Panther Arms .308 Carbine and Leupold Mark 4
by Sheppard Kelly
DPMS/Panther Arms family of AR type rifles needs no introduction to
readers of Tactical Response. The January-February 2005 issue had a
comparison test of the DPMS LR-308 Rifle to a well-known bolt action rifle.
The accuracy and reliability of the DPMS rifle was equal to or better than
the bolt gun.
DPMS/Panther Arms recently introduced a new variation of the LR-308, dubbed
the AP-4. This is a tactical version of the LR-308, with a 16” barrel and
newly-design flash hider. The AP-4 retains the milled 6061-T6 aluminum lower
receiver of the LR-38, but is equipped with a completely redesigned upper.
The new upper is a thick walled, extruded A3 style design, with ejection
port cover, forward assist, and a standard height Picatinny rail suitable
for back up iron sights and scopes. The rifle is equipped with a standard A2
front sight assembly, a six position telescoping buttstock, and a heavy
contour (but not bull) barrel.
The rifle for our test came with a 4 track Picatinny QUAD Rail handguard, to
allow the attachment of various light systems, lasers, and vertical
foregrips. DPMS is also now shipping their .308-caliber rifles with a new
design all steel 20 round magazine, and we had a half dozen to use in our
MR/T (Mid Range) Tactical Scopes
At the same time we received the AP-4, Chris O’Donnell, former Navy SEAL and
currently the head of Leupold’s Law Enforcement division, sent me two new
scopes for testing.
The first of the new MK4s was a one-inch tube diameter, 1.5-5x20mm variable
with Leupold’s new Special Purpose Reticle (SPR). The second scope was also
designated MK4, but this scope was labeled MR/T (Mid Range Tactical), also
1.5-5 x20mm, but in a 30mm diameter tube with illuminated SPR reticle and a
Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC). Both of these scopes appeared to be a
variation of one of Leupold’s oldest and most successful commercial
telescopic sights, the Vari-X III 1.5-5 power variable.
According to O’Donnell, there were several thoughts behind this scope. Their
Medium Range engagement line only carried the 3-9x36mm leaving the lower end
uncovered. Second, the military was buying a significant amount of their
1.5-5 VXIII scopes for various weapon systems, the most common being
variants of the good old M-14.
Third, the eye relief on the 3-9x36mm (designed for the 5.56mm Special
Purpose Rifle) makes it problematic to use on systems other than the M-16 or
variants. Fourth, the MR/T 1.5-5 has the ˝ MOA BDC, which is being asked for
in shorter range scopes much more frequently than the 1 MOA style. Not as
much elevation is needed to reach the effective range of the weapon system,
so a single turn on a ˝ MOA dial is usually sufficient.
The following BDCs are currently available for the 1.5-5x20mm MR/T as
standard part numbers. In addition, they have the ability to produce BDCs
for any weapon system once we have the necessary ballistic data. Most of the
common combinations already in the system are: 1) 5.56mm, 62 gr. M855, 2)
5.56mm, 77 gr. MK262 MOD 1, 3) 7.62mm, 168 gr. M852 and 4) 7.62mm, 175 gr.
The Special Purpose Reticle (SPR) was designed to allow users to
successfully engage targets with greater flexibility than was generally
possible with other styles. The reticle preserves the instinctive fire
capabilities of the Leupold Circle Dot reticle (as introduced in the Leupold
CQ/T scope) in short range, low magnification engagements typical of CQB.
This unique blend of capabilities allows the various optical platforms
equipped with the reticle to perform equally well in open desert, heavy
cover, or an urban environment.
The SPR incorporates the milli-radians (MILS) scale for range estimation.
Additionally, ‘hash’ and ‘tic’ marks on the SPR reticle can be correlated
with ammunition trajectory. While the incorporation of MILS and ballistic
trajectory marks will see little use by law enforcement personnel, they
certainly be beneficial in military applications.
Enlisting the aid of two experienced Illinois State Police rifleman, we
tested our new AP-4 and Leupold scopes at both 100 and 200 yards, and did
some ‘snap’ shots at 15 and 25 yards to see if the SPR scope reticle would
allow quick target acquisition. Both of our ISP troopers are master shots
with their M-4 service carbines, and immediately remarked that the heavier
recoil of the AP-4 .308 required them to adjust their stance and hold on the
rifle to control it in rapid fire drills.
Once control was realized, double taps were performed with satisfactory
results. But make no mistake, up close, the recoil of a .308-caliber in any
rifle, even as ergonomically friendly as the AP-4, far exceeds that of a
5.56mm. Training is needed.
Our rifle was tested with a variety of .308-caliber rounds in various bullet
weights. It showed a definite affinity for the Black Hills 175 gr. Match
round and two Hornady Tactical Application Police loadings, the 168 gr. BTHP
match and the 168 gr. A-MAX. Our rifle shot exceptional groups at 200 yards
with the Hornady 168-gr. Match load, no small feat considering a 5X scope
and an “M-16 issue” trigger pull, and is also a testament to the skill of
one of our shooters.
Our rifle functioned flawlessly in over 300 rounds of shooting. It
definitely showed an accuracy preference for the heavier .308-caliber bullet
weights, no doubt reflecting its 1-in-10-inch rifling twist barrel. With
this performance, such bullets as the 168 gr. Hornady A-MAX TAP round, which
combines match grade accuracy with an expansion feature, would seem ideal
for LE patrol work.
We also noted the quality and performance of the new DPMS 20 round steel
magazine. Prior to the expiration of federal legislation limiting newly
manufactured magazines to 10 rounds, all DPMS LR-308 rifles were shipped
with a 10 round polymer magazine. While generally quite satisfactory for
recreational use, these magazines suffered when subjected to the rigors of
law enforcement use. The new steel magazines are more than adequate for LE
The AP-4 is equipped with a collapsible M-4 style stock. Recoil was very
manageable with this stock, due in part to the weight of our rifle, which
was over 8 lbs. For those used to the weight of the M-4 this difference is
apparent, but the design and balance of the AP-4 makes the rifle seem
lighter. After a few hours of shooting and handling, it was not a
The new Leupold MK 4 scopes neatly bridge the gap between the long-range
variables traditionally used on .308-caliber rifles and the short range ‘red
dot’ sights found frequently on carbines. They are a natural for use on a
rifle like the AP-4.
The AP-4 represents another excellent addition to the law enforcement
offerings from DPMS/Panther Arms. The redesign of the upper receiver to
incorporate forward assist device, cartridge deflector block, and ejection
port cover, make the rifle a natural for LE use. Coupled with ammunition
like the Hornady Tactical Application Police loadings, the AP-4 is a weapon
system that is a welcome addition to the growing number of .308-caliber,
semi-auto rifles suitable for law enforcement use.
Sheppard Kelly is a former supervisory special agent with a federal law
enforcement agency. He was in charge of its firearms training and weapons
and ammunition research & development program. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.