Saturday, May 9, 2015

Soliciting advice on an AR platform for a new shooter.

I know a young man who turned 17 yesterday. He has had a .22 rifle for some time now and wants to graduate to a more capable platform. His dad will be purchasing him "something AR-15" for his birthday, but they sought my advice on the best starter platform for the money. My first advice off the top of my head was based on my own experience, summed up by:
(1.) Rock River quality is excellent for the money.
(2.) Forward assists can make a bad problem worse and are hence unnecessary.
(3.) Don't buy a rifle without a bolt dust cover because keeping dirt out of the AR action is critical. (I didn't even know that this was possible, but apparently the S&W sporter does not.)
(4.) Get a flattop receiver, not one with the old style fixed carry handle.
Do any of you have any further advice consistent with helping the young man get the most capable platform for the money as a starter rifle? (And all you Kalashnikov fans butt out. We're not refighting THAT eternal and ad nauseum argument here.) For myself, I think I'll get the young man an Appleseed training experience in the state in which he lives (Ohio) once he has the rifle.


Joe said...

Mossberg MMR - Flat Top with quad rail forend. Rated "B" by Gun Tests magazine. Summit has these in stock, (without iron sights) for $ 545.00

This rifle shoots sub 1" groups at 100 yards with Black Hills ammunition.

PO'd American said...

I have two varieties "piston Sig 516 and the Adams Arms; DI Sig M400 and the low cost Smith Sport. The only problem that I've had was with the most expensive one of the group, the 516. That is due to the stiff buffer spring when used with low power .223 ammo. Piston or DI, either is good (you'll hear constant arguments for both). I don't necessarily agree that the dust cover is mandatory, unless the young man is going to be crawling through sand piles and mud puddles. I do agree that the flat top receiver is a good idea because it offers you the best options for sights. I think most of the current crop of ARs are decent, it's just boils down to price. Just my thoughts. Remember "Opinions are like politicians, everyone has one that stinks."

jon said...

my advice would be to buy a used one that was set up for national match. even though this implies the opposite of half of what you suggest, i think it's the best for beginners. here's a link:

Anonymous said...

I build ARs for my business.

For a good starter rifle for a marksman, not just a dirt shooter, I would suggest the following:

20" Barrel- Go with the original design and get a 20" light weight barrel. The rifle length gas system makes a world of difference in how smooth the rifle shoots.

A Good trigger- This can be an upgrade, but I would suggest at some point either replacing the trigger, or at least giving the stock trigger some love. A good trigger makes more of a difference than I ever realized.

I am a fan of Iron sights, but i know not every one is.

I would not look for a rifle without a forward assist, since most of them seem to come without dust covers too. A hand brake in a car can just make a problem worse, but it still has its uses.

I would also suggest building a rifle instead of buying one. You learn a lot about your rifle by putting all the pieces together

Anonymous said...

There are lots of god manufacturers. Im partial to Wyndham Weaponry. They are the old Bushmaster people. After Freedom Group bought Bushmaster, closed the factory, and move the company, the original Bushmaster owner - who still owned the building - rehired many of the old Bushmaster crew and started a new company, Wyndham Weaponry. They are great rifles.

MadDawg308 said...

As someone who trained extensively with the M16A2 rifle in the early 1990s, I don't know why buying one with a carry handle instead of a flattop upper receiver is a deal breaker. Perhaps if you want to upgrade the standard sights with a red-dot sight or an ACOG, sure I'd see that. But for iron sights, the A2 upper is fine.

My opinion, keep it simple. You can easily turn a $650 rifle into a $2K rifle with all sorts of add-ons and "upgrades" and you will only improve the "tacticool" look of it and nothing in the way of operational improvement. I prefer 20-inch heavy barrels, I never liked the faux-M4 carbine 16-inch barrels out there. Prefer a chrome-lined bore. Upgrade the handguards to a rail mount, then you can add a front grip which I always felt was more comfortable. The A2 stock and grip were fine, IMHO. Stock charging handle was pretty crappy, I like the BCM Gunfighter charging handles, the medium length is good. Magpul mags to replace the USGI ones.

Hope a few of my pointers help.

GaryM said...

My first AR was a RR and it worked well for me and it was as accurate as I needed it to be. I did install the RR aftermarket trigger group which I like. I'm sure it's not as good as some other triggers but with ARs it can always easily be upgraded.

Not sure from your post if you're looking for an AR in .22LR or centerfire? If centerfire, there are lots of .22LR dedicated uppers out there.

Anonymous said...

And if the dollars are there...
Wilson lower, Upper, Nickle Boron coated bolt, Wilson Barrel 1-8, Gissele(how ever you spell it) Trigger

I have... A few of these and all they do is Run!!

Anonymous said...

Add to 7:52..

Vickers on ar15 "over lubing"
I have seen low budget ar's run fine just keep them lubed.

NHappleseeder said...

Keep it simple, and put the money saved towards ammo and training. 1) iron sights allow you to work marksmanship fundamentals, a scope or red dot can come later. Avoid the plastic magpul sights, get ones made with...iron; the standard 2 clicks/MOA version is fine. 2) A chrome lined barrel is recommended; it provides longer life, hence more practice. 3) the standard fixed stock is fine unless your body geometry is such that a collapsible stock offers a real benefit to getting proper eye relief / cheek weld. 4) get a GI sling; it is a very important shooting aide 5) most makes of ARs are just fine; avoid Colt, as milspec is NOT better. BCM is widely viewed as one of the best, but Rock River, Bushmaster etc. are fine. 6) stick with the stock single-stage trigger for learning 7) an AR-22 while not a fighting rifle will allow you to run the same manual of arms as its 5.56 big brother while saving $ on ammo 8) buy ammo and practice regularly 9) sign up for an Appleseed and we'll help you shoot better!

Dakota said...

I agree with all of your recommendations Mike, especially the forward assist. If a round does not chamber I want that sucker out of there not rammed in.

The only other thing I would pay attention to is "twist rate" 1 / 7" twist is a poor choice as it will not stabilize a 55 Gr bullet and that is a very common size. That leaves 1 / 8" and 1 / 9" rates. Both are excellent choices with 1 /9" being the most common. They will both stabilize the 55 Gr fine and can shoot that dreaded "dangerous" 62 Gr Green Tip.

Rails are OK least small ones are, but not necessary. It is not a contest to see how much crap you can hang on your weapon and flashlights are like tracers .... turn it on and the whole World knows where you are.

I do like a folding stock as when I am wearing heavy clothing in Winter I can adjust to fit better. Don't get a cheap one and make sure it is a 6 position one.

If you are going to shoot a lot of cheap Wolf Ammo a piston (AK style) gas system is a nice option that will not foul easily and is easier to maintain in the field. That is an expensive option however.

Anonymous said...

Buy a stripped lower and a lower parts kit. I had no prior experience and put my lower together in about two hours, with no special tools, except for a dry cleaning bag (assemble your lower inside the bag to capture the little springs that will inevitably try to fly away). You'll save 150-200 dollars doing this, and you can put that money towards the upper half, like a chrome chamber and bore and ".223 Wylde" chamber. Keep it simple; he can upgrade after he has some experience and know better what he wants.

Pat H. said...

Rock River rifles are good quality, but beware. They LocTite their receiver extension tubes into the lower.

I agree that you'll want the forward assist, while rarely used, it can be critical. I've never seen a problem caused by them, that's with 30 years military experience including six years as a M16 range safety NCO at Fort Bragg for my unit.

I also agree that building your own, at least the lower, is a good idea. You may not safe much money, but you'll gain knowledge and you can choose aftermarket parts during the build, such as Magpul MIAD grips, and a custom trigger.

Building the upper is a bit more complex, but doable with a few special tools.

When I began my first AR build, I considered a piston upper, but after much research, I discarded that as an unnecessary complication and adding useless weight. Direct Impingement is a proven design, stick with it.

While a rifle length gas system and 20 inch barrel is a good idea, so is an 18 or 16 inch barrel with a mid-length gas system. It's almost as smooth as the rifle length and you get a handier rifle, and perhaps less weight.

I agree that the flat top is the way to go, iron sights are fine when you're young, as in this situation, but optics are good as well. It really depends on how much money is available for the weapon and sights, optical sights can easily double the cost of the package.

The AR-15 platform is the de facto standard in the US, has a huge supply of spares (including parts from rifles only dropped once), and many worthwhile add-ons.

Anonymous said...

All 4 of my family's AR's are from Rock River. Including the one built on a stripped lower I gave my wife for Valentine's day. Convinced her right there that she was married to a crazy person. ;-) I watched as she followed online video's and built up the lower from parts. Now she knows what goes on inside it. Out of all 4 rifles, not a lick of trouble with any of them. I'm sure there are other brands that do as well for the price. There is also a certain amount of crap out there.

I'm disappointed no one else commented on the Appleseed idea. IMHO, there is no activity you can do for a weekend and have so much fun with all your clothes on. You will also get an in depth but fast paced instruction on why hits count and how to make them. You will also learn why that was a critical skill for our ancestors to have at a very critical time in our history. Hopefully you will come away with a sense of why it is even more critical today. IMHO, one of the reasons that the left dismisses us so readily is that they're convinced we can't shoot. Scores taken from the first target fired on Saturday morning of every Appleseed prove they're right to a certain extent. But targets scored later in the program always show that Appleseed improves hitting ability of everyone who attends, in some cases dramatically.

If you can't hit the bull 20 times in under a minute, an accurate timed shot every three seconds, known as The Rifleman's Cadence, you're not as good as you could be. You're also not as good as your country may need you to be. Appleseed will show you how. Having a match grade M1A with 10K rounds of M118 stashed away for when TSHTF is just mental masturbation if you can't hit with it out past 100 meters in rapid fire. And Appleseed "first target" results tend to show that 80% of you reading this can't.

Get Thee To An Appleseed!

Did I mention that an Appleseed will provide you with all the paperwork needed to get a CMP Garand for $630.00? Got both of my kids a Garand a few years back for $350.00. I've heard Appleseed graduates are driving up demand and prices. You might want to hustle and get one before the supply dries up.

Anonymous said...

I disagree on the forward assist. I have had to close the bolt on a very dirty weapon.

Wiped the bolt with a rag and then oiled it up, ran just fine.

Thing is if I can't get it open I can't fix it. Even slipping the forward receiver pin requires forward motion of the upper to dismantle. That gets hung up on the fire control assembly if it has to move very far.

Been building the rifles for 30 years.

The only trouble I ever had was several ATI uppers that were out of spec. the Forward Assists were too close to the BCG and the recoil caused the pawl to engage the serrations on the BCG. No other receivers that I have encountered have done that.

Anonymous said...

Forward Assist- Good for soft charging runs (ie- riding the bolt), chamber checks (where there is little spring tension left to drive the bolt fully home), and weapons which are extremely fouled. If a press of the thumb on the assist doesn't seat the round, you haven't done much more to "cram" it in and it can still be extracted to discover the issue.

Flat top AR- Buy with the detachable carry handle. Train on the updated iron sight configuration. If the shooter wants to do long range varmint or precision shooting, carry handle is removable. Want to compete 3 gun? Carry handle will do until he can afford something more appropriate or he can simply cantilever a optic, leaving the irons dialed in for long ranges (what I have done).

16"(w/pinned muzzle device) vs true 16" vs 20" vs whatever- Get a true 16", preferably stainless steel, 5.56 or .223 Wylde chamber, straight medium profile with mid-length gas. Cycles like a rifle length system w/o the added length, corrosion resistance of chrome lining without the accuracy degradation. A2 flash hider is still amongst the best and there is little need to change. Of the above, the Wylde chamber is a bonus but not truly necessary, allowing the user to fire either standard ammunition source or extract benefits of the chamber design to deliver best accuracy with hand loads.

Piston vs DI- DI. Piston is a gimmick that changes the fouling from an easy to clean area with large surface area to a tiny space that is less accessible.

Nickel Boron- they are worth the money, now that they have come down in price but are not necessary and can always be upgraded later.

Free float vs clam-shell- I personally do not utilize free float. 556/223 is not a superb cartridge for long range and I

Buy a completed upper- The entire unit might cost 500-600 as spec'd above (minus nickel boron BCG and with 5.56 chamber) with lower parts for $399 at PSA right now.

Lower receiver- I agree on the build your own. Invest in a milspec lower. I personally have switched to a very heavy built polymer lower (New Frontier) and enjoyed the weight savings but some fitting and work may be required. I do not recommend polymer lower for a new shooter.

Anonymous said...

If you must go ar...I prefer sigs piston 5.56 myself...stripped lower is the way to go.
Love the bag idea, my counter is to have a few extras around and that ever hurts anyway. One tip though - don't cut money corners on trigger group. Saving money is great PLUS putting the platform together is great experience, but there are places to cut corners and there are places not to. Chamber 5.56 so ammo options are available.

If money is indeed a issue and a trainer is the idea, a used rifle is always worth a shot from the local pawn shop.

Mitch Rapp said...

1 in 7 twist is for heavy bullets, 69 grain and up. Fast twist on lite, high speed bullets can make them spin apart 12 inches from the muzzle.

Don't spray bullets. Worst thing you can do to an AR when not on the battle field.

Avoid Russian ammo.

Use coated HPBT 69 to 77 grain bullets. 77 grain is heaviest bullet that still fits in a standard capacity magazine. Your rifle could benefit from a slightly stronger buffer tube spring when using these heavy bullets.

Hexagonal Boron Nitride "White Graphite" Powder applies and performs just like moly but does not cause rust.

Size full case then length cut to exactly 1.75". Bevel and camfer neck. Cut waste metal from interior flash hole. Doing all this case prep is the secret to consistent X ring hits. Don't leave your carefully prepared brass laying on the ground at the range.

Load your ammo to 5% below max load for Varget. Radical but clean burning powder.

A suppressor helps with accuracy.

paradox said...

I would recommend a rifle 20" not the AR carbines, better ballistics and allows the 5.56 cartridge to fragment out to 200 yards. The FN-15 is perfect.

11B4P said...

There's nothing wrong with having a forward assist. As I remember, the US Army taught us that after crossing a stream (whatever) and getting a barrel full of water, the charging handle should be pulled slightly to the rear to break any seal in the chamber, letting the water run out (barrel pointed down), then the charging handle is quietly (on patrol) run forward and locked in to position, and the forward assist is quietly tapped or pushed to reseat the round in the chamber. This makes perfect sense to me.

Richard said...

Whatever rifle he winds up with, the single most critical component in his experience will be fundamentally sound training with it, for which I whole-heartedly recommend Front Sight Firearms Training Institute in Nevada. In fact, I'll spring for the cost of his 4 day Practical Rifle course if he and his family express any interest.

Anonymous said...

16" barrel

Anonymous said...

What a can of worms you opened.Yikes.

Anonymous said...

20" barrel. Not heavy barrel in mid-price. HB with fluting adds too much cost. It's not an LMG.

.223 needs all the help it can get. 3100fps (faster than 2700 fps)makes it possible for the bullet to perform correctly out to 200M.

The A2 stock for sturdiness, since the buffer tube won't fold like a para-FAL ;-). Stocks are personal preference items.


Anonymous said...

Start with an 80% lower and build from there!

A young man today has a good chance that bad guys will be coming to look for any gun with paperwork at some time during his lifetime!

Steady Steve said...

Flat top and flat, railed gas block too. This way you can attach good quality folding "iron" sights and use these to learn the basics of marksmanship. Save for a Trijicon ACOG with a reticle that matches the load/bullet weight that is correct for your rifle after you gain in experience. I agree that Appleseed is an excellent introduction into proper use of a rifle. If you can find a retired "Gunny" to take lessons from later, do it. And allocate time for regular practice.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but rock river is not a top tier rifle. For a starter rifle, nothing will beat a Colt 6920 or the 6720 pencil barrel version. Both are online at $800 now - I don't even know if rock river is that cheap, and they are nowhere near the quality of Colt. Rock River won one fed contract that was promptly lost after a number of reliability issues.

What you want in an AR is something that has a proven track record of hard use by serious shooters. Either that means actual government contracts with a record of renewal of the contracts or top tier trainers recommending the brand based upon hard use high round count carbine classes.

Colt, LMT, Daniel Defense, KAC, BCM, HK, and Noveske are all examples covered by the above criteria. Colt has made the m16 and m4 for years, while lmt and Daniel defense both have had MK18 contracts with special operations. HK has a very expensive and heavy version of what delta and deal team six use, while kac has an expensive inprovement that the secret service uses. BCM is a brand that just about all of the top trainers recommend as well.

For best bang for the buck the Colt 6920 and 6720 cannot be beat at the moment. BCM is also a great option that is affordable, but a lot harder to find complete rifles or local gun shops selling the brand.

My advice is to follow the advice of top trainers like Larry vickers, Kyle defoor, ken hackathorn, etc and stick to the above brands. For magazines, use either third gen pmags for polymer or NHMTG mags with magpul followers for aluminum. For an optic, the aimpoint patrol red dot for $400 with a mount is the best bang for the buck by far for a 556 rifle.

Anonymous said...

Colt LE6920. Good quality, reasonable price, everything you need, nothing you don't.

Anonymous said...

I also disagree with the omission of the forward assist. Spent plenty of time shooting Uncle Sugars ammo in and out of the sand box,and I can attest to its usefulness. Also from being a desert soldier, abhor over lubrication in the action. A little goes a long way and dumping a fountain down the action does little good. Unless, of course, you really like malfunctions. I don't really agree with keeping it original 20" barrel and iron sights. The platform has been updated since the 60's so why not take advantage of it? Save a few pennies and buy a used Aimpoint Patrol. Throw a light on it and you have a handy little piece.

Stoner knew what he was doing. RRA is a good product. Stay away from commercial spec. Just as with all things you intend to use to keep yourself and others alive: practice, practice, practice.

Anonymous said...

A small detail, but also do a little research M4 feed ramps. Depends on your use.

JH said...

Just get a Colt M4 if Dad and Jr. don’t want to go the build rout. They are under a grand now, maybe around 800ish on sale. It’s the closest to the issue guns as us mundanes can get and they are excellent weapons. BCM, LMT and DD are also very good from what I’ve heard, both have high standards and try to meet or exceed the TDP and they have a price tag to prove it.
RRA is indeed a good brand for the money. I’ve had mine out twice now and am quite happy with it so far. Not as good as a Colt though…
If they want to assemble it themselves:
16” or 20” are best both for beginners and general use. A flattop is going to be more versatile, but he should get a carry handle or at least a BUIS. Don’t go shorter than 16” though, you lose too much MV.
Do get an FA, as has been pointed out by others, brass checks, quiet chambering, etc. cannot be done without one. Better to have it and not need it… Also, yes on the DC, train him to close it whenever he’s moving and not shooting.
Standard charging handles or BCM mod 5 are the way to go. Everything else is too big; they’ll get caught on things and jab into you when you sling it.
NB and Chrome BCG’s are fine, I don’t know if they really make the guns work better but they sure do clean up faster and the faster you can clean the thing the better.
A Chrome lined bbl is also recommended for longer service life, corrosion resistance and faster maintenance. If it’s from a quality maker, i.e. Colt, RRA, etc., it’ll be plenty accurate. Lousy accuracy comes from lousy makers. Stainless Steel is ok but the rifling will wear out faster.
Nothing wrong with 1:9, 1:8 or 1:7 twists either, all of them should shoot 55Gr. and 62Gr. just fine, (my Colt, Del-Ton and RRA do any way…). That said, 1:9 or 1:8 probably are a bit more versatile.
Don’t bother with a piston system. It’s a solution in search of a problem with semi auto guns. DI works fine.
A pinned on gas block, either fixed or flip up, with a Bayonet lug is also a good idea. Once he’s trained up he should be combat effective with just a front sight to at least 25m. The bayonet, if he’s trained on that as well, will give him another means of fighting and help foster an aggressive, Never Quit mindset. (I know this is just a starter AR, still…)
Light and Gov’t profile bbl’s are ok but medium and HBAR’s will likely shoot better and wont heat up as fast. Both carbine and mid gas systems work fine, that bayonet will fit on a mid length or 20” rifle better though.
Free float hand guards are best and they might as will do that if they’re building the thing, but regular HGDS work fine too. Quad rails give lots of options and you don’t have to hang a bunch of crap off them if you don’t want to. Also ensure the HGDS are heat shielded if they get round A2 style ones, some aren’t.
A2 flash hiders work fine as well and YHM Phantoms work better still. I’m told Vortex and B. E. Meyers are the absolute best hiders on the market but they cost a lot more and their open prong design WILL catch on brush.
Fixed stocks are ok and have the benefit of a storage compartment, but a collapsing stock will be easier to use with gear or CW cloths on. Mil Spec tubes have taller threads and would probably take abuse better than commercial tubes. For general use though, either size is fine with many stock types available for both.
RRA’s 2 stage LPK is probably the best for the money, but if Jr. has his fundamentals down he can probably do fine with a stock trigger for starters. An Ambi safety is a nice starter upgrade as well.
Get him as much training as possible and lots of trigger time. Russian ammo is ok but the bi-metal jackets will wear the bbl out faster.
Don’t get cheap on optics either…
TL;DR: BUY A COLT M4! Cheapest of the Top Tier, perfect Starter rifle.
Or buy quality parts and save a few bucks, have fun getting caught up in the minutiae though…

Anonymous said...

I too have never had a problem with a Colt. Have 2 with the Heavy Barrel and one in M4 model. Love the iron sights on all. All are 1-7 twist and fire 55 gr. and 62 with no problems...I would recommend the kid learn a good deal about cleaning the weapon as they need to be stripped down and cleaned well. Have an Armalite that needed to be sent back immediately after purchase for an ejection problem, but they got to the root of the problem and fixed it. It's a "match-grade", but truth be told, I'd rather have the Colts when the going gets tough

MarkIII said...

I'm late to the party, but wanted to add my .02, in case the young shooter is reading these... I've owned and built many ARs and all of them were fine. Some better than others, but all were good enough. 1) You should build it yourself. You'll know the rifle intimately and it isn't hard. 2) A pencil barrel and a lightweight forend make for a very handy rifle, great for matches, but they do get hot in a hurry. Either make gloves a part of your kit, build a heavier rifle or don't plan on extended firing (the choice may not be yours). 3)spend a little extra on the bolt-carrier group. You can buy the cheapest parts you can find for most other items, but I'd really recommend getting a quality, nickel boron coated BCG. A lot of the action happens in that little section and if you find yourself in an austere environment, it's nice to know that the heart of your rifle can be maintained with no supplies by simply wiping the BCG off in your shirt once in a while. 4) Assuming you're not building an SBR, you can and should run a 16" with a mid-length gas system. 16" because it's adequate to wring the needed velocity out of the 5.56 for practical distances and give you a decent sight radius and every extra inch you carry through woods or brush will get you hung up more often and cause you to twist your body more. It doesn't seem like a lot, but take a 16" rifle hog hunting all day vs. a 20" and you'll know the next morning why it matters. Mid-length gas because it simply runs better than carbine length. It's smoother, easier to tune and wears the internals less. 5) Don't buy a cheap optic. You don't need to drop $1000 or anything, but don't get a $60 knock-off either. If you can't afford a good optic right now, then shoot your irons and save up for a while. You can get a Vortex SPARC for <$200 which is a quality and durable red-dot. My first choice would be an EOTech 512 for around $400. It is rugged as hell and takes AA batteries, which are always easy to find. There's nothing quite so frustrating as trying desperately to find some exotic battery out in some rural area where you're hunting (or worse). Both of those optics co-witness your irons, which is very important, IMO.

Mark III

bondmen said...

Lots of closely held opinions most from real world experience have been offered for your young man. Two superb comments from your high quality readership merit attention, the free training offer and the can of worms that's been opened. I must say how I was deflated from the start when you forbid discussion of AK's as an alternative. Let me say I know I'm a minority, but I have been all my life on many topics; I've driven on both sides of the road all these years and now fallen in favor of this iconic worldwide battle weapon. Pick up a new WASR with an original Romanian cold hammer forged chrome lined barrel and save enough money to buy a serious pile of ammo and get to the range. That is all I need to say Mike, I just had to get it off my chest. I's a nice thing you are doing for him.

UncleBert said...

The DPMS Oracle in 5.56 is a good entry level AR. We gave our son one for his high school graduation and he loves it. It has been both reliable and accurate. He completed the 2-day practical rifle and 2-day rifle skill builder courses at Front Sight and the rifle ran perfectly. It is available for purchase on Gunbroker for about $550.

Kulafarmer said...

If it was my kid and he was as inquizitive as i was at 17, i would buy an inexpensive milling machine and a few 80% lowers plus parts kits, and teach him how to run the mill and produce the lower then build out the rest of the gun,
A father/son project of sorts.
But thats just me, and not right for every situation.