Nestled in the West Virginia foothills not far from the northern edge of the Monongahela National Forest, there is a 750-acre plot of land that can only be described as a shooter’s paradise. If you have a desire to visit or live near Old Fields, West Virginia, you can find the premier training facility of Panthera Training. Over this large swath of land, Panthera provides “elite, scenario-based tactical, aviation and intelligence training and instruction for Defense Department, State Department, Federal Agency and Law Enforcement teams who operate in sensitive environments worldwide, to enable those teams to meet their mission goals and requirements.”
However, instead of all that, I was here for another purpose. I had been invited by American Built Arms to test out its MOD-X Gen 3 rifle. For this purpose, I would be taking advantage of one of the several ranges the facility offers to its clients.
GETTING THERE IS HALF THE FUN
The drive to West Virginia from my home in North Carolina took me about a half-day but was pleasant, because most of my driving was off the interstate. As a result, I enjoyed traveling the beautiful backroads and highways—a taste of Americana, if you will (although Siri decided to take me on a shortcut through the Lost River State Park and the twisting road that runs through it. It’s deceiving on the map, but suffice it to say that those 16 miles have more curves than San Francisco’s Lombard Street). I arrived just after dark and was met by A-B Arms’ Adam
Edelman. After some quick introductions and a bite to eat from a buffet for the invited guests, we moved to Panthera’s lodging accommodations. These comprise a bank of 18 townhomes located a short distance from the training facility. There are two guests per townhome, each of which has two bedrooms, a full kitchen, Wi-Fi and cable. First-class accommodations! And, after my drive, I was ready for some rest.
We linked up the next morning back at Panthera’s dining facility and had a hearty breakfast. Once breakfast was complete, we got a quick briefing from Panthera’s Director of Operations Bill White, who described the facility and what we would be doing for the day. We then headed to the 800-yard range a short distance from the facility headquarters.
The range was a treat. It was well laid out, with a tower at the shooting line. In addition to A-B Arms, a representative from Gorilla Ammunition was on site to provide the ammunition for the weapons. Nightforce was also there to provide some really nice glass so we could actually see targets 800 yards away. Eley ammunition provided ammo for the A-B Arms Keystone PT (Precision Trainer) in .22 long rifle. Additionally, Oakwood Controls provided the target system used, and Shadowtech Hog Saddle and Mission Critical Design provided the P.R.S.T.
tripod mounting system for one of the rifles.
“The MOD-X tested is the third generation of the build. I had read reviews of the gun before I went to the event, so I had an idea about what to expect. It seems that A-B Arms listened to those reviews and made corrections.”
Once we got our range briefing from the Panthera Range officer, it was game on. There were plenty of guns to go around. On the ground level, sitting in the Shadowtech Hog Saddle, was the A-B Arms MOD-X in .308, with a Nightforce ATACR 4-16×42 mounted. This is a crisp and clear scope with an MOAR F1-30 MOA reticle, and it is easy to acquire the target, with easy holdoffs for turret-free follow-up shots.
The first target was located at 500 yards. The temperature was about 45 degrees with a crosswind of 10 to 15 mph. Needless to say, shooting was going to be interesting. Gorilla provided its .308 Win ammo in 168- and 175-grain Sierra MatchKing (SMK) rounds for the day. Shooting from the Hog Saddle tripod took a little getting used to. If I were going to use it proficiently, I realized that I needed to take some time to get it set. I got on the gun after someone a little shorter than me was on it, and I felt as if I were fighting it to get comfortable. It did have an adjustment to move the center post up, but it seemed that moving it up more than 6 or 8 inches took away some of the stability. Once I got used to it, I was banging away at the target. The MOD-X was comfortable to fire. The trigger felt a little stiff, but the chassis was well thought out. With adjustments for both cheek height (about 1.5 inches) and length of pull (10.62 to 15.69 inches), it was easily adjustable. It got plenty of that as the day went on, because it was adjusted for almost each shooter.
The MOD-X tested is the third generation of the build. I had read reviews of the gun before I went to the event, so I had an idea about what to expect. It seems that A-B Arms listened to those reviews and made corrections. The body of the chassis is aluminum that is hardcoat-anodized to MIL-SPEC Type III. It features an easy-to-assemble, drop-in design with a zero MOA standard and a 20 MOA rail as an option. There is a standard KeyMod design on both sides and the bottom.
The MOD-X also features a multipoint radial cut inlet that allows the barreled action to fit in, stress free, for the greatest accuracy (no V-block). The chassis, itself, is light, weighing in at slightly more than 3 pounds, with an 11.5-inch, free-float forearm. It does accept a magazine and uses the AICS style. One of the issues I had seen with the previous version was the ability to accept a barrel lug larger than factory standard. That has been fixed, and it now accepts lugs up to 1.21 inches wide and .30 inch thick. If your lug is bigger than that, you’re going to have to do some milling.
The MSRP on the MOD-X is $1,200 for the full build and $700 for just the chassis to put on your model 700 short-action. If you opt for the full build from A-B Arms, it will come with a Remington Model 700 SPS Tactical AAC-SD barreled action chambered in .308 Win. and a 20-inch heavy barrel with a 5/8-24 threaded muzzle.
The barrel has a 1:10 rate of twist for increased bullet stability. The trigger is a X-Mark Pro externally adjustable trigger system that is factory set at 3½ pounds and is adjustable to 2½ pounds. A-B Arms sent me a full build to test out, and the factory setting was very stiff. With a little bit of adjusting, it was fine. Out of the box, the gun was shooting 1 MOA with the Gorilla 168-grain SMK. Not bad, but it might be that the barrel needs some additional break-in. With the same ammo out of my stock 700 PSS with a 22-inch barrel, I was getting groups closer to 1.2 MOA with the same ammo. Kudos to the folks at Gorilla; their ammo shoots very well. They were also nice enough to send me some of the company’s 145-grain Lehigh Controlled Chaos rounds. With these rounds, my groups were just over 1 MOA, and the muzzle velocity was about the same as the 168-grain SMK.
THE MOD-X IN .22 LR—OH, MY!
I also had a chance to shoot the A-B Arms Keystone PT Precision Trainer. This is basically the same chassis as the MOD-X and features the Keystone 722 threaded, 16.5-inch heavy bull barrel, with a total weight of around 6 pounds. The MSRP is $600 for the full rifle. The Keystone PT Precision Trainer is an economical trainer for those who might still want to train but can’t see spending the money for expensive ammo. It was fun to shoot and accurate while mounted with a Vortex Crossfire II 2-7×32.
We did have a couple of feed issues, but those were probably the result of the amount of rounds we were putting through it and not the fault of the Eley ammo. In the four or five hours we were shooting, there was someone on that gun, so shooting was almost continuous. My estimate is that we put close to 1,000 rounds out of that rifle—it was that much fun! If you are teaching your kids to shoot or just want an economical training rifle that still has the same look and feel as the MOD-X, this is your gun.
While it might not matter to some, a couple of the other things I liked about this firearm was that it was made in the USA—and made by a veteran-owned company. I don’t exclusively use this as a purchase criterion, but when I have the option, and there is a good product, it definitely helps.
GETTING SOME ELEVATION
I did take the opportunity to climb halfway up the 60-foot tower and shoot the two rifles that were laid out. One was another MOD-X in .308 like the one at ground level; the other was in .223. Both shot very well, and the addition of a suppressor on each made them even more enjoyable to fire. Even in the heavy crosswind, the rifle was making 800-yard shots with ease—rather, I was … at least that’s the story I’m going with.
With the use of the Oakwood Controls target system that uses the supersonic crack! of the round as it passes through a designated target zone, it was easy to get the rounds on target and make quick adjustments. The target system can be set up to measure not just hits on the target, but also where the round is if you miss the target. By marking a larger area, even target misses are recorded.
The only downside is that the system needs the supersonic crack! to measure. We had difficulty marking targets with the .223 rounds, because they were either just at, or under, supersonic at the 800-yard mark. Gorilla’s .223 in 69-grain SMK performed exceptionally at all distances up to the 800 yards at which Panthera had set up targets.
The morning session came to an end. Everyone was ready for lunch and to get warm. We headed back to the Panthera dining facility for some of each. I had a chance to talk with Gorilla Ammunition’s Mike Mosel. The ammo we had shot in the morning performed very well, and I was curious about what other ammo Gorilla offered. It has a pretty good line of products that include defensive, hunting, subsonic and target ammunition in a wide variety of calibers. Each of the different products Mike had brought performed well, so if you are looking for well-manufactured ammo, check out Gorilla Ammunition. I doubt you will be disappointed.
“The ammo we had shot in the morning performed very well, and I was curious about what other ammo Gorilla offered. It has a pretty good line of products that include defensive, hunting, subsonic and target ammunition in a wide variety of calibers.”
GETTING IN SOME “QUIET” TIME
If you have never shot with a suppressor on a larger caliber rifle, you are missing out. The two biggest things you will notice are that you reduce the need for hearing protection while shooting and that the felt recoil is significantly reduced. The generous folks at A-B Arms outfitted their test guns with suppressors to make this event that much more fun.
The suppressors for both the .223 and the .308 versions of the MOD-X increased the enjoyment for everyone. The suppressor for the .223 was an AAC-SR5, and the .308 was mounted with the AAC-7.62-SD. The overall reduction in decibels was quite noticeable over the MOD-X, which did not have a suppressor.
The AAC Element 2 suppressor attached to the A-B Arms Keystone 722 reduced the sound to that of most modern air rifles, with what felt like zero recoil. This event finally convinced me to stop waiting for the laws to change and just fill out the required paperwork. So, by the time this article is published, I should own one of my own.
In addition to a fair amount of skill, long-range shooting requires a quality rifle and some equally fine ammunition. If you have the time, you can get on your bench and load your own. Or you can get a hold of some of the many options from Gorilla Ammunition. Mike Mosel, Gorilla’s director of operations, was nice enough to bring along some of Gorilla’s .308 and .223 ammunition so we would at least have a chance at the 800-yard targets.
The 69-grain Sierra MatchKing for the .223 and the 168-grain SMK for the .308 came out of the barrel as if they already knew where they were supposed to go. We were able to easily hit the targets at 800 yards with the rifle ammo combo in .308; and, after some wind calculations, the .223 was soon hitting there as well.
Gorilla has a wide variety of ammo in those calibers, as well as in .260, .300 Blackout and 6.5 Creedmoor. Additional variety is available in hunting, defense, pistol and subsonic.
PANTHERA FACILITY TOUR
After lunch, we got a tour of the Panthera facilities. In addition to the ranges, there are several shoot houses, a mock village and several different defensive driving tracks, including a paved, 1.5-mile course, a dirt course, dirt obstacle course and some offroad trails. The live-fire shoot house has two stories. The facilities also include simunition shoot houses. I got the chance to do a little driving on the paved track under the watchful eye of one of Panthera’s instructors, as well as some time on the 400×400-foot skid pad to practice some J-turns. We then moved on to the off-road obstacle course and got instruction on working through some of the many different obstacles. After a lap on the offroad obstacle course, we headed back to the range. It was informative and fun, and I would love to go back and take one of the formal five-day courses.
While Panthera caters mostly to military, federal agencies and law enforcement, it does offer some civilian training. During my military career, I had the opportunity to train at several facilities. This one ranks at the top.
MORE RANGE TIME
We ended the day back on the 300-yard range, using the same A-B Arms rifles as before. At 300 yards, shooting from off-hand and over barricades, the rifles were light enough to maneuver easily and comfortable to shoot. The day came to an end with everyone departing the facility. The cold temperature was setting in, and I was happy to hop in my truck and turn up the heat.
If given the chance, I would definitely like to return to Panthera for the next A-B Arms event. I was impressed with the quality of the firearms and will likely add one to my collection.
Hopefully, I will get a chance to visit Panthera again one day; maybe in the spring. As I got on the road, the sun was setting, and the smell of oak burning in fireplaces filled the air as I cranked up the heat in the truck. (I also made sure to adjust my route home to avoid Lost River State Park’s winding road.)
The reps from Nightforce were on hand, and they did not disappoint. They brought several models—one of which is still a closely held secret at the time of this writing. The first scope to talk about is the ATACR 4-16×42. It is crystal clear, as you would expect, with multicoated ED glass lenses. The easy-to-adjust turrets have a low-profile ZeroHold feature, available in 0.1 MRAD (12 mils per revolution) or 0.25 MOA (30 MOA per revolution).
The capped windage adjustment prevents accidental adjustment. The parallax adjustment is marked with approximate numbered distances and is coupled with digital reticle illumination. The eyepiece features an integrated Power Throw Lever (PTL) and an XtremeSpeed thread for making a fast diopter adjustment. All these features are paired with an intelligent Nightforce F1 first focal plane reticle that provides fast hold-off adjustments and precise distance calculations.
In addition, another of the demo rifles was fitted with an ATACR 7-35×56 F1 with the MOAR F1 reticle that has many of the same features as 4-16×42 plus 100 MOA of elevation. The added magnification is just what the doctor ordered for reaching those long-range targets.
No trip to the range is complete without a spotting scope. The TS-80 Hi-DEF 20-60x helped with following bullet trace and made identifying target hits easy. Nightforce doesn’t make it easy to choose, but with so many different reticle options with each scope and a wide variety of magnification ranges, it makes one that will
fit your needs.
(drop-in chassis for the Remington Model 700 Short-Action)
• Aluminum chassis hardcoat-anodized to MIL-SPEC Type III
• KeyMod Standard on three sides of the forearm for mounting equipment
• Handguard: 11.5-inch, free-float; KeyMod configured on 3, 6 and 9 o’clock sides
• Length-of-pull adjustability: 10.62–15.69 inches
• Weight: 3 pounds, 2 ounces (chassis only, without the drop-in action and barrel
• Will accept barrel lugs up to 1.21 inches wide and .30 inches thick
• Compatible with any AR-style butt stock and pistol grip
• MSRP: $1,200 (full build); $700 (chassis only)
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the August 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.