The Bushmaster Minimalist returns to the origins of the AR design, offering a lightweight and nimble multipurpose rifle.
Bushmaster Minimalist Review Snapshot:
- The new Bushmaster Minimalist offers everything you need and nothing you don't
- Available in 5.56 NATO or .300 BLK, the Minimalist is a capable, lightweight carbine
- With its ALG Defense Advanced Combat Trigger, the Minimalist is plenty accurate
- Other features include AAC SquareDrop handguard and Mission First Tactical furniture
In the past several years, there has been a noticeable shift in how some AR platform rifles are being made. The shift is, in a sense, “back,” as in, back to an original concept. The AR, after all, was designed to be a lighter rifle. That might seem like a radical idea, given that I’ve hefted AR-15s, which were all of 9 pounds, unloaded, and AR-10s that could have doubled as free weights for arm curls.
Yet, as designed over 50 years ago by Eugene Stoner, the AR platform was supposed to be a light and nimble rifle, easy to carry and quick to deploy. And those design parameters are what gun manufacturers like Bushmaster are getting back to — in Bushmaster’s case with the recent debut of its new Minimalist-SD chambered in 5.56mm and .300 AAC Blackout (BLK).
I had several range sessions with a new production model Minimalist-SD in .300 BLK, as well as a three-day predator hunt with the rifle in Eastern Nevada. The Minimalist in .300 BLK is accurate, fast handling and easy to carry, in hand and with a sling. The rifle strikes me as handy enough for home-defense duties, yet still stout enough caliber-wise (in the .300 BLK) to make a good mid-range hunter for varmints, predators and larger game up to the size of deer and hogs.
Depending on the type of event, it could well be used in various shooting competitions, too.
At the Range
For my accuracy testing, I used three types of .300 BLK ammunition: Barnes’ VOR-TX with a 120-grain TAC-TX bullet; Dynamic Research Technologies’ 135-grain hollowpoint; and SIG Sauer’s Elite Performance load with the 120-grain HT bullet.
I also used a new riflescope for this phase of the testing, a Steiner P4Xi, and mounted it to the rifle with a rock-solid Alamo Four Star DLOC-M4-30MM mount. I shot the rifle at my local outdoor range, firing from a sandbagged rest; I first zeroed the Minimalist at 50 yards and then fine-tuned the rifle and scope rig at 100 yards. Accuracy testing was done at the 100-yard mark, and I have to admit I fired off my groups rather quickly, as befitting the functionality of an AR rifle.
My best overall five-shot group was with the Barnes VOR-TX ammunition, and it measured .958 inch. Overall, the Barnes also scored the tightest average groups, too, at just under 1.20 inches. The other two ammo brands punched in many five-shot groups at well under 2 inches, including a 1.12-inch group from the DRT and a 1.34-incher from the SIG Elite.
I didn’t get what I would call “tack-driving” accuracy and precision from the Minimalist, but I found the accuracy to be on par for what I normally experience with .300 BLK in ARs with 16-inch barrels.
Others might well have different experiences, but I’ve rarely found the .300 BLK in this platform to be a sub-MOA rifle. I think it’s the caliber more than anything, and for that same reason, I’d expect the Minimalist-SD in 5.56 NATO to produce noticeably tighter groups — I just find the 5.56 to be more accurate, from rifle to rifle, than the .300 BLK.
Also, as I noted, I was firing off my groups fairly fast. So credit my fast trigger finger for somewhat larger groups (in all probability) than what would have happened had I taken more time between shots.
My Lyman Electronic Trigger Pull Gauge measured the Minimalist trigger pull at an average of 4.51 pounds. The ALG Defense Advanced Combat Trigger snaps off cleanly, with little to no overtravel, and it also resets very quickly. With its rifle-length AAC SquareDrop handguard, the Minimalist-SD allows for fast, solid attachment of accessories at seven different angles. Of course, as you are adding accessories, you are also adding weight — but at least you start off with a light rifle.
The Mission First Tactical Minimalist Stock is light, extends out easily and is comfortable. The only problem the stock represents is that the hooked butt could very well snag if you are moving through thick vegetation with the rifle held barrel forward. I had this occur a few times on my Nevada hunt and had to make sure I was carrying the rifle at port arms or with the barrel point down to avoid catching the hooked stock on the sea of sagebrush I often waded through.
The Minimalist employs a direct-impingement gas system. And it functions just fine. I shot off well in excess of 400 rounds of ammunition through my Minimalist and didn’t have a single jam up or even one extraction problem. The empty brass kicked out nicely, ending up at a consistent 5 feet or so from my shooting position.
The Minimalist Afield
Unfortunately, the hunt I did with the Minimalist didn’t go as hoped. The Nevada coyotes we were after either did not get the memo to show up — or they received the memo and figured they were better off elsewhere! What I can say about the rifle was that it was a joy to carry on the many, many sets we did, in terrain that varied from sagebrush flats to steep foothills to muddy trails. And I really appreciated the rifle’s lack of weight at the end of our hunt when a particularly bad patch of mud grabbed up our truck and held it hostage. We had to hike it four miles, at night, back to the main road to get a ride to our motel. I was very glad I was not toting a 10-pound AR.
Leaner and Meaner
So, how did Bushmaster achieve this lightweight package, with the Minimalist-SD in .300 BLK coming in at 6 pounds, 3 ounces, and the 5.56 model at an even 6 pounds?
“The main weight savings are in the pencil-weight barrel on the 5.56,” said Adam Ballard, Bushmaster’s Senior Product Manager for Modern Sporting Rifles. “Obviously, the .300 BLK model needed a thicker barrel. But it also has a larger bore, so it’s only slightly heavier, adding just three ounces to the rifle.”
Another area where weight was pared off was the SquareDrop handguard. As Ballard noted, “It’s very slim in outer dimensions, and all the modular cutouts removed that much more material.”
Even with trimming out a good deal of weight, Bushmaster still managed to deliver many features that might be considered upgrades on other AR’s, including a Melonite finish, an AAC 51T Blackout fast-attach silencer mount and a lightweight Mission First Tactical Grip and 30-round magazine. The 16-inch barrel is made from chrome-moly steel and is FNC treated to stand up to hard use in most field environments.
“The Minimalist-SD runs great with a silencer, too,” Ballard said, “and the rifle’s lightweight profile makes silencer use not overly tiring.”
Bushmaster decided to produce the .300 BLK models first, so that was what I received. But in April of this year, Bushmaster also began producing the 5.56 version of the rifle and shipping it to dealers.
Both rifles have the same suggested retail prices. I’m not sure if that will hold up for prices paid in-store and across the Internet; one caliber might become more popular than the other, altering the price structure. What I am sure about is that buyers will get lightweight and very functional rifles able to handle most shooting scenarios, in most shooting environments.
Editor's Note: This article is from the July 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.