By Jack Billington
As an ex-military (veteran) professional with combat experience from active duty in the Middle East I got to use many a weapon, some out of mandatory compliance and others out of preferred choice. There are many weapons available for different jobs, but there is one weapon that sticks out as all-around combat, hunting, training and for home safety too.
This weapon is the half-century-old AR-15, yup; you heard me right, it’s over half a century old. The AR-15 is now the world’s most versatile, and parts produced gun around. You can buy, build and configure AR-15’s to just about any purpose.
Let’s dive into this weapon and get to understand the top options and reasons for using an AR15.
Armalite: The AR-15 was first developed way back in the late 50’s (1957 to be exact) by Armalite, a US-based weapons manufacturing company. They had a bit of a hard time with their finances; this was due to the idiotic decision of General Maxwell Taylor, then Army Chief of Staff who vetoed the AR-15 in favor of an inferior weapon (the M14). Armalite had to save their company, so they sold the design patents to Colt in 1959.
Colt: Colt introduced their first version of mass-produced AR-15 in 1959 and had a hard time selling to the US army, which only relented in 1963 after a lot of testing and redesign. The new AR-15 was called the M16. This weapon became the weapon of choice in the Vietnam war and became a world leader against its chief competitor the AK-47.
Generic: In 1977 the patent for the Armalite AR-15 ended, and this led to a boom in the fabrication of generic AR15 type weapons, all basing their internal design on the original AR15 and also M16 models. While many other weapon manufacturers have produced a plethora of superior weapons, the AR15 is still considered to be the easiest and most popular weapon of choice for all sorts of applications.
There are many applications for an AR-15 type rifle, and these include military, hunting, home security, commercial security, and sport. The reason why this weapon is so versatile is based on three key performance factors:
- Automatic Control
- Low Recoil
These three factors, combined with its 5.56mm bullet that fires at a lower velocity together with the guns design leads to bullet fragmentation in the target, thereby delivering a more lethal result than its competitors.
Currently, the variances in design are mainly in outside features, such as the forward grips, the stock, and accessories that can be added, such as scope vices and such. The weapons also come in a variety of barrel lengths and colors. You can control the firing mechanism with a simple switch, from single shot to semi-automatic. AR-15 Pistols modification became popular. According to Pew Pew Tactical, AR pistol is a good choice if you want a short barrel for better maneuvering but don’t want to go through the hassle of getting government approval for a SBR (short barrel rifle). It’s more specific for close distance but if you’re looking for under 200 yards…one AR-15 pistol is likely all you’ll ever need. Also, it is light, very customizable, and affordable.
Scopes can be added with providing accuracy, and while this is not a sniper’s rifle of choice, it is extremely efficient in the middle range firing field and is great for hunting larger game. This weapon is used for hunting, competition shooting, tactical shooting, home defense and sometimes in recreational sports shooting.
It’s not enough to buy an AR-15, just like a pair of shoes, there are cheap and expensive versions, the differences between fabricators is large, and what you need to look out for are the following manufacturer claimed specifications:
- Magnetic Particle Inspection of bolt and barrel
- High Pressure Tested bolt and barrel
- Shot-peened bolt
- Gas key properly staked
- Mil-Spec 11595E or 4150 Barrel Steel
- Modern M4 feed ramps
These specifications are the base points that will show you the quality standards of the rifle you chose and the fact that it will provide you with many years of service.
Deciding what you want to use your weapon for will determine which rifle length you need to buy. The AR15 is a gas-powered system; this means that it takes the gas from the expended cartridge and feeds it back to cycle the chamber reload and firing pin. There are three options available; these are the carbine, mid-length and rifle length barrels.
Carbine length is 10”-18”, these weapons extract the casing at the earliest timing of all three types, and the short length defines a higher pressure and harder extraction system. Essentially, the shorter length requires higher quality materials to withstand the higher pressures. Carbines are best for tactical and home defense usage.
Mid-Length is 14” -20”, these are optimized at 16”, made so by the original Armalite patent. This length is what we know as the Short M16 model that is found in many armies around the world. The middle length combines the speed of a shorter rifle with the lower pressures required for a deadlier shot. This is a great self-defense weapon.
Rifle Length is over 20”, this is the original AR-15 (M16) length and provides the highest accuracy, the deadliest shots and the lowest pressure and recoil of the group. Basically, it delivers the best performance of the three lengths. This is great for all sports shooting type of actions and hunting.
3) The last system is the rifle length gas system. Typically this will be found on 18-20 inch barrels. The rifle length system will have the lowest case pressure during extraction of the three systems. This is the original design of Eugene Stoner’s AR15 weapon system. This system will have the best performance of the three systems. It waits the longest time before beginning to extract the spent shell.
Combinations and Personalization
Since you can find every part, in every material and finish, it is not an issue to create hybrids for specific purposes. For instance, if you want your AR-15 to look like an old M4, you go for the rifle length and buy the parts or buy the weapon like an M4 look alike. If you want a more sporty and aggressive look, you can play around with stock and barrel configurations; if you need accuracy, you must consider a monolithic block or specific uppers that proved you with sighting adaptability.
Rule of thumb: The longer the rifle, the higher the accuracy, the shorter the rifle, the higher the reload and fire rate.
Materials as a Factor
Just as in any mechanical application, materials lead to different performance levels. The basic materials used in the fabrication of the AR-15 parts include:
Chrome lined barrels are longer lasting, their surface is smooth and shiny, and they reduce rust while increasing longevity. These barrels are not considered for competitive sports due to the micro inconsistencies when applying chrome surfaces to a barrel. Chrome lined barrels are usually found in tactical weapons since they provide better protection from the environment, and they are capable of delivering fatal shots from 600 yards. Bottom Line: used for long lasting tactical grade weapons.
Stainless steel barrels are the most accurate but have a shorter lifespan than chrome plated models. These are used in competition shooting due to their accuracy and reach the 0.5 – 1.0-inch groups at 100 yards
Nitrided barrels are cheaper than both the chrome plated and stainless steel barrels. These newcomers are actually better than chrome plated barrels, and they provide a higher lubricative surface. They are making their impact in the sports sector. However, remember that their lifespan is short.
Material conclusions: Chrome plated barrels are long lasting, expensive and highly tactical. Stainless steel barrels are extremely accurate, good for hunting and competition shooting. Nitrided barrels are cheap and effective and are becoming the preferred sports/recreational material.
Let’s take a look at the common types of AR-15 that are available on the market, take into consideration that price is a factor in all purchases, and since finding parts is common, many professionals now turn to buy up a plethora of parts and kits and play around building up different combinations. With this said, there are a number of pre-built popular designs, and here they are:
Recce: This is a carbine 16” barrel that has a stainless-steel barrel. This is a great hybrid weapon used for both competition shooting, hunting and home defense providing both accuracy and speed.
SPR: This is a military grade 18” stainless steel weapon that is designated as a “Special Purpose Rifle” (SPR) and is one of the most accurate designs around and used by marksmen.
M16A2: This is your standard old school clone, it comes with a 20” barrel and fixed butt-stock making it a bit oversized and clumsy. However, this is a great hunting rifle if you can overcome the lack of a good railed upper receiver. The carry handle also limits your ability to adopt a scope, however, the old school hunters like a challenge.
M4 clone: This is a common 14.5” short barrel length carbine that offers great home security. These come with a flash hider on the barrel, so your barrel length is 16”. Make sure you buy the right flash hider of choice because you cannot replace it once bought.
CAR: This is the typical carbine model, it’s not so good to use since it has a very poor optics option and some gun shops will give you an 11” barrel with a very long flash guard. Stay away from these models. They are poorly configured, and they deliver extreme velocity loss.
M16A4: These rifles come with the 20” barrel configuration, making them the best of the pot for both accuracy and shooting comfort. These are slightly less handy than the more versatile M4 models, but since you can customize them, all you need to do is change the stock and voila.
Buying or Building
The biggest question asked by all enthusiasts is, do I buy or build my own?
Well, as ex-military and also most law enforcement users will attest, its best to know your weapon inside and out. This means knowing how to build a rifle, knowing every part. Sure, you can buy one and then strip it and build it, but it would be better to buy all the parts per your specific desires and build a personalized weapon. In fact many have more than one version, so you can create a great competition rifle for marksmanship, another for hunting and another for home security.
Buying an AR-15
Pros: You get a comprehensive warranty for all parts. This means that if something isn’t right, you get it replaced.
Convenience: Yup, its easier to buy a gun than to build it, so if you only want to enjoy the wonders of shooting at things, go out and buy a gun. In most states, you pass the screening within a few hours so you can walk into a shop empty handed, and walk out with an AR-15.
Cons: It can be more expensive, you don’t get to personalize your weapon unless you buy it from a gun shop that will personalize it, and then you will definitely pay more.
Price Groups include the following:
- Low-range (used or poor quality) $700-800
- Mid-range (new or used with great quality $1000-1200
- Expensive (professional level quality and mods.) $1500-2000
Most people buy a gun readymade, it’s not a big issue, and since most of these models can be broken down into parts, you find many buying a gun and parts online, and playing around with configurations at home.
Building an AR-15
Pros: Usually cheaper than buying, but its more about customization, personalization and the actual excitement of building your own gun.
Cons: There is no warranty, if it doesn’t work, go look in a mirror to see who is to blame. Compatibility issues, which means you need to buy parts from one supplier or you will find micro inconsistencies and in a gun that’s fatal.
The title of this article is top options for using an AR-15, well these options include the versatility and commonality of this weapon, there are so many parts manufacturers, designs, and models out there that it’s like buying a Lego set. There is just no limit to what your imagination can build up.
All I can stress is the following advice in short sentence punches of information:
- Decide what you want to use your AR-15 for and buy the model that best suits that purpose.
- Consider buying one first and then stripping it, learn how to build one from a bought model and then play around with building your own personalized AR-15.
- Make sure you check your supplier’s quality of parts.
- There is a lot of information about AR-15’s n the internet, read up constantly since new designs, parts and materials are coming on the market at a fast rate.
Jack Billington is a firearm expert and an experienced hunter. Time after time he teaches shooting courses. Jack has almost 15 years of professional shooting experience (firearm shooting, archery, martial arts, knives, and other weapons). Also, he writes a blog on secretstorages.com related to firearms and personal protection.