Overall the FN SCAR 17S is an overpriced but good 4th-generation “heavy” tactical rifle. SCAR stands for Spec-ops Combat Assault Rifle, a procurement project developed by US SOCOM almost a decade ago that ultimately resulted in a production contract for FNH. The 17S is a semi-automatic version of the reliable SCAR-H being produced for the military. “Heavy” refers to the rifle’s caliber, not its weight: At 8 pounds it’s actually quite light for an auto-loader that shoots the mid-power 7.62x51mm NATO round.
Typically this combination of a light gun shooting heavy rounds is a recipe for jarring recoil that makes fast follow-up shots impossible. But the SCAR 17S does a remarkable job taming recoil: In addition to a very effective muzzle brake its massive reciprocating action has been tuned to dampen the recoil impulse to such a degree that it can be fired accurately as fast as a 5.56mm carbine.
Like most 4th-gen tactical rifles the SCAR has a piston action, monolithic upper, folding stock, short-throw safety, and ambidextrous controls (except, strangely, for the bolt catch). It can be field-stripped without tools. Barrels can be changed out with a torque wrench.
Many of my complaints about this gun are based on its price: Almost $3000. This puts it in the realm of custom-tuned AR-10 rifles which, though heavier and lacking in 4th-generation features, are capable of far greater accuracy. Out of the box the SCAR 17S comes with a trigger that is absolutely awful. In fact we abandoned our first range trip to test its accuracy after realizing the trigger was too sticky and heavy to approach 1 MOA. After upgrading to a Timney drop-in trigger we were able to shoot about 1 MOA with match-grade ammo.
The SCAR stock and lower are made almost entirely of polymers. For the price one would expect a decent grip, but it ships with a bottom-of-the-barrel A2-style plastic grip. Compounding this annoyance is the fact that it does not quite fit standard AR grips. We tried an ERGO grip sized specifically for the SCAR, but that had too much flex to positively control the rifle. So we resorted to what many SCAR owners apparently do: filing and Dremeling a true AR grip to fit. (In this case a Magpul MIAD.)
Another annoyance is the fact that it does not work with standard AR-10 or FAL magazines, but rather requires magazines that only fit the SCAR 17S.
For me a potential deal-breaker is the fact that the 17S has a reciprocating charging handle. In principle I don’t think a reciprocating handle belongs on unmounted guns. There are plenty of support positions that can interfere with the movement of that handle during firing. For example, the first time I raised the gun to shoot offhand, with the magazine well tucked into the web of my support hand, the charging handle hit my thumb. Fortunately the recoil impulse is slow enough that it doesn’t seem likely to break anything, but if I want to use that stance I would have to switch the handle to the other side and operate the action with my trigger hand.