General

A Reason to Carry

As much as I enjoy the shooting sports, I’ve never held a concealed carry permit. When I lived in Montana, I was not technically a resident of the state, so I was not eligible to apply.

When I lived in California, well….California.

To be honest, I’ve never really been put in a situation where I thought it was necessary. Open carrying in Montana was no big deal when out hiking, and the small towns aren’t exactly hot beds of violent crime. California pretty much banned everything, so why bother?

Since moving to Virginia recently, I’ve been thinking about applying. Recent events may move that timetable up.

The Moment Chooses You

Most of us are affected by a form of normalcy bias. Because things have generally been okay, we assume that they will continue to be so. Until they are not. Those of us who have been “woke” to the facts of this keep our heads on swivels. We keep track of our surroundings and are on constant search for possible threats. That’s not to say we are paranoid or live in fear. We are just…aware.

Higher population density areas bring a greater probability of interacting with troubled people. While out on a family walk around the multipurpose trails today, an individual was approaching from behind us. With two adults, a dog, and a toddler in a stroller, we aren’t exactly low profile when walking around the trails. He didn’t appear threatening at all, so we acknowledged his presence and moved to let him pass.

He stared at me intently and asked, “Are you the devil?”

My presumption was that he was joking because I was having my wife do exercises on the walk (she was actually rucking for fitness), I was wearing a red shirt, and a multicam hat. I smirked and said, “Yep.”

Apparently, he wasn’t joking. As he passed me, he snarled, “I am the light!”

He must have sensed my confusion at the statement, and continued to become more aggressive. He muttered comments about his duty to destroy evil, and got louder and louder. At this point, the alarm bells in my head were tripped. My posture stiffened, I shifted weight to the balls of my feet, I began further evaluating him for a fight.

Six feet tall, overweight, probably a low level of fitness, but still outweighing me by at least fifty pounds. If he had crazy on his side, he would not likely hold back or be easily deterred. I made sure to stay between him and my family, and prepared myself for conflict.

Luckily, he kept walking down the path. He would periodically stop, turn around, shout more, and square up. But, overall, he kept walking away.

My wife and I decided to change directions and not continue the way we were heading (which is where he went). We circled back up the path and went home a different way.

While I’m glad that nothing ultimately happened, I find myself frustrated that I was left with so few options. Probability is on my side that I would have prevailed in a conflict given my higher level of fitness and moderate abilities in hand to hand fighting, there is no way to be sure.

Sometimes it takes a moment like this to remind us that the moment chooses us, and we really are responsible for our own safety when it does.

General

The Battle Belt, Mod 1

Late in 2015, I completed my first iteration of a battle belt. I admitted at the time that the configuration was mostly based on research and theory rather than practice. Since then, I’ve had a few more months to work on the practice portion and some changes have been made- albeit relatively minor ones. I’ve continued to apply the principles of METT-T and changed my approach a bit. Keep in mind, this is all just based on my own observation and experimentation. I’m not some door kicking meat eater with decades of light infantry experience backing me up. What I have seen, though, is that even the guys with the credentials don’t have a common way of running gear. It is very much a personal thing, so long as it works.

The New Hotness

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The addition of a the MVT Chest Rig, as well as a more fully featured H-Harness from First Spear, drove the changes here. I will talk more about those as well.

The fundamental purpose of this belt is to carry a minimum effective fighting kit. I still want this belt to support all of my magazine fed weapons (both 5.56/308 and pistol). I reduced the amount of survival and comfort items. Those things will either be carried in pockets or in a pack. This is more than the pure minimalist belts out there that have just a few items on it, but it also is much more stripped down that the British PLCE style belt I was pursuing before. I place it in more of a mid-weight category.

Here is the newest iteration of the system.

Pouches from left to right:

  • TT Magna double pistol magazine pouch
  • HSGI Taco (holds one 5.56 or .308 magazine)
  • HSGI Taco (holds one 5.56 or .308 magazine)
  • HSGI Bleeder Pouch
  • BAE Systems Eclipse Canteen/General Purpose Pouch
  • Grizzly Outdoors kydex knife sheath for BK-10 knife
  • Safariland 3280 holster for Beretta 92A1 with or without attached light

When I put the original belt out there in the public eye with a request for feedback, I received a lot of good input. The biggest thing to look out for was bulk, particularly on the sides. My original concept had two triple mag pouches set on the outside of HSGI tacos. When filled, this created 4+ magazines worth of horizontal bulk. I found that it tended to snag on things, particularly door frames and furniture. It didn’t really work the way I originally intended.

P1010690.jpgI dropped the external TT pouches in favor of just the two tacos. This reduced the ammunition capacity from 8+1 to 2+1. Alternatively, it went from eight pounds of ammunition on the left side of the belt to two. My logic is that this is a minimum fighting capability, good for generally bumming around and enough to get out of most sticky situations. Extra magazines can always be carried in pockets, especially if I’m wearing a smock. 

I scaled back the trauma kit back a bit. The HSGI Bleeder just doesn’t hold all that much. This kit represents a bare minimum capability for stopping bleeding, and should be supplemented by a larger first aid kit carried in a pack or pocket.

  • 1 pair nitrile gloves
  • 1 pair HyFin vented compact chest seals
  • 1 NAR S-Folded gauze
  • OLAES 4″ Compression Bandage
  • CAT Tourniquet
  • Flat roll of 100 mph tape
  • Benchmade Rescue Hook 8

I searched for a tear away method of mounting the Bleeder pouch so that I could rip it off with either hand when I need it, but no avail. Instead, I attached the bleeder pouch with two MOLLE Stix. This lets me give a firm yank to a lanyard and unlock the mount. From there, I simply give an upward pull and the pouch falls free. I much prefer this method because removing the kit and putting it next to whatever I’m trying to do is much more desirable than twisting around and fishing through a very crowded pouch on the belt. It’s not a perfect solution, but it works. I also experimented with a Chinook Med TMK pouch, but I didn’t like the way it sat on the belt. Another option I’m looking at is SO Tech’s Flat Viper kit.

P1010691.jpgI wavered back and forth regarding water carriage. I considered removing the canteen carriers all together. I carry a 3L water bladder in my pack, so losing the canteens off the belt wouldn’t represent a great loss. However, I kept one with the reasoning that I can always remove the canteens and continue using the covers as general purpose pouches. Furthermore, hard bottles do still have their perks over bladders (thats a discussion for another day).  

I wanted something that was a bit less bulky than the MOLLE II covers I had. I picked up two of the BAE Eclipse pouches as well as an SO Tech Canteen pouch during my experimentation. The BAE pouches are much lower profile, and present a nice tight fit for my Nalgene canteens, but can also hold other items (including 4 more magazines). It will not hold the canteen nested with cup and stove, though. Since this belt is intended to be used with a backpack, I decided those items could be carried elsewhere. The SO Tech carrier is perfect, and is my favorite carrier by far- but I thought it was better utilized on my larger H-Harness.

The other major addition is a new fixed blade knife. On my first revision, I mounted a Spartan Blades Breed Fighter Dagger. While a fighting knife is cool, it honestly isn’t as useful as a general purpose utility knife.

The Becker BK-10 is my camping knife. It is Ethan Becker’s version of the classic Air Crew Survival Knife, and is designed as a type of “do all” outdoors knife. It is fairly large and wide, which makes it useful for many outdoor tasks, but also makes carry options a little more challenging. The kydex sheath came from Grizzly Outdoors, and is very nice. I have it mounted with zip ties for the moment, bt am looking into other mounting methods.

Other Changes

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A side effect of this project is a strong reconsideration of what kind of pack I want to use.I’ve been running a SOC Three Day Pass as a “do all.” The reality is that there are different packs for different purposes, and “do all” doesn’t really work well for any of them. My GoRuck GR1 now serves as a general purpose 24 hour “assault” pack and is considered an integral part of the fighting kit. The next step up would be something like the Karrimor SF Predator 45 for a few days worth of patrolling, and then a full on large TT MALICE pack for extended periods. That is a long term project, of course, as none of that gear comes cheaply. 

The MVT Chest Rig I picked up last year has become the “plus up” for this fighting kit. It adds an additional four magazines in the main pouches, and the ability to stuff an additional four in the radio pockets (two magazines will fit on each side). The chest rig is light enough and low profile enough that it doesn’t get in the way or add undue weight or bulk. When I bought it, I also picked up a few small pouches, but those have been migrated elsewhere in an effort to keep the chest rig low profile.

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The combination of the medium belt, the chest rig, and the backpack provide an effective layering system. At the lowest end, I could carry a concealed pistol on a standard belt. Add the chest rig to that and I have a basic pistol/rifle combo. The next level would be wearing the medium battle belt by itself, which provides pistol, rifle, and basic survival needs. Add the chest rig to that and it increases the rifle capability (as well as some other “nice to haves”). Add the pack to any of it, and there is essentially no limit to flexibility (so long as weight is kept reasonable). The combination provides a selection between 3, 5, or 7 magazines (including one in the rifle).

The H-Harness

I mentioned that I also picked up a more traditional H-Harness. I managed to get a pretty screaming deal on a First Spear 6/12 Tactical Patrolling Harness. I’ll do a more thorough overview of it later, but it is being pressed to fill that traditional dismounted patrol niche. The harness is equipped to carry six magazines, two canteens, a utility pouch, knife, medical, and other misc items. It has a much wider belt, and sturdier shoulder straps.

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This follows the same pattern as my previous battle belt configuration, but with equipment that is actually designed for it. Here is a quick rundown of the H-Harness configuration:

  • MVT Medium Pouch
  • TT Universal Mag pouch
  • Chinook Med TMK IFAK
  • ATS medium utility pouch
  • Tactical Tailor canteen utility pouch
  • SO Tech canteen pouch
  • Knife sheath for the BK-10
  • TT Universal Mag Pouch
  • MVT Medium Pouch

You will probably notice that I left off a holster and pistol ammunition. I set this is up as a rifle-focused kit. If needed, I would carry a pistol in my HSGI holster, which is slightly dropped on my leg, and also has magazine carriers. I’ve left a small gap in the pouches on my rights side to help with that. If I wanted to, I can go back and mount a MOLLE holster into the space between the knife and magazine pouch, but I would honestly rather save the weight.

So far, all of the pouches mounted on the patrolling harness are “leftovers” from things I’ve experimented with in the past and didn’t keep. That’s not to say they are bad items, they just weren’t filling the need at the time. On this kit, they work very well as a way to comfortably carry more stuff on the belt, potentially eliminating the need for a separate pack. I plan on writing more about this kit in the future.

Caveats

I first started this post almost a year ago. It has taken so long to finish because I am constantly tweaking and adjusting while trying to figure out what works best for me. The truth is that there really is no final answer for how to set up your gear, and everything comes down to personal preferences.

 

Reviews

First Impression: Magpul UBR 2.0

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After first announcing it around SHOT Show 2016, Magpul finally started shipping the second generation UBR stock. I’ve wanted one since they were first announced, and followed the delays and development with interest. I won’t go into all the snags and changes that led to the delay, but at least Magpul was able to have a sense of humor about it.

Once I found out they were shipping, I placed my order with Brownells and waited patiently. It arrived about two weeks later, and I hastily installed it on the musket.

I’ve installed and used the fist generation UBR on a few rifles for other folks, but never owned it myself. The primary benefit of the design is that the cheek piece fixes in place while the underside slides back and forth to adjust length of pull. That made for a consistent and comfortable cheek weld no matter the length of pull setting. The lockup design also meant that the UBR was also the strongest adjustable stock on the market.

For a long time, the first generation UBR was considered the best all-round stock for a precision AR-15 rifle in the field.

Despite its benefits, there are two reasons I never used the first generation UBR. The first was weight. At 1.63 lbs (26.08 oz), it was one of the heaviest stocks on the market. In contrast, the Vltor EMOD and A5 buffer tube I’ve been using weigh 18.3 oz together. While weight is factor, we can also argue that the stock would be good for counterbalancing a nose-heavy rifle. That brings me to the second, and more important, reason.

The first generation of UBR included an “entry length” buffer tube. That meant it was exclusive to carbine buffers and buffer springs. I was, and continue to be, fully committed to the A5 buffer system, which uses a rifle length spring and intermediate sized buffer. The benefits of the A5 system were important to me than the benefits of the UBR.

Enter Generation 2

UBR 2.0

Magpul stated three goals when the announced the UBR 2.0 project:

  1. Reduce the weight of the stock
  2. Reduce the cost
  3. A5 compatibility

In my opinion, the first two are honestly marginal improvements. The stock now weighs 21.2 oz (1.3 lbs), which is about 5 ounces. I know, I know…ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain. As far as cost, the original was around $250 and I bought mine for $179. That is a pretty good savings, but the price still puts the UBR on the upper end of the spectrum.

The real benefit is the A5 compatibility.

The install process on the stock is pretty straight forward. There is a cylindrical buffer tube that installs like any other receiver extension. An end plate mounts in the normal spot. After that, a sleeve fits tightly over the tube and locks into the end plate. A nut is then torqued on the back to secure the whole mechanism together. The cheek piece slides over that, and then the bottom half is attached.

It sounds more complicated than it is.

The UBR 2.0 includes five sling mounting options. The first is at the front of the stock on the end plate. There is a QD socket in the plate for ambidextrous sling use. Keep in mind, if a sling is mounted in this spot, the stock will not close all the way.

There are also QD sockets on the left and right sides of the stock.

On the toe of the stock is a more traditional molded sling loop.

The last sling spot is actually inside the storage compartment, and is revealed if you remove the doors from the compartment.

Overall, the UBR 2.0 feels well constructed and sturdy. I definitely see its benefits to precision shooting styles, as the consistent cheek weld and solid lockup are huge bonuses over traditional collapsing AR15 stocks. I look forward to putting it through its paces.

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General

Project Complete: The Minuteman Rifle

The minuteman rifle

About a year ago, I wrote about an idea for a minimalist rifle. I wanted something great for general marksmanship and light enough for a long hike. I wanted a rugged and reliable companion. Inspired by the “bush rifle,” I wanted it to have an 18″ barrel, fixed rifle stock, and a basic A1 style sight. Essentially, I wanted a modern M16A1. I wrote a few updates on progress over time here, here, as well as my initial impressions of the barrel.

This is my original mock up done on Gunstruction over a year ago:

Mockup

Concerned about the election, I went ahead and picked up two more stripped lowers in August last year. One of those serves as the base for this rifle (the other went to a different project). I also picked up a barrel and other miscellaneous parts required over time. My move across the country and new career put a damper on the plans to finish the rifle. I was weary to have any valuable parts in the hands of a shop while I was moving. I didn’t want anything to return to an old address.

After the move, the primary challenges I faced was the melonite treatment on the Faxon barrel. Melonite is hell on drill bits for pinning a front sight base. Most folks using this barrel go the clamping (or screw in) low-profile gas block path. Another build I saw using a front sight base utilized Fulton’s power wedge system. I wanted to be old school and bomb proof, and wanted it pinned.

Finding someone to do it was the hard part.

After making a few connections, I was directed to Drew at WAR Rifles in Manassas Park. They agreed to do the drilling, pinning, and upper assembly for a very reasonable fee. Drew and his guys are very friendly guys with quality work. I plan on going back to them for other projects with my bolt rifle.

Once I got it back, I took care of a few final touches. I named it the Minuteman Rifle in homage to both my previous career as a Minuteman ICBM officer, and that it also reminds me of a modern minuteman’s rifle. It is no-frills, built for riflecraft, and should be pretty damn reliable. It carries and balances like a dream.

 

Parts List:

Lower Half:

  • Rainier Arms stripped lower
  • Sionics LPK
  • Hogue Overmold grip without hump
  • Magpul MOE rifle stock
  • BCM rifle buffer tube, spring, and A2 buffer
  • ALG ACT trigger
  • Magpul MOE trigger guard
  • V-Seven short throw safety (non ambidextrous)

Upper Half:

  • Rainier Arms Non-FA stripped upper
  • Faxon 18″ Gunner Barrel (1/8 twist)
  • BCM BCG
  • BCM Gunfighter charging handle (Medium latch)
  • BCM .625 front sight post and handguard cap
  • BCM delta ring assembly
  • BCM Sling Swivel
  • Ashley Performance 1/2 MOA front sight post (with white strip)
  • AAC Blackout flash hider
  • Magpul MOE Rifle handguard
  • Daniel Defense A1.5 rear sight

Other Components:

  • Precision Armament Accu-Washer kit for muzzle device
  • TAB Gear Sling

The Reasoning

I wanted this to be an easy to carry, soft-shooting, “Everyman’s Rifle.” I took inspiration from the original M16A1, but wanted to modernize it a bit. There would be no undue weight or complexity.

The Rainier Arms upper and lower receivers have the tightest fit I’ve ever seen. After pulling the pins, it takes a great deal of effort to separate them. Assembled, the rifle feels solid in the hands. There is no rattling, play, or movement of any kind.

I use the 18″ Faxon Gunner barrel mostly because I thought it looked interesting. It has a nice profile, good reviews for accuracy (I haven’t gotten it out there to test yet), and I wanted to see what the melonite treatment is all about.

 

The AAC Blackout was something I already had on hand. It was the first muzzle device I bought way back in my first build, and it has moved around a bit looking for a home. I swapped the rifle it was on back to a classic A2 birdcage. In both cases, I opted to use the Precision Armament washer system to get good alignment without over torquing the device. I realize AAC says that no washers or alignment is needed, but I’m a bit picky with my rifles and wanted the flats of the device to be vertical. I didn’t want to apply too much force on the threads to get there, since it would negatively affects accuracy. I’ve also found that the best shooting teams go a bit past hand tight. With the washer kit, all I have to do is pick the right thickness, torque it just a bit, and add a little bit of Rocksett.

I stuck with Magpul furniture for the fixed stock and rifle handguards. There is no particular reason other than I like them both. They are very comfortable, stable, and I happen to think they look nice. I’m sure a question will arise as to why I didn’t free float it. The answer is that I just flat out liked the Magpul handuards. I already have another rifle (20″ BCM) that I installed a free float rail on, so I thought variety would be nice.

The rear sight took a while to decide. My choices were between a detachable carry handle (which I already had on hand), LMT, Larue, and DD. I eliminated the first two because adjustable rears were outside the set-and-forget nature I was going for. The DD A1.5 ultimately won out over the Larue because it is slightly lighter and I got a pretty good deal on one. They both have great reputations. Scalarworks recently came out with a very lightweight rear, but i honestly don’t care for its appearance.

The Ashley Precision front sight post was an experiment. Since I planned on this being a nearly pure iron sight rifle, I wanted to offer any assistance that I could. The white strip definitely speeds up acquisition, and the 1/2 MOA adjustment is a bonus. I’m a fan of this sight post.

Of all my rifles, this is now the only one with a single stage trigger. The ALG ACT is a product-improved milspec trigger. It does its job fine, but I can definitely tell the break isn’t as clean as my three Geisseles or the Larue MBT. Since it is essentially a dressed up mil-spec trigger, I don’t think it could get any more rugged.

You will not find any QD studs or swivels on this rifle. The goal is ruggedness, and you don’t get much better than avoiding QD all together. I stuck with a more traditional shooter sling from TAB. I already had it on hand, and it is a very good sling. It was replaced by a SAP Positional Sling on my precision rifle, so this seemed like a great way to let the TAB live on. Equally in contention was my RS2, which is on the M1 Garand and is a closer approximation of a traditional GI sling.

I’ve become a huge fan of short throw safety levers. I’ve been utilizing BAD-ASS-ST levers, but I find that I dislike the ambidextrous nature of them. Unless I am careful, the knuckles of my shooting hand are liable to bump the safety back into the “safe” position. For this project, I decided to keep the short throw lever but only on the left side. I may go back and do the same to my other ARs.

For now, I’ve left the remainder of the top rail open. I do love the KISS concept, but I also understand the advantages that an optic brings to the table. If I ever felt the need, I could slap a red dot on here and carry on.

 

Wrap Up

And there you have it. I’ve been creeping along with this project for about a year now, and I’m happy to see it come together. At a final unloaded weight of 6.9 lbs, it is the lightest rifle in my safe. While not an ultralight by any means, it was never intended to be. It is also nearly perfectly balanced, with the center of gravity falling on the front half inch of the magazine well.

I’m not sure when I’m going to get it to the rang for a quick zeroing and accuracy test. I’ve got a bead on a local indoor spot with a 100 yard range and a good reputation. After that, perhaps a jaunt in the woods is in order.

 

General

AR-15 Custom Build Guide – 2017 Edition

I’ve written my advice for first time buyers of AR-15’s before, and provided plenty of technical details for barrels, optics, triggers, and other topics. However, I’ve never put together a list of suggested parts for a ground-up build. To be honest, that was intentional.

My general advice for new buyers was, and continues to be, go out and buy something like a Colt OEM for less than $800 and make it yours. Even better, pick up a complete Colt 6720 right now for $899 and rock on.

Still, I get a lot of questions about assembling rifles from scratch and picking parts.
This guide is my answer. This post is only concerned about the rifle itself, and not optics or sights. I break it down into functional categories and budget lines. You will see that I tend to stick to a baseline build, and then change only a few parts as the budget goes up.

This guide is based upon what is available right now. I know there are plenty of cool new whiz bangs just over the horizon (I’m looking at you UBR 2.0), but that makes things too complicated. Maybe they’ll make it in the guide next year. Also, I am not including the cost of shipping, tools, or paying someone to do the assembly for you. This is purely based on the cost of the parts.

I’m sure there are people who would read this list and wouldn’t agree with me. That’s fine. This is ultimately what I would build for myself were I to start all over again and choose to go the parts-rifle path. What works for me doesn’t work for everyone. Some of the decisions I made were driven by the budget I constrained myself to. Other decisions were honestly a wash between different parts, so I just picked one that met my needs.

The General-Purpose Carbine


The general-purpose carbine (GPC) is for someone who needs “the one rifle.” It is fairly good at most things, while not being outstanding at anything. It is easy to carry, easy to shoot, accurate enough, and serves as a constant companion for everything from home defense to competition. For most people, this is the category they are looking for when it comes to a “SHTF” gun.

The Baseline

Price Point: $800-$1000

The baseline GPC consists of the bare bones components needed to get a reliably functioning weapon. The parts on the baseline are inexpensive, without being “cheap,” and still theoretically meet reliability standards. I say theoretically because when go for a parts-rifle frankengun assembled from different brands, there is just never a guarantee.

This a great first rifle for someone who is ignoring advice to just buy factory built uppers and lowers, as it allows plenty of room for expansion in the future.

Contrary to my own advice, I went with a free floated barrel and low profile gas block from the start. I probably could have saved some money by going with standard handguard furniture and triangle front sight on the front end, but the labor costs would be higher on assembly due to the required drilling and pinning. Those labor costs would negate any savings made on going with standard plastic hardware, so I just skipped it.

Estimated weight: 6.37 lbs 
Estimated Cost: $894.39

Lower Receiver:

  • Stripped lower from Aero Precision
  • Daniel Defense LPK
  • Basic mil-spec trigger (included in the lower parts kit)
  • A2 pistol grip (included in LPK)
  • Standard safety selector (included in LPK)
  • Magpul MOE trigger guard (included in LPK)
  • BCM buffer tube
  • BCM carbine spring
  • H2 buffer
  • Magpul MOE carbine stock

Upper Receiver:

  • Aero Precision assembled flat top upper
  • 16” Faxon Gunner barrel
  • Faxon low-profile gas block
  • Standard mid-length gas tube
  • A2 “birdcage” flash hider and crush wafer
  • Aero Precision BCG
  • ALG EMR V3 13″ M-Lok handguard (and barrel nut)
  • BCM Mod4 charging handle

The Custom

Price Point: $1000-$1500

At the “custom” level, we can add a few more options that improve the shooting characteristics of the rifle. Changes from the baseline to the custom category include a Criterion barrel, known for high accuracy with chrome lining, a Centurion Arms handguard, A5 buffer kit, and a two-stage trigger (among other components). I also switched to a BCM M4 upper receiver because they are known for tight machining tolerances, particularly around the barrel extension, and help contribute to accuracy. The change from an Aero BCG to a BCM BCG came about mostly because I trust BCMs QC methods, as they individually test every bolt.

Estimated weight: 6.28 lbs
Estimated cost: $1303.17

Lower:

  • Aero Precision stripped lower
  • BCM Intermediate Buffer Tube (A5 Compatible)
  • Mil-Spec rifle buffer spring
  • Vltor A5H0 buffer
  • Sionics “Builder” lower parts kit (minus ambi safety selector)
  • V Seven Short throw safety selector
  • Larue MBT Trigger
  • BCM Gunfighter Stock
  • Hogue Overmold pistol grip (without grooves)

Upper:

  • BCM M4 flat top upper receiver (assembled)
  • Criterion 16” light hybrid barrel, sold through Midwest Industries
  • Faxon low profile gas block
  • Standard mid-length gas tube
  • Centurion Arms CMR M-Lok handguard (and barrel nut)
  • BCM M-16 Bolt Carrier
  • BCM Mod4 charging handle
  • A2 flash hider

The Unlimited

Price Point $1500-$2000

At the “Unlimited” level, we are looking to push the shooting characteristics of the gun to the best that can be expected of the general purpose carbine category. If funds are unlimited, and local politics allow, this is a great point to dip into NFA territory with suppressors and 14.5” barrels. For now, though, I will stay away from that and keep to keeping it NFA-friendly territory.

The goal is to continue pushing for more durable and accurate components while keeping weight down. With the unlimited category, I brought in matched billet receivers from CMT. These include several innovative ambidextrous features for magazine release and bolt stop. I switched to a Centurion Arms barrel, which is made from a different blend of steel, and known for both good accuracy and great durability. For the rail, I moved to a BAD 13.7″ Rigidrail, due to its very light weight while keeping rigidity. For a trigger, I brought in a Geissele SD-C. To be honest, my Larue MBT and Geissele SD-E are so close that another trigger upgrade is optional here.

To be honest, I had trouble pushing the budget much past the $1700 point. I could have spent another couple hundred on a lightweight billet set from Battle Arms Development or 2A Armament, but neither of them have the ambidextrous features that I think are valuable in this style of weapon. I could have also switched stocks to something more expensive, but at what point am I just picking more expensive parts for the sake of spending more money?

Estimated Weight: 6.54 lbs
Estimated Cost: $1897.13

Lower Receiver:

  • CMT Tactical Billet Ambi
  • BCM Intermediate Buffer Tube (A5 Compatible)
  • Sprinco ‘Green’ buffer spring
  • Vltor A5H0 buffer
  • Sionics “Builder” lower parts kit (minus ambi safety selector)
  • V Seven Short throw safety selector
  • Geissele SD-C trigger
  • BCM Gunfighter Stock
  • Hogue Overmold pistol grip (without grooves)

Upper Receiver:

  • CMT Billet receiver
  • Centurion Arms 16″ CHF lightweight
  • Centurion pinned low profile gas block
  • Standard mid-length gas tube
  • V Seven 13.5″ Enlightened M-Lok handguard (with barrel nut)
  • BCM M-16 Bolt Carrier
  • Geissele ambi charging handle
  • Precision Armament AFAB compensator (and shim kit)

The Field Rifle


The field rifle is one that will be carried mainly in open outdoors. It is at home slung across your back as you climb over rocky terrain, or slung up while lining up for a shot on a coyote. It is light and balanced, with a minimum of fuss. It can be pushed into service for defense of the home, but it is longer than a carbine built for the purpose. While not at the highest level of precision, it is more accurate than most shooters and will work well on all but the smallest targets out to the practical limits of the 5.56 cartridge.

My priorities for a field rifle are stability, balance, and velocity. Since this rifle is not intended for indoors or vehicle use, it is longer. It may be slightly heavier, but the weight is balanced to offset it. I’ll stick with the Magpul MOE rifle stock for all three levels because it is rigid, provides good cheek weld, and makes for a great overall feel on a field rifle. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

The Baseline

Price Point: $800-$1000

At the baseline, the field rifle looks similar to the GPC, except that it is slightly longer to take advantage of added velocity. Keeping to a budget will force decisions like that. The primary goal is to remain lightweight and easy to carry, but feel more substantial and confidence-inspiring in the hand. This will come mainly through paying attention to how the rifle balances.

Estimated Weight: 6.62 lbs
Estimated Cost: $969.32

Lower Receiver:

  • Stripped lower from Aero Precision
  • BCM Enhanced LPK
  • BCM PNT (included in the lower parts kit)
  • BCM pistol grip (included in LPK)
  • Standard safety selector (included in LPK)
  • Magpul MOE trigger guard (included in LPK)
  • BCM rifle buffer tube
  • Standard rifle buffer spring
  • Standard rifle buffer
  • Magpul MOE rifle stock

Upper Receiver:

  • Aero Precision assembled flat top upper without forward assist
  • 18” Faxon Gunner barrel
  • Faxon low-profile gas block
  • Standard rifle-length gas tube
  • BCM Gunfighter Mod 0 compensator
  • Aero Precision BCG
  • ALG EMR V3 15″ M-Lok handguard (and barrel nut)
  • BCM Mod4 charging handle

The Custom

Price Point: $1000 – $1500

With some extra funds, we can increase the accuracy and balance characteristics of the rifle. I happen to prefer a slight forward balance on a field rifle, since it helps the rifle settle into my hand and reduce sway from field positions. As with the general purpose carbine, I will make some adjustments to parts choices for the sake of tolerances and accuracy. The biggest adjustments will come from the barrel and trigger.

Estimated Weight: 7.2 lbs
Estimated Cost: $1377.72

Lower Receiver:

  • Stripped lower from Aero Precision
  • Sionics “Builder” LPK
  • Larue MBT Trigger
  • BCM pistol grip
  • V Seven short throw safety
  • Magpul MOE trigger guard
  • BCM rifle buffer tube
  • Standard rifle buffer spring
  • Standard rifle buffer
  • Magpul MOE rifle stock

Upper Receiver:

  • Rainier Arms non-forward assist upper
  • 17.7″ Ballistic Advantage Hanson profile 3-gun barrel
  • Ballistic Advantage pinned gas block (included with barrel)
  • Standard mid-length gas tube
  • BCM Gunfighter Mod 0 compensator
  • BCM BCG
  • Mega Arms Wedge-Lock M-Lok handguard (and barrel nut)
  • BCM Mod4 charging handle

The Unlimited

Price Point: $1500 – $2000

At the top end, we can take advantage of billet receivers and other higher end items. Overall, though, it retains the same basic style.

Estimated Weight: 7.4 lbs
Estimated Cost: $1905.80

Lower Receiver:

  • 2A Armament Balios Lite
  • Sionics “Builder” LPK
  • Geissele SD-E Trigger
  • BCM pistol grip
  • V Seven short throw safety
  • BCM rifle buffer tube
  • Standard rifle buffer spring
  • Standard rifle buffer
  • Magpul MOE rifle stock

Upper Receiver:

  • 2A Armament Balios Lite
  • 18″ Criterion Hybrid Profile barrel
  • BCM Low Profile gas block
  • Standard rifle-length gas tube
  • Precision Armament AFAB Compensator
  • BCM BCG
  • Mega Arms Wedge-Lock M-Lok handguard (and barrel nut)
  • Geissele charging handle

The Precision Shooter


This rifle is all about precision. It is at home on a bipod or a sandbag. It is heavy, a bit unwieldy, and not meant to be carried for long periods. It is ideally used in competition, but would serve very well for varmint shooting off the back of a truck. At all three levels here, I will use a longer barrel for the flattened trajectory, which is more useful to me.

From a precision standpoint, a more compact 16″ barrel would work just as well. Precision costs money, so there is increased cost at all levels.

The Baseline

Price point: $800-$1000

My priorities for this category of rifle are precision and stability. I also like a smooth cycle that helps keep sights on target for better shot calling.

Estimated Weight: 8.2 lbs
Estimated Cost: $961.89

Lower Receiver:

  • Stripped lower from Aero Precision
  • BCM Enhanced LPK
  • BCM PNT (included in the lower parts kit)
  • BCM pistol grip (included in LPK)
  • Standard safety selector (included in LPK)
  • Magpul MOE trigger guard (included in LPK)
  • BCM rifle buffer tube
  • Standard rifle buffer spring
  • Standard rifle buffer
  • Magpul MOE rifle stock

Upper Receiver:

  • Aero Precision assembled flat top upper without forward assist
  • Ballistic Advantage 20″ DMR Premium Series
  • Rainier Arms low-profile gas block
  • Standard rifle-length gas tube
  • A2 flash hider
  • Aero Precision BCG
  • ALG EMR V3 15″ M-Lok handguard (and barrel nut)
  • BCM Mod4 charging handle

The Custom

Price point: $1000- $1500

At the custom level, not much will change with the core rifle. We get the addition of a better trigger, adjustable stock, rail, and muzzle device.

Estimated Weight: 7.8 lbs
Estimated Cost: $1414.77

Lower Receiver:

  • Stripped lower from Aero Precision
  • BCM Enhanced LPK
  • Larue MBT Trigger
  • BCM pistol grip (included in LPK)
  • Standard safety selector (included in LPK)
  • Magpul MOE trigger guard (included in LPK)
  • BCM intermediate buffer tube
  • Sprinco “green” rifle spring
  • A5 buffer
  • BCM Gunfigher Mod 0 stock

Upper Receiver:

  • Aero Precision assembled flat top upper without forward assist
  • Ballistic Advantage 20″ DMR Premium Series
  • Rainier Arms low-profile gas block
  • Standard rifle-length gas tube
  • BCM Compensator
  • Aero Precision BCG
  • Mega Wedge-Lock M-Lok handguard (and barrel nut)
  • BCM Mod4 charging handle

The Unlimited

Price point: $1500-$2000

The unlimited level will change out the receivers, barrel, and a few operating parts. I’m sure there will be great debate over why I chose the parts I did, particularly the barrel, when there are known better ones out there. The answer is budget. To keep this below the $2k mark, I had to make some sacrifices. The parts I picked will still perform very well while staying well below the extraordinary prices some folks are willing to pay in the precision game.

Remember, when it comes to precision, the rifle is less important than the optics you put on it and your own abilities.

Estimated Weight: 8 lbs
Estimated Cost: $1964.82

Lower Receiver:

  • Mega Arms Billet Lower
  • Sionics LPK
  • Geissele High-Speed DMR trigger
  • Hogue overmold grip without finger grooves
  • V Seven short throw safety
  • BCM intermediate buffer tube
  • Sprinco “Green” rifle spring
  • A5 buffer
  • BCM Gunfighter Mod 0 stock

Upper Receiver:

  • Mega Arms Billet Upper
  • Rainier Arms Ultramatch .223 Wylde 20″ barrel
  • Rainier Arms low-profile gas block
  • Standard rifle-length gas tube
  • Precision Armament AFAB compensator
  • Aero Precision BCG
  • Mega Arms Wedge Lock M-lok handguard (and barrel nut)
  • BCM Mod4 charging handle

Conclusion

This concludes my build sheets for this year. The AR-15 is an extremely versatile and popular platform. You can take any of the specs I laid out above and further tweak them, but I do think they give you a good solid base to start from with each category and price point.

Good luck!

General

Try This: A Better Goal Setting Method

After talking about my goals, I realized I have never actually talked about my goal setting methodology.

Every person I know has, at some point, set a target for themselves. Most of them never get obtained.

What you are probably doing

If you are like most people in the professional world, you’ve been taught SMART goals. SMART, if you aren’t familiar, stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time bounded

To be clear, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with SMART goals. When implemented correctly, they make good guidelines. The trouble is that most people just don’t have enough practice on each of those components.

The thing glaringly lacking from SMART goals is an actual plan. A goal without a plan is just a wish.

As one former commander of mine used to put it, “You can wish in one hand and shit in the other; see which one fills up first.”

Writing Better Goals

With Winning in Mind, by Lanny Basham, is one of my favorite books. My method is derived from this, though a bit less rigid. The first step in a proper goal is to decide exactly what it is that we want to achieve and when. When we talk of specificity, you need to think about the end state and not the process.

For example, take these two goals:

  • Lose 20 pounds
  • Weigh 190 pounds or less

If the person who wrote these weighs 210 pounds today, what is the distinction between the goals? They both say the same thing, right? They just state different ways of looking at a target.

This is where psychology comes into play, along with how we think and talk about our goals. The successful person will always talk in terms of how they see themselves at the end. Those who don’t focus on the outcome tend to get lost.

The first person is more likely to say, “I’m trying to lose 20 pounds.” By constantly speaking in terms of “trying,” they subconsciously program their minds to never really reach the goal. They don’t see themselves as someone who weighs 190 pounds, but someone who is perpetually trying to lose 20 pounds. Think of smokers you have known who are “trying to quit,” and get close to the end goal only to revert and continue “trying.”

So, to recap, step one of choosing a specific goal is to choose the specific end state you envision.

Step two is deciding exactly how you will measure such a goal and under what conditions. To truly demonstrate progress, measurements must be done in a controlled and consistent manner. For example, “hitting the ring” doesn’t say a whole lot by itself. Am I shooting from a standing, kneeling, sitting, or prone position? Am I shooting outside in calm weather, or in cold/windy/rainy weather? How much time do I have to prepare for the shot? What kind of rifle will I be using?

Here is how I would incorporate that information into goals, starting with our weight loss example:

  • Standing on my bathroom scale in the morning after a shower and before breakfast, weigh 190 pounds or less
  • From sitting position outside in calm weather using my primary match rifle, place at least three out of five shots in the x-ring (bullseye) of a standard A-23 target from 50 yards.
  • From a fasted state within one hour of waking up, complete a 3.2 mile run over gentle hills in 24 minutes or less

Those three goals are all specific and include measurement conditions. I will know exactly when I have achieved my goal, and I can clearly chart progress towards that goal for feedback and review.

I haven’t mentioned time-bounding, achievability, and relevancy, though.

Achievability and Relevancy

Your goals should be challenging. Easy goals don’t motivate us the way that difficult goals do. Achieving difficult goals gives us a stronger dose of the positive neurotransmitters in our brains that make us feel good about ourselves. Failing to achieve goals does the opposite. Balance those two factors the best you can.

A common problem is that people often set goals in areas they don’t have a large amount of knowledge or experience. If you do not know a lot about a subject, it is easy to incorrectly estimate what a fair amount of time would be to give yourself, or how difficult a goal might be, or even if you’re tracking the right data points. I did this early on starting this blog, and received solid feedback from others that my goals were too aggressive.

For another example, most people use the number on the scale as the sole indicator of health. However, health and fitness experts generally agree that measuring the weight of a person is not nearly as good an indicator of health as using body fat percentage and strength capacity. If you take two women of roughly the same body type who both weigh 140 pounds, but one has a body fat percentage of 20% and the other a body fat percentage of 30%, the former may look like a toned swimsuit model and the other will look flabby. But they weigh the same amount.

Moreover, dropping 10% body fat in a short amount of time is also unhealthy and comes with a high risk of “rebound.” The difficulty and proper time programming must be accounted for. When you set a goal, do your homework!

What About Planning?

How much do you care about achieving your goal? What are you willing to give up reaching it? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just wanting it is enough. In his great book, Mastery, George Leonard talks about the concept of homeostasis. Whatever life patterns, social relationships, and obligations you have established to this point are going to fight against any effort you make to change something about your life. Change is hard, it makes others feel uncomfortable. So what are you going to give up?

Our fat loss goal is not going to happen by itself. It’s going to take eating right, exercising, and discipline. Are you willing to wake up earlier and feel more tired during the day so you can fit a workout in? Are you willing to put up with ribbing and teasing from friends about your new “clean” eating habits? Are you prepared for the increased time (and fiscal) commitment to buying and cooking your own food?

If these factors bother you more than not reaching your goal, then you will fail.

Whatever your goal, are you willing to trade your life for it? If the answer is no, then stop here and go pick a new goal that you are willing to trade for. Failing to reach your goals will only put you in a spiral of frustration and failure, which will hurt any other goals you have.

Once you’ve got your goal, and put a fair deadline on it (and you really need to put a deadline on it), it’s time to plan for it.

First, list the things that might stop you from achieving your goal? Let’s look at few for our fat loss goal.

  • Time – required to exercise, cook, and eat slowly
  • Financial resources – It might cost more to buy and cook your own food
  • Social relationships – People may give you a hard time for trying to break out of the pigeonhole they put you in
  • Convenience – Bringing your own lunch to work is less convenient than eating out

Really take the time to sit down and think about this. List everything that might hold you back.

Now, what are you going to do about it? How are you going to compensate for those things that will hold you back?

  • Time – Wake up earlier, pick efficient workouts, eat small meals
  • Financial resources – Build a budget that involves less Starbucks or other niceties (Satellite Radio? Luxury cell phone plans? Good beer/wine habit? Comprehensive cable/satellite TV packages? If you aren’t willing to give those up, then this goal wasn’t important enough to you to begin with)
  • Social relationships – Pre-build list of comeback quips, form new supportive relationships, get others to join you
  • Convenience – Embrace it?

Lastly, how are you going to reach your goal? What is your plan? This will probably require you to create sub-goals and milestones. Follow this whole process again for each of those. How often are you going to exercise? What proportions of fats/proteins/carbohydrates are you going to eat? What is the deadline for each of your milestones?

Perhaps even more important, what is the next goal you want to achieve after you’ve reached this one? Always have another goal in sight. If you’ve reached your goal for body fat percentage, what about establishing a goal for strength? How about winning a competition?

Never stagnate. Never stop growing.

General

Establish a New Rhythm

Breaking established patterns is a hard thing to do, and often very disruptive. The recent sweeping changes in nearly every aspect of my life have dramatically challenged even the most routine activities that I had grown accustomed to. A new career in a different industry (with very different expectations) means I need spend a lot more time “learning my craft” than I used to. Different work hours mean my daily battle rhythm doesn’t fit anymore. A tighter budget less ammunition to practice with, and living farther away from a suitable range means live practice sessions get fewer.

These are not insurmountable problems. Difficult, yes, but manageable.

To establish a new baseline, I need to set some priorities and goals. I did this way back in the beginning, and it’s time to revisit that process. In the last post, I mentioned that the four domains I will be focusing on for the coming years include physical capabilities, skillsets, tactical know-how, and mindset. The two of those most relevant to the topics I write about are skillsets and tactical know-how, so let’s focus on those. For accountability, I’m doing this publicly.

Skillset

Goal #1: From a standing position with the weapon on the ground, identify and correct any type of malfunction within five seconds of picking up the weapon.

  • Deadline: July 1st, 2017
  • Possible Constraints: I have had no formal instruction on malfunction clearing, though the information is out there and readily available. I do not need life ammunition for this goal, and I have a sufficient quantity of snap caps, dummy rounds, and spent brass on hand to make this a useful exercise. Malfunction practice does not require a large time commitment.
  • Countermeasures: Schedule adequate time into my day/week to practice this skill.
  • Process: This will follow a standard crawl-walk-run progression. I will practice “setting up” the malfunction to gain better understanding of what is happening, and then slowly clear the malfunction. Gradually, I will work towards the target time goal.

Goal #2: From any position, perform a speed reload within one second after recognition of need; perform a retention reload within two seconds of recognition of need.

  • Deadline: July 1st, 2017
  • Possible Constraints: I have limited instruction on rifle reload techniques, and they were last practiced nearly five years ago (before I had to install the dreaded bullet button and use low-capacity magazines). I have a sufficient quantity of magazines to practice with, and I do not need live ammunition to perform this practice. I do not expect this to require a large time commitment.
  • Countermeasures: Schedule adequate time into my day/week to practice this skill
  • Process: I already have a foundational knowledge of speed and retention reloads, so that skips me past the “crawl” phase, but I do need to practice from positions other than standing. This will be done slowly until the movement patterns are set, and then sped up to meet time goals.

Goal #3: From any position, acquire any other field position and obtain a correct natural point of aim within three seconds.

  • Deadline: July 1st, 2017
  • Possible Constraints:  I already have a solid knowledge of the traditional field positions, but do need to practice the more unconventional ones. Additionally, the main factors that might slow me down are strength/flexibility and speedy NPOA attainment. This exercise may require rethinking my equipment positioning to better facilitate smooth movement. Lastly, this will require more time.
  • Countermeasures: Schedule time, even if in small chunks, to practice this skill at least two days per week. I already incorporate strength training in my schedule at least two (usually three) days per week. I will also have to reincorporate NPOA practice back into my dry fire routines.
  • Process: In addition to the traditional shooting positions I’ve spent time covering, I also need to study and practice the unconventional positions. Once I have a foundational knowledge of these, I will practice slowly transitioning from one to another and obtaining a correct sight picture. I estimate that the transition part will be fast, it’s the NPOA component that will be slower.

Tactical Know-How

Goal #1: Graduate from at least one formal training course that includes weapon handling and small unit tactics.

  • Deadline: November 1st, 2017
  • Possible Constraints: Cost, both in course fees and ammunition requirements. Time off from work and away from family. Potential lack of suitable equipment (not likely).  I listed two rather distinct skill sets in this goal, so it may require two separate courses of instruction done at different times.
  • Countermeasures: I already have some funds set aside for training/education goals, so that really leaves the cost of ammunition (and travel) as the financial impediment. I need to try an set aside some funding each month to purchase the requisite ammunition. Regarding time off, If I can find a course that blends into a long weekend, that would be ideal. Otherwise, I will just have to eat the days off from work.
  • Process: I need to identify a suitable school and training course, identify the budget and gear requirements, register, and attend.

 

Goal #2: Locate, read, and practice at least one book on fieldcraft.

  • Deadline: July 1st, 2017
  • Possible Constraints: Time
  • Countermeasures: Audiobook or small reading sessions before bed spread over time.
  • Process: Do research, gather input, go read.

And that about wraps it up. Doing some quick research on the area, I fear I’m going to be disappointed with the availability of outdoor ranges in the Northern Virginia area. The range I was hoping to join, Peacemaker National Training Center (in West Virginia) is apparently not accepting new memberships until a pending civil lawsuit over noise complaints is worked out. The other outdoor range relatively close to me, the Fairfax Rod & Gun Club, requires two members to vouch for me, a $1500 – $3000 membership fee, and has a huge waiting list. Sadly, I think I was spoiled by living out west where I could join a club for $40 a year, no waiting lists, and good facilities.

Also of note, you may have seen that I’m switching up the layout here a bit. I thought it was time for a refresh after three years. I also started up an Instagram account, so go on over there and follow me. That will be where I put things that are just quick thoughts not long enough to warrant a full blog post.