DPMS Panther 16-Inch RFA2-762-16 7.62x39mm, $850
Interest in defensive carbines has grown so much that aftermarket catalogs such as Brownells (www.brownells.com), now mail a separate issue dedicated to the AR-15 platform. But the AR is not the only available long gun and 223 Remington/5.56mm is not the only round available for self defensefor instance, theres the 7.62x39mm. This round was developed by the Soviets circa 1943. According to some loading manuals, popularity of this cartridge in the United States saw a boom when GIs returning from Viet Nam brought home Communist Bloc weapons.
Since then, other more American designs have been chambered for the 7.62x39mm. For example, the AR-15 style DPMS Panther 16-inch 7.62x39mm No. RFA2-762-16 carbine, $850.
To perform our tests, we traveled to American Shooting Centers in Houston. Here we had our choice of benches facing towering berms at distances of 50 yards to 600 yards downrange. Since we would classify none of our test guns as match-grade target rifles and we would be firing with only the supplied iron sights, we set up at the 50-yard line. Our shooting team consisted of a third generation U.S. Marine on the trigger and an experienced spotter with a High Definition Swarovski Optik 10x42mm binocular to provide instant feedback without the shooter having to dismount.
For test ammunition we began with three different rounds. Winchester USAs Q3174, Federals A76239A, American Eagle, and 124-grain soft point Military Classic ammunition from Wolf.
DPMS Panther 16-Inch No. RFA2-762-16
Our DPMS Incorporated AR-15 chambered for 7.62x39mm included many of the familiar controls and the profile that has captured Americas heart. This meant a thumb-operated safety, right-side magazine-release button, pistol-grip stock, flash hider, combination front sight stanchion and gas block, fully adjustable rear sight protected in a carry handle, and civilian minimum legal length 16-inch barrel. Barrel twist for this caliber model was 1:10. The short carbine-length handguard was the standard synthetic part void of any rails, but vented top and bottom. The buttstock on our Panther was of traditional full profile standard A2 Mil Spec, rather than the six-point adjustable buttstock that has become so popular. In view of the increase in recoil and torque that comes with firing 7.62 ammunition, it is reasonable to assume that DPMS chose to employ a fixed stock in order to provide a more rigid platform. We suspect this also increased weight. Our Panther weighed about 7.5 pounds. Just out of curiosity we weighed a 223-caliber Panther Carbine A2 No. RFA2-PCAR-16 with adjustable stock. This carbine weighed about 6.6 pounds. If you prefer the adjustable stock, or any of the options offered by DPMS, this gun can be delivered to meet your needs.
One aspect we liked about this rifle was that it was familiar. Anyone trained on an AR-15 or a faithful 22 LR reproduction such as the Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 (see Gun Tests February 2010), was good to go with no additional training necessary. This included takedown and cleaning. Our DPMS Panther came complete with a cleaning kit that did indeed fit neatly into the compartment inside the buttstock.)
Due to the popularity of the AR-15, we think most shooters will readily accept alternate chamberings, wherein the only difference is the level of recoil. Most people think of recoil being expressed primarily as muzzle flip. But bigger bullets in handgun and long guns alike also introduce torque as they fight against the twist in the barrel. Pistol-grip weapons such as the Panther (and the vertical grip of the Fiberforce stock) enables the shooter to pull the buttstock tighter into the shoulder. Furthermore, the vertical grip, as opposed to a straight stock, makes it easier to introduce a slight cant to counteract torque.
Our Panther was shipped with two 10-round magazines. These magazines fit nearly flush, making them ideal for shooting from a bench. Construction of the 10-round magazines was all plastic save for the springs. The basepads were removable for easy cleaning and reconstruction, but we found that the basepads could sometimes work themselves loose. We also noticed that the follower in each magazine was slightly different. In terms of locking back upon empty, one of the magazines was more consistent than the other. Wed order the 30-round magazines that feature stainless-steel bodies, anti-tilt follower, and chrome springs from dpmsinc.com for $25.
Our accuracy session showed that our AR-15based carbine much preferred the Winchester and American Eagle ammunition over the Wolf rounds. Average Group Radius firing these loads were nearly even, measuring fractionally more than 0.80 inches across. The Wolf ammunition delivered an AGR of about 1.25 inches. One aspect that we should point out is that the Wolf ammunition utilized steel cases. Not only is this more abrasive on breeches, extractors, and chamber walls, but it can also introduce a slight change in the way the gun cycles. Brass cases expand when the charge is ignited. Steel cases expand primarily at the case mouth and little elsewhere. This expansion is all part of the timing of the weapon and can offset function and possibly accuracy, too. Some say this is only a theoretical concern, but some weapons are more sensitive to steel-cased ammunition than others.
Our Team Said: Some AR-15 owners are looking for more punch. Even the military continues to debate a new cartridge for this platform. We think 7.62x39mm itself is a good choice, but we didnt find the DPMS Panther to be amenable to steel-cased ammunition. We might also beware of surplus ammunition. This could be a disappointment to anyone expecting to save money over the cost of 223 or 308 fodder. We still like this combination, however, because the gun can be delivered with options to suit the owner. But attention should be paid to the quality and condition of the magazines.