Seems that whenever a new, or even newish, 7.62x51/.308 becomes available—especially in the Stoner/AR-10 pattern—it doesn’t take long for one to appear on our doorstep.
We know, we know, we know: It’s a nice problem to have. Until it’s feeding time at the zoo, anyway, and we recollect that a pallet of 7.62 ammunition is now seriously overdue. What rankles is that “they” seem to know we’ll shoot it, know we’ll like it, know we’ll commence the bazillionth rationalization to Mrs. Guns & Gear editor why … well, never mind.
Woof, woof vs. yip, yip? You decide.
“They,” in this latest episode, are the folks at Windham Weaponry, denizens of the obviously sneaky Maine town of the same name. And the company’s R-18 FS/FST-308 is the reason for the sad state of our .308 Win ammo stores.
A fine looking modern sporting rifle greets you upon cracking the case. The treatment of both ends is standard for the type: six-position adjustable stock at the rear, and A2 flash suppression at the fore. Behind that “birdcage” is an 18” fluted and chrome-lined barrel with a six-groove, 1-in-10 right hand twist that began life as a 4150 Chrome Moly Vanadium blank. Wrapping the barrel to 15 inches is a Midwest Industries free-float handguard: Picatinny up top for a huge range of potential sight solutions, and weight sparing “keymod” at the three, six and nine o’clock positions—handsome, practical and plenty “grippy” just as it is.
But if 5.56/.223 rifles comprise the bulk of your MSR exposure, the middle of the rifle is where the manifestations of the original AR caliber are unmistakable. Added thickness and length support the 7.62/.308’s need for a longer, heavier bolt carrier, and Windham adds this at the rear of the action with the needed reinforcement pretty much all around. On a 5.56 rifle—and some other 7.62s—the thumb comes vertical to run the forward assist; on the big Windham, the assist is notably forward. (It’s an interesting switch, and arguably a stronger position from which to activate the charging aid.)
More length appears in the magazine well to accommodate the nearly half-inch-longer 7.62 cartridge. The Windham has very useful flare on the magwell, a nice touch that has superbly reliable, widely available Magpul mags (one provided) in and out in a hurry. Other controls are standard—charging handle, right-side mag button, and left-side safety and bolt release.
At just a smidgeon over 8 pounds, the rifle is nearly a half-pound lighter than many competitors, and closer to a pound short of several others. But any implication that it’s a “lightweight” in any other sense disappears in a hurry, and especially in terms of reliability: We used ammunition ranging from 147- to 175-grain in the R-18 with no malfunctions—always a welcome start.
Extra travel for the bigger bolt carrier group, and the forward assist, er, forward.
We mated the rifle with two optics. First up was the Vortex “Spitfire.” This is a rugged prism-type 3x scope with an integral mount that may strike some as an odd choice. We concede the point. At the time, however, we were actually interested more in testing the optic, and performance was superb; we just kept going. While the magnification may not let you take full advantage of the range and power of 7.62/.308, it added miniscule bulk to the rifle. The extremely fast-on-target illuminated reticle has BDC markings for 5.56, but distance conversion for heavier 7.62 projectiles would be straightforward. If you’re thinking “hunting” for a .308 MSR, this is a slick option that keeps your rifle under nine pounds, but puts a quick follow-up shot in play if needed.
Our second optic was an in-house reference 4-16x Steiner similar to this, and we used it to shoot our groups. If you’re willing to add more weight to your rifle, this is a magnification range that allows you to take full advantage of the good “legs” of the 7.62. Our longest shots were at 425 yards on an MGM IPSC Auto Reset Silhouette, and both 168-grain Federal “Gold Medal” Match and 175-grain Gorilla stayed on it with apparent ease. Groups with both at 100 yards reliably hovered just under an inch, though we think any failures are ours. A Gorilla triple at .396” pretty much confirmed it.
We shot some lighter bullets in the R-18 as well (147- to 155-grain), but they couldn’t match the performance of the heavier varieties. One exception was an interesting and useful one—Federal Premium’s 150-grain Vital-Shok. Its performance cemented the notion of MSRs like the R-18 as soft-recoiling hunting arms up to medium game at least: One-inch groups were very repeatable.
Gripes are tough to come by with the big-bore Windham, especially at its $1,708 MSRP. We do, however, have three observations. First, while there’s nothing wrong with the “regular” adjustable buttstock that comes on the R-18 (and nearly every other AR of every caliber, unless you pay surprisingly more), it’s a part you should expect to replace. We found the butt itself, well, minimalist. We’d also prefer more area for a better cheek weld (like the Magpul STR or ACS). We moved an STR to the Windham in the last phase of our shooting, and immediately improved groups by about 15 percent. We don’t promise this improvement is repeatable for others, but overall shooting comfort alone makes this modest money well spent.
Nice job: Gorilla Ammunition 175-grain Match and Windham R-18 @ 100 yards.
Next is the trigger. Our sample was 6.25 pounds, and we didn’t modify it to produce our decent groups. But if we owned this rifle, a set of JP Enhanced Reliability springs would be under serious consideration.
Last and least important would be the A2 flash hider. We tend to forget that the A2 is a middling comp in it’s own right (how often do we shoot MSRs without at least an A2, after all), but there are so many excellent comps/brakes out there that we’d add a better one for comfort alone: You will want to shoot this rifle a lot. Keep in mind these add noise and concussion for adjacent shooters, so be considerate. We’ve used this Yankee Hill Machine in .308, and liked it plenty.
Keep in mind that the folks at Windham know all this—we give ‘em props for not ballooning the street price with expensive guesses that will annoy as many people as they please. In matters of taste, they keep acquisition cost down and let you suit yourself after the fact. Well done.
Once again, Windham has a winner on its hands. The company’s homage to the original caliber AR is a smooth-shooting performer and fine value that will do many jobs well.