see how long it will go without getting finicky.

Here are the results:

Load

Springfield Armory EMP
(3” barrel)

Buffalo Bore 9mm +P+ TAC-XP 95 grain 1,360
CorBon 9mm +P JHP 115 grain  1,228
Federal 9mm FMJ Round Nose 115 grain  1,097
Federal Hydra-Shock 9mm +P+ 124 grain  1,094
Hornady Critical Defense 9mm 115 grain 1,041
Hornady Critical Duty 9mm +P 135 grain 1,120
Remington UMC 9mm 115 grain 1,108
Speer Gold Dot 9mm +P Short Barrel 124 grain 1,159
TulAmmo 9mm FMJ 115 grain  1,106
Winchester PDX1 9mm +P 124 grain 1,147
Winchester Target 9mm 115 grain 1,069

We really like the handling of the Springfield Armory EMP chambered in 9mm. While we did a lot of general target shooting and good old-fashioned plinking, what was most enlightening was running through some simple practice drills. We shot the Dot Torture drill a number of times to get a more subjective indication of how the Springfield Armory EMP feels.

Springfield Armory EMP 9mm ammo left side

We tried a wide variety of 9mm self defense and practice ammo with the Springfield Armory EMP

If you’re not already familiar, the Dot Torture drill is a series of 50 shots at small targets placed 3-5 yards downrange. The sequence of shooting requires the shooter to fire two-handed, strong hand only, weak hand only, perform target transitions with single and double-tap shots, and perform reloads between targets. In other words, it’s kind of like a complete practice session in a box. Shoot a Dot Torture drill and you’ll spend a bit of time on a number of different shooting fundamentals. You’ll also get a good feel of how a handgun “feels” with several different shooting scenarios. We found it easy to complete the Dot Torture drill with the EMP.

Here’s why.

The 9mm chambering helps a lot, but what really makes the EMP a pussycat to shoot is the ability to get a full and comfortable grip. It’s a compact pistol, but none of our shooters had any trouble getting all fingers placed firmly on the grip. The result is a pistol that is very gentle to shoot and this made a noticeable difference with the Dot Torture double tap shot strings. It was easy to place multiple rounds virtually on top of each other at high-speed and with relative ease.

Springfield Armory EMP 9mm trigger

The EMP’s aluminum trigger features and overtravel adjustment screw.

The sight picture is excellent. The sharp cuts of the rear notch and front sight make for a crisp and fast to acquire sight picture. The tritium filled tubes are outlined in either white or metal (hard to tell) and stand out fine in daylight.

Just as a side observation, the beavertail grip safety allows for high hand placement. We found that one can shoot the EMP with the strong hand thumb either riding on top of the frame safety lever or below. If you choose to place your thumb below, you won’t risk advertently bumping the safety upwards. We’ve seen this on some 1911′s, but the contour of the Springfield Armory EMP seems to prevent this.

The checkering and grip surfaces are designed with carry in mind. While the Springfield Armory 1911 TRP we recently reviewed was clearly designed for tactical use with sharp checkering and heavily textured G10 grip panels, the Springfield Armory EMP achieves more of a balance between comfort and grip. The back of the mainspring housing is checkered while the front of the grip is smooth. The Cocobolo wood grips have mildly aggressive checkering, so you can carry the EMP using an inside the waistband holster without rubbing any nearby love handles raw. Even with the toned-down textures, we had no problem keeping a firm and stable grip through fast strings of fire.

How to field strip and clean a Springfield Armory EMP 9mm pistol

With a couple of minor exceptions, field stripping a Springfield is like field stripping any other 1911 design pistol. The Springfield Armory EMP uses a dual spring, captive mechanism which adds a bit of a trick to fully field stripping the pistol.  To relieve spring tension and make things a lot easier on the fingers, Springfield Armory includes a plastic takedown assist bushing piece that greatly facilitates ease of takedown. You can remove the slide with or without the takedown assist piece, but it will be hard on the fingers to remove the spring assembly and barrel from the slide without it.

Here’s how you do it.

Springfield Armory EMP takedown piece

First, after making double-secret sure that the gun is fully unloaded (chamber too!), pull the slide back to expose some of the guide rod. When enough is exposed, snap the takedown assist piece into place. That’s shown in the next photo.

Springfield Armory EMP takedown piece step one

The takedown assist bushing is designed to hold the spring in the right position for takedown, while being small enough in diameter to pull back through the slide opening. Now remove the slide just like you would with any standard 1911. Pull the slide backward until the round takedown notch is directly above the slide lock tab. Remove the slide lock lever and slide the slide off the front of the pistol.

 Springfield Armory EMP takedown piece spring

Since you used the takedown assist bushing piece in step one, it will be easy to pull the spring assembly out.

Springfield Armory EMP remove spring assembly

Pull the spring assembly out towards the back of the slide.
 Springfield Armory EMP takedown remove barrel Now the barrel can be removed through the front of the slide. As the Springfield Armory EMP has no barrel bushing, you don’t need to worry about that.

There you have it!

To put things back together, simply reverse the order. When you’ve got the slide back on and slide stop lever replaced, snap the takedown assist piece off and store it in a safe place for next time.

Closing arguments

Here’s the quick summary.

Springfield Armory EMP size with Springfield Armory TRP 1911

The Springfield Armory EMP is designed for the smaller 9mm and .40 S&W cartridge length. Shown here next to a full sized 1911.

If we could wave a magic feature enhancement wand, there are only two things we would change on the Springfield Armory EMP 9mm. First, it would be great to simplify field stripping. It’s not hard when you use the included takedown assist bushing, but chances are that thing is going to get lost at some point. Is this a big deal? Not really, as the EMP is not a finicky gun. We didn’t clean it at all until it had about 1,000 rounds through it – and we had no problems whatsoever with function. So it’s not a high maintenance gun that will have to be cleaned after every range outing. Second, we would love to have one or more holes in the magazines to easily check round count. The magazines are well made and solid as a rock, but you can’t easily verify that they are filled to maximum capacity.

The form factor is a great tradeoff between size and self-defense capacity. Overall size is smaller than a compact Glock 19, but it still provides 9+1 rounds of 9mm. It’s thin, well-rounded where it needs to be, and therefore exceptionally easy to carry. We used it a lot with various inside the waistband holsters and it virtually disappears.

Where the Springfield Armory EMP 9mm shines is with its handling. Simply put, it’s a joy to shoot. The combination of smooth grip panel checkering, backstrap checkering, and a smooth front strap provides for a firm grip, but without sacrifice of concealed carry comfort with inside the waistband holsters. The trigger is fantastic. Adjustable for over travel and crisp, it’s easy to hit things with the EMP. The ambidextrous safety levers are crisp and easy to reach. While we wouldn’t classify the EMP as a heavy pistol, it does a great job of soaking up recoil from full powered 9mm self-defense loads. Clearly the dual spring design has a lot to do with that, as does the near perfect contour of the frame.

Our Rating

4 Nuns Four Nuns! This gun carries, shoots, and handles like a dream. The grip, trigger, and sights achieve a balance that it makes it easy to hit your intended target. For all of its beautiful handling attributes, the real value of the Springfield Armory EMP is the confidence it inspires.
Check out other My Gun Culture product reviews here!

 

Accessories available at Brownells

Find holster options in our new book, The Insanely Practical Guide to Gun Holsters - available at Amazon.com! Learn more about our Insanely Practical Guides!

Insanely Practical Guide to Gun Holsters

On the Ninth Day of Christmas… 9mm Kimber Solo-ing

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On the ninth day of Christmas, I hope my true love gives to me…
9mm Kimber Solo-ing…

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solocarrystainlessA new Kimber Solo has been on the ‘want’ list for months. An ultra-compact 9mm, it offers a variety of features not commonly found on pocket-sized guns:

  • It’s all steel and has a nice weight to it
  • Single action, striker-fired design so there is a constant trigger pull
  • Ambidextrous frame mounted safety
  • Nice 3-dot sights
  • 6+1 capacity

The standout feature is the feel. The frame is completely smoothed and melted and it feels great in the grip. It’s kind of like holding a stick of butter except you don’t have to wash you hands afterword.

 

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Eight Guns for Plinking…
Seven lasers aiming…
Six scales a weighing…
Five magnum things…
Four written words…
Three tactical pens…
Two shooting gloves
And a Smith and Wesson M and P

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