Unleash the SAW! – Civilian M249 Now Available – Full Review
The new 5.56 M249S from FN delivers a semi-auto version of the battle-proven M249 SAW light machine gun. For more information: FN M249S
While at Shot Show, I had the opportunity to both shoot and handle the new FN Military Collector Series of guns from FN. With FN providing true military grade firearms like the M16, M4 Carbine and M249 SAW directly to the U.S. military, it is clear this is a company that knows how to produce true mil-spec hardware. The FN Military Collector Series provides civilian shooters with semi-automatic variants of these battle-proven firearms.
To purchase on GunsAmerica.com, click this link: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=M249S
I quickly asked when I would be able to get demo guns and was promised a shot as soon as they were available. I received the M16 first, followed by the M4 Carbine. I continued to press for the M249S, a semi-automatic version of the M249 SAW, so hard that I knew I would eventually get one, or a restraining order. The day has finally arrived, and let me tell you upfront, this gun is amazing.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
I am going to go ahead and get a few things out of the way so you can enjoy reading the rest of the article. I will answer a few questions and save you from having to post them in the comments section.
- “Who would want a gun that costs $8,000 or more? Would you have to have more money than sense to buy one of these things? You could buy like 15 ½ Glocks with that money.” I guess you should ask the people on the waiting list who would want one of these. I am just like you; I’m making payments to the orthodontist, but I have made some frugal life choices. I don’t own a motorcycle or a boat, and I don’t live in a palatial neighborhood. Comparing prices in this situation is sort of irrelevant—who needs 15 Glocks? Unless you can come up with a Glock 18 for me, I don’t need 15 more of the same.
Usually, the box a gun ships in is fairly unremarkable. It is just a plain brown rectangular chunk of cardboard with some packing material in it. I was actually a little surprised when I picked this gun up from my FFL. The box is shorter than I had expected and it was definitely thicker and wider than any other gun I had received before. As I began the un-boxing process, there was an unmistakably utilitarian, industrial/military feel to everything. The components were all in giant sealed bags. The instructions were all laminated to stand up to soldiers who might not be the most delicate flowers.
The receiver was in one giant bag and the barrel was inside a box within another bag. The ammunition box with 200 links was in its own nifty little compartment, along with the instructions and one 30-round metal FN magazine. I have never seen an M249 SAW shipped to a government depot, but I can imagine this is probably close to how she would look.
There were at least three warnings stating clearly that this does not operate like your daddy’s shotgun. As a matter of fact, the good folks at FN reached out to me via email and provided me with a link to instructional videosthat forwent all of the nasty requirements of reading the instruction book. I wonder if they reached out to my wife—it was like they knew I wasn’t going to read that instruction manual. All jokes aside, I did watch all the videos in the series and found them to be very easy to follow. I even referred back to them as I assembled the gun, got my manual of arms together, and finally linked 200 rounds of .223.
The internal parts have been redesigned to comply with the ATF ruling on semi-auto versions of machine guns, changing it from an open-bolt design to a closed-bolt design. On the M249S, there have been some blocks put in place to make sure the full-auto parts will not “drop in.” In the new design, the firing pin is now a moving part versus the fixed one in the full-auto version. The trigger pack has been changed to use a hammer instead of the usual bolt release found on the end of the trigger assembly. This simply means this gun fires semi-auto only from a closed bolt.
In simple terms, the full-auto version of the M249 fires from the action being locked open. A pull of the trigger releases the action to feed a round and fire it with a fixed firing pin, over and over until the trigger is released. When the trigger is released, the action locks open again awaiting the next trigger pull. In the closed-bolt system, a round is first chambered and when the trigger is pulled a hammer is released to strike a moving firing pin. The case is ejected and new round is fed into the chamber, awaiting the trigger to be pulled for a follow-up shot.
A significant feature of the M249S (like its military sibling) is that the cold hammer forged barrel assembly (with the carry handle and heat shield) is removable by pressing down on the wire lever at the front top of the receiver. Then the barrel slides forward. The primary purpose is to install a fresh cold barrel after sustained fire. I found the primary benefit to be allowing the gun to fit into a much more compact footprint for both storage and transport.
- Chambering: 5.56 NATO
- Barrel: 20.5 inch (removable)
- OA Length: 40.5 inches
- Weight: 17 pounds (empty)
- Stock: Fixed
- Sights: Ghost ring rear, post front
- Action: Closed-bolt, semi-auto
- Finish: Parkerized
- Capacity: Belt- or magazine-fed
- MSRP: $7,999
The best way I can describe this is that moment in the movie “Christmas Story” where the Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun makes its appearance. I immediately snapped a picture with the tagline “Anyone want to guess what I’m doing today” and posted it to Facebook.
This gun is serious business. From what I can tell this gun is built every bit as solidly, part-for-part, as the military machine gun. The only difference I can find is the engineering that went into making it civilian legal. They use the same hammer-forged barrel. All of the external parts, bipod, sights and feeding mechanisms are identical. This gun is not some bantamweight—this is in the heavyweight category. These descriptions make me feel like I’m describing some piece of farm equipment from Belarus; to the contrary, there is a certain elegance to the finish, fit and engineering that go into this rifle. As I was taking pictures, I was struck by how aesthetically pleasing this gun is. There are plenty of great guns out there that are ugly as hell—this is one that can be appreciated at face value.
When I went through all of the components that came with the gun, the only add-on that I could conceivably come up with was some type of optic. The military typically uses either an Elcan or a Trijicon on this platform.
PREPPING A BELT-FED GUN
Remember those handy videos I mentioned earlier? Well I think I watched the one about linking the ammunition, getting it in the box and chambering the first round about 15 times. I’ve actually owned belt fed guns before, but my Browning 1919 featured a cloth belt. I knew in principle how the disintegrating belts worked and how the gun fed the ammunition. But as always, success is in the details.
Task A is developing a system for linking the ammunition. This involves un-boxing 200 rounds of 223 ammunition. Next is finding a nice, flat, clean work surface to begin the linking process. Once you figure out which side of the link is up and which side is down, you can begin laying them out and simply inserting the rounds. Once I figured out my system, it took about the same amount of time as I would normally have spent loading magazines.
The next couple of steps in this operation are a lot like giving an angry cat a bath in the bathroom sink: You know what’s supposed to happen, but the cat is not going to comply. Now that you have 200 rounds of ammunition linked, count out 15 and then fold over, then repeat. It’s like folding layers of dough over. Now, making sure that the end of the belt is in the proper position, pick up these rounds and begin feeding them into the ammunition box. Imagine being halfway through a game of Jenga on your kitchen table and deciding to pick it up and move it to a waterbed- it can be done, but probably not on the first try. Finally, once you have the rounds correctly inserted into the box and the end of the belt protruding correctly from the box, you get to tackle the task of snapping on the lid. The best way I can describe this challenge is putting a twin size fitted sheet on a queen-size bed. It’s not going to be a gentle process.
Okay, so I may have gone a little heavy on the exaggerated similes; the point is, there is a learning curve at play here. If you can work past the learning curve, you will reap big rewards at the shooting range.
ON THE RANGE
The first thing I wanted to try out at the range was the 30 round magazine. I had heard stories about these guns being finicky when running from a magazine and then going to a belt. There were also tales of the magazines being eaten in the process of emptying them. One thing I would point out: all magazine guns should have a magazine cover door like this one that, in the default position, is self-closing (this is the equivalent of a toilet seat that will put itself down). Simply push the magazine through the closed door, snap it in place and you’re good to go. I flipped the bipod to the down position and settled in behind the gun. I wanted to run the 249 with the traditional covered notch at the front and ghost ring in the rear, as they were easy to acquire and afforded a good cheek weld.
The first thing that you notice when firing this gun is that the trigger is fantastic. The only machine gun trigger that I have ever operated that was better than this one was the electric switch on a GE. The trigger of the FN249S is about 4½ pounds, with a reasonable amount of take-up and a pull as smooth as silk. The engineers at FN have done an incredible job of making this user-friendly.
With the bipod providing stability in the front, the well-engineered buttstock in the rear, and the pistol grip in hand, it is 100% controllable no matter how fast you fire. Firing faster gave me just a slight push to the rear without any shaking or fidgeting.
Most semi-automatic .223 rifles eject brass like a push mower without the safety guard in place. The FN 249S just neatly deposited the rounds out of the downward-facing ejection chute to the right of the gun. Ejecting the spent magazine is simple; just push in the lever on the magazine well cover and it pops right out. After running several full magazines through the gun, I inspected the feed lips. There was some paint scratching, but no signs of damage or what I would interpret as abuse.
The moment of truth had arrived, and it was time to put the box on and let this thing eat. The box has a male clip that slides into the female portion mounted to the gun. There is no way to put a magazine and a box of belted ammunition on at the same time. The belt feeding mechanism is exposed by pinching the two clips behind the top cover. Half of this mechanism is in the top cover, and the other half is on the receiver. Once the belt is lain in, you lock it in by pinching those same pins together again. Then you pull the charging handle to the rear and let it fly home. Laying the belt correctly is the most difficult part of this. As my first attempt demonstrated, you must lay the first loaded round in the center of the belt feed mechanism. Otherwise you get a click instead of a bang.
Once I had corrected my error, the gun came to life. At first I was cautious and observed the gun showering from the bottom of the gun a chorus of belt links and brass that I had so diligently put together the night before. This lasted for about 10 rounds, and then it was time to open her up. As I began to work the trigger faster and faster, I was rewarded with both center mass hits on the target and piles of brass and links at my feet. I then made a quick adjustment on the sights and moved the target out to the available hundred yards. My shot timer told me that I was delivering about 200+ rounds per minute of dead-on fire at 100 yards. I’m not aware of any other semi-automatic .223 rifle that can deliver 200 rounds on target in a minute. I even went so far as to put a second target up and work transitions, being careful not to sling rounds between targets. This only slightly diminished the rate of fire.
This gun ran perfect. The only issue that I encountered was the smoke coming off of the barrel. I don’t believe that I could damage this barrel short of buying several thousand links and running them all together. This gun is purpose-built for this kind of action, and performs as such.
This gun is everything I hoped it would be and frankly, for the price, it should be. The FN 249S put a smile on my face every time I shot it. I took it out to a different range later and fired off of a tower with multiple targets, and everyone at the range was eager to join in. I encourage you to take a turn on this gun if you’re given the opportunity; you will not be disappointed. You may knock this gun on practicality, but you will not knock it on function, reliability or authenticity.
I try to put my biases aside when I review a gun, but I’ll admit that I’m a fan boy of this platform. And there are a few things you need to be aware of; it’s not all fun and games. This gun is heavy and has its own manual of arms that you must respect. This is not a gun that you’re going to pick up and immediately take to the range to shoot. You will have to invest some effort into the aforementioned learning curve to be successful. But, trust me, it is well worth the effort!