September 11, 2020
Any 10.3-inch-barreled .308 Winchester should be considered a specialty firearm, and there are quite a few good reasons for owning one. Three-”oh”-eights offer maximum portability, rifle-like ballistics, and for those who want an in-your-bag, not-on-your-person concealed-carry travel companion, Springfield Armory’s new Saint Victor offers the same legal protection as any other pistol. Think of it as a compact .308 with all of the ballistics of a full-sized AK-pattern rifle — plus a little.
The .308 Winchester cartridge was engineered for use with longer barrels, so muzzle blast is substantial from a shorter tube, as is velocity loss. Getting a .308 Winchester to work reliably in a 10.3-inch barrel is no small feat either. Looking closely at the Saint Victor’s gas system shows Springfield’s willingness to do the custom design work needed and the attention to detail required for this pistol to function reliably.
The carbine-length gas system on the Saint Victor .308 is pretty standard fare and uses a regular carbine-length gas tube. The gas block that the gas tube threads into (near the muzzle) is low-profile and is also pinned to the barrel instead of the set-screws used by many other manufacturers.
The pinned gas block is the correct solution, given the high port pressure at which this pistol operates. The closer the gas port moves to the chamber, the higher the pressure at the port will be. Very few .308 Winchester AR-pattern rifles use a carbine-length gas system because the high port pressure can be difficult to manage. Step one is pinning the gas block in place to ensure that it never rattles loose.
Ten-point-three-inch barrels have been in use with our military for some time in 5.56mm carbines. Military testing inside Special Operations Command (SOC) found that slightly enlarging the gas port allowed the short barrel to work reliably, but it did carry trade-offs. The first trade-off was the increased bolt velocity, also a consideration with the Saint .308 pistol. The second for the 5.56mm, 10.3-inch barrel was its reduced bolt life, a result of the higher velocity. This trade-off isn’t an issue for the Saint .308, as its bolt is so massive that it’s unlikely any shooter will put enough rounds through it for the bolt to break.
Bolt velocity is high in 10.3-inch barrel carbines and pistols because there is so little dwell time. (Dwell time is the amount of time a bullet spends in the barrel after it passes the gas port, but before it leaves the barrel.) To get short dwell time means that the manufacturer needs to put a large gas port in the pistol barrel so that the firearm gets a big enough gulp of gas to cycle reliably.
Small changes in gas port diameter also creates big changes in bolt velocity. It’s a matter of getting it open just enough to work, but without making it so big that the bolt moves too fast for the magazine to feed the firearm. Springfield Armory cleared the hurdle with their 10.3-inch barreled Saint Victor by managing to get a short amount of dwell time. The distance achieved on the Victor is about 21/2 inches — a tough engineering nut to crack.
One of the custom touches Springfield put on the Saint Victor .308 is a special buffer that’s shorter than what’s normally found in any 5.56mm or 7.62mm AR-pattern firearms. It measures 21/2-inches long (about three-quarters of an inch shorter than a normal carbine buffer) and weighs 4.6 ounces — the same weight as an H2 buffer. Because of its shortened length, the Victor’s buffer will work in a standard AR-15 and mil-spec lower receiver extension, even though it sits behind a longer AR-10 bolt carrier.
A lot of engineering effort went into slowing down the Saint Victor’s bolt carrier group when cycled. It has a bolt carrier group that weighs 19 ounces versus the 10.3-inch, 5.56mm M4A1 and Mk 18 military-issue carbines that use an 11-ounce bolt carrier group. Even with a significantly heavier bolt carrier group, Springfield Armory put in the heaviest and shortest buffer possible. The slowing down of the bolt carrier group is a result of its short gas system, short dwell time, and required enlarged gas port. It is an optimization problem Springfield Armory handled well.
Testing the Saint Victor .308 pistol showed just what is and isn’t possible with a 10.3-inch-barreled direct-impingement AR-pattern firearm. Guns & Ammo’s executive summary would read: “The Saint Victor handles bullets lighter than 168 grains very well, but ammunition loaded with 175-grain bullets will occasionally malfunction.” That’s not a hit on Springfield Armory. Those are just the facts. Springfield sized the Victor’s gas port to handle everything from 110-grain bullets to 185-grain bullets, and nearly made them all work with a tiny amount of dwell time.
Springfield also thought about the mix of shooters who will stuff the cheapest ammunition available into their pistol and expect it to work, so they gave the Victor the ability to handle underpowered, steel-cased, economy-level garbage.
Lastly, the Saint Victor .308 pistol also had to work in cold weather. Gas-port pressures drop in colder climates and many powders (especially cheap ones) won’t burn as well when it’s cold as when it’s warm outside.
G&A’s sample Saint Victor .308 worked well with bullet weights up to 168 grains, but once bullet weights reached 175 grains, there were occasional bolt-over-base malfunctions. This type of malfunction can occur when there is too little gas, a theory that can be confirmed and/or denied by loading a round and firing to see if the pistol’s bolt locks to the rear. This sample did, so the Victor does get enough gas to cycle when using 175-grain bullets.
Then, it was time to test for too much gas. G&A loaded a full magazine to see if the bolt-over-base malfunctions would occur with a full magazine, then disappear as the magazine emptied. They did. This meant that a full stack of cartridges would be too heavy for the Victor because its magazine can’t keep up with the bolt speed, a problem easy enough to work around once diagnosed.
When fired out of G&A’s 16-inch test barrel, 7.62x39mm cartridges left the muzzle at 2,300-ish feet per second (fps), which is about the same velocity that 155- and 168-grain bullets left the muzzle of this pistol. The Saint Victor’s 10.3-inch barrel gives shooter’s the ability to generate ballistics that are identical to AK-pattern rifles chambered in 7.62x39mm, as well as most other ammunition.
While the Saint Victor .308 comes with a prodigious muzzle blast, when concealed it replicates the ballistics of the AK-pattern rifle in a more compact and legally protected form. It’s also easy to mount optics on, has a bolt that locks to the rear after the last round is fired, a forend that allows for more than just offhand shooting, better aftermarket support, and more ammo available to it. And we can’t forget that it has a more superior safety than most AKs. If you’ve thought about owning an AK or short-barreled AR-10, this may be the better and more portable choice.
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