Review: Springfield Saint 5.56 With Free-Float Handguard
October 24, 2017
As a consumer, it's always important to remember that you're not the only customer the manufacturer has to please. The distributor and dealer get a vote, too, so for those making guns, it's vital to keep them in mind.
Springfield Armory clearly has the retailer in its sights with the new and rather awkwardly named Saint 5.56 with Free-Float Handguard. We can be thankful Springfield didn't try to be techno-hip with Saint 2.0, but the new gun's handle is quite a mouthful.
It is supplied in a molded plastic carrying case, and is primed to stand out on the dealer rack with a magazine well plug and wide, color-coordinated rubber band around the handguard that will let anyone approaching the gun counter identify the Saint at considerable distance.
It's also stamped with the Springfield or Saint logos in a half-dozen locations. You're not going to mistake it for a rifle from some fly-by-night assembler.
That's smart marketing in a world where pretty much every major manufacturer, and hundreds of smaller ones, makes ARs. Standing out on the rack is Mission No. 1 when selling.
The original Saint (2016, Issue 27) is priced at $899 and has a fixed front sight and a KeyMod-compatible Bravo Company synthetic handguard. It's an excellent entry-level AR, but dealers have a lot of customers who are ready to step up to the next level, and that's where the new rifle comes in.
It has an octagonal aluminum handguard with MagPul's M-Lok system for attaching accessories. This seems to be gaining the edge over the KeyMod system, though both have their advocates. There are a total of 44 slots on seven surfaces. Curmudgeons will point out the slots on the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock surfaces have relatively little utility, but they do serve for cooling.
The top surface of the handguard is a 1913 rail with 28 slots for mounting optics and other accessories. It forms a continuous surface with the receiver top, which has 13 slots of its own.
Like just about all 16 inch-barreled AR carbines these days, the Saint uses a mid-length gas system, in this case with a pinned gas block. Some purists insist that pinning distorts the barrel and argue for a gas block secured with screws. Those who favor pinning point out that it is vastly more secure, and plenty of tight groups have been shot with pinned barrels.
Barrel diameter is .750" at the gas block, tapering down first to .740" and then .700" behind the flash hider. It tapers to .605" behind the gas block in a weight-reducing middle section below the gas tube.
The barrel has a 1:8 twist to stabilize most any bullet weight, and is Melonite treated for corrosion and scratch resistance. The flash hider is the closed-bottom A2 type that helps limit position disclosure in dusty environments.
The barrel nut has two rows of 20 threaded holes for attaching the handguard. This allows fine adjustment of the nut, but definitely requires a lot of thread tapping.
As befits a rifle in this price range, it has the full complement of dust cover, shell deflector and forward assist. Manufacturers have started deleting some of these on economy models, but they're present and accounted for here.
Another thing that dealers really like is a tight fit between upper and lower receiver. I've shot ARs whose upper and lower receivers had barely been introduced that shot just fine, but consumers tend to judge an AR on the fit between the two halves when examining one at the counter.
The pistol grip is a Bravo Co. Mod 3, and in the current style, it has a more vertical, 1911ish orientation than the old A2 grip. This has become the dominant configuration, and I take that to mean that no one outside the gates of Camp Perry shoots an AR from the prone position anymore.
It has a handy internal compartment for storing batteries or other accessory items, and you get to that by pinching tabs on either side. There's a curved trigger guard to allow easy shooting with a gloved finger.
Like many manufacturers, Springfield has specified the MagPul PMag 30 magazine. You expect to see one when examining a new AR.
Taking a look under the hood, the trigger assembly is in GI configuration, but with a pewter-colored nickel boron coating. The bolt is the standard Carpenter 158 steel, shot-peened and magnetic particle inspected. The gas key screws are staked.
With the exception again of Camp Perry, not too many people shoot ARs with iron sights these days. But backup iron sights are a desirable accessory, especially on a rifle in the Saint's price range.
So the Saint comes with front and rear flip-up sights. The rear has dual apertures, one .075" for fine accuracy and the other .185" for fast or low-light shooting. It is adjustable for windage only with half-minute clicks.
The front sight has an A2-style square post, adjustable in half-minute clicks with a cartridge tip or sight adjusting tool. It would be interesting to survey just how many users have actually zeroed their backup iron sights. My guess is the percentage is in the single digits.
I selected 55-grain Winchester, 62-grain Federal and 77-grain Black Hills ammo, and mounted a 4.5-18X Bushnell scope. Function with all ammo types was
The Saint's trigger was the main obstacle to shooting excellent groups. When pull weight and rifle weight are the same, shooting bughole groups becomes very difficult.
The Saint's trigger was clean enough, but I found myself squeezing and squeezing to get a shot off. Familiarization helped, but I just never got past groups in the 11/4 — 11/2 inch range. Many would show four shots in less than an inch, with an errant shot opening up the pattern.
Now, it would be easy enough to slip in an ALG trigger for less than $100, but one logically could argue that a rifle that costs more than $1,000 shouldn't require an aftermarket trigger.
It is also the case that, if what I hear in my rural neighborhood is any indication, group shooting is not what people are doing with their ARs. There's a lot of relatively short-range wailing on steel targets, and if that's what you're doing with your AR, you will have no objection whatever to the Saint trigger.
Take the trigger out of the discussion and there's very little not to like about the Saint. It's lightweight, trim and fast-handling. The Bravo buttstock is comfortable and it doesn't rattle a bit.
The handguard is very trim, M-Lok compatible, and runs almost to the muzzle. The anodizing of all parts is uniform, so the gun looks great, with none of the piebald effect you get when a random collection of parts is assembled.
The obvious competitor to the Saint is the Savage MSR-15 Recon (Issue 10). The Saint costs $50 more, but otherwise they are very similar, with the Savage using furniture from corporate cousin Blackhawk.
Like the Saint, the MSR-15 uses a GI-configured trigger with nickel boron coating, but pull weight on the sample I tested was a pound lighter.
I'd give the Saint's Bravo Co. buttstock and pistol grip the edge over the Blackhawk furniture of the Savage, but the MSR-15 sports a barrel with 5R rifling, which is a point in its favor.
So you have two well-matched rifles at similar price points: which do you buy? Well, Springfield has done all it can to be sure theirs is the first one you see in the rack. We'll see if that makes the difference.