Special Series

Earlier in the month I posted an article explaining why folks in the U.S. should consider an AK in 5.56 NATO / .223 Remington.  Well, the Zastava Arms produced, Century Arms imported PAP M90NP could be the Best of All Worlds.  It’s basically an imported AK chambered in 5.56 NATO /.223 Remington, that accepts AR-15 mags, and has some SPR-spec features.  If you can find one, you’d be hard pressed to do better for the ~$800 price point.

PAPM90NP-1

First, what’s an SPR?

SPR is currently accepted to mean “Special Purpose Rifle“, and references the M16/A4 rifle platform modified at SOCOM’s request for vastly improved, longer range accuracy and terminal performance.  The latest incarnation, the MK12 Mod 0, is used by U.S. Army Special Forces / Rangers, U.S. Navy SEALs and U.S.M.C. Force Recon.  While the complete list of MK12 Mod 0 SPR specs is detailed, I’m only going to highlight the 18″, free-floated, heavy-contoured barrel, and 1:7 twist rate for purposes of this post.  Those traits reduce barrel harmonics and stabilize heavier, 69 – 77 grain bullets, enabling the rifle to meet its goals.  Civilian legal (semi-auto) SPR rifles, SPR uppers, and those with ‘SPR-like‘ features are available, but anything AR based with SPR features runs well over a thousand dollars, and goes up very quickly from there.  We’ll come back these specs in a bit, so keep ’em in mind.

 

The Zastava M90NP:  A high-quality AK, chambered in 5.56 NATO offers SPR-like features for a very reasonable price!

PAPM90NP-2

Aside from just being an AK chambered in 5.56 NATO / .223 Remington, the M90NP provides a few SPR-spec features at fraction of the price. (I told you we’d come back to those specs.)  Zastava Arms has been producing firearms for 160 years, and currently produces a range of AK pattern, modern small arms for military, hunting and sporting purposes.  Not newcomers by any stretch, many of their offerings are a cut above, with a higher quality fit and finish and a better feature set than the competition.  The M90NP is no exception.  While the title of this post is admittedly a bit tongue-in-cheek (no mass produced AK is going to best a true mil-spec, hand-selected  SPR), the M90NP is loaded (pun intended) with great features, and ‘tics‘ quite a few SPR-spec boxes:

  • The M90NP has an 18.25”, cold hammer forged, heavy-contoured barrel, with a 1:7 twist.  By AK standards, the M90NP actually has a fairly thick barrel, a common trait of Zastava rifles.  That heavier, cold hammer forged, 18.25″ barrel, with a 1:7 twist provides improved longer range accuracy, and terminal ballistics, the same way that heavy, 18″ barrel and 1:7 twist do for an SPR.  Reduced barrel harmonics.  Longer powder burn.  Ability to stabilize heavier, more accurate, harder hitting bullets.  Those are great features for the money, certainly when you compare the M90NP to other 5.56 chambered AKs, and even when compared to entry level ARs in the ~$800 price range.  While AK isn’t traditionally known for match-grade accuracy, what are we really talking about, in practical terms?  Is it the difference between one-hole groups, and  2 – 5” groups at 100 yards?  That might not matter to the average, casual shooter.  It’s certainly not material for normal hunting, or defensive situations, where pie-plate and center of mass accuracy, respectively, are considered good enough.  Top the M90NP with a high-quality scope and, feed it match-grade, 69 – 77-grain ammo, and have the nut behind the trigger properly adjusted :-), and who knows how those groups might just tighten up quite nicely.  (We might just do that in the future.)
  • The M90NP takes ubiquitous, inexpensive M16/A4/AR-15 magazines.  That’s right.  Not only does the M90NP fire the most popular round in the U.S., but it also accepts all variants of the most popular magazine in the land, including GI issue mags and Magpul PMAG mags among others.  AK purists love to hate the polymer magazine adapter, and some have voiced concerns about its reliability, but polymer hasn’t been a problem for GLOCK.  It’s the same adapter used on the popular Zastava M85NP Pistol, and per all reports I’ve seen, it’s been proven rugged and reliable on both guns.  From a form over function perspective, this is actually a great, cost effective solution, especially when compared to other 5.56 AK variants that take proprietary, expensive magazines, which are sometimes as hard to find as the rifles themselves.
  • The M90NP is built like a tank because it’s based off a rifle designed with the ability to launch grenades.  The receiver is stamped from extra-thick, 1.5 mil steel, and it has the bugled front trunnion, so the M90NP is much stronger than the average AK.  While it certainly makes a great SHTF, camp or survival rifle, it’s no lightweight, and wouldn’t be my first if a lot of on-foot miles were on the agenda.  That said, the extra weight isn’t an issue for most recreational shooters or varmint / predator hunters.  If, God forbid, you need the M90NP in a defensive situation, I bet you won’t notice the 2 – 3 extra pounds, and I’m sure you’ll be thankful for the M90NP’s ruggedness and capability.

PAPM90NP-4

  • The M90NP has adjustable gas settings.  This is something you won’t even see on most AR’s, and it’s a nice feature.  Setting “1” allows the most amount of gas to escape, thereby driving the bolt rearward with the least amount of force, and having the least felt recoil.  Setting “2” is the middle setting, which is where most M90NP owners tend to leave it.  Setting “3” allows the least amount of gas to escape, thereby driving the bolt rearward with the most force.  I haven’t had the rifle long enough to really test this out, but in theory, setting “3” can come in handy if you’re shooting particularly light loads, or if your rifle is excessively dirty and having trouble cycling the bolt.  Just note setting “3” has the harshest felt recoil, and is harder on parts.

PAPM90NP5

  • The M90NP has a bolt hold open on the safety selector.  This is another nice trait of Zastava produced rifles, and actually a great overall safety feature.  Not only do many ranges require a bolt hold open of some kind, but being able to keep that bolt open can help you ensure your firearm is unloaded during cleaning and maintenance, or otherwise when working with your rifle.

PAPM90NP-3

So, who should consider the Zastava PAP M90NP?

Anyone looking for a cost effective, feature rich, modern sporting rifle based on arguably the most rugged, reliable platform in the World, that shoots the most popular round, and accepts the most popular magazines in the U.S.  Again, it’s the Best of All Worlds, with SPR-like features, from a company with a long history of producing high-quality, AK pattern rifles – and it’s relatively cheap.  

  • It’s an absolute blast (pun intended) at the range, and makes an outstanding ranch or truck gun – almost forgotten and basically neglected until needed.
  • If you’re heavily invested in the AR platform and ready for something new or different, the M90NP is a great, relatively low cost option.
  • If you’re AK-curious, the M90NP is the perfect option, without the need to commit to a new caliber, .  No new ammo, magazines or cleaning supplies.
  • If you’re an AK fan concerned about the future availability of cheap 7.62 x 39 ammo, the M90NP is an absolute no-brainer.
  • If you’re concerned about the future availability of such imported-based rifles, get an M90NP while you can.  

 

Competitive Options? How about, NONE!

Not only is the M90NP feature-wise the best 5.56 AK option available, but as of mid-2016, it’s the ONLY new production option readily available.  Arsenal discontinued their line of Bulgarian based SLR-106 5.56 chambered AK firearms in May 2013, making used SLR-106s very rare, and very expensive.  While supposedly new production, imported models exist, the Polish Beryl Archer is just as elusive, rare and expensive as the out of production SLR-106.  I couldn’t find a new Beryl Archer in-stock anywhere; not locally, nor online.  If you are lucky enough to find an SLR-106 or a Beryl Archer, expect to pay at least $1300, and that’s for a used rifle.

Hell, even if you could get a new SLR-106 or Beryl Archer, the M90NP has the better combination of features, for almost half the price, and may have a nicer fit and finish.  (I’ve not had a chance to get my hands on an SLR-106 or Beryl Archer for comparison purposes.)  The SLR-106 and Beryl Archer have 16.25″ barrels.  I’ll take the extra two inches.  (That’s what she said…)  The SLR-106 and Beryl Archer take proprietary, hard to find, imported, expensive magazines.  Neither has a selectable gas block.  Finally, the Polish Beryl Archer’s barrel has a 1:10 twist rate, which is a bit too restrictive for shooting heavier grain bullets.  So, unless you’re a collector who needs the Arsenal SLR-106 or the Polish Beryl Archer, I can’t think of one logical reason to pay over 50% more for arguably less rifle.  I’ll happily take the new-production, M90NP all day long, every day, with it’s heavier 18.25″, cold hammer forged, 1:7 twist barrel and AR magazines, and I’ll spend the leftover five-hundie on accessories, ammo and magazines.  Century Arms International has exclusive rights as the sole importer of M90NP rifles, and they are in-fact out of stock, with no plans that I’m aware of to get more anytime soon.  Get one SOON if you’re considering one of these fine, high-quality, feature-rich, imported rifles.    

 

Where to purchase the Zastava PAP M90NP.

If you’re in Northern NJ, you can find a great selection of Zastava PAP M90NP rifles, with all of the extremely important compliance work already done, as well as many other fantastic firearms and accessories, at RTSP in Randolph.  Of course, RTSP is an FFL, so even if you are not in NJ, they will be more than happy to ship an M90NP to your local FFL, and if you live in another ban state, RTSP is more than capable of completing any compliance work that needs to be done before shipping the rifle.  Just make sure you let them know exactly what needs to be done, since you are responsible for knowing your local laws!

I may do a future range review, but if you are not familiar with them, RTSP is Northern NJ’s premier indoor range, store and training facility.  They’ve earned a Nation Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) 5-Star range rating, which means RTSP demonstrates excellence in all aspects of management and operations, including appearance, customer service, amenities, customer development and community relations.  Their entire staff, including on-site gunsmiths, is extremely knowledgeable and friendly.  Their range facility is fantastic, with a huge selection of rental guns.  Their large retail space is fully stocked with handguns, rifles and shotguns, from the most high-end, semi-custom and custom works of art, to the more common, everyday guns, and they have plenty of popular accessories in stock.  Their state of the art training facility includes classroom, range, shoot house and digital simulation capabilities.

Check out this fantastic video for more info on RTSP:

 

When selecting the rifle for this review, the extremely knowledgeable and friendly staff at RTSP allowed me to examine their entire inventory of at least a half-dozen M90NP rifles, so I could hand-pick the best one – and they didn’t rush me at all!  Lest anyone think I got special treatment, this was during normal business hours, with plenty of other patrons around.  I almost couldn’t believe it.  That level of customer service is a stark contrast to other places I’ve shopped, where it took effort to get the owner to take even just one rifle down from the wall for me to examine, when I was the only person in the store.  Anyway, I ran down the usual, ‘imported AK QC checklist’ while looking over the M90NPs in RTSP’s inventory, checking for loose rivets on the receiver, canted front sights, canted gas selector hold-downs, or cycling issues.  Honestly, all of RTSP’s M90NPs were good.  Any one of them would have been acceptable.  In fact, I was surprised at how buttery smooth the M90NP’s action cycled, compared to some N-PAP M70 AK’s I’ve handled in the past.

Normally I would field strip, and thoroughly clean any new gun before taking it to the range.  I was already at the range, short on time, and as Brad and I joked, the M90NP is an AK…  So after Brad graciously allowed me perform a basic function check and run a bore snake down the barrel to ensure the rifle was safe to fire, I headed right to RTSP’s 25-yard rifle range…

How does it shoot?  What do I like, or not like?  What’s next?

You’ll just have to wait!  This post is already a monster.  Who knows, it might even be the start of a new series.  I have two different range reports and a bunch of changes in mind I may share in the future.  I mean, it’s already a bastardized, non-purist AK, so it’s the perfect platform to mod!

Be Aware! Be Prepared! Be Safe!

© 2016 Inside The X Ring.

ak-47s

There are many who believe Mikhail Kalashnikov’s rifle design, itself heavily influenced by John Garand’s M1, is the most rugged and reliable rifle platform in the World.  Since being introduced in 1947, the AK-47 has been involved in every single, major world conflict, and while slightly refined over the last 69 years, the basic, fundamental, operating design remains unchanged.  If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.  The AK-47 has certainly endured the test of time, and proven itself reliable in some of the worst conditions imaginable.  Like it or hate it, you have to agree that even purely as a mechanical device, the AK-47 deserves serious respect!  It can be ridden hard, and put away wet, with minimal maintenance, and just keeps going.  (Not something I recommend you try with an AR.)

GoldenTiger762In case you haven’t noticed (2016 Firearms Industry Predictions & Why You Need to Consider the AK-47), the AK has become extremely popular in the United States over the last few years.  As of this writing, a variety of import based, and 100% U.S. made AK pattern rifles are available to civilians.  Big-name, major accessory manufactures, like Magpul and Geissele, have also started producing AK specific products, highlighting and increasing its continued popularity.  (If you build it, they will come…)  That said, most current AK offerings are chambered in traditional 7.62 x 39.  That’s understandable since 7.62 x 39 is easy to shoot, proven very effective, and for the moment…yes, for the moment…good, non-corrosive, imported ammo is both cheap, and plentiful.  Did I say for the moment?

The Case for an AK in 5.56 NATO!

556bullets

DCF 1.0

Different 5.56 NATO Rounds

We in the United States of America are a nation of AR-15 fans.  It’s estimated that throughout the U.S., there are between 1.5 – 3.2 million AR-15s owned by civilians, and the great majority of them are chambered in 5.56 NATO / .223 Remington.  (As of mid-2016, that’s probably a low estimate, and doesn’t include all of the other semi-automatic and bolt action rifles also chambered for 5.56 NATO / .223 Remington, many of which accept AR-15 magazines.)  That means 5.56 NATO / .223 Remington and AR-15 magazines are ubiquitous.  I’m sure most of you have at least a few hundred rounds of 5.56 / .223 Remington, and at least a handful of AR-15 magazines in your house right now, not counting any secret stash.  Lucky for us, the 5.56 x 45 is a NATO cartridge, so chances are very good 5.56 / .223 ammunition will continue to be readily available and affordable, well into the foreseeable future.  

So 5.56 / .223 is plentiful, affordable, fun and easy to shoot all day long, without developing the dreaded flinch.  It’s a great round for general target shooting / paper punching, competition, varmint hunting, predator control and certainly home defense.  Hey, the 5.56 x 45 is still the intermediate cartridge of choice for all NATO countries.  The same cannot be said for 7.62 x 39.

What happens if the administration decides to ban the import of all 7.62 x 39 ammunition, which can happen in an instant, with the stroke of a pen?  How long would your current supply last?  How easy would it be to find more?  How much could you borrow or barter for from friends and neighbors?  Sure, a few big name U.S. ammo manufacturers have started producing 7.62 x 39, but have you checked prices?? I wouldn’t exactly call it cheap!!  Purists will have a hard time accepting an AK-47 chambered in anything that doesn’t begin with 7.62, and end with 39, but there’s definitely a lot more 5.56 NATO / .223 Remington than 7.62 x 39 out there, and the 5.56 / .223’s long-term future is definitely more secure.  If you live in the U.S., having the most rugged and reliable rifle in the world, chambered in the most common, readily available caliber in the country makes a lot of sense.

 

Be Aware! Be Prepared! Be Safe!

© 2016 Inside The X Ring.

You guessed it.  I Built My Own!

SP223

Here’s the story.

By mid-November 2012, I vowed to make a purchase I had previously put off for far too long.  It would be similar to an AR, one of the most popular rifles in modern, U.S. History.  When you look at the service record and historical significance, plus the NRA Instructor training tool, recreational, competition, hunting and self / home defense applications of the rifle, I almost can’t believe I waited so long to pull the trigger. (pun intended)

Like most of my readers, I wanted one for a long time.  Also like most of my readers, I need to balance financial responsibilities and I take my gun purchases very seriously.  With the political landscape threatening the Constitutionally provided, Second Amendment American Right more than ever, I decided it was time.  (Isn’t it amazing how demand for an item dramatically increases when people fear they won’t be able to get that item in the future?)

While I really wanted to build one, I couldn’t build something similar to the Stag Arms Model 3G for less than what it cost at my LGS (Local Gun Store).  It was there.  Fully assembled.  Warrantied.  Immediately Good-to-Go.  That Stag 3G is a great gun, and represents tremendous value for the money.  So, after saving up the funds, the day finally came when I went to my LGS, cash in hand, to put my money down on a Stag Arms Model 3G.

I was a day late, and dollar short as they say.  Literally, just one day before, someone else had put a deposit down on the last 3G in stock.  Shortly after that, I committed to building my own.  I’d get exactly what I wanted, plus the skills, experience and sense of pride that comes with doing the work myself.

Decisions, Decisions: The Quest for Best of Breed Components

Some decisions were made long before I even decided to build my own.  I Chose Bravo Company USA for the complete Upper, BCG (Bolt Carrier Group) and Charging Handle.  It wasn’t even a question.  My Dad is a United States Marine.  My Father-In-Law is a United States Marine.  Some of my close friends are United States Marines.  BCM (Bravo Company Manufacturing) was founded in 2005 by a veteran United States Marine, recently back from the theater.  Headquartered in Hartland, Wisconsin, BCM products “are manufactured, reinforced and tested to meet the unforgiving needs of law enforcement, military, security and peace keeping professionals in some of the most high stress environments and situations in the world.

Travis Haley, a veteran Force Reconnaissance Marine with 15 years of dedicated real world experience, former CEO of Magpul Dynamics & Magpul Industries, and founder of Haley Strategic Partners chooses BCM rifles.

Pat Rogers, a retired Chief Warrant Officer Of Marines, and retired NYPD Sergeant, and founder of E.A.G. Tactical chooses BCM Rifles.  In fact, BCM built, now famous ‘Filthy 14‘ was one of the rifles used in Pat’s carbine classes.

See where I’m goin’ with all this?  You’d be hard pressed to find better company.  Sure, you can go elsewhere, and you can certainly spend more money, but I don’t think you’ll find a better product.  I also respect BCM for not gouging customers when market conditions allowed. On top of their outright qualifications, that’s a class act!

I covered it in my post on AR Trends, but again quickly, I’m not a fan of the currently ‘tacticool’ SBR (Short Barreled Rifle) for practical civilian purposes.  Nor am I a fan of the Quad Rail.  Ultimately, I decided on a BCM 16” Mid-Length Standard Upper, with a Free Floated 13” VTAC Alpha Rail.  The 16” barrel gives the relatively small, light.22 caliber projectile more velocity than an SBR, or rifle with a 14.5” barrel. The increased velocity results in better terminal ballistics and aids in longer range shooting.  Let’s be honest, the 16″ barrel is still short enough for, God Forbid, most Civilian CQB or Home Defense scenarios.  The Mid-length gas system is more reliable and easier shooting than shorter, 7″ Carbine length gas system.  The free floated 13” VTAC Rail aids accuracy two ways; first by free floating the barrel, and second by allowing me to put my front BUS (Back-Up Sight) as far forward as possible, extending the sight radius.

I Chose Seekins Precision  for the Lower Receiver.  While the Lower Receiver generally doesn’t get much love, it is the glue that holds everything else together.  It’s also the serialized component of the build, technically considered the firearm.  I spent an almost embarrassing amount of time looking at gun rags, combing through catalogs and scouring the Internet for purposes of this build.  The Seekins Precision SP223 GEN2 Billet Lower Receiver, made from 7075-T6 aluminum, just kept catching my eye, and coming in very high in the reviews.  Not only is this lower well built, but its got all kinds of well thought out, usable, extra features –  and it’s got nice curves in all the right places.  Honestly, I think it’s sexy.  This is another U.S. made product that functions as well as it looks, created by someone with a passion to improve the current state.  Done Deal!  When you click on the link above, I recommend you check out the ‘About‘ page.  Like Bravo Company Manufacturing and Magpul Industries, it’s an inspiring American Success Story.

I Chose Stag Arms for the LPK (Lower Parts Kit).  I provide a quick overview of Stag Arms in my previous post on Current AR Product Choices, but Stag was spawned from a company that has been supplying LPK’s to military since the 1970’s.  Stag also produces 80% of their parts in-house, again right here, in the U.S.A.

I Chose Giessele Automatics for the Trigger Group.  Any shooter worth their salt knows that accuracy comes from a combination of factors, but trigger squeeze is always near the top of that list.  One way to help improve trigger control is to ensure the trigger in your gun has a smooth, crisp, clean break, and reasonable pull weight for your application.  Since I originally honed-in on the Stag 3G, I went with an offering comparable to what Stag puts in that model.  Here again, it’s another U.S. company born from a passion.  Be sure to check out their ‘About‘ page.

I Chose Magpul Industries for the Furniture (Stock & Pistol Grip), the Back-Up Iron Sights (BUS) and Magazines.   Similar to BCM, Magpul was founded by a former United States Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance Sergeant.  The company is well known for its almost indestructible, mostly polymer based, user-configurable modules that build upon existing firearms to improve the functionality, or operation of the firearm.  Honestly, this was another ‘no-brainer’.  After my choice for the Upper, BCG and Charging Handle, you can’t tell me your surprised?!  When you click on the link above to check out their vast array of products, including iPhone cases, and all made in the U.S.A.!  Be sure to read the INNOVATION page, which should be required reading for Business School!

 

From a Collection of Very Fancy Paperweights to a Functioning Work of Art!

Obviously, my build wasn’t guided strictly by cost.  I wasn’t trying to build a rifle as inexpensively as possible.  Instead, I was guided by passion, and a desire to build the Best rifle I could build, within my means.  When you take a step back, hopefully you see much more than just a list of parts.  You should see a collection of carefully selected, specifically chosen, highly specialized, Best of Breed components.

In much the same way that each of these companies was founded, embody the American Spirit, and manufacture their components, I made my choices based first and foremost on quality and performance.  I couldn’t be happier with my build.  In the end, I created one Hot, Bad-Ass looking piece of hardware.

Fine, you say, but beauty’s s only skin deep.  How does she function? How does she shoot?

…for that, you’ll have to wait for next time.

Be Aware! Be Prepared! Be Safe!

For the second time since July, a post from Inside The X Ring’s AR-15 Series has been featured on AmmoLand. Check it out! http://www.ammoland.com/2013/10/ar-15-rifle-choices/#axzz2iGDxbu00

AmmoLand ammoland_logo_1is one of THE most popular, most informative and best firearms / shooting sports news sites in the United States of America.  Covering a wide range of topics from antique guns to gun politics, with a long list of distinguished, qualified contributors from around the country, and with frequently updated content, AmmoLand should be near the top of your short-list for broader firearms & shooting sports news.  In fact, any way you slice it, AmmoLand consistently ranks in the Top 5 of the Top 25 Gun Blogs, frequently occupying those coveted Number 1, and 2 spots.

I consider it an honor for Inside The X Ring to be featured on AmmoLand.

 

Though, from there the post was picked up, and re-posted on some other great firearms sites, like Columbus Ohio Gunsmith (AH Gunsmithing) and Guns ‘N Gold.

Sincere Thanks for Your Support!

Be Aware! Be Prepared! Be Safe!

COLT LE901-16S: .308 & 5.56

The COLT LE901-16S: .308 & 5.56 Capable

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  The AR-15 market is on fire.  In my last post I talked about current AR-15 market trends.  This time I focus on points to help you make well informed product decisions.

Long gone are the days of only ABC AR-15 choices, for ARMALITE, Bushmaster or COLT.  As of autumn 2013, there are almost countless AR-15 product choices available on the market.  Even still, almost daily there seem to be new product offerings, and even new manufacturers popping up in the AR-15 market.  You should also notice that more and more, a plethora of AR style rifles are back in stock at your Local Gun Store (LGS).  So with such a dizzying array of options, how do you narrow down the field, and make a well informed choice?  (This one is short on pictures, but long on content and links.)

Ponder This…

As with any gun purchase, before you pull the trigger on that new AR-15, spend time answering the following four very important questions:

1. What is your Purpose, or Philosophy of Use (POU)? Why are you buying this AR-15?  How will you use the AR-15?  What realistically will you be doing with your AR-15 most of the time?

2. What is your current and future budget? My advice is to spend a little more upfront for better quality.  Sure, it’ll sting a little now, but you won’t regret it down the road.  Nor will you spend more money fixing or replacing it later.

3. How might your AR-15 evolve over time, and how might your overall collection of firearms evolve over time?  Is this your only rifle?  Will your A-15 have to flex into many different roles?  Might your POU change over time?  Is hunting in your future? Is competition in your future?  Is a Zombie Apocalypse in your future?  (Obviously, that’s a joke, but Zombies, and marketing to the Zombie Apocalypse are huge in the firearms and survival / prepper industries.  Hell, there’s even a zombie in one of the latest Sprint mobile phone commercials.)

4. What are the Federal, State and Local laws applicable to this purchase?  Though your vendor of choice, be it your LGS or an Internet site, should provide assistance here, it’s still your responsibility to know the laws that relate to your new purchase.

 

Don’t Sweat It.  You almost can’t go wrong…

Competition is generally a good thing.  The result of healthy competition is lots of product choice, better overall product quality, and better (lower) prices for the end consumer.  All of that is absolutely true in the AR-15 market.  As of fall 2013, many AR-15 manufacturers make high quality rifles, parts and accessories at very reasonable prices.  Generally speaking, and for most civilian POUs, if you stick with a well known manufacturer, with a good history of quality rifles, and a strong reputation for customer service, you almost can’t go wrong.

At a high level, AR-15 manufacturers fall into two categories:

  1. Manufacturers that focus on nothing but the M16 / M4 / AR-15 platform, and produce nothing but AR-15s, and related parts.
  2. More commonly known, traditional gun makers that make AR-15 style rifles.

 

The MIL-Spec Designation…

OK, what is the Military Specification for M16 and M4 rifles as it relates to the AR-15?  What does it mean?  Is it important?

Honestly, it’s surprisingly difficult to define the MIL-Spec definition as it relates to the AR-15.  Some argue if the gun hasn’t been handed out by one of the branches of the U.S. Military, complete with select / burst fire, and if you’re not carrying it for Uncle Sam, then it’s not MIL-Spec.  Others have written nauseatingly long (even for me) articles that discuss each and every individual component of the AR-15 relative to the M16 / M4 Military Specification.  Others say parts of the M16 / M4 MIL-Spec are still, well, classified…

For simplicity sake, so that you are generally aware of them, commonly agreed upon and highly favored features from the M16 / M4 Military Specification are listed below:

1. MPI (Magnetic Particle Inspected), pressure tested, shot peened bolt.  MPI and pressure testing help ensure parts are structurally sound, devoid of cracks and less likely to fail.  Shot peening is a metallurgical process that increases strength and useful life.  The rods in the engine of your car are also shot peened, for the very same reason.
2. Properly staked gas key on the bolt carrier.  ‘Properly staked’ speaks to how the gas key is attached to the bolt carrier so they don’t separate at the most inopportune time.
3. 4150 or CMV chrome lined pressure and MPI tested 1:7 twist barrel.  The chrome lining improves reliability, is less susceptible to fouling, reduces corrosion and enhances feeding & extraction.  The 1:7 twist is fast enough to spin heavier, longer bullets that provide better long range accuracy and stopping power.
4. 5.56 NATO chamber with M4 feed ramps.  The 5.56 NATO chamber allows you to safely fire both full-power NATO spec 5.56 and .223 Remington ammunition.  The M4 feed ramps ensure proper feeding of ammunition to help reduce malfunctions, especially at high rates of fire.
5. Forged FSB (Front Sight Block) (F marked if carbine) with parkerizing under it.  Forged for strength.  F marked for carbines with a flat top upper to properly align the height of the front sight with the height of the MIL-spec rear iron sight.
6. Tapered pins for the FSB.  Tapered pins only go in one way, and have a tighter fit than straight pins so they reduce the risk of working themselves out over time.
7. MIL-Spec size receiver extension (buffer tube), with staked castle nut.  Commercial tubes are smaller in diameter than MIL-Spec size tubes.  This is important if you plan to change stocks.

If you make a living with your AR-15, or are otherwise selecting something for work, then learning more about the M16 / M4 Military Specification, and trying to obtain an AR-15 as close to the M16 / M4 MIL-Spec as possible is well advised.  (Though, you may be better served with an actual select fire / burst capable M16 / M4 from FN or COLT, which as far as I know, can only be obtained the traditional way…)  In any event, God Speed, Good Luck, and I’m totally stoked you read my stuff!

For the rest of us, the average civilian buying an AR-15 for plinking, hunting, home defense and/or competition; don’t get wrapped around the axle about the MIL-Spec designation.  Sure, many of the seven MIL-Spec traits listed above are nice to have – some certainly more than others.  (MPI and pressure tested bolts and barrels are nice to have, especially if taking your AR-15 to carbine class, where you will fire thousands of rounds, potentially at a high rate of fire, in a short time period with little cleaning between firing.  Likewise, if using your AR-15 primarily for defense purposes, MPI and pressure tested bolts and barrels add confidence in your equipment. Is it needed for most casual plinkers who likely shoot less than 1,000 rounds all year??  Shooters focused on getting the best possible, hair splitting accuracy from their rifle may opt for non-chrome lined barrels, and accept the negative trade-offs.  Fine if going with a stainless steel barrel, but otherwise I like chrome lined barrels in the AR-15 platform for reliability and longevity.  I doubt most will notice any trade-off in accuracy.  That forged F marked FSB and the tapered FSB pins are only relevant if you’re building a flat top carbine with the traditional front sight.  Have an A2 style or other non-collapsible stock, or otherwise happy with the one you have with no plans to swap it out?  Then don’t even worry about the MIL-Spec sized receiver extension.)

The point is, there are plenty of excellent, high quality AR-15s put out by great manufacturers that lack more than a few of the MIL-Spec features listed above; some are even used by major US Law Enforcement agencies.  Focus more on overall AR-15 build quality and manufacturer reputation.

 

My ‘Two-Cents’ Worth “Who’s Who” List of AR-15 Manufacturers… (It’s actually worth thirty-seven dollars and change.)

most interesting man in the world

Knowing my audience is generally newer to guns, and possibly brand new to the AR-15 platform, the section below provides baseline info, some company history and my thoughts on a number of AR-15 manufacturers.  I also indicate whether or not the manufacturer made my ‘short-list’.   In many cases, what did NOT make my ‘short-list’ came down to very simple things like personal taste, cost or simply having to limit the number of choices to avoid the dreaded, never-ending analysis paralysis.  

Providing this list is a risky endeavor.  I’m sure to piss off more than a few since I could never cover all of the choices, nor do all of them justice.  Hey, I’m sharing what I know from personal research and experience.  Consider it a starting point for your own research, certainly not the “be all, end all,” answer.

 

Category 1: Manufacturers Who Focus Solely on the M16 / M4 / AR-15 Platform:

The names you are most likely see on the wall of your LGS, or at the local range, some history and my thoughts on each:

Bushmaster Bushmaster is one of the original names in civilian AR production, dating back to 1973.  However, circa 2010, Bushmaster was purchased by the Freedom Group, which also owns Remington Arms and Marlin. Honestly, I can’t say whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.  I have no personal experience with a Freedom Group Bushmaster.  I can tell you that my Remington 700 CDL is outstanding in fit and finish, and quite the tack driver.  Though I realize the Remington 700 is no AR-15.  When it was time for my decision, I feared company integration, retooling and retraining challenges, so Freedom Group owned Bushmaster didn’t make my short-list.  If buying today, I’d keep an open mind, do my research and check them out again.

DPMS, Defense Procurement Manufacturing Services Founded in 1985 as precision machine shop producing MIL-Spec parts for the Government.  DPMS eventually started producing complete rifles and expanded into the civilian market.  DPMS is a large supporter of 3-Gun sports.  Their TAC2 offering received was named Shooting Illustrated’s Rifle of the YearDPMS might have made my short list.  However, at decision time they didn’t have an offering I considered aesthetically pleasing.  For me that’s a factor.  Call it what you want; appeal, second kind of cool, pleasing to the eye, sexiness, whatever…  With so many other good choices available, I wasn’t willing to compromise.  Though I’ll say some of their newer stuff certainly has appeal, the ‘TAC2’ and ‘3G2’ being great examples.

Rock River Arms Founded circa 1997 by two brothers with gun building experience that includes serving as the head armorer at Springfield Armory, and custom pistol builder at Les Baer Customs.  RRA was founded from Day 1 with a focus on the AR-15 platform.   In 2003 RRA was awarded a contract with the DEA to provide 5,000 LAR-15s.  RRA was on my short-list.

STAG Arms “The oldest new name in ARs.”  Officially started as its own company in 2003, Stag Arms is an offshoot of CMT (Continental Machine & Tool) who has been a major producer of component parts for military and consumer AR-15s since the Vietnam War.  In 2003, they decided to produce their own, complete rifles for the civilian market, instead of just remaining a background, component part supplier for other, major name brands.  Stag is a supporter of 3-Gun sports and with their high-end 3G, was the first major AR manufacturer to offer a 3-Gun specific model.  Stag Arms was on my short-list.  In fact, the STAG 3G topped my list.

Windham Weaponry Started in 2011 by the former founder and owner of Bushmaster Arms.  The company was started after the Freedom Group purchased Bushmaster, moved operations out of the area and laid-off the original employees.  In many cases, Windham Weaponry employees have been making ARs for ~25 years or more.  Based on personal experience with what I’ll call a Windham Weaponry produced Bushmaster that’s been in the family for ~10 years, Windham Weaponry would definitely make my short-list.  However, as with DPMS, they didn’t have anything I considered visually appealing at decision time.  I do like some of their newer stuff, like their ‘Timber’ and ‘CDI’ offerings.

Additional names of other very popular AR-15 specific rifle and parts manufacturers you will hear as you dig deeper into the AR-15 platform are listed below.  They are considered by many to be higher-end, and/or more specialized than those listed above.  In most cases the price tag matches that reputation.  Depending on where you live and what your LGS carries, these are not as likely to be hanging on the wall or in the rack of your LGS, so trying to get your hands on one may be difficult.

SWATFilthy14BCM – Bravo Company USA. On my short-list, not only for parts like their BCG and uppers, but for complete rifles, and because of the company’s origins.  Click here to learn about Filthy 14.

CMMG. Based originally on making AR-15 parts and accessories, they now produce complete rifles.  Their AR-15 .22lr conversion kits are very popular and have a solid reputation for quality and performance.

Daniel DefenseOn my short-list.

LMT – Lewis Machine and Tool. On my short-list.

LaRue Tactical. On my short-list.

Noveske. On my short-list, at the time specifically for their barrels, which have a great reputation for accuracy.  Now they make other parts and even complete rifles too. 

Seekins Precision. On my short-list.

Spikes Tactical Their lowers are extremely popular and have a good reputation for quality with the build your own crowd.

It’s worth noting, and as you probably figured out from the history and my comments, almost all of AR specific manufacturers listed above offer not just complete rifles, but parts for those that want to build or upgrade their AR-15.

 

Category 2: Traditional Gun Makers with Strong AR-15 style offerings:

While ARMALITE and COLT have pretty much always had AR-15 offerings for the civilian market, it took a while for other, more traditional gun makers to get into the game.  With the AR-15 platform still popular as ever, many of those traditional gun makers are now in on the action.  Big names you’re sure to recognize:

ARMALITE

COLT

Heckler & Koch

Mossberg

Ruger

Sig Sauer

Smith & Wesson

It might be a surprising revelation, but not many offerings from the list above made my ‘short-list’ of AR-15 choices.  You’ll learn a bit more about why in my next post – hint, hint.  To be clear, they all make perfectly fine AR-15 style rifles.  COLT still makes M16s and M4s for military, which should tell you something, and let’s not forget it was an H&K416 in the hands of a NAVY SEAL that took down bin Laden.  If you’re in the AR-15 market, I’d put every single one on your ‘short-list’. 

As you might expect, and in contrast to the manufacturers that focus completely on the AR-15 platform, almost none of the traditional gun makers offer parts for those that want to build their own.  So, I don’t believe you can purchase a COLT or S&W upper to mate with your STAG lower, etc.  I’m sure it’s related to warranty and liability issues.

Finally, if nothing from the dizzying array of “factory” options excites you, and if you have the coin, you can always pony-up for an ultra high-end, hand fitted AR-15 from some of the best names in the custom gun making business, like Les Baer or Wilson Combat.

 

Summing It Up

The AR-15 market is so strong you can get just about anything you want.  You can get a new, good quality Plain Jane, entry level AR-15 from more than a few of the manufacturers I list for about $800 – 900, maybe less.  You can get a completely custom, high-end, hand built rifle from some of the best custom makers in the World.  (Just bring your wallet because you will easily spend well into the thousands.)  Of course, you can get anything in between, and you can even build your own.  No doubt it’s a great time to buy in on the AR platform.

For my money, I like manufactures with a strong pedigree of Military and/or Law Enforcement service.  Companies that supply the Military and LE community, and those that supply those that supply all rank very high on my list. (savy?)  I also favor products designed by, and manufactured by guys who have operated in the theater of war.  God willing, these guys come home with first hand knowledge of exactly what works, what doesn’t and how to improve the platform.  In all cases, what passes their testing and performs successfully in the field for them, will more than likely work just fine for me.

That said, my best advice is this:  Define your POU and your budget then hit every LGS in your area.  Handle as many AR-15 style rifles as you can.  Cycle the action.  After you’ve verified the gun is unloaded, and asked if it’s OK with the LGS owner or salesman, dry fire the rifle.  Better yet, get some real trigger time.  Hit the range with family and friends, or find a range that rents.  Shoot as many AR-15 style rifles, from as many different manufacturers as possible

The truth is, with so many manufacturers producing quality AR-15s in the $900 – $1500 range, and for all legal, civilian uses I can think of, what’s stamped on the parts matters less than getting a rifle that fits you properly, has a good trigger, is setup correctly for your POU, is within your budget, and that generally appeals to your liking.  After all, it’s your rifle, you should like it!

Anyway, that’s my “Thirty Seven dollars and change” worth of advice on the AR-15 Market.  Hope it helps.  Let me know what you decide and how it worked out.

Be Aware! Be Prepared! Be Safe!

The Latest in AR Trends, and My Thoughts on Each (for whatever it’s worth…)

LaRuecostaprofile556

Like any industry, the firearm industry has its trends, and even its share of fads.  This is especially true in the tactical, or “tacticool” community, where things change as fast and as often as Kate Upton changes outfits for the SI Swimsuit edition.  Hey Now…

Tactical, “Tacticool” Trends:

The Navy’s MK 12.  A few years back, the MK 12, all variants and copies, were hot.  With an 18 inch barrel, the MK 12 is short enough for most CQB work and doesn’t compromise balance, maneuverability or handling too much.  Yet, the slightly longer barrel length (when compared to a “standard” AR, with a 16 inch barrel) lends itself to a rifle length gas system, (for lower perceived recoil and better reliability with a wider spectrum of loads), allows for a longer sight radius (the distance between front and rear sights) which aides long range accuracy.  The longer barrel also allows for a longer powder burn time before the bullet exists the muzzle, which improves bullet velocity, and terminal ballistics.  I get it.  Too bad anything MK 12 was priced through the roof, and for whatever reason, 18 inch barrel ARs have yet to really catch on.  (Though perhaps this is itself a currently changing trend.  See trends in competition.)

Today it’s Short-Barreled Rifles (SBRs).  SB-whaaat?  In the eyes of the Law, any rifle with a barrel less than 16 inches is considered an SBR.  If legal in your state, you must pay the BATF a special tax of around ~$200 to own one.  That’s $200 beyond the cost of the rifle.  To get around the official SBR designation and still have a “tacticool”, SBR-like rifle, it’s popular to use a 14.5 inch barrel and a permanently attached muzzle device long enough to bring the overall barrel length to just over 16 inches.  (Permanently attached muzzle devices are considered part of the barrel and counted when measuring barrel length.)  Frankly, I don’t get it.  Sure, if your job is clearing houses, dwellings, or caves, then it makes total sense.  Otherwise, for most civilians, and unless you just want it because, “it’s cool”, I don’t think the SBR makes much sense.

When you shorten the barrel of a gun, any gun, there is less time for gun powder to burn before the bullet exits the muzzle.  Less powder burn time results in less bullet velocity.  Less bullet velocity results in less kinetic energy, or terminal ballistics.  Bullet velocity also has an effect on bullet drop, and Point of Impact (POI).  It’s simple physics, and this is one case, where less definitely isn’t more.  When talking 55 – 77 grain .22 caliber bullets, I’ll take as much oomph as possible, thank you very much…  I didn’t even get into the fact that barrel length largely dictates gas system length.  Gas system length affects both perceived recoil and reliability, or at least the flexibility to reliably run various loads of ammo.  (That’s why a lot of carbines specify the strict use of full power, 5.56 ammo. ARs with carbine length gas systems may not function reliably with lighter powered .223 ammunition.)  Also, the shorter sight radius associated with shorter barrels makes it harder to be accurate on long range targets.  The slightest change in sight picture or sight alignment at the gun can translate into big changes on the target.  This gets magnified as target range increases.  Finally, you may want to change-out muzzle devices (if legal in your state.)  That’s a more difficult task when the muzzle device is permanently attached.  Yes, we’re splitting hairs, but to me, that’s too much compromise to save 1 – 1.25 inches in overall length when compared to a “standard” 16 inch barrel with 1 inch muzzle device.  (And honestly, as a civilian, how often will you or I be clearing rooms, or otherwise engaged in a CQB situation with our ARs??… Hopefully Never!)  ARs with the “standard” 16 inch barrel, or slightly longer 18 -20 inch barrels work great for most civilians.

Trends in Barrel Twist Rates.  It’s like the AT&T commercial, faster is better.  If you plan to routinely shoot heavier bullets, like 77 grain match bullets, then faster rifling, like a 1:7, or 1:8 twist rate will be a better choice.  In general, the faster twist rate gives you more flexibility in terms of the ammo you can accurately fire from your AR.  Options are good.  However, don’t rush to throw out all those ARs with 1:9 twist barrels, especially if you’re predominantly punching paper with with 55 – 62 grain bullets.  You never know, that 1:9 twist might just surprise you with some heavier bullets.

Trends in Action Type.  DI still works just fine.  Not long ago you couldn’t get away from the Direct Impingement (DI) Vs. Piston debate.  Bottom line: Shooting generates heat, and guns are mechanical devices.  The heat has to go somewhere, and all mechanical devices require some level of cleaning and maintenance to reliably function properly.  The military has been using select fire DI guns for over 50 years.  For most civilians, with semi-auto ARs, DI is just fine.

Trends in Gas System Lengths, and Buffers. Rifle Vs. Mid Vs. Carbine?  H, H2 or H3 Carbine Buffer?  Carbines can be picky.  Rifles with carbine length gas systems result in higher perceived recoil when compared to rifles with mid and rifle length gas systems.  Also, if the gas system and the buffer aren’t paired well, it could result in reliability issues, or at least limit the ammo you can run.  On a rifle with a carbine length gas system, you might need to run nothing but full power 5.56 MIL spec ammo for reliability.  This may or may not be an issue for you, as it’s pertinent to someone building a rifle, but at least now you know.  If you buy something off the rack, be confident your manufacturer did their job, and put the right parts together.

Trends in Competition Shooting.  3-Gun competition is hot . 3-Gun specific ARs are Smokin’, and with good reason.  ARs have been hugely popular on the competition circuit for many years.  This is nothing new.  This popularity is a result of the AR’s reliability, ease of use, low recoil, standard 30 round count, the plethora of available accessories, and the rifles inherent good accuracy, which can be made outstanding.  What is (relatively) new, is the action shooting sport of 3-Gun, and man has it caught on!  Everything that makes the AR perfect for more traditional bullseye competitions, plus the AR’s well balanced, highly maneuverable, quick handling characteristics make it perfect for high action, run and gun type sports like 3-Gun.  Stag Arms was first to recognize this trend, design, build and market a rifle just for the needs of 3-Gun competitors.  Rock River Arms, DPMS, Bushmaster and many others have since followed suit.  Most factory 3-Gun ARs have 18 inch, upgraded or match grade barrels, upgraded triggers and other components aimed to give you the edge in competition.

Trends in Hunting.  In many states, it is not legal to hunt deer, or larger sized game with the the 5.56 NATO, .223 Remington as they are considered too light, or small, for ethically harvesting such animals.  That said, those cartridges are just about perfect for hunting predators, like coyote and fox, whose numbers seem to be exploding everywhere across the country.  (Read into that however you like…)  Many manufacturers have models designed and marketed specifically to the wants and needs of predator hunters.

Trends Caliber Selection.  We Americans love our big, 30 cals.  Anyone else notice how much more popular the .300s have recently become in the industry rags?  On my last trip to the newsstand, the .300 Blackout, .300 Whisper and the [smaller] 6.8SPC seemed to be everywhere.  Hmmmm, I wonder if the 5.56 ammo shortage has anything to do with this??  If you do go with something different consider ammo costs, availability and what NUTNFANCY calls SWAC, for Size And Weight Constraints.  This isn’t a big deal if you’re shooting close to “base”, or going afield with 5 – 30 rounds for a day of hunting.  However, if your lugging your AR, along with hundreds of rounds of ammo for long periods of time, over long distances or over harsh terrain, it’s a valid consideration.  Honestly, and unless your using your AR to hunt deer and larger sized game, the standard 5.56 or even .223 is just fine.  The 5.56 NATO and .223 Remington cartridges are low recoiling / easy shooting rounds.  They are effective defensive rounds.  They are relatively inexpensive to shoot as prices are coming back down, and they are relatively in abundance, making them easy to find just about anywhere in the United States.

Trends in Color.  Like household television sets from the 70s, color is in!  Sure, black is timeless, you can’t go wrong black, and the AR-15 is known as “The Black Rifle”.  However, “Pimp My Ride” style paint jobs and finishes have finally hit the AR-15 scene; and actually the entire gun scene.  Whether it’s done through changing the furniture, adding accessories or painting, adding color to your AR-15 is big.  Flat Dark Earth, Foliage Green and OD Green are some of the more popular choices, though I’ve seen hot pink, tiger stripes and various camo patterns.  Manufacturers have taken note and in some cases offer rifles or parts with special color coatings.  DuraCoat, Cerakote and even the good ole rattle can let you get the job done after purchase.

Trends in Accessories.  Good stocks, especially collapsible stocks, triggers, tactical lights, lasers and pistol grips are always “IN”.  Since popular thinking recently changed on how you hold the handguard of your AR to drive or control the rifle, the once extremely popular Vertical Grip (VG) is now “OUT”.  In a similar vein, the once very popular quad rail is also “OUT”, replaced by slimmer, lighter and smoother handguards.  (Though if you do run a quad rail, rail covers – in various colors – are definitely in.)  There are also most definitely trends in muzzle devices.  The best device for recoil control and minimizing AR Bark seems to constantly change.  Honestly, run what you like, and what works for you and how you use your AR.  Don’t be afraid to go against popular thinking.  Trends and fads be damned!

So there you have it.  You’re now up to speed on the latest and greatest in AR Trends.

Be Aware! Be Prepared! Be Safe!

So, you decided to get an AR-15.  Good decision!  You will not be disappointed.  Now, should you build it yourself or buy it off the rack?  I mean, it’s a grown-up version of Legos, and called “Barbie for Men” for a reason.  (Though I know some women building their own AR-15s.)

Off The Rack: The case for buying your AR-15 off the rack of the LGS (Local Gun Store):

Stag3G

Stag Arms Model 3G

  • Warranty.  If a factory warranty is important to you, then buy an AR-15 off the rack of your local LGS.  Start slapping parts together yourself, and you might just void any and all warranties, even if the parts all come from the same manufacturer.  Be sure to check the fine print.  At best, you’ll be managing multiple warranties, and be subject to vendor finger pointing.
  • You Almost Can’t Go Wrong.  The AR-15 is currently the most popular rifle in America.  There are so many reputable, quality manufacturers producing AR-15s that it’s hard to find a bad one, at almost any price point.  Stick with a well known name brand with a good reputation for quality, and you should have a reliable AR-15.
  • Fit and finish.  Vendors that manufacture parts and assemble complete rifles in-house can control more variables.  This theoretically allows them to produce parts with tighter tolerances for a better fit, and more consistent finishes in terms of color, parkerizing, anodizing, oil, cosmoline, etc.  There might be slight fit or finish variations if you build your own with parts from different vendors.  Additionally, and without getting too detailed, there are mil-spec and non mil-spec (aka commercial) grade AR-15s, and AR-15 components.  If you buy a quality AR off the rack, don’t lose any sleep over the distinction.  If you build your own, pay attention to what you order as mil-spec and commercial parts aren’t always interchangeable.  Buffer tubes and buttstocks are the prime example. 
    • One nice thing about the mil-spec designation, is that it’s an industry wide reference standard.  This standard gives one confidence that a collection of mil-spec parts from high quality vendors will successfully fit together, and function reliably.
  • Simplicity & Time to the Firing Line. It doesn’t get much easier or faster than, walk in, lay your money down, and walk out with a fully assembled, AR-15.  Good-To-Go.  Pick one in-stock and you can be target shooting in just hours. Choose to build, and you could be waiting on parts for months, and months, and months…  With a build you need to source every part yourself, and if you don’t do your research, some parts that come standard on a fully assembled AR-15 can be easily overlooked.  Good examples are things like the lower parts kit (LPK), the Bolt Carrier Group (BCG), sights, charging handle, magazines, etc.…
    BCM Charging Handle

    BCM Charging Handle

    StagLPK

    Stag Arms LPK

    BCM_bcg

    BCM BCG

 

 

 

  • Friendly LGS Charisma & Customer Service.  Some things just can’t be bought over the Internet or through a catalog, like good banter with the LGS counter guy.  Seriously, if you are new to shooting, or to the AR-15 platform, there is something to be said for being able to bring your rifle back to the store.  Support and advice might not be as easily forthcoming with an Internet or catalog based build.
  • Cost.  Like the stock market or the price of gold, AR cost is currently in flux.

Before December 2012, making the decision to build or buy an AR-15 on cost alone was almost a “no-brainer”.  Basic AR-15s were in the $800-900 range.  There was almost no way build one of similar quality for less, especially when you added in the cost of the specialized tools necessary.  Higher-end AR-15s, like the Stag 3G, were in the $1,400 range, and an outstanding value at that!  (I priced that Stag 3G part-by-part, and couldn’t build the exact same rifle for less.)

Then tragedy struck.  Politicians and the media reacted (illogically in many cases).  Ban fears peaked.  AR-15 demand rose sky-high.  The law of supply and demand sent prices through the roof.  That was if you could find one.  For an 8-12 week period, an AR-15, (any AR-15), was literally worth more than a few ounces of shiny yellow metal.  In gun stores across the country there were none to be found.  (That $1,400 Stag 3G jumped to $2,600 – >$3K.  Plain Jane ARs owned the $1,400 – 1,600 price point.)  At the height of the run on ARs, it easily became more cost effective to build your own, even though the price of parts also went up, and even with the added cost of the specialized tools.

Thankfully, as of mid-summer 2013, cooler heads are starting to prevail.  Prices are coming down, almost hitting that point where it’s again more cost effective to buy off the rack.  Though the AR-15 may never be as affordable as it was before November – December 2012.

The case for building your own AR-15:

AR15BuildKit

Basic AR-15 Builders Kit without Lower Receiver

  • Ya Get What You Need.  You Get What You Want.  Nothing you Don’t.  When you build your own AR-15, you’re not paying for parts you’re going to replace, and it’s common for AR-15 owners to make changes to rifle form and/or function.
    Geissele S3G Trigger

    Geissele S3G Trigger

    Vltor AEBK-MG EMOD-M Kit FGrn-1

    Vltor Collapsible Buttstock Kit

    For example, young shooters and shorter stature folks need a shorter length of pull, (the distance from the end of the buttstock to the trigger).  Likewise, people with smaller hands tend to prefer smaller, thinner pistol grips.  The opposite is usually true for taller folks.  With that in mind, a collapsible buttstock (where legal so know your state laws), or a different pistol grip will allow you to better fit the AR-15 to your body.  It’s also likely that in the never ending quest for accuracy, you’ll drop in a new trigger or install a free floated handguard.  You might want fold down backup iron sights (BUIS), or those fancy offset versions.  (Hot-rodding ARs is hugely popular.)  When you build your AR-15, instead of just getting, (and paying for), whatever the manufacturer chose to include on an off the rack rifle, you can hand pick every one of the parts to meet your requirements and wants.

  • Higher Quality Parts for Your Dollars.  You won’t save money building an AR-15 over buying off the rack, even at mid-summer 2013 prices.  However, for the same money, you will likely end up with a better overall rifle, made from higher grade components.  (Do not skimp on parts If you build your own.)
  • Knowledge is Power. Put it together bit by bit, and once done, you’ll know exactly what each part does, where it goes, how it fits together, and how the whole rifle works.  The knowledge you gain by building an AR-15 yourself is empowering, rewarding and practical.  You’ll learn solutions for commonly known conditions. For example, there is usually some level of play between the upper and lower receiver groups.  This is normal, and should not affect reliability or accuracy.  However, for those seeking near perfection, there is an under-a-dollar, O-ring fix that eliminates this play.  Likewise, all guns are mechanical devices.  At some point, on any mechanical device, somethin’s gonna go.  When this happens to your rifle or one of your buddies’, you’re gonna be the guy who knows how to fix it.  Same at upgrade time, you’re the guy that’s going to help.  When you build your own, you start to become a Go-To, Subject Matter Expert.
  • Satisfaction & Pride. Like anything else, there’s a certain sense of personal satisfaction and pride that comes from building your own AR-15.
  • Custom Cool Factor.  In addition to everything listed above, though no less important, when you build your own AR-15, you end up with a completely custom rifle, built to your liking, tastes and fit for your purposes.  You’ll have something unique.  Certainly something you can’t just pull off the rack at the LGS.  That’s cool!

Anyway, that’s my take.  Let me know what you think.  Did you build your own or buy one?

Be Aware! Be Prepared! Be Safe!

The AR-15 is currently the most popular rifle in United States of America.

ColtAR15

A Colt variant of the AR-15
Photo courtesy of Colt

The AR-15 conversation?  These days you can’t mention the AR without getting one of three responses from the non-gun crowd:

  1. Why does anyone need that?
  2. What are you getting ready for war?, and finally (my favorite)
  3. Isn’t that an assault weapon??!

Without getting political, my quick responses are as follows:

  1. Take a look around.  This isn’t a country of need.  Besides, “need” is a horrible argument against anything. ‘Nuff said on that one…
  2. Not necessarily, but I bet you’ll be knockin’ on my door if [when??] the shit finally does hit the fan.
  3. Invariably the person telling me the AR-15 is an assault weapon is someone with very little, to zero, firearms knowledge or experience.  They’ve typically never had firearms training, don’t hunt, don’t target shoot and don’t even see the value of guns for self defense.  Additionally, most of the folks frowning on civilian ownership of the AR-15 can’t define an assault weapon as outlined by the Federal Ban that became law in 1994 under Bill Clinton.  Firearms safety has been drilled into my head since I was 5 years old.  I’ve been shooting for 35 years.  Now someone who knows nothing about guns is going to tell me what guns I can and can’t own – mostly because of how they look.  Isn’t that completely un-American, against everything this Country was founded upon?!  (Look for a future post to cover pieces of the original “Firearms Assault Weapons Ban” from 1994, with commentary on why many of the provisions were, and remain, completely ridiculous.)  So then, with that out of the way…

Here are some great reasons why the AR-15 has tremendous civilian appeal:

  1. Military & Law Enforcement Heritage – Let’s face it, some folks just like what the military and law enforcement community use.  Why?   Because it’s a known quantity.  The thinking is, hey, if it’s good enough to pass military testing, selection and use, with a proven, successful track record, then it’s definitely good enough for anything I might run into as a civilian. Put another way, Military and LE use of the AR-15 / M16 platform prove it to be an extremely reliable and effective rifle.  They wouldn’t use it if it wasn’t.  Plus, some people just like what is ‘tacticool‘ – the tactical, cool stuff used by military and police.
  2. Historical Significance & Collectability – Per my previous post in this series (click here if you missed it), variants of the M16, all select fire derivatives of the semi-auto only AR-15,have served active duty in the U.S. Military longer than any other rifle in history – and still continue to serve.  Hell, a version of the M16 killed the most wanted terrorist in the World.  That’s quite a track record and claim to fame.  For most, the AR-15 is the closest thing available to owning an M16.  It’s like owning a working part of American History.  The feelings of nostalgia that exists for “The Guns that Won the West” are exactly what the AR-15 will illicit in the not too distant future.  Historical significance & collectability are great reasons to own an AR.

    S&WMP15-Magpul

    A Smith & Wesson M&P15 with Magpul furniture
    Photo courtesy of Shooting Illustrated

  3. Modularity – Just like it’s M16 counterpart, the AR-15 can be configured and adapted to the needs and wants of the shooter.  The joke is it’s “Barbie for men”, and there are even “Build a beAR” workshops you can attend.  The look & feel, the configuration and even the caliber can be quickly, easily and frequently changed.  You can add rail sections, or rail covers or install accessories on those rail sections like sights, optics, forward grips, tactical flashlights or laser pointers.  You can swap complete upper halves to easily change barrel lengths or to perform a complete caliber conversion.  One of the best and most rewarding things is that you can do it all yourself.  There is no need for the time and expense associated with gunsmith performed customizations.  Plus, customizing your AR-15 is downright fun and personally satisfying for the Do-It-Yourselfer.  Additionally, modularity has key advantages from cost and training perspectives.  Buy a basic AR-15 and enhance it as funds allow, or as you grow and evolve as a shooter and have a better idea of what you want, need and will use.  From a training perspective, the modularity of the AR-15 allows you to focus on learning and developing muscle memory for one action, one set of controls and procedures, one trigger squeeze, etc. etc.
  4. Versatility – With modularity comes great versatility.  The AR-15 is simply so good, at so many things.  It’s an extremely capable rifle platform.  Changing uppers let’s you change barrel lengths, handrail sections, accessories and even calibers.  Why is this important?  Well, a short, 14.5 – 16” barrel with a tactical light and a red-dot style optic make it a great CQB, (Close Quarters Battle) or home defense gun.  An AR-15 with a long, 20 – 24” barrel and a high quality, variable powered optic can be a precision rifle.  An AR-15 with a 16 – 18 “barrel, a low powered optic or red dot (or high powered optic and offset iron sights) and a tactical light make it a jack of all trades; akin to the the Navy’s MK12 SPR (Special Purpose Rifle) and the U.S. Navy SEAL’s Recon Rifle.  Caliber conversions are important because they let you completely change the capabilities of the gun.  Downsize to .22lr for even cheaper and less recoiling plinking, or for small game hunting.  Upsize to a 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC, one of the increasingly popular .300s or even something bigger, and you’ve got a more effective long range rifle, big game hunter, or truck stopper!  Again, all with one action, one set of controls and procedures, one trigger squeeze, etc. etc.

    AR-Calibers

    Popular AR-15 Calibers:
    5.56 NATO, 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC, .458 SOCOM, .50 Beowulf
    Photo courtesy of gunrunnerhell

In short, the AR-15 is reliable, effective, easy to shoot, modular and extremely versatile.  (Those are the same key attributes that have kept the M16 in military service for the past 50+ years!)

So then, How Would a Civilian use an AR-15?

  1. Pleasant Plinker – The low recoiling 5.56 / .223 rounds are pleasant and easy to shoot.  (While often used interchangeably, 5.56 and .223 rounds are NOT the same.  The 5.56 is loaded to a higher chamber pressure than the .223.  So make sure your AR is stamped 5.56 on the barrel before shooting that round in your rifle.)  Either way, you can literally spend a day at the range without physically beating yourself up, and without developing poor shooting habits, like flinching.  (It used to be relatively cheap to shoot…)
  2. Gun For New Shooters – In addition to being very reliable and producing low recoil, the AR-15 has simple, straightforward controls.  The AR-15 is easy to operate.  This combination makes the AR-15 an excellent choice for teaching new shooters the fundamentals of safety and shooting.  You can focus on things like, “Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction”, and, “Never put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot”.  Then it’s simply manipulate the safety, get your sight picture, align the sights with the target, focus on the trigger squeeze and Bang
  3. Home-Defense– In addition to all those things that make the AR-15 great for teaching new shooters, it is generally shorter and lighter than most shotguns and hunting rifles.  The combination of these features make the AR-15 better suited for CQB than say your 28” bird barreled 12 gauge, or your 22 – 26” barreled bolt-action hunting rig.  Chances are it’s also a lot easier for the Mrs. or smaller statured shooters to handle than a larger, heavier and harder kicking shotgun or rifle.  By “handle” I mean physically moving from room-to-room, shooting on target and getting follow-up shots on target as necessary.  Additionally, the standard .22 centerfire round of the AR-15 is more effective than a 22lr rimfire round, and won’t be as likely to over-penetrate as 00-buckshot or a 30-06.  Over-penetration has to be a consideration whenever you’re thinking about or planning for home defense.  Search the Net and you will find some great articles and TV shows within the gun community that argue why the .223 is a great choice for home defense, especially with some of the newer advancements in ammunition and projectiles.
  4. General Defense – All those things that make the AR-15 a great home defense / CQB gun also make it a good “ranch rifle”, a tool traditionally used for outside the home defense or pest control.  Got a large piece of property, boat or RV to defend?  If you do your part, the AR-15 will do the trick out to about 300 yards.
  5. Hunting – In its standard 5.56 / .223 chambering, the AR-15 is a great varminter for pest control against prairie dogs, ground hogs, foxes and coyotes.  Traditionally it’s not much of a hunter beyond that.  The 5.56 / .223 is too much for use on small game you’d want to harvest, but not quite enough for medium sized game, like deer, or bigger animals.  (There are very few states that allow you to legally hunt deer sized game or larger with a 22 caliber bullet.)  However, with the proliferation of caliber conversions comes capability, in the form of new complete uppers.  You can easily change, you’re 5.56 / .223 chambered AR-15 into a 6.5 Grendel (.264), a 6.8spc (.277), a .300 AAC or .300 Blackout (the .30 cals) or even something bigger and heavier– all of which are large enough, and legal, for taking medium and large game.
  6. Training Aid – The AR-15 is a great gun to bring to any type of rifle or carbine training course.  Whether you are learning precision long range shooting, going through a shoot house in low light or learning anything in between, the AR-15 can be configured specific to the course, and it’ll get the job done.
  7. Competition –3-Gun Nation anyone??   The AR-15 is extremely popular all levels and in all forms of the competition circuit, from the casual to the highly competitive and professional.  Your right out of the box, bone stock, entry level AR-15 is a great way to get into the sport.
  8. “Second Kind of Cool” to use a Nutnfancy’s termYou have to admit the AR-15 is one wicked cool looking gun.  For some folks, that cool factor alone is reason enough.

So there ya have it, a detailed explanation of what makes the AR-15 so appealing to civilians.  It’s easy to understand why almost every gun owner in America wants one.  I’ve also given you plenty of legit, legal reasons for owning one, with a description of how thousands of law abiding civilians across the United States of America are legally and enjoyably using their ARs!  Go get yours while you can.

 

Be aware!  Be Prepared!  Be Safe!

The story of the AR-15 / M16 is one of Persistence & Continued Evolution.

Introduction of the AR-15

In 1958, the ArmaLite Division of Fairchild Aircraft Corp. introduced the first prototype of what it called the AR-15 (“AR” for ArmaLite Rifle).  It was a scaled down version of ArmaLite’s bigger, select-fire AR-10, and instead of shooting the full-power 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge, it shot a.22 cartridge.  The AR-15’s .22 chambering resulted in low recoil, making it easy to consistently shoot accurately in semi-auto, and easily controllable in fully automatic, while still providing terminal ballistics acceptable for the battlefield.  With a 20” barrel and a loaded 20-round magazine, the AR-15 weighed just more than 7 pounds.  This was a big departure from traditional U.S. infantry rifles like the M1903 Springfield, the M1 Garand and the M14, all of which were larger, longer, heavier and for the M14, arguably uncontrollable in full-auto.

The more agile, low recoiling and controllable AR-15 looked like the perfect solution for a U.S. military that wanted a smaller, lighter rifle for anticipated close range combat environments.

Colt Steps In.  Birth of the M16.

In ~1959 ArmaLite sold the rights to the AR-15 rifle designs to Colt, who designated it the M16, and aggressively marketed the design to branches of the US Military.  (Even as far back as the late 50s and early 60s Colt offered a semi-automatic version of the AR-15 to civilians.)  Full-scale military tests of the M16 platform were conducted during the first half 1962 in South Vietnam.  Successful feedback in performance and terminal ballistics resulted in U.S. Air Force adoption of the M16, and small scale testing by U.S. Navy SEAL Teams.  Based on U.S. Air Force findings, the rifling rate of the standard 20” barrel was changed from 1-in-14”, to 1-in-12” which improved accuracy, but may have resulted in reduced lethality.  At some point not long after, (early-to-mid 1960s), the M16 was adopted as the standard infantry rifle by almost all branches of the U.S. Military.

Problems Arise On The Battlefield.

M16A1

US M16A1

On Feb. 28, 1967, the XM16E1 was standardized as the M16A1 rifle.  It was also the height of a jamming epidemic.  Reports from the battlefield included widespread chronic failures to extract, with cartridge cases seized in the chamber of the gun.  This condition rendered the rifle inoperable, and required a time consuming clearing process that left the soldier extremely vulnerable during the time required to perform the operation.  For too many U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, this became a catastrophic, fatal flaw.  As a result, many troops at the time didn’t want the M16.  Confidence in the platform was at an all-time low.

When word of the problems with the M16A1 reached U.S. Congressional leaders, the House Armed Services Committee of the 90th Congress established a Special Subcommittee in May of 1967 to investigate M16 Rifle malfunctions.  Throughout the summer of 1967, this three-member Special Subcommittee, chaired by Representative Richard Ichord (D-Mo.), diligently researched root cause of M16 malfunctions.

The M16A1 Rifle Comes Into Its Own.

In October 1967, the “Ichord Committee” published a 51-page report on M16 extraction failures.  Root cause was identified as the gunpowder used in the ammunition.  Specifically, the gun powder resulted in high chamber pressures and significant carbon fouling.  (In layman’s terms, gun powder residue built up enough in critical areas of the gun to seize what should have been moving parts.)

Remediation included changes to the gunpowder used in M16 ammunition and chrome chambers, which were more resistant to powder fouling.  These recommendations were immediately put into action and soon after reports of malfunctions dissipated.  The M16A1 rifle began to prove itself in the violent battles of the A Shau Valley in 1969 and the incursion into Cambodia during the summer of 1970.  Battlefield reports then indicated the M16A1 as a highly effective infantry weapon and it served U.S. Armed Forces through the 1980s.

Continued Evolution.

The M16A2

In 1980, NATO member nations formally adopted the 5.56×45 mm cartridge as the chambering for all NATO rifles.  In November 1983, the U.S. Marine Corps adopted an improved version of the M16A1 chambered for the 5.56×45 mm NATO round.  The rifle is called the M16A2.  In addition to being chambered for the new round, significant M16A2 improvements included improved rear sights, a brass deflector, a heavier barrel, 1:7” rifling and a “BURST” setting delivering three rounds with every trigger pull instead of full-auto.  The U.S. Army follows the Marines Corps adoption of the M16A2.

Colt’s XM4: The Army’s M4 Carbine, and the M16A4

For Special Operations Teams Colt experimented with shorter and lighter “Commando” variants of the M16 platform as far back 1966, but in 1984 they focused on an M16A2-based carbine for wider use.  That carbine was designated the XM4 and combined the compactness of a 14.5” barrel and collapsible stock  from the “Commando” series with the new 5.56×45 mm NATO chambering and other M16A2 improvements, like “BURST”, the brass deflector, 1:7-inch rifling, a bayonet lug and the ability to mount the M203 grenade launcher.

Although at first equipped with M16’s signature carrying handle, the XM4 was later produced with a removable carry handle and a flat-top upper receiver, used for easily mounting optical sights.  In September 1994, the Army standardized it as the M4 Carbine and began distributing it to combat units. Not long thereafter, Colt began to produce M4 carbines equipped with the Knight’s Armament Rail Accessory System in place of the standard forward hand guards.

This forward rail system allowed easy mounting of more accessories like tactical lights and laser aiming devices.  The flat-top M4 Carbine with rail system proved so successful that a new a full length rifle with the same features was soon adopted as the M16A4 Modular Weapons System (manufactured by Colt and FN).

The Rest Is History…

Today, M16 variants, like the M16A2, the M4 Carbine, and the M16A4 Modular Weapons Systems remain in service, equipping all branches of the U.S. Military.  They are the rifles protecting our shores, helping ensure freedom for others, and fighting the global war against terrorism.  AR-15 / M16 variants are also currently used by many Law Enforcement Agencies across the country.

lg_hk416

HK416

The M16 earned what will likely be its greatest distinction on May 2, 2011, when a variation of the M4 Carbine (the HK416) was used to kill terrorist leader, September 11 mastermind, Osama Bin Laden during the heroic SEAL Team raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

So from the first field tests in the early 60s, through a tenuous time in 1967, to making history in 2011, variations of the M16 platform have served the American military for 50 years – persevering, evolving and continually improving along the way.  With 50 years of service, the M16 platform remains in service longer than any other rifle in U.S. military history.  It has also been named No. 2 Top Combat Rifle of All Time by the Military Channel.

50 years of history have proven that the AR-15 / M16 platform is relatively small, fast, light weight, easy to shoot and battlefield effective.  Yet perhaps its greatest asset is its ability to be quickly and easily tweaked to fulfill a variety of different missions.  The basic modularity of the gun, the ever popular flat top and forward rail system and the extensive variety of available accessories allow the AR-15 / M16 to be configured to satisfy just about any requirement.  It is the platform’s ability to easily change configuration that has kept it in service for so long, and it continues to evolve today.

(Special Thanks to American Rifleman, Heckler & Kock USA and Colt for much of the background information and pictures.)

Well, I’ve decided I want a Black-Rifle.  That’s right, an AR-15.

It is the civilian, semi-automatic-only version of the enduring M16 military platform.  It is currently the most popular and sought after rifle in America.  Love it, hate it or fear it, please follow along in this multi-part series as I cover: