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No Frills Fighter: Katana AR-15 Review

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Katana AR-15 Review.

Katana AR-15 review of a new rifle that is like the sword it is named after: a well-balanced and maneuverable weapon that is deadly in the right hands.

In this era of multiple-rail AR-15s, all tricked out with optics, back-up sights, foregrips, lights, lasers and more, it was a surprise for me to lift the new Katana AR-15 out of its box and realize, “Man, this is one light AR!”

I have to admit, that lack of weight — less than 6 pounds — concerned me a bit. As a guy who regularly uses those fully geared-up AR-15s and AR-10s, I am used to the heft. I guess that I have also begun to assume that heft equals quality. The lightweight ARs are fine for plinking and popping ground squirrels, but a bigger job requires a stouter rifle.

At the range, though, I discovered two things. First, the Katana, manufactured by MHT Defense of Wedowee, Ala., is a quality-made rifle, capable of great accuracy and versatility. Second, an AR does not have to weigh 9 pounds to be effective.

Pet Project

The Katana is similar to the original AR design created by Eugene Stoner. Author Photo

The Katana is the brainchild of Tiger McKee, a shooting instructor, a Gun Digest contributor and the owner of Shootrite Firearms Academy in Guntersville, Ala. After years of watching shooting students struggle with their overly heavy, super-accessorized AR-15s, McKee went back to the basics. He began devising an AR very much along the lines of the rifles originally produced by AR inventor Eugene Stoner over 50 years ago, and modified by Colt Mfg. in the 1960s. That is: a lightweight fighting rifle, capable of doing the job in close and at distance; accurate, well balanced and maneuverable, and a shooter you can tote all day without fatigue. Which makes the Katana a very versatile rifle, a great choice for self- and home-defense, 3-Gun competition, training, hunting and just plinking.

The Katana has a 16-inch barrel with a 1:7 rate of twist. I prefer that rate of twist, as I like to use long, heavy .223 rounds for hunting deer and wild hogs. The more common 1:8 or 1:9 twist rates found on many AR-15’s are fine for 55-grain bullets, but when you start pushing bullets over 60 and 70 grains, you need the faster twist rate for better stabilization.

The Katana also has a rifle-length gas system, and a chromed chamber and bore. The barrel is finished with heavy phosphate mil-spec Parkerizing, and is tipped with a special MHT Defense three-prong flash hider. The bolt carrier is of 8620 steel, M16 spec, and with a Carpenter 158 steel bolt, a tool steel extractor, a Colt Gold extractor spring and a solid, one-piece firing pin retaining pin. Bolt, carrier and extractor are nickel-boron coated.

The upper receiver is a MHT 605 flattop and the lower is an MHT Shootrite machined from forged 7075 aluminum and finished with mil-spec hard-coat anodizing. The rifle comes equipped with a Daniel Defense A1.5 fixed sight and a heavy-duty charging handle with an extended latch.

Katana AR-15 Review

Matched with a Trijicon VCOG, the lightweight Katana is a near-perfect hog hunting rifle. Author Photo

I mounted the Katana with a new Trijicon VCOG optic (after removing the rear sight) and went to the range for two separate visits. The first visit was for general familiarity and to get the rifle zeroed. For all the testing I did with this rifle, I used Liberty Ammunition’s new Silverado rounds, a .223 with a 55-grain lead-free bullet. I found the ammunition to be quite accurate and a very clean-burning round, and it took less than a box of the Silverado, and I was hitting three- and four-shot groups at right around 1.25 inches.

On my second visit, I shot some hunting-based scenarios. With the Katana’s maneuverability, plus the VCOG’s tactical lineage, this rig screamed “Texas hog hunting” to me, especially those areas of south and west Texas I am fortunate to hunt with some regularity: thick vegetation, interspersed with pasture and clumps of mesquite. Here, you might get a poke at a hog grazing in the open at 200 yards or could get a fast 50-yard shot when a big boar trots out of the bush.

I set up a target at 100 yards. I placed another target on a cardboard box at 60 yards, the target about one foot above ground level. Both targets were black with orange diamond-shaped centers. I sat on a pad on the ground and rested the rifle in the crotch of a Primos Trigger Stick. I set the VCOG’s magnification at power level 4.

I took a couple of deep breaths and then twisted my body from right to left as if I’d just spotted a hog. Pivoting the Katana on the Trigger Stick, I lined up the Trijicon’s crosshairs on the 60-yard box target and squeezed off a quick four rounds. Then I swung the VCOG onto the 100-yard target and let loose with four more shots.

I did that sequence twice more, replacing targets, once with the VCOG set on the power level 4 illumination setting and once at power 6. The VCOG got on target quickly, especially when the crosshairs and segmented circles were lit up. Images were crisp and clearly outlined at all yardages and in lighting that ranged from overcast to sunny, to right before dark. At the 60-yard target, I strung out my four-round bursts under 3 inches, and under 2 inches at the 100-yard target, with a flier or two in there, also.

The Katana moved nicely, helped me get on target fast, and would have accounted for a dead hog had my “hunt” been for real. The Katana has an ALG Combat trigger, polished and nickel boron coated, with a trigger weight of approximately six pounds. It performs better than a mil-spec trigger but not by a lot. I found it stiff and a little balky.

I may be spoiled but my expectation is that a rifle costing nearly $2,000 should have a pretty smooth trigger when I squeeze it.

The handguard is a Precision Reflex triangular shaped full-length carbon fiber model, with rails in specified locations, plus an attached sling mount. Functional, but it will win no beauty contest. I found it somewhat bulky, too, though admittedly I have smaller hands than many people.

Originally, McKee debuted the Katana in 2010, and at the time it was being made by Red Jacket Firearms. Since then, McKee made several changes and modifications to the rifle, ended his relationship with Red Jacket and brought MHT Defense on board to make the upgraded Katana. So far it looks like a first-rate partnership that produces a first-rate rifle.

Katana Rifle by MHT Defense

Caliber:    5.56mm
Barrel:    16-inch, lightweight profile, Parkerized, 1:7 twist
Muzzle Device:    Custom MHT three-prong flash hider
Upper:    MHT 605-style flat-top upper
Lower:    MHT Shootrite lower machined from forged 7075 aluminum
Sights:    Daniel Defense A1.5 fixed sight and front sight post
Trigger:    ALG Combat trigger, approx. 6 pounds
Stock:    Magpul MOE fixed stock or Magpul CTR adjustable stock
Weight:    5 lbs., 14 ozs.
Length:    35.25 inches with fixed stock
Includes:    Combat Labs Agile Sling, soft carry case, two 30-round magazines and a copy of The Book of Two Guns by Tiger McKee, signed and numbered to your rifle
SRP:    $1,850

This article also appeared in the December 11, 2015 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine

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