A 3-Gunner’s Dream: The Dark Storm Industries Variant 1 Rifle By: Kenzie Fitzpatrick

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Any competitive shooter will tell you that to get started in 3-Gun or any shooting sport, run what you’ve got to see if you like it before investing in guns and gear. If you stick with a specific sport long enough, you’ll begin to outgrow the stock design and want to make upgrades for better competitive equity. This is usually the case with stock rifles, especially MIL-Spec AR-15s manufactured by budget-friendly companies. But a few companies make great rifles that, out of the box, are fully race-ready, made for competition shooting. One such company is Dark Storm Industries. And we got trigger time with the new Variant 1 at the recent Athlon Outdoors Rendezvous.

Dark Storm Industries Variant 1 Details

Dark Storm Industries was founded by Ed Newman and Peter Morrisey. Frustrated by not being able to find AR parts or cipher through confusing websites, they decided to build their own company to provide a better service to people just like them. Dark Storm Industries opened in 2012 and now offers a full range of rifles in various calibers, including 9mm, AR-style pistols, and sells DSI parts and accessories. Whether you want to build an AR-15 or PCC or get a quality-built rifle already assembled, DSI has it all.

The author ran the Dark Storm Variant 1 through several competition training drills.

I am very picky about what guns I run in 3-Gun, as it is a very unforgiving sport to poorly made firearms, fragile gear, and cheap ammunition. That doesn’t even cover the environmental elements matches are shot in. Rain, snow, extreme heat, dust, and other elements can affect your gun and gear’s performance. I spent many range sessions with the DSI Variant-1 5.56 rifle, trying to get it to break, and I was successfully unsuccessful in breaking anything. I worked on transitioning from one gun to another, throwing the rifle into a dump barrel repeatedly. Then I tested shooting it against a barricade, off-hand, and while shooting and moving. This rifle performs and checks all the boxes before I ever take a gun to a major match.

Major Pros of the Variant 1

Lightweight, Yet Rugged Design

The Dark Storm Industries Variant 1 rifle is good-looking, with intricate designs cut out of the upper and lower receivers. The removed material contributes to the lower overall weight. While the gun comes outfitted with a 16-inch barrel, it includes a 12.5-inch handguard. Compare this to more common 13-inch or 15-inch handguards. The lower features a flared mag well for easier reloads and an enlarged trigger guard for easier access to the trigger, even if wearing gloves. The handguard has M-Lok rails, two QD mounts, and a Picatinny rail for mounting any rifle accessories.

DSI Compensator = Low-Felt Recoil

DSI developed its own competition compensator with two angled top ports in the expansion chamber, two vertical top ports in the baffles, and two side baffles. The compensator, paired with the carbine-length gas system and three-ounce carbine buffer, cuts down on the felt recoil from the Variant 1 rifle.

Accurate and Reliable

These days, 3-Gun match directors are putting shooters to the test of their long-range skills. Now we aren’t talking about shooting 1,500 yards, but more and more matches are setting targets out to 600 yards to shoot with a 5.56 projectile. I’ve seen everything from having to shoot off tank traps to tires, shooting out of the back of a school bus, and more crazy scenarios. The 16-inch barrel on the Variant 1, with the 1:9 twist rate, makes this gun shoot accurately out to 600 yards. While shooting this gun on any one of my trips to the range, I never once had a failure to feed, fire, or eject while trying different ammunition.

The Only Con I Found of the Variant 1

The Trigger

I’m a trigger snob, but so is just about every other competitive shooter I’ve ever met. Whether it’s a pistol, rifle, or shotgun, aftermarket triggers are usually the first thing we shooters like to modify. The DSI Variant 1 has a 2-stage trigger installed with a heavy pull that reminds me of mil-spec triggers. So it’s pretty typical of a factory, non-upgraded unit. It’s a curved trigger, and even the reset is not the best. I’m used to single-stage triggers, set to 1.5 – 2 pounds, with a flat face and short reset. However, this being the only thing I would modify in the rifle, says a lot about how it was built intentionally for competitive shooters.

We ran multiple types of ammunition while testing the Variant 1.

DSI Has Built a Game Changer

Gone are the days of not having any stock rifles that are race-ready out of the box. Dark Storm Industries is a top contender for anyone looking for a quality-built rifle with all the bells and whistles to give you a competitive edge. Paired with a quality optic, this baby shoots lights out.

The Variant 1 retails for $1,795. For further information, please visit dark-storm.com.

Dark Storm Industries Variant 1 Rifle Specifications

  • Caliber: 5.56
  • Barrel: 16-inches 5.56 Threaded 1:9 Nitrite Barrel
  • Gas System: carbine with steel micro gas block
  • Rail System: DSI Ultralight Narrow Profile M-Lok 12-inch Handguard
  • Feed Ramp: M4 extensions
  • Bolt Carrier Group: DSI M16 BCG
  • Stock: Hogue Adjustable
  • Grip: Hogue Pistol Grip
  • Ambidextrous Controls: charging handle, safety selector, sling plate
  • Allen screw bolt catch pin and forward assist pin
  • Winter trigger guard
  • DSI Competition Compensator
  • MSRP: $1,795

Accuracy Results

Ammunition Velocity Accuracy
Super Vel 55-gr. 1,348 0.25
Black Dot 55-gr. 1,050 0.40
Winchester 55-gr. 1,090 0.45
Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity average of five rounds measured in fps by LabRadar chronograph, an accuracy in inches for best five-shot groups at 100 yards.

More Good Gear!

Trijicon Credo 1-8×28 Scope

The number one mistake I see new shooters make is topping off a high-quality firearm with a low-quality optic. There are three things that contribute to how well you, as a shooter, can perform: having the right gun, the best quality ammunition, and a proven high-quality optic. I can speak to the quality of the Trijicon Credo 1-8 LPVO scope because I have used it in 3-Gun competitions for about five years. Before the Credo was released, I ran the Trijicon AccuPower 1-8. Trijicon makes a durable optic that has never lost zero, with clear glass, an easy-to-understand MIL reticle, and dual green and red illumination. You can’t beat this first focal plane scope for the price, the value, and the quality. (trijicon.com)

Running the Trijicon Credo on the DSI Variant 1.

Rugged Suppressors Alaskan360

I enjoy shooting suppressed, and it’s important to test the gun, suppressor, and ammunition you use together to ensure everything functions properly. Occasionally with suppressors, you will have to shoot different ammunition or install an adjustable gas block to dial the gas perfectly for the gun to run while suppressed. With the Alaskan360 from Rugged Suppressors, there were no modifications or changes to the ammunition needed. The Variant 1 and the Alaskan were a match made in heaven.

The Rugged Suppressors Alaskan360.

The Alaskan360 is a very versatile suppressor full-auto-rated for pistol/sub-gun calibers up to 9mm and rifle calibers up to .338 Lapua. The tube and baffles are made with 17-4 stainless steel with a titanium front cap and US Grade 5 titanium mount. The total length of the Alaskan360 is 6.6 inches, or with Rugged’s Universal Mount (RUM), 7.5 inches. This can weighs in at just 9.4 ounces without the RUM and 11.8 ounces with the RUM. The sound level of the Alaskan360 on the Variant 1 rifle is about 130.4 decibels. You can’t beat the universal use for this suppressor, and Rugged Suppressors stands behind their product with an Unconditional Lifetime Warranty. (ruggedsuppressors.com)

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