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

Just One More Step on the New Rifle

mockup

This project is almost in the bag…or in the safe. Whatever.

I ordered the wrong size triangular hand guard cap by mistake. I didn’t check if the Colt one I purchased was for .750 or .625 barrels. I needed the latter, but ended up with the former. Not a big deal, since it’s a $3 part and already ordered the correct one from BCM.

Once I have that, the upper is off to West Coast Armory for pinning the FSB and final assembly.

I am very happy with the mock up pictured above. I assembled all the parts without final torquing, and it handles beautifully. Balance is right at the rear of the magazine well. The Rainier Arms upper and lower receivers have the tightest fit I’ve ever seen, and the whole thing just feels solid. I expect this may be a new favorite.

Not much longer until it’s off for a trip to the range.

General

New Rifle Update

IMG_0892.JPG

Not long ago, I mentioned having the urge to start a new project.  My observation back in June was that my main rifle, which began life as a KISS iron sight rifle, had grown in weight and capability to become my go-to for most things. Despite that, I still really enjoyed the basic configuration. I started sketching out a new lightweight minimalist project, which I’m designating my “field rifle,” or “walking around rifle.”

This is the original mockup I did on Gunstruction.

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At this point, I have the lower assembly completed.

  • Rainier Arms lower receiver
  • Sionics lower parts kit
  • Magpul MOE Rifle Stock
  • Hogue overmold pistol grip without finger grooves
  • ALG ACT trigger
  • Magpul MOE trigger guard

IMG_0888.JPG

I’ve been playing with this assembled lower on my 20″ upper to see how I like it. So far, so good. The Rainier lower, which I presume is made by Mega Machine based on some of the features, is very nice. The roll pin holes were tight, which is not a bad thing, and took some finesse on my part. I’m not one to mind my lowers looking a little “used,” but I can see some people being concerned about the effort required to drive in certain pins (particularly the trigger guard).

The Hogue pistol grip is quite nice, it has the nice rubberized texture Hogue is famous for, a subtle palm swell, and is shaped more or less like an A1 grip. The Hogue grips have a little lip protrusion that is intended to fill the gap created by the standard AR trigger guard. However, since I’m using a Magpul MOE trigger guard, which is designed to fill the gap itself, I had to cut the “lip” off the top of the grip. No big deal, less than a minute with my Leatherman.

The MOE Rifle stock is awesome. I installed one on an unfinished 308 lower years ago, and have shot them on rifles I’ve built for friends, but never put one on one of my own ARs. It offers a very nice cheek weld and fits my length of pull perfectly.

The ACT trigger has been in my stable for years as a backup to my Geissele triggers. It will be front-and-center now, though. It’s just a good all-round mil spec style trigger. The single stage has a very minor amount of creep, but I don’t really care given the style of shooting this project is intended for.

Going forward, I plan on using a Faxon 18″ Gunner barrel (with a Criterion Ultralight 18″ in close second). Following that, I’ll be finishing the project with a Rainier Arms forged upper receiver (without forward assist), Rainier bolt carrier group, and Magpul MOE rifle handguards mounted behind a standard F-Marked front sight tower. For a rear sight, I will likely use the BCM carry handle I already have on hand, but may go with either an LMT sight or Larue A1 style sight in the long run. I plan completing this project before pre-election panic buying gets into full swing, which will make parts dry up pretty quickly. That is, of course, assuming the parts I want are available in my desired timeframe.

 

General

AR-15 Guide for First Time Buyers, Ver 2.0

I decided it was time to revisit one of the most popular posts on this blog: my advice to first time AR-15 buyers.

For a variety of reasons, the AR-15 platform is now the best selling rifle platform in the United States. With that popularity comes competition for your money, and unless you know how this market works, you are very likely to waste money in the process of buying one for yourself. This guide is intended for folks who are relatively new to shooting and are looking through Google, message boards, and other places for help on what to buy. If you have plenty of experience shooting, you will still find this guide useful- but you will be able to skip some of the advice since you probably already have a good grasp of what you are looking for.

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Before getting on with it, I want to explain where I went wrong with my first AR-15 (pictured here). I purchased a stripped lower and immediately started scouring the internet for what I should do with it. Over the course of about 10 months, I purchased each part individually as well as the tools to assemble them. I built a $3,000 carbine that the internet would be proud of. It was a sleek, bad ass looking, SHTF-ready general purpose carbine. It made a fantastic range toy that impressed everyone around me. However, once I actually started using it in local three gun competitions, its shortcomings became immediately apparent to me and I knew it was going to cost me more money to do some things over again. I then built a second carbine taking things back to basics (as I will advocate here). After shooting with that for a bit, I went back to my first AR and rebuilt it using lessons learned from my actual usage.

This brings me to my two fundamental laws of purchasing gear:

  1. Let the mission dictate the configuration
  2. Buy Once, Cry once

Let me explain these.

Let the Mission Dictate the Configuration

As simple as it sounds, this is the most difficult law for people to grasp. The AR-15 is so customizable that most buyers will immediately begin tailoring it to some perceived need even before they fully understand how they are going to use it. It took me years to understand one fundamental truth: a very generic weapon will do reasonably well at just about any task the AR-15 can be used for. The more specialized you make an AR for any particular use, the worse it will perform at others.

The last thirty years have seen an explosion in the possible configurations of an AR. We’veQyFiZ gone from the classic M16A2, to the M16A4, the M4A1 Carbine, the Mk 12 SPR (and it’s shorter cousin, the Recce), the Mk 18 CQBR, and a myriad of others in between. As the internet has filled with pictures of each of these, and the warriors who carry them, there is a certain element of, “I want that!

This sentiment is understandable, these guns all look amazing and they all exist because they have proven useful and reliable. But here is what you have to keep in mind: these configurations all exist to serve as compliments to one another. The M16 series offers the best all-around ballistic performance on an open battlefield, but its extra length will be more difficult when moving in cramped spaces. The Mk 18 and its 10.5″ barrel are great in cramped spaces, but it produces skull-rattling concussion and loses a huge amount of velocity (which limits its effective range). The Recce and SPR fit more into an intermediate category, but their precision optics and stainless barrels make them more useful for precision and less useful for volume of fire (for more information about how barrel length and material affect performance, please read my post on barrels). Everything is a trade off. It’s not a big deal, though, if the taxpayers are buying your weapons for you and you have a squad to outfit with a variety of weapons to compliment each other. It’s a different story if you have to buy them yourself and it may be the only rifle available to you in times of need.

maxresdefaultWhat does this mean to you? As I said before, a generalized weapon (such as the M16 or M4A1) will do reasonably well at any task you throw at them. The specialized weapon configurations really only shine when put in the hands of a skilled and practiced user. Put another way, a NRA high-master shooter will still shoot a chrome-lined M16A2 better than the average joe will shoot a fully customized national match rifle. Special parts and configurations only matter when comparing two skilled users who can take advantage of the capability. If you are a new shooter, you have not gained the skill and experience to even know how you will be employing your weapon, much less take advantage of the nifty gizmos you want to attach to it.

So what do I recommend for a first time buyer? I’ll get to that in a minute.

Buy Once, Cry Once

Don’t be cheap. There is a lot of competition for your discretionary income, and that means there is a lot of marketing dollars spent to sway you to one product over another. One of the worst mistakes you can make is to listen to gun store lore that says Brand X is “just as good as” Brand Y even though it is significantly cheaper. There is no such thing as a free ride. Every reduction in price must be paired with some other reduction in cost to the manufacturer. Typically, these costs will appear in material selection, quality control procedures, manufacturer tolerances, or other areas. If you are interested in the components of a quality AR, please read this post on technical specs.

Like most things, there absolutely is a point of diminishing returns. In the AR world, that point starts at about $1400. In my opinion, the sweet spot is between $900 and that $1400, where you are getting very high quality weapons that you can depend on for protecting your life, your family’s life, and performing in competition. Am I saying that a $500 Model 1 AR is going to fall apart tomorrow? No, not at all. But I am saying that the methods the manufacturer took to get the price point that low could affect the reliability and long term durability of the rifle; and you would have no way of knowing it was a problem until it becomes one (and that usually happens imgresat the absolute worst moment). If you know this weapon is purely a range or hunting toy that you will not bet your life upon, then no problem. If, on the other hand, there is the slightest chance that you might need this weapon to function in a desperate moment- that extra few hundred dollars is cheap insurance.

This doesn’t just apply to rifles, either. I have seen many a shooter buy a cheap red dot sight only to have it break in a couple months. By the time they have bought their third replacement, they have spent as much money on those three optics as they would have spent buying one quality optic up front. If you think a component is worth having, then its worth buying a high quality one at the start. That quality component will last the life the weapon, and probably a couple weapons after it.

Recommendations

Now that I’ve discussed my guiding principles, lets discuss what your first AR should look like. First, you are going to start with a basic configuration that will serve pretty well at just about any task you might have. I suggest only buying a complete rifle, or buying a complete lower and upper separately. At this point, do not attempt to piece together a rifle one part at a time (as I did). You will end up spending more money than you think on tools and shipping. Even then, you don’t have the technical knowledge on properly assembling parts together (especially mounting barrels and checking headspace). Sure, you could take it to a local gunsmith- but unless they truly know what they are doing, you will always wonder if the job was really done right. In that instance, you might be tempted to blame poor performance on the gun rather than yourself. That attitude will only drive you to spend more money on gear rather than ammo and practice. Buying a properly assembled quality rifle up front means any shortcomings are probably yours rather than the weapon’s.

Once you have your new AR, I suggest only spending enough money to get it up to the status of “minimum capable” for whatever it is you want to do. Once there, spend the rest of your money on quality ammunition and some training. Shoot the thing so much that it becomes second nature to you. Compete with it in a variety of styles from CMP/High Power to USPSA. Burn out the barrel. Once you have gone down this route, it will become very obvious where you should spend your money to best suit your needs. By this point, you will have expended enough money in ammunition that the cost of the widget in question will seem….paltry.

All of that said, here is my basic “minimum capable” recommendation for first time buyers. I will discuss variations afterwards.

  • 16″ Lightweight mid-length chrome lined barrel with a fixed front sight base
  • Either plastic handguards (Magpul MOE, Standard Round, BCM) or a quality free floated rail
  • Quality collapsable stock, without being too fancy, containing a H2 carbine buffer and spring (alternatively, I’m a big fan of the VLTOR A5 system)
  • Quality pistol grip of choice
  • Quality (but not fancy) trigger. The fanciest I would suggest at this point would be an ALG ACT or BCM PNT
  • Quality rear sight, with or without adjustment (Magpul MBUS/MBUS Pro, LMT L8A, Daniel Defense A1.5, Larue Lt 103, or even a carry handle from BCM or Colt)
  • If you have the money to buy an optic at this time, then go ahead and grab one that suits your needs- just remember to buy quality (Aimpoint, Trijicon, ELCAN, Zeiss, etc.)
  • Bonus: If you plan on using the weapon for defensive purposes, then you really should mount a white light on it (InForce WML, Elzetta, Surefire, etc.) and learn how to use it properly (i.e., only use in momentary bursts of light)
  • Bonus: You should get a sling.

The rifles below are a selection of various configurations I’ve used that roughly meet the criteria I laid out. The closest two are the one on the top left and bottom right. The top left, with FDE furniture, was my second AR and built with all of the lessons learned from building the first rifle. The second rifle, on the bottom right, was the first iteration of my marksmanship training rifle; it was nearly identical to the FDE rifle except that it had a 20″ barrel and a different stock. That longer rifle is now the one on the top right. The only significant changes are the addition of a free float rail, a muzzle compensator, and a Trijicon TR24. I made these changes only after shooting the rifle for several thousand rounds in a variety of circumstances.

There are many quality manufacturers out there, and I don’t have time to go down the pro/con for each one of them. So, to be blunt, I suggest that your first AR-15 should come from Colt, BCM, Daniel Defense, or Sionics Weapon Systems. These manufacturers all follow a good spec and stick around the same price point. Going much below these manufacturers in price should cause you to ask questions about what was done to reduce costs. Going much above their prices (as with Noveske, KAC, LMT, and others) should make you question if you are paying for a name or features that you are unable to take advantage of. Again, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying its impossible reduce costs without sacrificing quality (supply chain management is one method of doing so). But I am asking that you don’t play that game with your first rifle since you don’t know a lot about the marketplace.

How did I arrive at this spec?

What separates the first iteration of this guide from the new Version 2.0 is that I have softened my stance a bit on a few things- particularly handguard and stock selection. Let me briefly explain each of theelements, and why I chose them as suggestions for a first timer.

I said a 16″ lightweight chrome lined barrel with a mid-length gas system because I gas-systemsbelieve it will be the most versatile for most people getting started in shooting. Heavy barrels really only shine in applications with high volumes of fire or an increased need for precision over the course of long strings of fire. Neither of those describe the average newbie. I used to suggest a 20″ barrel as well, and it is still a very viable option, but I don’t want to limit folks who might start using the carbine indoors for defending home and hearth.

I still suggest starting with a fixed triangle front sight base as opposed to the new trend of low profile gas blocks and rail-mounted front sights. The traditional triangle post is the sturdiest front sight and gas block you can use. If something has enough force to damage it, then there was probably enough force to destroy the whole rifle along with it. The fixed front sight is useful for point shooting, and works great for times where speed is of the essence. If you decide down the line that you want to mount a longer rail, then you can pay $40 to have it shaved down, or do it yourself, and still have one of the toughest and most rugged gas blocks available.

DSC_0339I still suggest most people should start with plastic handguards, but I’ve come around on the subject. There are many free float handguards on the market that are lighter than even the classic plastic ones. While most newbies will not really be able to take advantage of the accuracy benefit inherent in free floated barrels, it will be there for them in the future once they have practiced enough. The caveat, of course, is that you should do your research and buy quality. I take no sides in the Keymod vs M-LOK debate (though I have been using keymod), both will do the job well enough.

I used to suggest a plain collapsable stock like a Magpul MOE or standard Colt. I’ve backed off of that and will now say to pick a quality stock of your choice. BCM makes a great one, and Magpul makes several options. I suggest collapsable to better suit various shooters’ body mechanics. I’m also a fan of fixed rifle stocks, such as the A1, A2, and Magpul MOE rifle. If your primary usage is outdoors or at the range, a fixed stock has a lot of benefits in durability and smoother functioning (due to the longer action spring). Just remember, if you go the rifle route, you will need a different spring and buffer system than the carbine recommendation I made earlier. It’s up to you to do the homework on weight vs capability and how it affects your weapon. Remember, you should always strive for the lightest component that meets your needs and maintains reliability.

190261When it comes to triggers, I fully understand the temptation to jump for a $200 Geissele or Wilson Combat. I run Geisseles in all of my rifles at this point. However, I will admit that I did that before I could really take advantage of it. I’ve been shooting quite a few rifles with the ACT and PNT triggers, and they are all actually quite nice. They serve as fantastic interim triggers while you decide what route you wish to go in the future: combat two stage, light single stage, or any other variation. Once, and if, you go the route of fancy trigger, you still have a quality backup trigger in the parts bin. If you wish to know more, here is a post all about AR triggers.

When it comes to optics, I used to only suggest red dot sights. However, I realize that RearQuarter1many folks might not have eyes made for irons and red dots anymore. Some folks already know they want to go with magnification. For red dots, stick to the Aimpoint CRO, PRO, or T2 series. The Trijicon MRO has been getting a lot of attention lately as well. For magnified optics, the options are wide and varied. I’m a fan of Trijicon ACOGS and the ELCAN Specter series, but there are many more out there. You’re going to have to do your homework. For a quick overview of the market, here are my thoughts on optic selection.

For bonus items, I mentioned white lights and slings. In my opinion, no defensive rifle should be without a white light. It follows rule #4, knowing your target and what is behind it. Without a light, you might just be shooting at shadowy figures that may or may not be family members. As far as slings go, there are a huge number on the market tailored for various needs. You need to decide if you need one to serve more as a shooting aid, a retention device, or just carrying the rifle in the field. Pick one that suits your desires.

The Final Word

As I stated at the beginning, a generalized carbine will perform well at just about any role that can be expected of an AR-15. The more you start specializing it through fancy barrels, triggers, optics, rails, stocks, and accessories, the worse it will perform at all the other roles you didn’t specialize for. More so, those specialized guns only make a difference in the hands of a skilled user.

Until you have developed the experience and skill, then you really don’t know how you will prefer to use the rifle and what you can do to make it better for you. Until then, it’s all just theory and trying to be cool on the internet. Don’t do what I did.

General

I Have an Itch, and a Vision

For whatever reason, I’ve had an itch lately to build another rifle. The Musket has evolved away from its original purpose as an iron sight training rifle and towards a full fledged fighting rifle. That has also resulted in a commensurate growth in weight. I have an idea for a lightweight iron sighted KISS rifle.

I did a quick mock up on Gunstruction

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I want to go for a slick sided minimalist rifle as I can get. I have it set up with a lightweight 18″ barrel, fixed stock, basic A1 style sight, and more modern furniture. There is just something very appealing about this configuration to me right now. I went flat top just in case I feel the need to add a red dot in the future.

Hmmmm…..