This is one of the few rifles I really enjoyed owning. It was lightweight, easy to use and relatively reliable. The best part is it did not break the bank to buy. Smith and Wesson’s M&P ar15 sport model was designed to fit into the market as a sporter/ competition/ beginning owner rifle. With the reliability, it offers I would not hesitate to recommend it as a defensive tool.
I purchased the M&P sport (not the II version this was the first iteration) for $450 from a local store a few years ago. The price was very good and made it hard to pass up. The one I purchased had no rear sight, however, I had a spare Magpul MBUS (click here to see this sight on Amazon.com) and stuck it on the flat top rear.
I like AR15s that offer an easy place to put optics and backup sights. I see this as a net benefit, especially when modern optics have become so reliable overall with battery life being extended in some cases to over 5 years in some cases.
This rifle was not designed to get military contracts or even LE contracts, it was designed for sporting use by law-abiding citizens of the United States of America. Being one of these, I purchased it because I legally could and wanted too! Being an older model this one does not have the melonite coating that the second edition of this model has.
However, this did not stop it from performing extremely well overall. Smith and Wesson used the same/similar furniture that Bushmaster and Colt did on their far more expensive “Patrol” model rifles. The specifications of this rifle are as follows.
- Gas operated
- A2 front sight post
- A2 birdcage muzzle device
- 6 position standard buttstock
- The barrel is 4140 steel (not the standard mil-spec 4150 but more than adequate for sporting/defensive purposes) the second edition of this rifle is melonite coated, this adds durability – the barrel has a 1:9 twist rate, this is standard for many sporter carbines
- Lower and Upper are outsourced, and I am not certain of the alloys used, I believe it is 7075 aluminum as this is industry standard, I do not, however, know for certain.
- Chambered in 5.56 NATO/.223 rem
- The Bolt Carrier Group is the lightweight version and is not an M16 BCG – this does not generally affect reliability, though it can make the rifle a bit more prone to heavier recoil. The BCG is chrome plated inside for durability
This rifle does not have the forward assist or a dust cover. Both items that while nice to have are not really necessary in these rifles, unless you are planning on going to war. I can honestly say that I have only once used a forward assist, and this was over 15 years ago.
As for dust covers, if you live in the Southwestern states you will quickly realize that dust covers seem like a great idea, except for the fact that the dust out here gets in everything regardless how tightly covered. If, however, these are items that you cannot live without, this is not the rifle for you.
Where this rifle really shined was the reliability testing. This rifle was more reliable than the Bushmaster XM 15 I owned (click here to read my full review of the Bushmaster XM 15), it fed and cycled every single ammunition type I threw at it and kept coming back for more.
I was half tempted to run it until it dropped just to see what would kill it. (I did not do this) As with every firearm I own and use for defensive/sporting purposes I tested it thoroughly. Prior to testing it, I did what I do with all newly acquired firearms.
I took the rifle down completely and cleaned every piece. Than reassembled it, lubricated it and went shooting. No factory lubrication on AR15s can make up for sitting on a shelf collecting dust while waiting to be sold. Take your gun apart and clean it well, then lubricate it per the accepted approach.
I use 2-4 drops of Ballistol (click here to read my review of Ballistol) inside the channel where the bolt carrier group will ride, cycle the bolt several times to get the oil spread about well and add a couple drops to the side of the BCG you see through the ejection port. Cycle the bolt a few times again and go shooting.
When you take a new too you gun out shooting, I suggest following this approach. After the first two magazines or 50 rounds of initial use, remove the BCG and wipe it down, replace the BCG and put 2 drops of oil on it. Run it through the next 450 or so rounds, testing accuracy and more while doing this.
I have 500 rounds loaded up using one magazine per brand and bullet weight which allows me to see if any particular ammunition will cause issues or shoot badly. I have had people tell me this is ridiculous, however, with combat/defensive firearms if they cannot run with many different types of ammunition, they cannot be relied on.
My standard initial testing is 500 rounds for reliability. This includes 3-4 magazines or 120 rounds as fast as you can pull the trigger, without a cool down in between. This stage is essential as fast, high rates of fire will raise the temperature substantially and will quickly show problems if they exist.
Using the same approach with each firearm allows me to better show where failures occur and to have a benchmark for reliability testing that may not always be there with other reviewers. I believe strongly in using the same base for a testing protocol with each firearm.
This is the same idea I use with ammunition testing. It allows me to test the firearm and give feedback on it without relying on non test related credentials or background. Some reviewers rely on their trophies won in IPSCA or other tournaments or worse, use their military or LE experience as a benchmark for testing a firearm. I use the firearm and its abilities based on a single approach allowing for a more dedicated, scientific approach.
This rifle had no failures in the 500 test rounds, not even ammunition related failures. Though the accuracy was lacking for many of my favorite rounds and loads, it functioned very well across the board. Several trustworthy reviewers and individuals, I know of or know personally have also tested and used this model and none of them have been able to cause failures using it in classes and for regular use.
This is not to say it will not or cannot fail, it is a human designed and manufactured item, by default this means failure is always possible. However, I can firmly say, this is an amazing little gun and worth every penny of the $400-500 you may spend.
Accuracy was a mixed bag, heavier bullets (69 grain and higher) were not very accurate. This is likely due to the 1:9 twist rate as this is a twist that simply works better with 62 grain and under. It really grouped well with 52-55 grain loadings and had the best groups with some of the oddest loads available. My Delton Sporter had a similar result, and I will be sure to show you this in that upcoming review.
Its best 5 round groups came with Tula 55grn steel cased, bimetal jackets (I do not use this extensively, I do use it to test all new rifles), Federal Premium 55 grn, IMI 55grn and MEN 56grn all performed very well. Again, with patrol/defensive style rifles I am not looking for sub moa groups, I am looking for repeatable, reliable shot placement in the 2-4” range at 100 yards.
The Tula loading grouped at right under 2” shooting offhand with a sling wrap. The others were 2-3”. The worst groups came from the higher weight bullets. This rifle really seems to love 55grn loadings.
I only had one loading lower, Hornady 52 grn A-Max, and it shot an average group of 2.2” at 100 yards, again sling wrapped not benched. I have no doubt these groups would have all been substantially better with a benched rifle.
From a trained, educated and practice perspective the use of 55grn ball ammunition is a solid one for home defense. It penetrates less than 9×19 or 40 sw loadings and will do quite a bit of damage to unarmored targets when aimed well. I like using IMI, Fiocchi and MEN loadings (55,56 grains) for defensive loads.
I have had the least amount of ammunition failures and the highest amount of accuracy with these loads. They are all loaded to NATO specifications with Fiocchi being one of my favorites for accuracy and reliability overall.
Smith and Wesson was at one point owned by a company that was very much anti-gun for the sporting individual. These days they have done an amazing job of reversing this and have become a much better company. I personally own revolvers, semi-automatic handguns and rifles from them and will buy more in the future should I have the opportunity.
In fact, one of my favorite handguns for defensive carry (as well as my wife) is the Smith and Wesson Shield 9mm (click here to read my full review of the Smith and Wesson Shield). I can say that with this rifle I do not feel underprepared or unready for defending my family, self, and home.
While it is not my primary go-to defensive rifle, it is available and will remain in my collection as long as I am alive.
As with every article I write, I want your feedback. I believe strongly that this allows me to better myself and appreciate it!
Free the mind and the body will follow…