A while back we took the opportunity to review a DPMS Panther LR-308B which proved to be a decently capable shooter, though with a few items that could be improved. But the rifle did shoot well and was a good performer for a lower end 308 AR rifle. The opportunity came up a bit later to review DPMS’s full blown sniper rifle, in fact, the top of the line long range 308 semi-auto, the LRT-SASS. For those of you that may not know, SASS is an acronym for Semi-Auto Sniper System and you can read about the US Army’s adoption of the M110 SASS and its capabilities. DPMS submitted their own version of the rifle to the US Army during the trials and while not ultimately selected as the M110, a version of the Knight’s Armament Company (KAC) SR-25 was selected, DPMS decided to offer their SASS on the commercial market. We placed an order for the SASS during the semi-auto craze after the 2008 elections and it literally took us 1.5 years to get the rifle from DPMS. Rest assured that the wait time today is much less.
DPMS has a wide range of 308 based AR platforms to choose from, typically on the lower priced spectrum of the AR market, and the SASS is essentially a preconfigured rifle with the options that DPMS saw fit to include on a Semi-Auto Sniper System. The heart of the system is the same action that is used on the standard Panther LR-308 rifles offered by DPMS, which has been in production for a number of years now. We have fired several of these LR-308 rifles over the years of different variety from DPMS and they have all been reliable and fairly accurate rifles and we expected the same, if not more from the SASS.
Overall the rifle is very similar to any AR platform in both appearance and operation. If you are familiar with the AR-15, AR-10, SR-25, etc, then you are familiar with the DPMS LR-308 series of rifles and their variants. The upper and lower receivers are both aluminum; the upper receiver being extruded from 6066-T6 aluminum and the lower receiver being milled from a solid billet of 6061-T6 aluminum. Both the upper and lower receivers are anodized and then a black Teflon coating is applied to help with corrosion protection. The black Teflon finish has a dull matte finish and is quite effective for a tactical rifle.
The upper receiver is a flattop style receiver referred to as an A3 by DPMS and as with all the A3/A4 flat top style AR receivers, there is an integrated rail built into the top. The LR-308B we reviewed earlier is more of an entry level rifle that is focused on keeping the cost down which meant removing some of the features from such as a dust cover over the ejection port, a forward assist and a shell deflector. These are all basic features on a standard AR rifle but can be argued that they are not completely necessary. It does not matter what side of that argument you are on, those items do provide functionality and are a standard part of the DPMS SASS. The charging handle is an extended tactical style charging handle to aid in charging while a Day Optic Sight (DOS) is mounted on the rifle.
The pistol grip on the SASS is DPMS’s own Panther Tactical grip which is made of hard plastic, not unlike the standard hard plastic M-16 grip, but contoured with finger grooves and a pebble texture that is suppose to help with gripping and there is a large bottom platform to help support your hand. The plastic grip was a bit too hard and slick for our liking and I do not know how much the platform really helps or is needed, but it does give an aggressive tactical look to the rifle if you are into that. The platform is fairly large and bulky and may get in the way when operating in tight spots, but it can be removed if needed. The rifle also comes with two standard 19 round box magazines that snap into the rifle with a positive click and functioned well throughout our tests.
The lower receiver had the standard operating components of an AR rifle with an ambidextrous two position selector switch for safe and fire and a bolt release button on the left side. The magazine release button is located on the right hand side of the action and is properly located to be easily reached and press with the trigger finger when prepared to drop the magazine. Besides everything being slightly larger on the 308 action, the rifle will immediately feel comfortable and normal for anyone with AR-15 or M-16 experience.
The forward handguard is a four rail unit with rails on the top, sides, and bottom. The top rail is setup to be a continuation of the top rail on the upper receiver and the slots are properly spaced between the hand guard and receiver to allow the use of mounts that would bridge the hand guard and receiver such as scope rings on forward mounted scope. The side and bottom rails on the handguard come with soft plastic rail covers that convert the handguard into an actual handguard you can hold without just grabbing rails. There are four plastic covers per rail on the sides and bottom and they can easily be removed individually to allow for the attachment of various accessories as needed. We did not put the little covers through heavy abuse to determine how durable they will be over time, but they can easily be replaced with new ones if needed. The forward most section on all the rails is exposed and the rifle came with a Harris bipod and rail mount adapter attached to the bottom rail.
Part of the SASS requirement for the US Army was to have backup auxiliary iron sights to be used when needed or when the sniper does not have a choice, such as when their DOS (scope) has a failure. The DPMS SASS comes equipped with Mangonel Front and Rear flip-up sights for just such use. The sights are high quality and precise enough, once zeroed, for use at visual ranges. The clicks on the rear sight were positive and the system worked well with 300+ meter capability for combat use, especially if you know your ballistics. Depending on how you have your DOS mounted, it may be able to keep the rear sight mounted with the DOS mounted. The scope and mounts we used for testing were low and did not allow for us to keep the aux sights attached with the scope.
The barrel is a fluted stainless steel barrel that is 18″ long and has what DPMS calls the Panther flash hider attached. The barrel has six lands and grooves and a 1:10″ right hand twist to stabilize the heavier bullets. The barrel is finished in a matte black finish to match the rest of the rifle.
The rear butt stock is a Magpul PRS that has become popular with AR precision rifles over the past few years. We believe the stock that was used for the US Army trials was the VLTOR Modstock, but we may be mistaken on that. The PRS offers an adjustable cheekpiece as well as adjustable length of pull via two wheel style controls on the stock. There is also an adjustable plate on the bottom that allows the use of a sand sock and being able to slide that plate forward a bit was and is helpful. The quality of the PRS stock is okay, sometimes adjusting the clicks of the wheel adjustments is difficult due to stiffness in the knob and it being hard to get a good grip on it, but once you get them set they seem to stay put. The feel of the stock is a kydex plastic feel that works okay, though sweat and face paint can cause things to get slick with your cheek weld. Though on the whole the stock seems to work well enough and allows us to adjust it to fit the shooter fairly well.
The trigger is a JP industries adjustable trigger that is set at the factory in the range of 4.5 – 5 lbs. While this is heavy in terms of normal high precision long range rifles, it is good compared to the last LR-308B we tested which had over a 7 lb trigger pull. In fact, this particular trigger measure 4.25 lbs when it arrived. The trigger is adjustable for take-up and over-travel and while we did not play with the adjustments, it needed them. There is not-so-smooth take-up that can be distracting while striving for good accuracy. While this trigger is a lot better than the standard LR-308 trigger, it is still not up to the quality that most factory bolt action triggers have, which was a bit disappointing for a rifle that costs several thousands of dollars.
For the shooting portion of the evaluation we mounted a Hawke Frontier 4-16x42mm Side Focus scope with mildot reticle. This scope offers good quality glass and enough magnification for good accuracy tests as well as enough elevation adjustments for long range shooting. Like all AR platforms the scope needs to me mounted higher off the receiver than normal and a good amount forward in order to get a good cheek-weld combined with the proper eye relief. The full rail along the top of the rifle combined with the adjustable stock did allow this to be accomplished easily.
For the short range (100 yard) accuracy evaluation we used Federal Gold Medal Match 168gr and HSM 168gr Match ammo. All shooting was shot from a bench with bipod attached and a sandsock under the rear butt stock. We tried initially to shoot without the bipod and to use a sandbag for the front which is our normal accuracy test procedure, but the round forward hand guard with rails did not give us as stable of a support as the bipod did, so we switched over. Honestly, the rifle took a little getting used to and during the initial zeroing of the scope we were not getting good groups at all; we feel this had to do with initially using a sandbag up front and with the trigger. Once we switched to the bipod and then got used to the trigger we, and the rifle, started to settle down some, especially on the second trip to the range after the first did not go so well. The averages presented in the table below do not include some fairly horrendous groups (1.5+ inches) from the first day. The averages only include groups that were shot once the rifle and shooters settled down, which is not a normal practice for our evaluations, so keep that in mind. As you can see from the data, the rifle shot well, but perhaps not as good as we were hoping. In fact, with the Federal Gold Medal Match ammo, the accuracy was right about the same as the LR-308B with its terrible trigger and much lower price. This is one of those things that may not be able to be explained. The accuracy with the HSM ammo was more consistent and better.
|Federal GMM 168gr||.723″||.559″|
|HSM 168gr Match||.568″||.466″|
For the longer range shooting evaluation we used primarily the HSM 168gr and shot at ranges in the “mid-range” category from 400-600 yards. The performance was about what you would expect and the one area where a semi-auto excels at, rapid follow up shots, the rifle perform admirably. As a test we fired a rapid fire group at 100 yards with HSM ammo and it measured an impressive .611″ which was as good as when we took our time. Recoil was dampened well, which Stoners design has always done well, and we did not experience any malfunctions, though admittedly we did not torture test the rifle to try and make it fail. Overall the rifle handles fairly well though weight is moderately heavy and some of the controls are stiff to manipulate.
So how does the SASS rate? The DPMS rifles have somewhat of a reputation of being built to a lower price point and as such some of their components are not as high of quality as other AR based rifles from higher end manufacturers. That does seem to play out on both the LR-308B and this SASS rifle we evaluated here. The pistol grip was not that great and fit and finish were acceptable, though not top notch and the performance of the rifle was fine, though not as good as we were hoping compared to the much lower priced LR-308B So as a final grade, the SASS slots in about where you would expect it to when comparing it to a Knights Armament Company (KAC) or other higher end 308 base AR platform that costs twice as much, it just doesn’t have the same quality, but still performs acceptably for what you paid for.