Smith & Wesson M&P10 Review
October 10, 2014
The area surrounding Del Rio, Texas, does not look like sheep territory'¦not even close. This is pure on-the-border Texas brush country. The terrain is mostly pancake flat, with a few canyons and drainages cut into the landscape. There's not a rise that could be considered more than a steep, albeit rocky, hill. This is not a place you'd expect to find hunters in search of sheep.
But outside of high fences and pricey ranches that dot the roads around Del Rio, the brush gives way to a huge population of free-range Barbary sheep, better known as aoudad.
These stout exotics are born of the rough, barren, and waterless ground of Northern Africa, and they enjoy arid climates, steep cliffs, and canyon hideaways.
Aoudad were first introduced into the Palo Duro Canyon area of Texas in 1957, after soldiers stationed on the Barbary Coast during World War II decided they would make fine game animals in the similar Lone Star climate.
Ranches and high fences were not enough to hold the sheep, and they began to reproduce and spread quickly around the region. Estimates have populations around 28,000-plus in Texas today, with their most notable habitat being the Trans-Pecos region — most hunters picture these mountain-dwellers in the rockier habitat of the Davis Mountains.
No matter what seems to be a lack of hardcore habitat, the aoudad do quite well in the flat land. They're as tough as the cowboys this country produces, old males weathered and worn, the hide on their foreheads beaten down from hit after bone-crunching hit.
I've never seen it in person, but it seems to me that two aoudad rams facing off would be quite the sight. Butting battles are all about force — picture two locomotives slamming together, sometimes at speeds up to 20 mph — with enough power to make a crash-test dummy crumble. Some say the forehead crack can be heard from up to a mile away.
The ram I took home from Del Rio was one of this sort, an old boy that had seen his fair share of challengers. His forehead looked like a tattered road map, with lines and cracks twisting in every direction and hairless patches rubbed black with dirt.
He was a 10-plus-year-old stud — the equivalent of a 180-inch whitetail or a 350-inch bull — with horns 31 1â„2 inches in length and tons of mass. He was the talk of camp'¦that is until fellow hunter Matt Rice's 32-inch giant bested him the next day.
To take down this built-like-a-horse beast, I employed the Smith & Wesson M&P10. In fact, the point of my trip to Del Rio was to field-test the newest AR in .308, in what would become a quick and dirty (although successful) Texas affair.
Tough Tested 10
Going into the hunt, I knew that the aoudad sported a tough, thick hide that would require some punch, and the shots could be relatively long. Rams are also known to leave little to no blood trail.
Given this evidence, it was clear that a flat-shooting, hard-hitting caliber would be required, making the .308 Win. a logical choice. Not to mention that like many game animals indigenous to Africa, these bastards have a will to live like you've never seen.
Having had significant experience with Smith & Wesson's M&P platform on various levels — from range time with the M&P15 to plinking with the venerable M&P15-22 — I was familiar with the ins and outs of the line. Now it was time to put the M&P10 (S&W's long-awaited large-lower-receiver M&P version) to the test.
Before picking up an out-of-the-box AR and heading into the field, I normally have three top-level hunting requirements (among the many, many other considerations): It has to be lightweight, versatile, and, of course, accurate. The M&P10 fit this bill pretty damn well.
For the regular guy who just wants an AR with more knockdown power, this offering handles like any other semiauto you've ever shot. The rifle weighs in at just a tick over eight pounds with no add-ons, which is just a pound heavier than popular bolt guns like the Remington 700. Even when you add the optic of your choice, the rifle likely won't break the nine-pound barrier.
It comes from the factory dressed in a Realtree camo finish with a fixed, slim profile Magpul MOE stock, a simple plastic M4-type handguard, and an 18-inch 4140 steel barrel, which is shorter than most hunting rifles but won't (and didn't) tangibly affect performance.
When hoofing through the cactus-filled landscape around Del Rio, it was a pleasure to carry the light, ergonomic rifle, and I can see enjoying these features on a Western elk hunt or when climbing into a deer stand. The recoil is more than manageable, as long as you keep in mind that this definitely isn't a .223.
On the versatility side of things, the M&P10 offers an ambidextrous bolt release, safety and magazine release — particularly handy for the awkward shooting positions you can encounter on spot-and-stalk missions and just a general upgrade from other AR-10s on the market.
The M&P10 sports a flattop receiver and low-profile gas block that both feature sections of MIL-STD-1913 rail for mounting an optic and backup iron sights if you so choose. The railed block makes it easy to co-witness the two, which is a helpful alternative.
The accuracy test was a three-day-long process during this hunt with an hour-long range portion to kick things off. On first impression the trigger on the M&P10 left a ton to be desired. It's a decent factory trigger, but at over six pounds, it has a lot of creep. Most folks who are looking for true precision will replace this with something from Geissele or Timney, but the factory version wouldn't deter me from buying this rifle.
That's mostly because when I first picked up the M&P10 it was no problem to slap targets at 100 and 200 yards, using a shooting rest of course. I shot several sub 2-inch groups, and was confident right off the bat that the aoudad were in trouble.
The next morning I set off with my guide, Korey Reichert of Acorn Outfitters, a passionate hunter and full-time Deputy U.S. Marshal with the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force.
After an early morning spent watching a food plot where Reichert had seen several big rams days before, we moved on — there was actually little hunting that morning: I was too busy listening to Korey's numerous stories about kicking in doors and smacking down fugitives. After the first few hours in the truck, I was convinced that this dude was at a badass level at least close to Walker, Texas Ranger. If only the sheep had skipped a few child support payments'¦but I digress.
That afternoon, after spotting and not stalking for a few hours in the hot Texas sun, Korey decided it was time to hit the honey hole. A bit early for this last-ditch attempt, but this was a two-day hunt and we wanted to get a ram down'¦soon.
As the truck came to a stop in a cloud of dust, Korey gave me that look, as if to say "Don't mess this up! There's a big ram right over this hill!" I nodded with a nervous twitch and slammed the five-round magazine home.
We trekked cautiously for what seemed like no time at all until the truck faded behind the brush and the thick cover opened up into a sloped drainage, pushing forward into a modestly rocky canyon. I glassed the open space for brown specs in the rimrock'¦nothing.
"Right here, right the hell here," Korey said, throwing a right hook between my shoulder blades.
Before I could look up, I caught a group of aoudad (20 or more) scurrying up the hillside 100 yards to our left. Korey threw up the shooting sticks, and I buried the M&P10 into the fork. Now I had to pick out and zero in on the shootable ram '¦not easy.
It was a frantic few seconds before the right one flashed into my view. He stopped at 128 yards in the midst of the craziness, and I squeezed. The bullet smacked him through the top of the front shoulder and down into the vitals. He collapsed. But it wasn't over yet. It took two more .308 rounds to finish the deal.
"Ram down!" was satisfying to hear from my door-kicking, handcuffing guide, and the M&P10 made the opportunity count.
My only question: Was this a proper field test? Did I challenge this rifle enough on this one-day hunt? The answer was obvious; the M&P10 performed every task required and did so quite admirably. The advertised features worked.
This Del Rio brush country test proved the M&P10 to be versatile, accurate, and hunt-ready.