SIG SAUER's 716 Patrol
On the Quest for
the Holy Grail
of Tactical Rifles
By Joe W Gorman
Back in the 1970s I used my paper route money to purchase a Victorinox Swiss Army Knife. In my teenage mind it was a tool I could use to do a hundred daily tasks. Heck, I'd owned it for a couple weeks before a friend showed me the tweezers and the tooth pick. Before he showed me, I didn't even know the knife had those features! I could do a lot with that knife but after I'd used it for a number of daily chores I began to understand the problems with a do-it-all tool. The screw driver COULD be used to tighten loose screws but in truth, it was a lot easier to go grab a real driver. I COULD use the scissors to cut paper but it would be better, if accurate cuts were important, if I went and grabbed a pair of traditional scissors.
The cynic might also conclude that there is simply no one-size-fits-all rifle. I understand this cynicism. It's mostly accurate. In my experience, the most hyper-accurate rifles are bolt guns. So if I set off to find the Holy Grail of rifles I should probably avoid the road sign that says "Semis" if hyper-accuracy is requirement numero uno. And while accuracy is important to me, so is the ability of my idyllic Uber-rifle to fill a tactical role. The demands of a tactical rifle--to operate in close proximity to people who intend to kill me--would leave a bolt action target rifle off my short list of considerations. As with most things in life, the perfect rifle is a compromise.
So off I go, clacking coconut hulls together, down the path of semi-automatic rifles. My idea of a do-anything rifle can fill a tactical role, is 1 m.o.a accurate and is a semi-automatic. It must use relatively inexpensive and readily available magazines. It must be compact and of reasonable weight. It has to be adaptable to a wide range of missions and of sufficient caliber to harvest big game as well as flat shooting enough to be used at long distances against varmints and predators. And last, but most importantly, it must go bang when the trigger is pulled, even if the trigger is sandy or wet or muddy or 20 below zero.
A Swiss Gunsmith's Makeover for an Old Friend
Assuming there can be no more beguiling line of tactical rifles these days than those designed around the familiar AR platform, the SIG716 represents an innovative take on the 7.62mm NATO AR-10. SIG SAUER, a company with a poetic heritage of fine craftsmanship has incorporated a short-stroke pushrod gas system in place of the direct impingement system of the AR-15/10, a unique strap attachment arrangement (which should be adopted by the M4 post-haste), a free-floating chrome-lined barrel under a Picatinny quad rail, a gas block with more rail, flip-up sights, a collapsible buttstock , an ergonomic pistol grip with storage capacity for batteries and hex wrenches etc, and capability to adjust the gas system without tools for adverse conditions or at the other end of the gas-adjust world, to shut off the gas port.
Anyone familiar with the AR platform will feel comfortable with a SIG716 Patrol in their hands. Grab the pistol grip and instinctively reach with your thumb for the safety: it's right where it should be. Go ahead and drop the magazine. You know where the mag release button is: it's in exactly the spot where it should be. SIG retained the captive push-pin receiver pins, the forward bolt assist, the brass-deflector and the chrome-lined barrel in the 716 Patrol. When you open the receiver you look at a familiar bolt carrier that is slightly larger than you're used to if you shoot an AR-15. It looks mostly the same only more massive. Sort of like if you were to have gotten your picture taken with Arnold back in the Mr. Universe days: it's way bigger and more pumped-up. My son pointed out that the pistol grip can be opened to store batteries, hex keys etc and there is even provision within the stock to carry small items.
At 9.3 pounds it's sort of a wash with my M-14 on the bathroom scales. The 16" barrel and collapsible stock means it can get more compact, down to 31.1" or fully extended up to 38.3". It loses the velocity of the 22" barrel on the M14 but offers the endless customization possible with a flat-top upper and a quadrail free-floating forend. It's quite handy when collapsed and its heft is reassuring considering it shoots the powerful 7.62 NATO cartridge.
SIG has even retained the cool flip down trigger guard (winter-trigger) so you can shoot with mittens on. They have included some handy fold-down sights that will never be mistaken for the National Match sights on my Fulton Armory M14 but that's ok, they work well for an optic back-up. I mentioned the quick release strap mounts. They are awesome. It was so easy to change sling position and quiet to boot!
The factory trigger on my 716 Patrol broke at over 7 pounds and was creepier than Hannibal Lecter. With the factory trigger, four 3-shot groups at 100 yards was accuracy-dejour with my trusty Aimpoint 5000 2x held in place with an ARMS 17 mount over a Yankee Hill Machine 223A riser. I suspected a better trigger would allow this rifle to shoot to its capability. The Rock River Arms two-stage varmint trigger dropped right in place and took about 10 minutes, start-to-finish, to install. Group size shrunk considerably after the installation of the RRA trigger (breaking weight was reduced to just under 4 pounds). The MagPul stock was quick to adjust and provided positive stops along its adjustment track. This made it easy for me, my 14-year-old son and my 17-year-old daughter (A USNA Midshipman) to shoot. MagPul supplied the magazine and fortunately they can be purchased easily and for less than $20 each.
Shooting the weapon was stress-free on the shoulder and 100-shot days were easily managed. We experienced no failures of any kind during testing of over 500 rounds. The ammunition used was Federal, Winchester USA, Hornady and several moldy boxes of various European and Brazilian surplus military ball. Some of which may have been corrosive, so the SIG did get thoroughly cleaned after each day's shoot. If you've ever seen the green fuzz on a rifle that has fired corrosive ammo and did not get cleaned, it will scare you straight!
Close Range Optics - Burris AR-FFL
As mentioned the compact 716 Patrol makes a surprisingly sprite, quick handling carbine. From door-to-door close-quarters weapon to long-range precision rifle, the 716 can be quickly converted for whatever mission is at hand. Setup for shorter range engagements, I initially outfitted the 716 with a Burris AR-FFL (laser/fastfire combo unit). I chose the visible inline laser and the beam just made it over the folding front sight. The 3 MOA Fast Fire III attached to the top of the laser box and puts the sight about 3" over the bore (which is roughly the height of the sights). The Fast Fire III features durable stainless steel/bronze and aluminum construction and coated lenses.
The image presented appears to be very slightly magnified and the red 3 MOA dot looks very crisp in bright sunlight and waning daylight. Burris says the Fast Fire III is waterproof and submersible. I did have it on in the field when a storm came through and it got wet. No problems were noted but water covered the lens to the extent I needed to wipe the lens clear with a cotton rag as water on the glass was distorting the view and the dot.
As with all red dots, the Fast Fire III really shines when used forward-mounted on the rifle, allowing for both-eyes-open shooting. When lying prone with the AR-FFL in place I could keep mil-ball ammo within the 3 MOA circle @100 yards. Elevation and windage clicks equaled roughly 1-inch at 100 yards. The recessed adjustment screws seemed to stay put after being adjusted. The lenses present a clear image and the red dot looks crisp in daylight. The dot did exhibit some streaking/smearing in low light but I did not notice it in daylight shooting sessions.
At 2x1x1 (FFIII dimensions only, not including the laser) this little sight is a great close-range solution. A rubber covered button on the side of the Fast Fire III turned the unit on and selected the brightness settings:
1. Automatic adjustment (a sensor samples the surrounding light and adjusts the dot brightness accordingly
2. Highest brightness
3. Medium brightness
4. Lowest brightness
The owner's manual cautions users to keep the optic sensor clean so that it can accurately gauge the ambient light. The automatic setting was my favorite and I used it most of the time (note: it takes the automatic setting a second to sense the light). The intensity of the dot when set to auto always seemed just right.
The red, inline laser that came with my test unit was extremely stout, waterproof to 66 feet and mounted to Picatinny rails via a zero-return throw lever. The laser can operate at low or high power. Mounted up on the top rail of the 716, I used the included remote momentary switch and mounted it such that my left hand could activate the laser. The remote switch provided positive engagement feedback with a felt click. Burris says the laser is a MIL-SPEC aiming laser, I can say it's very bright and I could easily see the dot on my neighbor's grain silo over 1/4 mile away at dusk! Lasing a target at close range was easy with the bright red laser beam. But far and away the most entertaining use of the laser was to lead my two Shiba pups on an impossible chase in the kitchen (they never tired of chasing the dot!) Another cool feature of the laser unit is an activation/battery life indicator on back of the unit.
I consider the Burris AR-FFL to be a one-and-done close-quarters optics bundle. With the Burris AR-FFL mounted I could engage moving targets extremely quickly as there is no eye relief associated with the Fast Fire III and it's parallax free out to 150 yards. If I wanted to illuminate a target in the back-40 with a maglite and confirm the bullet strike (calibrated to 50-yards) the laser was extremely visible when cranked on high.
Out to intermediate ranges, 200-yards, I feel confident that if I could lay prone I could take a coyote with accurate ammunition using the Fast Fire III. Sticking the ballistics information into a bullet trajectory calculator I came up with a 50 yard zero solution for the Burris AR-FFL. At 3" over the bore, if the Fast Fire III's dot was dead on at 50-yards, it would also be dead on at 175-yards with 168 grain BTHP match ammo. Thought of another way, from 25-200 yards, I would never be more than 1.3" high or 1.4" low.
I used the Burris AR-FFL more than any other optic while putting the 716 through its paces. I literally put it on and took it off the rifle more than 20 times. At the end of the last day of testing prior to heading to SD I reinstalled it on the 716 and shot at an empty 20 round ammo box at 100 yards. All the rounds stuck the box. I?d say that's a zero return.
Aimpoint PRO Optics
The other close-range optic I installed was the Aimpoint Patrol Range Optic or PRO. I must admit to being an Aimpoint fanboy since I bought a MKIII in 1985. I put that device on a Mini-14 Ranch Rifle and proceeded to take shots people said I couldn't possibly make!
When the 5000 series 2x hit the streets I bought one, secured it with an A.R.M.S. 17 mount and put that sight on my newly acquired AR15A2. I've taken more running Wyoming jackrabbits than anyone I've hunted with :). My 5000 still works just fine more than 20 years later and has found a home on pistols and rifles over the years. It is still a viable red dot option. The PRO would appear to be Aimpoint's bargain in red-dotedness. At $500 retail, the Aimpoint PRO (with the included mount) is a serious dot sight for a mid-level price.
The dot in the Aimpoint PRO is a 2 MOA dot and is extremely clear and sharp, even in near dark conditions. It offers adjustments for NVG and one hyper-bright setting. I saw no smearing or streaking of the dot. Mounted just beyond the upper receiver on the 716, the PRO does not obscure much, so situational awareness is maintained with both eyes open. The windage and elevation adjustments are per click at 100 yards and shooting around the square proved that that the PRO?s adjustments are repeatable. The crispness of the PRO's dot lends itself to precision shooting (particularly when turned down as much as possible).
The elevation and windage covers and the battery cover are retained by rubber keepers. Flip-up lens covers are also included with the PRO. The PRO offers 3 years of continuous, as in left on, battery life. I personally like to turn my stuff off when not in use so this would be a hard habit to break, but nice to know that should I forget, it will still be on 3 years later!
The included mount is very high quality as well and the hand turned knob has a torque-slip ratchet such that you can?t over-torque the mount to the rail. I could print groups at 50 yards with the PRO as tight as I could with the scopes.
Seeing out a little further: Trijicon ACOG 4x32
Back when I first got my hands on a4x32 ACOG back in 1993 or so, I couldn't believe the clarity of the glass. It was so clear and provided such a wide field of view for the magnification that it left a profound impression. There simply was no haze or cloudiness with the presentation. I was in love with my little Beeman SS2 until I got my hands on the ACOG.
The TA01 ACOG mounted via a TA51 mount converts it for use with a picatinny rail rather than an old school M16 carry handle. I had to mount the ACOG as far back as I could and still had a nose-to-charging handle cheek-weld due to the 1.5 inches of eye relief of the 4x32. This really only bothered me my whilst bench rest shooting without the Caldwell Lead Sled Plus. When cradled in the Lead Sled Plus, I was not bothered by the short relief. Even prone, this was not a big deal, but I did double check my shoulder/stock pressure for each shot.
The resolution of the reticle is noteworthy for its razor sharp crosshairs that glow red once it gets dark (due to tritium). There is no external means to adjust the eyepiece focus as there is on most scopes, and I usually need to readjust them if my son?s been shooting them. But the magic of the ACOG is the reticle as well as objects at all distances were perfectly clear for me and him. How the heck does that work!? Also worth noting is the fact that the elevation and windage adjustments are made without tools and are covered to stay put. Not that it's really very hard to pick up a cartridge and make an adjustment on a typical scope but it's cool to not have to!
On the bench with the ACOG, I could keep Federal and Winchester 168gr BTHP match rounds right at one-inch at 100-yards. The Hornady AMAX 168gr ammo came in tightest with a .68" center-to-center 3-shot group. With the ACOG I zeroed the center crosshair at 100 to take advantage of the graduated elevation adjustments on the vertical reticle line. I had inadvertently requested the .223 M4 calibrated ACOG so laying on the plains of South Dakota, trying to call wind and distance on far away dogs, I had to determine my own reference for distant shots. While 4x scopes are never going to be the first choice for varminters by any stretch of the keyboard, the ACOG was so clear I could actually spot and engage standing dogs easily at 300 yards. Using the match ammo and engaging steel targets set out at 700 yards, I could reliably hit a 2x1 steel plate. Not bad for a low magnification scope on a 16" barreled carbine!
Leupold Patrol Riflescope
I've reviewed the Leupold Patrol VX-R Patrol 1.25x4 extensively in another recent article and I won't bother rehashing the interesting things I discovered about this awesome optic. Good glass! It ended up staying on the SIG716 Patrol! The Butler Creek tactical covers (once broken in) have done yeoman?s duty protecting the glass surfaces. The new covers from Butler Creek need a little time on the rifle to conform to the size of the bells. Leave them on for a week or two and they grip like custom fit covers.
One other thing to note, after I wrote the Leupold Patrol VXR Patrol 1.25 x 4 review, I rotated through all these other optics. I noticed that the generous eye relief allowed me to mount this scope far enough forward on the top rail that the eye piece was clear of the charging handle. (I never said I was a fast learner!) This is a very convenient arrangement.
RotaPod/Harris Swivel Bipod
My old Harris swivel bipod has been with me for 20 years (boy I sound like a broken record) and still works flawlessly. I feel a good bipod is as important to a hunting rifleman as a scope. Harris Engineering's swivel bipods allow level shooting on uneven ground which is a Godsend. Unlike my old Harris, the new Harris features calibrated legs to allow a quick reference to help ensure both legs are extended the same length. I chose the shortest (6-9") bipod to help keep my SIG716 TAC/VARMINTER as light and snag-proof as possible. The spring-loaded leg retainers performed smoothly during the controlled bench tests and out in the field. What I didn?t have 20-years ago but I sure wish I did was the new ROTAPOD RBA-1. This precision block of aluminum attaches to a picatinny rail quickly via a spring-loaded retaining pin. But the ROTAPOD?s reason for being is to work in harmony with the Harris bipod to allow rotation, left and right, of the rifle.
Imagine setting up a coyote ambush with a predator call, like the Foxpro Wildfire2 call I've been using lately. A couple coyotes circle in to investigate the call and you take one out with one shot. As the other runs, the FOXBANG feature on the Wildfire call automatically switches to my second preset, a "coyote in distress" call. The remaining coyote slows to a trot or even circles back. Rather than picking up your rifle to resituate and engage the second yote, the ROTAPOD allows you to follow him out 30 degrees without moving your bipod (that's 170" at 100 yards!). That is way cool. Of course, if you prefer, you can lock the ROTAPOD so that it doesn?t rotate for bench sessions etc. This device is a predator hunters must-have!
I spoke with the inventor of the Rotapod, Emilio Canovaca about this impressive piece of hardware. He speculated that had Mr Harris (the inventor of the Harris Bipod) lived, he would have designed a similar device. But it was Emilio who actually designed the Rotapod and I am very impressed with it, especially after using it on the plains of South Dakota. The new improved Harris bipod/ROTAPOD is a tremendous combo-unit, allowing an accurate carbine to quickly become a long range instrument out in the field. The ease with which it can be installed and removed is just amazing.
Wringing it out
The Rock River Arms varmint trigger solved the trigger-induced ho-hum accuracy of the initial shoots. But we got no cooperation from the weather for our early evaluations. Record cold and rain made shooting time scarce. Worse yet, on relatively sunny and warm days (there were two in April!) we dealt with sustained 30-knot winds. I was not so concerned with the wind's effect on the bullet at 100-yards but the buffeting and impact of the wind was such that I was getting better groups lying prone than setting up on the bench. Doh.
I broke out Billy Baroo: the Caldwell Lead Sled plus with 25 pounds of weight in the tray. I wanted to really see what this rifle was capable of and there is no quicker way to determine that than to secure a rifle in the lead sled plus. Securing the SIG716 was done by raising the front rest on the lead sled and placing the rear rest adjustment bolt on a piece of 2x8 so that it can be raised high enough that the magazine cleared the bottom rail. (this is a good trick for you AR owners that like to use the lead sled).
Once the rifle was secured, I fired a couple fouling shots and then started in with the test groups. Of course at the end of the bench was the Chrony F-1 Master (keeping tabs on the velocity of the various rounds). While I'm on the "let's see how long this stuff lasts", bandwagon I think it's worth mentioning that the first Chrony I ever owned (circa 1994) is still operational. As you can see from the picture of the 20 year old Chrony, it's been used extensively and has the battle scars to prove it. Still works :) The F-1 Master offers a remote display that makes it easy for me to keep track of how fast the bullets are flying.
Over the course of accuracy testing I cleaned the bore after every 30 shots with a bronze brush, some Shooter's Choice solvent followed up by cotton patches until they came out clean. So what's the verdict? After the RRA trigger install, I used the Leupold Patrol Scope and a target designed for thick reticle scopes for the groups in the accuracy results listed in the adjoining sidebar.
The handiness of the 16" barrel came at the cost of a little velocity. Not a shocker. Speaking in general terms, compared to an M14's 22" tube the SIG716 showed only a moderate drop in velocity. The critter you are shooting will never know the difference but you will want to note this delta when you crunch the numbers as you?re figuring out bullet-drop for a particular range. It should also surprise no one that the old surplus ammo was the least accurate. I used the same brand when shooting groups but there?s no way I could know the lot etc as it was loose packed. I could count on the Brazilian stuff to group at about 3.5" at 100-yards. The clean and sure-fire Winchester USA FMJ did better with 2.5"groups. The Federal American Eagle FMJ slightly bettered that score with 3-shot groups right under 2-inches.
Moving onto the match flavors, the Winchester, Federal and Hornady match loads did much better. Both the Winchester and Federal 168gr BTHP match loads were just under 1-inch 3-shot groups. The Hornady 168gr AMAX match managed an amazing .58" 3-shot group (Also worth mentioning is the fact that of the 10 rounds I ran over the Chrony to establish an average velocity the high and the low were 8 fps apart! Holy Cow.). If you extend this greater precision out over 700 or 800 yards you can see why the match ammo can make the difference between a bullet finding its mark and a missed shot. As can be clearly seen in the chart in the sidebar, this SIG716 is capable of remarkable accuracy. It obviously prefers some loads to others with respect to the tightest groups but this is true of all rifles. An M14 disciple reluctantly acknowledges the capabilities of the 7.62mm black rifles
The SIG716 is an awesome rifle. It's accurate out of the box (with a trigger upgrade), you can hang a ton of stuff on it and it's compact and reliable. If I had to be inserted into a hostile urban environment I would welcome this weapon if my team was equipped with it and I would fear it if the bad guys were armed with it. In other words, yes, I would bet my life on the SIG716. I would have no problem using it to take deer or even larger game. I would much rather have the SIG716 one-pointed to me than a .44 magnum on my hip if I was in grizzly bear country. I think when you add it all up, the SIG716 really is a can-do-it-all rifle even though I acknowledge the discrete tool will always be best for a specific job.
While I personally feel very comfortable with and confident in my Fulton Armory M-14, I realize that most people are usually more comfortable with the AR platform. My son looks at the M14 as some relic that belongs in a museum. I think he sees my M-14 and my Kabar as proof that I'm a living dinosaur. He instantly warmed up to the SIG716. He instinctively field stripped it like it that knowledge was woven into the helix of his DNA.
I'm not selling my M-14. If the commies come over the hill, I'll grab the Fulton Armory M-14 first and a few bandoleers of 7.62mm NATO. I am somewhere north of 3500 rounds through my M-14 without a single malfunction. My son would take the SIG716. Either would be a good choice.
In closing, I'll have to wait until January to report on how it handles the -20 stuff. Thanks to all the companies involved.