A Street-Legal Spec Ops SAW? The FN M249S Para – Full Review.

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The author found the “fun factor” of the semi-auto M249S Para from FN to be pretty impressive.

I was a little hesitant about doing this gun review, because I have used a real M249. A lot. Some of the worst days of my life, that is the little bastard that ensured me and my teammates made it home. I have used every weapon in combat from hand grenades to a Sten Gun (that is a long and stupid story, trust me), but I would bet dollars to donuts I have done more work with an M249 than any two other weapons combined. My hesitation with the new M249S Para (which is part of FN’s popular Military Collector Series) was that I wasn’t sure I would like seeing one of my most fondly remembered combat guns neutered. Looks like my fears were unfounded, but read on to learn more.

The M249 SAW, aka Squad Automatic Weapon, has been a staple of the US Infantry Squad since 1994. It was actually fielded earlier than that, achieving adoption by the US Army in 1984 and the US Marine Corps in 1985. User complaints about exposure to the hot barrel and some sharp edges kept the M249 mostly mothballed until the outbreak of the Gulf War. 929 weapons were sent over, but from friends that were present, the M60 was still the weapon of choice for most of the Grunts. The M249 rapidly became the squad level machine gun after the Gulf War, and has seen action in every conflict since.

The M249S Para captures much of the charm of the real-deal firearm, but in a semi-auto, street-legal form. Image courtesy of the manufacturer.

The Para features a crossbolt-style button safety above the pistol grip.

SPECS

  • Chambering: 5.56 NATO
  • Barrel: 16.1 inches
  • OA Length: 30.5-36 inches
  • Weight: 16 pounds
  • Stock: Collapsible
  • Sights: Peep rear, post front
  • Action: Semi-auto
  • Finish: Matte black or tan
  • Capacity: Belt- or mag-fed
  • MSRP: $8,799

I wasn’t around for the change from 7.62 to 5.56 at the squad level, so I can’t speak to that. What I can speak for is why in Special Operations, where I had the option of carrying either if I wanted to carry a machine gun at all, and I opted for the SAW (and so did a lot of other guys.) The M249 is in the same family of weapons as the eventual replacement to the M60, the M240. The M240 and the M249 look like scaled versions of one another, though there are some differences. The M249 has a back-up method of feeding, it will accept M16 magazines through a side port (in most configurations). They accept the same pintle mount and tripod, though a tripod is rarely used on the M249. This is a contingency plan by FN, if the M240 goes down, you can slap a squad level M249 into its tripod and do mostly the same job.

The Para model as tested retains the dual-feed system that allows you to use a belt or an M16 magazine.

So why the SAW? First is maneuverability. The SAW is 10 pounds lighter than its 7.62 sister, and the balance of the weapon is much more user-friendly if you aren’t in the prone. This also plays a big factor in deciding to use it for dismounted operations. The M240 is not fun to carry for miles on end, and its not just because of the weight. Second, is ammo capacity. If you have ever thought about 5.56 vs 7.62 in magazines as a deciding factor, consider it again in 200-round belts. The difference adds up quickly. For shooting against hard cover or one-shot stops, no one doubts 7.62 is better. But in this war cover wasn’t much of an issue. Iraq and Afghanistan construction are weird animals. Anything that would stop 5.56 was likely also to stop 7.62, so that didn’t matter much. Single bullet terminal performance also isn’t much of an issue with a machine gun. Kind of the idea is to shoot them a lot, and then shoot the gooey mess if it tries to move again. 7.62 is fantastic again soft skinned vehicles, but not if you left the heavy bastard back at the firebase.

The Para packs in a folding bipod as well as a folding carry handle for convenience as well as authenticity.

So, how did the M249S Para shake out? Was my stomach turned by the feeble semi-auto’ness of it? Quite the contrary, pulling it out of the box warmed the cockles of my heart. Every Veteran I let play with it while I had it smiled that knowing smile, often with a whispy far off look in his eye, remembering the good old days of blasting heathens straight to hell. It was a really fun gun to shoot. Depending on the age they did their last tour, some people will have a negative opinion of the SAW. To be fair, the old ones we had when the war started were junk. No fault to FN there, they were just worn out. It’s almost like some anti-military chucklehead was in the Oval Office, busy getting serviced by interns and letting the DOD fall apart. Anyway, the ones we started the war with were absolutely clapped out. Anyone that had a choice used something else, and it wasn’t uncommon to see a SAW gunner with the M249 attached to his pack, humping a captured AK-47. Once the floodgates opened and we got new ones though, prepare to defend your morale. Amazing I know, but guns with less than 300,000 rounds on them run a lot better. I had no more malfunction issues with the M249 than I did any other machine gun, which is to say they ran really well, and I would have no qualms about carrying one as a primary weapon. The M249S ran without a hiccup, both from belts and magazines.

The rear sight is a heavily winged and protected peep unit.

On the issue of belts, I would like to include a special thanks to my friends at Stillwood Ammo Systems. Looking for linked 5.56 on the open market is a chore, but these guys happen to keep it in stock. They generously provided us with enough rounds to really get a feel for the M249S.

The M249S model I tested was the Para model, which has one of the coolest collapsible stocks ever. Not the most comfortable to shoot, but the coolest. It locks up solid, and takes some force to stow, but it’s a marvel. Fully collapsed, it drops the overall length by 8 inches. The M249S is built to later specs, so it has a picatinny rail on top of the feed tray. Mine came in tan, which is a nice touch. The moving parts are all black, as is the pistol grip and stock, which gives it a nice two-tone color.

The Para is a truly impressive sight, and a must for anyone with some serious coin to drop on their hobbies.

Devil’s In The Details

What exactly changed, you might ask, between a real M249 and the S model? Not much it seems. A regular M249 fires from an open bolt. The M249S fires from a closed bolt, kind of. FN calls the mechanism of action a “slide hammer.” Basically, the bolt is forward on a round, and a new part called the slide hammer is held behind the sear. Pretty much exactly how an M249 holds the bolt to the rear. When you press the trigger, the slide hammer is released, firing the gun. Then the bolt moves rearward, the slide hammer catches on the sear, and the bolt moves forward picking up another round. Rinse and repeat as necessary. I am not absolutely positive, it has been a few years since I disassembled a SAW, but it looks like a new set of rails was welded into the receiver for the slide hammer to move on. Also, the trigger pack is different in the M249S model. It is beyond my capability as a knuckle dragger to figure out exactly what changed, but from looking at schematics and the parts in front of me, it is different. I’m also guessing the ATF made sure of that. The only thing this complicates is barrel removal. In a normal SAW, as long as you lock the bolt to the rear, barrel swaps are easy. The added step on the M249S is that you have to manually hold the bolt back while you pull the barrel free.

The M249S Para retains the removable barrel system of the standard M249.

While I had a chance, I answered a question for myself. I always kind of wondered how accurate a machine gun barrel was. Since I now had one in semi-auto, I slapped the old Leupold 20x on the feed cover to find out. The first answer was, you can’t open the feed tray with a foot long scope mounted on it. The second answer was, not very. My M249S shot about a 3.5-inch group at 100 meters. Not really the point of the gun, but I wanted to appease my curiosity.

Using the Para brought back some fond memories for the author. Note the tactical flip-flops.

So, is this a great buy? The reality is, anything the M249S can do, my AR-15 can do better. Also, I am not in the habit of buying $8,500 guns. The price tag is a little steep for my blood. But it is really fun. My trigger finger got so worn out I had to switch to the home wrecker a few times, but it was still a blast. If you like replica military guns, you won’t be disappointed. And if you are in the $8,500 gun buying segment, you could certainly do worse.

For more information, visit https://fnamerica.com/products/rifles/fn-m249s-para/.

To purchase on GunsAmerica.com, click this link: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?Keyword=M249%20Para.

{ 24 comments… add one }
  • loupgarous May 22, 2017, 4:19 pm

    Clay, thanks for reviewing guns like this so we don’t have to. A fun shooter that fires 3.5″ groups at 100 meters – and is guaranteed to get one’s wife shopping for jewelry in revenge for five years? Think I’ll pass, too. You can still pick Barrett M82A1s up here in GunsAmerica for that price range, or just a bunch of new pistols and ugly black rifles for you and the missus – which is what I’d do. But I am glad FN thinks enough of its customers to make a quality military replica.

  • Russ H. May 22, 2017, 2:18 pm

    Again with the haters. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it! If you show up at the range with one of these I guarantee you a crowd will shortly form to check it out and if you offered free “try it outs” there would be MANY takers. As for those of you bitching your 249 was a POS and that it never worked – do some pmcs or take it to the armorer. They fired just fine every time I’ve seen them in action – my MI unit has two! I hauled an M60 around in the early 80’s and I’d have taken a 249 over the 60. Maybe… But damn, quit the bitching and be grateful we can have something like this!

  • Rick May 22, 2017, 11:35 am

    The real ones are junk since they are jammers. I say stick to the m-60 for real work. They r the life savers.

  • Tim May 22, 2017, 11:07 am

    I have a Fleming trigger group and so I bought the MGA Mk46. Semi-auto is fun, but I bought it for the full-auto experience. Agreed, it is spendy and not for everyone. I remember when M-16s were $6k and thought who would spend that much money on something you can’t afford the ammo? Situations changed and I spent $15k on one. Now it is worth over $20k. Buy guns, shoot guns, have fun.

  • TJ Reeder May 22, 2017, 10:29 am

    The beauty of this thing is that IF you want one you can have one. Isn’t it great to live in a country where (with the exception of a few of the commie states) you can own this stuff. Celebrate being in a free country by buying a gun, if you have all you need buy one for somebody else. Give one as a gift to a kid if you don’t have a kid of your own ( with parental permission of course) every American should have a firearm and no how to use it. It’s our right! Celebrate it often.
    Thanks for the review Clay, I won’t rush out and by one but I found the review interesting and as usual NO BS.

  • Dan F. May 22, 2017, 10:17 am

    This thing is stupid. If you want a SAW, get a job where you can have a real one or stick to airsoft. Real ones are fine weapons and have a place in an infantry squad. These things are purpose-built for the operator – equivalent of Jason Aldean: the total Walter Mitty choad. Do you even KNOW how much training ammo you can buy for the price of a Kia?

    • T. MacArthur May 22, 2017, 10:51 am

      I just hafta finally say this. It IS stupid. Like a lot of street legal “military weapons” it serves exactly one purpose; pandering to all the wannabees who want to look like badasses. I did my time from ’69-70 and ’79-87, so I’ve seen both the 60 and the SAW, although the only one I ever used except on the range was the 60. They’re both good weapons, just for different things. The advantage to the 60 is that 7.62mm round that lets you really reach outnd touch someone, but at the cost of weight and needing people to help carry enopugh ammo; to the SAW is its lighter weight, especially the ammo. It lets you equip smaller groups with some dense fire and enough ammo to keep it up a while.

      But neither has any advantage over most any semi-auto in the same caliber except the fact that it’s full auto. None.

      So what do you get for your money when you shell out the extra bucks for a “military” weapon? Nothing but image. You don’t get any extra power, any extra range, or anything in any way useful. You just think you look bad. Except that to some of us, you look like an idiot, carrying something that doesn’t give you a thing you couldn’t have had for a lot less bucks.

      So people might be scared when they see it? Dude, that’s NOT a good thingf. All the wannabees running around with fake “machine guns” just fan the flames of the gun haters, helping them get laws passed that end up limiting other semi-autos. Dumb, pointless, and even counterproductive.

      • Vanns40 May 22, 2017, 2:06 pm

        Oh BS. People might be “scared” if they see you driving a Corvette rather than a VW also. So what? Let ’em get over it. You have the right, in this country, to be scared, uninformed, ignorant or whatever. You do NOT have the right to let your baseless fears, of an inanimate object, infringe on my right to own that inanimate object. We’re so concerned with how people are going to “feel” that we’ve forgotten the real concern should be upholding and protecting our rights to own any damn thing we want to as long as we are law abiding citizens.

        • JCitizen May 22, 2017, 8:11 pm

          I agree – if you don’t USE your rights you will LOSE your rights. Use or lose it and not only enjoy a great gun, but a really good investment. I’ve been doing it for years, and no bank could pay me back the kind of money, and return on investment I’ve had with belt fed or other military weapon designs!

  • mikelasnicov May 22, 2017, 10:06 am

    I think this would be fun with one of those binary triggers that fire again when you release the trigger it would be much more like firing a real machine gun. At 8500 bucks it should already have that.

  • Avalon Rifle May 22, 2017, 9:55 am

    Great review Clay! Thanks!

  • Mike Bolton May 22, 2017, 9:52 am

    Meh… $8500.00 for 3.5 moa @ 100yds.
    Pass.
    I hated it in the Corps, pos jammed every 3rd burst. Not once did I get it to run a m16 mag without jamming.

  • Awesome Bill from Dawsonville May 22, 2017, 9:45 am

    Why would anyone buy one? Why would anybody buy a Ferrari? It gets piss poor mileage, has a teeny tiny trunk, there’s only room in the glove box for a pair of gloves and who needs to go faster than the speed limit anyway?. Why carry a 9mm instead of a .38 since their ballistics are so similar? Why buy a shotgun that holds more than 3 rounds? You can’t hunt ducks with it. Who needs more than one AR?

    If it’s not your cup of tea, or you cant afford it, then don’t buy it. I might think that the guy with the skinny jeans and too much mousse in his hair is a douche bag even though he drives a Ferrari to the range to shoot his M249S. But I still appreciate both the rifle and the car as outstanding pieces of machinery.

    • Henry Bowman May 22, 2017, 12:41 pm

      ^^Exactly!

  • Some Dude May 22, 2017, 8:54 am

    Good article, I am really just cringing at the fact you called it a “spec ops” gun…c’mon man. We had those Mk46/48s in Group and SMU, but so did even regular Army guys.

    As an aside, I love when people show up on these reviews to say it is stupid or only tools/people who overcompensate buy these…news flash folks, some of us learned a trade, own a business, did very well and managed to not get divorced/got divorced early when we were broke…if I want a $8800 semi-auto SAW just because, I will buy one. If I want a Semi-Auto M60E4 for $11K…I will buy one. If I want your wife to flash her tits when I roll by your Nissan in my 488, then I will do that. That is called envy, my friends, don’t want it don’t buy it.

    • Fred May 22, 2017, 9:28 am

      Wow factor: 8K for what? At least FN could do for that money is grind down those spot welds that look like hell on the receiver..

    • davud May 23, 2017, 3:34 am

      when you roll by on your heelys, making motions with your shirt or whatever it is you do, my wife even won’t look up from her phone. she barely does that for me.

  • Dr Motown May 22, 2017, 7:49 am

    $8800 for a single-shot heavy AR? Yeah, right….

  • Craig May 22, 2017, 6:47 am

    I was out of the service before the 249…heck, I’m pre-Hummer too! Anyway…stuck using the M60…total POS….”who’s got the asbestos glove to change the barrel?”

    I bought one of these rifles…it’s fun. Put a huge Trijicon 648 scope on it…Ooooo, Ahhhh…very pretty and you can open the feed cover, even better. Yep, you have to use .556…but, you can also use .223 stuff if you’re using the magwell vs. belt. May be unimportant, but it is a handy thing if someone want to try it and has an AR-15 mag in their hands.

    Forget about reloading the brass…not as bad as an H&K, but it is a neck crimper. Are the real ones like this? Is it expensive? Oh hell yes! So is a motorcycle, kids, school, divorces…it’s why we went to school, didn’t get our girlfriends pregnant when we were in high school, work and don’t do stupid things like drugs/crime etc….we have the luxury of buying neat guns.

  • Scott Free May 22, 2017, 4:49 am

    FYI if I see you @ the range with this my only thought is “clown”. Why would anyone spend $8500 on this?

    • Jimbo May 22, 2017, 8:52 am

      FYI I see you at the range calling some guy a clown just he has a cooler gun than you, my only thought would be “asshole”.

      • Russ H. May 22, 2017, 2:10 pm

        BAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAAAAAAA! I second that!

        • Captain Bob May 22, 2017, 4:26 pm

          Can I do a “third” on that “asshole” moniker? These guys are like, “My wife is blonde so anyone with a redhead is a clown.” Well, I guess I will be polite and refrain from “asshole” (regardless of the fact that they are) and just call them a “dufus.”

  • Will Drider May 18, 2017, 12:21 am

    A lot of Vets have bought similar firearms they carried, always have and always will unless they live in 2A oppressed location. Military collectors also gather and ultimately redistribute. They say you can’t take it with you when your gone but I made arrangements to take a 1911 with me for the Hell of it.
    Considering the Gov buy in bulk (with spare parts) FA Mil version was about $4100 ea. Needless to say the two civ versions have a hefty price but the key thing is THEY ARE AVAILABLE! Think about that for a minute and you should realize how unique that really is. I don’t know if I’d buy a SA “PIG” but wish I had the option.

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