Freedom Group DPMS GII – Testing the Lightweight Hunter

Bench accuracy is more than adequate at 100 yards.
Bench accuracy is more than adequate at 100 yards.

Back in the March-April installment of this column I mentioned that DPMS, one of several gun companies under the Freedom Group umbrella (Remington, Marlin, Dakota Arms, Bushmaster and H&R being the others), has come up with a lighter, more compact version of the AR-10. Called simply GII (for second generation), it’s stirring a lot of interest, particularly among the growing ranks of those who in the service of our country cut their teeth on the M16 and find the various civilian versions thereof (now collectively referred to as MSRs (Modern Sporting Rifle), perfectly suited to hunting.

Even though the AR-15 platform has been adapted to cartridges like the .30 AR. 6.8 SPC and .450 Bushmaster, making it more suitable for at least deer-sized game within moderate ranges, its limitations as to the size of the cartridge it can digest limits its potential as an all-around hunting rifle. That’s where the AR-10 platform comes in. Essentially just a larger version of the AR-15, the AR-10 can digest any member of the .308 Win. family of cartridges. In fact, it’s even been chambered for the moribund but nonetheless potent .300 Rem. Short Action Ultra Mag.

If there’s been a fly in the ointment it’s that in its original

The DPMS GII is pleasant to shoot from the bench.
The DPMS GII is pleasant to shoot from the bench.

configuration the A-10 is a fairly heavy, bulky gun whose balance, handling and carrying characteristics are…well, not that great compared to a conventional hunting rifle. Now I’m not about to tell you that the new GII completely changes all that, but it does go a long way in addressing those issues. I’ve now had a chance to closely examine and test a GII and can tell you it’s not just a smaller, lighter rifle, but one that incorporates many new design features that make it a better gun all around.

The model I requested for T&E was the Lightweight Hunter, one of five models DPMS is offering this year, all of which are chambered in .308/7.62 NATO. Except for its Magpul MOE buttstock, this model is as “civilian looking” as an AR can get, which isn’t saying much. Actually, it would look even more sporting if it had the A2 Mil Spec buttstock of the Bull version, but that model with its stout 24-inch barrel weighs 10 lbs. The other three models are tactical types bristling with Picatinny rails, flash hiders, etc.

To illustrate how DPMS has been able to shrink this gun, I placed an AR-10 lower receiver over the GII’s, i. e., superimposed it. The only dimensional difference is that the front end of the GII’s magazine well extends forward about a half inch further. Naturally, the upper

AR-15 lower is superimposed over the GII. The only difference is the length of the mag well.
AR-15 lower is superimposed over the GII. The only difference is the length of the mag well.

receiver, thus the overall length of the gun, is longer, but only by a smidge.

As for those design changes that improve the functionality of the gun compared to their own Gen I and other AR-10s, there’s a bunch. For one thing, the edges of the forged 7075 Teflon-coated upper and lower receivers are rounded to be more comfortable in the hands. The ejection port has been lengthened for more reliable ejection, and the shell deflector has been improved. The lower accepts standard AR fire controls for increased adaptability, and a newly designed barrel nut allows the use of .223 diameter handguard systems. The monolithic bolt carrier is lighter and has an integral gas key tower and a removable gas key extension. The bolt geometry has been changed and is said to provide superior lockup and strength. The extraction system has also been redesigned with a new extractor, extractor spring, and dual ejectors for increased functioning reliability. And lastly, the entrance to the mag well is flared for faster, more foolproof magazine insertion.

To ready the test gun for some range work, I mounted a Nikon Monarch 6-24×44 scope using Trijicon tactical rings on risers. That day I was wringing out two other .308s and was running low on ammo, so I ran only the one load I had the most of: Black Hills’ 168 grain A-Max Match. The first five 3-shot groups I fired from the bench at 100 yards averaged .97”! Talk about being impressed!

The way I see it, I do believe the DPMS folks have succeeded doing what they claim: to have produced the lightest, most reliable, technically advanced MSR. I’m still a long way from trading in my traditional hunting rifles for one of these…even this one. But who knows, with the way interest in the MSR is growing, 20 years from now that sentiment might be in the minority!

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A few weeks back I got into a discussion with a colleague of mine about how riflescopes have become so sophisticated and how hunters are becoming overly dependent on that technology. We now have scopes that can laser the distance, compute the trajectory dpmsgIIupper3of the load being used, and give you the aiming point at the target in the form of an illuminated dot. Less sophisticated and far more common are reticles with circles or hash marks on the lower arm indicating downrange points of impact for a given trajectory. And some give the hold point for deflection in a steady crosswind.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think this kind of technology is fantastic and can be highly beneficial. I myself use BDC reticles with great success when I’m shooting prairie rats. There’s no urgency to get a shot off because if the rodent in your scope goes down or moves into taller grass, you simply look for another candidate. But having game in your scope is a different ball game. There often is urgency to get a shot off, and using any kind of laser scope, BDC reticle or elevation dial takes time; maybe not a lot of time, but time nonetheless. I’ve heard many stories of guys who admitted to having missed an opportunity because in the excitement of having game in their scope, they were either dialing in the range, changing magnification, trying to remember which hash mark to use, or used the wrong one. Of course such incidents are not the fault of the scope, but they happen simply because those options exist. Make no mistake though, when they’re used right, they definitely do work.

But things were so much simpler when all we had was a plain ol’ reticle and we guessed at hold-over and hold-into to compensate for drop and wind. And now that we have laser rangefinders, the only guesswork needed is that of estimating the effects of wind. Interestingly enough, in conversations with my contemporary colleagues and other highly experienced hunters — guys who have hundreds of hunts under their belts — most tell me they use the primary intersection or center of the reticle, and simply compensate dpmsgIIhunter1for drop and wind, even when they’re using these super scopes. All I know is that it’s worked for me for more than 50 years.

If truth be told, more than 95 percent of all the game taken in all the world are shot at ranges under 250 yards. If you’ve got a modern, flat-shooting rifle zeroed in at 200 yards, there’s no reason to worry about hold-over out to 250, even on a small deer. Should you have an even flatter-shooting magnum zeroed-in at 250 yards, you’ll be about 3-4 inches low at 300 yards, and 13-14 inches low at 400. Judging hold-over within that range isn’t that hard. And if the range is more than 400 yards, I don’t shoot. Pretty simple.

I don’t know, maybe it’s a matter of the old dog/new tricks thing. It’s true that as we get older, we’re more reluctant to learn new things unless it somehow becomes necessary. I’m sure that among the younger generation of hunters these hi tech scopes are far more popular than among us old timers..– Jon R. Sundra

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