Out of the Wilder­ness

The Desert Tech MDR bullpup hits the con­sumer mar­ket at long last

Firepower - - CONTENTS - TEXT BY STEVE COULSTON / PHO­TOS BY TRACER X

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.

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