A few nights back, I disappeared into my gun room, a jumbled mess of ARs and parts in my arms. After some sweating, grunting, and cursing, this is what came out of the room.
It's the perfect AR-15 (for me), and here's why.
- The heart of any AR is the barrel. This rifle has a Centurion Arms 16" lightweight midlength barrel. It's not as light as an A1 profile barrel, but it is lighter than "government" or standard profile barrels. More important, it shoots groups that are highly competitive with my White Oak Armament stainless match barrel, although the Centurion is much lighter. It's capable of hitting point targets well past the oft-published maximum effective range of the M16 (550m). Also the midlength is handy as far as where I like to place my hand on the firearm.
- The front sight base is of the fixed type and is taper pinned in place. A pinned front sight base/gas block will stay in place until the end of days, which is important if you want your rifle to function properly. Furthermore, if the barrel moves relative to the handguard, the front sight will move with the barrel, not the handguard.
- The bolt carrier group is M16 weight/profile, hard chromed, and was properly tested/inspected before shipment. Spike's Tactical used to sell hard chrome BCGs before they switched to nickel boron. I have two of them and I'll never let them go (until they break). Hard chrome is far easier to clean than either phosphate or nickel boron. The M16 weight carrier is what the system was designed to operate with. It's this mass moving at a specific velocity that magazines are designed to feed rounds in front of. Moving to lighter carriers will sacrifice reliability in adverse conditions or extreme temperature ranges.
- The receiver extension tube and buffer/spring are the Vltor A5 type. This system more closely approximates the performance (control and reliability) of a fixed stock/rifle buffer and spring, but allows length of pull adjustments. If I could make one change to the M16A4 used by the Marine Corps, it would be a change to the A5 recoil system. Normally the longer and heavier EMod stock would be used with an A5, but I'm using an IMod because I don't need the weight of the EMod.
- The muzzle device is an A2 because I want a balance of muzzle flash reduction and blast/muzzle signature reduction.
- The charging handle is the Rainier Arms/AXTS Raptor because it's easy to use with either hand and regardless of the method by which I manipulate the charging handle latch, but it does not protrude away from the rifle in a way that would cause it to snag on gear. It also enables more effective malfunction clearing than other types of charging handles I've used.
- The handguard is made by Apex; functionally, what I need from an AR handguard is to protect the gas tube and keep my hand from burning. The Apex handguard does this. It's also lightweight and "grippy" and gives me a few QD socket options. I don't like the way it installs - it's kind of a pain in the butt, really - but once it's there, it's there. It's also a good size and shape (round). If I want to add rails for lights and stuff, I can, but right now I haven't because I don't need them.
- The trigger is a Geissele SSA-E. I use a lot of stock triggers and think they're a lot more useful than some might think, but it is really hard to beat the SSA-E. I like the Rock River two stage as well, but of late I haven't seen them as regularly available as the Geissele.
- The optic is an Aimpoint CompM3 in a GDI mount. I also have a Trijicon TA02 - better known as the "battery ACOG" - in a GDI mount. Because the GDI mounts return to zero within .01 MOA, I can swap the red dot and ACOG back and forth to my heart's content (one-handed!) without worrying about anything unnecessary. The Aimpoint and ACOG are as durable and reliable as you can ask of a firearm accessory, both offering long battery life. I am not normally a fan of the 4x32 ACOG eye relief and this one is no different, but the adjustable illumination is really neat and I somewhat prefer the crosshair reticle for distance shooting.
- The magazine is a Lancer L5 (loaded with 30 rounds of Prvi 75gr BTHP, thanks AIM!), which is durable, reliable, and lets me see how much ammo I have left. It fits in all mag pouches. Also it looks cool.
- The rear sight and pistol grip are Magpul. Thus they are well made and affordable. I highly doubt that I will actually need to use the MBUS rear sight, but it doesn't break when you hit stuff with the rifle, which is important.
So that's my idea of the perfect AR-15. As photographed (loaded), it weighs 8 pounds 7.6 ounces. Unloaded it weighs 7 pounds 6.2 ounces. It's what I plan to use for the 2013 24 Hour Sniper Adventure Challenge, and it's a rifle I plan on owning for a very long time.
Last weekend was the first of what will hopefully be many firearm training courses taught by myself and Jim Staley of Deliberate Dynamics. Writing about it wholly from my perspective would be a bit self-serving, so I'll share some photos/video and the feedback I solicited from the 14 students who attended the course. If you're interested in attending our next course, scheduled for July 27/28, you may sign up here.
I asked for their honest opinions, and will summarize/compile them here in the interests of brevity. If any students wish to comment on this post, they are welcome to do so (some already have).
The stuff everyone liked:
- Taking high speed video of each student on the range and reviewing it in front of the whole class back at the lodge really helped everyone improve their manipulation and understanding of the firearm. Here's a sample of most of the group, although each student was filmed individually as well.
- Chronographing each rifle/ammo combination, as well as taking photos of the muzzle flash of each, was educational/useful/enlightening.
- Many students had no idea that they were capable of shooting as far as they ended up doing so (depending on rifle, ammo, and shooter, 500 to 900 yards). Everyone was shooting an AR-15 in 5.56/.223.
- Shooter/spotter drills with the target unknown until the timer buzzed were very useful.
- Reloading and target transition portions of the course greatly improved the shooters' efficiency with the firearm.
- Everyone seemed to love the range and the lodge.
- The group was great and everyone got along swimmingly.
The recommendations for improvement:
- There was a lot of downtime, especially on the first day. Some of this couldn't be helped, as we only had one high speed video camera and one chronograph. However, we'll definitely be cutting down on this in the future, organizing the curriculum so that there are multiple training evolutions occurring at once.
- Including items such as a shooting mat or binoculars on the recommended gear list would be nice.
- Incorporate a more rigorous final test/drill/competition/exam/feedback. This was originally planned, but would have resulted in a lot more downtime as our planned course could only have been used by one shooter at a time. We will, however, be incorporating this into the curriculum in the future.
- We had some technical difficulties with vehicles, although they did not present a major obstacle to the course or to the shooters getting range time.
If I may, here are a few accolades from students:
- "I felt like it was a good use of my time, I learned a LOT and I enjoyed myself."
- "Overall I know I learned a lot more about myself as a shooter. And your high speed video definitely helped everyone diagnose issues they wouldn't have otherwise seen. Nice job."
- "I want to say thanks for putting on such a great course. I've been through a good number of schools and classes in the military that were just miserable. Yours was a good balance of seriousness and relaxation to make it very enjoyable."
- "I had a great time shooting with you guys. The drive was long as all hell, but I loved the location and learned that my shooting platform while standing sucks and my reloads are inefficient and full of fail."
- "They gave us practical information throughout the course, with explanations of the positive and negative of why something is done. Both Jim and Andrew have a wealth of knowledge and an ability to teach."
- "(I) learned an enormous amount in a very short period of time."
- "I really enjoyed the class. I thought you guys did a great job especially for it being the first time you put this together. It was educational, challenging, and it was also a good time."
As mentioned previously, I will be co-teaching an AR-15 course in Utah over Memorial Day Weekend. It will be held on Saturday and Sunday, May 25/26. Here's some info for those who may be interested in the course:
It'd be best to fly in to Salt Lake City on Friday evening, we should be able to pick everyone up from the airport. The range location is about 15 miles north of Tremonton, Utah. It's pretty remote and the whole range is approximately 55,000 acres. This will let us do a lot of really interesting shooting.
Breakfast on Saturday will be at 0730, class starts at 0830. We will do some shooting at night on Saturday, but there will be a number of breaks throughout the day. We plan to wrap up Sunday late afternoon, but we'll be around Sunday night in case anyone wants extra instructional portions or more one-on-one coaching.
The cost of the class is $300. Lodging is available Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, up to you as to when you stay there, it'll just be $50 per night to cover lodging and food. The rooms have bunk beds, so you'll probably have a roommate.
Payment can be by check or credit card - we'll be setting up a "product" on the Deliberate Dynamics webpage that can be purchased, if you'd like to pay by CC.
As for equipment, it's pretty simple:
Rifle with sling
3 magazines and one magazine pouch
Flashlight (weapon mounted preferred)
Eye/ear protection (day and night lenses)
Bag, backpack, OR bipod (bipod not required)
Sturdy clothing appropriate for outdoor use in potentially inclement weather
Kneepads/elbowpads might come in handy
At least two and preferably three sets of footwear are recommended (boots, shoes, and flip flops or shower shoes for the lodge)
All experience levels are welcome. We have a curriculum that new and seasoned shooters will learn a lot from. As long as you can handle firearms safely, you'll be most welcome at the class.
Next month - over Memorial Day Weekend, May 25/26 - I will be teaching a class which will largely relate to the AR-15 platform. I've been thinking about doing this for a while, and a fantastic opportunity has presented itself. Sniper Country in northern Utah offers a phenomenal environment for shooting - with a known-distance range out to 1800 yards - as well as a lodge which students may stay in as well as use for classroom portions.
The course has been designed to fill gaps left by other training courses that do not or cannot address certain skills and types of knowledge relating to the AR-15 rifle. The unique environment in which this class is held will allow the student to push themselves and their firearm beyond what they might have thought possible.
There will be an emphasis on making the time and ammunition invested by the student count. Students will receive a significant amount of classroom instruction which will be reinforced by range time tailored establish the skills discussed in the classroom. Marksmanship will take precedence over a high volume of fire, but the skills learned during the class may be applied to all aspects of shooting with an AR-15. Unique evaluation and feedback methods will be used to ensure that every student is learning and developing as much as possible throughout the course.
Classroom time will also be devoted to helping the student gain a higher understanding of the rifle – seeing it as a system, not as an assembly of discrete components. Through this process, the student will move from basic manipulation of the rifle's controls to a thorough understanding of how and why the rifle functions – and malfunctions - as it does. The ultimate goal of the class is to enable the student to use their rifle in a variety of environments and situations with maximum effectiveness.
Because education is a primary consideration, two instructors will ensure that each student receives the instruction they need to develop necessary skills and knowledge. Jim Staley and I will be teaching the class. Jim was a Scout/Sniper in 1st Force Recon. My bio may be found at the "about" link on this blog.
The round count will be under 400 of centerfire rifle (.223/5.56/5.45 recommended). Price is $300 plus $50 per night for food/lodging (optional, but considering location, it's a pretty good deal).
A while back I did some preliminary twist rate testing as a spinoff of the .223 vs. 5.56 article. It morphed into a separate article which is sort of summarized here on Google+ (which is apparently a real website).