Smith & Wesson’s Versatile M&P10

By Todd Burgreen

Sport Optics Ready AR Platform Ready for All Users

For a rifle to be considered versatile, it must be able to satisfy multiple roles with equal aplomb. A viable rifle candidate for this title is the Smith & Wesson (S&W) M&P10 SPORT Optics Ready (SOR) chambered in .308Win/7.62x51mm. The M&P10 SOR joins the growing number of AR-style platforms chambered in .308Win/7.62x51mm. The potency of this caliber in terms of ballistics and terminal effect makes it a favorite among our troops and law enforcement (LE) personnel in more rural environments. The M14’s staying power in various forms within our military and the recent introduction of several AR-style rifle models in .308Win/7.62x51mm support this observation.

In general terms, ARs come in two patterns: AR-15 and AR-10. The AR-15 is most associated with 5.56mm/.223Rem and the AR-10 with .308Win. The AR-10 is generally heavier, due to its greater size to accommodate the larger .308Win cartridge. Many would characterize the AR-10 as an AR-15 on steroids, with its increased size, caliber and weight. In fact, the AR-10 predates the AR-15. Eugene Stoner first introduced the AR-10 in 1956 in a hasty effort to compete against the M14 in the U.S. Army weapon trials. Stoner designed the AR-10 using an innovative straight-line barrel/stock design with composite and forged alloy parts. In 1957, the basic AR-10 design was scaled down and substantially modified by ArmaLite to accommodate the .223 Remington cartridge and given the designation AR-15, with the rest being history.

Modern sporting rifle terminology for the AR is an industry attempt to help define the growing role that AR-type rifles have assumed beyond that of strictly a tactical assault rifle. While ARs were quickly adopted for varmint hunting, caliber expansion has seen their popularity increase with larger-sized game as well. AR rifles are versatile, easily accessorized and suitable for a wide variety of recreational, sport shooting and professional applications.

Combining the AR platform with the increased power of the .308Win cartridge is the key to the versatility of the S&W M&P10 SOR. Specifically, this rifle marries lethality and effective range with the ability to send multiple rounds quickly downrange if needed. On training courses with LE, military and private security contractors, the mantra of “one mag, one kill” is often repeated in relation to the M16/AR-15. After all, when used in the sporting realm, the 5.56mm/223Rem is considered a prime varmint round. While the 5.56mm round is often chided in terms of lethality, the .308Win/7.62x51mm does not suffer from this reputation.

The M&P10 SOR uses a gas impingement operating system similar to Stoner’s original design. Using direct impingement offers advantages in terms of lightness and balance relative to piston-driven rifles, which can sometimes be front-heavy. S&W decided on a mid-length gas system to smooth out operation. The 16-inch 4140 steel barrel features 1:10 twist rate 5R rifling. An A2 flash hider is threaded on the barrel. S&W uses Armornite finish on and inside the barrel. Armornite is a hardened nitride finish that provides enhanced corrosion resistance, improved wear resistance, decreased surface roughness, reduced light reflection and increased surface lubricity.

Ambidextrous controls are featured on the 8-pound S&W AR. Magpul 7.62 magazines are used with the M&P10 SOR. This is a huge plus in my opinion. Magpul’s PMag 7.62 magazine has become the standard .308Win AR magazine, with several manufacturers setting up their lowers to utilize the Magpul product. Quality magazines are a linchpin for a reliably functioning semi-automatic or select-fire weapon.

In an effort to exploit the versatility of the S&W M&P10 SPORT Optics Ready, a Vortex Strike Eagle 1-6x optic was mounted. It offers a low power setting for quick target acquisition at close range, with a turn of the knob to 6x facilitating longer or precision shots as the mission dictates. The Picatinny rail on the M&P10’s flattop receiver facilitates one of the sturdiest and most versatile scope-to-rifle connections on the market. Others could choose to go with a non-magnified optic for close-range roles. The Vortex Spitfire Prism is an example of this. Many would contend that a non-magnified optic limits what the M&P10 SOR offers in terms of power and effective range. A user will need to judge what best satisfies their individual needs. Variable optics such as the Vortex Strike Eagle 1-6x are increasingly becoming the norm in hunting, sport, military and LE circles.

Most have no idea what they are missing in terms of the rifle scope optics offered by Vortex. Vortex produces one of the most diverse lineups of high-performing rifle scopes on the market. Most in our community hold strongly to preconceived notions about rifle scope optics. There are times when one must get past these comfortable set beliefs to truly appreciate what another product may offer. The 1x magnification, wide field of view, edge-to-edge clarity and illuminated reticle options allow for extremely fast and accurate target acquisition. This is an ideal scope for when every split second counts and lethal shot placement is a must. The versatile Vortex Strike Eagle 1-6x scope can handle close-quarter situations and much longer shots depending on the caliber being used and the shooter’s proficiency.

Various .308Win Match and hunting loadings from Black Hills Ammunition, SIG SAUER, Federal and Hornady provided the basis of accuracy tests. The Black Hills load tested consisted of 180-grain AccuBond bullets. The SIG SAUER chamberings were the 150-grain HT load and 168-grain Match. The 165-grain SST from Hornady was also used. Surplus 7.62 NATO 147-grain FMJ rounds were also accessed. The use of premium hunting ammunition was purposely chosen, due to the likelihood of the M&P10 SOR being employed in this role. For example, the Black Hills Ammunition 180-grain AccuBond load is a top consideration for a rifle like the M&P10 SOR. The AccuBond bullet is a more reliable performer for barrier penetration or when afield hunting compared to Match or other high-accuracy bullet types.

No ammunition, including full metal jacket surplus ammunition, generated greater than 2 MOA accuracy levels. The direct impingement M&P10 proved reliable throughout this evaluation, with over 300 assorted rounds sent downrange. The 16-inch barrel sacrifices approximately 150–200 feet per second of muzzle velocity compared to 24-inch tubes. In my opinion, however, the handiness gained from the shorter barrel outweighs the loss in velocity. The M&P10 SOR’s 16-inch barrel facilitated velocities in the low-to-mid 2,500 feet per second range with 147-grain and 168-grain rounds, according to an RCBS chronograph.

Not a lot of time was spent at the bench on Echo Valley Training Center’s (EVTC) 100-yard range. There are more meaningful and relevant ways of evaluating a rifle. The rifle was tested not only within the 100-yard bays at EVTC, firing from barricades and engaging multiple targets, but also back at the prepared firing position line with targets placed out to 300 yards. Numerous drills were run involving magazine changes and moving between barricades simulating cover. A High Speed Gear (HSG) patrol belt configured with their “Taco” magazine pouches was used. The HSG magazine pouches do not compromise retention for the sake of convenience and are perfect for anyone contemplating operating with both 5.56mm and .308Win AR rifles.

The AR rifle is known for its superior ergonomics. The S&W M&P10 SOR proved potent on the “Jungle Walk” range at Echo Valley Training Center (EVTC) with targets placed at 30 yards out to 220 yards. The need to move through varied terrain and engage randomly placed targets hidden within cover suited the S&W M&P10 SOR perfectly. Multiple shots were fired at most of the targets. The emphasis was on accurate shot placement and how the rifle’s smooth recoil impulse facilitated follow-up shots. If lucky, the hunter will be able to adopt a kneeling or sitting position in lieu of pure offhand. The 8-pound M&P10 proved easy to handle, with no searching for target required when the rifle was brought up to the shoulder.

The S&W M&P10 SOR’s appeal is due to its multitasking ability. The broad range of optics and ammunition options support this even further. For example, an LE or security entity concerned by the potential for the .308Win S&W M&P10 to over-penetrate could turn to Winchester PDX 1 .308Win Split Core ammunition. The Winchester Split Core .308 has a forward section where the lead core is not bonded to the jacket. This is done to enhance rapid and massive expansion. The lower portion of the core is welded to the jacket to hold the bullet together even though the nose section opens violently upon impact, dumping energy into the target and making sure the round does not over-penetrate a soft target such as a human adversary. This Winchester offering is a favorite for law enforcement or even civilian personal defense, when the ballistic advantage of the .308Win and minimization of over-penetration are desired. Ballistic gel demonstrations witnessed in person and also over the Internet indicate that the Winchester .308 Split Core comes to rest after 12–14 inches of travel in the gel.

Everyone is more dubious of something that promises to do several tasks well than a specifically designed product. The underlying concern is that the compromises involved in making something adaptable invariably lead to compromises in performance. The S&W M&P10 SPORT Optics Ready defies this assumption. The .308Win round’s characteristics of lethality, ballistics and manageable recoil make it an ideal all-purpose cartridge candidate, especially packaged in the relatively compact/light M&P10 SOR. This combination is hard to argue against in terms of utility for multiple roles. Let’s face it, there are some missions that an AR chambered in 5.56mm cannot satisfy. Hopefully, this article will stimulate readers to re-evaluate whether an AR platform chambered in .308Win, such as the S&W M&P 10 SPORT Optics Ready, could satisfy their requirements.


Smith & Wesson
Vortex Optics
Stonewall Arms
Federal Cartridge Company
Winchester Ammunition
Black Hills Ammunition
Echo Valley Training Center

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N4 (April 2018)
and was posted online on February 23, 2018


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