Story & Photography by Oleg Volk
The Tavor SAR, the U.S. version of the 5.56mm Israeli Army rifle, was one of my favorite bullpups mainly for high reliability and good accuracy. The Tavor SAR X95, the modernized variant, has been one of my favorites for the same virtues, but of course, I jumped at the opportunity to run the 7.63x35mm (.300 Blackout) model at once. These three guns share much in common, but the .300BLK model held the most surprises.
Tavors are long-stroke, gas-operated semiautomatic rifles using STANAG magazines. They are modular, but some of the configuration changes are armorer level: for example, conversion to the left side ejection requires a different bolt and a complete teardown of the rifle. By contrast, swapping out trigger packs held with two pins above the bolt stop latch takes only a few seconds. That is fortunate, as all Tavors have heavy and spongy triggers—6.75 pounds in the X95. Timney, Geissele and ShootingSight make replacement trigger packs: I have used all three in my rifles.
Compared to the earlier SAR, the X95 has three major changes: the charging handle is moved back to the middle of the rifle; the railed metal forend replaces weaker plastic; and the new magazine releases are ambidextrous buttons in front of the trigger guard instead of a single latch in front of the magazine well. For target shooting, I preferred the older release which was optimized for retaining magazines. For combat, the new latch permits dropping the empty magazine while the left hand reaches for the next one. The base trigger is also slightly lighter and better but still not ideal for precision shooting. Compared to the 5.56mm, the X95-.300 adds a two-position gas regulator for standard or subsonic ammunition accessible through the top of the rail. Most of the parts and the manual of arms between the SAR .300BLK and 5.56mm rifles remain the same. Both have excellent folding backup irons sights hidden inside the top rail. The front sight has Tritium illumination, making it easy to use with both eyes open.
Mastering the 5.56mm rifle was simple: pick an optic, zero it, test assorted ammunition for accuracy, and call it a day. The rifle ran everything fed to it without a hitch. With the 7.62x35mm, the process was a bit more involved. Since all testing was done with a Gemtech ONE sound suppressor, I hoped that the supersonic setting would work for all loads with the help of the back pressure provided by the can. That proved accurate only some of the time. Cycling was 100% with supersonic ammo and Remington 220-grain subsonics but sporadic with Gemtech 187-grain subsonics and none at all with 220-grain Black Hills. For those, the gas regulator had to be turned to the recommended subsonic position, just as the instruction manual advised. That, in itself, is a very minor adjustment, except for the location of the regulator on top of the optic rail. A lot of optics block access to it when mounted.
Zeroing proved more involved than expected as well. Although this rifle shares the design with the 5.56mm gun, the .30 caliber barrel appears to be less stiff. The barrel is not free-floated and is thus responsive to pressure on the forend. Firing from a bipod set on a hard wooden surface produced larger groups than shooting the same rifle with the bipod feet on soft ground. Precision shooting was also complicated by the short length of the rifle and the relatively short forend: any off-axis motion affected aim more than it would have with a conventional layout. I started with a Primary Arms PAC 1x ACSS Cyclops prismatic scope, then switched to a Swampfox 1-6x scope and completed the testing with a Hi-Lux 2x-10x ART M1000-PRO optic—the latter to minimize the influence of user error on the results.
Groups ended up broadly similar between ammunition types. All match loads in the 125-grain range shot around 1.5MOA. All subsonic ammunition in the 187- to 220-grain range printed around 2.5MOA. All ball ammunition from 115 grain to 150 grain shot between 3MOA and 4MOA, with no real consistency from group to group within the same load. The difference between group centers of different loads was significant, exceeding 10MOA between light ball and heavy subsonics. Between the two gas settings required to cycle the dissimilar loads and the requirement to adjust vertical and horizontal zero even between loads of similar weight and velocity, the rifle, its optic and the folding backup iron sights should really be fine-tuned for one load. Firing anything else can produce short-range hits, but there’s no guarantee of results past 100 yards. When using pre-calculated BDC reticles, we also have to keep in mind that the wide variety of .300BLK ammunition has different trajectories and that optic height over the bore is 3.7 inches instead of that of the AR-15’s 2.6 inches: a personally calculated dope chart with a Mil-Dot or an MOA-graduated reticle would likely be significantly more accurate.
Contrary to the expectations, I got very little gas blowback when shooting sound-suppressed. The felt recoil with all loads was negligible. The addition of the one-pound sound suppressor to the 7.5-pound rifle doesn’t affect the balance as much as it would have on an AR-15. However, the overall weight is over 10 pounds with an optic, a loaded magazine and a bipod. At that point, the spindly pistol grip feels inadequate to the task of one-handed control of the weapon. The Tavor X95 ships with the “winter” trigger guard that encompasses the entire hand, but a smaller trigger guard is available and easily installed.
The trigger pack replacement from ShootingSight dropped the pull weight from 6.75 to 4.5 pounds. The two-stage pull is still more combat grade than target grade, but it is a great improvement over the original. Up until the accuracy testing, I didn’t understand why Manticore Arms offered a replacement forend. After dealing with the point of impact drift from pressure on the forend, I realized that it solved two problems at once: free-floating the barrel and pushing the bipod 2 inches further out. The longer rail provides a more stable forward hand position for unsupported firing. The downside is an extra 1 ounce of weight and the deletion of the folding backup iron sights, but those can be replaced with freestanding BUIS which would also be more robust.
Compared to an AR-15 of the same caliber and barrel length, the Tavor X95 is slightly heavier but is 9 inches shorter and better balanced. It has less gas blowback when suppressed. Compared to the 5.56mm, the .300BLK is far less concussive, especially when heavier loads are suppressed. Heavier bullets are less likely to break up on cover, which can be a plus or a minus, depending on what’s downrange from the foe. In my tests, terminal performance of 150-grain HPR, 125-grain all-copper CorBon, 187-grain Gemtech and all-copper 220-grain G2/Maker Bullet loads greatly exceeded the best results possible from the 5.56mm. The trade-off is the steeper trajectory and increased wind drift, especially past 200 yards. That and increased ammunition weight are valid concerns for military use but probably not a factor for civilian purposes. Civilians, private individuals and law enforcement alike seldom engage at long range. For short-range self-defense and hunting, the large and heavier .30 caliber bullets seem to work better. The Tavor X95-.300 provides a highly configurable launching platform. While my test rifle was quite heavy, a more practical set-up would take 2 pounds off by using a compact red dot or a 1.5x compact scope, along with a 3-ounce Kaw Valley Precision Linear Compensator to channel away the report.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V24N3 (March 2020)|