Modern Sporting Rifle A Bold Step Forward

By Doug Humphreys

I was once told by a D.C. lobbyist that nothing stays the same. Everything (especially those things political in nature) grows or shrinks, flourishes or flounders, succeeds or fails—but there is no such thing as status quo. You either stay relevant through positive change or you simply fade away.

Historically the firearms industry is a political poster child for growth and self preservation by constant forward movement.

In 1860 Christopher Spencer finished the design of the Spencer rifle. This rifle revolutionized the shooting world by ending the need for stuffing explosives down a barrel through the use of metallic cartridges while also allowing for seven consecutive shots thanks to a tubular magazine and simple lever for reloading. Though loading was faster and easier, the lever mechanism did not cock the hammer.

In the late 1860s and 1870s John Marlin and Oliver Winchester introduced several models of lever action rifles that held more and more powerful ammunition. The lever was faster and more durable, and cocked the hammer during reloading. Lever action rifles would claim their fame in the American west. The Winchester Model 1873 was dubbed “The Gun that Won the West.”

In 1891 Sergei Mosin and Leon Nagant introduced the Mosin-Nagant. Soon after in 1895 Paul Mauser patented the Mauser 98. Though not as quickly reloaded as the lever action, the bolt rifle reached new levels of accuracy with a more simple and more durable design. A stacked magazine also allowed for pointed bullets which revolutionized ballistics and led to an explosion of new cartridges.

The bolt action would become by far the most popular rifle among sportsmen. In the post WWI United States, Garands were adapted for sport, marking the birth of the bolt gun and the 30/06 in the big game hunting fields—the most famous being the sport-adapted Garand carried by Teddy Roosevelt on expeditions around the world. Today the makes and models of bolt rifles and the variety of ammunition to load in them are almost limitless.

The Modern Sporting Rifle (MSR) is the latest bold step forward by the firearms manufacturers. The rifles have a very simple design that favors practicality over aesthetics. The rifles are modular, which not only ensures simplicity but allows a part from company A to be put on a rifle from company B. This creates convenience for the shooter and keeps prices very low on parts and complete rifles.

The rifles can be adjusted to shorten the length of pull, meaning that dad can lengthen the stock for a morning hunt, then shorten the stock with the flip of a lever and give the rifle to mom or son or daughter for their evening afield. The Picatanny rails allow open sights, dots or scopes—ensuring anyone can hit what they are aiming at with whatever aiming device they prefer.

A shooter or hunter can also change the caliber of an MSR simply by changing the upper half of the rifle. This means that the more uppers a shooter has, the more savings he achieves on his investment. And the common sense design of the MSR has the sighting mechanism connected to the upper, which means calibers can be switched without the need to re-sight the rifle.

The modular designs cause the rifles to rattle when shaken, which make those of us used to “tight” bolt actions cringe, but somehow they shoot with surprising accuracy. If a shooter is willing to spend a few extra bucks on triggers and fitting, they can be superbly accurate.

The MSR has received more than its fair share of criticism. But those who criticize aren’t exactly looking for the forward movement of firearms to begin with, so I view the criticism as more of a political statement than a review.

The fact is the MSR platform is light, durable, reliable and inexpensive. It makes sense for target shooters, competition shooters, recreational shooters and hunters alike. It is without question a move by the firearms industry that keeps experienced shooters engaged and makes new shooters interested.

If you want to give an MSR a try, visit 340 Defense just outside of Charles Town on Route 340. See for details.