This is part 1 of 3 of this educational and informative article by Mark Foster on the AR-15, one of the most popular platforms on the market in recent years. Nearly everyone loves these “black guns” and their ability to be customized.
The AR-15 is a versatile semi-automatic rifle platform that can be configured to be very effective for a number of different purposes, from personal protection, law enforcement duty, target competition, hunting small and medium sized game, as well as for just having fun. The AR-15 platform has the unique ability to accept different caliber barrels or complete upper receivers and a myriad of add-on components to configure it to a wide variety of purposes. Most people know that the M-16 platform has been around for over 55 years. However, in the last few years, the AR-15 civilian sporting version has dramatically increased in popularity and the number of components available have gone ballistic.
I recently completed a video with the American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI #346DVD), AR-15: Practical, Tactical, or Tacti-Cool, which looks at many of the current components that can turn your AR-15 into a rifle that best suits your needs or wants. There are many great companies making quality rifles and even more companies making great add-on components to upgrade those rifles. Some components are very practical and enhance the rifle platform with minimal cost or work. Some components are more “Tactical,” meaning they assist in a specific mission or purpose, whatever that may be for you. Some components are “Tacti-cool”, meaning they don’t necessarily help with a real need… but they enhance the look and you “just gotta have it.”
You can take any AR-15 rifle and reconfigure it yourself to fit whatever purpose or desire you have. In my video, we take a look at many components, add-ons, optics, and tools. We discuss gas impingement vs. gas piston systems, along with the pros and cons of each. Let’s take a look at just a few of the components that I think are the most practical enhancements to a rifle.
Other than the fit of the upper and lower receiver, barrels and trigger groups are, in my opinion, the most important components for an accurate rifle. After that, handguards or fore-ends and optics are the most practical or tactical upgrades to any rifle.
If you are only using your rifle for close distances or for plinking, don’t spend a lot of money on a barrel. Currently, inexpensive barrels are in the $100-$150 range and are usually not chrome lined. Chrome lining prevents corrosion and aids in cleaning – nice to have but not necessary if you clean and lube your rifle properly. If you are one of the lucky group that shoots full-auto for fun or you shoot at close range, why spend a lot of money for an expensive barrel? Spend your money appropriately to get the best “bang for your buck.”
If you are shooting long distance, participating in competition matches or any other precision shooting and need sub-“Minute of Angle” accuracy, don’t buy a cheap barrel and expect to be in the winner’s circle. For the best accuracy, go with top of the line barrels from Krieger, Hart, or Shilen but expect to pay $600 plus for the barrel. These barrels, when properly installed, will give you the best chance at superior accuracy.
For barrels that offer MOA accuracy or better, expect to pay in the $250 – $500 range. Barrels from Noveske, Criterion, Wilson Arms, Wilson Combat, Spike’s Tactical, Daniel Defense, and others are very good barrels capable of MOA groups or better. These barrels are practical upgrades that can give you the potential for better accuracy in hunting rifles, law enforcement dedicated marksman rifles, or any other purpose that requires above average accuracy.
If you are only going to change out a barrel on rare occasions, have a competent gunsmith do it for you. If on the other hand, you will be doing it often and are willing to buy the proper tools, you can learn to do it yourself. In the AGI video AR-15: Practical, Tactical, or Tacti-Cool, I show a barrel change and installation of a free-floating handguard using two different methods, along with the tools needed for a proper barrel change. The torque settings and checking headspace of the bolt are critical steps in the process but that does not mean that only a gunsmith can do it. If you have the proper tools, headspace gauges, and an understanding of the process, just about anyone with mechanical aptitude can do it. You can also get the AGI video on building the AR-15 rifle (#323DVD) and go through the procedure even more in depth.
Make sure you don’t miss parts 2 and 3 of this article–coming soon!
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