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Review – Daniel Defense DDM4 “Build Your Own”

BLUF [Bottom Line Up Front]: The DDM4 from Daniel Defense is a nice, ruggedly built rifle that’s absolutely worth the price – I’ll explain how I came to that determination below.

Most shooting for this review was at 100m and 200m, though I did zero it at 50 and spent some time on targets much closer than that. However, even with optics I never stretched its legs past 300m. One thing to keep in mind as you read this – the weapon is mechanically capable of greater accuracy than I’m personally capable of.

Let me make a disclaimer: I’m not Larry Vickers. I didn’t abuse this thing to the extremes he did and generally don’t treat weapons that way (not that there’s anything wrong with that). You won’t see me launch a rifle into orbit or drop it into a volcano in COWAN! fashion. I certainly didn’t simulate the rigors a rifle would endure downrange in the hands of a real pipe-hitter. Rather, I approached this from a sort of ‘everyman’ perspective, realistic to the way I treat and use my guns. I don’t take care of my rifles like a classic car. I treat them like my lawnmower, because they’re tools. They get banged around, slammed together and otherwise ‘mistreated’ quite frequently.

I do clean them though—every year on my birthday, whether they need it or not.

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The Build

As you may recall, this Daniel Defense M4 was ordered online through their “Build Your Own” program. As a couple of buddies overseas put it, it’s “like ‘Build-A-Bear’ but for shooting people in the face”. I’ll go over my build first.

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DDM4 Complete Lower with Geissele SSA (Super Semi-Automatic) Trigger

I chose this because, well, Geissele. The lower came with a MagPul stock. Since then DD has begun offering their own buttstocks and grips, but I left the original one on for the review. You can see images below for a comparison. I’ll address DD’s furniture at a later date.

 A4 Upper Receiver Assembly

Great construction but I wish they offered one without the forward assist—I know I may be speaking heresy here, but in my opinion the forward assist is one of the most (if not the most) useless additions ever made to this breed of rifle. There isn’t anything wrong with a weapon that has one, but it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if it went away. As I see it, if I have to use the forward assist, odds are that I’m going to have to keep using it for subsequent rounds to get the weapon into battery. So—why is that happening? My thoughts on this are, by the time I have to use the forward assist twice I’d be better off tending to whatever is causing the malfunction to begin with. If you have to use the forward assist more than once in a row you’re effectively using a bolt action. Within the constraints of my needs the FA is a feature I’m probably not going to use.

Rails

The rail is an AR15 Lite Rail 12.0. This system suited my needs quite satisfactorily. There’s a lot of real estate for your accessories. I have no complaints and it was easy to manipulate, but…if I were to order a “keeper” DD, I’d switch to a modular float rail 12.0. To DD’s credit, for a full 12” quad rail this is very light.  I just don’t personally need it.

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Mid length gas system

Arguments abound that mid length gas systems are more reliable, are closer to the original design and present less recoil. This is going to be another individual choice. I don’t think it would have made any difference to me if I’d gone to a carbine length gas system; in other weapons I’ve never perceived a difference.

18 in. barrel

I prefer a 16 in. barrel, but thought I should at least try an 18 to see if it made any difference. In retrospect this was a mistake (more on that below), as I saw no benefit to performance. This is a 1/7 Twist LPG.S2W Profile (Strength 2 Weight) barrel; as with all DD rifles, it is cold hammer forged (CHF) and has a Chrome Moly Vanadium lined barrel (which helps with fouling and corrosion resistance). Daniel Defense is one of only four places in the United States that does cold hammer forging. The barrel is round, too – I have it on reliable authority those are the best kind.

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Muzzle Device

I chose the DD standard 5.56 NATO flash suppressor. I didn’t want to add the additional length of an extended flash suppressor. And for a 5.56mm rifle I just didn’t see the need for a muzzle climb Mitigator (though at some point I’d like to try one out with a different MD with 2 otherwise identical rifles for comparison).

You know, if you have a problem with the terrible, even punishing recoil of the 5.56mm cartridge, perhaps the AR15 is not for you—that said, some users, like competitive shooters, might find it useful. If I were to do it again I would probably go with the DD Superior Suppression Device, particularly since I’d be opting for the 16” barrel.

BCG

I chose a standard Bolt Carrier Group because I didn’t see much potential benefit to a chromed BCG. This may largely be a reflection of personal preference. I have never had a problem with a standard phosphate BCG. The chrome does make it easier to clean and adds corrosion resistance, but again it comes down to personal needs. I’m not swimming in through sharktopus-haunted salt water to make a hit on an HVT. If you live on a coast or shoot frequently in inclement weather this might be a great option for you, but it’s not really necessary for my needs here on the Great Plains.

Sights

I chose the fixed Front/Rear Sight combo. This is a proven system that has always worked well for me. I like fixed sights, particularly if I can cowitness with an optic. I’ve been using them for 2 ½ decades, so I’m familiar and comfortable with them. I used a variety of optics during the test.

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The only suppressor used during this test was a Gemtech HALO. I will try it with others.

VFG

My build included the ConVert Foregrip Assembly, because I thought it was cool and wanted to try it out (The ConVErt was designed to use with pressure pads and remote cable assemblies). It was satisfactory and held up to getting slammed around in a pack and vehicle for a while, but I wound up not doing much with it. Most of the time I chose to go without a foregrip entirely or I used a Gripstop. Under different circumstances I’d have found this useful but when it came to actually putting rounds downrange I didn’t use it—I would choose it again though, particularly if I planned on running pressure pad equipped lights and lasers. This is one area I’d like to see Daniel Defense expand in the BYO lineup. All the VFG options are broomhandles, which not everyone likes. Personally I’d like to see options for the Gripstop, an AFG, Viking Tactics Ultralight VFG, maybe a TangoDown Stubbie or Unity Tactical DMVFG…then again there are so many options out there it would probably be impossible (and impractical) for DD to offer them all.

Direct Impingement

This is a DI gun. That may sound somewhat obvious, since DD doesn’t build piston guns at the moment, but I thought I should make it clear. Note that if it had been a choice I’d have gone direct impingement, because that’s the way God and Eugene Stoner intended it. There’s a reason we’re still using that system after a half century: it works.

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The Shootin’

I’ve had this rifle on various ranges (and in a couple of pastures, a salvage lot and my uncle’s pecan orchard) under different conditions for approximately a year now. Once I hit 1,000 rounds I stopped keeping count. This wasn’t entirely on purpose, but what can I say? I’m easily distracted). As hard as it is to believe, I shot at least the first 300 rounds straight out of the box without any lubrication—the first 10 magazines, maybe as many as 12, and over 1,000 without cleaning it.. That says a lot about the rifle. After those first 10-12 mags I put a very small amount of Nanotech 3-8-6 “Nano Gun & Knife Sealant” (which I like) on the BCG only. In late February I put a little FireClean on it and later I washed some mud off with a hose, after which I wiped the moisture off. That is the extent of its cleaning so far. I haven’t even hit it with a Bore-Snake.

That’s a pretty big deal. No one was more surprised than I at how it’s kept running—in fact, that’s why I kept going (I was originally going to review the rifle after 6 months – see the video below). I’m not going to clean or lube it again at all until I experience a malfunction. We’ll see how far it goes.

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Ammunition used for the review included a number of different weights and brands, such as Freedom Munitions, Monarch 55gr .223, Independence 55gr 5.56mm, Winchester 60 gr partition .223 REM, Winchester 55 gr 5.56mm, PMC XTAC 55g 193, Federal M193 55 gr FMJ, even some shitty, dirty steel-cased stuff I can’t identify and some other ammo I think was Tula. All of it fed without a problem through a wide variety of magazines, including Lancer, MagPul 20s-30s-40s of a couple Gens, the SureFire 60, USGI steel 20s and 30s and one CAA ‘Countdown’ magazine.

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To be fair I only did one 30 rounds of the unidentifiable steel stuff. There were printing differences from brand to brand but that’s to be expected. Note that the vast majority of the ammunition used in this review came courtesy of Freedom Munitions and Brownell’s—I’d like to take a moment to thank them very much for their support. I will have it out again this weekend with some .223 55gr and 77gr Gorilla Ammunition and 5.56mm 62gr Aguila Ammunition if it arrives in time. I doubt the rifle will have any issues, but if so I will advise.

Regardless of whether it was green tip or surplus, 5.56 or .223, it cycled everything without complaint—and for the cost of the rifle, it damn well should have. A rifle’s ability to shoot steel cased ammo is often indicative of its ability to shoot filthy dirty; I was glad to see this one devour everything I put through it.

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Initially I zeroed the weapon at the 50m due to facility limitations but later pushed that out to 100m. Iron sights held true throughout the test period.

Over the course of the last few months I’ve shot the rifle at a variety of ranges, from a number of positions, with different optics (EOTech and Aimpoint both provided me with red dots to use), suppressed and unsuppressed. I will confess in advance I did not use a chrono, I never took pictures of shot groups and didn’t use a laser thingamawhatsit to measure barrel temperature. I shot paper and steel and also passed the rifle off to my friends, my brother and my son to get their input. Reactions were universally positive, particularly with the crisp trigger break and the weapon’s light weight.

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My best shot group was 3” with an optic at 300 (EOTech EXPS3 and Magnifier), about the same at 200m with Dueck RTS Offset Sights (thanks Barry!) and a prototype MagPod I had to give back afterward (*sigh*). My worst group was about a 10” group at 100m with a flyer I managed to throw outside the silhouette on the paper. I’m confident a more skilled shooter would easily be able to tighten those groups up.

Interestingly only two differences of opinions arose during these various sessions, and only one was specifically about the rifle. The first regarded how it felt as it recoiled. Two shooters thought it was a little overgassed. Others felt it was reasonably soft. It seemed slightly overgassed to me, but that’s not a drawback in my opinion. I would rather have an overgassed rifle than an undergassed or questionably “just right” one. I’ve seen perfectly clean, well lubricated rifles seemingly function well, then fail to go bang once they got dirty, had a lot of carbon buildup or were fed out of spec ammo. An overgassed gun is much more omnivorous. Sure you may get a slightly stiffer recoil impulse, but it does increase reliability (and how much recoil does a 5.5mm round have anyway?). An overgassed gun can present issues if you’re shooting suppressed (if nothing more than blowing CLP back in your face) but I didn’t encounter any problems while running this rifle with a Gemtech Halo. I will try it with a Griffin Armament can when I can get my hands on one and advise if anything comes up.

Teenage shooter behind a 'Build Your Own' DDM4

Though my son remained sullen and less than talkative the first time he shot the Daniel Defense, I attribute that to his age and not the rifle.

Teenage shooter behind a 'Build Your Own' DDM4

My boy with the DDM4 at USSA in Tulsa in February. He later tried to lay claim to the DDM4 as his own.

The other difference of opinion that was actually about the stock (which is obviously an accessory). Once we mounted scopes a couple of shooters expressed dissatisfaction with the MagPul stock when used in conjunction with the scope. Neither that stock (nor the new DD stocks) are particularly wide. Those shooters explained they’d prefer something with a little more real estate for cheek weld. This might mean a lot or nothing depending on your preferences. I’m a B5 Enhanced SOPMOD guy myself for the cheek weld, but that wasn’t an option during purchase.

Speaking of scopes, I originally intended to set this rifle up as a distance/accuracy shooter. That’s one of the reasons I chose an 18 in. barrel. The common school of thought is that a longer barrel is necessarily more accurate, though this is not entirely correct. The truth is, with 2 in. more barrel I undoubtedly gained some fps. Higher muzzle velocity retains more energy downrange, loses less to wind drift, etc. This is where we come to the point of shooter ability vs. mechanical potential.  The fact is, I did not see an appreciable gain by going with the 18 in. barrel. This will be something that varies from shooter to shooter – it does make some difference, and I’ve seen barrel length work almost like a placebo to some shooters.

Among the different ways we shot it was suppressed with a Gemtech HALO, on Harris bipods, with an ADM QD mount, using primarily 2 Leupold VX-R Patrols, 1-4 and 3-9 (also with ADM QD mount) alongside the Dueck RTS. My thanks to the guys at Asset Weapon Mfg for helping me with the scope set up and suppressor. The red dot I used most frequently during this evaluation was an EOTech EXPS3, which is just as much fun to shoot as you probably think is. When low light firing most recently I used an M620 Ultra Scout Light from SureFire, which was awesome. Before getting the M620 I used the same Streamlight M3 I’ve had since right before 9/11 – which is still using the same bulb, I might add. (I don’t think you can get the M3s anymore, can you?)

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Ultimately I’d rather keep the 16” barrel (or better yet go down to 14.5” with a permanent muzzle device). I’d leave the VX-R 1-4 on board for versatility, though I also thoroughly enjoyed shooting it with a T-1 Micro 2MOA/LaRue Mount combo. In either of those configurations I can still use it for everything I want. Maneuvering through the house with it might be marginally harder with the longer barrel, maybe, but I like what I like. I’m confident the DD rifle could accommodate the potential of something like a Leupold Mark 4 if you’re inclined to run the weapon that way, but you’ll have to do your part. (I did not have access to that sort of scope on the days I had access to 300m or further.)

That’s really what it all boils down to. This is an AR15 platform that does everything it’s expected to, and does it well, so long as you do your part. It’s costlier than some rifles, less than others. Now, there will be some people who respond to this review by doing nothing more than complaining about the price. They’ll piss and moan about DD charging too much and will question how any AR could ‘possibly cost that much’. To those people I’d say just one thing—don’t f-ing buy it then. If you prefer a lower priced rifle, go get one. Plenty of manufacturers offer ARs at a lower price point, many significantly lower. Some of them build very good guns. Some of them should never ever come out of mom’s basement. You can also put together a Frankengun over time.

Haters Gonna HateThe bottom line is, not everyone offers the level of customization DD provides. That makes the DD rifle worth the price. My only complaint (complaint being a relative word) is with the limited furniture/accessory options. If you’re buying a DD production gun “off the rack” then let it come with DD furniture. If you’re going to build your own, I’d like to see them provide at least a few options.

That said, their configurable BYO program allows you to personalize the shootin’ iron you want. Their financing program could help you get it, though that solution isn’t for everyone. You’re going to get a high quality weapon with a history of performing in austere conditions, in the hands of SOF users, with excellent quality control during construction and a cold hammer forged barrel. There are good reasons DD has become a fixture in the AR market in addition to the military.

The Daniel Defense DDM4 is a rifle you should consider. They have excellent customer service (as I reported previously) and weapon performance is good to go.

That’s it for now. Go forth and conquer.

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