Daniel-Defense-M4A1 (1)

Ultimate Guide to Daniel Defense

Michael Crites

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Disclosure: Products are selected by our editors. We may earn a commission on purchases from a link. How we select gear.

Starting as an accessory and upper maker, Georgia-based Daniel Defense has exploded in the past 20-odd years to become a powerhouse when it comes to black rifles (and pistols) of all sorts and has captured such groups as Navy SEALs and Army Rangers as long-term fans.

If you’ve thought about picking up a DD firearm but want some guidance on the matter — rest assured we’re going deep on the full Daniel Defense catalog.

In This Article:

Daniel Defense Comparison

Below is my list of the best of Daniel Defense for 2022. I list the best choices in terms of value, performance, design, and cost.

Click on the name to head to the product page, read reviews and check prices or skip ahead to the list of Daniel Defense firearms.

Daniel Defense Pistols

Daniel unveiled their first pistols in 2015, all versions of their rifle series, including the DDM4300 (guess what caliber that was in) and a stockless variant of the DDMK18.

Today, the company still runs a few different AR-15 style large format pistols, primarily sticking with .300 BLK caliber guns except for the DDMK18, which is still in its original 5.56 NATO.

1. DDM4 PDW

Announced in 2020, the 300 BLK-chambered PDW runs a truly short 7-inch barrel with Daniel’s linear compensator brake and a 6-inch MFR handguard with M-LOK slots and an SLR MOD2 Barricade hand stop.

Utilizing Maxim Defense’s game-changing CQB pistol brace, the gun compacts down to just 20.75-inches and weights the 5-pound range. Having some fun with it, Daniel currently offers the PDW in Cobalt and FDE besides their traditional black-on-black.

DDM4 PDW Cobalt SBR
The PDW is a top-tier personal defense system.

2. DDM4V7p

Looking every bit like a downsized rifle (and just begging for a Form 1 to be filed to use a stock with it) the DDM4V7P pistol pairs a 10.3-inch barrel and Daniel’s MFR 9.0 M-LOK rail.

Despite the extra length, the .300 BLK blaster still keeps under 29-inches overall and weighs in at the sub-6-pound range.

Daniel Defense Rifles

4. DDM4

The first rifle Daniel put into production, the DDM4 has seen several variants and generations (DDM4V1, DDM4V2, DDM4V3, DDM4V4, DDM4V5, DDM4V5S, DDM4V11, etc.) over the past two decades with the DDM4V7 and DDM4V9 being the most current models in production. We went deep on the DDM4 V7 in our review.

DDM4 V7 Review - CoverDDM4 V7 Review - Cover
My DDM4 V7 is a joy to shoot in every way.
DDM4 V7 - Components
As simple as it needs to be -- and no simpler.

Offered in 16- and 18-inch 1:7 twist barrel formats as well as the 11.5-inch DDM4 V4S SBR, they all share standard features such as GRIP-N-RIP ambi charging handles, an uninterrupted 1913 Picatinny top rail, an H-buffer with the company’s in-house stock, a suppressor-ready 1x28TPI threaded muzzle, and options for either a Picatinny quad rail (this is Daniel Defense, after all) or free-floating M-LOK handguards.

PRO models include a Geissele Automatics Super Dynamic 3-Gun Trigger already installed. The newest guns in the series have Daniel’s new RIS III series rail systems, introduced in early 2022.

DDM4 V7 Review - Trigger
The DD grip is one of my favorites of any AR.

5. DD5

Like its smaller cousin, the DDM4, Daniel’s AR-10/SR-25 format DD5 platform has seen several generations (DD5V1, DD5V2, et.al) with the DD5V3 (1:10 twist 7.62 NATO), DD5V4 (1:10 twist 7.62 NATO, 1:8 twist 6.5CM), and DD5V5 (1:8 twist 6.5CM and 1:7 twist .260 Remington) currently in production.

Running 5/8×24 TPI threaded muzzles paired with a user-adjustable gas block, they are suppressor ready. They accept standard Magpul SR-25 PMAGs, utilize Daniel’s superb S2W profile cold-hammer-forged chrome-lined barrel barrels, and DLC-coated bolt carriers.

Unlike other AR-10s on the market, the DD5 uses Daniel’s proprietary 4-Bolt Connection System, which yields greater accuracy.

Whether you need a rifle for Mil-LE sniper/counter-sniper or serious hunting, the DD5 series delivers.

DD5 in the desert
Shooting the DD5 with the Wave can up front.
DD5V1 note four lug rail connection
DD5V1 note four lug rail connection

6. MK18

Back in 1999, the SEALs began fielding a greatly modified M4A1 paired with a Colt-produced Close Quarter Battle Receiver, or CQBR, upper complete with a 10.3-inch barrel.

Without getting too much in the fanboy SEAL weeds, Daniel later became involved in the program after Naval Surface Warfare Division Crane took over the assembly of the guns and designated them the MK18.

While Daniel’s involvement was limited to supplying components, the company evidentially decided it was a good tie-in to offer a non-select-fire variant to the public, with the DDMK18 announced in 2015.

Just 5.4-pounds, it has a 10.3 CHF government-profile barrel and is offered in both rifle (SBR) and pistol formats.

DDMK18 pistol with brace
The pistol variant of the MK18 looks like it should come with a dive mask.

7. M4A1

A more Mil-Spec follow-on to the DDM4, Daniel announced the M4A1 in 2016. Chambered in 5.56 NATO, it used a 14.5-inch CHF barrel with a permanently attached flash suppressor, a carbine-length gas system, and a pinned low-profile gas block.

Daniel-Defense-M4A1 (1)
My M4A1 scratches that old-school quad rail itch.

Finished out with a RIS II quad rail system and a Type III hard coat or Cerakote finish, Daniel’s M4A1 is comparable to FN’s commercial variant.

Daniel-Defense-M4A1 (19)
The 6-bolt handguard attachment system gives you incredible stability with a free-floating quad rail.
Daniel-Defense-M4A1 (5)
An RDS, LPVO, or irons -- the M4A1 just runs em all.

8. MK12

Introduced in 2014, the Daniel Defense MK12 was the first gun that used the company’s CHF stainless steel barrel built to NSWC (Naval Surface Warfare Division) Crane’s SOCOM specifications.

Adding a bomb-proof MK12 gas block, DDM4 Rail 12.0, and Geissele Super Semi-automatic (SSA) trigger with a 2-pound break, they have remained a popular if niche item that bridges the gap between a shorter carbine and a full-sized DMR while still hitting the scales at 7.4-pounds.

Daniel Mk12 a
The MK12 bridges the gap between a shorter carbine and a full-sized DMR while still hitting the scales at 7.4-pounds.

Bolt Guns

9. Daniel Defense Delta 5

In 2019, Daniel took the wraps off a new type of gun for them– a bolt-action rifle.

Blending several attributes of the AR platform with custom features like a barrel system that can be changed on the fly by the user in the field to swap between 7mm-08 Rem, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .308 Win, the Delta 5 caught a lot of interest.

Accepting standard AICS pattern mags, shipping with an installed Timney Elite Hunter single-stage adjustable trigger, and accessory-ready with 14 M-LOK slots, the rifle came with options for either 20- or 24-inch stainless steel barrels.

Daniel has tweaked the design in the past few years and, killing off the 7mm-08 option, is moving to a more second-generation PRO series.

Best 308 Rifles_DD Delta5
Daniel's first foray into the bolt gun market, the Delta 5, brought some innovation to the table.

10. Delta 5 PRO

Building on the original Delta 5, the PRO series was introduced in late 2020. Offered in .308 Win., 6.5 Creedmoor, and 6mm Creedmoor they all use a stainless steel action with an integral recoil lug.

Going past the limited barrel options on the 1st Gen D5s, the PROs are offered with 16, 18, 20, 24, or 26-inch cold hammer-forged Heavy Palma or Varmint profile barrels with a Cerakote finish and Area 419 Hellfire muzzle brake.

Like the original, they keep the AICS magazine capability, Timney Elite Hunter trigger, user-configurable aluminum chassis, and tons of integrated M-LOK accessory and QD sling attachment points in a fully-adjustable stock.

Delta 5 Pro in the field
The Delta 5 PRO gives you a chassis-based platform and many more barrel options.

Suppressors

11. DDM4 ISR

In 2013, Daniel Defense introduced one of its first guns optimized for .300 AAC Blackout, the Integrally Suppressed Weapon System.

The ISR uses a short (typically 9-inch) barrel that is fluted and surrounded by an integral suppressor sleeve pin and welded to the barrel along with a permanently attached muzzle device. Super quiet and smooth to shoot, Daniel runs the ISR in the catalog in a 16-inch format that only requires a single stamp for the can, as well as special-ordered SBRs for fun times and tactical teams.

Keeping it old school, this is one of the few guns still only offered with a KeyMod handguard.

300BLK DDM4 ISR
The ISR pairs a 9-inch barrel with an internal suprpessor sleeve that's pin and welded to the barrel -- meaning one tax stamp and you're cooking with (decidedly quiet) gas.

12. Wave

Four years after developing the DDM4 ISR, the company released the DD WAVE, a standalone suppressor.

Using DMLS (3-D printing) technology, the WAVE needs no welds– which are the weakest part of any can– and has a strong, one-piece Inconel superalloy baffle/tube that takes advantage of a cascading baffle geometry.

Daniel offers the WAVE in both QD and direct thread versions and in 5/8×24 (7.62mm) and 1/2×28 (5.56mm) configurations, which gives the suppressors a lot of range.

Who is Daniel Defense?

DD5 in the field

Marvin C. Daniel, better known over the years as “Marv” or “Marty” to his friends and customers, flunked out of the engineering program at Georgia Southern University— twice. However, that didn’t stop him from building one of the most successful black rifle companies on the planet in the past two decades and holding over 30 patents

After (finally) earning his degree from GSU in 1985, Daniel went on to found his first business, Daniel Overhead Door & Fireplace.

Then, in 1999, his golf game sucked so he got into shooting ARs as a hobby and, with flattop upper receivers then largely absent from the market, designed his own and had a local machine shop produce 100 of them for his personal use. 

Calling it the “Big Hole Upper,” the .315 front hole flattop eliminated slow and awkward offset adapter pins and the need for Colt SP1 owners to carry two screwdrivers in the field.

It was for the purpose of selling his “extra” flattops that, in 2000, he founded Daniel Defense in Savannah. Lacking in-house machining capability, early production Big Hole Uppers were made on contract by Les Baer Custom from 7075 T-6 forgings to very precise tolerances. 

Daniel then teamed up with Ashley Burnsed to market the “Burnsed Loop,” which morphed into the Simple Sling System, which at the time revolutionized the tactical sling market. Today, that sling design has been passed over to Blue Force Gear and is still in production.

Only offered mail-order and available at gun shows before then, Daniel Defense’s website went live in early 2002 and they only had two products, the Big Hole Flat Top Upper and the Simple Sling System.

Fig 1. Daniel Defense entire catalog in 2002
Daniel Defense entire catalog in 2002

Later in 2002, Marty created a ribbed two-piece handguard with allowances for accessories at a time when Key Mod and M-LOK were unheard of unicorns. This early rail was adopted by the famed U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit for competition use, and the next year, Daniel had submitted a new forend rail system to the Special Operations Command for review as part of the SOPMOD program.

Fig 2 SOPMOD poster via SOCOM
The SOPMOD program allowed any number of accessories to be mounted to an M4 carbine-- but had to have a central rail system to make it work. Daniel Defense won the contract for the patented RIS II which remained the SOCOM standard for over a decade and is still seen in the field even at a time when quad rails are considered by some to be old-school.

Adopted by SOCOM in 2005, as the Rail Interface System II– replacing the original RIS developed by Knights Armament– the Picatinny quad rail became standard issue for operators including Army Special Forces, Army Rangers, Navy SEALS, Air Force SOW, and USMC Special Operations deployed around the globe for a generation. Daniel soon followed up with a contract to provide a similar rail system for the British Army’s SA80/L85A1 infantry rifle.

The RIS II is still in production today and is the default standard for quad rails.

RIS II Rail
The Rail Interface System II (RIS II) is the default SOCOM standard for quad rails.

In 2009, Daniel Defense stepped up from making uppers, rails, and accessories to making their first all-up rifles, introducing the DDM4 (get it? Daniel Defense M4). A product of its time, it used a 16-inch barrel, a quad rail with an A2 gas port and front sight assembly, and DD’s own patented in-house rear sight design. In 2010, the company produced 2,413 rifles according to ATF statistics.

Original DDM4V1 series introduced in 2009
The original DDM4 may not have set the world on fire, but it set the stage for future innovation. DD sold 2,413 of these rifles in 2010 according to ATF statistics.

The company still makes the DDM4, but added to it the AR-10 style DDM5 in 2016 and the bolt-action Delta 5 in 2019.

Located today in a massive 300,000 sq. ft., state-of-the-art facility in Black Creek, Georgia outside of Savannah, Daniel Defense in 2019 produced 26,094 rifles and 5,404 pistols, according to federal regulators. Interestingly, they also made four revolvers and 38 shotguns that year as well, although none exist in the company’s catalog, so you can be sure there is some interesting R&D work being conducted.

What makes Daniel Defense so good?

Daniel Defense MK18 mil LE
Daniel products are currently guaranteed for a lifetime and used by the top operators in the world.

While Daniel Defense earned a fast reputation for quality and was able to secure big-budget military contracts for high-speed units, the company suffered “growing pains” around 2012-13 which grew so bad that Marty issued a public mea culpa and a promise to make it right.

Since then, it would appear that the company has done so and Daniel is consistently seen on the shortlist for black rifle aficionados.

Daniel products are currently guaranteed for a lifetime.

Not the original owner’s lifetime – as a lot of manufacturers hold to, requiring receipts as proof – but the lifetime of the product.

The Military Loves Daniel Defense

U.S. Navy SEAL fires a MK18 rifle at a range during exercise Sea Breeze 21 in Ochakiv, Ukraine, July 8, 2021
U.S. Navy SEAL fires a MK18 rifle at a range during exercise Sea Breeze 21 in Ochakiv, Ukraine, July 8, 2021

Besides its early success with the Simple Sling System– a product adopted by SEAL Team 3 over 20 years ago– and more well-known RIS II rail system contracts, U.S. and Allied militaries have been steady customers of Daniel’s.

Just in the past few years, the company was tapped to be part of a $28 million U.S. Army 5.56 NATO carbine contract as well as a $9 million contract awarded recently to deliver barrels for SOCOM’s new Upper Receiver Groups. The military uses 3E3E2 as Daniel’s Cage Code and over a dozen of the company’s items have active NSN numbers, which paves the way for small lots to be bought with unit funds and ensures that DD components are popping up quietly across the Department of Defense.

The company also produces custom and semi-custom rifles, SBRs, and pistols for assorted LE contracts.

In short, if you’re holding a DD firearm, you’re in unparalleled company.

A 2021 social media post showed off a shorty Delta 5 PRO with the note that Daniel has recently provided the bolt gun “to a Federal Agency.” The background would suggest said agency to be part of the Treasury Department, or possibly the Secret Service.

Celebrated Barrels

Daniel Defense is renowned for its proprietary barrel program that produces Cold Hammer Forged Chrome Moly Vanadium steel barrels that promise a lifetime of inherent accuracy– due to the fact the chamber is created at the same time the barrel is forged– and durability.

Typically heavy phosphate coated and chrome-lined, they meet or exceed Mil Specs. There is a reason SOCOM has chosen Daniel’s barrels for the URG-I uppers used by the nation’s elite special operations forces.

Another benefit of the CHF process that Daniel uses is that the barrels require no “break-in” period. The company recommends that you use a good, high-quality lube on the bolt carrier and charging handle, then just shoot the gun.

daniel defense rack
Stand by to get some.

RIS III

While Daniel made its name with the RIS II quad rail system, and it is still offered on most of their DD4 and DD5 rifles, the newest kid hanging from the family tree is the RIS III which was introduced in 2022.

The significant difference on the RIS III is that it is an M-LOK rather than Picatinny rails, but it still includes the same rock-solid 6-bolt lock-up used on the RIS II and maintains the same strength and customization of the older system but with less weight. Plus, it is much easier to manage compared to the “cheese grater” RIS II with a C-grip without gloves.

Marine Raiders with Daniel Defense RIS rails via SOCOM
The RIS II, while a SOCOM standard and beloved by millions, will indeed grate the flesh right off your thumb without gloves. The RIS III is designed to be kinder and gentler on the C-grip.

Is Daniel Defense Somehow Anti-Second Amendment?

One thing seen often in American gun culture is the curious and unhelpful phenomena of the firearm industry eating its own for little reason. Daniel over the past decade has had its share of heartburn with the community.

This included having to explain coincidentally advertising in Recoil at the time the Jerry Tsai MP7 scandal hit in 2012, causing a stir in 2013 when a pro-gun commercial submitted to air in Super Bowl XLVIII was drop kicked by Fox Sports, and, most recently, with its support for a Fix NICS bill.

Fix NICS is an ongoing program by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade group for the firearms industry, to spearhead correcting the various databases the FBI uses in its National Instant Criminal Background Check System– the program that vets over-the-counter gun transfers.

NSSF argues NICS is incomplete, and this leads to some who shouldn’t have guns being able to get them from a licensed dealer, which in turn opens liability to all concerned. In 2017, Daniel Defense and some other firearms makers voiced support for a bipartisan Fix NICS bill in the Senate to which Georgia Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson was a co-sponsor.

The support was instantly ridiculed by some who saw backing that particular Fix NICS measure as something akin to being Benedict Arnold or Aaron Burr. After the pushback, Marty withdrew his support for the proposal and issued a statement that said in part, “I believe that all firearms laws that limit the rights of law-abiding citizens are unconstitutional. I will never support any legislation which infringes on any individuals’ rights and could potentially subvert due process.”

Daniel Defense Second Amendment
One thing seen often in American gun culture is the curious and unhelpful phenomena of the firearm industry eating its own for little reason. Daniel over the past decade has had its share of heartburn with the community.

Giving Back

Today, Daniel Defense is a key sponsor of pro-2A groups such as the Second Amendment Foundation and the NRA.

In late 2021, Cindy Daniel, Marty’s longtime wife, and Daniel Defense’s executive vice president launched the Double D Foundation, a non-profit to protect “the Second Amendment by growing the number of Americans involved in the shooting sports, who understand the fundamentals of firearm safety, and who share the core belief that the Second Amendment Defends the Rest.”

The foundation holds fundraisers– often with donated Daniel Defense products as prizes– to contribute back to local shooting sports initiatives through grants, scholarships, and events. In the first five months of operations, the foundation donated over $1 million to support the activities of 75 different shooting sports organizations across Georgia.

Who is Ambush Firearms?

Ambush firearms 6.8
Daniel Defense entered the hunting-focused market in 2011 with Ambush Firearms, but folded Ambush back into Daniel around 2015.

In 2010, just a year after starting to make their first rifle, the DDM4, Daniel Defense branched out to create a subsidiary to market hunting ARs.

Dubbed Ambush Firearms, starting in 2011 these sport rifles appeared in a variety of camo finishes from Mossy Oak, Real Tree, and Kryptek. These guns, manufactured in small batches, were typically marketed with 5-round magazines and sans sights, as the full-length top Pic rail allows easy optics installation.

Besides .223 Rem, .308 Win, and .300 BLK, Ambush cataloged models in 6.8 SPC, one of the few makers to do so. However, the juice evidently wasn’t worth the squeeze and Daniel folded the spin-off back into the main company around 2015 and took the website down but still makes similar Hunter series sporting rifles under the Daniel Defense roll mark.

A trademark search shows the Ambush Firearms trademark just expired on March 11, 2022, so if you see such rifles marketed in the future, they probably won’t be from Daniel.

Hudson H9?

Hudson H9 at 2017 SHOT Show photo by American Firearms
Daniel Defense has picked up no less than 8 patents from various Hudson Manufacturing inventors, and has hired a brand anaysis firm to gauge market interest in an H9-inspired pistol. Might we see a DD Hudson in the future?

Hudson Manufacturing, based in Temple, Texas, made a big splash around 2016-2017 with a new take on the M1911.

Transitioning the classic pistol to a striker-fired design with a lower bore axis (“it’s all about the bore axis, fellas,”) their very interesting 15+1 capacity 9mm Hudson H9 handgun retailed for about $1,200 which is Sig Sauer and Wilson Combat level money without a Sig Sauer or Wilson Combat level name to back it up.

Speaking of which, Hudson Manufacturing, citing “supplier issues,” totally ghosted in late 2018 and went into bankruptcy, closing the door on the brand.

About that.

Starting in early 2020, Daniel Defense secured no less than eight abandoned patents (USD742985S1, US20170314881A1, US20140075799A1, US20160076835A1, US20180164058A1, US20200149834A1, US20160245602A1, and US10563940B2) all originally from inventors Billie Hudson, Lauren Hudson, Eugene Cannon Kane, and William A. Hangen, concerning the technology used on the Hudson H9. At roughly the same time, Daniel apparently hired Virginia brand analysis firm Hanover Research to gauge market potential for a pistol line that looked very H9-inspired.

Does all this mean that Daniel Defense is actively working on a re-release of the Hudson? Maybe. Maybe not. Time will tell.

Closing Thoughts

Daniel Defense started due to a bad golf game coupled with a spirit to innovate and deliver on what others in the black rifle market were ignoring.

This drive to fill in the blanks no one knew was missing has left Daniel near the top of the AR world– and they are just getting started. While lots of people like to talk about Daniel’s politics or past, often without warrant, the main thing they aren’t talking bad about is the guns, which are hard to beat.

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