Shooting The H&K MSG90

IMG_1765

There was a period of time in the 20th century when H&K was producing 2,000 G3 battle rifles a day. These rifles served not only the West German armed forces, but many of the West’s armed forces and remained the top competitor with the FN FAL as far as proliferation is concerned. The MSG90 is the highest evolution of the G3 battle rifle, and is itself a PSG1 rifle with a few more features to make the rifle more than a stationary precision rifle.

As stated, the MSG90 is based on the famous PSG1 which was developed after the German government’s failure at the 1972 Munich Olympics at which 17 people (including 11 Israeli coaches and athletes) were killed due to a very bungled response. The Germans recruited marksman who were not professionally trained, but rather police officers and such who shot recreationally on weekends, and equipped them with G3 rifles with iron sights. The men selected even declared that they were not sharpshooters, but regardless they were placed several hundred yards away and a lot was expected of these individuals. The Munich Massacre unfortunately resulted in the loss of many innocent lives, but as a result, the Germans realized they needed to be better prepared for something like this in the future. Many things were created in response to Munich, including the P7 pistol, the elite GSG-9 counter-terrorist unit, and a new rifle to aide in precision shooting; The PSG1.

bild19

The PSG1 gave marksmen a tool that they desperately needed in order to neutralize a threat with success at a distance. The Germans realized they needed a semi-automatic rifle with a large capacity too for quick follow up shots, so a bolt gun was out of the question. In response, H&K took what they had (the G3 platform) and radically altered it to shoot more accurately. The PSG1 has:

  • Receiver reinforcement rails to increase strength and reduce flexing
  • A special trunnion that wraps around more of the barrel to reduce whip
  • Special bolt group that includes serrations for the bolt closing device and a special locking piece
  • A polygonal cold hammer forged barrel that is free floated
  • An extended cocking tube with the handle placed far forward
  • Half moon shaped “rollers” for consistent lockup and bolt gap
  • 6x Schmidt and Bender optic

With these modifications the PSG1 was a true sub-MOA rifle that was quite remarkable for a semi-auto in the early to mid 1970s. Considering that roller lockup is very crude compared to a system with a rotating bolt, it is impressive that precision rifles based on the famous HK roller delayed blowback system can perform the way they do.

So where does the MSG90 play into this? Well, all the above points are true of it as well, but the MSG90 is a lighter and more mobile version of the PSG1. The rifle that is the subject of this review is the MSG90A1, a rifle that was commissioned by the United States Government to arm the Marine Corp Security Force and FAST teams. The A1 features a 10x Schmidt and Bender optic, iron sights borrowed from the HK21 machine gun, an improved stock, and a barrel that is threaded and has a harmonic stabilizer to reduce barrel whip. The rifle is still in production too, but the MSG90 has never been made available to civilians due to one simple fact: it features a swing down lower and the ATF considers any of the G3 derived firearms with a swing-down to be a machine gun. However, twenty year HK emplyee Jim Schatz has said that there are four MSG90s out there in civilian hands and that the ATF originally deemed these not machine guns, so who knows where these are today?

Anyways on with the show. Here we can see the side profile of the MSG90 with its silent bolt closing device, which works wonders relative to the noise produced by the “HK slap”.

IMG_1772

IMG_1770

Notice also how the scope is mounted to two picatinny rails welded on top of the receiver rather than the old claw mounting system.

Here you can see the trunnion:

IMG_1781

Very odd looking compared to a G3’s (which ends inside the receiver).

Next up is how the barrel is free floated. The cocking tube is extended and the traditional H&K 3 ring front sight tower is not present. It looks like they just cut one in half and welded it on!

IMG_1778

And lastly, here is a close up of the bolt head with the exposed rollers. The rollers are made of titanium and are crescent shaped rather than true cylinders:

IMG_1774

For comparison, here is a regular G3 bolt and carrier:

IMG_1782

So the MSG90 has some really cool features that would make a G3/91/PTR/JLD etc. owner do a double take, but how do these contribute to accuracy? Well for that I would have to arrange to get this gun out to the range.

Let me preface this by saying that I have very little experience with precision rifles. I have no formal training, have never shot in bench rest or an extreme accuracy oriented competition, and have never really been behind a big fancy DMR/precision rifle so I was really excited about this one. I bought some SSA 168 grain ammunition and went to town. I figured me behind the trigger would be a good measure of accuracy since I am not a complete newbie, but new to this kind of rifle (I have always been an “accuracy by volume” kind of guy).

First of all I feel bad for the designated marksman who would have to lug this around; The MSG90A1 weighs 15.4 pounds (7 kilos), just a pound and a half shy of the M249 SAW. I got a quick crash course in how to shoot this thing properly, and proceeded to get behind the rifle, using the factory equipped bipod and my shooting bag as a rest for the stock.

IMG_2341

The trigger breaks at 3.3 pounds and is very comfy with the nice wide trigger boot. I had set a target at 100 yards to perform five 5 shot groups on after I got comfy with the gun (I dialed it in and put a hurting on some steel first).

Here I am ready to try and shoot:

IMG_2287

And here the rifle is in full recoil flinging brass into the next county:

IMG_2298

I must say that the big rubber recoil pad helps significantly with felt recoil, and the rubber grommet on the scope prevents any possibility of leaving the range with a nice big scope kiss on your noggin. Shooting this gun was a real pleasure, and I had a lot of fun doing it, but how did it perform?

Well the calipers don’t lie! Here is my best of five:

IMG_2347

At 0.444 inches that translates to 0.424 MOA, making this a legitmately sub-half MOA rifle, especially in hands more capable than mine. The best part however is that I was able to consistently shoot sub MOA, with an average group of 0.625 inches! I feel that I could have done better with more magnification too, but the fixed 10x optic is very clear and adheres to the DMR principle.

So onto the bullet points:

The Good:

  • Accurate
  • Reliable
  • Great trigger
  • Fun to shoot
  • Familiar G3 controls

The Bad:

  • Fixed 10x magnification
  • Heavy rifle to field
  • Mangles brass (like all G3 type rifles)

The Ugly

  • The ATF considers these semi-auto rifles a machine gun
  • Not importable into the USA for civilians to own due to the 1989 ban
  • A set of the special titanium rollers are $300!

So the MSG90A1 is a fantastic rifle that provides an incredible shooting experience, and it is a real bummer that this thing has been deemed a machine gun by the United States.


Alex C.

Alex is the Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog who was born and raised in Texas with years of experience in hunting, shooting competitions, and general collecting. A degree in History from Baylor University has contributed to his love of both early and modern firearms technology, but Alex is most fond of machineguns. Alex also owns a firearm consulting business licensed to produce title I and II weapons.
You can reach Alex at [email protected].


Advertisement

  • Giolli Joker

    “The ATF considers these semi-auto rifles a machine gun”

    Uhm… I guess this might be behind the reason (that I had never understood) why in Italy PSG-1 was forbidden to civilians because “easily convertible to automatic fire”.

    Might be that an Italian bureaucrat had read ATF bull…ehm… classification and given his interpretation…
    Anyway, I would have never been able to afford a PSG-1. :-D

    Interesting article and great shooting! Too bad the MSG doesn’t look as cool as the PSG. :-)

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Alex C.

      Yes the PSG1 certainly looks iconic and unique, but I sure would hate to carry one around in the field for a day!

      • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

        No kidding!

    • WilliamSI

      In Italy it is (AFAIK) forbidden because of the caliber (Italians can only own calibers not in use by the armed forces, so even 9mm is not allowed, 8mm is popular tho).

      • Giolli Joker

        My friend, sorry but I guess you don’t know what you’re talking about.
        I’m Italian, I own guns in Italy and I can tell you for sure that:
        -many guns originally chambered in 7.62NATO are available to civilians in 308 Winchester (e.g. FN FAL and copies, AR10…) same for 5.56-223
        -9Luger is forbidden to civilians but all guns chambered in that caliber are easily converted in 9×21 IMI (elsewhere known as 9mm Italian); chambers are rearmed 2mm deeper, bullets seated a bit more in the casing, OAL and ballistics completely match 9x19mm Luger
        -I’m not aware of any 8mm other than 8Flobert and 8mm blank;
        -H&K PSG1has been refused by the Italian Catalogue of allowed firearms with the silly motivation I stated above.
        If you are interested I can “scavenge” for an Italian website I once visited with pretty detailed info on Italian gun laws, in English.

        • iksnilol

          You just proved what he said.

          You can’t have a gun in 9x19mm so you rechamber it to 9x21mm?But if the 9x19mm wasn’t used by armed forces you could probably have one.

          • Cymond

            He said “even 9mm is not allowed” and Giolli showed that it is only 9×19 that is forbidden, not all 9mm cartridges, and that the prohibition has an easy work-around. That’s not exactly “proved what he said”.

          • iksnilol

            I misread then, sorry if I offended you. I thought I read it as William having said that 9x19mm wasn’t allowed.

            My bad.

    • http://www.thegunzone.com/556dw.html Daniel E. Watters

      The PSG1 is a Title 1 firearm in the US, openly transferable where allowed by law. It is my understanding that the MSG90 is a Title 2 firearm due to the pinned trigger group. It can theoretically accept a full-auto trigger group from a G3. In contrast, the PSG1 uses a “clip-on” trigger group, and like the civilian HK91, cannot accept any of the pinned trigger groups without modification.

  • 小銃

    0.424MOA is very tight grouping!!
    But I cannot help saying PSG-1/MSG-90 is outdateness because semi-auto sniper rifle based AR15 is developed.

    • Paul Epstein

      There are definitely better materials than stamped steel to make the receiver out of, lighter and without corrosion concerns and so forth, so I’d agree that they’re outdated in that sense, but an AR-15 still has a gas system that has to be attached to the barrel and cannot ever be truly free floated.

      A delayed blowback precision rifle built with current materials and engineered for that purpose rather than adapted from a battle rifle would be an interesting proposition indeed. Presumably no company considers the cost of developing it worth the risks compared to the market-cornering behemoth that is the AR operating system.

    • ArcRoyale

      Why would it be outdated? It is a highly precise and functional tool built for a specific role.

      • iksnilol

        You just described the MSG90. Highly precise and functional tool built for a specific role.

        I would like a MSG90, but with lighter materials and somehow prevent it from mangling brass.

        • Koko

          those lighter materials just fuck the gun that’s why msg90 it’s much more resistent to the environment and the sr 25 for example needs to be cleaning all the time and this sucks to me -.- I don’t know you but I prefer to be strong and carry this heavy sniper to a sniper which will give me problems

          • iksnilol

            yeah but the MSG90 weighs more than 7kg and I am not sure if that is with or without optics, most likely without.

            My ideal rifle weight is 4-6kg (without and with extras, respectively) weight so the MSG90 isn’t really that useful for me. Remember you will carry the gun more than shoot it. This of course doesn’t apply to benchrest guns and the like. I am not one of the “weak” guys but I am not the strongest one either.

            The reason SR-25 needs more cleaning is because it is a direct impingment (AKA direct inpunchment) mechanism. The MSG90 just like the G3 and MP5 uses a roller delayed mechanism. Two different beasts.

    • John Sjöström

      Yeah… caus the AR15 platform is so much better. With your argument the AR15 is outdated with its directgas system that is more then 50 years old

  • iksnilol

    Cant deny the fact that I want one, but is less that 1 MOA really required for a DMR role? I mean 1 MOA at a 1000 metres is approximately 30 cm which is about the size of your average chest. I mean the extra accuracy is nice but having something lighter in the 1 MOA department seems more practical (due to weighing 7 kilos without a suppressor).

    NOTE: I am just armchairing it, if someone more knowledgeable can chime in it would be appreciated.

    • Jacqueshacques

      Say you are a hostage 400 yards from a rescue team. Do you want the rifle shooting in your direction to put its rounds in to 4″ or 2″?

      • iksnilol

        Eh, doesn’t the first shot usually hit were you aim at (cold bore and all that)?

        But my observation wasn’t intended at law enforcement needs, I was thinking for millitary applications, or general purpose.

    • Micki Mahoney

      I don’t think this was ever intended for the DMR role. It seems to be a dedicated sniper’s weapon that happens to be semi-auto. The Germans themselves apparently use the G3A3ZF-DMR and the HK417 as DMR weapons, rather than the MSG90.

  • John Sjöström

    To compare the weight of the MSG90A1 with the M249 is just wrong. A minimi with a 200belt weighs alot mot then that and they have completley diffrent roles. To compare it with an other DMR rifle would be the best thing to do. And even if we do that the MSG90A1 isn’t that Heavy.

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Alex C.

      I was simply comparing the weight of two military small arms to point out the burden of a soldier bearing this particular weapon. Obviously they have different roles. 7 kilos does not sound like a lot of weight until you run around with it slung over your shoulder for a few hours.

  • mechamaster

    Oh maan… Wish to see the video how to operate this beautiful rifle. Especially how to use that ‘Silent-bolt closing device’ ( is that working same with AR-15 style ratchet Forward assist button ? )

    • El Duderino

      It’s about 1000 times more useful than an AR forward assist. Sending the bolt home on a G3 pattern rifle is LOUD. Not good for a precision rifle where you might not wish to reveal your position. You cannot ride it home, the rollers need to get into their recesses in the receiver or you’re out of battery. The bolt closing device allows you to ride it most of the way and click it into battery.

      I’m not terribly surprised the Germans were able to squeeze that kind of accuracy out of the rifle. No gas system, no holes in the barrel besides the one at the front. The bolt doesn’t move until well after the bullet is gone (delayed blowback). Free float and in theory you should be able to match a bolt action. Only bugaboo might be the fluted chamber.

      • sauerquint

        Apparently the fluted chamber isn’t an issue, look at the targets.

      • aaaaaaaaaaa

        On some G3 rifles the bolt has a serrated bit you can use to push the bolt forward. It takes some effort, but it’s quiet.

  • Lance

    While nice I never cared for the G-3 system too brutal on brass and the shooter the FAL and M-14 where a lot more comfortable to shoot and a lot more gentle on brass. Over sucks the 89 ban stopped so many HK products but maybe you guys can have PTR make a US made version now if you want.

    • Esh325

      I’ve never fired a G3, but my experience is that blowbacks typically have much more recoil than gas operated or recoil operated designs.

      • Marcus

        My CETME is by far the lightest recoiling .308 I’ve ever fired. It’s more comparable to an AK than a M1A or FAL.

        Also, in regard to the 4 MSG-90s in civilian hands, I saw one of these for sale on one of the online NFA classified pages a few years back. It was listed as a pre-86 fully transferable machine gun. The owner apparently installed a SEF lower, so it truly was a machine gun at that point, probably to justify it needing to be sold as one. Can’t recall the price. I never knew the rarity or significance of it until this article.

        • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Alex C.

          That gun would have been a pre-sample. No NFA items imported after 1968 are transferable due to the sporting purposes clause.

          • sauerquint

            1986

          • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Alex C.

            No, it was the 1968 Gun Control Act that prevented the further importation of NFA items for civilian use due to the sporting purposes clause. The 1986 FOPA banned the new registration of machine guns. Confusing I know, what with 68 and 86 being the big NFA item dates (and 1934 of course). Any machine gun imported between 1968 and ’86 is a “pre dealer sample” and can be transferred freely between dealers with no demo letter.

          • HSR47

            From the sound of it, it may well have been imported as a semi-auto “sporting” rifle, only to later be retroactively reclassified as an MG. In such a case, it may well have been imported between 1968 and 1986, and still be a fully transferable MG.

            Keep in mind that we’re talking about the government here: rulings don’t have to make sense, and they don’t have to be consistent.

          • sauerquint

            Ah, thanks. All of the post sample guns I’ve seen have been post-86. But they weren’t imports, hence my confusion. Thanks for setting me straight.

    • Hard_Harry

      When you consider no army on earth is concerned with keeping brass for reuse I think that point is completely moot. As far as recoil goes, the roller delayed guns are pretty damn mild and I think less abrupt in the recoil impulse.

  • http://www.federaleagent86.blogspot.com/ Federale

    The ATFE and Real Big Fires thinks an unfinished reciever is a firearm.

  • Michael

    I shot a PSG-1 a few years ago, great gun but let down by the scope. I will stick with my Century arms G3 type gun.
    A good AR in 7.62 would be a much better buy nowadays, Lewis Machine Tool version like the Brits have.

    • Suburban

      The problem with the HK precision rifles is that they are too expensive, from being much more hand-made than the AR-10 rifles. It’s a lot easier to screw together an accurate AR-10 then it is to weld-up a PSG-1 or MSG-90.

      I believe there is (was?) a conventional Weaver-type rail that you could bolt onto the PSG-1 in place of the 10x scope. Wouldn’t know where to find an optional part for a very rare $10,000 rifle though, unless you don’t mind using a part made for an airsoft gun.

  • Esh325

    I wonder what is the reason why H&K and FN haven’t been able to make a rifle as commercially successful as the FAL and G3? Do you think it has to do with that these rifles were made at the height of the cold war? Where their later rifles were made when the cold war was over and military budgets were sharply reduced.

    • sauerquint

      Our military budget is astronomical

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Alex C.

      I think it has everything to do with the end of the Cold War. Hell, even Izmash (or however you spell it) damn near went under. The collapse of the USSR nearly bankrupted HK too, as they heavily invested in the G11 project but after the reunification of Germany it was no longer needed. IMO, we have reached a technological plateau with small arms and the law of diminishing returns applies heavily. I would bet that conventional gas operated firearms utilizing metallic cartridges carry us on into laser blasters (God I hope I live to see that era).

  • Esh325

    My guess is that newer semi auto rifle designs in .308 could achieve the same accuracy as the PSG1 without the weight of it, but I could be wrong.

  • antonis maniatis

    Ιn the Munich 72 crisis, the German snipers were armed with bolt action sniper rifles, i remember a German police sniper showing a bolt action rifle to the press. most likely was a Steyr SSG69.
    The problem of the snipers was that their shooting was not properly coordinated. After that, sniper control systems were developed.

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      Some of the Germans were using standard issue G3’s.

  • Hunter57dor

    that is a heavy rifle, when you consider the m1a, which has been called “cumbersome” weighs 6 pounds less!

  • UD

    Very Cool, nice review. Thanks for the post.

  • Blake

    Great article, thanks for the writeup.

    Any video?

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Alex C.

      I can capture some if you would like. Not sure where to post it though.

      • sauerquint

        youtube, of course

        • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Alex C.

          I need to get some good video equipment and I would love to make some neat videos for Steve to post up.

      • Blake

        I think you’ll find that Vimeo may be better for hosting professional/instructional type videos.

  • Tennessee

    Interesting articles. I liked the seats made out of car rims. Could you post some better pictures of those as well? Thanks.

  • Brandon Davis

    An important aspect of the MSG90 not mentioned is that a key motivation for its creation was for a more economical option than the PSG-1, which by the mid-80s was still comparatively astronomical in price. The MSG90 was essentially a hybrid of a G3SG/1 and PSG-1.

  • Suburban

    3-shot group? 5-shot group?

    You really want to test accuracy of ammo and rifle? Shoot a few 10-shot groups.

  • Am Yisrael Chi

    “As stated, the MSG90 is based on the famous PSG1 which was developed
    after the German government’s failure at the 1972 Munich Olympics at
    which 17 people (including 11 Israeli coaches and athletes) were killed
    due to a very bungled response.”

    The fact that you decide to include the 5 dead terrorists amongst the casualties is disgusting, and flies right in the face of your “firearms not politics” mantra! Shame on you!

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Alex C.

      I was simply stating fact. Terrorists are people, albeit not good people, but people all the same that contributed to the figure posted. I fail to see how I was being political.

  • Steven Huntt

    I accept that PSG1 was a true sub-MOA rifle in the category of semi-auto but now everyone knows why MSG90 is considered to be better rifle and my experience has been always good with 10X Schmidt and Bender if you want no compromise in accuracy.