March 16, 2017
By Steve Gash
Springfield Armory's first-ever AR, called the SAINT, is a direct-impingement AR with upper and lower receivers forged of 7075 T6 aluminum. Both are treated with Mil-A-8625F hard anodizing that prevents surface corrosion and reduces the chances of surface scratches and blemishes from tough use. After anodizing, the upper receiver's bolt carrier bore and the extension tube bore are coated with a dry film lubricant to minimize the need for frequent traditional lubrication. It has M4 feedramps to optimize use with longer bullets.
The lower is equipped with what Springfield calls the "Accu-Tite Tension System." This system improves accuracy via a nylon-tipped tension setscrew that reduces any play between the upper and lower receivers. It performs a function similar to "accuracy wedges" sold by other companies.
The SAINT's chrome-moly 16-inch barrel has a true 5.56 NATO chamber, so it is perfectly all right to shoot 5.56mm and .223 Remington ammo. The barrel's chamber, bore, and exterior surfaces are coated with Melonite, an extremely hard and durable finish that provides better accuracy than traditional chrome plating and won't chip, peel, flake off, or craze (develop surface cracks). Another benefit of the Melonite bore coating is that the bore assiduously resists copper fouling. I think this is a terrific feature.
Another desirable SAINT feature is that the barrel has a 1:8-inch twist rate. That means it will stabilize bullets up to and including 80 grains in weight, and it'll also shoot flyweight bullets just fine, too. Something I confirmed in my shooting sessions.
And there's more! The SAINT has a mid-length gas system that, as most AR aficionados know, greatly reduces wear because the pressure curve to the bolt carrier group is flatter than the rapid spike of a carbine-length gas system, which results in a softer recoil impulse to the shooter. Also, the front sight/gas block unit is farther forward, which allows for a longer sight radius when using open sights, and a longer handguard can be used, if desired. The front sight is the "F" height for proper alignment with Springfield's own flip-up rear sight that comes on the gun.
Enhancements have not been left off the trigger, either. It is Springfield's proprietary GI-type trigger, but the parts have a nickel-boron coating that is hard as glass and slick as, well, you know. This gives a much more uniform feel to the trigger pull and maintains the correct spring tension required to fire NATO ammunition with 100 percent reliability. I can attest that the SAINT's trigger is just fine out of the box, and the oversized Bravo Company trigger guard means you can shoot it in cold weather with gloves on.
Bravo supplies the Mod O pistol grip, too. It has a reduced angle that moves the grip slightly forward for improved handling, and the grip has a hinged waterproof floorplate for storage of small parts or a few rounds of ammo.
The handguard is a new design from Bravo called the PKMR. It is 8.88 inches long and is slim and trim, with six KeyMod attachment points on each side and the bottom. The sides have nice, smoothly textured surfaces that provide a good handhold without rasping the skin off your palm when shooting. The handguard also has a heat shield that really works. This proved to be really handy in prolonged shooting sessions.
The buttstock, also from Bravo, is adjustable in length of pull from 10.5 to 13.75 inches and has non-protruding pads on each side for the shooter's cheek. They don't have any sharp edges and are very comfortable when shooting. The hard-rubber buttpad is set at a bit of an angle that keeps the buttstock properly positioned in the shoulder pocket. It is perfect for offhand shooting and includes both fixed and QD provisions for ambidextrous sling mounting.
The buffer assembly is a heavy carbine "H" tungsten unit with more mass for better return-to-battery functioning and balanced recoil that helps reduce wear on internal components. The souped-up Springfield bolt carrier group has a hardened and staked-in gas key, and the extractor spring has an O-ring with additional tension for more reliable extraction.
Holes in Paper Don't Lie
All of these specially designed parts make the SAINT sound like a pretty neat AR, but how does it shoot? As the saying goes, holes in paper don't lie, and the targets tell the tale. In a word, the SAINT shoots great.
I had the opportunity to try out the SAINT in two venues. Last August, Springfield Armory held a media event at the H-Bar Homestead near Gillette, Wyoming, to introduce the new rifle. Springfield is not just rolling out the rifle and telling folks it's new, great, and value-packed (although that's all true). Instead, the company is specifically targeting a well-defined segment of the AR market, which includes, in Springfield's own words, "forward thinking, independent men and women who believe their safety is their responsibility." These folks are "youthful, aspirational, unapologetic civilians" who intend to "defend their legacy."
As part of this program, Springfield sponsored six individuals with varying shooting experience for five days and nights of intense training and competition. At the end the winning shooter was named the "Night of the SAINT" and will be announced at the 2017 SHOT Show in Las Vegas.
In Wyoming, the other writers and I were given the chance to shoot the SAINT under real-world conditions. Two courses of fire at steel targets were set up in the sagebrush and pine trees along two winding paths. There were 50 targets on each course. The shooter was given two loaded 20-round magazines and could engage the target(s) as they came into view along the path. There was no time limit, but we were allowed only one shot per target, hit or miss.
The rifles had red-dot sights installed, so the courses were actually pretty easy, and most shooters only missed a target or three. I managed to miss one steel on the first set, but got all of them on the second course. The SAINT seemed to have "divine guidance." I just put the little red dot on the plate, squeezed the trigger, and clang! It was toast.
The reliability of the eight SAINT rifles was 100 percent. Each rifle had fired approximately 1,300-plus rounds of ammunition with no malfunctions of any kind.
All in all, I was impressed with the new AR, so I was looking forward to giving one my usual workout on my home range. Soon after I returned from Wyoming, a brand-new SAINT and a 30-round Magpul magazine arrived in a sturdy hard plastic case. I had a two-tiered plan as to sights. I wanted to evaluate the inherent accuracy of the SAINT, and for that I mounted a Burris Veracity 4-20X 50mm scope in a Burris P.E.P.R. 30mm mount on the SAINT's flat-top Picatinny rail. I realize this is a much heavier and larger scope than one would normally use on a compact AR, but it was perfect for the task at hand.
After the accuracy testing was done, I mounted a new Nikon M-223 1-4X 20mm in Nikon's two-piece P-Series mounts for tactical drills and general plinking at steel targets. The light, compact M-223 was a proficient partner on the SAINT for engaging targets of various sizes and ranges quickly yet accurately. There is a slight drawback when using a low-powered scope on an AR with a high front sight. On 1X or 2X, the high "F" front sight looms large in front of the scope's crosshairs; it was like trying to shoot around a large tree. At 3X or 4X, however, the front sight faded out enough that it was not much of a problem.
In anticipation of the rifle's arrival, I had assembled a representative selection of factory loads and prepared several of my favorite handloads for testing. The SAINT has a 1:8 twist, so I especially wanted to try a full range of bullet weights, especially the heavier ones, to see if they'd stabilize and shoot accurately.
The trigger pull averaged 6 pounds, 14 ounces, but due to the parts' nickel-boron coating, the pull felt much lighter and was not an impediment to shooting good groups. While the trigger had some take-up, it was "slick" and not "gritty," as are so many mil-spec AR triggers.
The results are shown in the accompanying chart, but let's take a quick look at the factory loads first. Like most rifles, the SAINT really liked some loads better than others. Three, five-shot groups were fired at 100 yards off of a solid rest from my shooting building. A couple of days were very windy, so that no doubt affected the results somewhat. Overall, the 16 factory loads averaged 1.31 inches. Several were under, or right at, 1 inch. Significantly, the 75- and 77-grain loads shot well, but then, so did several traditional varmint loads with lightweight bullets.
I concentrated on heavier bullets for my home-brewed ammo, weighing from 60 to 80 grains, and the average of all 12 handloads was 1.36 inches. Many groups were 1 inch.
I used CCI No. 41 primers for all handloads, and for charging .223 handloads, I've just about defaulted to Hodgdon's CFE 223 as the powder of choice. Not only does it provide top velocities and good accuracy, but that "Copper Fouling Eraser" stuff in it really works. Plus, CFE 223 is dense enough to allow seating long, heavy bullets without compressing the propellant, and it flows through a powder measure with great uniformity. I did use a couple other powders for some of the handloads, including Varget and BL-(C)2.
While there was good accuracy with almost every bullet, I like a little more bullet weight in an AR, and I'll probably stick with midrange bullets like the Nosler 60-grain Partition, Hornady 60-grain V-Max, Sierra 63-grain Semi-Spitzer, Nosler 64-grain Bonded Solid Base, and the Sierra 65-grain Spitzer Boattail for hunting loads.
Over the course of shooting several hundred rounds, there was not a single malfunction of any kind.
The bane of accuracy nuts is fouling from bullet jackets, so I must praise one result of shooting with this rifle. No matter the load or cleaning interval, there was almost no copper jacket fouling! I have to attribute this to the Melonite coating on the bore. After a shooting session, I carefully examined the SAINT's bore with my Hawkeye Borescope after pushing a dry patch through the bore, and there was only a slight hint of copper fouling. No other rifle I've tested, including a lot of other ARs, has resisted copper fouling to this degree. It's a major asset.
Another facet of the AR world I wanted to examine was the velocity loss from the longer, SAAMI-spec barrels and minimum chambers used by ammunition companies to develop data. Overall, the SAINT's 16-inch barrel lost an average of 354 fps, or 10.8 percent, and generally, the higher the listed velocity, the larger the velocity loss.
The new SAINT represents considerable added value over pure entry-level ARs. The Melonite bore and nickel-boron-coated trigger, the beefed-up bolt carrier group, and the high-quality Bravo furniture increase the reliability and functionality of the carbine. Probably the most significant upgrade, at least in my opinion, is the mid-length gas system that reduces felt recoil and wear and tear on the gun and increases service life.
The MSRP of the SAINT is $899. That's perhaps $200 to $300 more than the absolute lowest-cost AR on the market, but adding on the parts and features I've noted to that entry-level gun would cost about $600 or more. The net result is the SAINT is a lot of gun for the money. It is accurate and reliable, it handles great, and it offers a lot of desirable features at a great price. To me, that sounds like a darn good value.