Springfield Armory made its foray into the AR market and announced its AR-15 to a short list of my colleagues within the Outdoor Sportsman Group (OSG). Shooting Times, Rifleshooter and Guns & Ammo were all represented at the secret preview on Sept. 13, 2016. The location was a remote training facility near Gillette, Wyoming, where U.S. Navy SEAL Eric Frohardt was busy training combat mindset and carbine use to six female shooting contestants from different walks of life. The winning participant would be announced as the face of Springfield's project several weeks later, when the rest of the gun industry's media was let in on the secret project in Las Vegas.
To receive an invite to the second event, the media accepted a non-disclosure agreement — even members of the cutthroat gun media working for popular internet blogs. And a show it was.
"This is like a dream come true for me," Dennis Reese, president of Springfield Armory, said to OSG attendees. "To be a part of the [AR] market is something we have been working on for many years. I hope you appreciate what we've put our heart and souls into. The [Saint] platform lends itself to be modified as we move on. They've got the bridle in my mouth, but we'll keep you informed as time progresses."
Following that opening statement, the lights were dimmed and an ominous scene from Springfield's "Night of the Saint" short movie played before us. A lady experiencing car trouble along a lonely road at night was harassed by a truckful of nefarious characters. The scene went black with fading audio, suggesting she was forced to use self-defense. Then Springfield's new mantra, "Defend Your Legacy," appeared on-screen.
The point of the presentation was not only to introduce the new Saint AR-15 rifle — a first for Springfield Armory — but also to illustrate a shift in branding toward a lifestyle message. Reese appeared to be the push behind this new look for Springfield Armory, which is sure to transcend and build on every product line. In Springfield's own words, they're not going to try to sell their guns by putting them in the hands of "mall ninjas," "scantly clad women" or "hunting athletes." No, Springfield's competitors have been there or are already doing that. Rather, they're expecting to champion the untapped market of youthful, aspirational and unapologetic American civilians with the help of social media. And that's how Springfield Armory picked these six ladies. Each of them enjoys an enormous following on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc.
Springfield's message, and its AR-15, focuses less on materialism and more on building experience. There is a strong athletic component that's sure to appeal to the CrossFit audience. More than just reading about it, Springfield is hoping that its customers are interested in becoming active, participating in and living for adventurous experiences (or aspiring to do so). Important to the message is taking responsibility for our own safety and defense. Firearms are a part of this mindset, and people like us are encouraged not to apologize for it.
"Defend your legacy." "Train your fear." "Grip your nerves." "Stare down evil." These are the brand's new taglines as the Saint marks Springfield Armory's entry into the AR arena.
"Take responsibility for yourself," Springfield Armory said. "There's a very strong female element in what we're doing, and they don't want us to sell them pink guns." Springfield Armory wants to identify with strong, independent and powerful women.
The takeaways with the Saint's introductory configuration are that it has a mid-length gas system, front sight and a nickel-boron coated "GI-style trigger." (I liked that Springfield Armory refers to its trigger as a GI-style trigger, as there is no such thing as a commercial Mil-Spec trigger.) Rather than the clamshell M4 handguard, A2 grip and adjustable stock, Springfield Armory worked with Bravo Company Manufacturing (BCM) to develop a new 9-inch, three-section handguard with KeyMod attachment points. The Saint also wears BCM's Gunfighter grip and collapsible stock. Springfield will maintain exclusive use of these products until shortly after SHOT Show in January 2017.
At that time, these items will be available for aftermarket purchase through BCM.
Why BCM? "Bravo Company has been a great partner to work with," Springfield Armory representatives said. "Everybody has their [Magpul] MOE edition of an AR. We didn't want to do that. The best part is, with our furniture, there's no rattle and stock fit is tight."
Understanding that Springfield Armory is new to the AR market and knowing that BCM is supplying the furniture, OSG's editors carefully inspected the Saint's other attributes.
Meet the Saint. The name "Saint" suggests its users are good people with guns. The target MSRP is going to be less than $900. This is interesting because, by our calculation, if we were to spec out this carbine as it's offered, we'd be looking at a $1,200 rifle. The price across the retail counter is sure to be less, making the Saint competitive with AR-15s that are more of an M4gery with the less-€¨desirable, over-gassed carbine-length gas system.
As with most entry-level ARs, Springfield Armory started with a GI-style M4-ish carbine to keep it affordable and modified its features with user-surveyed preferences. That keeps in line with Springfield's general approach to its products. Consider its various M1As, and 1911-A1 and XD pistols. When you think about it, an AR-15 is the natural progression for Springfield's business.
Who's going to buy it? Springfield Armory went on the record and said that they "don't think that everyone has an AR yet." Or perhaps many have bought an AR for $599 and are ready to move up. I'm betting that owners of Springfield's other products are going to want one, as they are a serious, brand-loyal group.
Regardless of the reasoning, Springfield was smart in choosing a mid-length gas system first. This is important because the gas-pressure curve is stretched and lowered over time, which helps the rifle not beat itself up when shooting common 55- or 62-grain bullets that race toward 3,000 feet per second (fps). The recoil impulse is also friendly with a mid-length gas setup. At the range, I observed the Saint to be one of the most, if not the most, consistent AR-15 when it comes to ejection. All the brass piled up neatly at the range within a 6-inch circle, making cleanup easy. This tells us that what's going on inside the gun with the reciprocating operation of the bolt is happening very evenly.
At the heart of any good rifle is a good barrel. This one measures 16 inches and is cold-hammer forged. It started as a Green Mountain barrel that was contoured and nitrided in-house by Springfield. The barrel is not a true M4 profile as it lacks the worthless M203 barrel cut for attaching military 40mm grenade launchers. However, the barrel is a 1:8-inch twist, which is an understandable compromise between the faster 1:7-inch twist and the slower 1:9-inch and higher twist rates. My favorite detail of the Saint is that it has a 5.56 NATO chamber, which means it can fire either 5.56 NATO or .223 Rem. ammunition without the concern for unwarranted wear and erosion that occurs when shooting 5.56 loads through a rifle with a .223 Rem. chamber.
The front sight is also GI style, an "F" height as it's called. It's elevation adjustable, and though out of style for a long time, it seems to be making a comeback. The rear sight is nicely marked with the Springfield Armory logo, but it's good to note that this low-profile, flip-up, dual-aperture sight was sourced from Leapers. It's a decent sight because of how low it can fold. It allows us to drop our optic's height for a better cheekweld and eye placement behind an ocular lens.
At the muzzle end of the barrel is a GI-type birdcage compensator. It's popular to simply call it a flash hider these days, but this one was designed for the M16A2 as a compensator distinguished by the closed bottom. Though it's a decent flash hider, the idea behind its development was to assist in minimizing muzzle rise under sustained fire and prevent dust from being kicked-up in front of the muzzle by gasses escaping toward the ground when shooting in the prone position. (Though it is technically a compensator, it has little benefit in controlling muzzle rise.)
The three-piece, non-free-float, 9-inch handguard was €¨developed in partnership with Bravo Company Manufacturing (BCM) for introduction with the Saint. The handguard features an upper and lower with a pair of serrated tabs at the rear near the slip ring, which can be squeezed and pulled for disassembly. When removed, you'll notice that the lower handguard carries a U-shaped aluminum heat shield, which we observed to be extremely effective at protecting our support hand from barrel heat. The upper handguard can be removed after the lower and then further separated by unhooking interlocking tabs. This two-piece upper handguard suggests that some modularity with other handguard panels could appear later. The complete handguard system offers KeyMod slots for accessories at 1, 6 or 11 o'clock. Because this is a polymer forend that's not free-floated, I do not suggest attaching aiming devices. Instead, lights or grip solutions are appropriate. For shooters who like to run their support hand as far forward as possible, the lower handguard includes an intuitive handstop that will help prevent burning their fingers on the barrel or gas block. While shooting with a high-magnified optic, I observed heat radiating from the vents atop the upper handguard. This created significant mirage in the scope and revealed what may be one of the handguard design's few shortcomings.
The trigger is a GI style, which means that we can expect a pull weight averaging 6 pounds, 9 ounces, according to my Lyman digital trigger gauge. It doesn't feel as rough as the usual GI-style trigger, and the credit for that goes to Springfield for coating the trigger, hammer and disconnector with a slippery nickel-boron (NiB) coating.
The winter-style triggerguard, grip and stock are all BCM products. For me, the length of pull is short with the adjustable stock, but shooters with short wingspans won't mind. The stock's comb is arched and seamless, meaning that it won't pull at facial hair, and it is quite comfortable. That said, the lever to adjust the stock position isn't as quick or intuitive to operate as the M4 style, but the stock doesn't cheapen the look of the Saint either. Though made by BCM, this, too, is appropriately marked Springfield Armory atop its spine. Inside the stock's buffer tube is a heavy H buffer. The tube is threaded and secured by a properly staked castle nut.
Though the furniture comes from BCM, I was scratching my head when I racked the charging handle and saw it to be a standard GI-type rather than BCM's famous Gunfighter model that minimizes the risk to our eyes against hot, venting gas. Perhaps, in order to offer the Saint at a lower price, this was one of the compromises that Springfield Armory had to make.
The bolt carrier group is an M16 profile featuring a bolt made of Carpenter 158 shot-peened steel. The rotating bolt is one of the weakest parts in Eugene Stoner's design, and as an armorer with 12 years of service, I've seen a hundred bolt lugs sheer, cam pins crack and bolt bodies break in half at the cam-pin hole for a number of different reasons. I can speak from this experience that Springfield's choice of spec'ing one made of Carpenter 158 is a good one. A nice touch that distinguishes the Saint is the tasteful laser-etched logo at the front of the carrier. When the ejection port cover is open, everyone can admire the fact that we've got good taste.
Upper and lower receivers are forged and hardcoat anodized. Push out the rear takedown pin and open the receivers shotgun style, and you will note that there's a tension screw inside that's accessible for adjustment through the grip. With it, we can eliminate any perceived rattle and play between the receivers. This doesn't improve accuracy potential as many might think, but it is nice to shoot a rifle that doesn't feel like it could shake apart in our hands.
The rifle wears the company's historical bursting bomb with crossed cannons logo branded on the left magwell and a large "SAINT" on the right side. What isn't on the Saint is an ambidextrous safety lever. However, I've been informed that ambis are expected to follow.
The Saint doesn't weigh much at 6 pounds, 11 ounces. It handles well, and it's priced competitively. I'm eager to see the price across the counter. I'm predicting that the Saint will be one of the most affordable mid-length M4-style carbines with BCM upgrades.
Springfield Armory supplies Magpul's 30-round Gen 3 PMag with each Saint, which seems to be the standard fare with quality rifles. PMags are a no-brainer these days. In fact, since the run on magazines in December 2013, I've made it a point to buy at least one magazine every time I visit a gun store — even if I don't buy anything else. (We can never have enough magazines.)
Sainthood? Vetting the Saint began at that first OSG event in Wyoming. Collectively, we watched as Springfield's six contestants received training and ran several Saint rifles equipped with Trijicon MRO red dots through drill after drill in a defensive vehicular shootout. They were confident in their abilities and precise with their shooting. Their training began only a few weeks prior on Sept. 2, and it was impressive to see how effective they were.
Next, we moved with our issued Saint samples to a Scrambler course deep in a rocky valley. There were 50 steel targets scattered for a quarter-mile, and an instructor followed to verify time and deduct for misses. It was hard to miss with the Saint unless you simply walked past a well-covered threat. In the end, I had the second-fastest time and successfully engaged every target.
Shooting continued as we later evaluated the Saint within a target-rich bowl that emphasized speed and controllability. The NiB-coated trigger certainly illustrated its benefit at this range as we tried to engage somewhere near 75 targets at unknown distances in less than three minutes. It was intense madness but entirely fun. I performed the course twice, and before I left Wyoming, I had logged 250 rounds through a rifle without malfunction using Winchester's 50-grain frangible.
Back at the office, I had a Saint waiting for me, and I've been working it over ever since. In terms of accuracy potential, I evaluated the Saint at the bench using several range loads spanning a mix of bullet weights. Unless you're shooting match ammunition, expect to see the Saint print groups between 1½ inches and 2¼ inches at 100 yards. If you're target shooting and want to make smaller clusters, I suggest Federal's legendary Gold Medal Match load with 69-grain Sierra MatchKing bullets. This load will give you 1-MOA five-shot clusters all day. These are incredible results for a non-free-float, entry-level-priced carbine.
I never expected this much value in a basic AR, and I think that it might become the new standard by which other entry-level carbines are judged. I predict there will be high demand for Saints in our future.