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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 (44)

    • 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 Avoid companies that do not publish this data. 9310 steel can also be used on the bolt, but I prefer 158 Carpenter.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 5k 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.

      • 3

        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.

    • 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?

      • 2

        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.

    • 3

      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