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I have always thought that the .223 has some serious limitations. Among these weaknesses are the bullet weight, energy and effective range. I am certainly not a hater of the .223; I own several and have launched the round from almost every variant of the platform. For close range, low recoil, manageable weight, availability of ammo… nothing beats the .223. It works–that’s not what I’m here to debate.
But what if you want more effective terminal ballistics, or a round that hits hard at extended ranges? What then? The shortcomings of the .223 are easy to see. In times like these, we reach for something bigger.
What I have tried
Throughout my Quest for the Perfect Semi-Auto rifle, I have tried out many different calibers, including the .30 Remington AR, .450 Bushmaster, 300 AAC Blackout, 7.62X39 and the .308 Winchester. In the rifle platform, I have sized up examples of the AR 10s, HK91 and the FN-FAL. These are all guns that I have owned throughout my Quest, without tallying up the guns I have rented or borrowed from friends.
Part of the dilemma is the round itself. Once you have an idea of what you want the round to do, then choosing a rifle should be a bit easier. The .450 is still obscure. Even .300 AAC can be hard to find at times. The .7.62 x 39 lacks range–but the .308 seems like a contender that’s here to stay. Like the .223, the .308 is readily available. There are countless variants. Ammo is cheap. Match grade ammo is easy to find. The .308 is devastating at close range, and longer ranges too. The only drawback I can see is the weight of the individual rounds (when compared to the svelte .223). Because of the weight, the battle rifle concept typically trades volume of fire for extended range.
The next gun in the gauntlet is the FN SCAR® 17S. This rifle is the civilian version of the SCAR-H, Mk 17 Mod 0, and it was developed for the Special Operations Forces. There were 2 versions developed: the Light (.223) and the Heavy (308 Winchester).
The SCAR 17S is a relatively large platform, which is to be expected with a .308 Winchester round. This rifle is not huge by any means, but it feels big when compared to a .223. It is also a piston-driven gun with a reciprocating charging handle, which eliminates the need for a forward assist. It comes with rails on all four sides of the gun, and flip-up sights are standard.
FN SCAR® 17S Special operations forces Combat Assault Rifle
- Caliber: 7.62x51mm
- Twist Rate: 1 in 12″
- Barrel Length: 16.25″
- Overall Length: 28.5” to 38.5” (folding closable stock)
- Weight: 8.0 lbs. empty
- Ammunition Capacity: 10 or 20-round detachable box magazine
- Price–somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,800
What I like
There is no shortage of things to like about this rifle. I enjoy the stock, which features a telescoping side-folding polymer construction with an adjustable cheek piece. This is the only factory rifle I am aware of that has this kind of stock, and it works for me without issue. Although it feels a bit clunky compared to some of the others out on the aftermarket today, I cannot say that it lacks in performance.
This rifle has the standard A2 grip you would expect on most other rifles in its class. Operating controls (except the bolt catch, which is only on the left) are ambidextrous; in this day and age ambidextrous controls should be the standard. This benefits not only the left-hand-dominant shooter, but the cross-eye-dominant and CQB shooter as well.
Even the charging handle may be mounted on the right or left side, which could be important as the handle reciprocates with the bolt. But the handle on the SCAR is so much easier to use than the charging handles on AR style rifles. The forward placement is easy to find.
I also appreciate that the enlarged trigger guard has enough room for gloved fingers. Just about everything on the SCAR 17 is sized up, yet it can still be compacted with the help of the folding stock.
Because of the SCAR 17S’s design, the top rail is a single piece that runs the length of the rifle. This makes it is easy to mount optics, and prevents issues with multi-rail alignment. You can throw on scout scopes, red dots, or (if you want to open it up) any type of magnified optic.
The gun seems to be soft-shooting for a .308 Winchester. I don’t know if this is due to the muzzle break, piston design, plastic parts that absorb the recoil, or a combination of one or more of those features. I do know that this gun shoots soft and fast, and is great for CQB work. I am running a Burris XTR II 1×5 power scope, and with the magnification set to 1 Power, this gun is nimble and fun to shoot.
The piston system keeps most of the gases out of the chamber. This means the gun runs clean, especially when compared to a direct impingement rifle.
As I mentioned above, the stock folds. While that may seem odd for a rifle with a barrel this long, it is a useful feature. The folding stock makes getting the gun into and out of a vehicle much easier. And if it were to be combined with an even shorter barrel, this beastly gun would be even more effective for close quarters.
What I do not Like
I demand one quality above all others from any rifle I keep around: accuracy. This SCAR 17S is, at best, only capable of a 2 inch grouping at 100 yards. This simply does not meet the standard of what I have expect of a service rifle. I have not been able to find a round that this SCAR will spit out in a consistent manner. I had plans to run the gun out to at least 300 yards to get a feel for it, but this accuracy problem has not improved sufficiently for me to do so.
I will add that I am not the only person that has shot this rifle during my testing, and this mediocre accuracy has been consistent across the course of multiple days. My testing has been conducted using a Caldwell lead sled to steady the rifle, atop a concrete shooting bench with a quality optic. Try as I might, I cannot convince this rifle to live up to the potential of the .308 Winchester or the 7.62 x 51 round.
Is the rifle capable of more? Of course.The gun’s barrel has the potential. It is hammer-forged, chrome-lined, and fully free-floated. And we know FNH can make tack drivers. To begin with, I’d suggest a trigger upgrade. This trigger has no take-up, but it begins to move with 5-6 pounds of pressure. Then it creeps a bit before breaking.
Some of the SCAR aficionados out there are ringing 1 MOA out of their guns with upgrades to the triggers. After that, you would want to test as many varieties of ammo as you can. Bullet shapes. Grain weights. Powder loads. Find that perfect match for the gun.
The rest of the SCAR
This gun comes with adjustable folding front, and folding/removable rear iron sights. Practically-speaking, this means that the rear sight is removable and folds, and the front sight folds but is not easily replaced. The front sight has a full hood, which offers rugged protection, but makes it slow for me to pick up. If I were keeping this rifle, I would cut the top off of the hood to speed up target acquisition.
The rear sight is most-similar to the Lyman Tang Peep Sight found on a Winchester lever-action. There are other sights available, but most will rely on optics anyhow. As back-up sights, the ones included on the gun are certainly sufficient.
This gun is made in Belgium, which causes the rifle to fall under control of the pesky 922(R) law. FNH USA receives the “gun” and then changes out parts to achieve 922(R) compliance. Following this exercise, they can modify the lower receivers to take “high-capacity” magazines. This method adds cost with no additional value, which is especially odd when you consider that FNH produces the same basic gun in the USA for the military.
There was one other issue that bears mentioning. Somewhere during the review process, my editor lost the magazine for this gun. I tried to convince him that it doesn’t work very well without it, but he won’t listen. I cannot find a magazine for this gun locally, and have instead been using a plastic aftermarket knock-off (which, to be fair, works perfectly). If you run a SCAR, you need to be aware of the expense associated with buying extra mags.
The Bottom Line
Out of the box, I would place the SCAR 17S in the middle of the pack for a .308 battle rifle. How well will it perform with some upgrades and serious attempts at ammo matching? That would be the next step. But good triggers cost good money, and the SCAR isn’t inexpensive. The initial investment (somewhere in the ballpark of $2.8k) will keep it out of most people’s hands.
When this rifle was introduced in 2007 it was a big deal. In 2015? It is still a big deal, but it has big competition from much older platforms that have leveled the playing field through continuous upgrades. Could it be the SCAR needs some upgrades, too?
There are a couple of ways in which the SCAR still excels. The folding stock makes it a more compact than the competition. The weight (8 pounds empty) is manageable, and significant for anyone who might need to schlep a .308 for any real distance. And the gun kicks ass at close quarters. The gun can be manipulated quickly, which is a distinct advantage it has over some of the competition. The accuracy is sufficient at 100 yards, and still reliable out to 200. The accuracy isn’t going to be competitive in old-fashioned paper-punching competitions, but if you are just ringing steel (or ringing someone’s bell), the SCAR will get the job done.