AR-15 Product Buyer Guides

| Last Updated: July 19, 2021

The AR-15 platform was the next big breakthrough in the area of mass-produced and reliable weapons after the AK-47. The AR had its ups and downs and design refinements over the decades. But what we have now is one of the most modular and customizable rifle designs to be ever made. 

This is a comprehensive and also the definitive guide to understanding everything there is to be known about the AR-15. Get your eyes upon everything from complex to simple AR topics. Along with a few sassy tips and tricks.

Just looking for something specific? Feel free to use our table of contents to get you to the right information at the click of a button.

Table of Contents

AR-15 Basics

Best AR & AR Accessory Brands

Building an AR vs. Buying

AR-15 Customizations

Alternative Caliber ARs

Travel & Care Guides

Part 1 – AR-15 Basics: A Revolutionary Modular System

The AR-15 platform is a civilian version of the M16 style rifles adopted by the U.S Military in the 50’s. It is a simple, modular and very customizable system that has grown exponentially in terms of popularity.

Let’s understand the basics of this platform!

The Receiver

A receiver is the part of a firearm that houses or connects all the necessary components required for it to fire. Since it ‘receives’ all the important components in some way or other, hence it is called a receiver. 

Photo Credit: gunnewsdaily.com

An AR-15 receiver is mostly made from 7075 T-6 or 6061 aluminum. Using forging, casting or billet machining procedures. Forged receivers are known for their relative strength, whereas machined receivers are more open to aesthetical customizations. 

Many firearms feature just one receiver, which is legally concerned with the firearm (more on the legal aspects of the AR-15 later). But the AR-15 has two receivers – the upper and the lower. Each of these houses some of the major components and couple together to form a complete firearm. 

The Lower Receiver

The lower receiver in an AR-15 is the lower part of the receiver setup. It houses the trigger assembly, grip, stock and buffer connecting areas and the magwell. The lower receiver assembly is legally considered the firearm under the U.S law. 

The lower receiver, or commonly called the ‘lower’ is mostly a multi-caliber component. Meaning that you can use a common lower for creating AR rifles in different calibers. This is what makes the AR-15 platform modular and quick to switch calibers. A quite unique and exceptionally customizable feat for a firearm system. 

These lowers can also be built at home using lower part kits or just buying the components of your choice for assembling the full lower receiver. Then there are lowers differing in size for AR-15 pistols or SBR’s (Short barrel rifles). 

Photo Credit: armedforces-int.com

The two most common materials used for making lowers are 6061 T-6 and 7075 T-6 aluminum. The latter is almost twice as strong compared to the former. Which also makes it a tad more expensive. With growing technology, lowers made from polymer have also sufficed on the market. Offering their low weight, easy customization and price as the major perks. 

Another thing to consider is whether you should go for a complete, incomplete or 80% lower receiver. But to decide on that, you should learn the difference first. 

A complete lower receiver houses all the components that have to be installed. So you can instantly slap it on your setup and ready to fire. These are the easiest to work with as everything is assembled. But lack customizability and are comparatively pricey. In my opinion, these work great for beginners. 

Stripped lower receivers are just a machined lower receiver with no components. You have to find a trigger assembly, grip, stock, buffer and other components on your own. These receivers are a viable option when you are building your rifle. 

Then there are 80% lower receivers. These have to be machined by the buyer so it may accept the trigger and magazine. These receivers were designed to bypass the serialization laws for lower receivers. 

Lowers will also differ in design. Like the M4 style lower receivers will feature a fire, safe and auto/burst safety switch selector position. Which is often un-settable. Since full-auto M4 style rifles come under the 1986 ban on the manufacture of full auto firearms for the civilian market. 

Lower receivers can be ambidextrous, allowing the controls like safety switch and mag release to be operated from the right or left side. Such models are generally a tad more pricey than normal. 

The Upper Receiver

The upper receiver, or commonly known as the ‘upper’ is the upper half of the AR-15 rifle. It houses the most important components of the rifle. Namely, the bolt carrier group, gas system, charging handle, and barrel. Along with auxiliaries like the handguard and top rail.

AR receivers can be classified into four types, The A1, A2, A3 and A4. These designations are used by the military for the M4 rifles. The A1 is the earliest type of AR upper receivers and the others are its modifications over time. The A1 and A2 models can be easily recognized by the top carry handle design. Whereas the A4 is the latest design. 

Photo Credit: gunnewsdaily.com

AR uppers can be found in a variety of different options. Some will feature a forward assist, some will not. Some will have a top picatinny or weaver rail. Most will have the proprietary AR style ambidextrous charging handle whereas some customized models may offer side charging handles and ejection ports for specific right or left handed builds. 

Since these are not the legal firearm components, AR uppers can be obtained easily without an FFL (Federal Firearms License) or background checks. 

Just like lower receivers, the AR-15 upper comes in complete or stripped variants. These don’t have an 80% design option due to the lack of legal boundations. 

A complete AR-15 upper includes the BCG, barrel, charging handle and all the other components necessary for building the upper part of the rifle. In simpler terms, it is a plug and play option. Mostly used for quickly swapping the calibers on an AR-15 rifle. 

On the other hand, stripped uppers allow the user to customize the internal components to his/her tastes. These are more suited for pro-builders who want a customized rifle. 

The Barrel

A barrel is a straight tube of metal that acts as a tunnel for the bullet to travel. Barrels have evolved from basic smooth cylinders to sophisticated alloy based designs with fluting, polymer coatings and impeccable interiors. The chamber is an integral part of the barrel and located on the rear. It is where the explosion takes place. 

This component directly affects the accuracy and effective range of your AR-15. The barrels for these rifles can be classified based upon three criteria: profile, gas system & overall length and inner lining. Then there are other considerations like twist rate, material, finish and muzzle threading.

Photo Credit: arbuildjunkie.com

The most common materials for manufacturing AR-15 barrels is steel. 416R, 4140 Carbon steel, 4150 CMV steel (one of the best) and others. Then there’s the manufacturing process which is either cold hammer forging or billet machining. Offering a few nips of differences in durability and aesthetics. 

In regards to the profile, AR-15 barrels can be found in lightweight, medium and heavy profiles. Terms such as pencil profile or government profile are sometimes used to mention that. 

Lightweight barrels tend to be thinner and low in weight, but they heat up pretty fast and will wear out sooner. Hence they are suitable for slower consecutive shots. 

On the other hand, heavy profile barrels are better suited for consistent fire and don’t heat up or wear as quickly. But these barrels are also comparatively heavy. Such a profile is best suited for mag dumps. 

The medium profile (or government profile as some may call it) is a balanced option between these two. Which is why these are used by the military. 

The inner lining of these barrels also plays a part in deciding the longevity and accuracy. Barrels with chrome lining tend to have a three to four thousand rounds longer life than non-coated barrels. Then there’s nitride finish which offers better accuracy and easy cleaning, but also wears out faster. 

The twist rate of the barrel is another very important consideration. The twist rate denotes how many inches does the bullet travel to make one full rotation. Slower twist rates like 1:9 or 1:10 are suitable for lightweight bullets, whereas faster rates like 1:7 are suitable for heavy bullets for better stabilization. 

The 1:8 twist rate offers a good mix between these two. Especially when you are sure to be working with the common 55 grain bullets most of the time. 

Some barrels can come fluted for better heat dissipation. Fluting refers to creating grooves on the exterior of the barrel to increase its surface area for faster cooling. Additionally, you can opt between a muzzle threaded or non-threaded barrel for using muzzle devices. 

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The Bolt / Bolt Carrier Groups (BCGs)

The bolt carrier group, also sometimes called the ‘action’ is the heart of an AR-15. Or any handheld firearm for that matter. The bolt carrier group comprises the bolt, cam pin, gas key, firing pin and extractor.  In simpler terms, the BCG is responsible for loading, firing and extracting a round. 

Photo Credit: pewpewtactical.com

The BCG is manufactured using high grade tensile steel, and in some cases, alloys. The most common materials used are No. 158 Carpenter steel, 9310 and 8620 steel. You can also find unconventional metals like titanium being used for construction. However, this difference won’t matter much unless you are a competitive or mag-dump shooter. 

The next thing to look for is the finish. The most common is the phosphate (manganese phosphate) finish. It is the most affordable and also milspec choice. Works great for a low-budget build. There are also skeletonized BCG’s, where extra metal is shed to reduce overall weight. 

Then there are more advanced finishes like nitride (known for its durability), nickel boron (known for its slickness, smooth operation and easy cleaning) and the conventional chrome finish known for its hardness. 

A good consideration to ensure that you choose a very dependable bolt is to check whether it’s HPT and MPI tested. HPT stands for High Pressure Testing and MPI stands for Magnetic Particle Inspection. These tests further ensure that the BCG has been designed to the best of durability standards. 

While most AR-15 BCG’s are designed for semi-auto fire, you can also find full-auto capable BCG’s on the market. These have slightly extra material on the rear to trip the auto sear in a full-auto compatible trigger. However, owning a full-auto AR-15 has some legal implications to it. 

One thing that catches the attention of newbies is those serrations on the side of the BCG body. These serrations work as notches for the forward assist button to seat the bolt forwards in cases where the battery doesn’t lock fully. 

Photo Credit: gunandshooter.com

The Gas System

The AR-15 uses a direct impingement gas system, where the gasses emerging from the fired round are directed back to the BCG in order to cycle it backwards. Some other popular rifles like the AK-47 use a piston system to cycle the bolt. You can find or build a customized AR-15 that uses a gas piston system. But that’s very uncommon and won’t do justice to the AR platform. 

The escaping gasses are channeled back through a hole in the barrel which is connected to a gas tube. The distance of this hole from the chamber is called the gas system length of an AR-15. 

There are four gas system lengths available for the AR-15. Rifle length, mid-length, carbine length and pistol length. 

The rifle length is for 20+ inches barrel lengths and has a port distance of 12 inches. The mid-length is for 14-20 inch barrels with a port distance of nine inches. Carbine length suits 10-18 inch barrels with a port distance of seven inches. Whereas pistol length is for barrels shorter than 10 inches and has a port distance of four inches. 

The connection between the barrel and the gas tube is made via a gas block. A kind of adapter to couple these two parts. A gas block can be fixed or adjustable, depending upon your preference.

Adjustable gas blocks can be fine tuned to adapt to different types of ammunition (including handloads) and also mitigating recoil to some extent. But make sure to learn the technique of tuning properly to avoid problems or ‘overgassing’ and ‘undergassing’.

Photo Credit: pewpewtactical.com

The Buffer & Buffer Tube

The buffer is an integral part of the recoil handling assembly of the AR-15. The blowback from the fired round pushes the BCG backwards. But in order to cycle it forward into the battery, you need a spring setup. That’s what the buffer system does. 

The buffer system in an AR collectively refers to the buffer weight, tube, spring, latch plate and castle nut. This is an extremely important core component of the AR-15 rifle and helps with recoil mitigation and reliable feeding. 

The major part of the buffer assembly is the buffer weight. It is a hollow cylindrical piece of metal with a bigger face which the recoiling BCG slams into. The weight of this buffer is critical and relative to the length of the gas system your AR-15 is using. 

The buffer weight is filled with multiple smaller metal weights. There are three primary types of buffer weights. Carbine buffer (3 ounces), heavy buffer (3.8 ounces) and H2 buffer (4.7 ounces). These three are the most common buffer weights you’ll find across most AR-15 rifles with the respective gas system length. 

There are heavier buffers like the H3 (5 ounces), HSS (6.5 ounces) and XH (8.5 ounces). These are mostly used with short barreled, overgassed (large diameter gas ports) and fast burning AR ammunition. Mostly with AR9 pistols.  

The size and weight of a buffer will differ according to the caliber in question and also the length of the gas system. Also remember that buffers are available in commercial (1.168” diameter) and mil-spec (1.148” diameter) variants. So choose the right one for your build. 

Photo Credit: arbuildjunkie.com

The Trigger

The trigger is the power switch of any weapon. It is a lightly complex mechanism of intertwined springs, wires and bars that allow you to release the firing pin and set off the primer. AR-15 triggers can be classified based upon their mode of installation and function. 

An AR-15 trigger can be a standard mil-spec variant that has to be assembled in order to be installed inside the weapon. On the other hand, there are drop-in trigger assemblies that come encased and are simply plug and play. 

Based upon their operating mechanism, AR-15 triggers can be single stage or dual stage. The point at which the trigger releases the hammer is called a break, and the pressure required to achieve this is called the pull weight of a trigger. 

A single stage trigger has to be pulled all the way back and breaks at its specified or set break weight. A double stage trigger, as the name suggests, breaks in two stages. The first heavier break allows the shooter to absolutely confirm that he’s ready to take the shot. The second lighter break ensures that there’s too little movement when pulling the trigger. This was developed to improve accuracy further.

Dual stage triggers are mostly used by competitive shooters or for precision applications where shot placement is of utmost importance. 

There’s also a special kind of enhanced AR-15 trigger known as the ‘echo trigger’ or ‘binary trigger’. It fires a shot when pulled and another shot when released. Hence allowing you to fire two shots with a single trigger pull and attaining a faster rate of fire. A somewhat smart alternative to full auto AR, eh?

Some trigger options allow you to adjust the pull weight using different springs or simple screw adjustments. These adjustable triggers are slightly more expensive than standard ones, but offer good customizability. 

Factors such as pre-travel, over-travel and creep must also be kept into consideration when choosing a trigger for your rifle. The lesser the value for these factors, the smoother a trigger operates. 

The most common trigger pull weight for standard AR-15 rifles is between six to nine pounds. While that may seem heavy to some, it is an optimal weight for stressful situations. Where the trigger should be heavy enough to prevent you from flinching and accidentally firing a shot under panic. 

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The Forward Assist

The bolt forward assist is a very argued upon component in an AR-15 rifle. The function of a bolt forward assist is to push the bolt forwards into the battery in case of a malfunction. The assist has been an integral and important component in many rifles. Especially combat assault rifles like the M1 garand. Since it offers a quicker solution to push the bolt forward rather than pulling the charging handle backwards.

The forward assist on the AR-15 is a plunger button located on the right side of the rifle, just behind the ejection port. The pawl of this assist engages with the ratcheting teeth on the bolt carrier. Pushing the button each time moves the bolt forward by one tooth. 

The only comprehensible logical explanation of using the forward assist is a bit of stealth. One may not want to pull the charging handle and release it to let the bcg go ram forward with a loud ‘clack’ sound. The charging handle can be released slowly and the last few milimetres can be pushed through using the forward assist. 

This can come in handy in situations like some stealth combat operations with surprise elements or hunting too wary game animals. 

The AR rifle was adopted by the Airforce first, and they didn’t approve the forward assist after three years of evidence based results. Even Eugene Stone, the founder of AR called it redundant. But it was the bulk buyer, the Army, that wanted it like a psychological ‘quick fix’ support for a soldier. 

Rifles with and without the forward assist are available today. Not having one isn’t going to hurt as most misfeed problems can be tackled with pulling the charging handle. But if you still like to have one, there’s also no harm in having it. 

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The Handguard

The handguard on a long gun represents a barrel shroud that also provides a gripping surface to handle the weapon. Along with being an attachment point for accessories like bipod, sight, lights etc.

The handguard on an AR-15 can be classified into two types – drop-in and free float. More on the details of this concept in further sections. 

Using the right handguard not only improves the handling and accessory bearing capabilities of the weapon. But it also affects accuracy to some extent. Since it can come in direct contact with the barrel.

The AR-15 handguard can have simple designs with no frills and a plain texture. Or they feature a design with rails on all four sides. Along with a modular attachment system like Keymod or M-lok. 

A handguard can be made up of metal or polymer. Each material has its own capabilities. But polymer handguards generally work better since they are lightweight and also a bad conductor of heat.

Photo Credit: gunpros.com

Part 2 – Build vs Buy: What’s Right For You?

AR-15 rifles are readily available on the market for purchase. In fact there are many companies selling complete rifles, build kits and individual parts. It all depends upon your budget and the willingness to meddle with the gunsmithing and technical aspects of building your own weapon.

Legalities & Disclaimers

The AR-15 trademark was owned by Colt from 1959 to 1974. Also legally, the term ‘AR-15’ belongs to Colt’s Manufacturing Company. That’s why you see many other manufacturers using different designations to name their rifles. However, Colt only owns the name, but the design is free for tinkering in the open domain. So technically, the AR-15 is more of a ‘platform’, rather than some specific rifle. 

Photo Credit: arbuildjunkie.com

Common Legal Hurdles

The AR-15 is fully legal to own in every state of the United States of America. With a few exceptions in some states regarding the mag capacity and some inherent feature customizations. Like in the state of California where you can either own a ‘featureless AR-15 rifle’ or else you have to report and register it with the state authorities as an assault weapon if you purchased it before 2018. 

California has banned the import/build/sale of standard ‘bullet button’ AR-15 rifles as we know it. Also note that a full-auto AR-15 (the M16 version) is technically an assault rifle. Such rifles are banned in seven states and DC. These states are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

However, I still encourage you to check with your local laws beforehand. Especially if you live in a state that is known for strict gun control laws. Gun laws can be peculiarly confusing sometimes. Weapons considered fit for squirrel hunting in one state can be considered a ‘bazooka’ in some other states. 

One small note to pay attention to here regarding bump stocks. According to the latest rules released by the ATF on 26th of March 2019, possession of bump stocks is absolutely illegal. If you own one, you should destroy it or surrender it at your local ATF office.

Is it a Rifle, SBR or Pistol?

According to the BATFE, a rifle should have a minimum barrel length of 16 inches and a minimum overall length of 26 inches. You go even a millimeter short on either or both of these norms, and your AR-15 will turn into an SBR (Short Barrel Rifle). 

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The regular AR-15 rifle is a Class II weapon and a complete rifle or stripper lower or complete lower can only be bought  from a FFL (Federal Firearms License) dealer. For online purchases, you can get one shipped to a FFL dealer near you. However, a background check or other formalities may be required depending upon your state. 

An SBR should be registered with the ATF under the NFA (National Firearms Act) as a Class III weapon. Along with paying a $200 federal tax stamp. Full auto rifles and handguns are also classified as Class III weapons. Legal to own only by non-felons and purchase prohibited to and buy Class III license owners. 

As far as an AR pistol is considered, it is also a Class III firearm. The only difference between an SBR and pistol is that you cannot have a stock on an AR pistol. Only a brace or stabilizer. Additionally, you can convert your AR pistol into a rifle when you like. But not vice versa. Plus, you cannot add a vertical grip on a pistol. 

Violating the Class III weapon laws is a Class Y felony and may attract a $100,000 fine or ten years in prison or both. 

Also check with your local laws if they allow you to own a SBR or AR pistol. For example, these are banned in California. Additionally, thoroughly check your local laws for building, sale, use and transportation of AR-15 and its variants. So you don’t end up in trouble. 

Also note that one must be at least 18 years of age to buy an AR-15 from a licensed dealer. 

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Done-For-You AR-15s

The simplest and quickest way to get your hands on an AR-15 is to buy it. The AR-15 is one of the most populars firearms on the market and you’ll find a wide range of options with almost every dealer. Online or offline. 

Online dealers like Palmetto State Armory and Brownells feature a ton of options for buying an AR-15. Of Course these options differ in their features, hence affecting their price. 

The AR-15 is renowned for its modularity and has a ton of aftermarket options for customization. But if you’re a complete beginner to this firearm, it is better to purchase a complete AR-15. Since you already aren’t aware of many in’s and out’s of this rifle. You also won’t be sure about the customizations unless you work around with it for some time. 

A complete AR-15 rifle can be bought at a price anywhere between $600 to $3000. There are even more expensive custom options. But that’s pretty much it for the general range. The cheaper options are pretty basic and more approachable for tweaks and customization. 

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Similarly, the more expensive options feature better match grade barrels, better finishes on different components, enhanced triggers, custom stocks, good sights and other features that add value. Compatibility among AR parts is mostly not an issue if you are buying mil-spec designs. 

Let’s look at some pros and cons of purchasing a pre-built AR-15:

Pros:

  • The rifle comes assembled and is ready to be taken to the range. You don’t have to worry about scouring aftermarket parts and compatibility issues. Simple plug and play option
  • Rifles from renowned manufacturers often come with a worthy warranty and also after sales customer support. So your purchase stays covered for longer
  • Great for beginners who aren’t very adhered to the system
  • Also suitable for people on a fixed budget
  • Better chance of complying with the law for uninformed users. Especially when buying from an offline store 

Cons:

  • You may not find a rifle customized according to your tastes. While means extra expenses to replace components that you want to upgrade
  • The price will include the profit margin of the seller. Which can sometimes be very high. So you’re probably spending extra

80% Lower DIY Builds

80% lower receivers are technically not considered a firearm by the ATF. So there’s no need for a registration, background check or FFL or buying these. Hence, you can bypass all the paperwork and build an unserialized homemade AR-15. Such firearms are also known as ‘ghost guns’. 

However, 80% lower receivers are banned for sale in New Jersey, New York, and Washington. You can buy it in California and Connecticut, but it has to be engraved with a serial number even before it’s completed into a rifle. 

Photo Credit: huntingmark.com

A 80% lower looks simply like a silhouette of the AR lower receiver. You won’t even find a single hole or groove machined into it. As doing the slightest of modification will convert it into a firearm legally.

These lowers are the most customizable of all options. You can choose the coating/finish and aesthetics. All you need is a dedicated 80% jig or some home improvement tools. Newbies can get it done within a couple of hours with the right manual/guidance. Whereas expert gunsmiths can machine it into a full receiver in about 30 minutes. 

The finished AR-15 does not have to be serialized or registered in most states. However, I still recommend putting a serial number on such a rifle. Which allows for easy tracking in case the rifle is lost or stolen. You can check the legal procedure of serialization here

These 80% lowers tend to cost more than buying a stripped lower. Since they’re already costlier and require jigs or dedicated machines to further refine them. So eventually it turns out that most people go the 80% way just for the fun of building their own rifle. Or maybe just keep their AR off the books (if done the right way).

Fully Custom DIY Builds

This is the most tricky path to follow when building an AR-15. But these builds also offer the highest level of customization. Which can eventually allow one to create the masterpiece of their imaginations. 

Fully custom DIY builds are the way to go when you have the appropriate knowledge about the AR-15 platform. Along with the patience to scour the market for the parts you want and then setting aside some hours for machining or assembly. Additionally, you can also buy a ‘parts kit’ for an easier build. 

Photo Credit: thenewrifleman.com

Before you choose to fully custom build your AR, it is extremely imperative to decide upon the intended purpose of it. Are you building a hunting rifle? Or is it for home defense? Perhaps it is for long range tactical uses, or maybe competitions. 

Each of these aforementioned purposes will require an AR with some unique characteristics. Like different barrel lengths, an enhanced trigger, longer rail space for accessories, gas system, caliber, sling points and many other things to consider. 

That’s because a custom built rifle is probably being built to serve a specific purpose. Or maybe you have eyes on that ‘tacti-cool’ factor to make the shiny rifle to brag about with your friends. Additionally, if you want a general purpose rifle. It is better off to get a complete AR-15 rather than taking the pain to assemble one. 

In some cases, a custom build may cost less than buying a complete rifle. However, it totally depends upon what features and quality you’re after. But if you’re really after a fully custom build. It implies that you are after upgraded components that’ll obviously cost more. So you’re looking at anywhere between $600 to $1,000 for an average build. All the way up to $2,500 or a tad more for a feature loaded rifle.

Done-For-You Custom ARs

If you want to go after the maximum level of customization for your AR-15. There are some companies that’ll create a custom AR-15 rifle for you based upon your directions. Some manufacturers are more like ‘part swappers’ who find parts based upon your requirements of intended use. Then assemble the rifle. 

On the other hand, some manufacturers offer dedicated custom solutions. Literally molding or machining the parts you want. Along with a ton of options for aesthetics.

Photo Credit: everydaymarksman.co

Let’s take a look at some benefits and drawbacks of buying a done-for-you custom AR-15 rifle:

Benefits:

  • Finish and Aesthetics

    • These custom build services are best suited for people who want a unique rifle. Something they have imagined and want to turn it into a reality. The finish and aesthetics of the rifle are entirely in your hands. This is suitable for people who want a ‘cool’ looking rifle. Or pro shooters who want it customized to their absolute tastes.

  • Save Time & Expensive Tools

    • The next best benefit of getting a done-for-you AR is to save time and effort. Situations where a person is too busy to dedicate time to building his/her AR-15. Or if somebody does not want to invest in dedicated tools and the effort to build the rifle.

Drawbacks:

  • Pricey

    • Custom AR builds are pricey. Almost every time. The costs add up even more if you are looking towards building a very unique rifle with a lot of bells and whistles. Things like melonite/cerakote coated parts, match grade barrels, featherweight triggers.

  • Compatibility Issues

    • This is a once-in-a-while situation. Since most AR’s are built to suit mil-spec dimensions. However, some extremely customized builds can create compatibility issues with general replacement or aftermarket AR upgrades.
Photo Credit: arbuildjunkie.com

Part 3 – Alternative Caliber AR Builds

The AR is a versatile platform and is also available in several other calibers. The most prominent AR calibers are .223, 5.56 NATO, 9mm, .300 Blackout, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .308 Winchester (a.k.a the AR-10). 

9mm ARs: The AR9

The 9mm AR or more commonly known as the AR9 was developed in 1982 as the Colt 9mm SMG. The purpose of this weapon was to create a shorter AR that fired a pistol caliber for better control and effectiveness over short range. 

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The AR9 is a blowback operated weapon rather than the common direct impingement AR system. Since the 9mm is a smaller caliber with little gas to work with. AR9’s gained popularity as USPSA competition guns and also home defense weapons. 

The AR9 is mostly used in the carbine or the pistol configuration. The Colt style models use Colt style magazines. But with the rise in popularity of Glock handguns, AR9’s compatible with Glock 9mm mags are also quite popular among the masses. 

You can also find 9mm Glock conversion blocks that simply drop-in inside a mil-spec lower receiver and allow compatibility with Glock mags. Then you have AR 9mm conversion kits. That includes the conversion block and the buffer. Plus, you obviously have to get the dedicated 9mm AR upper receiver.

As far as the lower receiver is concerned, you may either use a dedicated AR 9mm lower or your common mil-spec 5.56 lower. Since they are multi-caliber. Additionally, it is always wise to invest in a complete 9mm AR upper rather than replacing components. Since the bolt, operating mechanism and muzzle threads are entirely different. 

On the bright side, using a dedicated upper will also facilitate a quick swap between calibers. Also remember that not every kit will offer LRBHO (Last round bolt hold open) capability. 

The AR-556

The AR-556 is a tough and budget friendly masterpiece from Ruger. Designed to imitate the military issue M4 rifle as closely as possible. The AR-556 is available in rifle and pistol variants. 

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The rifle version features a 16.10 inches barrel and a flat top rail with flip-up rear sight. The AR-556 retails for around $800 with Ruger and can be found for even less at some discount stores. It is just .10 inches shy from being called an SBR. Whereas the pistol version features a 10.5 inch barrel to create an even more compact package. 

When I say AR-556, it doesn’t specifically indicate an AR rifle or an AR pistol. It is available in both of these variants to choose from. As the name already suggests, it has been chambered for the hot 5.56 ammo operating at pressures of around 55,000 psi. 

The AR-556 barrels generally feature a twist rate of 1:8 which is suitable for bullet weights ranging from 35 to 77 grains. Since the rifle is chambered for 5.56, it can also shoot .223 Remington rounds with the same efficiency. 

Overall, the Ruger AR-556 is a budget firearm with an acceptable trigger, solid build and the brand name of a trusted firearm manufacturer on the global market.

The AR Pistol

The AR pistol is a shortened AR-15 with a barrel of less than 16 inches and an overall length of 26 inches (excluding muzzle devices). However, the pistol classifies as an SBR and you have to go through some paperwork and pay a $200 tax stamp to the NFA for owning one. 

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AR pistols are not allowed to have stocks and vertical foregrips. However, they can have stabilizing braces instead of stocks. Which technically looks like one, but isn’t very comfortable to shoot resting from the shoulder. The brace has a strap that has to be wrapped around your forearm and then shoot the pistol with one hand. 

The point behind all that legal stuff is that an AR-15 pistol is very concealable. Plus, not having a stock makes it somewhat less controllable/deadly than a normal rifle.

Additionally, always cross check your local state laws about what classifies an AR as a pistol. Since gun laws can be drastically different from one state to another. 

The AR pistol is mostly available and preferred in three calibers. The 9mm, .223 and .300 blk. In fact the .300 blk is an outstanding caliber for an AR pistol. The most common barrel length for an AR pistol is 9 inches (especially for .300 blk). More or less is a matter of personal choice.

Part 4 – Best AR 15 Brands

The AR-15 platform has literally become like car brands. You can find the basic cheap ones that just get you through. Or you can opt for medium or high-end options that are loaded with features. 

Let’s take a look at the top AR-15 rifle brands available on the market today. This list is a mix of inexpensive and high-end brands to cover everything.

Palmetto State Armory

In my opinion, PSA has by far the best collection of AR-15 rifles. From full length AR’s to pistols, SBR’s, conversion kits and everything in between. You can literally find almost every kind of AR in their inventory. Their prices are extremely affordable and their huge inventory of AR’s and aftermarket parts offers a wide range of options. Great for both build or buy options.

Daniel Defense

DD is like the medium to low high end brand for AR-15 rifles. Their rifles are absolutely loved by veterans and LEO’s. You get a good mix of features and a high quality rifle. Somewhere around the range of $1,100 – $1,800. The DDM4 V7 model is especially popular among AR enthusiasts. It is a US company that sources raw materials locally. 

Bravo Company

Bravo Company or BCM is another trusted brand selling AR-15’s on the U.S market. Known for their reliability, good features and a price that suits most buyers.The Mod 0, Mod 2, Recce 14/16 are the best AR offerings from BCM. 

Colt

The official owner of the trademark AR-15, and also a supplier for the U.S defense forces. Colt’s LE6920 is the closest you’ll find to the Military’s M4 rifle. Their AR’s are very affordable, reliable and tough. Plus, the price is almost always under a thousand dollars to suit most budgets. 

Smith & Wesson

The Smith and Wesson M&P Sport 15 is the AR in question here. This company has been known for its outstanding quality of firearms for a long time now. Theirs are the most budget friendly entry level AR-15 rifles. Plus, you get prompt customer support and a good warranty. 

Larue

This brand is the gold standard in direct impingement AR-15’s. It is expensive (costs $1,500+) but with impeccable quality and sub-MOA accuracy. It is also covered by a lifetime warranty, so your rifle is more like an investment. LWRC International is another closely comparable brand when piston AR’s are concerned.

Top AR-15 Parts & Modification Brands

Modifying an AR-15 is almost inevitable. Especially if you want to put its modular capabilities to good use. Let’s take a look at some brands that offer specific or complete customization options. 

Timney Triggers

Timney Triggers is an American company that has mastered the art of trigger making and has been in business for the past 75 years. They offer the lightest AR-15 trigger (Calvin Elite) ever made with a pull weight of just 1.5 lbs. Their triggers are expensive, but one of the best you can find.

Magpul

Magpul Industries Corporation is a Texas based American brand and is the absolute champion when it comes to polymer based AR accessories. Their magazines, slings, grips, handguards and stocks are widely appreciated and accepted aftermarket upgrades for many AR-15 users. Thanks to their quality and affordability.

Rainier Arms

I chose Rainier over other popular AR-15 barrel brands like Faxon Firearms and Ballistic Advantage. That’s because their barrels deliver top notch accuracy and performance. At both affordable and high end price ranges. Their BCG’s, muzzle brakes and gas blocks are also worth giving a try.

Wilson Combat 

Wilson Combat is renowned for manufacturing ‘jewellery quality’ AR-15 stuff. Especially unique high quality designs that can be passed down as heirlooms. Their AR pistols and AR9’s are just fantastic. Along with their AR barrels and BCG options. The company has a wide range of AR-15 complete rifle options. Even pre-built featureless rifles.

Aero Precision

This company is by far the most trusted for buying AR-15 lower and upper receivers and their kits. Their receivers are just great and so are some other accessories from their subsidiaries. Like the AR muzzle brake from VG6 precision.

Gun Mag Warehouse

This company offers one of the largest collections of magazines for almost any rifle or handgun on the U.S market. It is not a specific brand, but rather a collection of the best magazines you can find.

Streamlight

While there’s a ton of different brands out there offering lasers and lights for the AR-15 platform. Streamlight is one of the oldest and most trusted brands with a wide assortment of tactical and handheld lights. The company is based in Pennsylvania, U.S.

Brownells

Brownells has been the go-to option for buying rifles, handguns and their accompanying accessories for decades now. Brownells also manufactures their own components for AR-15 rifles. That includes everything from the lower receiver to small takedown pins. Stock availability can be slim sometimes. But their customer support is amazing.

Optics Planet

With more than 5000+ product options for AR-15 accessories. Plus, a ton of optics to choose from. This Illinois based American company is the Amazon of firearm owners. They don’t sell complete firearms, but you can find everything else there.

SilencerCo.

This company was founded in 2008 and is based in Utah. SilencerCo has earned a very respectable reputation for manufacturing high quality suppressors for rifles and handguns. While there are other manufacturers offering muzzle device solutions. This is one of the most versatile.

Part 5 – AR-15 Attachments & Customizations

The AR-15 is renowned for its modularity. The options for customization and aftermarket accessories are extremely vast. 

AR-15 Barrels & Barrel Attachments

An OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) AR-15 rifle can be availed in a wide variety of options. The barrel is an integral part of the rifle and also a core component. As you already know, there are three different profiles of AR-15 barrels: light, medium and heavy. With each of these having their own specific benefits. 

The next most important factor when choosing a barrel is it’s length. A 16 or 18 inch barrel is considered ideal for AR-15 rifles. That is suitable for general use. Whereas for dedicated applications like hunting, competitions, long range shooting etc. The barrel length depends on the use. 

A simple OEM mil-spec barrel in a medium profile is good for general use. Whereas modifications like exterior coating, inner lining, fluting, rifling, twist rate and profile. 

Barrels intended for making home defense rifles tend to be smaller. A good choice will be to prefer a SBR (Short Barrel Rifle) or an AR pistol for home defense due to their compact size and easy maneuverability. But using an SBR will also require you to register it with the ATF. 

18 or 20 inch barrels are considered best for hunting with AR-15s. Since they offer a good mix of accuracy and velocity to cover range and also allow the bullet to hold enough energy. 

Barrels longer than 20 inches, like the 24 inch heavy bull profile barrels are mostly preferred for long range shooting. Especially precision shooting and in calibers like the .300 blk and 6.5 Creedmoor. A bull profile barrel is entirely cylindrical rather than being tapered. Making it stiffer and more resilient to change in barrel harmonics. 

As far as barrel attachments are considered, a flash hider is almost always included when buying a complete AR-15 rifle. Additionally, people who go for short 14.5 inch barrels permanently attach muzzle devices to the barrel to touch that 16” minimum limit. 

Photo Credit: gunbacker.com

Many people prefer adding a muzzle brake to their barrel to mitigate recoil, or a compensator to mitigate muzzle rise. There are hybrid brakes that do both. Adding a brake is more of a personal choice since the recoil of a .223 round doesn’t ring the warning bell for most shooters. Unless long range precision shooting is your job of choice. 

Choosing a barrel with a threaded muzzle is always a good idea. Since you can seldom be so sure if you’ll need a muzzle device someday. Additionally, barrels with a target crown are also considered more accurate. The most popular target crowns are recessed, eleven degree, standard and deep recessed. 

Another less popular attachment for AR barrels is a suppressor. There are quite a few good suppressor options out there. But these cost a significant amount. Plus, their use to cost ratio won’t always be great. Suppressors are also subject to legal restrictions and registration. So confirm your local laws before buying one.

AR-15 Handguards

Today’s AR-15 started out as the Armalite rifle in the 50’s. When this design reached the U.S Defense Forces, the front of the rifle featured a triangular handguard. Also known as the A1 handguard. There was also a predecessor of the AR-15 design known as the AR-7 rifle. Which lacked a handguard and was used by the Airforce as a survival rifle for pilots. 

Photo Credit: gunnewsdaily.com

The handguard is an important accessory since it offers you a good grip on such a long weapon. While protecting your palms from the hot barrel. AR handguards have come a long way in development. Plus, with the development of designs like the M-lok and keymod attachment systems. A handguard now also works as a platform for mounting other accessories. 

Ar-15 handguards can be classified into two types – drop-in and free float. 

Drop-in handguards are two-piece handguards that split vertically and can be installed/removed by pulling back the spring loaded ‘delta ring’. This brings them somewhat in contact with the barrel. So pressure applied on the handguard affects the barrel harmonics and hence accuracy to some extent. 

Drop-in handguards are the original handguard design and very easy to install. Along with that, these handguards are very affordable and offer the cheapest models you can find. However, on the other hand, these handguards are limited in length by the length of the gas system of your AR. 

On the other hand, free float handguards are mounted directly to the upper receiver. Hence there’s no contact with the barrel and such rifles tend to perform better in terms of accuracy. The difference in accuracy is even more evident when using bipods or resting the rifle against any improvised platform. 

Additionally, you can also use a free float handguard longer than the gas system length by using a low profile gas block. Hence increasing handguard length and accessory mounting options. 

Photo Credit: gear-report.com

Handguards can have picatinny rails on one or multiple sides for attaching accessories. Those with M-lok or keymod design systems also allow attaching accessories with suitable mounting couplers. 

Free float handguards are also available in a variety of designs, including carbon fiber and also skeletonized designs that reduce overall weight. Longer handguards are suitable for competitions and tactical use.

Rails & Riser Mounts

The AR-15 is renowned for its customizability, and the components which plays an extremely important part in making it such is the rail. The Mil-std 1913 rail or more commonly known as the Picatinny rail can be found on the top receiver or the handguard of the rifle. 

Photo Credit: minutemanreview.com

Apart from this standard mil-spec picatinny rail, there are two other modular mounting systems that can be topped over this rail setup. The M-lok and Keymod. The M-lok mounting platform is a free license mounting system designed by Magpul. 

The keymod rail system features a series of key shaped holes along its surface, that are used to couple with the accessories being attached. The Keymod is a newer system introduced on the market in 2012. 

Both the M-lok and keymod mounting systems allow rails to be mounted over them. Offering you the liberty to decide on the position and length of the rail to be attached. Hence culling out unnecessary weight and wastage of space. 

Choosing between the M-lok and keymod is a matter of personal preference. But as far as test results conducted by the USSOCOM are concerned, the M-lok is twice more strong than the keymod setup. So the military prefers M-lok. 

Rails can be short or long depending upon your needs. Some people prefer quad rail handguards with full length top rails to have as much mounting space as possible. 

Another rail based accessory that’s often useful for an AR-15 are riser mounts. These are essentially short picatinny rails with a riser on the base. Which elevates the position of the rail higher. These riser mounts are used to position optics on a higher level for optimal compatibility with the cheek weld position. 

Gas System & Buffer Mods

The gas system is the component which controls the recoil of your AR-15. While also ensuring that the bolt cycles properly. The gas system length is mostly proportional to the length of the barrel. However, that isn’t always necessary. 

Photo Credit: gunmagwarehouse.com

Most off-the-shelf AR-15’s come with an overgassed system. Which means more gas is being directed back to the bolt than needed. This is done to ensure reliable cycling of the bolt. But at the same time, an overgassed system puts unnecessary pressure and wear on the action components. Plus, it creates more recoil. 

A good method to check the gassing of your AR is to use an adjustable gas block. That allows you to increase or decrease the amount of gas flow. So you can fine tune the rifle according to the ammo you are using and the weight of your BCG and buffer. Competitive and long range shooters generally use adjustable gas blocks on their high end rifles. 

The buffer can be upgraded to mitigate recoil. Buffer weight is important since it decides how much recoil the shooter will actually feel. Also remember that the buffer weight is also relative to your gas system length. You use a heavy buffer on a short gas system or a light buffer on a long gas system, and things will start to go south. 

Additionally, the hotter the ammo is, the more blowback will be generated. The buffer spring also shouldn’t be overlooked here. Since it also decides how smooth the recoil will be. 

AR-15 Trigger Modifications

The factory trigger of the AR-15 features four to seven pounds of pull weight. Whereas the M4 rifles used by the military generally have a pull weight between five to nine pounds. Military uses heavy pull weights to overcome negligent discharges under stressful situations. Where one’s fingers attain the habit of quickly squeezing the trigger. 

Photo Credit: arbuildjunkie.com

On the other hand, the minimum trigger pull weight of an AR-15 can be brought down to as low as 1.5 lbs. Triggers like the Timney Calvin Elite make this possible. But obviously, they’re not cheap. 

Luckily, the AR-15 offers a ton of aftermarket and also DIY customization possibilities for the trigger. A peculiarly refined trigger is what’s preferred by competitive and tactical shooters. Especially when one has the time to relax and take a shot. Or a quick and accurate shot is what matters. 

Factors like creep, overtravel, after travel and pull weight come into play when dealing with a trigger. Aftermarket triggers for the AR-15 can be found in drop-in or standard configurations

Drop-in means that the trigger assembly is fitted inside a metal housing that’s simple plug and play. Whereas standard triggers have to be assembled manually which consumes a bit of time. 

Aftermarket triggers can either have a set pull weight, or be adjustable. The mechanism for adjustability can be as simple as using a screwdriver to tune one or two screws from outside the housing. Or by replacing the trigger springs with preset pull weights. 

Triggers for an AR-15 will always be semi-auto. Full auto triggers aren’t legally allowed unless you own a full-auto M16 manufactured pre-ban on automatic weapons. Additionally, how you can get your hands on one is a different story. 

Another classification for aftermarket triggers is based upon their mechanism. There are single state tiggers that break and fire in just one pull. Then there are double stage triggers with a heavy first stage break and then a lighter second stage break to strike the firing pin. 

There are binary triggers as well which release a shot twice in a single pull and release. 

Two stage triggers are more suitable for competitive shooters since the lighter second stage allows the shooter to finally release the trigger with the least movement and effort. Hence affecting accuracy. 

Another small trigger modification is the trigger guard. Some people have oversized or small palms, so the regular trigger guard may not feel comfortable. Additionally, one may also want an oversized guard when working with thich gloves in the winter.

AR-15 Sights, Scopes, Lasers, & Flashlights

Moving from the integral components of the AR-15 to the more auxiliary components. Let’s talk about upgrades that improve the performance of the shooter along with the rifle. The four most important accessories concerned here are sights, scopes, lasers and flashlights. 

Photo Credit: sigsauer.com

Starting with sights, the original M16 style rifle featured a carry handle style sight. Known as the A1 or A2 sight (pertaining to the design variant). But as the design of the rifle was further refined, the flat top receivers with adjustable rear and fixed front sights took over. 

Now you can find flip-up iron sights for your AR-15 which are more commonly known as BUIS (back up iron sights). As far as sights are concerned, they find very limited use with AR users. Mostly for plinking, some range use and mag dumps. Or in other terms, for non-serious uses. But iron sights are still an essential backup when optics and electronics fail. 

The next addon is a scope. From small red dot sights suitable for close quarter engagements to high variable zoom scopes for medium and long distance shooting. The kind of optic you mount on your AR-15 will depend upon your intended application. 

You have a ton of options to choose from when optics are concerned. If you have the budget and desire to use the most advanced optics, you can check out the best AR-15 night vision scopes and thermal scopes for hunting in the dark

As you move towards mounting a scope to your rifle, make sure you have the right scope mounts, relevant to the size of the sight or scope. 

Lasers are specially useful for tactical applications like combat or home defense. A laser sight is a very effective piece of equipment in absolutely dark defense situations where you can quickly refer to the laser dot to aim and shoot. 

As icing on the cake, there are laser and flashlight combo options available on the market. These help illuminate your target area while also making aiming easier. There’s a reason why special forces use these combo setups. Additionally, there are aftermarket flashlights available for the AR-15 that can be mounted or used handheld. There’s literally a ton of options out there to scour. 

AR-15 Charging Handles

The charging handle, also known as the cocking handle or bolt handle is a long rod-like device mounted inside the top part of the receiver of the AR-15. The function of this handle is to pull back the bolt and the trigger hammer-sear mechanism and set it into the ready/cocked position. 

Photo Credit: tacticalshit.com

Pulling the charging handle the first time on a new magazine pulls out a new round from the mag, cocks the trigger and pushes the round into the chamber. The charging handle on the AR-15 is a spring loaded mechanism that automatically moves forward after pulling. 

This handle is also useful for ejecting spent/misfired rounds, clearing jams/misfeeds, verifying the weapon for safety and releasing the LRBHO. 

AR-15 aftermarket charging handles come in a wide range of designs. Some specifically aim to solve a particular problem. Some handles have extended latches for easy grip, whereas some are extended on both sides for ambidextrous use. 

The AR has a top charging handle, but if you use or want a side-charging AR, you’ll have to get a side charging handle. For which there are plenty of options available. 

The finish of the handle (like nitride) helps with its lubricity and durability. Some handles feature ergonomic designs and/or grooves for easy and comfortable grips. Obviously, the more smooth and easy a handle, the easier it will be to charge the rifle or clear jams. 

High end and ambidextrous handles are mostly preferred for tactical and defense applications or competitions. These are some unique designs with a latch that help left handed users easily use a right handed AR. 

AR-15 Magazines, Mag Couplers, & Speedloaders

The magazine is an integral part of the AR-15 rifle. A magazine can be made up of metal or polymer. The original G.I issue mags for the M16 were made from metal. But in 2017, the military shifted to polymer Magpul PMAGs for the M4 to some extent. Which have proven to be very reliable. 

Photo Credit: peakfirearms.com

The reason I’m telling you that is to express that polymer magazines shouldn’t be seen with skepticism. Especially for serious situations where life and death are at stake. 

A lot of aftermarket magazine upgrades are available for the AR-15. Metal mags are a tad bulky and prone to deformation upon falling. But they are sturdy and more resilient to pressure. Polymer mags on the other hand are lightweight and also cheaper. You can also find hybrid mags that use some metal and some polymer. 

Make sure the magazine you choose has a good anti-tilt follower and a strong spring for reliable feeding. Some AR calibers can use mags interchangeably (like the .223, .300 and .458 Socom). But you must always use dedicated mags. 

Before you buy an aftermarket mag for your AR or any other firearm. Make sure you abide by the legal minimum capacity. 

Another useful accessory for mags is a magazine coupler. These are used to combine two or more magazines together for quick changing. Couplers are great for combat, self-defense and also competitions. Where quick access to fresh rounds within the least possible time is crucial. 

However, carrying mags using couplers will increase the overall weight and forward balance of your AR-15. So keep your forearms strong. Additionally, make sure to check beforehand if your coupler is compatible with your specific design of magazine. 

Finally, one extremely useful tool for loading the AR-15 magazines is a speedloader. Filling up a 30 round mag with cartridges takes time. Plus, when you are filling up multiple mags, you are sure to have a sore thumb. 

People with issues like finger arthritis can’t even imagine filling up mags. That’s where a speed loader comes in. It helps reduce the overall time and effort to reload magazines. 

A speedloader is very useful during magdump range sessions. Or when you have to fill up a lot of mags at once. There are a lot of designs to choose from. That range from small pocket sized speedloaders to larger ones with higher capacity and quicker operation.

AR-15 Grips, Foregrips, Handstops, & Bipods

Grips and bipods are the accessories which help with easy handling of the rifle. The AR-15 features a standard pistol style grip for the best and easiest gripping and proper distribution of weight. 

Photo Credit: snipercountry.com

Some grips are plain straight whereas some may feature molded grooves for gripping the fingers. Some designs may have an overmolded swell to accommodate large palms, whereas others may have some sort of texture to ensure a stable grip. There are literally tons of options out there. 

Deciding on the right grip becomes very essential when you have to shoot while making maneuvers. Like in defense or competitions. Stationary situations like hunting or benchrest can be coped up with any style of grips. 

Some states with restricted laws (like California) require one to have an unregistered AR-15 as a ‘featureless rifle’. Restricting the use of pistol grips and vertical fore grips, and requiring featureless grips.

Foregrips are a useful accessory too for the AR-15. A vertical foregrip helps with gripping the forend of the rifle with more stability. While also not touching the handguard and disturbing barrel harmonics in any way. Hence they are widely used by defense forces and competition shooters. 

There are a ton of foregrip options out there. Some even split-up to work as a small bipod. Whereas some designs may have integral accessories like a flashlight.

Vertical foregrips can legally be mounted only on AR-15 rifles with a minimum overall length of more than 26 inches. They can’t be mounted on AR-15 pistols and are also restricted in some states. 

A good workaround for that is to use a handstop. That works as a clutch allowing you to rest your fingers on the handguard. 

Another important accessory to consider is a bipod. Especially if you are a hunter or using your rifle for long range shooting. A bipod is a two legged device mounted under the handguard of the AR-15 to provide a stable shooting platform for the rifle. Mainly in the prone shooting position. 

A bipod with adjustable height, pan and cant works the best for versatile operation. However, you can also favor simpler non-adjustable designs if your intended use can suffice with them.

AR-15 Ammo Selection

The AR-15 comes in many calibers, but for the sake of discussion let’s stick to the standard .223. When choosing ammo for your AR-15, this first thing is to remember a difference. The difference between 5.56 and .223 Remington. 

Photo Credit: gundigest.com

Both these cartridges and bullets have the same dimensions. But the .223 Rem is a civilian round loaded to lighter pressures than the 5.56. Which is a military round. While you can shoot a 5.56 from a .223 Rem barrel, you risk damaging your barrel. Or even a severe explosion accident. 

However, on the other hand, a 5.56 round can be fired safely from a rifle chambered in .223 Wylde. It’s all about SAAMI approved pressures. 

AR-15 ammo mostly comes in three major bullet types, the hollow point, soft point and the FMJ (Full Metal Jacket). 

Hollow point rounds expand quickly upon impact, transferring their energy instantly. Hence they are more preferred and also legal for hunting. Soft point bullets offer better penetration than a hollow point and also good expansion. So they are preferred for big games. 

FMJ are used by the military and you may be amazed to know that FMJ ammo is intended to wound, not kill. All the countries who signed the Hague convention declaration of 1899 (the U.S is not one of them) are required to use FMJ ammo for combat. 

As far as the AR-15 is concerned, FMJ rounds are illegal for hunting and mostly used for range use or competitions. Due to their heavy penetration, you may not prefer them in an urban home defense scenario.

Part 6 – AR-15 Care & Travel

Owning an AR-15 is like owning a car. If you want it to run flawlessly, you’ll have to put some effort into maintenance. Plus, being a firearm, it also has some other peculiarities related to transport. 

Travel, Storage, & Gear Protection

You cannot store or carry your AR-15 as you do with your cell phone. Being a weapon, it has to be handled with utter care. Additionally, some states have made it mandatory to store your weapons inside a gun safe or a locked box that limits access to unauthorized users and kids. 

Photo Credit: outdoorempire.com

Always confirm your local laws when you have to travel around with your rifle. Some states allow carrying an unloaded firearm inside the drivers compartment, whereas some require it to be carried in the boot of the car. State laws may differ largely from state to state. 

You can opt between a soft case or a hard case to carry your AR-15. Soft cases are generally more flexible and suitable for transportation in a personal vehicle. So you can take care of how the case is handled. 

Hard cases are most suitable for airline travel or storing expensive rifles for maximum protection. There are waterproof hard cases from companies like Pelican that protect your weapon against fire and water. Along with having a good locking mechanism. 

As far as airline travel is concerned, you cannot carry your AR-15 in your hand baggage. It has to be declared, locked into a hard case, and transported through the luggage compartment. Plus, the ammo has to be stored in a different case and a weight limit not to exceed 11 lbs. Confirm with the TSA guidelines and also the airline you intend to travel with. Since each has a slightly different set of rules.

However, the entire time you travel with your AR-15 through an airline. You have the liberty to decide that only you can handle the case and your weapon for inspection.

Cleaning, Repairs, & Maintenance

The AR-15 is an easy design to field strip with minimum tools and effort. But as you add more and more accessories or try to customize your rifle. You’ll need a few extra tools for the job. Like a front sight tool or a handguard removal tool and so on. 

Photo Credit: gunnewsdaily.com

There are many dedicated tool kits and cleaning kits that’ll help you do the regular repairs and cleaning. The cleaning kits can be universal or caliber specific and may be comprehensive or like the G.I issue models. Additionally, you’ll also need cleaning solvents or lubes like the Hoppe’s 9 to keep your rifle lubricated.

The direct impingement gas system of the AR-15 rifle is pretty easy to clean (the gas tube is self-cleaning). Additionally, there are no wooden parts to think about things like lacquer finish or swollen wood. 

As a general rule of thumb, an AR-15 should be cleaned after every 250-300 rounds. Some may prefer more and some less. I’ve seen people not cleaning their AR’s for months and slamming the forward assist or slapping the rifle itself to clear jams. But it’s better not to get to that point. Especially if you plan to use your rifle for defense or competitions.

Conclusion

The AR-15 is a modern sporting rifle with immense variety for customizations. The rifle is very versatile and can serve every role you can think of for a long rifle. From hunting to self-defense, the AR-15 rifle is the most owned and selling rifle in the United States. This dependable platform is a civilian version of the M4 rifles used by the U.S Military. So reliability and proven performance are guaranteed here. 

There are a lot of aftermarket upgrade options and what you should opt for depends entirely upon your intended use of the rifle.



Josh Lewis the managing editor at Gun Mann and when he isn't writing about guns he is more than likely tinkering with them. He also enjoys hunting, fishing and spending time outdoors. As a lifelong gun owner he knows his stuff!