Size matters, but when it comes to combat-ready firearms, smaller is often better. Compact weapons allow for easy maneuvering in tight spaces, which is an especially useful attribute in a home-defense firearm. Now, thanks to a favorable ruling from the ATF, Springfield has introduced two pistol-length versions of their popular Saint AR-15: the .556 and, more recently, a 300 Blackout model.
I got a chance to test the 300 Blackout soon after it was released, and I have to say, I was impressed.
First, for those who haven’t been keeping up with the ATF’s schizophrenic decrees…
How Is This Legal? Don’t Short-Barreled Rifles Require a Tax Stamp?
I’m not a lawyer, but that’s never stopped me from offering legal advice, so here goes.
(Just kidding, please don’t sue me).
The ATF released in 2015 an open letter stating that the use of a pistol brace (like the one affixed to the Saint) to shoulder a firearm constitutes a “redesign” and is therefore illegal unless the user has purchased a $200 tax stamp. Then, to the great rejoicing of 300 Blackout fans everywhere, the feds reversed their position, stating in another letter that “an NFA firearm has not necessarily been made … even if the attached firearm happens to be fired from the shoulder.”
So, yes, right now the Saint Pistol is perfectly legal, as long as you don’t “take affirmative steps to configure the device for use as a shoulder-stock” (e.g., permanently affix the brace to the end of a buffer tube, remove the arm-strap, or otherwise undermine its ability to be used as a brace). The ATF might (re)reverse their decision at some point down the line, but if that happens you’ll just have to bite the bullet and apply for the tax stamp or shoot the pistol like an actual pistol.
The Springfield Saint uses the low-profile SB Tactical SBX-K brace, a shorter version of the original SBX. The rubber flaps provide decent recoil control, and they’re stiff enough to keep from folding during use. The Velcro strap is somewhat abrasive, but using a raised red dot doesn’t require the kind of low cheek weld necessary on a hunting rifle, for example. I generally run my AR’s with a longer length of pull, but the fixed brace is in keeping with the Saint’s compact design, and it didn’t present any real usage issues.
I won’t get into the weeds, but if you’re still unfamiliar with this adaptable little round, you should know a few things. The 300 Blackout uses a shortened and necked-up 5.56 case and a .30 caliber bullet. AR-15 junkies like this round because converting from 5.56 to 300 Blackout just requires a barrel swap—bolt, mag, upper, and lower can all stay the same.
300 Blackout is also one of the most versatile cartridges on the market. You can find supersonic loads using 110 grain bullets (> 2400 fps) as well as subsonic loads using 225 grain bullets (< 1000 fps). Users can match bullet weight to the application and tailor their rounds to hunt pigs in the brush or reach out to targets at 200+ yards. If you reload, the options are almost literally endless.
With so much variation in bullet weight and muzzle velocity, reliable cycling can sometimes be an issue, especially when using a suppressor. That’s why Springfield included in the Saint Pistol an adjustable gas block, which can be used to tune the rifle to your load/suppressor and ensure reliable cycling. I never had any issues shooting suppressed with either subsonic or supersonic loads, but it’s nice to know that the Saint can be tuned without altering the buffer, spring, or barrel.
Speaking of barrels, 300 Blackout is also ideal for shorter barrels, especially compared to the 5.56. As Clay has explained, 5.56 isn’t the ideal SBR chambering because the tiny round can’t reach maximum, trauma-inducing velocity in barrels under 10 inches. The 300 Blackout, on the other hand, can hit max speeds in 9-inch barrels like the Saint’s.
To test this, I shot three different loads—two subsonic and one supersonic—with the Saint and with a 14.5” AR I built last year. You can see from the table that while the 14.5” produced an extra 100fps with each load, the velocity differences weren’t significant in terms of a percentage of total velocity. Considering the Saint barrel is over 60 percent shorter than my AR, a 7 percent velocity difference isn’t a huge deal.
Saint 9 Inch
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In short, if you’ve been holding out on purchasing a 300 Blackout because like microwaves and the Internet, “it’ll never catch on,” there are lots of good reasons to make the Saint your first firearm in this unique caliber.
I am neither a production specialist nor a gunsmith, so I reached out to Springfield to help explain some of the Saint’s more unique features. Before I jump in, here’s the full list:
CALIBER: 300 AAC Blackout
WEIGHT: 5 lbs 9 oz
UPPER RECEIVER: SA Forged Type III Hard Coat Anodized Aircraft Grade 7075 T6 Aluminum w/ Forward Assist
LOWER RECEIVER: SA Forged Type III Hard Coat Anodized Aircraft Grade 7075 T6 Aluminum w/ Accu-Tite™ Tension System
BARREL: 9″ CMV 300BO w/ Melonite® Treatment, 1:7 Twist
GAS SYSTEM: Direct Impingement Pistol-Length Gas Port w/ Adjustable Gas Block
TRIGGERS: A Proprietary, Nickel Boron Coated GI Style
SIGHTS: Not Included
TRIGGER GUARD: Bravo Company
PISTOL GRIP: Bravo Company Mod.3
HANDGUARD: M-Lok Aluminum SA Proprietary T6 Type III Hard Anodized Aluminum
FOREARM BRACE: SB Tactical SBX-K
BUFFER ASSEMBLY: Carbine “H” Heavy Tungsten Buffer
RECEIVER EXTENSION: SA Pistol T6 Type III Hard Coat Anodized Aluminum
CHARGING HANDLE: GI Style
BOLT CARRIER GROUP: Enhanced M16 Melonite® Finish, MPT, 9310 Steel Bolt
MAGAZINE: 1 – 30 Round Magpul PMAG
CASE: Soft Pistol Case
I won’t waste your time re-stating the spec sheet, but I did want to get more details on the propriety features Springfield includes in their pistol. First, the trigger. The trigger group is in a standard GI configuration, but it’s coated in nickel boron.
I spoke with Dave Williams, Springfield’s Research and Development Manager, who explained that nickel boron is a hard, low-friction coating as well as a corrosion inhibitor. The hardness and lubricity make for a smoother and lighter trigger pull while still maintaining GI geometry and spring rates. The trigger on the model I received included the slightest bit of take-up before breaking cleanly at 6-6.5lbs. For a GI trigger, it’s not bad.
The handguard is also notable. Springfield developed the Saint’s M-Lok handguard in-house at the beginning of the Saint rifle project to “provide a more projectionless and rigid handguard anchoring system.” Most handguards use an anchoring system that interferes with the user’s grip at some point along the handguard. Springfield’s version reduces this interference, Williams pointed out, and allows for precise alignment of the Picatinny rails.
Finally, the Saint Pistol features the “Accu-Tite” system, which allows users to tighten the inevitable play between the upper and lower receiver. While loose-fitting receivers don’t totally inhibit accuracy, Williams said that “if the upper shifts during firing it can’t be as accurate as a tighter fitting system, everything else being equal.” The Accu-Tite system uses a tensioning screw between the upper and lower that can be accessed by removing the pistol grip. Springfield isn’t the first to develop this idea, but it’s a nice addition to an already feature-heavy firearm.
For a firearm like the Saint, dependability is far more crucial than accuracy. Accuracy is important (see below), but a 300 Blackout in a 9-inch barrel isn’t going to be winning any long-range rifle competitions. Springfield designed this rifle (as they mention once or twice in their promo video) for close-quarters gunfighting. It needs to cycle reliably when the burglars break down the front door, not take down a bad guy from 600 yards.
Towards that end, Hornady sent me 400 rounds in three different loads to do everything I could to produce a malfunction. I shot suppressed and non-suppressed. I dumped a few mags and shot for accuracy. I also didn’t clean the gun after taking it out of the included soft case. I just lubed it up and went to work.
The gun jammed once while shooting suppressed, but it occurred the first time I switched from subsonic to supersonic loads. After that, I never experienced any issues with any of the three loads. I was expecting more trouble with the subsonic rounds, as I’ve seen other AR pistols struggle to cycle the super-heavy bullets. But the Saint ate everything I fed it. You’ll want to do more extensive testing with your load of choice if you tap the Saint for home defense, but Springfield’s new offering shows promise.
Shooting the Saint is a blast (*rimshot*). The pistol’s lightweight and compact size allow for quick, easy handling in the standing position. The handguard features a front stop to keep the shooter’s hand from contacting the muzzle device or suppressor, and the Bravo company pistol grip is nicely textured. Subsonic rounds are especially fun. The recoil is minimal, and the report is nearly hearing safe, even with the Dead Air Sandman K I was using. With a larger suppressor, 300 Blackout subs are quiet enough to hear the action cycle.
The handguard heats up after extended shooting sessions, especially with a suppressor. A glove would have solved this problem, but it’s something to keep in mind. And while I wouldn’t say the supersonic rounds are uncomfortable to shoot, the brace’s abrasive strap is most noticeable while firing the 125g. loads.
Accuracy – From 100 Yards
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You can interpret the accuracy chart for yourself, but I was more than satisfied with the Saint’s performance. One hundred yards is the limit for the subsonic rounds, and they’re still hitting center mass with those group sizes. For supersonic loads, two-inch groups are standard.
One of the marks of a high-quality barrel is its ability to retain accuracy even when it begins to heat up. I dumped a few mags to get the barrel good ‘n hot (the technical term) and reshot a group with the 125g. supersonic rounds. The results were excellent.
Compact, reliable, and accurate, the Springfield Saint Pistol in 300 Blackout would make an excellent home defense weapon or truck/car gun. Its diminutive size lets it fit almost anywhere you need it, and its high-quality components mean you can count on it to get the job done. Plus, it’s fun to shoot, so you’ll be much more likely to throw it in your range bag and get some practice.
If you’re in the market for an AR pistol, there’s never been a better time to buy or a better out-of-the-box option than the Springfield Saint.