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Guide to buying an AR-15?

After reading Armed Neighborhood Groups Form In The Absence Of Police Protection (https://www.npr.org/2020/06/03/868464167/armed-neighborhood-groups-form-in-the-absence-of-police-protection), I find myself highly motivated to buy an AR-15.

Ideally I would read a non-yet-extant article on the The Prepared with background information, reviews, and recommendations.  In absence of this can anyone point me to the next best thing?

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  • Comments (59)

    • 7

      Hello Hardened,

      I am an expert on the Ar-15/M4/Mk-18/M16 family of rifles. I can answer any questions you have about Ar-15’s and firearms in general.

      Some points about the Ar-15

      • Every Ar-15 in existence is either a good or bad copy of the real thing, which is a Colt or FN M4 Carbine rifle.
      • You can get a rifle that is just as good if not better then what our military uses.
      • Without diving to deep into metallurgy, the receivers need to be made out of 7075 T6 Type 3 hardcoat aluminum. A good barrel will be made out of  4140, 4150, or “CMV” steel. Your bolt carrier group should be made out of 8620 steel and the bolt should be made out of 158 Carpenter steel. Avoid companies that do not publish this data. 9310 steel can also be used on the bolt, but I prefer 158 Carpenter.
      • There are a lot of calibers for the Ar-15 family of weapons, but for general use I recommend 5.56/.223. Get brass cased 55, 72 or 77 grain ammunition. I would avoid steel cased ammunition.
      • Your rifle will need a good flashlight and an optic. I like 1-4 or 1-8 power scopes. This allows you to dial down to 1 power and have a wide field of view, or to a higher power for increased accuracy and target identification.
      • Brands that I recommend, which means you are getting a military grade rifle, are BCM, FN, Springfield Armory, Daniel Defense and Spikes Tactical. Buy new. There are “boutique” brands, but you are better off buying one of these brands and spending your money on accessories, and spare parts. A good Ar-15 can go 20k rounds if you don’t fire aggressive strings of fire. You will need to do minor maintenance every 2,500’ish  rounds. (Replace gas rings, springs etc. We can talk about this later)
      • A 16 inch barrel will be perfect for what you need, and with the right optic can push a round accurately out to 600 yards.
      • Avoid piston guns, fancy coatings, and flashy machine work.

      I will be a resource for you indefinitely. There are other good Ar-15s on the market besides the ones I mentioned, but I have personally evaluated everything I mentioned above. Send me your questions. You are wise to assume you are on your own regarding your own security, and the Ar-15 is the best weapon for home and neighborhood defense. Hope this finds you well.

      Thomas Gomez

      • 2

        Thank you Thomas, that’s exactly the kind of high-quality information I treasure!  Also thank you for your support!  I’m going to dig in and start reading; are there any credible review sites you’d recommend that I could use to help winnow the field of choices?

      • 2

        There are very few sites where you will find an honest review, or an actual writer that knows how to review an Ar-15. If you pose a question in a forum you are going to get a hundred different answers. For a SHTF rifle, get one of the ones I mentioned.  If I had to go buy a rifle right now, it would be a 16 inch Ar-15 from Bravo Company Manufacturing. What state are you in?

      • 2

        Got it, thank you.  I will be buying the rifle in Arkansas.

      • 2

        I’m not familiar with gun stores online but from all my searching it appears that BCM rifles are out of stock.  It looks like inventories are low across the board for many brands.  Can you recommend a rifle that’s still available?  I don’t think there are any restrictions in shipping to a gun store in Arkansas.

      • 2

        Arkansas is a free state. Let me poke around and see what is available. We can schedule a call next week if you want to talk. Hope this finds you well.

      • 2

        Good morning,

        Things are picked over. Email me at gomez@theprepared.com

      • 3

        Super helpful, thank you Tom!  I really appreciate having access to your expertise as well as that of the rest of The Prepared.  I’ve been a low-grade prepper for a while but have recently kicked into high gear and have been sharing your site with as many friends as I can.

      • 2

        Cheers amigo! Glad I could help. This is going to be a fun project.

      • 3

        So it looks like I’m going to have to wait before a gun purchase but I have convinced a friend of the importance of this and he purchased a Noveske Rogue Hunter.  He’s very busy right now so I’m researching this for him while taking the opportunity to learn for my own purchase down the road.

        Let’s talk about optics!  Aside from choosing a 1-4 or 1-8 power scope, what should I look for?

      • 4

        Optics! For Ar-15’s I prefer a red dot, or a 1-4, 1-6 or 1-8 scope. I would look for a 30mm main tube, and an illuminated reticle for low light/no light scenarios. Leupold, Bushnell, Blackhound, Burris and Vortex all make these style of scopes. The ability to dial down to 1x allows you an increased field of view and the ability to use the scope like a red dot. Red dot sights are awesome if you want a lightweight, compact rifle. I would visit Leupold, Bushnell, Blackhound and Vortex’s websites and take a look at their offerings. Look at some of the product photos. Hope this finds you well.

      • 2

        Excellent, thank you!

      • 2

        Hey there, Thomas. I’m wondering if you’ve had any experience with the ArmaLite M-15 series. If so, what are your thoughts?

      • 2

        Is it a good idea to purchase practice ammunition?

      • 2

        The XM193 which I recommended is inexpensive and will do everything you need your rifle to do, except hunt medium sized game. If you want to hunt, I recommend getting some actual hunting ammunition.

      • 2

        The XM193 appears to be out of stock everywhere I’ve looked.  Is there another you recommend that’s still available?

      • 2

        In the short run, anything should work, though I would avoid steel cased ammo. When XM193 does come back in stock, buy as much as you can.

      • 2

        Roger that!

      • 3

        Gonna be a voice of dissent here and say that steel cased ammo is fine for practice, just not HD. Steel doesn’t wear your barrel much faster than brass if you’re not mag dumping all the time, and with the money you save from buying steel to train with you could buy a whole new barrel and then some. For right now though buy whatever you can get your hands on because everything is wiped out.

      • 4

        Those are valid points, and I have training rifles that exclusively live on steel. If you can afford it, buy two barreled uppers and shoot steel through one and brass through the other. If I have a unicorn factory barrel that is extremely accurate, steel cased ammo should never touch that throat. From an armorers perspective, if your rifle can cycle steel, awesome. If it cannot, don’t blame the gun or the manufacturer. Some gas ports are too small to cycle steel ammo. Due to the ammo shortage, I am mostly dry firing to maintain my proficiency.

      • 4

        Dry firing is highly underrated as a training tool, especially for pistols where accuracy is dependent on trigger press. I encourage everyone to do it more often, muscle memory can still be built even without live ammo.

      • 2

        You are 100% on that….especially for pistol! I find that my pistol skills go first, and that is something I have to constantly work through dry fire. Ar-15, I typically work mechanics, malfunctions and re-loads with dummy rounds. Precision rifle….I just time myself getting into awkward positions. Requires nothing but imagination, barricades and time.

      • 1

        Used our Kit Builder tool to assemble a kit!

        Follow this link

        Kits

    • 3

      Hi Tom,

      I’ve heard that Vulcans are total junk. Any truth to this? I realize it’s not a brand on your buy-list above, so I’m inferring not good. However, there’s a big difference between “not first choice” and “total junk”. I’d appreciate your perspective. Thanks!

      • 2

        Vulcan! Haven’t heard that name in years! Questions…do you have a Vulcan? Are you looking at buying a Vulcan? If you own one, when was it made?

      • 2

        Looking to buy, maybe. Vulcan model V15 5.56 16″ barrel.

        The googles bring up all kinds of hate, though I’m not always smitten by a cacophony of loud voices.

        Thanks, sir.

      • 2

        I would probably get one of the brands recommended above. Sig, Wyndham, Aero, Novekse are also good. If you want to go inexpensive Palmetto can work, I would just buy a replacement bolt carrier group from BCM just in case.

    • 2

      Two pre-built models that are affordable and common in gun shops are the Ruger AR-556 and the Smith and Wesson M&P Sport II. I own the latter, and I put on a Bushnell red dot sight, which is pretty good for the money. My understanding is the Sport II is a bit more “standard” than the Ruger AR-556. I’ve put well over 1000 rounds though my Sport II and haven’t had any problems.

      One thing to know about the AR-15 is it likes to run clean and “wet,” meaning it works best with plenty of lubrication. You’ll want to break it down and clean it after every range session with some sort of CLP (short for Clean, Lube and Protect). You really want to do that for any gun, but the AR is particularly sensitive to dust and dirt.

      • 2

        Good to know, Josh.  Is there a brand of CLP you recommend?

      • 3

        That is actually a common myth. A military grade Ar-15 does not need to be religiously cleaned. Mine only get a deep clean about once a year. They do need to be lubricated. After shooting, just run a bore snake down the barrel wipe down the bolt carrier group. Use MPro7 over CLP. CLP is okay but can degrade the rubber O ring in the bolt. MPro is also a great lubricant. Don’t ever use WD40 on firearms.

      • 2

        Is there a bore snake you recommend?

      • 2

        I updated the kit.

      • 2

        I’m looking at reviews on Amazon of the bore snake in the kit (I believe it’s this one: https://www.amazon.com/Hoppes-Boresnake-Viper-M-16-22/dp/B003ITBKRC/).  People seem unhappy with the Viper version and are recommending the standard model.

      • 2

        Standard should work fine.

      • 2

        Is there a cleaning product you recommend?

      • 2

        MPro 7. I use it for lube and cleaning.

    • 3
      • 3

        I would recommend the Magpul MS4 sling over the MS3 as the MS4 has dual QD mounts, which are more commonly built into the rail of the AR or very easy to find a MLOK mount for as opposed to the clip on the MS3. But both are awesome slings regardless, the slider makes for super easy adjustments. As for optics I would also recommend the Primary Arms Raptor ACSS Optics, either the 1-6x FFP or the new 1-8x FFP. The ACSS reticle is a brilliant design and has very easy to use designations for bullet drop, and the reticle can be used to get a rough range on targets. On 1x the size and shape of the reticle are very similar to the “donut of death” in an Eotech and is very easier to acquire quickly. Just my two cents.

      • 3

        Solid gear! Thank you.

    • 3

      I have S&W M&P Sports II. I’ve gone through 30+ hours of training courses firing 2k+ rounds and no problems. You can get one for about $500 and it’s more accurate than you’ll be for a long time. Buy extra magazines, a two point adjustable sling, and a red dot then take training and that will tell you what else you need.

      • 2

        Good rifle! What kind of optics/accessories are you using?

      • 3

        Mine came with iron sights and I use a red dot made by Walters, there are better out there but it didn’t break the bank. As an aside I found a short extension so I could properly mount a bayonet. I also put magpul  furniture on it.

    • 4

      Hey There,

      I agree with pretty much everything Thomas Gomez said, except that I do take a little bit of exception with the list of brands. Specifically, while I wouldn’t argue with the quality of any of them, I would argue that those are for the most part pretty high-dollar brands, and that you can get a rifle that will serve the average person just as well for a fraction of the cost. Someone else mentioned the S&W M&P Sport II. I’d say that’s a solid choice for an entry-level AR, just be sure to get one with a handguard that has M-LOK slots if you plan to mount a light on it. Another brand that I have a great deal of experience with, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend, is Aero Precision. And if you really want to go budget, but still get decent quality, you might check out Palmetto State Armory. I have one of their AKs, and it shoots like a champ.

      I agree with the basic recommendation for a low-power variable scope or a red dot, but for the scope, I’d recommend the Primary Arms SLx 1-6×24 FFP scope. It’s extremely well reviewed, and the ACSS Raptor reticle in it is the bomb. I just picked one up myself for my newest build. FWIW, I’ve never heard of Blackhound.

      A few more miscellaneous notes:

      • Most steel cased ammo is loaded with bi-metal jacketed bullets. Many ranges (all the ones around me) do not allow bi-metal jacketed bullets. Tula has a line of “range friendly” ammo that’s steel cased, but uses copper jacketed bullets. Some ranges won’t even allow you to shoot that though.
      • Beware XM855 ammo, for the reason that, again, many ranges won’t allow the use of any kind of steel core bullets.
      • I’d go with the Magpul MS1 sling. You will never, ever need a single point sling, and the MS1 is cheaper.
      • You can save a ton of money buying your gun online. I have bought more than ten guns online, and have never had a problem. There’s a great gun price search engine at https://gun.deals.
      • There’s a lot of great information for the noob gun owner, including many articles on ARs at pewpewtactical.com.
      • Don’t forget hearing protection, eye protection, a case for your gun, and maybe a range bag.
      • 3

        Hello Friend,

        Thank you for the awesome response. You are correct about Aero and Smith and Wesson, and I added then to my list.  Palmetto can be hit and miss. In my experience, if it is not working, a good armorer can get it working in no time. I have seen issues with bolts, extractors and gas rings…which are easy to upgrade. The Primary Arms 1-6 is awesome!  Good call on the ear and eye pro. Use our Kit Builder, and post up your kit. I would love to see your SHTF rifle.

        Cheers amigo. Hope this finds you well!

        Thomas Gomez

      • 3

        Hi Thomas,

        Thanks. This is a great site, and I’m happy to contribute. As far as PSA, I have no experience with their ARs, but hadn’t myself heard of people having trouble with them. Thanks for giving us another data point.

        My kit? Gosh, I’m glad you said that, if only because I hadn’t really thought yet beyond the pistol in my BOB. Honestly, I know which of my ARs I’d grab today if SHTF, but it wouldn’t be my ideal SHTF rifle. Now you’ve got me planning another build. 🙂 I’m thinking it’d be an AR pistol w/ a collapsible brace (like an SBPDW), 14.5″ .223 Wylde barrel, mid-length gas, black Aero M4E1 receivers and 12″ ATLAS S-One handguard, Larue trigger, Streamlight weapon light, and the above mentioned PA scope on a QD mount, plus BUIS. Just a rough sketch.

        If we were talking about bugging in though, my hands down choice for home defense would be my shotgun (pictured below): Beretta 1301 Tactical, w/ mag tube extension, Magpul stock, Streamlight Pro Tac light, Vortex Venom red dot, Magpul MS1 sling, and a 7-round side saddle. I just got some Aguila minishells, and if they cycle the gun reliably, I’d probably load it up with those or the Federal shorties (in #4 buck), otherwise Federal flight control #00 buck.

        Take care, my friend.

        -Chris

        shotgun

    • 3

      Hello! I wrote up a forum post about Ar-15 maintenance schedules. Follow this link.

      https://theprepared.com/forum/thread/ar-15-maintenance-schedules-and-guidelines/

    • 3

      This is a great thread. I greatly appreciate Mr. Gomez’s insights and those of the other commenters. Any thoughts on quality ARs for left-handed shooters? 

      • 3

        Hi Redlef!

        All the professionals I know who are left-handed, and carry a rifle for a living, rock a right-handed Ar-15. 

        Check out this video. 

        If you still want a left-handed Ar-15 after this video, we can find you one. 

      • 3

        Mr. Gomez, extremely helpful. Thank you for the video link. Any thoughts on the best out of the box ambidexterous models?

      • 3

        Ambidexterous models are a god-send for left haded shooters. 

        I would look at the Sig M400 Tread models. 

      • 2

        Just a follow-up for Redlef.

        If you’re still looking for a leftie AR, check out Dark Storm Industries. Many of their own AR -style rifles have a left hand conversion/upgrade (≈US $100). They even do conversions for restricted states (eg., CA, NY, NJ, MD, CN, et al).

        If that isn’t an option for you, your best bet is to find yourself a real, dyed-in-the-wool gunsmith who’d be willing to work with you to get something (ie., an Armalite) left-hand converted for you.

        Mind you, it’s been 2-3 mos. since your op, I’m guessing by now you know that gunsmiths are running dry, manufacturers (including, DSI -mentioned above) now lead times that are stretching into months, so, there’s that, too.

        Desperate? Get a right-handed. Whatever you can get your hands on.

      • 3

        I met the Dark Storm Guys are SHOT Show a few years ago. Solid people, and they make a great product. 

      • 4

        I haven’t met but I’ve done business with them. Good stuff. 😉

    • 2

      I’ve recently bought a Ruger 556 MPR and added a Romeo red dot sight.  Next step is to get’er sighted in.

    • 1

      Hey Thomas, I just received the following message from a friend of mine:

      “Talked with a guy about AR-15; heads up, that gun is super loud- as in it will cause permanent hearing loss if fired without ear protection- which may or may not be available at a moments notice. The suppressor for it is supposedly twice as expensive as the gun but probably worth it if you can afford it.”

      What are your thoughts?

      • 2

        Not Thomas but I’ll throw my 2 cents in if that’s alright. I would disagree with the opinion expressed by this friend of a friend, and let me explain why. The noise level of a firearm shouldn’t really be one of the first priorites when looking at a weapon for defense situations, most all firearms produce noise levels that are in the permanent damage range, especially in an enclosed area. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider noise levels at all, but when it comes to the best possible way to defend your home noise isn’t going to be much of a factor, and can actually help in some situations. John Lovell of WPS actually has great video on this where he disucusses actually not using a supressor in a HD situation because of the advantage it gives him. When someone is attempting to come into your home you want to “descend on them like a fire-breathing dragon” to quote John, and that is exactly what an AR-15 does. As loud and frightening as the muzzle blast and noise may seem to you firing the weapon, it’s incredibly more so to anyone on the receiving end, and can be very advantageous if facing more than one assailant. In the moment with all your adrenaline pumping you most likely won’t even notice the noise, but anyone attempting to invade your home who is unprepared for it will all of a sudden be met with a feiry explosion (or multiple) blasting their direction. While yes, it may cause some permanent hearing damage this is going to be the case with most firearms fired inside the house, so you may as well defend yourself with the best tool for the job. An AR-15 is hands down one of, if not the best weapons for home defense. They are far easier to control and aim under pressure than a handgun, and they are far more precise than a shotgun with far less chance of over penetration or collateral damage.  Most of your standard 5.56 rounds will barely penetrate through a standard sheetrock wall, and more often than not dispel all of their energy into the sheetrock and come out the other side in non lethal fragments. Lead 00 buckshot on the other hand will punch right through a wall and keep on going, and even 9mm or .45 ACP are capable of penetrating through several walls before stopping. So I wouldn’t let noise hold you back from buying an AR, the advantages they offer far outweigh the increased noise levels, and a little bit of hearing damage is a LOT better than losing a gunfight.

        As for suppressors, most suppressors designed for AR-15 platforms are around $500-$1,000 plus a $200 unconstitutional tax stamp, which is what any decent AR is going to cost you, so no, they’re not double. Also keep in mind that a suppressor does not make the weapon magically quiet like in the movies, a suppressed 5.56 area is still within damaging noise levels. The main advantage a suppressor offers is flash suppression, which like I discussed above may or may not be to your advantage depending on the situation. The one area where a suppressor on an AR can really shine is on a 300 BLK build. Subsonic 300BLK rounds fired through a decent suppressor are hearing safe, and can be a great option for a HD build, but again are not without tradeoffs. 300BLK rounds will penetrate further than a 5.56 round, as it is a much slower, heavier round and will not break apart in sheetrock, and 300BLK is a fair bit more expensive than 5.56, so buying ammo to train with will cost you more as well. We could have an entirely different thread on the advantages of 5.56 vs 300BLK but just something to consider when looking to purchase your first AR. Remember to have a clear purpose in mind for the rifle, and let that purpose dictate what kind of rifle you decide to go with. Is it purely for HD? A SHTF rifle? Would you possibly want to hunt with it? All things to consider when purchasing an AR. As always we’re glad to help in any way we can, I’m sure Thomas will have a reply soon (hopefully agreeing with me lol)

        Also here’s the video from WPS if you’re interested. 

      • 1

        Wow, tremendous answer, thank you! The logic makes sense and thank you for pointing me to John’s video. Until I read your post I wasn’t clear that an AR-15 is better for home defense than a pistol. This is all very helpful.

        After watching John’s video, this other one came up on the subject of why an AR-15 is better than a pistol or a shotgun for inexperienced shooters:

      • 3

        This is the Way summed it up perfectly. If someone is in my house, the last thing I am worried about is my hearing. I need to put the threat down immedietely, and an AR-15 with 30 rounds can handle nearly anything.