Five Things To Do After Buying An AR-15
Congratulations! You now possess one of the finest rifles in the history of human civilization. The AR-15 is low-recoiling, lightweight, ergonomic, easy-to-shoot and highly customizable.
So now what?
Why not tune this powerful tool to match your exact needs? Then you can master the art of shooting an AR-15. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to customize your gun. You don’t have to train like a Navy SEAL to learn how to use it. A few bucks and a bit of time goes a long way to making you proficient with America’s favorite rifle.
With that in mind, we’ve developed this guide with some quick tips to help you get started. Ready? Let’s do this!
Get An Optic and Zero It
You have to see a target to shoot it. Learning to shoot with iron sights is an important fundamental skill to acquire. But adding an optic to your rifle might be one of the fastest ways to improve your accuracy.
More optics are available now than ever before. You can find them at virtually every price point imaginable. But you will get what you pay for. Let’s run through a few of the basics and then show you an easy way to zero with an AR that you can’t do with many other rifles.
Red dot sights are among the most popular choices for AR owners because they can be affordable and super easy to use, especially at the close distance ranges likely in a self-defense encounter. Red dots offer a wide field of vision. You can shoot with both eyes open. Unlimited eye relief means you don’t have to position your eyes a specific distance from the optic like you do with a scope. Red dots offer no magnification. They’re a piece of glass with an illuminated red dot projected on them. Because of how they work, you can keep your focus on the target and don’t need to worry about lining up sights. You put the rifle on target, put the red dot over the target and shoot.
A traditional rifle scope is familiar to most people. It’s like a small telescope that you attach to the top of your rifle. Scopes usually let you zoom in and zoom out. But don’t make the mistake so many new marksmen do and buy the most powerful scope you can find. Yes, it’s nice to see small things from far away. However, there is a tradeoff. The more you zoom in, the narrower your visual field. Rifle scopes can be great for trying to hit things long range, but you may really struggle to hit anything under 15 yards.
Low power variable optics try to bridge the gap between traditional rifle scopes and red dots. LPVOs, as they’re often known, usually zoom out to 1x — meaning no magnification — and they often have an illuminated reticle. So you’re getting almost the same benefits of a red dot. The difference is a red dot has unlimited eye relief. That means you can see through the optic no matter how far your eye is from it. Not the case with any scope. But LPVOs try and strike the balance to make it easier to shoot things up close, and they let you dial in the zoom so you can identify targets that are further away.
Prism scopes also sit somewhere between red dot sights and LPVOs. They have a fixed magnification — usually- somewhere between 1x to 6x — and an illuminated reticle. With a prismatic scope, the reticle is etched into the glass. That way, if your battery goes out, the reticle will lose illumination but not disappear. For many people with astigmatism, low magnification prism scopes, such as our SLx® 1x MicroPrism, will be better than red dots because the reticle doesn’t blur or smear.
Zeroing an optic on an AR-15 doesn’t have to be complicated. The unique construction of the rifle allows for a very simple method you can use just about anywhere with no special equipment. The magic here is the construction of the AR-15. You can easily disassemble the rifle and peer through the barrel to match up your point of aim with the optic. Most rifles don’t allow this.
First, field strip the rifle. Remove the two pins that hold together the upper and lower. Take out the charging handle and bolt from the upper. Then rest the upper on a surface where it won’t move.
All you have to do is look through the barrel at a target. Then look through your optic. Adjust the optic so it’s pointing at the exact same target as your barrel. Make sure the upper is not moving while you go back and forth between looking down the bore and through your optic.
Make sure your target is the distance you want your rifle zeroed. A good starting point might be 25 or 50 yards. Understand that if you zero your rifle at 25 yards, your point of impact at 100 yards about 3 inches high, but the point of impact will return to your point of aim at around 300 yards.
Once you’ve finished this rough bore-sighted zero, reassemble the rifle. Then you can start shooting to fine-tune the point of impact. You’ll already be most of the way there.
1. Always treat all guns as if they are loaded, even if you know they are not.
2. Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to destroy.
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
4. Be aware of your target and what is beyond it.
Only after you have engrained these life-saving rules in your brain should you move on.
All you need to get good at shooting an AR is to practice good technique. There’s no magic to it. You can watch free training videos for days online. Paying for a course from a reputable trainer might be the best money you could spend on the rifle. But mastering the art of marksmanship all comes down to repetition.
First, memorize the controls of the rifle. You can do this in a safe, dryfire environment at home. Triple check that the rifle is unloaded. Get all ammunition out of the room.
Start by shouldering the rifle with the muzzle pointed down at a 45-degree angle. This is known as “low ready.” Then just practice over and over again bringing the rifle up, aligning the sights —pointing the gun in a safe direction — and taking it off safe. Then put the rifle back on safe and bring the muzzle down again to low-ready. Do this over and over until you automatically take it off safe when you’re on target and put it back on safe when you move the muzzle off target. This should become muscle memory.
You can also program your mind to perform magazine changes automatically. Get two empty magazines. Double check they are empty. Insert one into the rifle. Then place your shooting hand on the charging handle and your support hand on the bolt release. Pull back the charging handle and press the bolt release to lock it back. Your rifle is now in the condition it would be if you had fired your last shot, empty mag with the bolt locked back.
All you have to do now is practice dropping the mag by pressing the mag release with the index finger of your shooting hand. Take the other empty mag, put it in the magwell and with your thumb, press the mag release. Shoulder the rifle. Then reset to the original state with the bolt locked back. Repeat over and over and over.
Here’s one last tip that will set you apart from most new AR owners. When you shoulder the rifle — whether you’re standing squared off to the target or in a bladed stance — pull the rifle in to your shoulder. Literally pull it in so it’s pressed hard up against your shoulder. Don’t do it so hard that you’re quickly fatiguing your muscles. But pulling the rifle into your shoulder will help keep it steady when you’re actually shooting it. If you master this, you’ll be ahead off most of the weekend warriors at the range.
These are just a few simple tips to get you started. Keep learning. Figure out how to clear malfunctions. What is your preferred stance? What kind of drills can you practice at the range to improve your aim? How can you safely dryfire practice at home? You will never reach a point where you should stop educating yourself on how to master the AR-15.
The AR-15 is perhaps the most modular rifle platform ever invented. Why not take advantage of this strength? Here are a few of the many accessories out there to start considering.
A flashlight could be one of the most important upgrades for your AR-15. You’ll never know under what circumstances you might find yourself in. Bad things happen at night. Flashlights help you see.
A sling is an easy and affordable way to make your rifle easier to carry. You can actually use a sling to help you stabilize the AR while shooting and increase your accuracy. So many different types of slings are out there, but for a new AR owner looking for something quickly, a two-point sling is a solid choice. All that means is the sling connects to the rifle at two points.
A muzzle brake or a compensator can help you shoot more accurately by disbursing gases out of the business end of the barrel in a way that helps you stay on target. A downside is they often make the rifle sound louder.
A pistol grip is one of the easiest stock components to replace on your rifle. Usually, all you need is a screwdriver or Allen wrench. Pistol grips are another low-cost upgrade that can help make the rifle exactly suited to your body.
A vertical forward grip attaches to your handguard toward the front of the gun and gives you a hand stop that you can use to pull the rifle into your shoulder. This pulling motion helps reduce the movement of the gun under recoil. A VFG can also give you a reference point to make sure you grip the AR the same way every time.
Bipods are not for everyone, but they can help stabilize your rifle if shooting seated or prone. Bipods are two folding legs that attach to your handguard. When you’re ready to shoot, you swing out the legs so they’re pointing down. Then you have an extra point of contact between your gun and the solid shooting surface. Less wobble means more accuracy.
A rifle case is essential if you’re planning on taking your gun to the range. Some ranges won’t even allow you on the premises unless your rifle is in a case. You could go for a hard case, which offers more protection but is generally more bulky and expensive. Or you could pick up a soft case. They tend to be more affordable and easier to slip into smaller storage areas. A good case will have solid pouches to store safety glasses, hearing protection, magazines or even small tools.
We’re just getting started. An AR-15 is like a Lego set. You can swap out every component in the rifle as you see fit. New magazine catches, triggers, buffer spring assemblies, barrels, handguards, the list goes on. No firearm is more customizable with as many options on the market.
Stock Up On Different Types of Ammo
The availability of ammunition is highly unpredictable. One moment you’re blasting away on some cheap Russian steel-cased ammo. The next day the president bans new Russian ammo imports by executive order. Or there could be an event in the news that triggers everyone to freak out and buy all the ammo off the shelves.
People who have lived through this before have learned to prepare.
Don’t let a sudden ammo shortage catch you off guard. Even if ammunition is available during dry times, the price can sometimes be two, three, even five times what you’re used to paying.
Shopping for ammunition can be fun if you really get into it. So many different types of cartridges are available, especially in the most common calibers for AR-15. If you search around online, you can find reviews and ballistic gel tests of almost all of them.
Before you go shopping, you should understand the four main components of a cartridge or round:
The bullet is the actual projectile that travels through the air. It is not the entire cartridge, despite what you will often hear in the mainstream media. Bullets are just the elongated piece of metal that goes flying out the barrel.
The casing or case is the largest part of the cartridge. That’s what holds everything together. When you look at a round, the case is the brass or steel tube in which the bullet is seated.
The primer is a small metal cup at the bottom of the case. When you fire your AR-15, the firing pin hits the primer to create a very small explosion.
The powder gets ignited by the primer and creates a larger explosion that sends the bullet down the barrel of your rifle.
The most common caliber for an AR-15 is .223 or 5.56. Those numbers refer to the diameter of the bullet in inches or millimeters. So a .223 cartridge has a bullet that is .223 inches in diameter. And a 5.56 cartridge has a bullet that is 5.56 millimeters in diameter.
But wait! Aren’t those basically the same measurements?
Yes, you math whiz. For now, all you really need to understand is that 5.56 chambers have a longer freebore to accommodate longer projectiles (like tracers) or cartridges with higher peak pressures. Otherwise, the two rounds are almost identical. An AR-15 chambered in 5.56 will shoot .223 ammunition. The inverse is usually true, but not always, so be careful. You might want to stock up on both, buying .223 for range plinking and 5.56 for self-defense.
Steel cased ammo is less expensive than the more commonly available brass cased ammunition, but it has some disadvantages. Brass is more malleable, so when you fire, the case fills the chamber more consistently. That means less fouling escaping the chamber, but also a more consistent energy and speed.
Steel cased ammo might be harder on your extractor, but the money you save shooting steel will more than pay for a new extractor. And it’s really not as hard on your rifle as some people make it out to be.
Brass can also be reloaded, in case that’s something you want to get into down the line.
You can find ammunition for all kinds of purposes. From cheap steel cased to mid-grade brass ammo to green tipped M855 with a steel core penetrator to cartridges with copper bullets with a nose cavity for rapid expansion to high-end Black Hills MK262 used by special operations forces, you can select an ammunition that fits with your individual scenario.
The best bet? Create a smorgasbord of options by making sure you at least have a little bit of everything.
Learn to Clean and Lubricate Your AR-15
AR-15s are extremely reliable. You don’t need to clean your rifle after every trip to the range even though some people like to keep their AR spic and span. But you should know how to clean and lubricate all your firearms, because you don’t want them to get clogged with fouling and stop working. You also don’t want them to rust.
Cleaning your AR regularly lets you inspect parts for wear. Just like regular trips to the dentist, routine inspection and maintenance will keep you aware of any issues before they become a major toothache.
Get a good cleaning kit. It might not be the sexiest thing you buy for your AR-15, but spending a little extra money up front can make the job easier and save you even more money in the long run. There is no shortage of AR-15 cleaning kits on the market. At the bare minimum, it should include a bore brush, chamber brush, cleaning rod, bore snake and scraper for your bolt. You’ll also need some cleaning patches. An old cotton t-shirt cut into small squares can work in a pinch.
Find a good CLP, which stands for clean, lubricate and protect. CLPs do all three well. Buying specialized products for each task will yield better results but will also cost more and take more time. If you’re just getting started, a decent CLP can get the job done. Down the road, you can research and try different solvents and oils. Obsessing over products is one of the most fun things about AR-15 ownership!
Find a good video demonstrating how to clean your rifle. We could explain it here step-by-step, but it’s going to be a lot easier to have someone show you.
Develop a cleaning routine. Are you someone who loves to baby your AR and keep it squeaky clean after every range trip? Maybe you just want to shoot your rifle until it starts malfunctioning and then spend a good long time breaking down all that fouling. Most gun owners fall somewhere in between. If you know how long it takes you to clean your rifle, it’s easier for you to set aside the time to get it done.
Understand you will get faster over time. The first time cleaning your AR might take an hour or more, especially if you’ve never disassembled and reassembled your rifle. Think of this as another way you are mastering your firearm. You will learn about each component and how the rifle functions. This can also get you thinking about which of those components you might want to upgrade down the line. Over time, cleaning will become an automatic routine you can quickly accomplish when you have a little bit of free time.
Never Stop Learning
The AR-15 is a perfect example of the saying, “A minute to learn, a lifetime to master.”
So many resources exist on how to shoot, maintain and upgrade the AR-15 from online videos to books. Even the history of the rifle, which dates back to the 1950s, is endlessly fascinating.
Authoritarians will continue attempts to censor this information and keep you in the dark. Grab it all now while you can. They can’t censor what you already know.