By Kenn Blanchard
When I pulled the Daniel Defense M4 V9 (DDM4V9) out of its black plastic case, I had a flashback. Inside was a 5.56mm carbine and a 30 round magazine. While this black rifle was shorter than the M16A1 I was issued during the “second phase” of basic training at Marine Recruit Depot Parris Island (way back in 1980), it was familiar enough. The DDM4V9 has the quintessential AR-15 at its core, but it is fashioned like something just back from a gunsmith, almost ready for competition. The Daniel Defense is a formidable rifle capable of serious multitasking, and it’s what Marine infantrymen 30 years ago dreamed they would have been issued.
If you cut your teeth on a longer AR platform, like the M16A1 (which has a 20-inch barrel), the DDM4V9 with its 16-inch barrel (and any other carbine-length AR) may feel a bit short. In a world dominated by ubiquitous M4 clones, the Daniel Defense, at first glance, should be familiar enough. The entire rifle compacts down to 32.5 inches. With the stock extended, the rifle is just under 36 inches. The stock itself is glass-filled polymer and has “Soft Touch Overmolding,” which are the sections that adorn the grip, forend and stock that have the DD logo. They actually do feel softer than the average AR furniture and help cushion the blow of recoil. The bottom end of the stock has a curved surface that acts as a perfect rocker for shooters who shoulder their stocks in the low ready position. As such, the DDM4V9 is an ideal rifle for those who are using a single point sling (and it even has built in QD mounts in the stock and at the rear of the receiver). While this may seem like a small thing, it decreases the time it takes to get the gun on target. Any advantage, no matter how small, may make the difference.
The government-profile barrel is 16 inches, chrome lined, MP tested, and mil-spec heavy phosphate coated. It is also cold hammer forged. This process is seen by many as an over-the-top extra and a commitment to quality. A tube of steel is fitted over a mandrel, a negative image of the bore, and a series of hammers beats the barrel down around the mandrel creating the bore diameter and rifling. This doesn’t cut steel away to make the lands and grooves, but compresses the steel. It makes a stronger and denser barrel. And rather than dimpling or fluting the barrel, Daniel Defense leaves the complete government profile.
The hand guard on the DDM4V9 is a 15” DDM4 Rail in hard anodized aluminum. The quad rails allow the owner to affix all kinds of extras: optics, laser pointers, night vision, a bipod, etc. It is really quite a lot of real estate. If you like to put your left hand way up close to the muzzle and pull your rifle to your chest, this is the guard for you. Because the forend is free-floated, it isn’t going to get as hot during those prolonged shooting sessions. And you’ll never find yourself wanting any more rail space, guaranteed. The rails are oriented at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock, respectively.
One noticeable addition to the DDMM4V9 is the oversized trigger guard. The bend in the guard allows for larger fingers, or gloved fingers, to fit easily inside the guard. The trigger itself breaks clean, and has very little travel. Compared to average AR triggers, this one feels more like a custom job. It snaps with 5.1 pounds of pressure, which many would consider reasonable for a rifle designed for CQB. As triggers are one of the many modular pieces of the AR platform, those who are looking for long-range accuracy may want to explore options for lighter triggers.
The DDM4V9 doesn’t come with fixed sights, so I used a set of flip up, Troy Industries sights for the evaluation. Irons on a rifle with this much rail are even more effective, as the front sight is farther out from where a traditional sight post/gas block would sit. At the end of the barrel, just an inch beyond the end of the rail, sits a stainless steel, salt bath nitride finished flash suppressor to crown the thing. Underneath the hand guard, a vertical grip (made out of the same comfortable stuff as the stock) allows for even more hold options. The entire rifle weighs about 6.5 pounds without the magazine. It looks like it would be heavier, but Daniel Defense has machined out a lot of the weight that would otherwise weigh down the hand guard. The DDM4V9 is still an AR, so take-down and cleaning is as easy as it is with any AR-15. There are no strange pins or procedures you have to do to do a function check, clean it, or put it into operation.
The internal workings of the DDM4V9 feature a pinned low-profile, mid-length, direct impingement gas system. The bolt carrier group is the M16 profile. While these are not the fanciest options available for the AR-15, they’re a fine place to start.
The DDM4V9 is a semi-automatic, 5.56mm NATO. And that was pretty much where the similarities ended with the M16A1 rifle I first fired in Corps. With so many AR pattern rifles on the market, it is easy enough to see that Daniel Defense is a big cut above average. It makes premium rifles. There is no play or excessive rattle on this firearm. The fit and finish are excellent, and just what you would expect from an AR with an MSRP of $1,689.
As this was my first date with the DDM4V9, I kept things casual. Up close and personal. Shooting the DDM4V9 was as easy and predictable as you’d expect from a gun from Daniel Defense. After pulling it out of the box, I checked the barrel and bolt assembly group, and gave it a light cleaning. It was good to go. I gave it a function check, packed it up in the case and proceeded to the range. The first indoor range I took it to was almost empty, so I took my time and practiced shouldering the gun. After getting it zeroed, I shot it from several different positions during this test. First was from a bench position, then canted, then quickly point shooting. Shooting it outdoors would have given me a little more versatility for this introduction, but it was snowing at the time of this first test and most ranges were a mess.
The ergonomics of the vertical grip are a lot more comfortable for me than a forward grip on the aluminum quad rails, and it kept me from tucking up with my support hand on the magazine well. Overall, the gun is very well balanced. Its light weight keeps it from over-travel, even when I’m swinging through multiple targets. After reloading the 30-round magazine, I positioned a clean target at the end of the 50-yard range and squeezed off a couple. This is definitely a close quarter battle rifle, though its potential could extend well beyond 200 yards with the right optic, farther with a good scope. As it is, shooting from a standing position, the DDM4V9 is far more capable than I am as a shooter.
I used Independence, 55-grain FMJ ammunition I bought at the range. At the time, it was the only kind they had and the only kind you could use in their facility, but it worked well and there were no issues with feeding or extraction. Not sure if it was the acoustics of the range, or a combination of all the factors, but the blast sounded different. On an inside range, the 5.56 has a deeper thud, like a larger caliber, but without the recoil. As much as I shoot more modern, tricked out ARs, I’m still used to the rigidity of the M16 A1. I realize now that this officially makes me “old school.”
The DDM4V9 is a tack driver. I systematically put in ten rounds in a nice group. Shooting from a standing position, I could repeat fist size groups at 50 yards with very little effort. After working out the irons, I switched over to an Aimpoint Pro. With the Aimpoint dialed in, you could cover the group with a quarter.
The second time out with the DDM4V9, I shot at an outdoor range and blew through a lot more ammo. I shot different versions of Federal 55-grain 5.56 FMJ that produced identical results. There was no change in accuracy or reliability with the American Eagle brand either. Fifty-yard groups still held in the one to three-inch range. What I did notice was the cost of the different ammo. It was an expensive day. Overall, the carbine just worked. It didn’t matter what you put into it. The Daniel Defense lived up to the hype. We’ve got some nice glass inbound that will allow us to really stretch out the DDM4V9’s capabilities, so stay tuned for some long-range follow up.
As for the rest of the function test, we were pleased. Across the board. When the magazines do run dry, they fall clear of the mag well. For those who regularly use and abuse polymer magazines, this isn’t always the case. An aggressive scuff on the top end of a magazine can burr the polymer just enough that it drags in the well and doesn’t drop free. Aluminum and steel mags don’t have that problem, usually. Even without the quick wrist-snap mag-drop motion, all of my magazines dropped free of the flared well.
Daniel Defense is a relatively new company (at least when compared to Armalite and Colt). The company started out just selling accessories for the AR platform, like rails and accouterments for modular rifles, before making its own line of rifles. For such a relatively young company, Daniel Defense seems to have mastered quality control. I had absolutely no problems with this DDM4V9, yet that’s not always the case with some rifles (even some AR-15s). Some have issues feeding or ejecting. Others will be over-gassed. Not the DDM4V9. So I called the tech support branch of the company to see if there were others reporting problems with this rifle or any information I could glean, but there was none. The tech caught on to what I was trying to do after awhile and referred me to media relations. I didn’t want that, but appreciated the courtesy. On the whole, everyone I spoke with at Daniel Defense was receptive and helpful. It isn’t always that way, either.
The M16A1 I shot back in the day wasn’t made of CNC machined parts that fit together like the gears of a watch. I think the modern M4 carbines are more suited for civilian, military and law enforcement use than the older versions. The DDm4V9’s maneuverability is a big plus. You can mount this rifle into your shoulder quickly. All the controls work and are right where they should be. It’s still an AR. But it is more than that, too. The DDM4V9 should satisfy the needs of modern shooters for tactical and defensive applications, if they can legally obtain one in their state of residence. There are too many states that won’t even allow it to be sold. The DDM4V9 runs afoul of Maryland’s latest impenetrable legislative abomination (SB 281), for example. And it shouldn’t be that way.
To me, the Daniel Defense M4V9 is the kind of gun you take to show off to your friends. Take a look at the message boards and forums. You’ll find legions of diehard Daniel Defense fans. Even though the rifle may be too expensive for some, new younger shooters especially, the brand has a loyal following that would remain loyal at any price point.
And it is an investment. By the time you buy an entry level AR and slowly trick it out with modifications that Daniel Defense includes in this stock version, the price tag will climb and you’ll lose the volume discounts that allow Daniel Defense to bring a rifle like this to market at this price. The DDM4V9 has everything you would need to compete or protect yourself, out of the box (or it will once you put whatever type of sights you want to use on it). And it is a great platform to build on. The DDM4V9 works. It runs like a thoroughbred racehorse. For the serious shooter or the novice, you can’t wrong with this one.