July 24, 2020
By Will Dabbs, MD
I live on a rural farm in the American Deep South. My gun collection is a source of recreation, pride, fellowship, and income. However, amongst all the old collectible iron, quirky one-offs, and intriguing mechanical widgets there yet remains a nucleus of practical working guns. Some of my guns are for looking at and others are for detailed mechanical study, but a few stand ready to guard my family against the resplendent ills of our manifestly fallen world.
The coveted title of apex predator has been the goal of quite a few respectable smoke poles. The champion sits next to the door ready for use at a moment’s notice. It also frequently accompanies my family and me on our regular strolls through the woods. That rifle has to be rugged, portable, reliable, and accurate. It has to ride easy, shoot straight, and run well. With the flower of modern martial engineering prowess at my fingertips the competition came down to two superlative contenders. This day we will determine which one takes its rightful place by the door and which one just sits on the wall.
The SIG MCX Virtus Patrol
Via a remarkably convoluted route, the SIG MCX Virtus Patrol was originally born to Gene Stoner, George Sullivan, and a few others way back in the 1950’s. The basic layout of that original ArmaLite AR10 rifle lives on in the Information Age iteration that is the MCX Virtus. The direct gas impingement operating system has been binned in favor of a rugged user-adjustable gas piston. The various morphological attributes have also been thoroughly modernized, but that original beating Stoner heart remains nonetheless intact.
SIG is America’s greatest armaments success story. The company’s American subsidiary actually sold for a single dollar back a few decades ago as part of a corporate restructuring deal. Today, they supply the US military with the new XM17 Modular Handgun System, and their pistols and long guns equip military, civilian, and LE users around the globe. Additionally, SIG rightfully bills itself as “The Complete Systems Provider.” They produce guns, sights, sound suppressors, accessories, and apparel. Bring your own food and be willing to go without underwear, as any Real Man might, and SIG can provide you with pretty much anything you might need to live a long, happy, fruitful life.
While the basic upper and lower aluminum receivers remain intact, most everything else on the MCX Virtus has been upgraded. The piston-driven operating system of the Virtus now telescopes its guts up into the receiver itself, so there is no need to retain the bulky buffer tube characteristic of the AR15. This means the Virtus is free to sport a side-folding skeletonized stock that is also easily adjustable for length of pull.
The forearm is festooned with M-LOK slots for any imaginable accessory and reaches out for days. The full-length upper rail stretches all the way from the charging handle out to the muzzle. If you filled all this rail space with cool-guy stuff the gun would be too heavy to carry.
The charging handle is in the same spot as that of every other AR rifle in the world, and it sports bilateral architecture. The magazine release is replicated on both sides of the gun, while the bolt catch is oversized and fitted with paddle-like actuators both top and bottom. The safety is comparably accessible regardless of your handedness. By my count there are seven sling attachment points, so mounting up a proper sling is painless. Naturally SIG makes slings, too.
The pistol grip on the Virtus has a more oblique angulation than does that of the SCAR or traditional AR. This tends to push the elbow down for tighter control when moving fast. The gas system is easily adjusted with a bullet tip or standard-issue finger. The forearm rail reaches out farther than my arm is long. The muzzle is tipped from the factory with a three-prong open flash suppressor. Barrels are easily interchangeable between lengths and calibers at the user level. The gun can be had in more than 500 different configurations.
I mounted up a SIG SRD556 sound suppressor to the snout of my MCX Virtus patrol. This unique tubeless design is made from Inconel for decades of hard use and sports little spikes on the end for setting the muzzle against a firm object or prodding the occasional recalcitrant miscreant. The SRD556 is remarkably efficient and surprisingly small.
All self-respecting modern tactical rifles sport proper glass up top and my MCX Virtus Patrol carries a 1–6X Tango6 tactical gunsight. HDX optics with extra low dispersion glass bring unparalleled clarity, and the sight is instantly spin-adjustable between 1 and 6X dependent upon whether the threat is at a distance or close enough to smooch. The sight is water and fogproof, and its MOTAC technology cycles it on and off automatically depending upon movement to optimize battery life. The Tango6 is one heck of a combat gunsight.
SIG MCX Virtus Patrol Specs
- Caliber: 5.56x45mm
- Barrel Length: 16 inches
- Overall Length: 35.5 in/26.5 Folded
- Weight: 7.9 lbs.
- Operating System: Gas Piston
- Twist Rate: 1:7
- MSRP: $2,233
The FN SCAR 16S
Where the MCX Virtus Patrol tracks its lineage all the way back to 1956 and that first Armalite AR10, the SCAR is a completely unique design. SCAR stands for Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle, and it was crafted from scratch to meet the needs of the world’s most elite operators. The end result is a fresh new design with some unique capabilities.
The semiauto SCAR comes in two major flavors. The SCAR 16S runs 5.56mm, while the SCAR 17S runs 7.62x51mm. There are a few other options, but these are the major ones. The larger gun can be adapted to run the smaller round, but the smaller gun cannot run the heavier cartridge. The gas-operated action of the SCAR draws from a very different well than the MCX Virtus.
The SCAR’s gas system is easily adjusted with a simple set of fingers and is most closely related to that of the M1 Carbine. This tappet-type closed gas system does not require lubrication of any sort. The heavy bolt carrier of the SCAR bears an esoteric similarity to that of the HK G36. Its mass gives the gun plenty of excess energy to cycle in conditions of dirt or fouling.
The SCAR is built around an extruded aluminum serialized upper receiver and a polymer fire control system. The pistol grip is standard AR. The safety and magazine release are bilateral, while the bolt catch is in the expected place. Unlike the Virtus, the SCAR charges via a rigid charging handle that reciprocates with the bolt. This appendage is reversible at the user level and functions as a handy forward assist device should the bolt ever get lazy. The charging handle zipping back and forth with each round fired is an acquired taste but otherwise harmless.
The buttstock on the SCAR adjusts in several dimensions. Its fat architecture is bulky but imminently comfortable. The unit folds to the right, extends for length of pull, and features an easily adjustable comb height. If you can’t make this stock fit your anatomy you might want to ask your parents if you are really human.
There are six different places you could hook a sling, and the gun comes standard with a superb set of folding backup sights. The top rail runs full length for optics, and the forearm sports the obligatory rail lengths at 3-, 6-, and 9-o’clock. I dropped the skeletonized flash suppressor in favor of a custom sound suppressor from Advanced Tactical Ordnance. The barrel on the SCAR exchanges easily with a minimum of fuss.
To make this comparison as hard core as possible, I optimized the optics on the SCAR. This means a state of the art green reticle EOTech Holosight along with a 3X folding magnifier. Your eye picks up green much better than it does red when rushed or operating in dim light. The Holosight uses a laser to project its aiming point out to infinity as though it was hovering out over your target. The same technology drives the Heads Up Display in modern fighter jets. The pivoting magnifier pops over with a slap when you need it and stays out of the way when you don’t. The Holosight is fully night vision compatible. Slapping the magnifier out of the way grants instant access to the iron sights.
FN SCAR Specs
- Caliber: 5.56x45mm
- Barrel Length: 16.25 inches
- Overall Length: 37.5 in/27.5 Folded
- Weight: 7.25 lbs.
- Operating System: Gas Piston
- Twist Rate: 1:7
- MSRP: $3,299
Range Time Smackdown
This is admittedly more theater than science, but the comparison was illuminating. We ran both guns from the bench up close out to 100 meters and then rolled around in the dirt for an afternoon to see how they worked in the Real World. Both rifles were completely reliable with everything we fed them, to include Inceptor 35-grain frangible rounds. However, if reliability were a concern these two guns would not have gotten this far.
Both rifles shot straight out to reasonable engagement ranges. I like ringing steel at a kilometer just as much as the next gun-addicted American Rugged Individualist, but there is quite literally no conceivable circumstance under which we might ever have to do that for real. It’s been a week or three since I wore the uniform. If I ever have to use one of these guns it will be up close.
Both guns rendered comparable performance from the bench. They are both fairly heavy when compared to those old early M16 rifles, so recoil and muzzle jump are really not considerations. Both guns will drop rounds where I want them until I get tired of doing it.
The Tango6 optic is easier to use at longer ranges. It sports twice the magnification as the EOTech rig, and the adjustment ring is easy to access and fast in use. Both gunsights run great in dim light. The Tango6 has an illuminated horseshow aiming point that can be adjusted a zillion different ways. While the Tango6 has the edge at longer ranges, the Holosight seems to render incrementally better situational awareness up close. In both cases, however, these are nuances.
The rigid charging handle is easier to use when moving quickly, but the argument could be made that you really shouldn’t have to mess with charging handles once the gun is hot. The reciprocating charging handle is an acquired taste, but I grew to like it. However, it is easy to rap your knuckles on the Holosight when jacking the charging handle in a hurry. The Steyr AUG is notorious for this as well. The SCAR’s charging handle popped me once unexpectedly during recoil, but that’s the reason we train. By contrast, the T-shaped charging handle on the Virtus Patrol remains passive.
Both guns maneuver quickly indoors, though the MCX Virtus offers greater reach. We tend to drive our rifles these days, and the long thin forearm offers plenty of gripping space. Both guns sport a piston-driven action so the guns don’t push fumes in your face the way a suppressed direct gas rifle might.
Pass Me the Envelope, Please...
I got a good deal on the Virtus Patrol several years ago and picked up the SCAR at a Law Enforcement seizure auction. However, both of these guns are just stupid expensive. Add on the superlative tactical glass and a sound suppressor and we are talking some proper folding money, not just front-pocket change. However, what you get for this not inconsiderable investment is the finest tactical firearm the world can produce. Both guns ran great, and there are aspects of each that thoroughly captured my fancy. At the end of the day, however, there can be only one … .
With commensurate gravitas, I brushed away the accumulated dust along with several dozen desiccated centipede corpses and dropped the SIG MCX Virtus Patrol into the coveted slot right next to the door. The SCAR is a fabulous rifle and the sighting solution good enough for Delta and Devgru, but I found that the SIG gun’s long snout and tucked pistol grip just better fit my gangly lean frame. Both guns ran great but when the votes were counted (a literary construct — there were no actual votes) it was the SIG that had the edge.
SIG MCX Virtus Patrol vs FN SCAR Accuracy Performance