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.

General

Everyday Marksman is Back Online

Good day, everyone!

It’s been a bit of a journey, but the marksman family is finally settling into a new home and routine. The drive across the country took seven days, and unpacking into our new house is slow-going. One of the downsides of living in a more populated area is that you get significantly less square footage for your dollar, so we’ve got an ongoing effort to

RoadKit.png
The Everyday Marksman’s road trip kit while stopping along Route 66; full of “just in case stuff” for seven days

organize and eliminate things from our lives. We are also having to look at spending priorities. My new career ‘s gross compensation starts off at only slightly less than I was making as a military officer (which is expected, given the dramatic shift in industry I’m undertaking), but our expenses are significantly higher (health insurance, rent, etc.). It’s going to take a while to equalize and figure out how to allocate funds.

That said, I listened to several audiobooks and podcasts while on the road and thought a lot about my goals and the direction I want to take my training and writings. Chief among the books I listened to was the work of Jack Donovan in The Way of Men. It was recommended to me by another shooter and instructor I follow. While the the political and personal drama that surrounds the author is a bit of a turn off, and may very well taint his message among many, I do find his core philosophy to be of value. So much so that I’m working hard to incorporate much of it into my life.

What is that message? Essentially, it boils down to finding a core tribe, or “gang,” to belong to and making yourself a useful and important part of it. For a long time, I’ve felt relatively isolated among many of my peers. Surely, I had good friendly working relationships and a positive reputation with them, but I had very few who I would consider the kind of friend I could call at two o’clock in the morning with an emergency and know they would come through. If much of what I’ve read and listened to over the last two months is any indication, this is a very common problem these days.

I’ve also been spending a lot of time considering my weaknesses, both physically and emotionally, and how they have affected my professional, personal, and marksmanship lives. If I am to find and belong to a new tribe in a a new area, then I must demonstrate my worthiness of such a group. With that in mind, these are my new(ish) priorities for the coming year(s):

  • Physical capabilities: For a lot of reasons, I am placing my own physical fitness and capability at the top of my priority list. Without the military standing over my shoulder and forcing me to maintain at least a minimum level of fitness, it would be easy to let this one drop off. I want to be stronger and more capable so that I can better take care of my family and set an example for my son. I want to be more reliable when it comes to moving over distance with a load on my back so that we can do more when we get to the other side. I want to be harder to kill in a fight. I would be lying if I didn’t say the political tension and grim outlook of the country isn’t weighing on my mind. Physical preparedness is hugely important.
  • Skillset: To this point, I have focused primarily on the raw fundamentals of marksmanship. To be fair, that is the name of this blog and was my impetus for starting it in the first place. But I’ve come to consider that there are other equally important elements that coincide with being a well-rounded armed citizen. I’ve often written that my view of an Everyday Marksman is one who is engaged with their communities and looking out for the the safety and security of them and theirs. Message boards are full of armchair warriors who think that they will make it by sitting on their front porch (or roof) and guarding their stash from three hundred yards. That is simply not a realistic scenario. For me, it’s about fighting and surviving. I want to increase my skillsets in those other areas that help with the surviving portion. I do not plan on changing the focus of this blog onto these subjects, but they are a priority for me in the coming years.
  • Tactical Know-how: As I laid out in my old “about me” section, I may have been a military officer, but my specialty had nothing to do with small arms tactics and planning. In fact, in 10 years, I never even qualified with a weapon. My specialty was in nuclear weapons and strategic warfare planning. While those skills are useful in a grand campaign sense, I want to learn more about applying my marksmanship skills in a useful tactical manner beyond a square range. That means training, research, and practice. I do plan on writing about what I learn, though such training will not be a regular thing since its cost (in both tuition, travel, and ammunition) bumps up against my more limited financial resources.
  • Mindset: All the the practice and technical knowledge in the world is scarcely helpful if I don’t have the ability to apply it at the right time in the right way. Another book I listened to while on the road, Van Horne & Riley’s Left of Bang, was an outstanding discussion of the type of awareness mindset that is sorely lacking these days. I’ve been working as a civilian for only three weeks, and I’ve already been jarred by the general lack of thought given towards “what if” scenarios. I want to consciously foster a mindset that is actively engaged in my surroundings, and prepared to prevail against any threat.

Aside from living an overall more engaged and masterful lifestyle, my underlying motivation for these things is to be the kind of man that others seek out in times of hardship. Strength, Courage, Mastery, & Honor are the tenants of Donovan’s work, and I sincerely believe they provide a strong foundation to work from.

So where does that leave me in the near future?

Shortly before I left California, I got a screaming deal on some new load bearing gear that allows me to have multiple configurations. My old heavy battle belt setup has migrated to a lighter configuration combined with the MVT chest rig I received late last year. The other configuration is a more traditional H Harness setup from First Spear. I am super excited to see what it can do and will be writing about it here.

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A small representative sample of my estranged magazines

In addition, I am happy to be reunited with my box of standard capacity magazines. They were in exile while I lived in California. Now that I’ve moved back to freedom, they have been brought back into service. Oddly enough, I’ve now been without them for longer than I’ve been with them. On an interesting personal note, when I pulled the mags out of the storage box and looked at some of the decoration I had spray painted on them before moving to Cali, I was reminded how much my own mindset and approach to shooting has evolved. The decoration, which was minimal in its own right, was from a time where shooting was more about fun and image than any real practical skill.

I am proud of that evolution, and I will endeavor to keep it going.

General

High Speed Hold on Posting

You probably noticed a bit less posting happening. The blog is being put on hold for a bit while I complete my separation from the Air Force, move to Virginia, and start my next career. I won’t be terribly long of a gap, but it will be one nonetheless.

A few items I plan to discuss after the break include:

  • Battle belt revision
  • Virginia CCW permitting experience
  • DMTR/Musket revision (again)
  • Completing the 18″ project (henceforth known as the Minuteman Rifle)
  • Nonstandard shooting positions
  • Review of CZ P01
  • More training AARs
  • Whatever else I think of

I will see you all after the intermission.

General

Low Power Variables vs Low Power Fixed Magnification

With my recent purchase of the newest generation of ACOG, and my ignoring the similarly priced low-power variable market, I thought it would be worth posting some of my thoughts on the two competing segments.

Browsing optics discussions on various gun boards would have you think that the age of the low power fixed magnification optic are gone. As one SME in the shooting world put it, “The ACOG was the perfect optic for pre 2004 conflict.” Even in my own article about different types of optics, I opined that low power fixed magnification (which I dubbed Class II optics) represented the skill set of the last generation of riflemen, before our focus turned to more close quartered combat.

Low power variable (LPV) optics have dominated the market in recent years. What started as a new concept useful for competitive shooters slowly worked its way into military units with the leeway to purchase whatever they wanted. Usage by these military units caused the civilian market to take notice. This started cycle whereby many companies entered the market and began innovating and driving prices down through competition.

The downside of the LPV has always been a combination of cost, weight, and durability. The added mechanisms required to change magnification meant introducing complexity and weak points. Combat-grade optics designed to survive harsh conditions necessitated extensive engineering, which increased cost. Up until very recently, you were unlikely to find a combat-worthy LPV for less than $2K. Competition in the market has brought that price closer to $1K, though, which directly competes with the ACOG market.

With that in mind, why would anyone choose to go with a low power fixed magnification optic when it is possible to get a scope of comparable durability and optical quality for about the same amount of money?

Understanding Intangibles

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For the sake of this discussion, I’m ignoring the market segment below $800. For now, I am purely talking about comparing optics like the ACOG and SpecterOS 4x to LPV scopes like the Vortex Razor and Nightforce 1-4x. Below $800, there are a lot of great LPV options from SWFA, Trijicon (the TR-24 has come down in price quite a bit), Leupold, and others. In that price bracket, there isn’t really much a difference between the fixed magnification and variable magnification scopes.

Once we cross into the realm of “enthusiast,” “prosumer,” or “professional” optics, things get more interesting.

We can list out all the specs on the various optics in these categories, examining weights, fields of view, illumination, reticles, parallax adjustment (or lack thereof), and other tangible items. The truth, though, is that those things simply don’t matter as much in this bracket. In this category, it has much more to do with personal preference.

In the category of low power fixed magnification, optics tend to be lighter, brighter, more compact, and simpler in use. Most of the ACOG line, even the tiny TA-33 that weighs a scant 7 oz, have objective lenses wider than the average LPV (24 mm). That makes a difference in low light conditions, especially when it comes to target identification. Small sizes reduce snag hazards and overall bulk.

LPV scopes tend to be slightly more versatile for the roles they can be used in, and they often have more refined reticles, but come at the expense of increased weight and size. In general, I find the illumination to be weaker (and more short lived due to smaller batteries), but that is with a sample size of three. I know there are some LPV options out there that are exceptionally bright (especially if they are fiber optic powered). LPV scopes might be friendlier to those with poor eyes, as things like parallax and ocular lens focus can be adjusted.

These are not absolutes, as there are some overlapping features depending on models in question, but this is a pretty good guideline to understand.

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So who should choose what?

Having spent a lot of time with both LPV and fixed magnification, I can’t really see myself doing without either. Were I to be stuck with one rifle and scope for every task for the rest of my days, I would probably tend towards the variable market. But, since I’m not, I like having the option of taking a lighter and more compact scope with wide field of vision for some tasks. I like the simplicity of shouldering the rifle and firing, without worrying about fiddling with magnification settings or turrets that might have been bumped off of my zero.

In general, I would say the difference between users is this:

  • If you want magnification, but tend to stick to the 1x end of things (either via RDS or leaving a LPV at 1x), then stick to a LPV. I would avoid an RDS with magnifier arrangement.
  • If you tend to want magnification all the time, or have an LPV you leave on the high setting most of the time, and prefer the simplicity of shoulder-and-fire function while keeping a more compact package, consider a fixed magnification scope. You can always pair it with a mini RDS if you want to have that multi-role capability with minimal additional weight.
  • If you want magnification most of the time, precision is a priority, and you intend on fiddling with windage and elevation a lot, go with an LPV designed to do it. These will tend to have better reticles (MRAD/MOA) and matched turrets.
  • If you don’t know where you fall on this continuum, then it doesn’t really matter what you pick. In this case, I would consider getting a more inexpensive LPV and see how you tend to use it. As I said before, the sub $800 bracket has a lot of great options to start with and allow you to explore your preferences.

When I started this journey a few years ago, I was sure that I knew exactly what I wanted. I did my homework on internet, and I purchased quality optics. Ironically, one of those scopes doesn’t get used anymore and the other has been relegated to more of a backup role. The more experience I gain, the more I prefer the simplicity of grab-and-go without knobs and such to fiddle with. For that reason, I’ve been sitting strongly in the camp of fixed magnification scopes.

 

General

The Competing Interests Model

Not long ago, I talked about the well known Time-Cost-Quality Paradigm, and how it applies to both firearms and training. I want to revisit that concept, because I’ve come across something else that I think is an even better way to look at it.

While working on a professional certification, I’ve been reading about another model used in project management called the “Competing Interests” paradigm. Whereas the old Time-Cost-Quality may be more appropriate for things, it is not as useful for people. People often have competing priorities and limited resources that affect how decisions are made.

The competing interests model has the previous time-cost-quality components, but adds a few more. In all, these include Time, Cost, Scope, Quality, Resources,  and Risk.

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So how do we apply these? Let’s look at the definition of each of these components, and how they apply to our marksmanship journey. These concepts are interrelated, and you will see some overlaps in definition. The takeaway is that changing one will affect the others.

Time: How much time is available? When does this project/evolution/skill need to be acquired by? More or less time pressure will affect how other resources are utilized.

Cost: How much does this cost in terms of dollars? How much does training, ammunition, or equipment cost in order to obtain the desired end result?

Scope: What is it that we are trying to accomplish? Are we working on a particular rifle skill, such as rifle marksmanship, or are we working on a variety of skills that include marksmanship as a component?

Quality: How good is the end result supposed to be? Do we need to maintain a 4 MOA standard, or a 2 MOA standard? Do we need to be able to do this under ideal conditions, or any condition?

Resources: These are things available to us that are not necessarily dollar related. What kind of people are available to us to help us? What kind of facilities do we have to practice? What kind of equipment do we have access to? How much time can we dedicate to our pursuits?

Risk: What would happen if we failed to reach the desired end result in the time allotted? If we prioritize other elements ahead of our practice, what “bad things” might happen?

Put it to Use

I like this model because it provides us more detail and a broader framework for understanding why we make the decisions that we do. I often read lamentations from the “serious” firearms user crowd that other folks around them really aren’t putting in enough time and effort into “serious” training. When asked what kind of training and practice they believe folks should be doing, they invariable talk about whatever their preferred brand of tactical/practical/go-fast method of shooting is. This often happens at the expense of other areas of skills that are just as valuable (if not more) depending on an individuals priorities and experiences. Not everyone perceives the same risks and needs as everyone else, nor are they preparing for the same kinds of events.

I recently saw a YouTube video of bushcrafter Dave Canterbury talking about priorities in the “prepper community.” He mentioned the guys out there who stockpile ammo forts of 40,000 rounds of ammunition and years worth of food, but have no other skills. His priority is to be proficient enough with weapons to use them when needed, but puts his efforts towards learning basic skills like woodworking and blacksmithing that will enable him to create tools and actively provide for himself and others. To him, the risk is that he finds himself in a situation where he may have weapons, but no way to find shelter or prepare food.

Others will put their efforts into weapons handling and small unit tactics. They envision roving gangs of no-goodniks looking to steal resources and harm communities. To them, the risk is that without proper equipment and training, there will be no safety to be had. They want to protect the lives if them and theirs, and keep their communities safe.

Yet many more are not concerned about either of these scenarios, and see risk as not winning a match or losing prestige in their chosen fields of competition.

No two people have the same priorities, and how we address the six competing interests will vary from person to person.

As an “Everyday” marksman, I find that my interests are fairly wide and varied. I want to be proficient with my rifle and pistol, but I am not necessarily preparing for TEOTWAKI. I simply wish to be a capable human being who can protect me and mine, while also possessing the knowledge and skills to provide and survive as well.