In its short history, Daniel Defense rose from a small but dedicated manufacturer of AR-style rifles and components to one of the top three players in the industry, running neck and neck with companies like Smith & Wesson and Ruger. Now, with the release of the Delta 5, the company is expanding into new territory, bringing the Daniel Defense message and mission to the rapidly growing world of precision rifles.
For a relatively new player in the firearm industry, Daniel Defense already has a great history, but the nature of that history contrasts with how the future looks for the company.
From 2003 on, from the earliest rail systems and upper receivers to the company’s first firearms built in 2009, the Daniel Defense product line has largely reflected the desires and direction of its founder. However, with the development of the Daniel Defense Delta 5 bolt-action rifle beginning in 2016, the company took its R&D process a different direction. Rather than being principally driven by Marty Daniel’s vision, the Delta 5 was born from a collaborative effort of the now-unified Daniel Defense team at the company’s new facility in Black Creek, GA.
“I’m not gonna be around forever,” Daniel Defense Founder and CEO Marty Daniel said. “There need to be processes in place that allow this team to continue to create and build the brand.”
The development of a bolt-action rifle is a natural next step for a company that’s seen incredible growth in its 10 years of firearm manufacturing. From making small batches of rifles in 2009 to competing, sales-wise, with some of the industry’s biggest names, Daniel Defense has gone up in a big way in the modern sporting rifle market. However, to broaden the company’s reach and appeal to larger groups of consumers, the company needed to widen its consumer offerings.
The leap from tactical MSRs to tactical-style bolt-action rifles isn’t as large as it otherwise would be for other firearms, like shotguns or handguns. That’s not to diminish Daniel Defense’s jump into this side of the market, though, as both firearms have different expectations from a consumer standpoint, and the Daniel Defense team spent years ensuring that every element of its new Delta 5 bolt-action rifle met (or exceeded) the needs of today’s precision-rifle shooters.
The first thing consumers need to know about the Daniel Defense Delta 5 is that the entire rifle, save the included Timney trigger, is a Daniel Defense design. The action was built from the ground up, and every facet of the stock and barrel was pored over by Daniel and his team. In fact, just the stock alone went through more than 60 iterations before ending up in its final shape.
What’s also important to understand about the Daniel Defense Delta 5 is what it borrows from the company’s experience in the AR-15 market. One of the many reasons why the AR-15 emerged as one of the most-popular rifle designs in America is the ease with which the gun can be modified and maintained by the end user, a feature not shared by many of today’s bolt-action rifles. The Remington 700, for example, requires specialized tooling and measurement gauges for a barrel swap, whereas the AR-15 headspaces on the barrel extension, allowing users to toss barrels on with minimal tooling and experience with few ill effects.
This trouble-free tinkering feature migrated from Daniel Defense’s ARs over to its new Delta 5 rifle action, which features a round barrel nut located just forward of the receiver. Like AR barrels, the DD barrel headspace on the barrel extension and are attached with a removable barrel nut, enabling users to swap barrels between guns without needing a gunsmith. Those who buy a Delta 5 will be able to buy standalone barrels in differing calibers from the company as well.
The barrels themselves on the DD Delta 5 are also worth examining. Daniel Defense made its name on the durability of the company’s cold hammer-forged barrels, all of which are made in-house at the DD facility in Black Creek. Those same CHF machines churned out barrels for the new Delta 5, preserving that legacy of durability. During a Daniel Defense range event in November 2018, DD engineers noted that test guns have gone more than 4,000 rounds without seeing any degradation in accuracy.
After hearing that Delta 5 rifles are built with CHF barrels, some precision shooters might be wondering what kind of accuracy can be had with this precision-oriented platform. Though renowned for their durability, CHF barrels are dinged by some as somehow being less accurate than cut- or button-rifled barrels.
These rifles won’t ship with an accuracy guarantee, but the gun’s designers are confident that the platform is capable of producing ½-MOA groups. Rifles used at the rollout event put groups as tight or tighter than that downrange when in the hands of capable riflemen. During day shoots at Strange Farms and The Guardian Center, rifles ran out to 800-1,000 yards with consistent accuracy, so this might be a myth debunked.
Another aspect that stands out about the Daniel Defense Delta 5 is the specially designed stock, featuring pillar-bedding and an AICS-compatible detachable-magazine well. The stock is adjustable for length-of-pull and comb height, allowing shooters to custom-fit the gun to their body. At the front of the forearm, users will find M-Lok attachment slots for all their must-have accessories. However, one of the interesting elements of the stock in my mind is the grip.
To encourage shooters to avoid wrapping their strong-side thumb around the stock wrist, a no-no in the precision bolt-gun world, the Delta 5 features a unique, ambidextrous grip profile with a raised ridge running down the center. Shooters who try to wrap their thumb around the wrist will find it uncomfortable and will, instead, rest their thumb along the side of the raised ridge in a low depression molded just for that purpose.
The reason for the attention paid to this particular point in the ergonomics of the stock is to encourage the proper grip for a straight, consistent pull to the rear. With the thumb wrapped around the stock wrist, shooters will normally pull slightly to the right when the shot breaks. With the thumb resting at the top or along the side of the stock wrist, this encourages a consistent, rearward pull with no break off to the side.
Shooting the Daniel Defense Delta 5 was an illustration of how wonderful modern-day precision rifles have become. Once upon a time, shooting 400-500 yards was a feat of technology and shooter skill. With the Delta 5, hitting targets at 500 yards could be done nearly as fast as the bolt and trigger could be worked. Getting on target at farther distances, up to 1,000 yards, could be done on cue with the right wind calls.
I don’t want to call it boring, because ringing steel at any distance is never boring, but the ease with which the Delta 5 could be shot takes some of the mysticism out of those long-range shots. In fact, shooters at the Daniel Defense range event had to start coming up with target games to keep themselves entertained, because misses weren’t a thing. Once you’ve rung the same IPSC plate 20 times at 800 yards with shot after shot, you get the point: the gun’s a shooter. The question now becomes, “Are you a shooter?” With the Delta 5, it’s easy to find out.
One element consumers ought to keep in mind is the unique nature of the Daniel Defense action. The footprint is unique and will not fit aftermarket stocks designed for other rifle actions. In time, I’m sure, the aftermarket will supply options for the rifle, and Daniel Defense plans to roll out new stock designs, but what you see is what you get for the time being.
Each Daniel Defense Delta 5 is available in .308 Win. (1:10 twist), 6.5 Creedmoor (1:8 twist) or 7mm-08 Rem. (1:9 twist), with barrel lengths measuring 20 inches for .308 models and 24 inches for the other two chamberings. Barrels are threaded with a 5/8-24 TPI thread pitch and are cold hammer-forged from stainless steel. Each rifle ships with a single 5-round PMag, and the suggested retail price on the rifle is $2,199. More details on the particulars of the platform can be found in the DD spec sheet below: