By Guy J. Sagi
Not a lot of people would argue that the .223/5.56 is an extremely versatile and useful cartridge. The problem is that not everyone wants to shoot an AR-15 platform for every task, and let’s face it, AR-15s aren’t cheap. Mossberg came up with an idea to make a .223 bolt gun that uses AR-15 mags and for SHOT Show of this year, they released the MVP series. A lot of us are jumping up and down yelling YES YES YES. The MVPs come in several different configurations, from a 24″ barrel and target stock, down to a 16″ stubby patrol rifle that takes a suppressor. All of the guns have a 1:9 twist rate, so they will handle the same range of bullets as most AR-15s, and from what we found with our test gun, an 18″ laminate stock Predator model, these new Mossberg bolt guns are tack drivers. Our primary concern testing the gun was whether the reverse engineering for AR-15 mags worked as hoped, because nobody has really done this before and you have to wonder why. But our little MVP had zero problems digesting from its own 10 round mag and even the long 30 round P-Mags, never failing to pick up the next round, and you could jiggle the magazine back and forth with no hitching of the bolt whatsoever. It works because Mossberg put a little tab sticking out of the bottom of the bolt to pick up the shells. The MSRP for our MVP Predator is $729, and the series tops out at the Flex Patrol version at $928. The street prices will be well under that when the market comes back to normal, and your local stocking dealer most likely has them well below MSRP right now, but call before you go. The MVP seems like an idea whose time has come, and these guns are 100% Made in USA.
Some of you are probably asking why you would want a bolt gun over an AR-15 platform to begin with. The most important reason is accuracy versus price. We have tested several AR platforms that out of the box have delivered MOA or better accuracy, but they are all up in the $1,200 plus range This test MVP here is a short barrel model, and we tested it with only one type of ammo (which is not the 75 grain Hornady we have heard it prefers), and it performed better than nearly every AR-15 you will find under $1,000 under normal market conditions. Another important reason you would want a bolt gun over an AR-15 is ammo conservation. Try as we might, most of us tend to shoot too quickly with a semi-auto. And whether prairie dog hunting, target shooting or engaging a mob of zombies (the slow kind), most of us are better off with slower, well aimed fire. Also, though we all may get upset when talking about the political implications of “black rifles,” there are still avid shooters out there who simply refuse to buy an AR-15 because of media brainwashing. There are also some police departments who still do not allow their officers to carry an AR-15 in their squad car due to political pressure. As a sniper round, the .223/5.56 is one of the most ideal in an urban environment. It stops cold on most things it hits, whether that be wallboard, a couch cushion, or an intended human target, yet it is absolutely devastating as a one-shot stopper, and ideal for law enforcement and “come the day” scenarios. You can also buy .223/5.56 at Wal-Mart (not right now), which is a big plus. The Mossberg MVP series is a classic case of “see a need fill a need.” With the right ammo there are very few things this rifle won’t be great at.
Why Never Before?
Using an AR-15 magazine in a bolt-action rifle sounds simple, but there are some mechanical hurdles. For one thing, a side catch holds it in place when inserted in a modern sporting rifle’s lower receiver. Mossberg engineered a polymer bedding block with an integral magazine well to get around the problem. A lever located at its front serves as the magazine release. It works well, and reliably, but like most bolt guns it is virtually flush with the bottom of the gun. During testing with bare hands it took a conscious effort to release the magazine, and you would probably want to remove a glove rather than try to get a gloved finger in there. It isn’t a big deal but worth mentioning. The good news is that it would be hard to inadvertently drop this rifle’s magazine, even a 30 rounder. What was most surprising about the gun was that the long mags are very jiggly, but they never result in a failure to feed or a sticky bolt. It takes a little practice to get the aftermarket mags in smoothly, kind of like seating an M1A or Mini-14 mag, but once you get it they click in positively and don’t come out.
That little tab under the bolt is called the patent-pending Mossberg Drop-Push Bolt. When pushed forward, a hinged portion of the bolt face dives slightly into the magazine to scoop out the next round. During testing we had zero failures to feed or stoppages of any kind, so it works and works very well. The spiral fluted bolt is very smooth for a lower priced gun. As the gun broke in the only quirk in the bolt throw, a slightly sticky seating, loosened up. There were no problems encountered when inserting or removing the bolt in the rifle, despite the hinged bolt face’s rather unorthodox operation. It looks odd, but the system proved extremely reliable at the range.
Why a Laminate Stock?
Predators and several of the others in the Mossberg MVP line have a laminate stock, which has advantages and disadvantages. Laminate is made like plywood, with strips of wood glued into a block, then sawed, machine and finished as if it were solid wood. Not using an actual large piece of tree reduces the cost and gives you a stock that is pretty much indestructible and hides scratches and dings. They are also mostly not effected by humidity that can effect a solid wood stock, moving point of impact considerably as the wood swells and contracts with the weather. Compared to a polymer stock, a laminate stock is heavier, sometimes even heavier than solid wood, and that may be a serious downside if you plan to carry the gun. This shorty Predator comes in at 8 lbs., not light. Many people prefer the weight of wood or laminate over plastic because it just feels better though. According to my food scale, our MVP Predator weighs 8 lbs. 2 ounces with a full magazine and the Meopta ZD Tactical scope you see here in the pictures, and it balances exactly at the front of the magazine. Laminate stocks just feel more wieldly to the majority of shooters and it works really with this 18″ MVP. We hope to have a review on these incredible Meopta scopes within a couple weeks as well.
You should click through the different models of the MVP for their individual specifics. Overall length of this Predator is 37.5 inches but overall length and weight varies from model to model. The Predator comes with a split scope mounting platform, two bases, pre-installed on the gun, but there are other models that come with a full rail. The stock is a free float design, which means that the wood (or plastic) does not touch the barrel forward of the action at all. This increases accuracy because when the barrel touches the stock, it can send harmonic disturbances through the barrel during firing that can throw off accuracy. The length of pull on the fixed stock models of the guns is 13.25 inches from the rear buttpad to the trigger, but Mossberg also does make a Flex model that takes AR-15 buttstocks as well. Sling swivel studs on the wooden stocked models are included for use of a Harris/Caldwell style bipod and/or sling. The moderately flat fore-end helps when shooting off any sort of rest. The gun is very well designed as an out of the box shooter.
Texturing on the fore-end ensures a positive grip in inclement weather. It’s not checkering, but more of an oval-shaped region of random stippling in the top layer of laminate. A Mossberg “M” gives it a distinctive, non-gaudy appearance that won’t embarrass you at the range. It looks nice, and once you enlarge the photos for a closer view you’ll probably agree. The wrist and grip area have a similar treatment, without the initial, and it adds yet another nice touch.
A recoil pad isn’t really necessary in an 8 lb. 5.56 NATO-chambered rifle, but it’s there to allay the fears of those who are recoil-sensitive. It also provides a good, non-slip surface that kept it firmly anchored on shoulders at the range.
You might not expect, or need, beefy construction in a .223 Rem. bolt-action rifle, but the MVP series begins as bar stock and is machined, just like their bigger brothers, the company’s 4×4 Series. The receiver is smaller, naturally, as well as the ejection port at 2.16 inches. But, whether you’re after coyote in the deserts of Arizona or tossing it into your trunk, this gun will take the abuse. The Predator’s 5.56 NATO chambering allows owners to use surplus military ammunition. That’s a big deal right now, but the 5.56 designation also means it can digest .223 Rem. cartridges, making the rifle even more versatile. Many people think that .223 and 5.56 NATO are interchangeable but they are not. Due to a slightly different shoulder angle on the rounds, a 5.56 will take .223 shells safety but a rifle chambered in a strict .223 design will not take military 5.56.
A pair of small, Weaver-style rails atop the Predator’s receiver made installation of the Meopta 1-4X-22 mm RD riflescope fast and easy before testing. The back rail has one groove and there are two up front. This provided plenty of eye relief once the scope was mounted. We chose a tactical 1-4x scope because this particular rifle has kind of a handy, truck gun feel to it and for quick shooting you don’t want to go over 4x or so, yet with this magnification it is easy to hit a coyote sized target out to 200 yards.
Mossberg’s Lightning Bolt Action Adjustable Trigger deserves an article unto itself because it isn’t just a copy of something from another gun manufacturer, though it may look like one. The Predator’s trigger broke cleanly, without creep, at 2 pounds, 9 ounces. It only takes a screwdriver to adjust let-off weight anywhere from 2 to 7 pounds. If you have never shot a rifle with one of these little safety bars, they work great. Normally you would never set a hunting rifle trigger at under even 5 lbs., let alone under 3 lbs., but because you have the safety lever there is little danger of an accidental discharge. You would swear you are shooting a tuned target rifle when you shoot the MVP. It is just that crisp and light.
The 18.5 inch bull barrel has six-groove rifling at a 1-in-9-inch rate of right-hand twist and an 11 degree taper on its crown to protect from accuracy killing gouges from bumps. The fluting is mean to decrease weight and add surface area for cooling, but it still heats up to untouchable after a few rounds. The fluting looks cool though. Both the receiver and barrel have a matte-blue finish that complements the laminate stock well.
At the Range
Due to some technical difficulties we were only able to test this rifle with Hornady 55-grain GMX Superformance, ammo. Five round groups were in the half inch range at 50 yards with the Meopta scope set at 4x. This would equal about one MOA, or “minute of angle,” and should have meant that at 100 yards 5 shots would print into one inch or so. Our actual groups were closer to an inch and a half, probably the result of late afternoon Florida sun right in our faces and the fact that we were only shooting at 4x magnification (excuses blah blah blah). Upon further research after the fact, other reviewers have had slightly better results with the 75 grain Hornady Superformance, so we’ll try that next time. Average muzzle velocity for the load was 2,847 fps according to our Competitive Edge Dynamics M2 chronograph. That is over 400 feet per second slower than the 3275 fps this load delivers from a 24″ rifle barrel. Keep this in mind when buy a short barreled .223, including M4 length ARs. The .223/5.56 is a fast cartridge and when the barrel is shorter a lot of gun powder burns outside the barrel, significantly reducing velocity.
The choice to buy a bolt gun that takes both AR-15 mags and ammo is a nice choice to have. Mossberg’s execution of a great idea on this gun seems have really been done well. Looking around GunsAmerica and the rest of the web there are very few MVPs available right now, but they are being produced and shipped by Mossberg, so see if your local stocking dealer has one or can get you one. What other reviews we could find on the MVPs have been universally positive, and this was our experience as well. Though they aren’t among the least expensive bolt action rifles, the MVP series from Mossberg seems to be a lot of gun for the money. A lot of people may say “give me a .308” for a sniper rifle, or even a .300 Win. Mag. or .338 Lapua, but almost all police sniper shots are under 80 yards, and if you have to worry about collateral damage, the benefits of the .223/5.56 far outweigh its disadvantage in being able to punch through stuff very well. The Mossberg MVP series isn’t here to tell you which caliber is best for your patrol rifle, truck gun or bugout rifle, but it certainly does give you an interesting new choice.