Daniel Defense M4A1 – GWOT War Horse

DD M4A1, SOF standard issue

It isn’t often that a review gun is something I have an emotional attachment too, but this one is an exception. The Daniel Defense M4A1 holds a special place in my heart, as I am sure is true for a great many Veterans. Why you ask? Because we carried one in war. You know you are getting old when a replica of your battle rifle is on the market. But then, replica isn’t quite the right word. Since Daniel Defense actually built our guns.

More than one firebase has been defended just like this

I can still remember the day we got our DD uppers as part of the SOPMOD 2 block of upgrades. Daniel Defense was a much smaller company back then, and I have still no idea how they managed to win this particular contract. My guess is that somebody competent on our side did their homework for once, and found exactly what was needed. Even in Special Operations, weapon procurement can be a goat rodeo. But a few years into the GWOT, we were also gaining some leverage to get better tools. Prior to this, our primary rifle had been the same M4 issued to the entire Army. Albeit with an auto switch instead of a burst setting, a difference so small as to be insignificant.

Period correct EOTECH and VTAC sling

From the moment we put them on, the difference in the Daniel Defense upper was stunning. Part of which you have to look at in historical context. This first major improvement is the RIS II handguard, which is 12.25 inches long. Probably shocking to our younger audience, but just Picatinny rail attachments themselves are not that old. They were not common until the late 90’s, and into the early part of the war were only 6 inches long. The leverage gained by being able to put your hand out further was HUGE for the time.

Legendary RAS II rail attachment

The old rails also interfaced with the standard M4 delta ring rear, and A frame style front sight post. The new Daniel Defense upper was the first ever issued free floating barrel, which would contribute to its accuracy. Also gone was the A frame front sight. Now an A frame is very durable, no question. And you can run optics with one and be successful, we did it for years. But we also shouldn’t deny that having a huge front sight post in the way of your optic is like shooting with a pinky finger in your line of vision. Having it removed was like upgrading from regular TV to HD. Heady stuff in the mid 2000’s.

Grip N Rip charging handle

And oh Lord that accuracy. Daniel Defense is one of the few manufacturers that actually makes their own barrels. You might see another stamped with the gun makers name, but it is actually produced for them. Daniel Defense keeps it all in house, with cold hammer forged straight from Blacks Creek, Georgia. At the time we got the DD uppers, our service issue guns would shoot around 4 MOA on average. 4 inches at 100 yards. The new Daniel Defense guns were so lights out it was hard to believe.

Alt view

I wasn’t smart enough back then to slap a Leupold scope on the DD uppers to see exactly how tight they were. I was in a door kicker unit, so I never tested them with anything other than an EOTECH. Even if I had, I doubt I would remember exactly the group sizes now. But even with just red dots, the accuracy difference was like night and day. We were in love with the Double D’s, which is not probably the first time a Soldier has said that.

Many a tango has been dispatched from this view right here

The new upper would eventually become standard issue for everyone in SOCOM. Ranger Battalion, Special Forces, MARSOC, the Squeels, and whatever the Air Force calls its guys this week. It is arguably the most iconic gun of the War on Terror, having seen service from Tal Afar to Kandahar to Damascus. A fitting tribute to the men who carried it, I was really happy to see Daniel Defense release a commercial version. So how does the version you can buy compare to the version that fought the jihad?

flash hider top
flash hider bottom

Remarkably well, in my opinion. The barrel is 14.5 inches, which is true of the issued one as well. ( A 10.5 inch was also issued, and is also available for purchase.) In order to keep this rifle from being an SBR and requiring a stamp, DD pinned and welded a flash hider to make the overall length past 16. This does mean that you can’t twist off the flash hider and run a suppressor, but for this gun I don’t find that a huge problem. More period correct would also have been a Surefire 3 prong hider, which came with our new suppressors around the same time. But the Daniel Defense model is a good one, and does a fine job of completing the look.

ambi selector lever and grip

The handguard is true to spec, including the dark earth coloring. It has proven durability which few others could claim, and makes the rifle instantly recognizable. While full length quad rails might not be the most modern feel now, it did represent a great leap forward at the time. It is functional and comfortable, if a bit on the heavy side.

DD rail with a KAC rail section on top. Difference in length was a huge plus

The other minor change to the upper receiver is the new DD charging handle. Called the GRIP-N-RIP, it is fully ambi. It is beefed up from a mil spec model, with a rubbery type texture to the handle. It also has a an anti gas feature, which directs gasses away when using a suppressor. Not helpful on this model, but the charging handle is a nice upgrade.

Original Gangster as it gets

To fully complete the period feel, I had to put an EOTECH 512 on the rifle. This would be the double A model that was the SOF standard back then. I absolutely love this optic. I had one all through training, and in all my operational time in Special Forces. Not only was this door kicker optic of choice, but it wasn’t uncommon to see them on 50 cal machine guns, or even the Carl Gustav recoilless rifle. My Bravo taught me that one!

keeping it fed

I also reached out to our friends at Gun Mag Warehouse for period-correct magazines. While the SureFeed brand name is new, the magazines are made by Okay Industries. Which has been a military supplier for decades. As expected, they ran in the DD without so much as a hiccup.

Daniel Defense brand buttstock

The lower, as you can imagine, couldn’t be made to replicate the issue one. ATF something something class III. But DD did the best they could here. The safety is also ambi, and what I would call historically accurate as well. The right side is a full-size lever, with a big beefy screw holding it in place. I wouldn’t swear to it, but it looks a faithful recreation of the ones lefty’s would have used at the time of issue. The trigger is also mil-spec, which I don’t love. While it is also period correct to have that, most Daniel Defense rifles ship with a Geisselle. We did get those later, but while this upper was still the standard issue. Rounding out the package is Daniel Defense furniture, which I like enough to have bought and put on other guns in the past.

Accuracy testing with Accutac Bipod, Leupold MK5, and Hornady 75gr Match

What kind of accuracy do you expect from what is billed as a service rifle? I wasn’t quite sure how this was going to go. I remember the DD’s being WAY more accurate than the big Army uppers they replaced, but I couldn’t put a true measurement on that. I also know Daniel Defense barrels in their other guns to be insanely accurate. The M4V7 Pro I reviewed 4 years ago was so accurate as to be nearly unbelievable.  For the M4A1 model, I would have been happy with 1 MOA. That is still a high mark for an AR-15, and I thought maybe DD would have cheaped out a little on a “military-grade” model.

1/2 inch 5 round group

And I would have thought wrong. The M4A1 was incredibly accurate, just as good as any other DD rifle. Which is a high compliment. Apparently, when they cold hammer forge those barrels, they only make one grade. Excellence few others can match. My test gun turned in groups on par with any custom barrel you can make, and there may actually be more accuracy in this gun. I am still recovering from an injury, so I am shooting left-handed. And I did the accuracy testing with the mil-spec trigger and lower, no special fixed stock ringer to squeeze every millimeter of accuracy out.

Staggering 1/4th inch 3 round group

Using Hornady Match 75 Grain and a Leupold MK5, the M4A1 averaged ½ MOA. And it turned in a 3 round group that was right at 1/4th of an inch. I won’t BS you, I quit on that 3 round string because I was shocked to see them all touching in the scope. I should have gone for 5, but I knew my odds of tossing one with my current shooting status was high. But I would say it is a safe bet that is closer to the actual mechanical accuracy than the ½ MOA average. Which would make it exactly the same as the M4V7 Pro I tested 4 years ago, that gave a .27 when I was at full capacity. That is absolutely stunning accuracy from an AR-15, something you could only dream about 20 years ago.

All in all, this is an absolutely fantastic gun. I can’t even look at it without getting warm fuzzies remembering riding hot breeches all over Baghdad in the middle of the night. Or riding the skids of a Blackhawk on the way to go hand out some vengeance. This gun is an absolutely perfect tribute to the men who carried it, and all the stories they could tell. The M4A1 gets a highly recommend.

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About the author: Clay Martin is a former Marine and Green Beret, retiring out of 3rd Special Forces Group. He is a multi-decade and -service sniper, as well as 3-Gun competitor and Master ranked shooter in USPSA Production. In addition to writing about guns, he is the author of “Last Son of The War God,” a novel about shooting people that deserve it. You can also follow him on twitter, @offthe_res or his website, Off-The-Reservation.com

{ 37 comments… add one }
  • Peter Brown July 10, 2020, 2:52 pm

    I own a DD V11 and a DD5…couldn’t help it. Both have made this old shooter smile broadly many times. Plus, I felt like a rock star when taking the V11 to the range 1st time….yes, even photographs…guys asking to pose shooting it. Accurate? Smile how broadly? The V11 will produce a 5 shot group taken not in rapid fire though not slow at .291″.
    Important to note that I fired several manufacturer’s ammo in 77 grain. Everyone knows how important it is to find the feed your rifle likes.

  • BobW July 10, 2020, 2:20 pm

    Clay, I was with you 100% until I saw the non camouflaged flops! Great review bro.

    • Slim August 17, 2020, 5:01 am

      Think about the old days when men where REAL men, you NEVER saw a man’s feet! I know so many people that if they see a man in any kind of show that shows their feet they immediately don’t trust that supposed man. How can trust or take seriously a MAN WHEN YOU CAN SEE HIS TOES?! Also your holding the rifle in the hilariously funny picture where your all business up top and all beach day on the bottom as a lefty and at the same time you have your pistol on the right. So are you a lefty who carries his pistol inn the wrong side like I have never ever seen in my entire life, or are you just holding the rifle lefty, but are still a righty? Funniest pictures is of you lying down prone with your cute flops on and you with your toes curled up just to keep them from falling off! Real men never wear any type of show that shows their feet… Just FYI since nobody’s ever told you! And who likes dirty ass feet anyways which is all your get walking through the desert with flops on?! Also ANYONE who EVER wears camo and is not in the military AND on a military base or on a mission then there is ZERO reason to wear that SUPER LAME redneck wear to walk around the mall! Also your be wearing tan desert fatigues inn the desert since nothings green! Total fail!

  • Ken July 10, 2020, 12:34 pm

    Does it shoot the same 5.56 bullets as my old Bushmaster?

  • DAVID MILLER July 10, 2020, 7:01 am

    Please we are in same fight shake hands

  • Green tip July 7, 2020, 11:31 pm

    Thought the original Block II had the SOPMOD stock, the A2 grip & Troy’s fabulous folding steel BUIS…later the Geissele trigger? As for THE rifle, LOVE MY DD M4A1 as well. As fine a rifle/AR as there is. I have the older 553 EOTech on & it’s been spot-on since new (‘09). Great article on American-made craftsmanship by Marty Daniels. Not bad for someone who (like a few others) started in their garage…

  • Bill July 7, 2020, 2:41 am

    I train exclusively with silhouette targets, because that’s what we used while was in the military & law enforcement. If I were a target shooter only & used bullseye targets then I probably would now. Since I was training for possible confrontation with armed human beings, & continue to do so today, I use human shaped targets. As we were taught years ago…you train like you fight & fight like you train. I’m sure Clay remembers that esson well. I for damn sure do!

  • Gregory S. Heiny July 7, 2020, 1:43 am

    Nice article truly appreciate the love you showed your rifle. The Corps would be proud if they hadn’t disowned you when you became a Green Beret wearing Army Super Trooper.!!! Semper Fi

  • David Boerboom July 6, 2020, 6:29 pm

    It is physically impossible for me to lean a rifle on a wheel. Bad fieldcraft bro. I know it was just a picture pose. Still. Makes my skin crawl to this day.

    • Green tip March 23, 2021, 11:57 am

      Yeah, I hear ya. ME too…but it IS just a pic…right? THIS falls (almost) in the category of “do I CLEAN MY FIREARM AFTER A DAY OR TIME ON THE RANGE, or ahhh..just whenever. A LOT of people claim they “don’t have time”. THAT blows my mind. I look at ALL my firearms as INVESTMENTS..and for the most part, will be handed down (REALLY lucky/fortunate son & daughter!). Still, I wouldn’t do it and NO they’re NOT ‘safe queens’ even though I treat ‘em like they are sometimes..BY TAKING CARE OF THEM and feeding them a proper diet.

  • RONALD S HEACOCK July 6, 2020, 5:13 pm

    Mike-That’s bullshit. We are likely heading for a race war-better practice on what you can.

  • Edward T Curtis July 6, 2020, 4:33 pm

    We, the “RIGHT” look forward to the “LEFT” lives up to their name and we can refer to them as truly “LEFT”, like left the country before they ruin it completely.

    • Rattlerjake July 7, 2020, 12:39 am

      Like left the present and joined the past PERMANENTLY!

  • Pops July 6, 2020, 11:15 am

    Pander all you want, they have clearly stated their goal is to ban all guns anyways. The left doesn’t like you, never will. Trying to kiss up and use their words is how they win. As long as you treat all people with respect, be unapologetic about how you train or enjoy your hobby.

  • Sargintrock July 6, 2020, 9:38 am

    Most Excellent! Take two salt Tablets and drive on!

  • James Vogel July 6, 2020, 9:02 am

    Don’t us silhouettes for targets because it will offend liberals?

    PC stands for People Control.

    My rifle has one purpose, to stop criminals that threaten my life, my family’s lives, police, honest citizens or a tyrannical government.

    Some folks need to change their mindset. We need to stop being sheep and tell liberals to kindly kiss our ass. I will not apologize for my right to self defense.

    Stop being manipulated by the press.

    • Stan d. Upnow July 10, 2020, 10:57 am

      “Don’t us(sic) silhouettes for targets because it will offend liberals?”

      The public range in my former FL home area banned all silhouette targets. They even banned those zombie, killer clown, hostage taker, and –get this– printed animal targets. When I asked the range master wth is wrong with you people, he told me it was the County Board of Commissioners that did it.
      Checking who comprised that Board, I found out it was infested with Progressive-Socialists(formerly known as Democrats). No surprise there.

      • michael July 10, 2020, 2:26 pm

        And people allow this ?

        • Andy V December 5, 2020, 11:07 pm

          Yes, people allow this because the people are the ones who vote these idiots into office. You think banning the silhouettes is the only thing they’re shooting for? That’s just a start. Damn I hate liberal progressive-socialist pigs.

    • Peter Brown July 10, 2020, 2:42 pm

      ps is intellectual fascism.

  • JT July 6, 2020, 8:56 am

    By the way Clay, great column. DD guns are really a cut above. I live in Savannah just a short 15 minute or so ride to the DD factory in Black Creek. It’s one of our local treasures. We have two DD rifles in our family and they are everything that you claim they are.

    I served in 3d SFG also, many years ago and not long after it had been reactivated. It consisted of Group HQ, 1st Bn, and activation cells for 2d and 3d Bn. COL Pete Stankovich was my first group commander and COL (later LTG) Phil Kensinger was my second. Long time ago in the early 90’s. Nice to see a guy from the 3d herd doing well and nationally recognized, despite your earlier affiliation with the Marine Corps. Hahaha. 😏 Take care.

  • Stan Karamol July 6, 2020, 5:39 am

    My first tour to Iraq I bought the NVC Eotech along with several other parts to enhance my M4. I was furtenet the unit I was with let us make mods to our rifles. The trigger was on of the other items I replaced.

  • Mike Cornett July 6, 2020, 4:30 am

    To the guys and gals that buy these types of firearms.
    Just remember…….This is a sport….a hobby……You are not going to war.
    Keep your testosterone in check….I’m just saying.
    I collect vintage military firearms….So, we all have our thing.
    Don’t use the word ‘Sniper’. Call it ‘long range shooting’.
    Unless your a cop, don’t use human target Silhouettes at the range.
    Lets don’t make trouble for ourselves and give the anti-gun lobby any more ideas.

    • ODonnell, JOHN J July 6, 2020, 7:14 am

      It doesn’t matter, they are coming for them if you sugar coat it or not. I say talk Tactical be Tactical!!! BB guns to BMG’s they want it all gone regardless, it’s thier major tool to control us.
      Educate and eradicate at the ballot box!!!!

      • Marion July 6, 2020, 8:54 am

        Amen brother. The civil war HAS started. Bring it on. Choose sides. Choose wisely. Semper Fi!

    • JT July 6, 2020, 8:00 am

      Mike, if you think that hiding in your closet and choosing your words so as to not offend the perpetually triggered is going to make the anti-freedom/anti-Constitution gun control crowd like you or any less rabid you’re deluding yourself. There is nothing wrong with using human silhouette targets or calling long range shooting sniping. Stop hiding and step out into the sunlight and exercise your freedom of speech as well as 2nd Amendment freedoms without your tail curled between your legs. Watching you grovel in the corner hoping to go unnoticed is unseemly and painful.

      I’m a cop and a retired Soldier and there is nothing wrong with people training or preparing for the unthinkable, whether criminal thug or external threat to the nation. Use human silhouette targets if you like. Or not. That’s what freedom is about…choice. Breathe that free air and stop lecturing other free Americans about how to enjoy their freedoms. It’s not your call.

    • Erick July 6, 2020, 8:43 am

      When it comes to democrats having a say with firearms or any act of freedom thats not by a leftist, if you give them an inch theyll take a mile. You allowing your language to be oppress is just a first step. Do your really want to be lead and cowed by people who just hear you say the word “snipe” or use a human silhouette and want to prosecute you or label you a murderer? Stand up for common since and American freedom bub

    • Jack Neuber July 6, 2020, 8:45 am

      Well said…I would add to include for our manufactures of weapons and shooting supplies stop with the fully camouflaged military looking advertisements. It makes it look like it is the assault weapon the anti 2A/anti gunners like to say shouldn’t be available to the civilian world.

    • Michael R Stuhr July 6, 2020, 10:48 am

      Why would you pander to a group who have no respect for your rights? Regardless what you do, they will still want to disarm you. They find it harder to get a dick in you while you are armed and kissing their butts won’t help a thing.
      I bet there is a market for ANTIFA member targets.

    • ed wong July 6, 2020, 8:58 pm


      also don’t use the word “your” like “unless your a cop…”

      it’s “you’re” for you are, and not “your,” for this is your shirt.


    • Rattlerjake July 7, 2020, 12:52 am

      Oh STFU and go back to your mommy’s basement. REMFs like you need to sugar-coat everything.

    • Shan July 7, 2020, 3:47 pm

      Do you collect fully semi auto machine guns? With high capacity clips? Yeah you know.

    • Kyle July 7, 2020, 6:49 pm

      I see where you are going with the critiquing arm chair commandos and trying to tip toe through the tulips with the p.c. language like hobby collector and sport plinker and all that, but you realize your post trashes both the 1st and 2nd Amendments. Number 1 call it what ever you want to call it. Its your right to call it a long range human hole making machine if you want and NO police arent the only people allowed to defend themselves against human shaped objects that can kill you i.e. other people. So I would practice what you may however unlikely have to shoot someday. Unless you fear concentric circles,clay disks, and beverage containers

    • Stan d. Upnow July 10, 2020, 11:10 am

      You obviously haven’t been paying attention for the last few DECADES, Mike!
      The Left is relentless in fulfilling their goals. One of those goals is the complete disarming of the populace before instituting totalitarian control. The rioting/looting/desecration we’ve seen in recent years has gotten much worse. It’s a test to see if there would be resistance. There has been little to none. Why do you think the areas hardest hit have Democrat governors & mayors?

      Your suggestion to pander to them in PC fashion is exactly what they want. Next, you’ll be “taking a knee” and joining the subversive Marxist traitors in BLM & Antifa. Good luck with that.

    • Andy V December 5, 2020, 11:13 pm

      Liberals want freedom – for themselves but not us. They’re hypocrites and are the whiney little brats in school that if they don’t get their way, call names, throw a tantrum, lie and then eventually become bullies. Are we going to sit in the corner and let them have their way or fight back?

  • Ricky B. July 5, 2020, 3:16 pm

    This is the 2nd week in a row you’ve covered one of the finest guns in my safe. The FNX tactical last week & the Daniel Defense M4 this week. I think my Patriot Ordnance Factory P308 may be the only other rifle I own that’s comperable to the quality of my Daniel Defense M4… Rest in peace Frank Desomma!

    • Stan d. Upnow July 10, 2020, 11:32 am

      Safes give you a false sense of security, Ricky.
      A guy I met told me his story about that.
      He & the wife bought a new house. Before they moved all their stuff in, he had his large gun safe installed and transferred all his precious FA’s. Well, shortly after came moving day. Arriving at the house, he was aghast to find the safe Gone! It had been bolted to the concrete slab.
      Lesson: If they want it, they can take it; regardless.

      Another tale from a career burglar interviewed in prison: He said he always heads first to the master BR, because that’s where all the home safes usually are. He’s after cash, jewelry, & guns. If the safe is one that can’t easily be “cracked,” he comes back on a later day with help and tools to remove the entire safe.
      Lesson: A professional criminal knows all the tricks and ins-and-outs. They’re 3-steps ahead of the average person.
      (btw, he said the best deterrent is a large, aggressive dog)

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