Photos: Hands-on with the New Desert Tech MDR


For Nick Young, a longtime friend of mine and owner of Desert Tech, manufacturing firearms is about making what’s best, not easiest—even if it involves reinventing the wheel. While everyone else was repackaging the same old bolt-action rifle, Desert Tech created the first truly usable bullpup sniper rifle.  It was no easy task taking what Nick thought was the best of several existing systems an melding them into the SRS. It took over a year to create the first working prototype. It is now a well-respected precision rifle used by enthusiasts and militaries worldwide. The road to success was a bit rocky, but he will tell you it was well worth it. With the unveiling of the new Desert Tech MDR, it seems like Nick and his company are headed down that road yet again.

A fourth-generation prototype of the Desert Tech MDR that the author shot at a recent media event put on by the company. The rifle shown here is chambered in .308.
A fourth-generation prototype of the Desert Tech MDR that the author shot at a recent media event put on by the company. The rifle shown here is chambered in .308.

Building a better semiautomatic bullpup

Months ago, Nick told me it was time to build a better bullpup semiautomatic rifle. Given my affinity for similar rifles, he gave be a sneak peek at his idea. Just as before, it was revolutionary, difficult to perfect, and when successful looked to be pretty exciting. Starting with several existing systems he found reliable and practical, he added what he believed are critical changes and additions. Just like his SRS-A1, the ability to quickly swap barrels and calibers was critical, along with excellent ergonomics. His new platform would utilize standard magazines in wide distribution, use a solid trigger, and feature select-fire capability for his government clients. Handling early mock-ups and prototypes, it looked to be a great rifle. A recent trip to the Desert Tech Training Facility gave me a chance to see the latest prototype in action.

Desert Tech MDR

Desert Tech invited a select number of media members to get a look at the latest iteration of their revolutionary rifle this past week. Their fourth and latest prototype is a solid representation of what will hit the market later next year. Many “printed” parts are still being used, so perfection was not in the cards, but it was designed to give us a taste of what is to come. As before, it was anything but the norm.

Tim Harmsen of Military Arms Channel shoots the MDR.
Tim Harmsen of Military Arms Channel shoots the MDR. A casing

Starting with the operating systems and ergonomics of the SCAR, G36, and other HK roller systems, the MDR uses some of their best component designs. The bolt carrier resembles that of the G36, a proven reliable system. Using a short-stroke gas system, it takes the quick barrel-interchangeability from the SCAR, along with its ergonomics. Much of their experience building the SRS transferred over, as swapping a barrel was simple and quick. The MDR’s return-spring operation and takedown are very similar to HK’s roller-delayed blowback firearms, as well as the DT SRS. Removing three pins takes the rifle down to its bare components—no tools are needed. Using a complete lower receiver housing the internals, stock, and trigger, the rifle is easily maintained and parts easily replaced if needed. Like the G36, the lower is just a component, not a “rifle.”

The MDR's lower receiver.
The MDR’s lower receiver.

The serialized upper receiver houses the bolt carrier group and barrel. The integrated top rail allows for popular sighting systems. Turn a lever to remove the handguard, allowing the installation of short barrels, along with standard 16.5-inch versions.

MDR handguard
The left side of the MDR handguard.

The MDR’s fire controls and pistol grip are similar to an AR’s. Magazines can be released by pushing a button forward of the trigger guard, as well as at the front of the magazine well. A bolt release is behind the mag well, similar to the Tavor. A non-reciprocating charging handle rests on both sides of the gun, along with ejection ports. Here sits the truly revolutionary part of the MDR: the forward ejection port. A “chute” can be snapped into place over the ejection area proper. Remove it and you get standard side ejection. Installing it ejects the rounds forward. Unlike other designs, ejected brass does not accumulate, it just goes forward. The mechanism is new and proprietary, but it was pretty slick. Shooting this from either side will not result in brass in your face.

The MDR's forward ejection "chute" in action. 1 of 3.
The MDR’s forward ejection “chute” in action. 1 of 3.
The MDR's forward ejection "chute" in action. 2 of 3.
The MDR’s forward ejection “chute” in action. 2 of 3.
The MDR's forward ejection "chute" in action. 3 of 3.
The MDR’s forward ejection “chute” in action. 3 of 3.

Standard DPMS/SR-25 magazines can be used with the .308 version. Insert a block, swap out barrels, and you can use it in 5.56mm and standard AR-15 magazines. Sling cups are also present on both sides.

Shooting the MDR

Felt recoil on the .308 MDR was very soft in comparison to other .30-caliber battle rifles. Firing on single and select fire was comfortable and controllable. The trigger is excellent, especially compared to most bullpup designs. It was crisp, with just a tad of take-up. It was easy to remain accurate. Muzzle rise was minimal, another advantage of the bullpup design. Carry is comfortable and well-balanced, the rifle’s overall weight is in the eight-pound range. Muzzle blast was noticeable with a brake, with an A2 flash hider it was about the same as most comparable guns. The handguard is thin and comfortable, and its controls are easy to access. Being able to swap out magazines using every typical method is a plus.

Being a prototype, reliability was spotty, but that was to be expected. These guns still contain a few printed parts with production parts in the works right now. Several strings of fully automatic fire provided a good indication of how the forward ejection works, and the rifle’s overall function. Rifles fully made from production parts will be done in a few months.

The MDR's bolt group and recoil assembly.
The MDR’s bolt group and recoil assembly.

Check out a video of the MDR firing below.

Final thoughts

Looking at what we could when the rifle was apart, it has a number of “moving parts” that must all work in concert. That can certainly work, it’s just a ton more difficult to get 100 percent right, especially with well-used prototype parts. But that is Nick’s way—nothing is easy. It’s more difficult when you start from scratch rather than clone existing designs. It will be interesting to test the first production rifles. When it all worked, the MDR was quite impressive. It was soft-shooting in .308, and in 5.56mm it should be even more controllable. Ergonomics are excellent, and its forward ejection will please many.

Knowing Nick as I do, it will not get released until the smallest detail is worked out, so don’t expect these tomorrow. Writers are not going to see these until he can hand them one that works flawlessly, that’s just the way he does things. In talking to Nick, he indicated that production test rifles are being built now, and he expects to see them in operation in March. Production guns may hit the market towards the end of second quarter of 2015. Guns will be available at SHOT to see, handle, and drool over, so take the time if you are there and keep your eyes peeled for tests by me, as well as others prior to their introduction next year.

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