Back in 1974, Dennis Reese and his father Bob drove from Geneseo, Illinois, to a small town in Texas to check out a machine shop building M1A rifles under the brand name of Springfield Armory. A purchase deal was struck, and soon a couple of trucks filled with parts headed north to create a new iteration of the historic brand.
Since that time, Springfield Armory has continued to make M1A rifles and a slew of variants. They’ve also gotten very serious about the personal defense market, starting with a mid-1980s move into the 1911 pistol space. By 1989, they’d become proficient enough at building handguns that they won the prestigious FBI SWAT and HRT contracts. From that point, the company catapulted into the civilian self-defense market, starting with the 2001 birth of the XD family revolution.
With a couple of decades of emphasis on building defensive guns for everyday citizens, one thing was still missing: entry into the crowded AR-15 market. Now that gap in the product line is filled. The SAINT is Springfield Armory’s foray into the defensive carbine world. While it’s perfectly at home on competition or plinking ranges, it’s designed for those who want a serious defensive tool. Before release, I spent a couple of days in the desert outside of Las Vegas running a pair of SAINTs through their paces. Here’s what I learned about the SAINT.
By now, you’ve probably seen the advertising and social media campaigns about the SAINT launch. The messaging is laser focused on defense and aimed at those who view their protection as a personal responsibility. Along those lines, the SAINT carbine is configured to do exactly that. You won’t find race gun tweaks designed to shave a fraction of a second off a competitive stage time. You find a rock solid rifle that has carefully chosen features designed to make it easy to use well under stress.
Starting with the furniture, because that’s the “user interface” between the shooter and the rifle, you’ll see Bravo Company gear on the SAINT — lots of it.
The buttstock is a black (for now anyway) BCM Gunfighter model. This stock is pure function. The comb is wide and well rounded, which facilitates a solid cheek weld pretty much wherever you prefer to anchor your head, close to the receiver or farther back toward the butt pad. In fact, the whole stock is well rounded to prevent snags on clothing or gear.
On the back is a rubber recoil pad. Granted, an AR-15 doesn’t need much if any cushion against recoil, so this really serves as a non-slip surface. Both the top and bottom edges are well contoured to help prevent the rubber from catching on clothing or gear as you raise the rifle into firing position. From an “administrative” standpoint, the rubber pad also prevents your rifle from falling down when you lean it against a table or bench. The butt stock is also sling ready. You’ll see a single socket on both sides for insertion of a QD (quick detach) sling swivel. There is also a horizontal slot through which you can loop a sling strap. Or, you can adopt the lower profile approach and insert the sling through one side and rely on a buckle on the opposite end to hold it in place. I configured a Blue Force Gear Vickers sling that way and liked how the strap stayed out of my way. While we’re talking about sling configurations on the SAINT, you’ll also see a VBOST (Vehicle Borne Operations Sling Tab) tab on the bottom. This notch allows you to coil up your sling and hold it in place with a bungee or rubber band, thereby keeping it from flopping around and getting caught on stuff while in tight quarters. All the buttstock features are nice, but what stands out is the rock solid fit with the receiver extension tube. The stock is a six-position adjustable, but once you lock it in place, there’s no shake or rattle — none.
The SAINT also features a Bravo Company Mod 0 Pistol Grip. You’ll notice that it’s more vertically oriented than a standard Mil-Spec grip. That’s to support the modern “facing forward” combat stance. With a bladed stance, a sharply angled grip worked just fine. When you face the target head on, an angled grip causes and awkward and bordering on uncomfortable bend in the shooting wrist. The different is shocking once you try the vertical Mod 0 grip. I’ll be migrating my other rifles in that direction. Just forward of the grip, you’ll see a rounded Bravo trigger guard that allows a little extra room for fat fingers or gloved use.
The handguard is also provided by Bravo and for now is a model exclusive to the SAINT. Called the PKMR, it’s a two-piece KeyMod compatible design. It has six keyMod slots at the eleven and one o’clock positions and KeyMod slots all along the bottom. Between the KeyMod slots are flat and well-textured sections running down both sides. A ridge on the bottom at the front end provides a tactile hand position stop and helps keep your fingers off the hot barrel. Speaking of heat, the hand guard covers two aluminum heat shields inside. Even with those, I found the hand guard slim and easy to handle.
While we’re talking about user interface, I should mention the trigger. It’s Mil-Spec weight by design but feels noticeably lighter. That’s because all the trigger parts are micro-polished and treated with nickel boron. The result is a smooth and slick interface between your finger and the firing pin. The trigger press is smooth and grit free and very much unlike that of most factory AR-type rifles. I liked it — a lot.
As you would expect, the upper and lower receivers are made from Type III hard-anodized aircraft grade 7075 T6 aluminum. What’s different is the inclusion of what Springfield Armory calls the Accu-Tite tensioning system. That allows users to tweak a precise and very tight fit between upper and lower receivers. You can really feel the difference. With no detectable movement or shake, the receiver feels like one solid piece, yet it’s just as easy to disassemble as any other rifle.
The barrel is the standard 16-inch featuring a 1:8-inch twist rate, so it will handle a broad range of bullet lengths and associated weights. Whether you want to shoot light varmint ammo or heavier 77-grain projectiles, the rifle will stabilize all of them. The barrel is treated with Melonite, and if you ever do any customizing, you’ll find that everything is treated, even areas under the GI front sight and gas block. You won’t find any shortcuts that will leave bare metal exposed should you decide to do some reconfiguration down the road.
The bolt carrier group is M16-style and made from Carpenter 158 steel and again as you would expect, the gas key is properly staked.
Shooting the SAINT is where you feel the benefits of this rifle. Over two days I put 1,000 or so rounds through two different SAINTs. The first thing I noticed is the solid and rattle free feel. The second thing is the smooth recoil impulse. Part of the reason for that is the rock-solid assembly, but the real impact comes from the use of a mid-length gas system that slows and evens out the recoil impulse. It’s paired with an “H” (heavy) tungsten buffer that chills out the action even more. The end result is a very smooth shooting rifle. Consistent with its intended defensive role, it’s easy to shoot fast and get back on target.
To get a proper feel for its handling properties, I ran through various instruction drills over two days, including close range shooting, shooting from and around cars and so on. However, the real speed shooting and reliability tests came with two very unusual courses of fire. First up was Popper Palooza. Dreamed up by Springfield Armory competitive shooter Rob Leatham, Popper Palooza places the shooter in front of a vast semi-circle of 100 heavy steel popper targets. Four loaded magazines are available.
The goal is to knock down all 100 targets as fast as you can before running out of ammo. Yes, it was great fun, but more importantly, it was a great way to see how the rifle handled while shooting fast — really fast. It also gave some indication of reliability under a bit of mechanical stress. Try shooting 120 rounds through an AR as fast as you can pull the trigger, and you’ll see one very, very hot rifle.
As it turns out, Popper Palooza was just the warm up for Field of Chaos later in the evening. Imagine 4,000 rounds available in loaded magazines on tables in front of 15 SAINT shooters. Downrange are 350 Tannerite-enabled targets. Again, the goal was to inflict as much damage as possible as quickly as possible. If Popper Palooza was an example of AR abuse, Field of Chaos was more like AR waterboarding. But once again, my SAINT ran like a champ, although even with the heat shields, gloves were absolutely mandatory to protect against smokin’ hot barrels.
After spending some quality time with the SAINT, here’s how I would boil it down. This rifle is built to shoot. With an MSRP of just $899, it’s made and configured like one costing half again as much. If it tells you anything, I am going to send my hard-earned money to the folks at Springfield Armory to buy both rifles I used during the Popper Palooza event.
Manufacturer: Springfield Armory
Model: SAINT AR-15
Receiver: Type III hard-anodized aircraft grade 7075 T6 aluminum
Barrel: 16-inch Chrome Moly Vanadium, Melonite-coated exterior
Twist Rate: 1:8-inch
Barrel Extension: M4 feed ramps
Gas System: Mid-length, direct impingement, .750-inch diameter gas port
Bolt and carrier: M16 BCG with Carpenter 158 steel bolt, shot peened and magnetic particle inspected, staked gas key
Buffer: Carbine “H” Heavy Tungsten
Trigger: Micro-polished Mil-Spec, nickel boron coated
Sights: GI “F” height front sight, low profile flip-up rear sight
Pistol Grip: Bravo Company Mod 0 grip with oversized trigger guard
Receiver extension: Six-position adjustable Mil-Spec, 7075 T6 Type III hard-anodized aluminum
Stock: Bravo Company stock with rubber butt plate, custom receiver extension fit for no-rattle operation, fixed and two QD sling attachment points
Handguard: Bravo Company PKMR two-piece with heat shield, KeyMod accessory attachment
Length: 35.5 inches fully extended, 32.25 inches collapsed
Magazine: One, 30-round Magpul PMAG Gen M3