Specs

  • Manufacturer: Winchester Arms
  • Model: SX-AR
  • Caliber: .308 Win
  • Barrel: Hammer Forged, Chrome Line, Heavy Match Grade
  • Barrel Length: 20" (508mm)
  • Twist: 1:12" (305mm)
  • Magazine: FN-AR Detachable Box Mags (10 or 20 round)
  • Stock: Synthetic with attached rail
  • Metal Finish: Hydro-Dipped Camo
  • Weight: 9.1 lbs (4.14 kg)
  • Overall Length: 41.5" (1054mm)
  • Street Price: $ $1200

It has likely been a long time since anyone has mentioned Winchester and Sniper Rife in the same sentence, and for good reason. Winchester has had a bumpy history over the past few decades as they have tried to find their place in the modern firearms market. The storied Winchester name is owned by Olin and is used for their Winchester Ammunition, but the Winchester name is also used under license by FN and Browning for firearms, and it is the FN side that brings us here with the SX-AR. Back around 2009, the management at Winchester decided to try and take advantage of their ties with the parent company, FNH, and took an off the shelf FNAR and applied some unique flairs to the rifle, such as the camouflage, and then market it as a long range precision semi-auto rifle, focused on hunting. The rifle did not sell that well and was discontinued after only a few years. But in our ongoing pursuit of finding unique and different rifles that can be used as sniper rifles, we acquired one and decided to do a review to see just how well it could work.

Because the rifle is essentially a tweaked FN-AR, reviewing the SX-AR also serves as a suitable review of the FN version as well. According to FN literature, the rifle traces its origins to John M. Browning’s legendary BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) design that was a fully automatic battle rifle chambered in .30-06 that served in both world wars and Korea. Some of the BARs even found themselves serving a limited role in Vietnam. As is obvious from the image below, the SX-AR/FNAR does not seem to bear much resemblance to its forbearer, but the same gas operating system does remain.

BAR – Image Courtesy of the NRA

The initial visual impression of the rifle is dominated by the Mossy Oak hydro-dipped finish over the entire rifle. The Mossy Oak pattern is a decent all around color pattern as it can work in both desert and wooded environments, but it can be an overwhelming visual presence. Many may prefer to have a black rifle and then camouflage as desired, but it does work well enough as is. The FNARs are only available in black.

Sniper Central Ballistic Cards

The rear buttstock is synthetic and has a pronounce angle down which then has to be compensated for by a large raised cheekpiece, or comb. This cheekpiece is actually a hard rubber material and the rifle comes with three different height cheekpieces that can be swapped out by removing the two screws on top and changing the cheekpiece. The rubber provides a bit better gripping surface than just a hydro dipped synthetic stock, but sweat and face paint can still cause it to become slick.

The rifle also includes three different thicknesses of rubber recoil pad to further enhance the adjustability of the rifle by adjusting the length of pull. The pistol grip is integral to the buttstock and cannot be replaced separately, but its contour is very similar to that of a traditional AR15/MSR platform. It has some aggressive stippling on the pistol grip to help provide very positive control of the rifle with limited slipping. There are also some contour moldings for fingers and at the bottom of the grip.

The placement and design of the pistol grip puts the firing hand in a natural position to align the trigger finger with the trigger for a decent trigger squeeze. The trigger guard is machined aluminum and is nicely shaped and appears well made. The trigger guard and the magazine well are two separate pieces and they are both attached to the machined aluminum receiver via a series of small screws. The trigger guard and mag well are finished with black anodizing and do not have the same camouflage finish as the rest of the rifle.

There is a ambidextrous safety on the rear portion of the trigger guard and it is simple to use. The trigger itself has a thin trigger shoe and is a traditional two stage trigger that normally is found on a battle rifle. Interestingly enough, in the owners manual, Winchester describes the trigger as a single stage trigger, but it is clearly a two-stage. The first stage is very light with little resistance and is about 1/8″ of an inch long. Once the second stage is hit, there is some additional take-up that needs to be applied before the trigger finally breaks followed by some overtravel. While Winchester advertised the trigger as “crisp”, we would not categorize it as such and is an area that could use some improvement to enhance accuracy. The second stage of the trigger averaged a not so consistent 4lbs 7.5 ounces (2.03kg) on our electronic trigger gauge, which is considerably lighter than a traditional battle rifle.

There is an ambidextrous magazine release at the rear of the magazine well and it is easily operated with a single finger to allow the magazines, even when empty, to drop freely from the rifle. The magazines themselves are made of steel and are very well made, and as would be expected, the FNAR magazines are also compatible and work great. Magazines are available in both 10 and 20 round capacities.

We found it notable that the bolt release lever is only on the right hand side of the rifle and protrudes from the rear of the front forearm grip. It too is easy to operate, though in a slightly awkward location, and when firing from a sandbag for accuracy tests, the sandbag did brush-up against the bolt release lever while firing and pushed it up, locking the bolt to the rear when the magazine wasn’t empty. Granted this was not a common occurrence and it could be classified as operator error, it does illustrate that is in a vulnerable location.

While the FNAR comes with a longer single piece scope rail mounted on top of the aluminum receiver, the SX-AR comes with a two piece scope base mounted on top. The receiver is smooth on both sides and is sans any strengthening ribs or formers. The ejection port has a cutout behind it where the bolt handle slides when the bolt is operating and the bolt handle itself is curved to allow a finger or two to grab and cycle the bolt as needed.

Another difference of the SX-AR versus the FNAR is that the 20″ heavy barrel is non-fluted where as the 20″ barrel on the FNAR Heavy has flutes. The overall weight of the rifle only came in at 9.1 lbs, which is fairly light for a sniper rifle, so the weight savings from the flutes is not missed, though the extra barrel surface area for cooling could have its benefits on a semi-auto rifle. The crown is recessed to protect it and the barrel is actually chrome lined, providing prolonged protection and durability, both welcomed additions for a DMR style rifle.

The forearm stock has some texturing for improved grip and it has an interesting sloped area where the bottom rail is mounted. This protrusion keeps the rail level in relation to the barrel and of course the accessory rails are nice to have for mounted accessories, though the FNAR version also has them on the side of the forearms as well. The forearm area is thin, more like a hunting rifle, so it does not have the same stability when shooting off of a rest as would be found on a more precision oriented rifle.

Evaluating the rifle as a whole, it needs to be classified more as a designated marksman rifle than a true sniper rifle and indeed it would seem the design and features of the rifle exhibit this. It is semi-automatic, has detachable magazines, is smaller and more compact than a traditional sniper rifle, and the ergonomics favor individuals and soldiers that are geared up with battle armor, helmets and other gear. Examining it on these terms, the description fits nicely and it is light enough and compact enough for use while on patrol. Though one flaw we discovered with the rifle when considering combat use, is that field maintenance is abnormal. There is no easy way to remove the bolt for cleaning and cleaning the rifle is intended to be done with the bolt to the rear and a gun cleaning rod inserted from the muzzle end. The barrel and chamber are cleaned in this manner. We feel a bore-snake from the chamber end could be a suitable alternative as well. There are no instructions given in the manual on how to remove the bolt and it can only be done by disassembling the rifle, a more complex process than desired in the field with lots of small parts that need to be removed and probably should only be done in a controlled environment with tools and a table. But with proper cleaning, per the instructions, and lubrication of the critical parts, the rifle should stay serviceable in field conditions for a decent number of rounds, but we feel this is still a limitation.

For our function and accuracy tests, we wanted to mount a scope that would be appropriate for a DMR in order to evaluate the rifle in that capacity. We used a set of Leupold Mk4 30mm rings to mount a Leupold VX-5HD 3-15x44mm CDS scope with impact 29 MOA reticle. The scope and reticle combine enough magnification for precision work when needed, but low enough magnification for use on patrol. The Christmas tree style reticle also aids for non-adjustment holdoff shooting, all good attributes for a DMR.

The scope mounted without any issues, but we were surprised by how much up elevation was needed to zero the rifle at 100 yards. It required about 90% of the entire amount of up elevation. Since this was a DMR primarily using holdoffs, it was not critical, but this too could be a limitation and replacing the factory two piece base may be needed if having more up elevation adjustments in the scope is desired. For our 100 yard accuracy tests, we decided to use four different types of ammunition. Federal Gold Medal Match 168gr is our baseline accuracy ammo we use in every rifle review, so it was the first selection. Because this was a DMR, we also thought it would be good to use some standard 150gr M80 ball ammo, Winchester in this case, as well as some military style M118LR 175gr, which we used HSM M118LR. For the last ammo, we wanted to try something a bit different than the others and went for a light bullet weight Hornady 155gr ELD load as this would make a great flat shooting mid to long range .308 load for DMR purposes. The results are below.

AmmoAverageBest
Federal GMM 168gr1.471″ (1.405 MOA)1.010″ (.965 MOA)
HSM M118LR 175gr1.759″ (1.680 MOA)1.502″ (1.435 MOA)
Hornady 155gr ELD1.981″ (1.892 MOA)1.534″ (1.465 MOA)
Winchester M80 150gr Ball2.268″ (2.166 MOA)2.081″ (1.988 MOA)

If you are not familiar with how we conduct our rifle tests, please read this article. For a DMR, we like to see 1.5 MOA or better as this provides enough accuracy to be effective for the designated marksman role. The SX-AR hovered right around that 1.5 MOA mark and the Federal GMM did average just below that benchmark. The trigger did play a role in these accuracy tests and a better trigger would likely tighten these groups up, as well as just more shooting time with the rifle. The weather was a small factor as it was 25 degrees (F), overcast, and a decent 8-12 MPH crosswind. So there is some more potential in the rifle.

The recoil was very manageable and the reliability was very good. It was a bit cold and the rifle had only minimal lubrication so we did see some sluggishness on bolt closure when releasing the bolt on a loaded magazine and we would recommend getting into the habit of tapping the bolt forward when loading a new mag, though in most conditions this would likely not be necessary.

To help determine the capability of rifles in a combat scenario, we like to run them through our 300 yard head shot test using the ammo that the rifle likes best from the 100 yard accuracy test. In this case, we selected the Federal Gold Medal Match 168gr ammo and setup for the test firing from the prone position with a Harris bipod attached up front and single sandsock at the rear.

As is obvious from the picture above, we had some significant horizontal stringing, which often times indicates trigger squeeze issues and pointed once more to the one area of improvement that had become obvious, the trigger. Yes, the wind likely played a small role in that stringing as well. The semi-auto functionality combined with the mild recoil, even without a muzzlebrake, did help deliver an impressive 14 second time to get off all three shots, though the accuracy measured a mediocre 6.448″ (2.053 MOA). We didn’t get that 1.5 MOA benchmark that we desired, but the pressure of the competition, the wind, and the trigger all were contributing factors. The total score looks like this

300y Head Target Test
Time Score (14 secs)51.4
Accuracy Score (2.053 moa)21.9
Energy Score (1635 ft-lbs)25
Total98.3

With a score of 98.3, the rifle came very close to hitting our 100 threshold, and with just a bit of improvement on the accuracy side, the rifle would be there. This score sums up the rifle nicely. It is not intended to be a fine tuned sniper rifle, but is geared toward the DMR role with portability, controllability, and rapid firepower with acceptable accuracy to extend the range of the rifleman. In that role, the rifle does well. We are still turned off by the difficulty of field stripping the rifle for prolonged deployment maintenance, but in terms of performance, the rifle does a good enough job for the DM. Whether the Winchester SX-AR version, or the FNAR, as long as it is understood what the rifle is and where it can do well, it will serve adequately in its intended role.

Sniper Central

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