Gun Review: Black Dawn BDR-243

    MSRs, or Modern Sporting Rifles (inclusive of both the AR-10 and AR-15 design) lend themselves quite well to hunting.  Ergonomic, customizeable, accurate, and with straight line recoil, they offer a serious alternative to more traditional bolt-actions or semi-autos such as the BAR or R1.  Black Dawn Industries is a relative newcomer to the MSR game, Opening Black Dawn Armory in 2010 in Sedalia, MO.  They were kind enough to send us their new BDR-243 to test out.  Here are the specs of the rifle they sent:

    22″ stainless steel barrel 1/8 twist (5R Rifling)
    15″ Black Dawn Keymod
    Black Dawn Nickel Boron BCG
    ALG QMS trigger
    Black Dawn receiver set
    Black Dawn Enhanced trigger guard
    Black Dawn adjustable gas block
    Ergo Grip
    Patriot Case with custom cut foam
    Black Dawn Billet Charging Handle
    Badger Ordnance Latch

    Extra features (available as upgrades):

    • Magpul PRS stock
    • Hydraulic Buffer

    Retails at $1,999.99

    The BDR-243 in its case

    The BDR-243 in its case

    The BDR-243 comes in a pretty nice hardcase.  While not a Pelican or Storm case, It is quite sturdy, and holds the separated upper and lower receiver and extra magazines.  It also has foam cutouts to accommodate scopes, bipods, suppressors, etc.  This is a lot nicer than the generic thin plastic case with eggshell foam halves inside that usually comes with a rifle, and I have seen higher-end rifles ship in much junkier cases.  Besides the rifle itself, in the case was a brand new PMAG 20 LR/SR Gen 3.  Though chambered in .243 Win., the rifle can still utilize the SR-25 pattern PMAGs due to the round being based on the .308 case.  No proprietary mag or special follower is needed.  I also used a Gen 1 PMAG in my testing.  The .243 rounds would not stabilize on my old C-products SR25 mag, as it has a flat follower and the rounds were swimming around too much.  Upon lifting the 2 halves of the rifle out of the case, I noticed that both the inside and outside of both receivers was fully cerakoted.  The rifle was pretty dry, so I did an initial cleaning and lubrication.  Once performed, I assembled the gun.  During assembly, I had difficulty pushing the takedown pins out of the lower receiver.  They are fit pretty tight, as the tolerances are exacting.  This attribute, however, translated well to the final assembly of the gun, as the fit between upper and lower receiver was tight.  No movement could be had between upper and lower, and no rattles to be heard either.   The bolt charged smoothly, and everything had a good, solid feel to it.  The rounded triggerguard was smooth and had no felt gaps or pinch points.  It also fit my finger in medium weight gloves just fine.  The ALG QMS trigger had an average pull weight of 4lbs 11 oz over 5 pulls.  This was interesting due to ALG’s goal of the QMS not being below the minimum pull weight of 5.5 lbs.  No complaints on my end, though.  The hex head anti-walk trigger pins were a nice extra feature.  The upper receiver is properly T-marked for remounting of accessories.  The adjustable gas block was very hard to see, due to the handguard configuration and there being an endcap on the handguard.  Adjustment is accomplished via a hex screw accessed from the side.  The barrel has 5R rifling, which I have come to like on many rifles.  Overall, everything seemed excellent with the rifle so far, and it was time to take it to the range.

    Business end (unloaded, cleared). Note handguard endcap

    Business end (unloaded, cleared). Note handguard endcap

    Clear T-marking on upper receiver

    Clear T-markings on upper receiver

    triggerguard

    Triggerguard

    Anti-walk trigger pins were properly torqued

    Anti-walk trigger pins were properly torqued

    Barrel markings

    Barrel markings

    Range results:

    All set to put rounds downrange

    All set to put rounds downrange

    Black Dawn was nice enough to send me 120 rounds of .243 Win. ammunition to test with the rifle.  I greatly appreciated this, as I don’t normally shoot .243 Win., or have any on hand.  They sent 40 rounds each of Winchester Super-X 100gr SP, Hornady “American Whitetail” 100gr InterLock, and Hornady “Full Boar” 80gr GMX.  For an optic, I mounted a Leupold MkII 6-18x40mm.  With optic and bipod, the rifle weighed over 11 lbs.  After quickly zeroing in,  I started shooting for groups at 100 yards.  The best I could manage with the Winchester 100gr SP was 2.495in.  Sensing something was wrong, I pulled the next round I chambered, and sure enough, the soft points were deforming during the feed cycle.  This is a common problem in MSRs when using soft-points, however, and not unique to this rifle.  I moved on to the Hornady 100gr Interlocks (also a soft point), and sure enough, the group, though somewhat better, was still unimpressive at 1.23in.  I think if one wants to use a soft point with this rifle, one would be best served with Federal Fusion or a similar round with very little exposed lead.

    Winchester 100gr SP, deformed point on the right. That's going to cause accuracy issues.

    Winchester 100gr SP, deformed point on the right. That’s going to cause accuracy issues.

    Hornady 100gr interlock, deformed tip on the bottom

    Hornady 100gr interlock, deformed point on the bottom

    The results of the deformation on paper

    The results of the deformation.  Not pretty.

    The 80gr GMX load, however, was just the ticket for sub-MOA accuracy.  On my first try, I shot a .336in group.  Moving on to practical accuracy, I fired at plates and small targets out to 433 yards, which is about the maximum effective range of a factory .243 load on medium-sized game such as deer. (H/T to Terminal Ballistics Research, a great resource for terminal effectiveness of hunting ammunition)  At 400 yards, factory .243 out of a 22 inch barrel already has below 900ft-lbs of energy.  Anyhow, hits registered easily off the bench, offhand, and from prone.  I fired a final group with the GMX from a hot barrel, and achieved .797in after over 100 rounds through the gun. I had zero malfunctions  during all 140 rounds fired.  I had no need to adjust the gas block.  There was no gas leakage during firing, and recoil was mild.  Follow-up shots were very easy to make.  Overall, I came away from the range session impressed by the accuracy of the rifle with the right ammunition, and its reliability thus far.

    Best group of the day at .336in. with the 80gr GMX.

    Best group of the day at .336in. with the 80gr GMX.

    Black Dawn had told me that they offer the .243 as an option for hunters and shooters who desire less felt recoil.  On this note, the gun was over 11lbs. loaded and with accessories, and I honestly could not tell a difference in recoil between a similarly weighted AR-10 in .308 and the BDR-243.  Perhaps the difference would be more noticeable between a .243 and a .308 that both weighed 7 or 8lbs.  Ballistically speaking, I much prefer .308.

    Most importantly, what sets this rifle apart from other premium MSR offerings?  I would venture to say that Black Dawn’s customer service and attention to detail is what I can most recommend about the company and their rifle.  Every interaction with their staff was positive and helpful. I could really tell they care deeply about their products and most importantly their end-users.  Sadly, this is not the norm in the world of firearms.  The attention to detail was also excellent on the rifle.  Tight tolerances, things being properly torqued, an absence of scratch marks, flawless duracoating, and excellent accuracy all spoke to their craftsmanship and care.  If you are a fan of the .243 or are in the market for a premium MSR, the Black Dawn BDR is definitely worth considering.

    Pros:

    • Extremely accurate with the right rounds, including when barrel was hot and dirty
    • Customizeable builds upon ordering, can be built to your specifications
    • Excellent customer service interactions
    • Excellent build quality

    Cons:

    • Heavy weight for a hunting rifle
    • Takedown pins were difficult to utilize

    More offerings can be found at blackdawnarmory.com.

    Thanks to Black Dawn Armory for the ammunition

    Thanks to Tamarack Sports and Aaron Hughston Shooting School for technical assistance, range time, and targets

    Rusty S.

    Having always had a passion for firearms, Rusty S. has had experience in gunsmithing, firearms retail, hunting, competitive shooting, range construction, as an IDPA certified range safety officer and a certified instructor. He has received military, law enforcement, and private training in the use of firearms. He is fortunate enough to have access to class 3 weaponry as well.


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