Accuracy is everything, and it’s commonly what enthusiasts strive for when honing their abilities with a rifle. To beginners, it’s often a struggle to achieve pinpoint accuracy, leaving most feeling discouraged after a trip to the range.
This doesn’t have to be the case, though. The AR-15 rifle platform is one of the most utilitarian and easy to learn. Most AR-15 are lightweight, soft-recoiling, and with the three main points of contact they provide, they’re easy to control.
If you plan on owning an AR-15, or already own one, regularly training with your rifle is one of the best ways to enhance your proficiency with the platform and your overall shooting experience. Below, we’re focusing on some of the crucial tips to help you get a head start on mastering your accuracy.
Understanding the AR-15 Rifle
The AR-15 is by far one of the most popular rifles available in the United States. It’s also one of the most beginner-friendly rifles, as the AR-15 is incredibly ergonomic, with most of its key controls accessible without breaking your grip.
For beginners, the sheer number of rifles available is often daunting. There are hundreds of manufacturers selling their take on the AR-15, and as such, searching for your first AR may leave you with more questions than results.
Our new owner’s guide for AR-15s is a great source of information that covers all the key facets you’ll need to know when owning one of these rifles.
Factors to Consider When Purchasing an AR-15
To make it as easy as possible, below are some key factors you’ll want to consider before purchasing your rifle:
AR-15s vary drastically in price. While there are a lot of great budget options available, other manufacturers may opt to include their own unique design elements or custom components, making the rifle more expensive. Additionally, instead of buying a complete rifle, you can opt to build on yourself. Doing so gives you full control over what parts are used, and it can even be a bit more affordable overall.
Many newcomers to the platform opt to build a rifle for the first time, as all the parts needed are readily available. In some cases, enthusiasts will purchase a complete lower receiver and an upper receiver with the features they’re looking for already built into them. Doing so can save you some money, but depending on the manufacturer and parts used in the receiver groups, it may not always be the case.
Since ARs are some of the most modular rifles, they can come chambered in different calibers. Some of the most common calibers you’ll likely see in ARs are 5.56NATO/.223REM, 300Blackout, and 7.62×39.
5.56NATO and .223REM are commonly mistaken to be identical. While they share similar measurements, they do NOT share chamber pressures. On average, 5.56NATO has a chamber pressure of roughly 58,000PSI. .223REM’s chamber pressure is closer to 55,000PSI. This is because 5.56NATO has a slightly longer neck than the .223REM, giving it more powder per cartridge which results in higher chamber pressure.
.300Blackout and 7.62×39 are similar but have their distinctions. You may know 7.62×39 as the main caliber used in the AK platform. It’s common to see it utilized in the AR, but they take specific magazines to fit the curve of the cartridge (certain lowers will accept AK mags though). .300Blackout was designed for use with shorter barrel lengths, so it’s common to see pistol length uppers, or SBRs (Short Barreled Rifles).
We recommend checking out our caliber guide to learn more about the different calibers an AR can be chambered in. It provides an excellent breakdown on the different use cases and purposes of each one.
Purpose of Use
Firearms are used for more than just recreation. Many utilize the AR platform for either home defense, duty, competitions, hunting, or simple recreation. Depending on what your intended use for your rifle is, you may benefit from specific components. Specialty components, like upgraded triggers and ambidextrous safety selectors, can be commonly found one off-the-shelf AR models. Keep in mind, though, just about every AR-15 component can be easily replaced.
Recommended Models and Popular Brands
As we mentioned before, there are a lot of AR-15 brands and models available on the market. Some of our most popular brands are Sons of Liberty Gun Works, Daniel Defense, Bravo Company Manufacturing and FN America. Each one makes incredibly high-quality AR-15s with varying features depending on the purpose they’re needed for.
For a baseline rifle, the SOLGW M4 Patrol SL and M4-EXO3, Daniel Defense DDM4, and FN America’s FN15 Tactical are a few solid options. While great rifles, they don’t fit every budget. Smith and Wesson, Radical Firearms, and Anderson Manufacturing have great options for all budgets. Each of them is featured in our article on Affordable AR-15s under $700; check it out if you’re looking for a budget friendly model.
Most AR-15 models vary slightly from each other, but at their core, they fundamentally work the same. If you’re just wanting a reliable rifle that can punch holes in a 4” circle at 100 yards, almost any quality AR-15 will suffice. But if you’re looking for sub-MOA precision, optimized recoil, and match-grade manufacturing quality, you may want to consider a premium brand.
You may be wondering what the best AR-15 is. To put it bluntly, there isn’t a ‘best’ AR-15, as this is entirely subjective and up to personal preference. The best way to determine this for yourself is to research the models you’re interested in, seeing if they fit your needs.
Mastering Accuracy: AR-15 Shooting Tips for Beginners
After buying or building the rifle that best suits your needs, you’re ready to start honing your skills with it. Still, before you get out to the range and burning through ammo, there are some key factors of shooting that you should have a clear grasp on, starting with safety.
Gun Safety: The Foundation of Responsible Shooting
Above all else, safety is the most important aspect of shooting. Follow these rules whenever you’re handling a firearm:
1. Treat every firearm as if it is loaded. Keep your rifle on safe until you intend to fire.
2. Always keep your muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Regardless of whether it is loaded, keep your muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
3. Be sure of your target AND what is beyond it when shooting. Never shoot unless you can clearly identify your target and what is beyond it.
4. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire. Until you have identified your target, what’s beyond it, and have a clear shot, keep your finger off the trigger.
One of the most common accidents new firearm owners make is a negligent discharge. This is when you accidentally pull the trigger due to surprise or carelessness. Following the rules above, along with safe storage practices, will minimize the risk of these accidents from occurring.
Basics of Rifle Shooting
Shooting a rifle isn’t as hard as it may appear. Still, you’ll want to make sure that you have a proper shooting stance, grip, and are using the right aiming techniques.
Stance: Your stance is crucial to maintaining your accuracy. After you discharge a round with any firearm, there’s going to be recoil, so if you aren’t using a proper stance, the recoil may push you around, making it difficult to get back on target. With your rifle in hand, place your feet shoulder width with dominant side slightly behind you (right foot if right-handed, left foot if left-handed).
This standing stance will provide you with more support, preventing you from getting off balance due to recoil. Quick tip: make sure you are putting your equal weight on both feet. Doing so will help you maintain a positive balance.
Grip: Moving to your grip, there are three main points of contact on an AR-15: the stock, the grip, and the handguard. The grip is where your dominant hand goes. There you have access to all the rifle’s controls like the trigger, safety selector, bolt catch, and mag release. Your off-hand will grip the handguard.
One of the most popular offhand grips is the C-Clamp grip. This originated from competitive enthusiasts and is a great way to control muzzle rise and recoil. To utilize this grip, place your off-hand on the side of the handguard with your palm facing towards it. Reach as far out as you comfortably can and grip the handguard by clamping on it with your fingers beneath and thumb over, forming a ‘C’ shaped grip. You can optionally rest your thumb off to the side of the handguard to form a modified C-Clamp grip, but you should do what’s most comfortable for you.
Something else to consider is an aftermarket foregrip. Foregrips and hand-stops can be used to get some additional leverage on your rifle. They can even be used in conjunction with a modern C-Clamp for extra recoil control. They aren’t necessary to stabilize your rifle, but if you’re still having trouble with the muzzle rise, it might be worth adding to your rifle.
Aiming your Rifle: With your grip and stance sorted out, you’re ready to take aim and start sending rounds downrange. This can look different depending on what sight apparatus you use on your rifle. For iron sights, you’ll need to line up the target with the sights of your rifle. You’ll know you have a proper sight picture when the tip of the front sight post is in the center of the rear sight aperture.
For any other sight, like red dot sights, prism scopes, and variable power optics, you only need to line up the reticle with your target. It’s key to have a solid zero on these optics. If there are any errors in your zero, it will reflect on your target impacts down range. Fortunately, our article on zeroing your optic ensures you’ll get it right the first time.
Even further, it’s important to know how to properly use all both iron sights and scopes/red dot sights. Many enthusiasts today often run iron sights or mini-reflex sights as a type of backup sight for close range engagements or as a fallback plan for if their main optic goes down.
Improving your Shooting Accuracy
Improving your accuracy doesn’t need to be practiced specifically at the shooting range. It’s important to train both on and off the range. Dry fire exercises can be done in your home and help reinforce the fundamentals of shooting your rifle. Brands like Mantis produce various dry fire systems like the Mantis Blackbeard laser unit. This device provides you with real-time details to progressively enhance your performance. It connects to an app and records your movement data as well as impact points on targets to display whether you are pulling your shots or not.
You don’t need a dedicated dry fire system to practice though. Simply working with an unloaded rifle will help reinforce good fundamental practice. If you’re worried about damaging your firing pin, a pack of snap caps will prevent any damage from occurring when in use.
Dry firing is a fairly involved topic with a lot to discuss. Our beginner’s guide to dry fire training breaks down a plethora of dry firing products, techniques, and drills, all of which you can do at home.
AR-15 Upgrades and Accessories
Upgrades are always welcome on an AR-15. Being one of the most adaptable and versatile rifle platforms available, there are A LOT of upgrades and accessories available ranging from enhanced furniture to upgraded triggers and specialized barrels.
For beginners, it’s essential to have a comfortable furniture set and good optics. ‘Furniture’ refers to the stock, grip, and handguard of your rifle. Enhanced stocks and grips can make your rifle easier to control and generally more comfortable to shoot. Upgraded stocks like the Magpul CTR Stock have extra rubber padding to absorb recoil and have adjustable cheek risers to make it easy to aim down your sights.
Upgraded grips can have different grip angles and enhanced grip textures to provide more positive control of your rifle. While you can still shoot very effectively with a standard mil-spec furniture group, upgraded ones are inexpensive and provide a lot of benefits.
A good trigger can change the way your rifle feels and performs. Standard triggers aren’t bad, but they often leave something to be desired in terms of overall feel. Aftermarket triggers are often optimized to fit a variety of purposes like competition, long range precision and duty. Manufacturers like Geissele, TriggerTech, and Rise Armament are just a few examples of great trigger manufacturers.
Nearly all enthusiasts can benefit from having a good muzzle device. A muzzle device is a component that threads on to the end of your barrel. They’re often used to divert the gases following the bullet, reducing recoil, flattening the muzzle climb, or minimizing flash.
There are three common types of muzzle devices: muzzle brakes, compensators, and flash hiders. Muzzle brakes divert gasses out to the side. This is great for felt recoil, but the sound is diverted to the sides too, which comes back to your ears. Compensators work similarly but divert the gas out of the top of the device, reducing your muzzle rise. Lastly, flash hiders work just as their name suggests, the reduce the amount of flash put off by shooting your rifle.
Suppressors are another type of muzzle device, which reduces the noise profile of the shot and reduces muzzle flash simultaneously. The added weight also serves to reduce recoil, but that’s a secondary benefit. Because suppressors are regulated under the National Firearms Act, they’re not something you can just buy and ship to your house. There’s an extensive application process with the ATF, costing a $200 tax stamp and a few months of waiting. That said, if you’re truly interested in outfitting your AR with the best, a suppressor is considered one of the best upgrades you can make, if it’s available to you.
Something to keep in mind with suppressors is the way they attach. Most muzzle devices utilize QD systems (quick disconnect) to attach to a host rifle. If you plan on getting a suppressor, you’ll need to make sure that your muzzle device supports your suppressor. SureFire suppressors use a different mounting profile than Dead Air or HUXWRX, for example. Fortunately, most manufacturers either include a compatible muzzle device in the packaging, or they sell inserts that are compatible with other QD patterns like KeyMount.
Each option is great for their respective purposes. Just keep in mind that the added noise of muzzle brakes and compensators can be alarming at first, but good ear protection takes care of the issue.
There are some accessories that are situation specific. One example is a bipod. If you’re regularly going into the prone position, a bipod will aid greatly in stabilizing your rifle. Likewise, a solid shooting rest is a great rifle stabilizer for bench shooting.
Like dry firing, there is a lot to unpack and consider, as there is a near infinite amount of customization options available for the AR-15. Whether you’re looking for grips, stocks, optics, or trigger groups, our un-wrapped recap of the popular accessories of 2023 will round out your knowledge of what’s available for your rifle.
In addition to upgrading your rifle’s trigger and furniture, the barrel you use can lend itself to different applications. Lightweight barrels allow for quicker transitions and is better suited for competition, while heavier match grade barrels allow have better harmonics for long range shooting. Replacing a barrel is a bit more work-intensive than most upgrades, but it’s also at the very core of your rifle’s performance. If you don’t have the tools to re-barrel your rifle, any certified gunsmith should be able to complete it for you with relative ease.
Regardless of what barrel you end up going with, our guide on how to clean an AR-15 barrel will help you keep it from degrading over time.
The idea of developing and mastering your abilities with a rifle such as the AR-15 easily sounds like an impossible task. That statement couldn’t be further from the truth, though. While not easy per se, mastering your accuracy and becoming a better shot is certainly within reach.
Whether you’re new to owning rifles or a complete beginner, you’ll benefit from practicing the fundamentals of shooting both on and off the range. No matter your rifle’s purpose, being able to shoot accurately will only set you up for success in your endeavors.
Owning a rifle is one thing, but making it yours is the next step in enhancing your shooting experience. Check out our guide on accessorizing your AR-15 to get an idea of the possible setups you can run.