Friday, July 18, 2008

Choosing an AR-15

The following query was posted to a mailing list I'm on:

Am thinking about purchasing an AR15 but there are many different
models. Which do you recommend for both home protection and emergency
hunting? I would definitely want one that chambered both .223 and

Also what is the best scope for both quick target aquisition and very
precise (1 or 2 inches) shots out to say 150 yards? Would a zoom be
best? Also do they make a good scope that is also night vision?

And this is what I posted in reply:

I recommend going over to and perusing the technical forums,
along with the various tech manuals they have onsite.

In general, when looking for an AR15 to be used for defense I regard
the following features as requirements:

1. 5.56mm chamber. This improves reliability and allows you to shoot .
223 or 5.56 spec loads safely.
2. Chrome lined bore and chamber. Improves reliability and makes it
easier to clean.
3. Flat top upper receiver, which greatly simplifies adding optics.
4. Properly staked bolt carrier. Loose carrier keys contribute to
functioning problems.
5. Barrel twist of 1:9 is fine but 1:7 is better, because it will
handle heavier bullets.
6. A lightweight or M4 profile barrel is better than a heavy barrel on
a defensive rifle. HBARs are fine for target shooting but slow you
down for defensive work.
7. No match triggers on serious rifles. They aren't rugged enough.
8. Avoid the temptation to hang all sorts of tacticrap off your rifle.
9. I like having a telescoping stock. Aside from making the rifle
more compact for storage, it enables me to adjust length of pull for
different clothing (e.g., t-shirt vs. winter coat) or different

My rifle is a Colt AR-15A3 Tactical Carbine. The one feature I may
change on it is the barrel, it's a 1:9 twist HBAR. I'd prefer a
lightweight 1:7 twist barrel. Based on what I've read by instructors
who see lots of ammo go downrange, Colts tend to be the most reliable
of the major manufacturers. You pay a premium but on a defensive
rifle reliability is the single most important factor.

I've added a DPMS ambidextrous safety because I am left handed.

Unless you are running a suppressor or a short barreled rifle, a gas
piston upper is unnecessary. Learn to properly clean and lube your
rifle and it'll be reliable. (Hint: run it wet.)

For civilian defensive use the best choice for an optic is probably an
Aimpoint, non-magnified red dot. The Aimpoints offer very long
battery life, are very rugged, and fast. I have an IOR Valdada 3x25mm
CQB scope, which offers low magnification (important for me because if
I lose my glasses I'll at least have the scope) and is built like a
tank. I bought the IOR as a less expensive alternative to a Trijicon

I would avoid a zoom optic on a defensive carbine unless the highest
power is 4x. Murphy's Law dictates that when you need to use the
rifle up close the scope will be zoomed to the highest magnification,
which will slow you down. Illuminated reticles are a good, so you can
see them in poor light.

Stick with USGI milspec aluminum magazines or Magpul P-Mags. The
British and Singaporean steel mags are good, too, but may benefit from
replacement springs and/or followrs. HK mags are good but grossly
overpriced. Avoid no-name or USA-brand magazines, which are junk.


Timbo said...

I agree with most everything you said in your response, but one thing that you and I disagree on is telescoping stocks. It's a personal preference more than anything, but I like the traditional solid stock for a couple of reasons.

1. In the unlikely event that I need to buttstroke someone, the advantage is obvious.

2. I have a butt-mounted mag holder that I got from LA Policegear that works very, very well. A telescoping stock would render this useless.

3. I simply like the more substantial feel of the solid stock.

4. I actually do use the cleaning gear storage space on the stock, and for a "emergency" rifle, I find this to be a important feature. Plus, I can always stuff a little cash, or a small survival kit in there.

5. Moving parts can malfunction. A solid stock can't

Dave Markowitz said...

Those are all valid reasons. It all depends on what your personal calculus is.

Greg said...

Thanks, this info is great!

Anonymous said...

stick with your 1:9 twist barrel. It gives you the ability to handle the lighter grain ammo and still stabilize the heaver stuff.

Never know when being able to accurately shoot any 5.56 ammo may come in handy.

Good stuff. I enjoy the blog.

Morgan said...

Using quality parts is the key. I use mostly Colt parts fro the upper and LPK, but I prefer Nodak Spud retro lowers - very high quality, and every bit as good as Colt IMO. BCM or LMT BCG's or other parts are also GTG.

FWIW I prefer the feel of a fixed, A1 length stock on my carbine. The heavier buffer also helps reliability. A2 uppers are cheap and plentiful, as everyone has been brainwashed into thinking they need a flattop. Enhanced extractor kits are cheap (under $5) and worth every penny. Putting the lower together is not rocket science, and anyone with a modicum of hand/motor coordination can do it.

Last thing is, run the thing WET. Lots of lube. Synthetic motor oil works well in a pinch. Adding some lube during a lull in the fighting (LOL) is more importnat than cleaning. Most quality AR's will run unbelievably dirty as long as you keep them well lubed. (BCG bearing surfaces, cam pin etc. Conventional thought that AR's need to be kept clean - new doctrine says forget cleaning them, just keep them well-lubed and clean when possible. (Preferably when someone isn't shooting at you on a two-way range.) Just my .02

Tactical Joke said...

Spot on about the 1/7" twist. I can shoot 55gr rounds all day, unless you're shooting super-light varmint rounds, there is no compelling argument for going slower than a 1/8 twist, but there are plent of arguments for 1/7".