Out of the Wilderness
The Desert Tech MDR bullpup hits the consumer market at long last
Finally. After years of prototypes, hype, teaser pics and promises, Utah-based Desert Tech has made good and delivered the new bullpup rifle everyone has been waiting for. The Desert Tech Micro Dynamic Rifle (MDR) is now available. No really, it is. We promise… seriously. Ok, just read on.
Our coverage of the MDR began during SHOT Show 2014 when it was simply a plastic 3D print. The concept was promising. In short, it is a compact bullpup rifle capable of begin configured in multiple calibers that can be changed out quickly with a new innovative left- or right-side forward eject.
In December 2014 Desert Tech invited a group of gun industry media partners out to their testing facility to get a feel for the working MDR prototypes. During our brief visit, it was evident they had come a long way with the project. The .308 variant was up and running; however, the 5.56 conversion was down most of the time. The biggest challenge was the forward ejection feature. Neither caliber variant was playing nice with the ejection port; it had to be removed from the test rifles for them to function. The trip was productive and all parties involved came away with valuable information and expectations for the MDR. It became evident at SHOT 2015 that Desert Tech was taking our input seriously, but the rifle was still far from the eager consumer market.
It wasn’t until SHOT Show 2016 that we could get a solid update on the rifle’s
progress. We spoke to Desert Tech’s lead engineer and he explained the complexities of the problematic bullpup design and the challenges the team was facing. To move the project along, Desert Tech brought on a new engineering team, which reworked the MDR for constructability and reliability. We discussed the MDR features, like caliber conversion, forward eject, magazine release, and so on. The bullpup would also need to meet NATO test procedures and would need to pass a 50,000-round test prior to release. They even began taking orders. Optimistic! Second quarter of 2016 was the promised release date.
That year came and went without a debut. The release date was pushed further and further back. Customers began to get frustrated and understandably so. We spoke to Nicholas Young, President of Desert Tech, about the delay and he shared his customer’s frustration. However, he was insistent the rifle had to be 100% before releasing it to the public. Desert Tech didn’t want to rush the rifle into production only to have major issues with it later.
As SHOT Show 2017 approached, it was finally announced that the MDR would be launched at a private indoor range event. Have you ever shot a rifle at an indoor range? Pro tip: Don’t, unless it’s suppressed. The MDR at the event was configured for .308 and… unsuppressed. It was not fun to shoot due to the massive concussion and reverberation within the indoor range. This was a brief shoot that consisted of two mags of ten rounds apiece. Not much to form an opinion, but at least it was something.
“After years of teasers, desert tech has delivered its bullpup rifle.”
The 26.2-inch rifle balanced well and pointed easily. The trigger press felt decent and the .308 recoil was stout but manageable. We assumed the 5.56 version would be extremely tame. After the shoot, we made plans to get an MDR for a future test and evaluation. We would have to wait until fall of 2017 to get that opportunity.
“The trigger press felt decent and the .308 recoil was stout but manageable.”
The rifle we received for evaluation was the production model of the MDR. By that time the MDR was being shipped to dealers and a few had been seen in the wild. Gun writers like yours truly were given the opportunity to get a week or two of time on the long-anticipated bullpup. With great excitement, we got our rifle all set up and hit the range.
For our testing, we used two optics. The first was the Leupold ER/T 8.5-25 mounted in a Zrodelta M4 mount. This would be used for accuracy testing. The second optic was the rugged Trijicon VCOG 1-6, which would be well suited for the compact rifle up close and at medium distances. We also fitted the rifle with Rainier Arms FDE BUIS, a CRUX ARK30 sound suppressor, Magpul FDE M-LOK AFG, Arisaka/malkoff 300 Series light and an assortment of magazines and ammunition. Upon inspection, we were pleased to see the MDR maintained all its ambidextrous controls. The magazine release is easily reached with either firing hand and located just in front of the trigger where you’d expect it to be. A third release is found in front of the magazine well, allowing the shooter to use either hand to release and strip the mag. The short-throw safety is easily manipulated on either side of the rifle and the
bolt release is directly behind the magwell, lending itself to seamless loading of the magazine while at the same time dropping the bolt to chamber a round. The rifle can also be chambered using the non-reciprocating charging handle on either side which can be locked to the rear similar to the HK MP5. There is also a storage compartment in the pistol grip, which is also removable, potentially lending itself to aftermarket grips.
“It is a compact bullpup rifle capable of being configured in multiple calibers that can be changed out quickly.”
Ejection sides can be easily swapped from right to left, but honestly it’s not necessary. Thanks to the forward eject feature, even if the shooter shares the same side as the ejection port the spent brass is sent forward of the shooter’s face. This is achieved by a mechanism within the opposite port insert that will push the case into and down the ejection port on the opposite side during the extraction cycle. When the bolt heads back home, it pushes the spent round down the ejection port where it is held in place by a spring-tensioned claw. Once the cycle is repeated and another spent case enters the ejection port, the first spent brass is spit out the front. If the shooter does desire to switch sides the ports are easily removed and swapped without tools. No left-hand/ right-hand bolt needed. Bottom line, the MDR is a rifle that can be shot and manipu-
lated a number of ways, accommodating a variety of shooting styles.
At the range we ran it through its paces.
The trigger was somewhat gritty but broke at a consistent 4.5 to 4.75 lbs. on our Wheeler pull scale. We cycled .308 Freedom Munitions 155-grain, .308 Federal Fusion 155-grain and 7.62x51 Aguila 150-grain. The best 5-shot groupings averaged approximately 1 MOA between all rounds. We used a variety of magazines including the PMAG, Lancer L7AWM, and the new Hexmag .308. All the mags tested were patterned after the SR-25 mag. We also had a X-product 50-round drum, but it wouldn’t seat in the MDR and was not used.
There are three settings on the gas block: Normal, Suppressed and Adverse. We kept the rifle on normal, even during the suppressed shots, the reason being we didn’t have the appropriate tool on hand to loosen the handguard tensioning screws. The handguard must be removed to adjust the gas block that is tucked under the rear of the handguard. It would be nice if the MDR had an access port that allowed gas block adjustments without having to remove the handguard. Obviously, the suppressed shots over-gassed the rifle on the normal setting. Having one’s face so close to the ejection port during suppressed shooting resulted in mouthfuls of gas, which was less than pleasant.
During both suppressed and unsuppressed operation there were some malfunctions. First was a failure to eject, likely due to the over-gassing. It appeared the brass would over-expand to the point that it got stuck in the forward eject port, leading to a stoppage. As mentioned, the MDR ejection ports can be easily removed and reversed so we simply removed the forward ejection port and continued firing.
There was also an issue with the safety. After the last round was fired and the bolt locked to the rear, the safety could be rotated 180 degrees. Odd for sure, but it didn’t cause any real problems. There was a failure to feed the last round with one run through the Hexmag using Aguila ammo, as well as a few light primer strikes with the Aguila and PMAG combo. We ended the session shooting unsuppressed (again, on the normal gas setting). It was during that time while shooting Freedom Munition rounds that we had a failure to feed. Upon closer inspection the malfunction was caused by a stuck round in the chamber. The rim had been torn off by the extractor and the fired brass remained and had to be removed with a cleaning rod after the rifle was deemed safe. We would be lying if we didn’t say we were a bit disappointed, but we can’t say whether this was due to the MDR or the reman ammunition we were using. We would like to give the MDR the benefit of the doubt on this one.
After that session, we contacted Desert Tech and told them about our experience. They immediately sent us a new rifle to use and we sent the first one back. Desert Tech later told us they didn’t find any issues with the MDR and were able to shoot
it without malfunctions, which leads us to believe that it was an ammunition issue.
The safety over-rotation was due to the safety detent moving ever so slightly during recoil. When the last round was fired, the shooter’s thumb pressed down on the safety caused it to over rotate. They replaced the detent, fixing the issue.
Along with the new rifle Desert Tech included some 149-grain 7.62x51 American Eagle and their own heavier 175-grain .308 Desert Tech Premium ammo. They have a 0.5 MOA guarantee on their ammo, and sure enough we did achieve 0.5 MOA on the new rifle with a three-round string using the heavier ammunition. The best 5-round group we managed was 1 MOA. Most of the groups were wider than 1 MOA, but we’re confident that was due to our abilities (or lack thereof) and not the MDR. It should be noted that when the suppressor heated up the mirage off the CRUX played hell with viewing the target through the long Leupold. The trigger on the new rifle was much smoother, with a cleaner 4-pound break. Desert Tech told us the second rifle was well-used and broken in, while the first was fairly new. There were not any ejection issues this time and the safety selector over-rotation was gone. We only had one malfunction, which unfortunately was another stuck case in the chamber. This time the culprit was a 155 Federal Premium Fusion. MDR or ammunition issue? We can’t say for sure.
“the best group we managed was 1 MOA. Most were wider, but we’re confident that was due to our ability and not the MDR.”
“the cost is comparable to a scar 17 and the mdr gives you a lot of flexibility.”
Overall, we enjoyed our time with the MDR despite the issues we experienced. While not exactly lightweight, the majority of its heft is at the rear so it handles well. It is nice and compact, even with a 16-inch 1:10 barrel. For comparison, we put it next to our in-house SCAR 17 SBR with a 12-inch barrel and the stock collapsed all the way. The MDR was still shorter, more accurate, and doesn’t require a tax stamp to own. The ergonomics and ambidextrous options on the MDR are more user-friendly and it has a non-reciprocating charging handle, unlike the SCAR. The SCAR 17 recoil impulse feels a bit less than the MDR; however the MDR’S ability to change barrels, ejection sides and calibers is much easier than other bullpups currently on the market. It’s also easier to field strip and clean.
There is a lot of potential here. Is it worth the $2,500 price tag for the tested .308? That’s something the consumer will need to decide, but the cost is comparable to a SCAR 17 and the MDR gives you a lot of gun and flexibility. You can also purchase caliber conversion kits and other accessories separately at additional cost. The Desert Tech Micro Dynamic Rifle is still in its infancy and it will take some time to see how this baby grows and develops. But one thing is for sure.
After all those years, the MDR is finally here. Welcome to the family, little guy. Now get to work and show us what you got.
The 26.2-inch rifle balanced well and pointed easily. We assumed the 5.56 version would be extremely tame. Bullpup type rifles are complex to design and build. The MDR was no exception.
Upon inspection, we were pleased to see the MDR maintained all its ambidextrous controls.
We fitted the rifle with Rainier Arm FDE BUIS, Magpul FDE M-LOK AFG, Arisaka/malkoff 300 Series light.
A Rainier Arms rear BUIS is mounted to the MDR’S top rail.
Thanks to the forward eject feature, even if the shooter shares the same side as the ejection port the spent brass is sent forward of the shooter’s face.
We fitted a CRUX ARK30 sound suppressor to the barrel, and we used two optics, a Leupold ER/T 8.5-25 mounted in a Zrodelta M4 mount for accuracy testing and a Trijicon VCOG 1-6 up close and at medium distances.
There are three settings on the gas block—normal, Suppressed and Adverse—but we kept the rifle on normal, even during the suppressed shots, the reason being we didn’t have the appropriate tool on hand to loosen the handguard.
We put the MDR next to our inhouse SCAR 17
SBR with a 12-inch barrel and its stock collapsed all the way. The MDR was still shorter, more accurate, and doesn’t require a tax stamp to own.
While not exactly lightweight, the majority of the MDR’S heft is at the rear so it handles well.