Whitetail deer are one of the most versatile species on earth, capable of adapting to everything from the northernmost woodlands to Southwestern deserts. Urban, suburban and, of course, rural populations of deer thrive as testament to the species' flexibility, and it's that flexibility to fit whatever situation you're handed that's built into Mossberg's new MVP FLEX bolt-action rifle. Mossberg recognized that hunters shoot better with a gun that fits, and that fitting a gun doesn't have to involve permanent modifications such as chopping off a buttstock or even so much as having a longer recoil pad fitted to the stock. Instead, Mossberg's designers came up with the "FLEX" concept — a modular buttstock system that's not only quick-change, but also requires no tools and is only permanent until you want to change it again.
Recently, Mossberg asked me to try the FLEX system on its new top-of-the-line MVP rifle chambered in .308 Winchester. MVP stands for Mossberg Varmint Predator, so the first guns of that design were appropriately chambered in 5.56 and fed from detachable AR-15 magazines. The concept proved so popular that Mossberg upped the chambering to .30-caliber for big-game hunting and changed the magazine well dimensions to take detachable AR-10 magazines.
My experience with the new MVP FLEX took me from Arizona's desert near the Mexican border where I sighted-in the rifle, to the thick forests at the northern edge of Canada's Alberta Province for a spring bear hunt. The environmental extremes afforded the opportunity to fully use the FLEX concept by fitting the gun with a longer stock while sighting in wearing a long-sleeve T-shirt, and then easily and instantly shorten things before I left, so the gun handled the same even though I was bundled up for the cold North.
Once the gun arrived, I mounted a Swarovski 1-6x24 Z6i scope on it, reasoning that the dense woods where I'd be hunting didn't offer very long shots, but any shot I had would probably be in fairly low light where the illuminated reticle is ideal. Mounting it was about as simple as it comes thanks to the one-piece Picatinny rail on the Mossberg that uses this most commonly available style of rings. With this type of mount, all you really have to give much thought to is the height of the rings, and that's going to be dictated by the size of your objective bell. You want to mount the scope as low as possible without the objective actually touching the barrel so you can get a solid cheek weld on the stock. Even with low-mount rings, though, I had to lift my head a little to see through the scope properly when using the six-position AR-type stock. The MVP FLEX comes standard with that stock, and while it's natural looking on the AR and certainly provides the most versatility, I think it's going to take a little getting used to before hunters accept it on a bolt-action gun. It didn't work for me, and I wasn't interested in tempting trouble trying to pass into Canada with a gun sporting a pistol grip and detachable magazine — legal or not — so I opted for a fixed stock.
The "Tool-less Locking System" (TLS) method of stock attachment is completely simple and locks up solid. There's a T-shaped, captive pin in the stock wrist that keeps the buttstock from sliding on or off of a star-shaped post. The star shape keeps the stock from rotating. Changing stocks involves simply lifting the T-pin and giving it a quarter turn, then pulling the stock straight off. I swapped out the adjustable stock for a 12½-inch fixed stock and I was ready for the range, where I was pleased to see Hornady's 150-grain Superformance loads punch 1½-inch groups at 100 yards from the bench.
Mossberg lists black synthetic TLS stocks with 12½-, 13½- and 14½-inch lengths of pull. There are also camo options and stocks with adjustable combs, plus three FLEX recoil pads in ¾-, 1¼- and 1½-inch thicknesses. The variety of combinations offers lengths of pull from 13¼ to 16 inches, and is as close as you can get to a custom fit without dropping a lot of dough on permanent gunsmithing.
The recoil pads are also tool-less, and change out by simply pressing a recessed button and popping them on or off at will. I sighted in with the 1 1/4-inch pad for a total length of pull measuring 13 3/4 inches, which is just about perfect for me. My cold-weather hunting clothing adds an additional half inch to the effective length of pull and can cause eye relief problems at best and possibly parallax problems for long-range shots, so I swapped to the ¾-inch pad for the hunt.
Trigger advances in the past decade or years have been nothing short of revolutionary. Instead of living with a heavy pull or the expense of gunsmithing to get a light, crisp pull, many gun makers now offer triggers that are user-adjustable, plus offer enhanced safety features so well designed that you don't even notice they're there. Mossberg's enhanced trigger on the MVP FLEX is the Lightning Blot Action (LBA). You can recognize it by the thin metal blade with the clever lightning bolt cut-out sticking out from the face of the actual trigger. It blocks the sear so the gun won't fire unless you press it into the face of the trigger, and then pull the actual trigger. It's an "active" safety in that you physically have to press the blade to fire the gun, but pressing it is a natural result of resting your finger on the trigger so you really don't even notice it. The MVP FLEX also has a conventional safety lever behind the bolt handle, much like a Remington Model 700.
Thanks to the added safety of the LBA, you can safely adjust the trigger pull weight from 2 to 7 pounds by simply turning a slotted screw, though you do have to take the barreled action out of the stock to adjust it. The MVP FLEX comes shipped with the trigger set at 2 pounds pull, and it's a pretty darn good 2 pounds pull — especially for a mass-produced gun.
Another trend I've noticed with modern mass-produced guns, including the MVP FLEX, is the lock nut method of barrel attachment. That's a manufacturing technique pioneered by Savage's Model 340 rifle that not only speeds up production, but also results in some of the most accurate rifles for the price that I've ever seen.
Traditionally, an action is barreled and then the chamber reamed. It's a labor-intensive try-and-try-again process in that you ream the chamber gradually and check it regularly with "go" and "no-go" headspace gauges until it's reamed to the proper depth. With the barrel nut method, though, you fully ream the chamber first, then thread the barrel into the action against a "go" gauge. That gives you the proper headspace, and the barrel gets locked in place with a lock nut — and in the Mossberg's case, with the recoil lug sandwiched between the nut and the action face.
Some shooters don't like the nut for aesthetic reasons, and I have to admit that on the circa-1950s Model 340 the nut was a little startling, but gun makers using lock nuts today design them so streamlined that you might not even notice one at first blush. Aside from making it easier and faster to manufacture an accurate rifle, lock nuts make swapping barrels easier. Mossberg has no plans at the moment to offer accessory barrels, but if they do, the abundance of AR-10 magazines already set up to reliably feed cartridges from the .308 case head family such as .243 Win., .260 Rem. and 7mm-08 makes for some juicy speculation.
One of my concerns when first learning about MVPs using AR magazines was feeding reliability, because that is often one of the weaknesses of semi-autos. Maybe it's because you work a bolt action slower than a semi-auto cycles, but the 10-round magazine Mossberg sent with the sample gun didn't have any problems at all. In fact, there weren't any problems with this gun. Accuracy was what I'd call good, but circumstances restricted me to trying only one load, so I might be shortchanging the MVP's potential. The .308 isn't exactly a hard-kicking cartridge, but it does have some punch, but not enough to cause any play or looseness to the TLS stock mounting system.
Correct length of pull is one of those things many consider when buying a gun, but the ability to quickly and easily switch buttstocks is not. FLEX may then be more like Apple's iPad in that no one knew they needed one until Apple made it. The way I see it, folks won't be changing buttstocks on a rifle like they do choke tubes on a sporting clays course, but having the option goes a long way toward getting that "just right" one-time fit. Beyond that, it&'s a practical way to grow a gun with a young shooter or, as I found, gives you the flexibility to go to different hunting extremes without having to compromise fit.
More information is available at www.mossberg.com.