My concise review of the Savage MSR 10 Hunter, by far my favourite semi-auto hunting rifle, and an icon within the AR-10 marketplace.
Made in the USA, you’ll find MSR-10 models in gun shops all over America, from big box stores like Cabelas to local independent retailers — but the MSR line is also widely exported. For instance, Savage’s importer in Spain, Borchers, will typically ship an MSR 10 or parts to a local authorised firearms dealer within 24 hours of an order being placed. There’s even an edition with a Mossy Oak camo finish if you can find it, the beautiful MSR-10 Hunter Overwatch.
I routinely customise my favourite hunting rifles, but my MSR-10 Hunter in 6.5 Creedmoor came with very satisfactory features as standard, right out of the box. Rugged, accurate and semi-auto, it’s ideal for hunting wild boar (“Jabalí”) in the mountainous and dusty high deserts of Europe’s Iberian peninsula.
Notable features of Savage’s MSR-10 Hunter rifle:
- Platform: compact AR-10 (AR-15 compatible) albeit with proprietary upper, lower and BCG, as typical of a short-frame/small-frame AR 10 build.
- Action: gas-powered direct-impingement semi-auto (fewer moving parts = more accurate)
- Barrel: carbine 18″ (46cm) fluted carbon steel barrel with 1:8-inch 5R rifling (Melonite QPQ treated)
- Custom forged mil-spec upper/lower receiver (7075-T6 Al) [3.4365 aluminum-zinc alloy]
- Bolt individually fitted to barrel in factory (both stamped with same serial number)
- AR-15 bolt carrier group
- Interchangeable AR-15 drop-in Blackhawk AR Blaze trigger with nickel-boron treatment (Savage and Blackhawk are sister companies within the same group)
- Blackhawk Knoxx AR pistol grip
- Blackhawk Axiom telescopic AR carbine stock
- True free-float M-lok handguard (aluminium) with Hardcoat anodized coating
- Exposed adjustable gas block (handy for optimizing cycling when switching between different ammo loads or adding/removing a moderator/silencer)
- Full-length MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny rail
- Forward assist button
- 10-round MagPul PMag10 LR/SR Gen M3 magazine (AR/M4 LR/SR pattern) in 7.62×51 NATO / .308 Winchester spec – Magpul Compatibility Code SR25/M110
- Ejection port dust cover (a spring-loaded interchangeable standard mil-spec AR-15-spec flap to keep dust/sand/dirt out of the upper receiver, BCG and chamber, essential in desert environments)
- Flared mag well – mags engage easily and seat very crisply
- Brass deflector
Being a semi-auto, the MSR-10 Hunter is a heavier gun, not especially heavy by AR-10 standards, but obviously not as lightweight as a bolt-action equivalent. However, semi-autos are exquisitely suited to wild hog hunting! My MSR-10 Hunter weighs 3.63 kg out of the box. In contrast, my Tikka T3x “Lite” Roughtech weighs only fractionally less, at 3.2 kg even with its 24.3″ barrel. And my Tikka T3x Tac A1 weighs 4.7 kg, significantly heavier than the MSR-10 Hunter. So, I’m accustomed to carrying around a heavier gun. I’m a big guy. I appreciate the benefits bestowed at the expense of carrying that extra weight.
Precision further improved and operation became even smoother after the first hundred shots had started to break-in the barrel and mechanism. Before first use, conservatively apply a good AR-15 gun lube/oil/CLP such as Slip 2000’s EWL to the essential AR-15 lube points — especially the BCG friction surfaces and the edges of the charging handle. For reference, consult a quick guide to AR-15 lubrication, AR-15 lube essentials, and a more in-depth AR-15/AR-10 lube guide. Keep the chamber and everything else in the gun clean and dry. Between uses (especially after oiling) a good soft no-lint gun-cleaning cloth should be utilised to clean and dry inside the upper-receiver and chamber. I highly-recommend a Dewey Flexile Chamber Swab tool or compatible Sinclair/Brownells flexible chamber swab or similar to keep the chamber clean, dry and polished “in the field”.
In the video above I’m using these accessories:
- Nikko Stirling’s Diamond Long Range 4-16×50 rifle scope (ballistic turrets, side focus, illuminated reticle) on a QD mount (handy for switching to thermal optics after dark)
- Tier One QD Monomount – Long Saddle – 30mm High (38mm Height B from rail top to scope centre) – 0 MIL [also recommended for ARs is the global benchmark mount for Pulsar Thermion scopes the American Defense AD-RECON-SW 30mm STD (Long Saddle QD 1 Piece Unimount) or in Europe also consider the Innomount Thermon QD]
- Primos Trigger Stick Gen 3 tripod (essential for the uneven and mountainous terrains of southern Europe)
- Winchester Deer Season XP ammo (6.5 Cm)
- Hawke 15″ neoprene scope cover
None of this improves my own marksmanship, and a bolt-action is a little more accurate anyway, but semi-autos are fun, and versatile. I bagged a wild boar two hours into my first hunt with this rifle, about three hours after I first zeroed the scope.
What types of ammo work best in my MSR 10 Hunter – 18″ barrel in 6.5 Creedmoor?
This particular barrel definitely prefers heavier loads from around 140 grain upwards, and benefits from a boat-tail projectile, with the following factory loads yielding the tightest groups at 200m:
- Sellier & Bellot – SP – 140 gr (cheap too!)
- Norma – Bondstrike – 143 gr (expensive but the best groups)
- Hornady – Precision Hunter (ELD-X) – 143 gr (expensive but comfortably sub-MOA)
Which factory ammo produced less impressive groups through my gun?
I observed more variation between popular factory loads with this barrel than most others I’ve tested, perhaps the short length and 5R rifling amplify the quirks of different bullets, or maybe just it’s this virgin barrel with <1000 rounds fires so far, but I deemed these bullets unsuitable for hunting beyond 150m:
- Sellier & Bellot- SP – 131 gr (barely sub-MOA)
- Winchester – Deer Season XP – 125 gr (barely sub-MOA) [note that this is not a boat-tail bullet]
- Remington – Core-Lokt Tipped – 129 gr (not sub-MOA – worst groups of all ammo tested with this setup, consistently >1 inch group 100m, based on groups of 3 allowing barrel to cool fully between trios)
I’m aware of studies concluding that 140 grain is around the optimal weight for 6.5 Creedmoor, and anecdotal evidence on forums indicates that 143 grain could be the sweet spot at the tipping point of peak ballistic performance. My findings add weight (no pun intended) to the case for favouring 6.5 Creedmoor projectiles between 140-143 grain. This factor might be more important for shorter barrels which tend to spread a wider group anyway.
The short barrel length (18″) of the MSR Hunter makes it perfect for hunting. It’s light for an AR-10, comfortably balanced, portable and manouvrable. It’s especially well suited to wild boar hunting in Europe, both night and day, where the range is often sub 100m for either stalking or driven hunts. 6.5 Creedmoor performs better with shorter barrel lengths vs other calibres. (I consider 6.5 Creedmoor a superior cartridge regardless of barrel length, and I’m not alone in drawing that conclusion.) I have not yet pushed my MSR Hunter beyond 300m, but at that range with the right ammo it can print acceptable groups at typical deer stalking ranges. The fact is, the ballistics of 6,5 Creedmoor are unbeatable.
For comparison, my 6.5CM Tikka T3x Tact A1 clamped on a Bog Deathgrip tripod with an XP50 digital scope can group exceptionally tightly with its favourite cartridge (Sako Gamehead Pro) — but I still wouldn’t push it past 300m for deer, because past 300m the grouping opens up wider than what I consider acceptable consistency of shot placement for humane dispatch of live game.
The effect of barrel length on velocity of 6.5 CM is well-documented elsewhere. But, for example, 6.5 CM 130 grain bullet that has a muzzle velocity of 2808 fps from a 24″ barrel will do 2665 fps from an 18″ barrel. To put this 5.2% difference into perspective, you’ll get more reduction in velocity by switching from 129 gr to 147 gr through a 24″ barrel, vs chopping off 6 inches. However, the carbine barrel of the MSR 10 Hunter might means it’s not the ideal rifle to obtain the tightest possible groups on a gong 1000m away! Indeed, that’s what the MSR 10 Long Range is for with its additional 2-inches of barrel. Semi-autos are not generally considered precision rifles, anyway, and for long-range target plinking at 1000m I’d select a bolt-action rifle.
Everything is a trade-off with rifle specs, and the MSR-10 Hunter optimised perfectly to perform as hunting rifle.
This is an aftermarket review. I observed that most online reviews of of the MSR 10 rifles were uploaded soon after the rifle was launched, so this is intended to be a retrospective on a rifle that has now become firmly established within the AR marketplace worldwide. My own MSR-10 has been extremely reliable, right out of the box. MSR 10 entered a saturated market, but has sold to countless happy customers, and after all these years I struggle to find an example of anybody online mentioning a problem with theirs that needed attention from Savage or a gunsmith — although Savage has earned a reputation for excellent customer service.
Has the MSR 10 line been discontinued? Are MSR-10 rifles still being manufactured? Why did Savage remove the MSR-10 page from their website, when the rifle and spare barrels continue to be widely stocked in gun shops throughout the USA and worldwide? These are questions I’ll answer in due course, so bookmark this page and check back later for updates…
- All4Shooters in-depth review of the MSR-10 Hunter
- TWANGnBANK in-deth review of the MSR-10 Long Range (video) – a truly insightful evaluation of Savage’s MSR system
- American Arms Channel review of the MSR-10 Long Range (video)