DPMS has been building both AR-10 and AR-15 pattern rifles for a long time. You’d have to figure they’d be good at it, although to be entirely honest, their reputation took a beating for a few years. The advent of the educated AR-15 consumer, spurred in large part by Rob Sloyer’s now famous (or infamous) M4 chart, resulted in widespread rejection of ARs from many well-known manufacturers who used unknown barrel steels, or mismatched feed ramps, incorrect front sight towers, or poorly staked gas keys. DPMS had, despite their lengthy history with the AR platform, grown lazy with regards to manufacturing processes and penny-pinching in regards to componentry, and this new breed of discerning rifle buyer punished them for it.
The period immediately following that shift in consumer education levels was rough, but the end result for manufacturers was undeniable: everyone had to get better. And for consumers, the windfall was spectacular. Within a few years, even the people who’d been putting out barely acceptable guns were building rifles which rarely needed more than a quick once-over by an experienced hand. By 2012, the golden age of AR-pattern rifles had begun.
But let’s go back a few years. At the close of 2007, founder Randy Luth sold DPMS Panther Arms, a machining company originally created to produce parts for military contracts, but which had branched into complete rifles for the civilian market and specialized in the AR-15’s bigger brother, the .30 calibre AR-10. The buyer was Freedom Group, the same conglomerate that today owns Marlin, Remington and Bushmaster, among many other brands, and is now known as the Remington Outdoor Company.
The downside to this change of ownership is that much of the contro l began to reside in the hands of investors who expected the parent company, Cerberus Group, to make short term profits, and it’s very easy to explain the period of limited quality control procedures and inattentiveness to detail from which DPMS rifles suffered by a devotion to making quick capital gains.
The upside is that when Remington Outdoor did recognize a change in the marketplace, the capital was on hand to finance some serious research and development, and to fund significant changes at DPMS.
The Original and Still the Best
The Armalite Rifle 10, or AR-10, was engineering genius Eugene Stoner’s first truly successful design, although it saw limited production for much of its existence. A 7.62x51mm (essentially the NATO designation of .308 Winchester) battle rifle with a recoil system perfectly in line with the barrel and made out of aluminum and polymer, the AR-10 competed for a spot as the American military’s general issue rifle, but the issues suffered by the early prototypes used during the testing process were sufficiently problematic that it lost out to what would become known as the M14, a great battle rifle in its own right but old technology, based very closely on its predecessor the M1 Garand. By comparison the AR-10 is positively space-age.
Although the AR-10 lost out in that round of military trials, it was licensed to a Dutch firm which produced it for military contracts outside of the United States, and the rifle performed well. Most significantly, it became the basis for the scaled-down AR-15, which, having been first adopted in the form of the M16 rifle and later the M4 carbine by the US military, is now the most popular rifle among NATO forces.
Meanwhile, with the world’s focus almost entirely on its younger brother, the AR-10 began to make a quiet comeback. Despite the massive success of the AR-15, most particularly in the close-range jungle and house-to-house fighting encountered in Vietnam and the cities of Iraq respectively, there was no question that a heavier, longer range rifle would have useful applications, and this became abundantly clear in the open spaces of Afghanistan, and the ranging, empty deserts of Iraq.
The early days of open country fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan saw retrofitted M14s being pressed back into service, and they certainly could be used to great effect. But the modernization of the AR-10 was inevitable. For troops thoroughly experienced with the AR-15, the 10 was a perfect fit, it was brought back in accurized versions as a longer range rifle suited for sustained precision fire.
So we come back to DPMS, who had never given up on the mighty .308. For years, they were building AR-10s to varying specification using their own magazines and according to their own preferences. These rifles were often unusually accurate, but found detractors who remained skeptical of their use of extruded 6061 receivers and unknown parts suppliers.
Then, as military use of AR-10 class rifles such as Lewis Machine and Tool’s Modular Weapons System and the Knights Armament SR-25 took off, buyers began to search out similar platforms. The market evolved again, and suddenly the market for DPMS AR-10s began to expand. DPMS platforms such as the SASS and Oracle gained some traction, but further refinements were in the works, and finally the research and development funding made available through the Remington Outdoor could be put to serious use.
DPMS GII: The Next Generation
Perhaps most noticeable are the dimensions and weight of the DPMS GII rifles. The new upper is far more similar to an AR-15’s, with reduced height, length, and mass, duplicating the AR-15’s dimensions from the magazine well back. In fact, the dimensions have been sufficiently altered to make compatibility with many 5.56mm handguards possible as well. The new uppers are also now made from standard mil-spec forged 7075, which should put some minds at ease.
Even the lower receiver reflects some fresh ideas. Some are obvious, like the flared magazine well for easier reloads. Others are less apparent until you compare the GII to an older model, and to an AR-15. The new DPMS GII lower receiver puts the magazine release exactly the same distance from the rear of the receiver as an AR-15, and the upper puts the top of the rail the same distance from the grip, all of which makes this .308 “feel” more like a .223.
All in all, the rifles feel smaller, and weigh less, than any DPMS AR-10 we’ve seen. The weight of our DPMS GII Recon model tester (itself not the lightest of the bunch) was less than two pounds greater than our similarly equipped .223 reference gun, a Bravo Company Recce-16. The lightest models weigh 7.25 pounds; slightly lighter than Canada’s own C7 military rifle.
But aside from the feel, one of the genuinely objective advantages is that the buyer can take advantage of the massive AR-15 aftermarket. AR-15 grips will fit, AR-15 triggers will fit,AR-15 buffer tubes and therefore stocks will fit…you get the idea. This offsets one of the more frustrating aspects of past renditions of the AR-10: every company has built them to their own specifications. By adopting AR-15 specs, the GII manages to solve one of the classic impossible problems: offer a new, universal standard that doesn’t simply become yet another option in a sea of competing designs.
Inside the rifle, the changes get really interesting. The bolt carrier is a lighter weight monolithic design which incorporates the gas key right into the forging that is the absolute last word on staking gas key bolts: no bolts, no separate gas key, no failures.
The extractor spring, traditionally a weak point on AR-15s which has been addressed with various springs and, perhaps most famously, with the Crane O-ring to enhance the performance of the tiny yet critical part, has been replaced with a puck of proprietary elastomer on which Freedom Group will not release details, except to say that they developed it themselves at exorbitant cost, they’ve tested it in temperature extremes to absurd numbers of cycles, and they don’t think you’ll be able to shoot one to failure no matter what your ammo budget is.
While we’re in the bolt, it’s worth mentioning the twin ejectors, which DPMS claims will not only enhance reliability in the short term but reduce strain on individual ejectors, thus leading to greater durability in the long term. The ejection port itself has been enlarged to further enhance the extraction/ejection cycle. Just ahead of the bolt, the DPMS GII sports an integral steel feed ramp pressed into the receiver itself, allowing for a simpler, lighter barrel extension. That integral ramp is part of the formula for shrinking the dimensions of the upper, and from what we’ve seen, it works.
Overall, the GII is jam-packed with ideas. It’s too new to know for sure if DPMS got everything right, but the one thing we absolutely confident about was the fact that we were itching to shoot it.
Shooting the DPMS GII
Over the course of a couple of days, we put everything from Chinese surplus ammo to Barnaul to Federal bulk to full-on Hornady Match through the Recon.
Without exception, this rifle is extraordinarily accurate. While naturally it gets peak performance with match ammo, even cheap surplus shot to what we suspect are very nearly the theoretical limits of the ammunition itself. Expect that quality ammunition will very likely produce groups at or below one minute of angle on the range, not just on the internet.
We weren’t able to discover any combinations of ammunition and magazines it rejected, either. Every shot fed and extracted not only without issue, but the extraction cycle was extremely positive. Lacquer coated steel-cased ammunition, which can make new chambers in particular quite sticky after a couple hundred rounds, did not seem to slow the DPMS GII at all.
Ejection was impressively stable and predictable; this is important because in any system, reducing variables is the key to repeatability, and repeatability is reliability. If a machine can be made to perform tasks like case ejection in exactly the same way every time, then the variables surrounding that task have been reduced significantly. The Recon threw its cases almost horizontally to 4 o’clock, twenty feet away, with rocklike predictability. That’s a good sign.
Of course it wouldn’t be a gun review if we didn’t find something to complain about, and in the case of the GII, it’s the charging handle… or rather the buffer spring behind it. Substantially stronger than an AR-15 spring, the small handle of the GI-spec charging handle is hard to work, and everyone who shot the Recon commented on the stiffness of the action.The upside to DPMS’s decision to use a standard charging handle is that you can replace it with whatever upgrade you like, quickly and easily and relatively inexpensively. But you will almost certainly want to replace it.
The other issue we encountered didn’t crop up immediately, and that was corrosion. The heavy 416 stainless barrel, while superbly accurate, showed faint traces of rust within 24 hours of shooting it. That’s hardly a deal breaker, but we had the barrel fairly warm and didn’t handle it at all, so the corrosion was purely from atmospheric moisture, of which there was plenty at the range during testing. But if you’re contemplating a DPMS GII Recon or GII Bull, don’t go into it thinking you won’t need to oil your barrel. You will. To be fair, 416 stainless is selected for accuracy, not specifically for extreme corrosion resistance.
There is one other step which the user should take on receiving a DPMS GII: the castle nut should be staked to prevent it backing off. This is a minor detail which can be resolved in seconds, but in the future, we’d like to see DPMS make sure that all the staking that can be done, even with the gas key concerns obviated by monolithic bolt carriers, gets done at the factory, not on the workbenches of consumers.
Those minor quirks aside, we’ll be happy to see these end up in safes and on ranges across Canada, because they shoot extremely well. The trigger is short and crisp, with just enough pre-travel to let you get your head in the game. The recoil impulse is solid but not objectionable, and the provided Magpul MOE stock and grip are both functional and practical. Continuing with the Magpul theme, MBUS backup sights are provided with the rifle, although most users will definitely want to mount quality magnified optics in order to get the most out of the Recon.
The muzzle device, interestingly, is another area in which DPMS has benefited from its association with Remington Outdoors: they have access to Advanced Armament Corporation equipment.
Sadly, in Canada, the muzzle device will only fulfil half of its intended role for the time being: it’s the Advanced Armament Corporation 51T Blackout, which means that it’s a flash hider threaded for an AAC suppressor. The Blackout is a quality prong-type flash hider, and certainly we felt no need to trade it in for a muzzle brake: the recoil is just not severe enough to warrant a brake. But we’d like to one day see shooters in this country having the option of mounting a suppressor for the same reasons hunters do in the Scandinavian countries: to reduce the fairly severe sound blast of the rifle before hearing damage sets in from long term use.
Internally, the rifle looks exactly as you’d hope and expect: the machining is clean and the surfaces and finish are quality work throughout. Across the board, the appearance is that of a well-finished rifle with plenty of care taken in execution. It’s a machine to be proud of, and could be expected to perform admirably as a heavy plinker, a competitive Service Rifle platform, or, in a more rational world, an intermediate range hunting rifle. DPMS even makes a beautiful carbon fibre-adorned hunting-specific variant of the DPMS GII.
Overall, if you’re in the market for a heavy duty range tool in .308 Winchester, you’ll have a hard time doing much better than this. We’re impressed.