I was invited to an event co hosted by Desert Tech and Nikon. Desert Tech finally released the MDR (and is now shipping pre-orders) and wanted to put it in front of media. In addition to the MDR, Desert Tech wanted to showcase their other platforms, the HTI and SRS, with platforms from .308 Win to .375 CheyTac. Nikon was slated to provide the optics, including some new stuff. Wait, what?!? Nikon? Precision Long Range optics?
We were asked to muster in Price, UT as we would be shooting at Desert Tech’s Hiawatha shooting facility, an old coal mining operation turned ghost town. It was an eerie mix of Silent Hill converges with Fallout, complete with a herd of deformed quad horned goats and a creepy child wandering about (actually I think it was the property owner’s son). All we needed was some fog rolling in and an air raid going off to complete the scene.
Once you get past the creepiness of the setting, the town provided a ton of very interesting shooting problems, including building to building and long shooting lanes (out past a mile).
Desert Tech and Nikon had pre-staged a bunch of shooting positions with rifles, optics, and targets, giving us the ability to range and spot targets (using the Nikon goodies), and engage with everything from the MDR at sub-200 yard distances to mile shots with .375 CheyTac.
I’ll admit, Nikon is not what came to mind when talking optics for precision long range shooting. Yes, they’ve been doing hunting optics forever, and their camera lenses are well received. But their scopes are not the glass that I would have associated with a precision rifle, 1000 yards and out.
Products they brought included new binoculars (including the “Laser Force” a model with a range finder capable of 1800 yard calls), a dedicated range finder with some truly amazing stabilization technology, scopes, and spotters.
The range finder, the Monarch 7i VR, was amazing at stabilizing the image and allowing for an easy read. They say it is “Vibration Reduction” technology; I call it magic. It was a little weird at first, as the image and reticle would “lock on” but very quickly it just became the norm. Now I find myself disappointed in my personal range finder. My biggest complaint is that it only ranges out to 1000 yards.
Their top scope, the BLACK X1000 (6-24×50), which retails for $649, was very surprising. It was just as optically clear as my Leupold Mark 4, and while having less elevation travel and thicker stadia, actually had less distortion at distance on the edges, and no perceptible chromatic aberration. I did not get a chance to test tracking and all of the scopes were pre-zeroed to the rifles for us—I will get some dedicated hands on time in the next few weeks to do some more detailed testing.
I know Desert Tech has received a ton of criticism in the industry for the delay on the MDR, and not without cause (of which they are well aware). However, I can attest that the platform does indeed exist and, honestly, is pretty innovative. The MDR was pretty amazing to shoot, feeling size-wise like an SBR, but operating like a full-size rifle (which, technically, it is). The time they invested resulted in a very solid and performant platform (and it doesn’t look like it is wearing an Ugg boot). The rifles we shot were excellent.
First off, yes, it is a bullpup configuration (which I know will immediately turn off a subset of shooters). My prior experience with bullpups is very limited, and I do not have a big opinion either way. I will admit that I had a preconceived notion that a bullpup would have more perceived recoil than an AR patterned rifle, which was just not the case with these rifles.
Forget the ability to swap out calibers from .223 to .308. (which can be done insanely rapidly; with a return to zero for each caliber when you swap back), what really shines are some of the common manipulations. Everything about the platform is both familiar (to those that are familiar with AR-patterned rifles) and enhanced. For example, the magazine release is easily accessed with your index finger (the button is a tad larger than the typical AR-15/10 button), and there is also a button on the front of the magazine well that allows you to strip it out in one fluid motion. The MDR is also truly ambidextrous. All controls are available on both sides (and are not simply smaller versions of the “right” side ones).
The ejection port is the really innovative part. First off, it is forward ejecting (mechanically by the bolt returning forward). That means it doesn’t matter what side you cheek weld, you are not going to get hit with brass. The really cool feature, though, if you are one of those wrong-handed people, is you can simply pop out the ejection port with a piece of brass and the corresponding guide component on the opposing side of the rifle and click them in place on the other side from where they started. In under 30 seconds, your brass will now be ejecting forward and left.
We also got to play with some of their other rifles (that have been in current production; the SRS and HTI models). We were reaching out past a mile with .375 CheyTac and the Nikon BLACK X1000. We shot literally millions of dollars of ammo consistently beyond a mile with a sub $700 scope (okay, not “millions” but CheyTac is not cheap and we shot a lot). Some of the shooters had their first 1000 yard and mile hits, basically out of the box, with unfamiliar equipment.
I came to the event wary, with a couple of preconceived notions, and left extremely optimistic. The MDR is definitely not “vaporware”. While pre-orders are going to be filled first, you should start seeing them available at retailers in the next few months or order directly through Desert Tech (with fulfillment as production allows; and they indicated they have added shifts to increase production capacity).
And Nikon… Okay, I think I can finally say I’m formally giving up my “glass snoot” ways. I now appreciate scopes from several different manufacturers. 2018 is going to be a big year for Nikon as they start focusing on optics for shooting sports and tactical applications. I am definitely impressed with the X1000 as a sub-$700 scope that I think has the stones to compete with optics 2-3x the cost.
As it stands now, I will be getting an MDR for review in the next couple of weeks along with a Nikon Black X1000 (and also their new Laser Force Range Finding Binos). Be on the lookout for some more in depth reviews, where I will spend some quality time with these products.
Cover Photo Credit: Ben Hetland, Desert Tech.