Text & Photos by Jeff W. Zimba
The AR-15 Rifle System Returns To Its Roots
Many newcomers to the world of military firearms are excited about what seems to be the latest craze in AR-15 caliber conversions. We have seen many pistol caliber conversions and special offerings over the years, from .50AE and even .50 BMG single-shot upper receivers, all the way down to dedicated .22LR systems. The major focus now, seems to be with many major manufacturers who are offering a variant of this rifle in 7.62x51mm (.308 NATO). Well, this latest offering may be an interesting one, but there is certainly nothing new about this rifle and caliber combination.
The roots of the M16/AR-15 rifle system can be traced back to this caliber in its very early stages of development. Information on the original AR-10 designates that the first Stoner design in 1953 was originally chambered in 30-06 and was soon modified to 7.62 NATO because of the increasing popularity of the cartridge. Over a period of several years, the AR-10 eventually led to the AR-15, chambered in the now popular 5.56x45mm cartridge, after going through a series of lesser-known and short-lived model and caliber designations.
Incorporated in 1986, DPMS (Defense Procurement Manufacturing Services, Inc.) was originally a Department of Defense consulting agency. They now manufacture precision Mil-Spec and commercial parts and offer an enormous line of AR-15 type rifles for civilian, law-enforcement and military use. They have been manufacturing their .308 line of rifles for approximately 2 years.
The DPMS rifle line is as diverse as the imagination of the end user. Starting with their standard .223 Panther Carbine, they cover all the traditional configurations you would expect to encounter, in several barrel lengths and styles. The inventory really starts to look different from most AR-15/M16 manufacturers once you get past these more traditional models. Where they really stand out is in their specialty line of rifles. Their Panther Race Gun and Arctic Panther look as though they slid out of a futuristic Sci-Fi movie. These are serious precision rifles that offer such options as CRYO barrel treatment and Titanium Nitrate coated bolt carrier assemblies. To cater to the southpaws, a left-handed version of many of their rifles is available in their product line. For law enforcement agencies and qualified individuals, they offer their Panther Kitty-Kat, which is a .223 variant of the M16 with a 7-inch barrel.
The .308 caliber rifles are currently available in 3 configurations. The Panther Long Range .308 utilizes a 24-inch, 416 Stainless steel bull barrel. The Panther Long Range .308B is equipped with an 18-inch, 4140 Chrome-moly steel bull barrel. The last is the Panther Long Range .308T, and it is standard with a 16-inch 4140 Chrome-moly steel heavy barrel. All barrels are free floating and all .308 series upper receivers are “flat-tops” with a 7-inch, MIL-STD-1913 rail for mounting optics. At this time no iron sights are available for the .308 rifle line. By the time you receive this issue of Small Arms Review there will be many more configurations of the .308 rifles available. Plans are in the works for collapsible stocks, carbine barrels and even select-fire variants for law enforcement agencies and qualified individuals. Additionally, there will be detachable carry handles and A2 style upper receivers as well as threaded barrels with original style flash hiders in the near future.
The rifle provided to Small Arms Review for testing was the Panther Long Range .308. The first thing that immediately caused this rifle to stand apart from all other AR-15 type rifles the author has handled, was the 24-inch stainless bull barrel. An outside diameter of almost 1-inch (.920 to be exact) combined with the bright, stainless finish of the 9 1/2 inches of barrel that was exposed past the handguards and the gas block makes this rifle immediately distinguishable from others. The initial reaction of everyone who had handled it was the same, and that was that it looked heavy. Although the rifle weighs in at 11.28 pounds unloaded, it handles quite well and is not nearly as “front heavy” as you would initially suspect. The balancing point is actually only a little over an inch forward of the receiver when the rifle is unloaded.
The test rifle came equipped with a JP Enterprises, adjustable trigger system and provided a quick and clean break with no creep or excessive travel. JP Enterprises manufactures these trigger systems for most AR-15 type rifles and anyone who owns one would certainly find an immediate improvement in their grouping by installing one. These trigger systems are available from DPMS, Inc., and retail under $130.00.
To look at this rifle quickly, it shares almost all of the physical characteristics of the standard AR-15. This rifle, however, is far from being one of the standard “drop-on” caliber conversions we have become accustomed to. There is nothing that is compatible with the .223 series of rifles other than a few miscellaneous parts such as the pistol grip, magazine release, bolt-hold-open device and the trigger mechanism. Both the lower and upper receivers have been completely redesigned and everything has been enlarged a little to accommodate the larger round. The .223 cartridge is 45mm long, compared to the .308 being 51mm long, and a standard AR-15 magazine-well would not accommodate the additional length. This additional length also translates to a longer stroke in the action, in order to correctly eject a fired case and to pick up the next round from the magazine. Due to the necessity of a longer action, the bolt carrier has also been redesigned and the bolt is larger in diameter than a standard AR-15 bolt in order to safely function with the larger case diameter of the .308. The base of a standard .223 case is in the area of .375-inch where the .308 base measures almost .470-inch.
One of the most frequently asked questions I encounter when talking about this rifle is, “Will a DIAS or lightning link function in it?” The answer is no. Due to both the upper and lower receiver being completely redesigned, combined with the additional length of the bolt carrier, neither will physically work. It may also not be legal under ATF&E guidelines where this rifle was not the one intended for use with the DIAS or Lightning link.
Since the Panther Long Range .308 is not equipped with iron sights, we needed something to set on top of it before we could do any shooting. It didn’t make any sense to grab one of the several inexpensive pieces of glass lying around, because it wouldn’t have done justice to the rifle. I contacted Barry at BW Optic and he was kind enough to send one of his scopes with the Y-TAC reticle for evaluation. We received a 2.5x10x42mm Tactical Scope. The BW Optic Y-TAC scope is custom manufactured by IOR Bucuresti in Bucurest, Romania. These scopes are manufactured using the finest German glass from Schott Glasswerk and feature the Carl Ziess T-3 lens coating system. IOR has been manufacturing optics since 1936 and currently has over 1,000 employees in 2 different plants in Bucurest. The author found the light transmission, clarity and resolution to be parallel with or superior to the nicest scopes he has ever handled.
The superior glass and workmanship were not the only apparent advantages of this scope. The unique Y-TAC reticle is quite different from most “traditional” sporting and military optics. The Y-TAC reticle was designed for optimum low-light performance as well as speed in ranging and target acquisition. The reticle looks similar to the iron sights on some pre-World War II rifles. In the sight picture, the “wings” of the front sight are on each side of the “post” from the rear sight, and both are incorporated in the reticle of this scope. The “post” is utilized for holding the point of aim, and sized at 0.9MOA at 100 yards; it is easy to pick up in all types of lighting. The “wings” portion of the reticle assist in ranging by allowing the shooter to instantly measure his target based on the known measurements of the B-27 target. The Y-TAC reticle is photo-engraved on the German glass. The tube is 30mm in diameter, and all BW Optic scopes are waterproof, dry Nitrogen filled and have a factory, lifetime warranty. The scope as tested has a MSRP of $769.00 and is available directly from BW Optic.
Our time spent at the range with the DPMS Long Range .308 showed the impressive capabilities of this rifle system. The ammunition selected for this rifle testing was M118 Lake City Special Ball. A quick bore-sight got us on paper and we were shooting in the bull at 100 yards in no time. It was not uncommon to fire sub MOA groups at 100 yards with this rifle, scope and ammunition combination. The M118 Special Ball is a 173-grain boat tail that also performed extremely well at 200 yards. Without adjusting the elevation, the point of impact was approximately 1.5 inches below the hold, and the groups were still in the 1-inch range. Without making any adjustments, we fired a few groups with the new WOLF .308 Win. 150 grain FMJ ammunition. It functioned well in the rifle and was a much hotter load than the M118 Special Ball, evident by the increased ejection distance. We were pleasantly surprised at the grouping at 100 yards. The point of impact was actually the same and while the groups were not nearly as tight as with the M118 Special Ball ammo, we were still able to fire several groups well under 2 inches and one group around 1-inch. The drop at 200 yards was closer to 4 inches compared with the 1.5-inch drop with the M118 Special Ball. The third ammunition tested was a hunting load by Federal Cartridge Co. We fired a few groups with the Federal Premium 180 grain Nosler Partition ammunition, and once again, at 100 yards the point of impact was the same. Time after time, 3 shots would produce 3 bulls. These groups were all around 1-inch, but nothing as tight as the M118 ammunition. At 200 yards the Federal ammunition proved to hit approximately 2 inches below the point of aim and consistently shot in groups between 2 and 3 inches in diameter.
The DPMS Long Range .308 performs like many high-end bolt-action rifles but retains the advantage of the fast follow-up shot you can only get from a semiautomatic action. For any fan of the AR-15 rifle system there should be an immediate attraction. The quality and craftsmanship on the specimen we tested was flawless and it functioned great with all ammunition we fired. With a retail price of $1,149.00, I have certainly spent much more money on much less performance in the past. I can easily recommend the Panther Long Range .308 Rifle for any recreational shooter, competitor, hunter or professional operator, and know they will be impressed regardless of the application.
Panther Long Range .308
Caliber: .308 Winchester (7.62x51mm)
Overall Length: 43.6 inches (1107.44mm)
Barrel Length: 24 inches (609.60mm)
Weight, unloaded: 11.28 pounds (5.11kg)
Method of Operation: Gas operated rotating bolt. Semiautomatic.
Feed Mechanism: 5, 9, 10 or 20-round detachable magazine.
Barrel: 416 Stainless steel, 6-groove, right handed twist, 1/10 twist. Button rifled.
Sights: None. 7-inch MIL-STD 1913 Rail for scope mounting.
Finish: Hard coat anodized per Mil Spec.
Stock: Standard A2 Mil Spec.
Handguards: Ribbed aluminum, free floating.
Panther Long Range .308
3312 12th Street SE,
St. Cloud, MN 56304
Phone (320) 258-4448
Fax (320) 258-4449
Or Call Toll-Free (800) 578-3767
P.O. Box 355
Simpsonville, SC 29681
Phone: (864) 297-4137
Fax: (864) 458-8324
WOLF Performance Ammunition
1225 N. Lance lane
Anaheim, CA 92806
Phone: (888) 757-WOLF
Fax: (714) 632-9232