The firearms industry received a boost from the November 2008 elections that has gone far beyond gun sales. Ancillary products, new ammunition development and firearms training are all in hyperdrive as well. Competitive shooter ranks are growing steadily, and anything that smacks of practical application or tactical skill is enjoying a meteoric rise in interest. An excellent example is the fast-paced sport of 3-gun. This half tactical/half gamesmanship shoot-fest takes its name from the incorporation of handguns, rifles (or carbines) and shotguns in each competition. Heavy interest and a highly competitive field have resulted in manufacturers responding with guns and gear tailored to the needs of competitors. DPMS has answered the need for an off-the-shelf AR designed specifically for 3-gun shooters with the introduction of the new Panther 3G1.
My first opportunity to get both eyes and hands on the 3G1 was when I stepped up to the plate for a very impromptu shooting competition sponsored by DPMS' parent company, Freedom Group. Though I had not shot competitively since retiring from the service, I immediately felt very comfortable behind the rifle.
Unfortunately, my shooting didn't exactly reflect the good fit. Rifle shooting is what I do best and my rust shone brightly that day as I let the ticking clock convince me it was OK to accept a poor shooting position at two of the 100-yard targets. Somehow I managed to salvage the rest of the stage, including the shotgun targets I should have missed (go figure). One thing I noticed about the 3G1 during those first shots was that it pointed naturally, came right back on target immediately and transitioned smoothly from target to target. I left the range impressed with the rifle and made plans to fully evaluate one—without a shot timer ticking next to my head.
Its excellent balance owes largely to the 3G1's 18-inch, medium-contour barrel and Viking Tactics/JP Enterprises Modular free-float tube. The latter feature is slimmer than most tubes, has an excellent gripping surface and allows the attachment of add-on rails at various locations. An ambidextrous Ergo Grip and MagPul CTR collapsible stock add to the ergonomic picture. The 3G1's recoil is well managed by the excellent Miculek compensator. Sending rounds downrange is a pleasant experience thanks to the adjustable, single-stage JP Enterprises trigger, set at 4 pounds, 5 ounces. Though I prefer two-stage triggers for accuracy work, single-stage triggers find favor in 3-gun due to the speed with which they reset during the perpetually fast, high-round-count stages. I've installed several JP triggers on customer guns and always enjoy shooting them. The trigger on my test rifle actually had a bit of creep, which is unusual for a JP. I suspect it wasn't adjusted correctly after installation and can be remedied by a little attention to detail.
Rounding out the good feature list is a Badger Ordnance Gen 1 Tactical Latch on the charging handle and dual attachment studs on the handguard for both a bipod and a sling mount. I've built several custom-order 3-gun rifles, and the setup of the 3G1 incorporates the most popular features for which I've been asked to include. It probably didn't hurt DPMS's new product-development team that the company's former owner and president Randy Luth is an active, accomplished 3-gun competitor.
The 3G1 is sold without optics or sights, but the flat-top receiver and single rail Koelbl-style gas block will accommodate any standard tactical sight. I mounted a prototype Leupold 1-8X Close Quarters Battle Sniper Scope (CQBSS) to facilitate fast shooting up close and accuracy testing further out. The scope is designed to do exactly what the name implies: provide snipers and other precision shooters with true mid- to long-range capability without sacrificing the ability to shoot at extremely short ranges. The CQBSS requirement came from SOF experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Leupold is first to the table with a close match for the requirement. Its first-focal-plane reticle (Horus H27 in my test sample, although several other options are available), illuminated center flash dot, locking knobs and 1-8X zoom range combine to make this a highly versatile tactical optic.
As the range results clearly show, the 3G1 will shoot well without any further work. It turned in many sub-MOA groups and overall averages were very good for a semi-stock rifle. I opted for projectiles from across the weight spectrum to take advantage of the very flexible 1:8-inch twist rate. Since all loads grouped well, I decided to test some surplus 62-grain SS109 ammo. Despite the lackluster accuracy of M855 and equivalent loads, the 3G1 passed this test too. Overall, I fired 220 rounds through the test rifle without any malfunctions. The Leupold scope was perfectly up to the dual tasks of accurate slow fire at 8X and rapid, close-in work at a true 1X. Working through rapid strings at multiple targets with the 3G1 was a cinch thanks to the compensator and quick trigger reset. All in all, this rifle was fun to shoot and made it easy to hit the mark. It's by no means limited to 3-gun competition. Any shooting discipline requiring accuracy and good ergonomics will make a good home for the 3G1. You can't ask any more from a mass-produced factory gun.