Long Guns: Smith & Wesson M&P15R In 5.45x39mm With Valdada 1.1-4

I’ve fired a lot of rounds through rifles and carbines chambered for 5.45x39mm. Although I’ve done a good deal of shooting with the AKS-74 and AKSU-74 in Russia, I actually did most of my initial shooting with the round in Brussels, Belgium. A former member of the KGB bodyguard details was working for the importer who supplied Russian weapons in Western Europe. He learned I was in Brussels and asked to meet me, since he had read some of my articles and books on close protection. His English was quite good and we had a very enjoyable lunch and discussion. As a result, he invited me to an indoor range the next day to shoot the AK-74, AKS-74, and AKSU-74. Best of all, he brought along cases of ammo. I put thousands of rounds through the guns, though I could not shoot past 50 meters on that range.

S&W M&P15R with Valdada 1.1-4X26mm CRT mounted.


The 5.45x39mm has some good features. Recoil is incredibly light. My wife came along to the shooting session in Brussels and, though she had never fired a rifle before, did quite well with the AKSU-74 and the AKS-74. She fired a couple hundred rounds on semi and full and never complained about recoil. Then she went shopping.

The 5.45x39mm bullet in military loadings has also been known to tumble when fired into an enemy, creating a much more devastating wound. Some writers claim this is not the case. My guess is that they have been shooting some of the commercial 5.45x39mm ammo. My Russian contacts, many of whom are ex-Spetsnaz, tell me that they have seen the results of bullets tumbling around inside of bodies, creating horrific wounds. Their stories may have been fueled by vodka—as most “There I Was” stories are in Russia—but these guys had a high tolerance for vodka and repeated their assertions the next day when sober. Lately, though, the best thing about the 5.45x39mm round is that it is the least expensive military round available in the U.S.

M&P15R is a delight to shoot prone, as recoil is virtually nonexistent.


Smith & Wesson’s M&P15R had its genesis because of the rise in ammunition costs and the availability of lower priced 5.45x39mm ammo. At the point when the M&P15R project got started, 5.45x39mm ammo was running about one-third the cost of 5.56x45mm. Lately, the cost of 5.56mm ammo has come down a bit and the cost of 5.45mm ammo has gone up a bit, so about half the price would be more correct today. Nevertheless, the savings can still be substantial if one does a lot of shooting. In my case, at least, I have a lot of 5.45x39mm Wolf ammo that I purchased at not much over $100 per 1,000 rounds to shoot in my semi-auto AKS-74.

I asked the law enforcement people at Smith & Wesson if they had received any type of bid spec for a 5.45x39mm M&P for export, but I was told no—the M&P15R was developed to allow law enforcement agencies and citizens to shoot AR-15-type rifles less expensively.

The M&P15R is at first glance exactly like a standard S&W M&P15. Upon examination, however, there are some differences. Internally, the hammer spring is heavier and the hammer is altered, I would assume to reliably ignite military primers. The bore, gas key, bolt carrier, and chamber are all chromed so that corrosive ammo may be fired. The bolt face is also .016 larger in diameter to handle the 5.45x39mm case. I did not notice any difference in the extractor, but to reliably work with steel case ammo, I would assume it was beefed up. The magazine is also different. The grooves are deeper, the curve is different, and the follower is designed for the 5.45x39mm round.

Typical 200-yard group with Wolf 70-grain “Military Classic” ammo ran around four inches.


The M&P15R has only two markings to differentiate it from a standard M&P15. Just behind the flash hider, the barrel is stamped “5.45x39mm” and the follower of the magazine is marked “5.45.” If, indeed, Smith & Wesson hopes to sell this carbine to law enforcement agencies for training, I believe that the receiver should be marked very distinctly “5.45.” Anyone who deals with law enforcement training knows of accidents that occur due to mixing ammunition. In fact, if I were a trainer for an agency that purchased M&P15Rs for training, I would paint the stock a very distinctive color.

On the positive side, I wanted to see whether a 5.56mm round could be fed and chambered in the 15R, so I loaded one atop a magazine of 5.45x39mm ammo and released the bolt. The 5.56 round would not fully chamber, which means the carbine could not be fired. I did have to “mortar” the bolt open to extract the 5.56 round, but I feel better knowing that the 5.56 round could not be fired inadvertently.

As regular readers know, I’ve been trying to test each of the better CQC-to-Countersniper scopes I encounter. For use with the 15R, I decided to try Valdada’s 1.1-4X26mm CRT (Close Range Tactical). This scope incorporates all of Valdada’s usual features, including very high quality lenses, illuminated reticle, resistance to fog and water, and shock.

I chose the CQB-BDC reticle, which incorporates a dot, a post with stadia lines, and a partial circle surrounding the dot. I find this a very fast reticle because the thick circle surrounding the dot brackets the target and allows very fast engagement at closer ranges on 1.1X, while the dot and/or post with stadia lines allow precise engagement at longer ranges.

AKSU (top) and M&P15R. Both are chambered for 5.45x39mm.


The dot is designed to be zeroed at 100 yards. The reticle is actually calibrated for the 62-grain 5.56mm SS109 round, but since I plan to use the 5.45mm M&P only to 300 yards, I didn’t feel there would really be a problem with the 70-grain Wolf Military Classic ammo I would be shooting.

Because my M&P15R only came with one magazine, I ordered four additional ones from Smith & Wesson so that I could shoot more and jam mags less. For the first range session, I only had the one magazine, but I still put 200 rounds through the carbine. For subsequent range sessions, I had the additional magazines and I loaded up all five the night before. I also took along a few extra boxes of ammo. I’ve now taken the 15R out three times without cleaning it, since I wanted to see if it would keep functioning without cleaning (see below about oiling). Note the Wolf ammo I’ve been using is non-corrosive. If I had been using corrosive ammo, I would have cleaned it each time.

The M&P15R now has somewhere between 500 and 600 rounds through it. Reliability has been excellent. I had to use the forward assist a few times during the first range session after the initial 100 rounds or so. I had cleaned the oil off of the bolt and bolt carrier when checking bolt face diameter, which may have contributed, so I lubed the bolt and carrier after the first shooting session. I still have not fully cleaned the carbine, however I probably will before taking it out again.

Accuracy is acceptable, which I would attribute to the round. The Russians have used the 5.45x39mm round in shooting competition, but I am quite sure those were specially loaded rounds. I’ve done a lot of shooting with this round and it is not a tack driver—not even a roofing nail driver, nor even a railroad spike driver! I did manage one or two three-shot, 100-yard groups around an inch when zeroing the M&P15R, but those were the exceptions. Two-inch groups at 100 yards and four-inch groups at 200 yards were much more the norm. In fact, I think my tight groups were luck more than precision on my part.

Still, accuracy was good enough that I can certainly do a lot of shooting at plates out to 300 yards. However, I should note that the heavier hammer spring also makes for a heavier trigger pull, which probably affects accuracy a bit. The M&P15R is substantially cheaper to shoot right now than my other AR-15-type rifles, and accuracy is good enough that I can train with it more often.

I like the M&P15R because it lets me train more inexpensively. As the price of 5.45x39mm ammo has risen and the price of 5.56x45mm ammo has come down, anyone considering buying the 15R should evaluate how much they intend to shoot it. At current prices, if one shot 5,000 rounds, the savings should be around $1,000. As a result, I would see the M&P15R appealing to those who do a lot of shooting and those who just like the idea of a Smith & Wesson carbine in the Russian service cartridge. I’ll admit that appeals to me as well.

SOURCES:

Smith & Wesson
Dept. S.W.A.T.
2100 Roosevelt Ave.
Springfield, MA 01104-1698
(800) 331-0852
www.smith-wesson.com

Valdada-IOR Optics
Dept. S.W.A.T.
P.O. Box 270095
Littleton, CO 80127
(303) 979-4578
www.valdada.com

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