FN Herstal SCAR 17s Review
Since the announcement of the SCAR (Special Operations Forces [SOF] Combat Assault Rifle) a few years ago, the 21st century assault rifle has had a huge following. The SCAR program has been adopted by the U.S. military to supplement their existing needs and to anticipate future demands required from our military’s assault rifles. The SCAR has received a wide appreciation for those soldiers who were fortunate enough to be issued one, which naturally transferred into a large civilian demand for FN Herstal’s newest assault rifle.
The SCAR 16s (MK 16 SCAR-L MOD 0 being the military version), has had a warm reception in the civilian market. From the time it’s been available to civilians, shooters have raved about its reliability, out of the box features, accuracy and ease of use. The only thing the civilian SCAR was lacking was a .308 version. Since there was an MK 17 SCAR-H available for the military, everyone assumed (and eventually were correct) that the version would transfer over to the civilian sector.
I remember talking to an RSR representative in 2009 about if/when the SCAR 17s would be available; his exact response was, “don’t hold your breath.” Late last year, those waiting could finally exhale—FNH started shipping out SCAR17s in limited quantities, creating a collective rejoice and extreme demand for those wanting the extended range and “oomph” of the .308 cartridge on the SCAR platform. Gunblog.com has been privileged enough to have had a FNH SCAR 17s for a few months to review—FN Herstal’s new hard hitting battle rifle was everything we were expecting from anticipation about the performance to expectation about the price.
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The SCAR’s function was designed to incorporate the instinctive operation that a soldier would have from operating an M4/M16, minimizing the time needed to train/transition to the new platform, while incorporating updated ergonomic attributes, which FN Herstal accomplished exceptionally well. In almost all aspects, the SCAR 17s is identical to its predecessor, the SCAR 16s; the only essential difference is the weight and magazine (cartridge). While the SCAR 17s provides updated ergonomics, robust materials, and an ease of function, there were still some small annoyances I experienced. However, those seldom irritations are overshadowed by the exceptional quality and function the FNH SCAR 17s delivers.
Ergonomically, the SCAR 17s is designed to be a 21st century assault rifle. The SCAR 17s keeps similar facets of the M4 or AR15 such as the pistol grip, bolt release, magazine release, and safety controls, but makes some subtle changes to those familiar features. The magazine release has a larger width and height and is protected by a surrounding raised edge allowing a user to operate it easier in a hurry while simultaneously preventing an accidental actuation. The safety lever is ambidextrous and looks and feels just like AR-15s safety except for the actual operation of the safety, which was one of my annoyances that I mentioned earlier.
The safety lever has the normal off position but has a short throw to 45 degrees rather than the familiar 90 degrees to that of an AR15. While I understand the concept, a shorter throw means faster actuation; also, the SCAR 17s is basically a ported over civilian version of the MK 17 SCAR–H which would have a 90 degree throw for fully-automatic. However, I found that the instinctive “feel” of the safety wasn’t there as I’m used to. With an AR15, I can use my thumb to immediately know if I was on safe or fire being that there was a distinctive difference on how the safety felt (vertical vs. horizontal) all while maintaining my sight picture. With the SCAR that touch recognition was somewhat less present, resulting in me sometimes having to take my eye off the target and visually inspecting the safety to ensure it was engaged or disengaged.
I realize with training, this positive engagement recognition of the safety by touch would improve (which it did over time) and a shooter should always mentally know if he or she is on safe or fire; but being as it may, I feel I prefer the AR-15’s 90 degree fire position as opposed to the 45 degree position of the SCAR. I was lucky enough to have tried the Magpul SSG Selector Set for the SCAR at SHOT SHOW this year, and I can say that it’s a definite improvement. The drop in accessory from Magpul allows a shooter to get that positive feel of the engagement of the safety. Even though the safety is still 45 degree throw, it was easier for me to know if I was on safe or fire by touch. If I were to own a SCAR, that would be the first and foremost accessory I would add being that it would help negate my concerns regarding the SCAR 17s’s safety.
FN Herstal’s SCAR17s is extremely easy to operate; the controls are where they need to be to instinctively use them for left or right handed shooters. Along with modularity, the other requirement for a 21st century rifle is the option of ambidexterity which the SCAR 17s provides. Shooters should have no problems firing from their primary or reaction (weak) sides. As previously mentioned the safety is on both sides of the platform and the reciprocating (another annoyance to be mentioned alter) charging handle can be switched to either side of the rifle and is placed in the ideal position on top of the upper receiver near the support hand. The charging handle is also used as a forward assist which is almost not needed (also to be elaborated on later). The bolt release/catch is not ambidextrous, which shouldn’t be that significant of a drawback considering left handed shooters are accustomed to or trained with a similar configuration with AR-15s—noting the suggested retail price of the SCAR 17s ($3,349), I would assume most people looking at buying a SCAR 17s would have shot AR-15s before being that the SCAR 17s should not be considered as an entry level rifle.
The adjustable and foldable buttstock lends itself well to the overall shooting comfort and portability of the SCAR 17s. The stock is telescopic, adjusting to 6 different lengths while the comb has only 2 height adjustments. While adjusting the comb by pressing the button to release the comb lock and altering the height, I got a finger pinched in between the polymer section and the upper receiver, resulting in a nice gash. Needless to say it only happened once; I learned my lesson to keep my fingers clear between the receiver and the adjustable comb when actually adjusting it. The stock easily folds over the right side of the rifle by pressing a release button on the left hand side and locking into the shell deflector. While folded, the SCAR 17s still proves adequate clearance for spent shell casings to egress the chamber without obstruction.
The iron sights provided with the FNH SCAR 17s are excellent, in regards to both quality and function. The dual aperture rear sight has a very low profile when folded which should give enough clearance for most optics’ eyepieces to clear it depending on the mount one uses; the SCAR 17s’s front sight folds as well. The front and rear sights are both adjustable for windage and elevation, which makes for one of the best factory iron sight systems I’ve seen to date. The hooded front sight’s windage can be adjusted by using a TORX 25 wrench and the elevation by using a standard M16/AR-15 A2 sight tool. The rear sight is much easier to adjust—there is a windage dial on each side of the rear sight, and each increment on the dial is numbered from 1 to 6. Elevation is adjusted by turning the base, or drum, of the sight post, which is also numbered. There’s a reason why the front sight takes tools to be adjusted while the rear sight’s adjustments are effortless, and it’s the basis of how the SCAR’s sighting system is designed to work.
The SCAR 17s rear sight is zeroed out of the factory for 25/300 meters with the elevation drum set to 3. Its recommended by FNH to zero the rifle for yourself by adjusting the front sight post only, leaving the rear sight with the settings from the factory. This will allow a shooter to only adjust the rear sight to make changes based on the shooting situation or the range of your target. Each click of the rear drum is equal to 1.5 MOA (minute of angle) and there are two clicks per number on the drum, so each number is equal to a 3 MOA adjustment. Although using that math of 3 moa per range adjustment isn’t exactly sniper precise, it’s adequate/accurate enough to use it effectively if needed—I’m sure all the ballistics gurus are calculating a typical .308 drop parallel with the sight adjustments to see if my math is correct.
Using my ballistics calculator, the calculations from FNH seem to be correct with a typical 150 grain 7.62×51 zeroed at 300 yards. At 400 yards it’s almost dead on with a 3 MOA elevation change, but that window of accuracy seems to grow the farther you go out. At 500 yards there would be a 36 inch different from a 300 yard zero, while the rear sight would provide only 30 inches of drop compensation. As I said before, it would be good enough, especially for a factory back up iron sight system, to get the job done effectively.
The SCAR 17s’s Mil-Spec barrel and aluminum alloy upper receiver are areas that were given equally detailed attention by FN Herstal. The cold hammer forged barrel is free floating, 16.25 inches long with a 1:12 twist, features a hard chromed bore and is topped off with a 3 baffle PWS (Primary Weapon Systems) flash hider/compensator. The SCAR 17s has a gas regulator located directly below the front sight post and has two positions for suppressed or unsuppressed. The upper receiver is very picatinny generous; completely along the upper receiver and at the 3,6, and 9 o’clock positions underneath, there is enough rail space to attach just about anything one would need. Also, on the receiver are multiple sling attachment points allowing for a variety of slings to be used such as single point slings from the left or right side. Another attachment point runs along the top of the end of the buttstock.
Inside the receiver the FNH SCAR 17s stays just as robust as it does on the outside. The 7 lug bolt along with its vigorous carrier do an excellent job of getting every round into battery consistently and reliably. The return spring seemed strong and although polymer, the return spring rod doesn’t give any indication that it will break or malfunction easily. In fact, the use of polymer is what leads to my biggest and initial surprise regarding the SCAR 17s; its beastly appearance gives a false impression towards its featherlike 8 lb weight. The FNH SCAR 17s comes with a 20 round magazine which is a propriety design by FNH (so no AR10 or .308 PMAGS). I asked Magpul at SHOT SHOW if they plan on making a magazine for the SCAR 17s; all I got from them was a maybe.
With all these outstanding features, minus a couple of personal and minute bothers, lead people to believe the SCAR 17s’s performance would be nothing but Ferrari like—those people would be absolutely correct in more ways than just performance. At the range, the SCAR 17s is much like a Ferrari—everyone knows or expects it to be great, everyone knows you paid a significant amount of money for it, and everyone is watching you with it.
Most rifles that come in over the $2,000 dollar mark almost require you to use the most premium super match ammunition available. And while I agree that a weapon system depends on all subsequent aspects of that system in order to work at full potential, ammo being a large part of that dependency, I also feel that if someone pays a significant amount of money for a weapon system, shouldn’t the opposite be true? If I dish out a grip of cash for a firearm, wouldn’t I want it to be able to fire any reasonable ammunition I put thought it? The SCAR 17s fulfills both of these expectations at the range. Not only is it utterly joyous to shoot, FNH’s SCAR 17s will shoot anything you put through it, reliably and accurately.
It almost felt almost dirty, cheap, or even sacrilegious, loading surplus Pakistani 7.62×51 that I had to take off of links and put into the 3,500 dollar carbine; but I figured, “if it’ll shoot this, it’ll shoot anything.” I’ve been holding onto two cans of 200 rounds of the ammo for a while, and I couldn’t think of a better way to blow through all 400 rounds of 7.62×51 in a weekend, so in the SCAR it went, and all 400 rounds went out of it without a hiccup. Along with the abundance of Pakistani military surplus ammo the SCAR ate up and spat out, there was an additional 1,600 various types of rounds that were fired through it during the 2 months I had with it. I have yet to experience failure of any type. I tried tugging the magazine while firing, I dumped magazine after magazine as fast as I could and the SCAR 17s proved to be stubbornly resilient against failure, even with the cheapest ammo on the market.
Even with the cheap ammo, the SCAR 17s accuracy was outstanding. I was able to hit consistent <2” groups at 100 yards using the US Optics SN-4S that we reviewed a couple weeks ago. When using Black Hill 155 grain A-Max match ammunition, I was easily able to narrow that group size. Although my shooting isn’t always sub MOA capable, I’m confident the SCAR 17s is. While using that surplus Pakistani ammo, I could effortlessly hit clays from over 200 yards away. Given its modularity in the military, I sincerely hope FN Herstal follows its previous trend and brings over kits for the SCAR such as a 20” barrel, or the MK20 stocks and other accessories to convert the carbine into a true long range shooter; its outstanding accuracy would make the SCAR 17s a prime candidate for an extremely effective SASS (Semi Auto Sniper System).
The SCAR 17s’s recoil was another pleasant surprise being that it’s hardly noticeable for a .308. The PWS FSC30 compensator does an excellent job of containing the muzzle rise; even with rapid follow up shots the SCAR 17s is completely manageable. While shooting it, you still know it’s a .308 though—the concussive blasts are immediately felt from every shot, and from almost every angle. Standing directly behind someone shooting the SCAR 17s won’t shield someone from the shock wave coming from it, which proves the effectiveness of the PS FSC30. It complements the performance of SCAR 17s very well.
FNH’s trigger which they put on the SCAR is, to say at best, suitable. To tell the truth, I was somewhat disappointed with it. Not that it is flawed in anyway, but for a suggested retail price of almost $3,500 dollars, I would expect a more refined trigger (cue digital flogging). I fully understand that the SCAR 17s is a battle rifle, designed to withstand harsh elements and function under adverse conditions; however, I am not in the military anymore; furthermore, I’m not reviewing this rifle for military use—I’m reviewing it for civilians. The trigger is as robust as the rest of the rifle, and again, it is adequate, but it is no match trigger. It does have an extremely clean and consistent break with not too much take up or over-travel; however it does not have as smooth of a draw as I would like, or expect from a rifle in this price range. I would assume the design of the trigger is geared more towards functionality and reliability than comfort considering the SCAR 17s was made for soldiers, not range warriors.
The other “complaint” I would say about the SCAR 17s is the reciprocating charging handle. Again, I understand why—less moving parts equal a lesser chance of failure. I have to remind myself that the SCAR was not necessarily designed for civilian shooters; we are just fortunate enough that FN Herstal figured it would be profitable for them to allow us to buy a civilian version, and I’m sincerely glad they did. Even though FNH explicitly put in the owner’s manual to not to hold it by the magazine well, I know some shooters will by habit, and some shooters may have a high closed in grip, both which will lead to bruised hands. While in prone, I forgot about the reciprocating changing handle for a moment, and took a shot while holding the top of the magazine well—I only needed to do it once to forever remind me not to ever do it again.
Overall the SCAR 17s was absolutely awesome to shoot. It was a huge attention getter at the range, with someone asking me during every break, “Is that a .308 SCAR?” More importantly, it exceeded my expectations on accuracy and reliability which completely overshadowed my few insignificant gripes and made them feel that much more insignificant.
The SCAR 17s was everything we were expecting. The minor complaints I have regarding the charging handle or the safety are almost dismissed when looking at what the rifle delivers as a total package. Out of 2,000 rounds so far through it, I have yet to experience any type of failure. The recoil is dramatically less than any .308 I’ve shot to date, which translates into unprecedented control and comfort while shooting. The features that are included with the SCAR 17s such as rails, the sighting system, adjustable stock, almost negate any need to purchase aftermarket parts to improve it (with a small, subjective exception regarding the safety).
The wait was over; the FNH SCAR 17s was finally in our hands. After a few months with FN Herstal’s newest SCAR, I wouldn’t hesitate to call it their flagship rifle. The SCAR 17s does everything one would expect from a 21st century rifle—it fulfills current expectations for modern ergonomics in a rifle, its reliability instills confidence with its operator, and its accuracy leaves nothing to blame but the person behind the trigger. Yet, it comes at a price, and a high one at that. However, one needs to incorporate all what the SCAR delivers; it is essentially a true all-in-one type of rifle. It is the Ferrari of carbines, the Lamborghini of rifles; the SCAR17s performs parallel with its price point (which will come down over time). When I ask myself, “Is this rifle worth it?” it’s just too subjective of a question to answer definitively; I would say Ferris Bueller’s quote sums it up when he said, “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking up one.”