Were I a deer hunter, cruising the woods of the Northeast and Great Lakes, I would most likely have been doing it for all these years with a Winchester Model 94. If not that, some other light, handy rifle that had sufficient power to bring down a whitetail, yet did not overly burden me with ordnance or recoil.
Well, I’ve found a pretty good candidate to serve as an updated version of “America’s Deer Rifle.”. If I do get out and hunt, it’ll be with the S&W M&P15. Instead of 5.56, however, the chambering would be .300 Whisper.
Updated Whitetail Special
The basic rifle is pretty much what you’d expect an AR to be, with a few surprises and extras. First, the receivers, upper and lower, pistol grip, plus the handguards and buttstock, are given a Realtree APG coating. The rest of the steel, the barrel and gas block, is Melonite treated and harder than sin.
If you want to give them a coat of spray paint to make them blend in more, they’re not going to notice. Inside, the bolt and carrier are chrome-plated for ease of cleaning. In fact, the whole rifle is so protected, coated and plated that you could start your cleaning session with a garden hose and not hurt anything.
The six-position collapsible stock can be adjusted to fit almost any shooter. From the big guys in a light warm-weather shirts to the ladies bundled up in deep-cold insulation, the stock will fit.
Interestingly, the lower receiver does not have the mil-spec winter triggerguard. Instead, it has an enlarged bow, machined as an integral part of the receiver. This design is more durable than the mil-spec, and if you are out in cold so deep that you have to be wearing mittens, then it’ll be up to you to solve the problem of how to engage the trigger.
The flash hider looks different, and that’s because it is. The threads are a different size and pitch than mil-spec (S&W does not want someone screwing a 5.56 flash hider onto a .308-bore barrel), but this is something the various makers of flash hiders know. So, if you don’t like this one, it will be easy to find one you do like.
You will note one omission: There are no sights. On this subject I think S&W has taken the correct path. If you thought the array of rifles to choose from was large, you haven’t looked at the market for AR iron sights. If you ordered one set of every design out there, your delivery driver would get a hernia trying to carry them all to your door.
What S&W has done is simple. The upper receiver is a flat-top, and the gas block has a Picatinny rail on top. All you have to do is pick the sights you like (or go with a scope) and install them. Having worked in gun shops, I know what would have happened if S&W had put some brand/design of iron sights on the M&P15 .300 Whisper. Half the shooters looking at it would be asking for something else, and the poor guy at the counter would be spending more time discussing sights than the rifle. This way you can use the sights you like. Or your favorite mount and scope.
A real-world round
The .300 Whisper is a dual-use cartridge, but for this rifle the niche is simply that of a lightweight hunting tool. That means the Hornady 110-grain V-Max right now, but there are other hunting-weight bullets you can load.
The 110-grain V-Max cruises out at just under 2,300 fps, which is plenty good enough for deer. While it may be a bit light for shoulder shots, we all endeavor to slip our shots behind the front leg, right? There, placed right through the lungs or heart, the V-Max is going to do the job.
The Melonite-treated barrel is plenty accurate, and the twist rate is one you may not have seen before: 1:7.5. Where a standard .308 bore will have a twist rate of 1:10 or 1:12, the fast twist of the .300 Whisper is to stabilize the heavy subsonic rounds. No, you may not need it, and may not ever shoot them, but having the fast twist stabilizes them and doesn’t hurt accuracy with the lighter hunting bullets.
Recoil? Glad you asked. With a bare rifle weight of 6⅓ pounds, the M&P15/.300 is a joy to carry. Even if you add a scope, sling and a loaded five-round magazine, you’d have a tough time getting it near eight pounds. And, at its bare weight, it actually weighs less than a Model 94. If you are an iron-sight shooter, you’d be hard-pressed to get it past seven pounds.
To test the M&P, I put a set of folding Midwest Industries sights on it and spent entirely too much time plinking and having fun. Since I was using iron sights, when it came time to test accuracy, I limited myself to 50 yards and found the whole setup quite amenable to accurate shooting.
Now, the big deal with the Whisper for the tactical set is the subsonic ammo. There, a 208-grain A-Max doesn’t quite make it to 1,000 fps from the muzzle. Recoil is milder than mild, and accuracy is still better than most of us can hold. However, the point of impact is going to be quite different from those 110s, so be sure you check that before you go showing off.
And as an example of having more fun than the law allows, I have to mention that in my testing, the subsonic 208-grain A-Max load does not damage falling steel plates. So if your local gun club has USPSA matches, you’ll want to see about shooting in Pistol Caliber Carbine matches. You’ll shoot against other folks using 9mm carbines and have a blast.
And as an additional bonus, you’ll be getting very familiar with your deer rifle. When you get surprised by that buck next opening day, you’ll be grooved to shoot fast and accurately. And if you needed one more bonus to add to the stack, the .300 Whisper—with the 110-grain V-Max load—is a suitable home-defense round. Finally, as the clincher, if you don’t have Whisper ammo, but do have a line on a supply of .300 AAC Blackout, you’re still good to go. The M&P15/.300 works with both, interchangeably.
And if any of you tactical guys are put off the the Realtree APG camo, S&W makes the .300 Whisper upper in a no-nonsense black.