Almost Rifles: The ATRS Modern Sporter vs M+M M10X

One of the strange vagaries of the Canadian firearms act is the manner in which it incentivizes innovation. While other jurisdictions can lean on existing firearm designs that have naturally risen to the top based on the merits of their design, such as those created by Eugene Stoner and Mikhail Kalashnikov, the restricted and prohibited status of those gentlemen’s best known designs (respectively) has naturally led to the creation of guns that build off those successes… but do so in unique ways so as to avoid being classified as variants of their predecessors. The Alberta Tactical Rifle Supply Modern Sporter and M+M’s M10x are two of the best examples of this phenomenon.

The ATRS Modern Sporter

Modern SporterAlberta Tactical Rifle Supply is no stranger to the weird and wacky world of non-restricted rifles. Their Modern Hunter practically gave birth to what’s become a burgeoning market for brands like Black Creek Labs, Stag, and Macabee Defense: The almost-an-AR-but-not-quite market.

Modern SporterFor those unfamiliar, the AR-15 is classified by name as a restricted firearm. This means that there is no inherent design feature nor attribute that makes it restricted; it simply is. But due to its dominance of the firearms market globally, there’s a lot of Canadians that want, for all intents and purposes, an AR-15 without the hassle of restricted gun ownership. Which brings us back to the aforementioned almost-an-AR-but-not-quite market.

Modern SporterThe Modern Sporter’s take on the platform involves unique upper and lower receivers that are different from the conventional two-pin setup the AR uses insofar as they still use two pins, and the front take-down pin is almost identical to an AR, but the rear pin is captive. So, instead of removing the rear pin and hinging the gun at the front pin (as one does with an AR), the captive front takedown pin is removed, and the upper receiver slid forward to allow the hook-shaped rear receiver lug to disengage with the rear pin. Interestingly, the front take-down pin hole is also bored slightly off center, making it impossible to remove the rear take-down pin and hinge the upper and lower around the front pin. Likewise, the joint between the upper and lower receivers around the buffer is slightly rearward compared to a standard AR-15, so when the lower receiver is separated the top of the buffer is slightly exposed. This causes the bolt and buffer to interfere with one another if the upper is dropped onto the lower, preventing conventional assembly and requiring that the upper receiver is slid backwards onto the lower so the bolt can slightly depress the buffer.

Modern SporterAvailable as a receiver set for $995, we got the full ownership experience with a prototype receiver and the help of Canadian Cowboy Tactical Supplies, who outfitted us with a Faxon Gunner 20” barrel ($310), a Rainier Arms Night Rail ($400), a Griffin Armament flash hider/comp $160), A Bravo Company PNT trigger ($100), a mil-spec buffer tube kit ($65), a CMMG Gunbuilders lower parts kit ($80), an Anderson bolt carrier group ($230), a Rainier Arms low-profile gas block ($65), a Bravo Company charging handle ($80), and Magpul MOE furniture ($87). All told, there are $1,577 worth of parts hanging off this $995 receiver set, making this a $2,572 rifle. Of course you could build similar for much less by forgoing some of our luxuries, but life presents one with the opportunity to put gun parts on the expense account, one should not squander that opportunity.

Modern SporterIn assembling the gun, we found no issues when it came to assembling the Modern Sporter; everything bolted together in the same fashion as the various AR’s that we’ve assembled. Almost. The area the pistol grip bolts too seemed a mite bit too wide for our Magpul MOE grip to fit on, and this in turn caused the safety detent spring (which bottoms out in the grip and travels up into the lower receiver) to bind up, which made for a bit of a wonky safety detent. Also, the bolt hold open doesn’t work; it simply cannot be raised high enough to engage the bolt face like it should. However, we were warned that the receivers we were building were one of roughly four pairs of R&D prototypes in existence at the time, were made strictly for testing various components and machine processes, and that while they may look fully finished we should recognize that they aren’t (for example, these are 6061 versus the 7075-T6 that the production rifles will be made from). All that is to say, having handled various other ATRS guns, we suspect the finished products will not share the issues we found with this prototype receiver set.

Firing Line

With the gun complete, we took the Modern Sporter to the range, and put a couple hundred rounds through it to break things in. Initially, we had a few basic failures related to the bolt short-stroking, but we chalked that up to the generic bolt’s rough finish and tight gas rings. Swapping in a well-worn Colt Canada bolt stopped the behavior, as did thoroughly cleaning and reinstalling the original generic bolt we’d initially installed.

Modern SporterAfter the break in period, we threw our gigantic Vortex F-class Golden Eagle scope onto the rifle for bench-rested accuracy testing. Given the Modern Sporter uses a conventional AR-15 barrel, barrel extension, bolt and trigger, the resultant accuracy isn’t so much a testament to the Modern Sporter’s actual ability so much as it is an indication of what can be expected of a Faxon AR15 barrel, and a generic bolt carrier assembly. If you took the same parts and threw them into an AR15 receiver set you’d see the same result. Which is, of course, exactly the point.

By the end of testing, we’d run the Modern Sporter with three different optics and through roughly 800 rounds, all in all. With the exception of the test ammo cited on our accuracy chart, the rest of the ammo was all standard 55-grain FMJ bulk stuff, and beyond the initial couple failures to fire, we had no issues. The BCM trigger came out of the box with a crisp break, but it’s remained a bit heavy, and at the conclusion of our testing was still rendered an 8 lbs, 5 oz trigger pull. But, we loved the svelte feel of the Rainer handguard (it’s actually a Fortis design, made and sold through Rainier Arms), and of course it’s always nice to be able to take a rifle with the excellent ergonomics and modularity of an AR-15 into the field.

Modern SporterWhich, as we previously said, is literally the entire purpose behind this rifle. Our experience in testing the Modern Sporter is almost entirely predicated on the parts we put into ours, as the receiver set provided by Alberta Tactical Rifle supplies serves as little more than a mounting point for the sundry parts. Sure, it has a nicely beveled magazine well, nice geometric lines, and the integral trigger guard we expect from most CNC lower receivers… but were we in America, that’d simply put it in line with any number of similarly nice CNC receiver sets. But this isn’t America, where the AR-15 has long proven itself the fastest growing sporting and hunting rifle on the market. No, this is Canada, where the native habitat of the AR-15 is limited to gun ranges. And here, the Modern Sporter truly excels as the closest we’ve yet come to a non-restricted AR-15.

Modern Sporter Accuracy

M+M Industries M10x

M10xThe M10x is a relative newcomer to the Canadian non-restricted market, and is the brain child of former Swiss reservist Michael Meier. With 15 years’ experience producing parts for Swiss and AK-pattern rifles, Meier turned his attention to the manufacturing of a clean-sheet gun design blending the best of both worlds, and in doing so created the M10x family of rifles.

The result is a thoroughly modern looking rifle that, while resembling an AK-pattern rifle, is actually much closer in design to the Sig SG 540/542 rifles. It has the same hinging upper and lower design, as opposed to an AK’s top cover, has a similar bolt and gas-piston arrangement wherein the bolt handle serves to join the two, and even the bolt and bolt carrier themselves are similar. In fact, perhaps the largest deviation from the 540’s bolt design is the use of a plunger-style ejector, rather than the 540’s (and AK’s) fixed ejector.

M10xWhere the M10x makes perhaps the biggest departure from existing rifle design is in the nested upper receiver construction. Where the 540 uses a stamped steel receiver the M10x uses a steel internal receiver nested inside an aluminum extrusion. The steel component serves as a home for the bolt assembly, gives the bolt carrier full-length rails to ride on, and gives the barrel something to thread into while the aluminum extrusion serves as both an optic mounting surface and a dust cover to keep the action protected. This extrusion allows the use of steel to be minimized, and also provides plenty of rail and M-Lok real estate for accessory mounting.

M10xBelow this composite upper receiver, M+M have used 1.5mm-thick stamped steel to form the lower receiver. That matches the thickness of the RPK light machine gun, which itself is little more than an extremely heavy-duty AK (hardly thought to be a slouch in the reliability department), so it’s safe to say the lower is seriously overbuilt for a commercial market semi-auto. This holds the unique M10x trigger assembly, which is billed as a “match grade trigger system.” According to the gun’s importers, North Sylva, all Canadian M10x’s should have a two-stage, 3.7 pound pull weight and a shorter initial travel than earlier US-market M10x rifles. Ours definitely had very little initial travel; so little that we’d be far more inclined to call it a single-stage trigger than a two-stage. Also, we found the average trigger pull to be a scant 2 lbs, 15 oz, and with one of the shortest resets we’d ever come across.

M10xOut front, the M10x utilizes an 18.6” barrel (required to obtain non-restricted status), with a relatively tight 1:9.25” twist rate. For comparison’s sake, the SKS rifle features a 1:9.45” twist rate, and various other rifles in 7.62×39 feature 1:10” twist rates. The nitrided barrel itself is threaded into the receiver, as opposed to being pressed into the receiver trunnion such as it is in an AK, and that’s a nice touch on a gun that could see the business end of some corrosive ammo… and all the maladies that goes along with it. Also, now might be a good time to point out that M+M offers each of the (just) 52 parts that comprise an M10x online, so even out-of-warranty service should be a cinch.

Finally, the M10x is finished off with a folding Magpul Zhukov stock, and a Magpul grip. In terms of ergonomics, it’s good, with the ambidextrous charging handle and so-called “DMR safety” (the marketing materials refer to it as such) falling easily to hand. The safety, though, could be a bit bigger and has a heavier detent spring than is probably necessary. Oh, and oddly, the safety prevents the hammer from being cocked, so if you put the gun on safe with the hammer down on an empty chamber, you cannot charge the rifle. Otherwise, the only other thing that really hits you upon picking up the M10x is the sense of monolithic mass. The extruded upper receiver and beefy stamped lower feel substantial, and there’s almost no play between any of the parts.

And about the mass… as you’d expect of a rifle marketed as a DMR, the barrel profile is heavy, and measures 18.5mm in diameter for the majority of its length. To put that in perspective, the average VZ-58 barrel is just over 14mm in diameter under its front sight. Between that, the heavy duty lower receiver, and the various components required to operate a long-stroke piston-driven gun the Canadian-market M10x DMR tips the scales at a hefty 3.9 kg (8.5 lbs) unloaded, empty, and bereft of sights. By the time you fit an optic, and use any of that M-Lok space on the upper receiver for a grip, bipod, or light option, you’ll be looking at a rifle that’s over 10 pounds. In one of the configurations we tested, wherein we mounted a Magpul M-Lok bipod and Bushnell DMR II 3.5-21×50 optic, we had a rifle that was nearly 12 pounds. That’s heavy.

Punching Paper

M10xAnd this is where things get hazy: We found ourselves with a 12 pound DMR-format rifle chambered in 7.62×39, a round that really tops out somewhere around 300 yards, and isn’t known for a high degree of accuracy. Even out of dedicated bolt-action rifles like the CZ-527, with no moving parts reciprocating around the action to invite inconsistency, even high quality 7.62×39 ammunition typically struggles to shoot into an inch or less. Semi-automatic rifles are, generally speaking, never as accurate as that. And this all excepts the notion that most shooters purchase rifles in 7.62×39 for the express purpose of shooting cheap, surplus ammo, which is nowhere near as accurate as premium commercial ammunition.

M10xAnd so it is with the M10x. As is clearly obvious from the accuracy chart, it shoots 7.62×39 into roughly the same size groups you’ll find most semi-automatic rifles chambered in 7.62×39 are capable of. Why? Well, first off, it’s not due to any lack of care in manufacturing and assembly. Everything piece we pulled out of the M10x’s construction was superlatively made. And the trigger’s definitely not a hindrance to real-world accuracy; it is obviously quite light and breaks with a European-style smooth roll through the break. That, combined with the short reset make it an extremely easy gun to shoot quickly.

M10xNo, we suspect the culprit behind the M10x’s performance is in the interface between the internal steel receiver, and the aluminum outer upper receiver. With the gun assembled, we noticed that pulling the barrel down inside the handguard resulted in a definitive clicking feeling emanating from the rear of the action. To investigate this, we field-stripped the rifle, then removed the front take-down pin, releasing the steel inner from the aluminum outer upper receiver. To separate the two, the barreled action is simply pulled rearward until the rail interface (similar to a handgun slide and frame rail fitment) between the two components is separated.

M10xAnd to be honest, you don’t even need to pull that hard; the rail fit between the outer and inner isn’t excruciatingly tight. And therein lies the problem: Because the inner houses the barrel, and the outer is where your optic is mounted, any play between the two will result in your optic and your barrel coming to rest in inconsistent positions from shot to shot. Some intrepid M10x owners recommend installing a set screw to exert pressure on the receiver where the barrel threads in to remove this play, and as we purchased this M10x expressly for the purpose of this review, we thought we’d give that modification a try. It didn’t work, our groups didn’t shrink, and the play we felt persisted.

M10xCombine this with the way 7.62×39 bleeds energy and you’re saddled with something that looks, feels, and handles in a very well-made DMR sort of way, but can’t shoot as far nor as accurately as we’d expect of a rifle billing itself as a designated marksman’s rifle. If it was a pound or so lighter and traded some of the DMR-centric features for a lower price tag, M+M would have a veritable VZ58-killer on their hands, but with a sticker price that’s a gnat’s whisker from $2,000 we can’t help but wonder if the M10x DMR misses the mark.

M10x Accuracy