So you want to buy an AR-15 - FAQs
This gem has been a sticky on XDtalk.com for a while now. LOTS of great info.
Wow- just an incredible amount of info about firearm that is really gaining popularity- at least when I go to the gun range :)
For the link challenged :)
This is my stab at a complete AR-15 buyer's guide for the "non-gunny" officer, looking to buy a patrol rifle. If that's not you, this may not be very applicable, but I hope you can get something out of it. This thread has taken on a life of its own, and has reached enormous circulation around the internet, making it full-circle back to me in a forward! I am humbled by this. More knowledgable people than I have both contributed to this, and have given me feedback to make it better. If there is still something written here that is either incorrect, or is still unclear, PLEASE contact me so I can fix it!
Thanks for reading!
So you want to buy an AR-15, huh? Well, you came to the right place.
Let me guess, you have seen a few models in your local store, you have seen some ads in the gun rags, and a "guy" you know thinks his rifle is "the best." And now you need some help separating the wheat from the chaff, and have come here to find out what is best for you. Am I close?
I am going to assume you plan to take this into harm's way, or at least want a rifle CAPABLE of being taken onto a "two-way" range. If you just want a recreational shooter, just pick up whatever fits your budget at your local gunshop. If it doesn't work as advertised, no one gets hurt. But for those whose lives depend on meeting evil in this present age with force, and lots of it, keep reading...
The first question you SHOULD ask yourself, is "what's allowed?" For sworn Law Enforcement Officers employed by a department/agency, this could be as simple as "quality rifle approved by the Range Master." Or, it could be as picky as "Colt or Rock River Arms" (Dallas PD.) So BE SURE you get something that FITS YOUR POLICY, as well as fits your needs. Let's keep going...
Secondly, you should assess your tactical parameters. Are you a lone deputy out in the sticks? Are you a member of a dedicated SWAT team in an urban setting? This will all play into what you should look into. We'll talk about that later, so let's move along for now...
In addition, we need to consider what options you will be needing, and what accessories you will be running. These can range from slings, to sights, to lights, etc...
Regardless, you will need a rifle that is DEAD NUTS RELIABLE, and made to a degree of quality assurance that you can TRUST it with your life, and the lives of your fellow officers, not to mention the sheep...err, I mean people, under your watch.
Let's focus (for now) on this last point, and discuss what is needed in a fighting rifle.
The heart of the rifle is the barrel. The barrel is the part of the rifle that directly touches the bullet in its path towards the target, and will be the single most expensive part in your rifle. It is also the one part of an AR-15 rifle that is prone to deteriorating (due to rust, erosion, or being shot-out.) The barrel is what determines the service-life of the rifle, so it should not be the part we scrimp on in order to save a few clams.
So, what kind of barrel SHOULD a fighting rifle have? We have two choices: Stainless Steel (expensive), and Chrome-Lined 4150 steel. 4140 is what most commercial barrels are made of, and is not altogether a horrible choice (as long as it is chrome-lined), but 4150 is still preferable.
H&K, Noveske, and now LWRC are offering Cold Hammer Forged barrels, which are MUCH more durable than standard barrels. These have a service life far surpassing what is currently available, but still need to be chrome-lined. CHF barrels are more expensive and should be regarded as highly desirable.
While SS barrels are VERY accurate, are VERY durable, and are definitely 'en vogue', they are also usually heavier, as they are most commonly made for "match" rifles. In addition to weighing more, they are also more expensive. This can range from moderately more expensive, to outlandishly more expensive! You will also have to be sure the chamber is meant for a fighting rifle, and not a match rifle. We'll talk about that in a minute...
So now that we know what material it should be made of, what about the other aspects? Here is the list of characteristics you should look for:
1- Gov't profile
2- Chrome lined chamber and bore
3- 5.56 NATO chamber
4- 1/7 twist
5- Parkerizing under front sight base
6- M4 feed ramps
7- Magnetic particle tested
If this is what we SHOULD look for, what else could we see? We'll take it spec by spec...
1- Gov't profile
As far as barrel profile goes, other specs would include, "HBAR" (heavy barrel), "Heavy", "MedCon" (medium contour), "SOCOM", or "Bull." While medium contour and Socom mean the same (slightly heavier than Gov't profile, not as heavy as HBAR), they are meant for those who fire their bang-sticks switched to "group therapy", not for semi-auto like most of us will use. All the above nomenclature means the barrel will weigh more than it should, and most likely made the barrel cost less to produce. Other specs would include "A1", "Superlight" or "pencil." These are the smallest barrels, and have a tendency to lose accuracy once they heat up. They still keep to the M4 standards of accuracy, so its not critical. They aren't necessarily bad options, but they do limit your ability to modify your rifle with aftermarket front sight bases later on (barrel profile under the FSB is too skinny for standard aftermarket products.)
In summary: Gov't Profile, SOCOM/MedCon, or Lightweight are all fine options.
2- Chrome lined chamber and bore
Now that we have looked at which profiles we can choose from, let's look at the second spec. Several manufacturers make "Chrome Moly" barrels standard, and offer chrome lining as either an upgrade or they just don't offer it at all. This is unsat. Chrome lining is more than voodoo, it helps in many aspects of your rifle. It allows you to clean your rifle when you can, and doesn't necessitate you clean it NOW. It won't rust, or pit, or for that matter get dinged by a cleaning rod as easily. It has natural lubricity that allows for easier extraction when conditions aren't optimal (dirty chamber, hot round that would otherwise stick, etc...) Chrome also requires no break-in, and it wears at such a slow rate that service life is extended far beyond a standard chrome moly barrel. For the little bit extra it costs up front, it pays off in the end in spades for a fighting rifle. The one downside is a slight loss in accuracy, which will not be noticeable unless you scope it and shoot it over sandbags.
3- 5.56 NATO chamber
The proper chambering for a fighting rifle is 5.56 NATO, not .223 REM. While the cartridges are identical to the naked eye, they ARE nonetheless different. Most importantly, the 5.56 round will not feed reliably in the tighter .223 REM chamber. If you are looking to buy a match rifle, look for .223 REM and buy/load for it specifically. If you want a fighting rifle, you want the looser 5.56 NATO chamber.
Other offerings (usually in stainless steel barrels) can be "Wylde", or "Dutch." They have the characteristics of both chambers, with no drawbacks that I have ever come across. Noveske calls his something else, but it's the same concept as the Wylde. (Wylde/Noveske chambers are designed to enhance accuracy, while Dutch chambers are designed to enhance reliability.)
4- 1/7 twist
The rate of twist for any given barrel is specific to the projectile diameter, length and velocity. For a 55gr 5.56 NATO round (M193), the proper twist is somewhere around 1/10 to 1/12. The original M16A1 came in a 1/12 twist. However, for the heavier 62gr M855 round, 1/12 does not work. The M16A2 went from 1/12 to 1/7 twist, allowing for this round. Truth be told, the 62gr penetrator (SS109) is actually the length of a 69gr bullet, but weighs less because it has a steel core instead of a lead core. This round will tumble wildly in a 1/12 twist barrel. Testing showed this fast twist rate will show premature throat erosion, so commercial barrel makers decided to make their barrels 1/9 twist since they did not need to adhere to the strict military requirement of 1/7. This worked, and the throat erosion seemed to be mitigated. However, with the newest advances in bullet design pushing the envelope to 75gr and 77gr projectiles, 1/9 is not quite getting the job done reliably. Due to tolerances for rifling a barrel, some barrels marked 1/9 can shoot the heavies with no ill effects, but others marked 1/9 throw them down range tumbling wildly. This is not good. A tumbling bullet is not a consistent bullet, and consistency is what produces both accuracy and controlled expansion. So if you want to load your rifle with the most advanced anti-personnel loadings you can, you will want a 1/7 marked barrel. If your duty load is only 55gr or 62gr at most, then 1/9 is probably alright. 1/12 is unsat. You will be stuck with 52-55gr.
While this is not an ammo post, but a rifle post, I will keep it short. A good rule of thumb for the AR-15 is to get the heaviest bullet it will reliably stabilize, as it will penetrate deep enough to reliably hit vital organs, which is your actual target in a gunfight. Ballistic tips do NOT reliably penetrate deep enough to hit these targets when conditions are "imperfect." Stick with BTHP (OTM) ammo, and get the heavies. Our duty load is the Winchester Ranger 69gr BTHP (which works well in 1/9 twist barrels), but my personal choice is 75gr OTM (which I carry in my 1/7 twist LWRC and CMMG.)
5- Parkerizing under front sight base
This is one of those features that is an indicator of quality, moreso than it being an actual feature. However, when I switched out my standard FSB on my Bushmaster rifle to a railed gas block, it exposed some of the white metal that was not parkerized. While it did not rust on me, it was annoying. I later switched back to a standard FSB, but I still KNOW it's "naked" under there... http://forums.officer.com/forums/images/wink.gif Just to reiterate, this is not a critical issue.
6- M4 feed ramps
While there is some debate whether the feedramps DO anything, I am of the opinion if they will prevent one stoppage in 1k rounds, and cost ME nothing extra, I want them. HOWEVER, if you're going to have M4 ("extended") feedramps, they'd better be legit, and not just be dremeled in there. They should be anodized over, or polished, and better be lined up correctly (the feedramps are cut deeper into the barrel extension and line up with matching cuts in the upper receiver.) Otherwise they become a liability. So this check-mark is different from the rest. It's not just "check, it has 'em," but "check, it has 'em, and this manufacturer has a good reputation for properly doing them."
In addition, a rifle could have a barrel extension with extended feedramps, but the upper receiver does not. This is ok. On the other hand, the receiver could be cut for extended feedramps and the barrel is not. This is NOT ok. (See below)
PLENTY of carbines have functioned just fine without M4 feedramps, and you should not ditch your current rifle just because they aren't there. I carry a Bushmaster M4A3 Patrolman's Carbine without M4 feedramps on duty, so OBVIOUSLY I do not consider them a "must-have." But if I were buying a NEW rifle, I would look to get one WITH the M4 feedramps.
7- Magnetic Particle Inspected (MPI)
Magnetic Particle testing is a military designated test that is part of the TDP (Technical Data Package.) Colt has made such a ruckus about this procedure, that I hear more about MP tested barrels and bolts than any other argument for Colt. Well, others now offer this as well, and I have YET to EVER hear about a barrel or bolt that failed this test. Maybe it happens, but I've just never heard of it.
From Sgt Geezer:
Any magnetic metal object is placed between two jaws (aligned so that the grain of the steel is between) and electrically charged with pulses. Object has liquid solution containing particles that fluoresce under blacklight or magnetic dry powder is used.
Any non metallic occlusion or "crack" will cause the collection of these particles at these indications. In new manufacture it assures the "steel" or melt is good without any contaminants.
Shotpeening is...a process that uses lead....glass... or / usually steel shot through a "airgun" or blasting device that peens the surface metal over and creates hardness and crack resistance.
I chalk these procceses up to "voodoo," but someone MIGHT correct me on this. http://forums.officer.com/forums/images/wink.gif (Thanks Sgt Geezer!)
That finishes up the barrel portion, so now let's move on to the REST of the rifle!
GAS SYSTEMS OF THE AR-15 FAMILY
There are three types of gas systems for the AR-15 rifle: carbine, midlength and rifle. This is referencing the gas system, not the sight radius (distance of the front sight from the rear sight.) The gas system is composed of the gas port (located under the front sight base), which the gas block covers and redirects the gas back into the upper receiver through the gas tube. The handguards cover up this tube which is just made of thin aluminum. The M16 utilizes a rifle length gas system, and has 12" handguards. The midlength uses (you guessed it) a midlength gas system (9" handguards), and the carbine (M4, CAR-15) uses (that's right) the carbine length gas system (7" handguards.)
An intersting note in regards to gas systems, is that the carbine length system was designed to be used with 11.5" barrels (Colt Commando.) When the M4 stuck a 14.5" barrel on there (and commercial manufacturers used 16" barrels) it makes the short gas system extremely harsh on the carbine, leading to the symptom of "hard extraction." To overcome this, a bolt upgrade is needed. The bolt in a carbine should have a black insert under the extractor spring. This helps the symptom, but commercial manufacturers went further and fixed the PROBLEM, not just the symptom when they created the midlength.
The "middy" is less harsh on the action, resulting in smoother extraction like its big brother, the rifle gas system. The middy naturally gives the shooter a longer sight radius than the carbine, but not as long as the rifle. It's an excellent compromise if you are going to run a 16" barrel, and it is even the correct dimensions (length from flash suppressor to FSB) for the USGI bayonet to fit!
As mentioned, the rifle is the original gas system used in the M16, and is the best. However, it necessitates the use of an 18"+ barrel, and that is getting too long for most LE work. But if you're one of those rural deputies, and you have plenty of room in your squad/truck for one, go for it. The extra barrel length will increase the velocity of your bullet, and that's always a good thing. It would not fit well in my vertical rack, so I carry a 16".
CMMG is now making a 16" using the rifle-length gas system, called the M10R. This is the first one I've ever seen. I just got off the phone with Jeff at CMMG, and it turns out he did not have to do anything different to get it to work. I don't have any firsthand experience with this rifle, and I've not even seen one, yet. Until I start hearing reports of users experiencing flawless function with this new rifle, I won't be spending my dollars on one. If it does turn out to work as well as Jeff says it does, then it definitely has an edge over the mids, enjoying a softer recoil impulse (less harsh on gas system/extractor) and longer sight radius, while still having just a 16" barrel.
This is a hybrid of sorts, and is known as the "Dissipator" according to Bushmaster (this is also the concept behind the SLR-15 as far as I know.) It uses the carbine length gas system via a low-profile gas block which is under the 12" handguards. A FSB is stuck on the end of the rifle for the 12" handguards to fit, but does not serve as the gas block, JUST the front sight. This gives the shooter a longer sight radius. The rifle does not actually use a rifle length gas system because its 16" barrel just barely pokes out past the FSB, which would not give the gases behind the bullet enough time to pressurize the gas system and reliably cycle the action.
So this becomes another option, carbine, middy, rifle or Dissipator?
Since we're on the subject of where the FSB goes, let's dig in. F-marked front sight bases are what the top tier manufacturers use. The F-marked FSB is slightly taller than its commercial brethren, and is what nearly ALL rear sights are designed to work with. With a commercial FSB and an aftermarket rear sight, you will need to adjust the front sight all the way up. Either that, or you could also buy a taller front sight post. With the front sight pin adjusted for use with aftermarket rear sights, the front sight is the same height as the "wings" that were meant to protect it... [shrug]
Clarification: There is no difference in the over-all height of a standard front sight base and an "F" front sight base. The "shelf" containing the sight post is approximately 0.040" higher above the barrel on an "F" FSB than on a standard FSB.
This results in the base of the front sight pin sticking out above the shelf when sighted in using aftermarket rear sights. This is a picture of my Bushmaster patrol rifle sighted in with a LaRue BUIS.
This is a picture of an F-marked FSB also sighted in with a LaRue BUIS.
There ARE Front Sight Bases out there that are not actually marked with an "F." LMT is the only manufacturer that I have heard about that uses these. Obviously it's not the "mark" that matters, but the proper height.
A little history is necessary before we launch into our next discussion. The M16A1 has a fixed carry handle upper receiver, which does not allow for "dialing" in elevation or windage. Tools (or a bullet tip) are needed to adjust for windage, and the front sight pin is the only way to adjust for elevation. In other words, you just "hold over" the target, instead of adjusting your sight. Of course, the rear sight does have two apertures, one for 0-200m, and another for 200m+. (I could be wrong on the exact numbers, as I don't have an A1 upper and don't mess with them much.) In the 80's, the US Military went to the M16A2, which uses a fixed "A2" carry handle upper receiver. This carry handle has elevation and windage adjustment right on the rear sight. (You still use the front sight to set the "zero.") The "A3" upper was a commercial design incorporating a flattop upper, doing away with any type of carry handle. This is the upper used on the M4 and M16A4.
There is a movement that pushes reliability over frills, and preaches "Keep It Simple Stupid" (KISS.) These people tout the A1 carry handle as the best, for its simplicity and lighter weight over the heavier A2 and A3 uppers. However, it does not allow for the use of optics mounted directly to the upper receiver, or different styles of rear sights. That's really the whole point. It "simplifies" this.
Sully uses the A1 upper with a "same plane" rear sight, which simply means there are not two different distances at which the rear sight is set. The shooter can use the larger aperture or smaller aperture with no shift in bullet impact.
There really isn't any reason for wanting an A2 upper over the A1 upper, as this will be for a fighting rifle, not a target rifle. The A2 rear sight was designed by the Army Marksmanship Unit, and then went into full production. This is the standard upper on a LOT of rifles I see on the rack, despite the fact that most shooters would be better served by the A1 or A3.
I run optics. EOTechs preferably. So I like flattop uppers. If you know you aren't going to run an optic either by choice or by policy, you may want to consider the A1 upper. Otherwise, be sure to get the A3 (flattop) upper over the A2. Sure you can mount optics ON TOP of the carry handle, or out in front of the carry handle, but neither works well.
NIGHT SIGHTS AND OPTICS
Regardless which upper you get, you will need sights that can be seen at night. This should need not be explained to those who are currently on the job. Just like the night sights on your duty pistol (you DO have night sights on your duty pistol, right?), you can get them for your rifle. You can just get the front sight, or the front and rear set.
If you choose to get a red dot optic, the night sights are unnecessary as they would just be redundant (and could create a "busy" sight picture.)
As for red dot optics, fighting rifles should be equipped with EOTech or Aimpoint red dot optics. The others are for gamers, not serious work guns.
Variable power scopes
Exceptions would be low power variable optics (1-4X) with illuminated reticles. The quality ones cost two, three, or four times as much as the most expensive red dot optic, so I'm not going to talk about these. I'll just say "S&B Short Dot", "Meopta K-Dot", "Leupold MR2", and "US Optics SN4."
Fixed magnification scopes
Fixed 3X and 4X scopes would include ACOGs, IOR Valdada, Elcan Spectre DR, or the magnifiers by EOTech and Aimpoint.
Your rifle (even though it is equipped with an optic) will also need to be euipped with a Back Up Iron Sight (BUIS.) I am a firm belliever in running a fixed BUIS behind 1X red dot optics (EOTech and Aimpoints) and flip-up BUIS behind/under magnified optics. LaRue is my choice for fixed BUIS, and Troy is my pick for a flip. ARMS also makes good stuff. In fact, there are lots of good ones out there with only a few bad ones.
My personal favorite happens to be made by AAC, and it is called the M4-2000 mod 07. Actually, it's a sound suppressor, but it also COMPLETELY eliminates the flash! But if you're not looking at spending $1k on a flash hider, there are other options!
The A2 birdcage is what comes standard on almost every rifle out there. It is a fine flash hider, and serves to protect the muzzle of your rifle as well. However, a lot of folks want to get a shorter, handier rifle, and opt for a 14.5" carbine with a permanently welded on Flash Hider (FH) to bring them to the legal barrel length of 16". For this, an aftermarket flash hider (Phantom, Vortex, etc...) is needed, as the A2 birdcage is just shy of the 1.5" needed. CMMG, recognizing this issue, makes 14.7" barrels that (when fixed with an A2 birdcage) meets the 16" needed while still retaining the classic look of the M4. It also does away with needing the 1.5" flash hider, that costs a LOT more than a $5 A2! Smith Vortex FHs cost $50, whereas the YHM Phantoms cost around $25.
The standard handguard that will come on your carbine, will either be CAR handguards or M4 handguards. The M4 handguards will be subdivided into single heat-shield, or double heat-shield handguards. Colt specs out the double heat-shielded handguards for the M4. While these protect the shooter from the hot barrel, the double heat-shielded handguards are most appropriate on full-auto guns. Still, it's nice to have the added protection, because believe me, I've shot my single heat-shielded M4 handguards so hot I couldn't hold them!! (Good times!)
Bushmaster ships their carbines with CAR grips. If you like them, fine. If not, it's $30 to upgrade to the single heat-shielded guards, and $50 to go to the double.
CMMG provides the single heat-shielded guards standard, but allows you to upgrade to double for only $20.
The other type of handguard is the railed forearm. While certainly popular, railed handguards can add a significant amount of weight to the front of your carbine. This weight is well worth it in certain circumstances, but you must decide how you want to set up your rifle beforehand, taking into consideration your policies and tactical parameters we discussed early on.
In my case, I wanted to be able to carry my rifle in the front cab of my squad, and not have to leave it in the trunk. The vertical rifle racks that are installed are meant to fit the M4 handguards, and will not fit around any railed handguard I have tried. So my patrol rifle wears standard M4 handguards.
If you decide (as others in my dept) that you would rather have the railed handguards than keep it up front, then this opens another option to you. There are two types of railed forearms/handguards: Free Float and non-Free Float.
This will allow you to mount optics on your forend, instead of just on your flattop upper. This is advantageous if you have an A2/A1 upper, and do not want to change over to the A3, or if you just prefer the red dot optic to be further out from your face. Lasers can also be mounted to free float forends. Furthermore, as its name suggests, it "free floats" the barrel. This gives you another edge in accuracy that will probably go unnoticed, unless you scope it and shoot it over sandbags. On a cosmetic appeal, free float handguards feel more "solid" than their counterparts, and mounting VFGs on them will work well (won't "flex" the handguard.)
Certain free float tubes are "one-piece", and require the removal of the FSB to install, and others are "two piece" and can go on with the FSB in place. Get the one that you like better, and be sure you have the skill handle the installation (or get your gunsmith to do it!)
Knights Armament Co (KAC)
YHM (Yankee Hill Machine)
I chose Troy.
These handguards are simpler to install, as they quite literally replace the plastic handguards. Sometimes they come with a tightening screw (KAC RAS) to make them more stable, but other times they do not. These are fine for VFGs and lights, but not optics/lasers. These were often cheaper than the free float tubes, but not so much anymore.
Knights Armament Co (KAC)
My Patrol Rifle Dilemma
My problems didn't stop with just the forearm, the locking mechanism closed right where a VFG (Vertical Fore Grip) would normally be located, not to mention where I commonly set up my weapon light. This required a bit of creativity on my part to figure out how to set up the rifle with a weaponlight, and still be able to lock it in the rack. I ended up with a Streamlight M3LED (before the M3X came out) on a TDI bayonet lug mount. This got the light off the handguards, which allowed me to lock the rack over the M4 handguards and keep my rifle both secure, and up front with me! Remember your tactical parameters!
My favorite configuration for a rifle-mounted weapon light is in a Daniel Defense Offset Light Mount attached to the 3 o'clock rail, just in front of my VFG. This allows me to hold the VFG with my off (left) hand and activate the push button with my left thumb. (pictured below)
The light pictured is a Night Ops (Blackhawk) Falcata 9v incandescent light. It is equipped with a shock isolated bezel, which permits it to be used as a weaponlight. Otherwise, an LED is preferable. Do not mount non-shock isolated lights on a recoil producing weapon. It blows bulbs (which costs $$$)
Other than mounting a weaponlight to a railed handguard, you can get a Surefire 500 series weaponlight, which actually REPLACES the handguards. Here's a picture of Beavo451's Colt LE6920 with a Surefire 500 installed.
Manufacturers that build "weapongrade" lights:
Specific lights I would recommend:
Surefire Scout, 500 series, 900 series, and 951
Pentagon dedicated weaponlights and L2
Night Ops Gladius/Falcata 9v/Falcata 6v
Insight Technologies SSL-1 and H2XTyphoon
Before we end our weaponlight discussion, let me touch on one more point. There are two types of lights, incandescent and LED. Incandescent lights need a shock-isolatd bezel, but typically have a higher output (lumens) at a cheaper price. However the LED lights do not need shock-isolated bezels, and are not fairly graded by "lumens." LEDs can have different properties, and some have a lower lumen grade but have a better "throw." This means the EFFECTIVE light on your target is better. In addition, they typically have a longer battery life, or at least taper off but still give "usable" light for a while.
Grips are mostly preference. Get the one you like. I have tried the standard A2 grip and like it alright. However after spending the better part of two days on a range, the gap where the hinge is on the under side of the triggerguard will start to give you a monster blister. If you are going to stick with the A2 grip, get a $2 "Gapper" to fill in that space. Well worth it in my opinion.
I like the Hogue grip, personally. I first tried one on an old Carbon 15 rifle, and fell in love! I now have one on three of my ARs, and have no plans to switch them out. They also require the Gapper to prevent blistering from extended range sessions.
This is my Patrol Rifle, setup with a Hogue grip:
I tried out the Tango Down Battlegrip on my LWRC shorty. It's the tan one pictured above. It's alright, and does not need a Gapper, but it cost more than the Hogue and I like it less.
I have heard great things about the Ergo grip. They have a few models, righty, and ambi, and then either hard, or "suregrip." I assume this means it is kind of rubbery. I plan to get one of these next, so I will withhold personal opinions until that time.
**Ok, I finally picked up a tan Ergo Ambi Suregrip. I installed it on my LWRC M6A1, and ran it over a 5-day Advanced Tactics course. I really like this grip! It has no storage space (it has a plug, but won't even fit a AA battery because its too thin), but I really like the feel of the grip. In addition, I like the backstrap, which comes up high over the back of the receiver. At $18, it's a definite BUY!
Magpul makes the MIAD that is completely configurable. It seems pretty nifty, but kinda steep if you want the "full" kit.
If you routinely wear gloves (warm ones, not shooting gloves) on patrol, I'd get a Magpul enhanced trigger guard. It opens up the triggerguard a little, giving you a bit more room.
Vertical Fore Grips
The major players in this market are Tango Down and Knights Armament. The TD grip has a space for a pressure pad, and both have storage space in the girp. (My tan LWRC shorty is sporting a TD VFG.)
Other options include the "Grip Pod", which is a VFG that has drop-down legs to become a bipod. Pretty neat, but pricey ($100.)
Surefire makes the 910 series of weaponlights which is actually a VFG/weaponlight in one. It's about $550.
Other than these, mostly you'll see 'el cheapo' UTG and Tapco VFGs.
There are PLENTY of options when it comes to stocks. Let's look at the historical evlolution of military stocks, then we'll look at current aftermarket stock choices.
The original M16A1 came with a fixed stock that fit well into the role of a combat arm. It fit most people, and allowed the shooter to get a proper combat position on the stock, touching the tip of the nose to the charging handle to serve as a reference point. This provided a consistant "cheek weld." It is important that the shooter can face the target and bring up his rifle straight in front of him, which positions his body armor towards the threat, giving him maximum protection.
When the Army Marksmanship Unit developed the M16A2 to win shooting competitions, they incorporated a longer "target" stock. This fixed stock is designed to be used while "bladed" to the target. The shooter does not throw the rifle up in front of him, but brings it up alongside his body and stands perpendicular to the target. This is no good on a combat arm, as this exposes the "armpit" of your body armor towards the threat. This stock (along with the entire rifle) is for target shooters, not warriors. If you have an A2 stock, shuck it! There are better options.
The original CAR stock was an aluminum two-position stock ("in" and "out.") This progressed to three, then to four positions. The current offerings are slimline plastic and usually have four positions. These are lighter than the M4 stocks, and collapse shorter.
This stock has the sling swivel on the toe, and has "ribs" to increas its rigidity. It is usually a six position stock (determined by the buffer tube, not the stock) and is the collapsable stock that comes standard on most rifles.
Short fixed stocks
The "Sully Stock" and the RRA Entry stock are both similar to the A1 stock. Fixed, short, and allow the shooter to "square" himself to the target.
Magpul makes several stocks.
The CTR is the one pictured above in tan. It is a solid locking collapsable stock that has sling options not found on the M4 stock. It can also be had with a rubber buttpad that keeps the stock from coming out of place while running and gunning.
The PRS stock from Magpul is for precision rigs, and has an adjustable comb, adjustable length of pull, and has some other features that are pretty neat. It's a fixed stock.
I'm not going to say much more about stocks, as they are mostly aesthetic, and are just a preference. They don't add to the reliability of the platform, or enhance the usefulness. I will say I like the way the CTR locks solid, like a fixed stock. The M4 stock does rattle, but is otherwise a quality stock in its own right, not needing an upgrade.
This is the possible weak point in the AR-15 rifle. I say "possible", because it doesn't HAVE to be weak, but oftentimes it is. The problem with AR-15 magazines, is that the magazine well (magwell) of the AR-15 rifle was not designed to feed from curved magazines, but from the straight 20rd mags used in the Vietnam era. When the 30rd mags came out, they had to have a very unique design. The top half is straight (in order to fit in the magwell), but the bottom is curved. This design (necessitated by the AR's magwell design) is not very good for smooth feeding from a large capacity box magazine.
Shooters today have three choices for a quality magazine that is sure to feed smoothly. The first is the original 20rd straight magazine (this does not include the Bushmaster 20rd curved mag.) The second option is a USGI 30rd magazine with a Magpul enhanced follower. All my 30rd USGI magazines have this upgrade, and it is remarkable how much smoother they feed/load with this follwer. This follower can be bought for about $2 and added to your current magazines, or you can buy magazines with this follower already installed (C-Products.) The third choice, is Magpul's P-Mag, which came out just before SHOT Show last year. I have four so far, and am thoroughly impressed. I won't go in to why this magazine is so far superior (interior continuous curve design), but rest assured, it is. And it is DURABLE in spades!
USGI mags include: Okay, Center, D&H, C Products, Bushmaster, Colt, Larsen, etc...
The ones to stay away from are: Promag, Orlite, Thermold, SA80 steel mags, any 40rd mag, etc...
In Summary: Stick with straight 20s, USGI 30s w/ Magpul followers, or P-Mags.
As always, thoroughly test all gear before you deploy with it. Don't buy new mags and take them into harm's way. Fully load them, shoot them, drop them free. If they won't do all three without malfunctions, don't use them.
**Notice I did not recommend, nor did I say to avoid the H&K "High Reliability" magazines. While it is probably the most elegantly made magazine for the AR-15, it has not been found to be durable. This comes from Pat Rogers, who has witnessed over 40 of them get used up and treated with the "hammer therapy." I don't care if you have them and love them, but TAKE CARE OF THEM. They aren't P-Mags, which you can toss off second floor roofs and run over with armored cars. At $50 a pop vs. $12 (USGI) or $14 (P-Mag), I can't recommend anyone to buy them.**
A rifle without a sling is like a handgun without a holster. Get one! Preferably one you can "wear", and won't let the rifle slip off your shoulder. These can be 3-point, 2-point, or single-point slings.
A three-point sling is my personal favorite. It has a strap that runs the length of the rifle on one side, and then has a strap that forms a loop, which you put over your head and one shoulder. This allows the rifle to be worn hanging down at an angle, on the "off" side so it doesn't get in the way of your sidearm. Three-point slings are often called "patrol slings", because they allow the shooter to let go of their weapon and walk naturally.
A two-point sling just attaches to the front and back of the rifle. These are generally the ones that come with a rifle, and will fall off your shoulder. However, there are some advanced two-points that actually keep the rifle on you.
Single point slings attach to the rifle in only one place, usually at the back of the receiver. A single-point sling plate is usually required to give you something for the sling to clip into, but some of the aftermarket stocks (CTR) have sling point attachments as well. Basically, the sling is a loop, that goes over your head and shoulder and hangs the weapon straight down in front of you. The barrel usually ends up right between your legs. Hope you don't have to run somewhere! Better hold on to that rifle like your life depended on it! http://forums.officer.com/forums/images/wink.gif These are VERY popular with SWAT Teams, as it is simpler to get in and out of, and they usually aren't "patrolling" with their weapons. This is almost just a weapon retention sling.
My pick is the Spec-Ops Mamba 3-point sling. What can I say, I like it. I have four or so on my rifles.
However, this is such a preferential part of the system, I don't think for one minute that you should make my pick your pick. Figure out what you want, and go from there.
In summary: get a sling.
Here is the BIG CHART. It shows what all the different manufacturers include in their standard offerings, and what they offer as upgrades.
As you can see, there are a few "top tier" manufacturers, and then the rest.
I'll take this slowly, and go one at a time. But before we look at the individual makers, let's unpack a couple of those "features", and see if we even WANT them.
Staked Castle Nut
I am of the opinion that staking the castle nut does only one thing, break your stock wrench when you are trying to change stocks or add a sling attachment point (endplate.) Yes, my Sgt and Range Officer broke MY wrench trying to get his stupid Colt castle nut off. He did buy me a new wrench (a better one), but it was different enough that it wouldn't work with his "proprietary" Colt castle nut (Colt, go figure!)
I use a wrench, and torque it down tight. A loose castle nut will NOT make your gun fall apart. It would have to unscrew several FULL rotations before th endplate would come far enough off the back of the receiver to allow the entire extension tube to turn, thus releasing pressure on the rear take-down detent spring. And if pressure WAS released? SO? The pin could theoretically become "uncaptured" and fall out if you pushed on it. The simple point is, this is not a critical issue, and it causes more headaches than it helps. Use red loctite if you have to, but don't stake the darn thing!
Mil Spec Receiver Extension
"Receiver Extension" is a fancy word for "Buffer Tube." There are two sizes, Mil-Spec and Commercial. The top tier manufacturers use the Mil-Spec tube, the others use the comercial. It's not a big deal, until you decide to switch stocks (Magpul, VLTR, LMT SOPMOD, etc...) The high end stocks use the Mil-Spec diameter, the cheaper stocks fit the commercial.
Magpul makes the CTR in both, so I don't care. I have both sizes.
There are blue inserts and black inserts. This spec makes it seem that there is a difference between the two. The truth is, the color of the insert is the only difference. A blue insert is fine. Black simply is used as an identifier on Colts with the heavier spring installed and has no functional difference. The issue is a stronger extractor SPRING and possibly an extraction aid like a O-ring or D-fender type insert over the spring, not the insert. A black insert without the increased spring tension is worthless.
Now let's take each entry one at a time:
SEVERAL MANUFACTURERS HAVE ENTERED THE MARKET SINCE I INITIALLY WROTE THIS ARTICLE. NAMELY, BRAVO COMPANY MANUFACTURING. EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE NOT LISTED BELOW, YOU CAN EVALUATE THE PRODUCT ON YOUR OWN BY COMPARING THE FEATURE SET WITH THE ABOVE INFORMATION, TO SEE WHERE IT STACKS UP. GOOD LUCK!
Thanks Chris! Maybe sticky worthy? ;)
:cheers: Thanks man. Lots of great info.
Im considering the S&W M&P 15
I do have a quick question, for anyone who knows what they're talking about. Kind of a noob question.
Q- I am looking at buying the S&W M&P15 MOE Edition. It says its chambered for the 5.56mm Round does this mean I can still shoot .223 rounds through it? If so will it be harmful to the gun? thanks
Yes, 5.56 chambered guns can shoot the .223 as well, just not the other way around;)
^^ Thanks for the response. I've done my research now. haha. Thats a pretty common question. Can't wait to buy this S&W.
heck yea, they are sexy guns! I wish I had time to get out and shoot my AR more often
Are your guys still talking about those evil guns? You know all they do is kill people in the middle of the night while you sleep. Why would anyone want a stupid AR?
Nice link, good read
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