Although a dizzying array of AR-style rifles is available today, many of them range from simply pricey to extremely expensive. At odds with this trend is DPMS Inc.’s Panther 5.56 Sportical, an AR-style carbine that retails for just under $700, bridging the gap between the sporting and tactical markets.
The Sportical is something of a hybridization of two of DPMS’ carbine designs. The Panther Lo-Pro Classic is a bull-barreled rifle with a slab-sided, flat-top upper that is intended for precision shooting, plinking and competition. The Panther Lite 16 is a more traditionally configured AR-style rifle, featuring a fixed carry handle and a light contour barrel.
The heart of the 5.56 Sportical is the flat-top upper receiver it shares with the Lo-Pro Classic. Rather than a more conventional 7075-T6 alloy upper receiver, the Sportical’s hard-coat anodized upper is made from more cost-effective, extruded 6066-T6 aluminum alloy. In addition to the differences in material and construction, the Lo-Pro-style upper also features a Spartan slab-sided exterior with no forward assist, shell deflector or dustcover. Also, it features a larger exterior diameter of just over 1 ½" as compared to a slimmer 7075-T6 upper.
As cost effectiveness is a key concept of the Sportical, the rifle does not come with sights. DPMS recognized that most users plan on equipping the rifle with some sort of optic and would not want to pay for parts they would just remove later anyway. The Sportical also shares another feature with the Lo-Pro Classic—a flat-topped gas block with a strip of Picatinny rail.
The Sportical features a phosphated 4140 chrome-moly steel light contour 16" barrel similar to that of the Lite 16, contributing to the Sportical’s feathery-light weight of 6 lbs., 5 ozs. The barrel has an exterior diameter of 0.642" along its length and is topped off with an A2-style flash hider. The barrel’s button-rifled bore has six grooves with a 1:9" right-hand twist.
The lower is a standard forged 7075-T6 aluminum alloy hard-coat anodized receiver with an A2-style pistol grip and non-ambidextrous safety lever. Anyone familiar with the operation of any other DPMS A-15 rifle, or any other AR-style rifle for that matter, will find no surprises here.
Although the price would lead one to think that this is a no-frills offering, the rifle actually has several upgrades over a more traditional AR-pattern carbine. In particular, the rifle features a set of DPMS’ Glacier Guards, a fiber-reinforced polymer handguard that dispenses with the standard internal aluminum heat shield and instead employs 15 internal fins or ribs to help dissipate heat. In addition, the ribs add structural strength. DPMS claims that the heat-resistant polymer of the handguards allows them to resist temperatures of up to 500° F. The handguards also feature 15 external ribs that mirror the internal cooling ribs and add additional gripping surface area.
Matching the upgraded handguards is DPMS’ Pardus six-position collapsing stock. As opposed to a more traditional AR collapsing stock assembly, the fiber-reinforced Zytel Pardus unit has four integrated sling attachment slots, a curved “saw-tooth” buttplate and a redesigned length-of-pull adjustment latch with finger grooves. There are six length-of-pull adjustments ranging between 10¾" and 14¾".
The Sportical’s fit and finish are quite impressive, with a level of quality that belies its affordable price. There was little to no play between the upper and lower receivers, and the anodized finish of the major parts matched evenly.
Handling the 5.56 Sportical reveals a sprite and handy little carbine that neatly splits the difference between the Lo-Pro Classic and the Lite 16. Unlike the nearly 8-lb. weight of the bull-barreled Lo-Pro, the Sportical’s light weight brings it more in line with the Lite 16, while the Lo-Pro-style upper receiver lends it a great deal more flexibility regarding optics than the fixed carry handle of the Lite 16.
As the Sportical comes without sights, we chose to mount a Leupold Mark 4 CQT, as the carbine’s reasonable cost allows users a little more latitude in purchasing a high-quality optic such as this one. For the more budget conscious, a set of iron sights such as Brownells’ tactical flip-up iron sights make for a good choice.
For testing, we chose three loadings raging in bullet weights from 55 grs. to 64 grs. Due to its light weight and handy size, the 5.56 Sportical was a pleasure to handle and shoot. Over the course of a several hundred rounds, there was not a single malfunction. Also of note is the fact that a southpaw evaluator had no problem whatsoever with ejecting cases despite the fact that there is no shell deflector on the upper receiver. With excellent fit and finish and extremely good accuracy, the DPMS Panther 5.56 Sportical should appeal to more than just sporting and tactical shooters. In fact, it should appeal to anyone who simply appreciates a high-quality product for a reasonable price.