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DMR Dustup- Colt and Daniel Defense

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Photography by Kenda Lenseigne

We Pit Accurate Designated Marksman Rifles from Colt and Daniel Defense Head to Head

Over the past decade, operational demands for a rifle capable of making hits beyond the range of the standard infantry weapon started popping up like weeds — from just about any major unit in contact with the enemy. The U.S. Marine Corps’ 3rd Infantry Division, the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Crane Division, and the Navy SEALs, all formalized these demands into programs designed to give a squad designated marksman (SDM) the tools needed to effectively support infantry operations out to 600 meters.

Despite approaching the problem from different directions, the results were fairly similar in that all used the M16 as the basic platform, adding an aftermarket barrel, free-float handguard, and magnified optic to exploit the capabilities of Mk 262 77-grain OTM ammunition. Unsurprisingly, civilian companies were quick to jump on this bandwagon and produce their own versions of these rifles. Some, such as Knight’s Armament and Daniel Defense, already had a head start due to their involvement in the original military contracts.

We decided to take a look at two examples of the breed to see what you can expect, should you decide a designated marksman rifle is in your future. Read on to find how the Colt Competition CRP20SS and Daniel Defense MK12 fare when we put them head-to-head in a RECOIL-style shootout.

Colt CRP20SS Adjustable Gas BlockIain Harrison Prone with Colt CRP20SS


Last year, when discussing matters pertaining to the Hartford company, you had to make the distinction between Colt Manufacturing and Colt Defense, who, despite sharing the same facility, were separate companies. Well, no more. Following the merger, their upstart offshoot licensee, Colt Competition was free to move into the law enforcement and military markets, so drawing on its experience in the three-gun world, it applied some of the lessons learned to produce a line of tactical models. The CRP20SS is its DMR version, and it’s a beast.

Utilizing a 20-inch, 1:8-twist button-rifled barrel with a tighter .223, rather than 5.56mm, chamber, the CRP20SS is designed to extract every bit of available performance from its ammo. Colt Competition ships each rifle with a test target — this one printed a 0.371-inch group before it left the factory, so we had high expectations for it. Having used one of its 18-inch three-gun models in numerous matches, their adjustable gas system was both familiar and still unique among AR builders. One of the major drawbacks of adjustable gas blocks is their propensity to turn the rifle into a single shot at the most inopportune times. There’s almost no danger of the Colt system unscrewing itself, however — in order to make any changes the user must first pull forward a spring-loaded knob, freeing it from its detent. The shooter can then control the amount of gas entering the system, so that the bolt carrier group just barely impacts the rear of the receiver extension, considerably reducing the amount of felt recoil and allowing for faster follow-up shots. A three-port compensator reduces recoil even further, to the point where the gun feels like a loud .22 LR.

DMR Dustup colt

A 2-inch-diameter, round-profile free-float tube provides a lot of room for accessories. When all four of the supplied rail sections are installed, the fore-end feels downright enormous in the support hand, so for most purposes we’d yank them all and cut one down to provide a small mounting section for a bipod, which would also trim some of the weight from the gun’s front end. Despite tipping the scales at 10 pounds, the Colt doesn’t feel too portly, mainly due to the heavy barrel being balanced by Magpul’s equally chunky PRS stock. The bolt carrier group (BCG) is chrome lined, correctly staked, magnetic particle inspected, and feels a little smoother than the Daniel Defense BCG.

One of Bill Geissele’s excellent Super Semi-Automatic triggers drops the hammer at 3.5 pounds and has a short, well-defined reset. Other controls are standard, save for the extended charging-handle latch which gives plenty of purchase for one-handed operation. A Magpul trigger guard and Hogue grip round out the human interface with the gun, which, like a Model T Ford, can be had in any color you like.


Although never officially recognized by Big Army, the original 3rd Infantry Division DMR rifles that were put together by the Army Marksmanship Unit in Fort Benning, Georgia, nonetheless had a significant impact on the development of SDM programs. This is a good example of the AMU’s experience in civilian competition influencing military programs and the selection of components for them, as the 12-inch, free-float handguard chosen for the weapon came from — you guessed it — Daniel Defense.

The MK12 rifle in tornado grey featured here carries the latest evolution of that handguard, and despite having rails at all four cardinal points, it’s not in the least bulky. Even with the rail covers removed, the handguard isn’t reminiscent of a farrier’s rasp as all sharp edges have been rounded off and smoothed out. Beneath those rails lurks an 18-inch long, hammer-forged stainless barrel with a rifle-length gas system. Recognizing the limitations of chrome-lined barrels in a precision application, DD chose to nitride this one, which not only provides excellent corrosion resistance, but also reportedly increases barrel life by 30 percent over chrome linings. Barrel diameter is 0.75 inches in front of the gas block and 0.875 behind it. Unlike the Colt, its low-profile gas block is not adjustable, which shaves some weight from the front of the gun. The nitrided stainless flash hider also removes bulk, at the expense of recoil reduction.

DD MK12 Pistol Grip and StockColt Comp CRP20SS DD MK12

The MK12, as with the rest of Daniel Defense’s lineup, features a well-made BCG constructed to Mil-spec and chrome lined with a correctly staked gas key. Its extractor is upgraded with a black insert and donut, so tension is probably never going to be an issue, particularly considering the lower gas port pressures and shorter dwell times associated with the gas system/barrel combo. Unlike the original AMU guns, this one features extended M4 feed ramps, so getting cartridges into the barrel shouldn’t be a problem either, and in the unlikely event of a stuck case, the BCM Gunfighter charging handle is strong enough to shrug off aggressive handling.

Both upper and lower receivers are Mil-spec 7075 forgings and on our test sample fit together with minimal slop. A nice touch is the receiver end plate, which rather than being the usual sheet steel stamping, is CNC’d from thicker material to provide a mounting point for quick-detach swivels — useful for those who use single-point slings or like to attach the back of their two-point slings at the rear of the receiver. The stock and pistol grip both include soft rubber overmolds, which in the case of the cheek-piece makes for a welcome relief from the minor annoyance of getting one’s beard stuck. Should you wish to swap out the stock, a Mil-spec, six-position buffer tube will accept your preferred version. The pistol grip is more vertical and fatter than a standard A2 and incorporates an oversized, integral trigger guard which secures at the front receiver hole with a convenient Allen head set screw rather than a roll pin.

DMR Dustup


Before we take an off-the-shelf rifle to the range for evaluation, there’s usually a chunk of time spent on pulling components out of the spares bin to fix some perceived deficiency in the manufacturer’s efforts. There’s something chafing about spending valuable range time with guns that don’t quite meet our (admittedly cantankerous and curmudgeonly) needs. Sort of like wearing shoes that don’t fit quite properly. Both of these rifles, however, came with our favorite Geissele two-stage trigger and decent furniture already installed, so there was nothing to do apart from slapping on a suitable optic and bipod and seeing how they measured up against the clock.

Fortunately, Cowtown range had recently installed a new long-range steel array in a rocky gulley reaching all the way out to 1,100 yards, which would be an excellent facsimile of the terrain for which these rifles were designed. After familiarization and accuracy testing from sandbags using a Leupold Mark 4 3.5-10x scope (both rifles turned in sub-MOA groups with bullet weights from 55- to 77-grains) we put them into a more practical configuration.

In keeping with the original SDM concept, for our field test we used Hornady 75-grain Steel Match ammo, a Trijicon 4×32 ACOG, and an Atlas bipod, in order to engage steel silhouettes from 100 to 600 yards. Standing behind an unloaded rifle, the shooter would drop into position, make ready, and hit each target with three rounds as fast as possible, to gauge both practical accuracy and ease of manipulation. To get familiar with the course of fire, we shot it a few times with both an Aimpoint-equipped carbine and a precision bolt gun, as the DMR rifle is supposed to slot in between the capabilities of these two.

DMR Dustup

Some takeaways from the exercise:

1. Hitting an 18×24-inch steel target in natural terrain at 600 yards is a lot easier with a magnified optic. Once the paint wears off, hitting it with a red dot is a matter of luck and volume of fire, not skill.

2. It was easier to make multiple hits with the Colt Competition CR20SS at all ranges. Its combination of heavy barrel, intrinsic accuracy, effective muzzle brake and tuned gas system meant the crosshairs never left the target and hammering steel was just a matter of managing the trigger reset. If you’re bigger and fitter than this 180-pound meat sack, or if the majority of your shooting is from prone or a solid barricade, then this rifle has all you’ll need.

3. Despite the Colt turning in faster times on multiple target engagements, if you plan on humping your rifle anyplace, then the Daniel Defense MK12’s 2.6-pound weight advantage is worth the tradeoff. What it gives up in stability and split times from supported positions is offset when it’s deployed as an all-purpose carbine. In offhand shooting, it transitions faster and points more naturally due to its lighter and shorter barrel — overall, it’s a more rounded package.

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