April 07, 2017
Long known amongst serious users for lightweight rails and a dedication to serious working platforms, Daniel Defense is keeping with consumer trends as can be observed with its new DDM4 V11 SLW and DDM4 V7.
Nowadays, making a lightweight rifle is not difficult. In fact, anybody with a credit card and access to YouTube can assemble a pile of no-name parts and head to the range. But like so much else in life, the devil is always in the details. How does the rifle balance? How does the rifle perform? Will it succumb to hard use? Daniel Defense takes these questions and crushes them. Its rifles are not only lightweight; they are extremely efficient, balancing accuracy, shootability and ruggedness.
I recently spent time with the latest from Daniel Defense, the DDM4 V11 SLW and DDM4 V7. I was impressed enough that I'm now buying one of them. With Daniel Defense's reputation in the AR community, I would have been surprised if they were not superb. While I have a deep enough professional background to appreciate all black rifles, there is a special place in my heart for rifles that are specifically designed for the man in the arena, to paraphrase former President Teddy Roosevelt. And these are it.
Before I contrast the differences between the platforms, let's go over similarities. The build quality is superb and time proven. The bolts are magnetic particle inspected (MPI) and manufactured from the appropriate 158 Carpenter steel. The bolt carrier groups are automatic style – meaning that they are fully shrouded – and properly staked. The uppers and lowers are milled from forged 7075-T6 aluminum and are extremely precise with little play between them. The lowers are built with Daniel Defense's proprietary flared magazine well, which, while subtle, definitely aids in the reloading process. Both trigger groups are at the top-end of the familiar service variety, insofar as they are relatively smooth and break fairly cleanly and consistently with slight overtravel.
The furniture is the now-familiar Daniel Defense-pattern glass-filled polymer with contact areas of a soft-touch polymer. While I really like the shape and ergonomics of the DD furniture, I could do without the soft touch on my stock, as it occasionally and annoyingly grabs my facial hair. That said, the pistol grip included a generous triggerguard and soft touch on the grip, which make the design one of the best around. Also, the included rear quick-detach (QD) sling-swivel sockets on the stock make it easy for me to forgive an occasional beard tug. The selector on both models was clean and tight, locking into each position smoothly, and the lower receiver extension (buffer tube) was tight and properly staked at the castle nut. Finally, barrels on both models are manufactured from 4150 CV ordnance steel and chrome lined. When it comes to selecting and assembling the right components, Daniel Defense is tough to beat.
And now for the differences. While similar at first glance, these rifles are actually substantially different. First, the V11 was finished in Daniel Defense's proprietary Tornado gray Cerakote. The color is striking and is complemented with black furniture for a visually appealing and suitably low-profile package. The V11 also has a standard aluminum dustcover, while the V7 wears a polymer one. Daniel Defense informed me the polymer resists deformity better, lasts longer and is 11 grams lighter, so it is the way forward on all new DD rifles. The V11 SLW is optimized to be an extremely lightweight fighting rifle that utilizes the KeyMod accessory attachment system and a skeletonized, mid-length 12-inch SLiM rail to shroud a 14½-inch lightweight-profile barrel to keep the weight to a minimum.
The V7 is a slightly heavier carbine than the V11 SLW because it incorporates a 15-inch M-LOK-compatible rail and a medium contoured 16-inch barrel. Everything in the world of tactics is a compromise, and building rifles is no different. The lighter weight V11 carbine sacrifices a bit of rail estate, a little velocity and longevity in exchange for increased portability. The V7 gives you additional rail space, slightly increased robustness and velocity in return for a slightly heavier total package. As the late Pat Rogers was fond of saying, "The mission drives the gear train." Figure out what your needs are and go from there.
In practical use, there are some detectable differences. Because the barrel on the V11 is lighter, there is a slight increase in muzzle rise during shooting. In slow fire, it is almost imperceptible; however, during faster strings of fire it becomes evident. Besides the heavier, longer barrel, the V7 has an additional 3 inches of handguard mounting space, allowing us to extend our forward hand for additional control.
In my shooting drills, the V11 shined. Internet expertise dictates that a heavier barrel will track more smoothly, but the lighter V11 was faster on target and transitioned between targets more quickly and smoothly. Even on the shot timer, my time to target was about .05 seconds faster with the V11 than the V7. Besides that, I don't have many quantifiable reasons to tell you why, but the V11 just felt better to me. It was livelier in the hand, and I found myself defaulting to it when pushing myself through training, especially on steel or when I wanted to go fast.
There's another myth floating around in regard to lightweight guns (and lightweight barrels in particular). "Lightweight barrels are less accurate than their heavier counterparts." This is a mixed bag of truth and straight-up ignorance. For a shot or two, maybe even three, there is no difference in accuracy. However, since a lightweight barrel is thinner, it does heat up faster. This can increase dispersion over the course of a string of shots. Lighter barrels are also more prone to harmonic imbalance and more sensitive to contact with handguards. In a free-floated AR platform, I would expect intrinsic accuracy to be roughly identical, especially if both barrels were made with equal attention to quality. With the V11, I noticed that groups would open up just a bit with the fourth and fifth shots of a five-shot string. It wasn't much – anywhere from ⅛- to ⅜-inch, but it bears mentioning. Because I'm of the curious type, I ran a little experiment. I shot a couple of five-shot groups, waiting a minute between each shot. In that time, that little bit of dispersion disappeared and groups shrank to about 1½ inches at 100 yards. The V7, with its heavier profile barrel, was not affected in the same way. It shot consistently with my baseline Black Hills 77-grain load at right around 1¼ inches. Because the V7 has an extra 1½ inches of barrel, its velocities were anywhere from 30 to 50 fps greater with any given load. It's been my experience that heavier bullets like the ones tested usually bleed less velocity than the lightweight screamers. There is probably someone reading this right now, yelling, "Only a minute and a half at a hundred?" Cool your jets, turbo. I shot both guns from prone over a pack with an optic that made sense for the intended purpose of the carbines: the Trijicon TR-24G optic in a LaRue mount. If I really wanted to juice the results, I would have bolted the guns to a bench and used a high magnification optic with a more precise reticle. But that wouldn't be fair to G&A readers who want a serious work rifle.
As I mentioned before, the barrels are cold-hammer forged, chrome plated and 4150 CV ordnance steel. They are meant to provide good accuracy with long lasting cycles of fire, and they do this in spades. The Mil-Spec for accuracy out of a carbine is 4 MOA, and both of these rifles do less than half of that. That's a win.
Your needs should drive your gear. The V11 SLW is the finest lightweight rifle I've ever tested, and I'm not giving it back. I'm not entirely convinced that KeyMod is a panacea, but I'll have time to push the gun hard and sort that out. The V7 is one of the best examples of a general purpose rifle, and if I could afford both, I'd keep it as well. Daniel Defense makes the right fighting gun for us regardless of our mission. From short barreled rifles (SBR) to designated marksman rifles (DMR), DD has us covered.
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