Saturday, December 3, 2016

To Lube or Not to Lube?

No, this is not a pornographic article. (Unless you count gun porn.) This is about a very important issue for firearms - Lubrication.

There are many people who claim they didn't use in lube in the "sandbox" or they were taught not to use lube by a drill instructor. These people will tell you lube is totally unnecessary. A waste of money. And, worse, it will collect sand, dirt, etc in the action of the rifle and cause it to fail! The claim is that lubrication will trap particulates, which in turn adds friction to the action and will eventually prevent the various moving parts of the action from fully cycling. This will, therefore; cause jams. Some even claim that too much lube can prevent the gun from functioning of and by itself.

Let me say this as bluntly as possible: this is absolutely ridiculous and completely false. Now, there are some materials that allow a gun to function well without lube, but your standard AR NEEDS lube. Your AR might function pretty well with no lube, but not after hundreds and, certainly, not after thousands of rounds. Dry sand can get caught up in the action of your gun as easily as wet sand - sure the wet sand can stick, but the purpose of lube is to help those particles move out of the way and ensure the action can cycle. But, you don't have to take my word for it:


1. Pat Rogers - Anyone who is familiar with Filthy 14 should know this: a dirty gun, with tons of carbon and particulate build up, after tens of thousands of rounds, run hard, was lubed with Slip EWL the entire time. Why? Because Pat Rogers lubes his guns. And, if you want to claim your experience in war trumps anyone else's experience, he is MORE experienced than you. I recommend you listen to him.

2. Larry Vickers - Here is another prime example of someone with more experience than you. He has nearly 20 years experience as a tier 1 operator in Delta Force. Here, he shows his views on this myth. Again, you don't have to take it from me - you can listen to a legend. Lube is needed for your firearms to function properly.

3. Mr. Gunsngear - He does a great job of showing what happens to an over-lubed Glock - nothing. It runs just fine, but it's slimy. He's got military experience, but he's not trying to beat people over the head with it. He's a good source of information, especially for new gun owners.

The one thing you need to know is that you do have to let the liquid drain out - just like water in a DI AR15's gas tube. If you try to fire most guns with oil in a place where it can't escape from, that's a problem. But, it requires ridiculous amounts of lube to get to that point - more than you would ever reasonably have. And, you know how to prevent that issue? Let the excess oil drain out for about 2 seconds, shake it off, and fire like normal. The myth of over-lubrication is people trying to over-think a potential problem and forgetting basic concepts, such as why oils and lube were invented and used in virtually every big piece of machinery on the planet. It's a trap. Unless your gun has special coatings that can be damaged by lube, make sure there's some in your gun.


What Makes an AR Lightweight, but Won't Hurt its Durability?

One of the chief benefits of an AR platform rifle is the weight. Compare the 6lb ARs to an 8lb Tavor or a 9lb AK47 style rifle. So, the question here is: how do you get a 6lb AR15 without sacrificing durability?
First, I want to briefly explain weight in an AR. Mil Spec ARs or actual M4 carbines use aluminum receivers. They could be made from steel, but that's not Mil Spec - steel would be stronger, but it's not Military Specifications. Aluminum is durable, but not like steel - it's more than up to the task, but the military sacrificed that extra durability for weight savings and corrosion resistance. This is just one point where the standard platform has been made to be lightweight, by design. So, I'm looking for ways to reduce the weight from the Mil Specs, without reducing durability or reliability.
The Barrel - The easiest way to reduce weight is the barrel. Now there are negative things that come from making them too light, so the question is: how light is too light? For me, from my experience and for a 16" barrel, a 22oz CHF barrel with a .625 gas block seat is the lightest I will go. I prefer a .750 gas block seat for properly pinning or dimpling, which translates to about 2 ounces, so roughly 24oz is what I prefer for my light weight builds. This beats standard government profile barrels by 8oz. Does this reduce durability?  No, not at all. For anyone that has never taken off the handguards on a Mil Spec rifle, the barrel section under the handguard is noticeably thinner than the end of the barrel. This is the opposite of how high accuracy barrels for competition are designed - it should be thicker near the receiver and thinner at the end of the barrel. The extra weight at the front is essentially wasted, so shaving the contour down so it's the same on both sides of the gas block saves a lot of useless weight.
Handguards - the standard handguards are pretty lightweight, but people end up going for heavier hanguards to mount lights, vertical grips etc. However, you can get extremely lightweight, but durable, parts. For instance, BCM's KMR handguards are extremely light. A 13" KMR handguard is 5.5oz! (IF you can find it in stock.) Also, Magpul's SL hanguards are sturdy, lightweight options for people looking to add a light or vertical grip to their gun with an A2 front sight post. Look for something under 7oz, preferably under 6.
Stocks - For maximum weight savings, the best stock is Mission First Tactical's Minimalist stock. Great stock - comfortable and strong. The best strength to weight option is the BCM Gunfighter stock. It has a little bigger cheek weld and it is super strong. It offers much less weight savings than the Minimalist, but it's one of the most durable stocks out there. I would generally stay away from Magpul stocks, though they are comfortable and reliable, because they weigh too much and the new SL series are even heavier than the MOE.
Weight savings can also come from not adding the wrong things to your gun. For instance, optics can be a big source of weight. You can get a big, 10 oz red dot or you can get a 3.7 oz Aimpoint Micro T-2. You can get a 30+ oz Nightforce or US Optics scope or you can get a 14 oz Vortex. Look at the weight of your optics. Many guys add bipods, but those are relatively heavy and you really don't need a bipod on an AR15, especially not for one with a 16" or shorter barrel or a red dot sight. Some guys use the battery storage in the pistol grip or they'll put a laser on their rifle. Both of these are pointless, especially the laser - just get a red dot. Lasers (standard ones, as opposed to infrared) give up your position and are useless for distance shooting. If you're using an Aimpoint, it'll last for 5 years of continuous use on the same battery, so why bother with the backup battery? Be careful not to add things that you don't need on your rifle - that can be the best weight savings of all.
So, how do you get a 6lb AR? Choose light weight handguards, stocks, and barrels. Watch the weight of everything you attach to the gun. And, finally, don't add things you don't need.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

What Features Should I Look For in an AR and Which I Should Avoid?

BUY NOW! GREAT DEAL ON A NEW (Insert brand name here) AR!
Yeah, I get the emails too. I occasionally read the forums. I'm told I have to follow the ABCs (Always Buy Colt) because It's "true" Milspec and nothing is better than Milspec. Or, I have to spend $2500 because Noveske makes the best ARs and every wannabe "operator" absolutely cannot hit a target unless they have one of those rifles. Both of those statements are fairy tales. But, we are interested in buying ARs and we have to choose, so what features should we look for when making this important buying decision? 

To me, you first have to define the POU that you're buying it for. If you are buying a CQB rifle, for home defense, that makes a difference in the features you want compared to a competition 3-gun shooter. So, understanding how you want to use it is key to knowing what features you want. Once you've established what POU it is meant for, then you can move on to looking at the specific components and materials.

Quality Materials
The first thing I look at, after POU, is the materials. 
  1. For the body (receivers) of the AR and the buffer tube, I'm looking for 7075 Aluminum with T6 heat treat. If I see that those parts are made of 6061 or some polymer, I stay away. (At least for ARs. It's fine for hanguns, but not a fighting rifle due the differences in energy and jam-clearing procedures.) 
  2. As far as materials, I want a good barrel steel, typically a Milspec Chrome, Molybdenum, and Vanadium (aka CMV, chrome-moly-van, or chrome mov) mix, with a chrome lining. Getting a barrel Cold Hammer Forged will add life to it, but it comes at a premium price. Any chrome-lined barrel from a reputable manufacturer should last well over 8,000 rounds before throat erosion becomes a problem - they are just fine. I would stay away from most melonited barrels because many companies are doing it because it's cheaper than chrome lining. Reputable manufacturers can make some fine barrels with melonite, but they won't last as long as chrome lining and they aren't as resistant to corrosion as plain stainless steel barrels.
  3. The best commonly available steel for a bolt is still 158 carpenter's steel. 9310 is also very good and you'll be fine if you're running that. S7 is excellent steel, but the only company I'm aware of that is producing s7 bolts has had issues with their heat treat process. If you're willing to try their bolt, s7 is superior. 
  4. Most other parts are more about ergos and weight than ultra-durability. Buy from a reputable company and you'll be fine.

Components
There are certain types of components I prefer and some I do not want. 
  1. For starters, I want a collapsible stock so that I can comfortably use the gun from different positions, with or without a plate carrier, and so that I can have a family member with different arm lengths use the gun. The collapsible stocks are typically lighter than fixed stocks, which is a significant advantage.
  2. I use M4 flat top receivers for mounting optics. This is a huge benefit of the AR platform, so going backward to the carry handle/sights of the 1980s is not the best choice, in my opinion. This is almost standard now, but make sure they have M4 feedramps as well.
  3. Barrels are the most important part of your rifle, so I'm going to cover them more than anything else. When selecting a Barrel, you need to get a set up that works and is legal. In order to avoid NFA costs or pitfalls, I go with 16" or longer barrels - they also add velocity to the round with the extra length, so that is a good thing. I also find that mid-length gas systems (paired with H1 buffers) on 16"-18" barrels are ideal, but the typical Colt Carbine gas system is reliable as well - it's just a little over-gassed. Again, ensure it has the M4 feedramps. I prefer barrels that are the same thickness on both sides of the gas block seat, but I look for a barrel that weighs 30 ounces or less, preferably 24-28 ounces. I want it thicker and more durable than a "pencil" barrel. Also, understand that the weight of your barrel is going to be at the front end of the rifle, so it'll slow your movement with the rifle. Any reduction in weight of barrel is going to improve your mobility. Along those lines, I avoid government profile or m4 profile barrels because they are front-heavy and the extra weight is totally wasted because the weight is in the wrong part of barrel, at the end, so it doesn't help accuracy - it just increases weight. Under the handguard govt/m4 barrels are basically pencil barrels, but they're heavy at the end, so they're some of the worst profiles for fast movement and accuracy. In fact they're the OPPOSITE of what you want in a barrel for accuracy and movement. (I'm sorry to our troops. If I could speak to your commanders, I would.) I also would avoid "Bull" barrel profiles unless you are just making a bench-rest shooter that is meant to be highly accurized. The ideal is a barrel that is heavy enough to be sturdy, avoid significant POI shift from heat, and somewhere under 30 oz.
  4. I also find a2 front sight posts annoying. They impede vision through optics, which is especially bad when using a scope.
  5. Since I have no A2-style front sight post, I can use free-float handguards. The free float handguards provide better accuracy and more real estate to attach a light and vertical grip, as well as more area to put your hands.
  6. I also look for single stage triggers in a fighting rifle - reliable and simple. These two stage triggers are good for competition shooting, but I'm not going to be taking advantage of the benefits of a two stage trigger when I'm fighting for my life. I just want it to work every time, so I prefer mil spec style, single stage triggers.

Accessories:
Got to accessorize, right? Well, there many useful things to add to you rifle. 
  1. Optics are a huge part of that. Red dots or scopes make a HUGE difference in your effectiveness with your rifle. Which one you need is governed by POU. What I really want is one with a useful reticle or dot display - and it better reliably hold zero. 
  2. Lights are essential. Why? So you can identify your target and see what is beyond your target.
  3. Ergonomics are huge as well. Can you grab the handguard comfortably or is it a cheese-grater? Is the handguard too fat? Is it too slick? Does the pistol grip fit your hand well? I find that I prefer BCM Mod 3 or Magpul K2 grips, but we're all different, so feel the grip in the position you'll be holding the gun.
  4. Keymod, M-LOK, or Picatinny attachment types each will do the job, but I would steer clear of the "quad-rails" with 4 Picatinny rails at noon, 3, 6, and 9 for weight-reduction purposes.
  5. You may want a Vertical Grip or a bipod mount. If you do, Keymod and M-LOK are great, but you'll have to search for a bipod adapter that you like and that connects directly, unless you want to add a Picatinny rail section and then add the bipod. I look for things that connect directly with Keymod, so I don't have to add the extra weight.
Hopefully, this gives you some ideas on what to look for when you're buying an AR.  Especially for people who are new to the platform, or just new to guns, there are so many options for the AR that it can be dizzying. I recommend you check my article "Builder's Component List"- you should be able to see many of my recommendations and see what kinds of things I prefer, which will hopefully give you some ideas for your rifle.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Should I Buy an AR Chambered in 7.62x39?

You've seen them online or in an NRA publication. You have seen a few reviews of these rifles on YouTube. There are numerous manufacturers that have started producing them. ARs chambered in 7.62x39 are here and they are selling. The question is: should you spend your hard-earned money on one?
This could be a very short article - If you don't have an AK, why would you buy yet another caliber that you'll have keep In stock and new magazines on hand in order to be able to use the gun? (If you have an AK, do you really want one of these?) But, there is more too it than that. There are deeper issues with ARs chambered in 7.62x39.
Wait, what's wrong with 7.62x39, you ask?  Nothing, really, but it's not my first choice... or even my fourth. It's not Russia's first choice either: they mostly shoot 5.45 these days. It's not a bad round, it's just not optimal. Basically, you're investing in a round with limited US production and limited choices for quality loads in brass cases. To make matters worse, outside of trying to shoot through a car (a heavier bullet has it's trajectory effected less when passing through barriers), this round has no real advantage over 5.56.  It's heavier to carry, bulkier, less available, has fewer high-quality precision options, worse drop over distance, and it's not any cheaper than similar quality 5.56. If you value SAWC, as I do, 5.56 is clearly better. 5.45 is much more interesting than 7.62x39 to me, as well.
But, as I said, this problem runs deeper than the ammo. These ARs don't have AR-style magazines. Instead, they use AK-style magazines and there are compatibility issues between various manufacturers. They also have had to redesign the lower to accept these AK mags, which is likely contributing to the problems with feeding that have popped up in reviews of these rifles. Basically, companies like CMMG and Rock River are taking the biggest reliability issue with AKs and mating that with an AR. Why are they doing that, you might ask? Simple: AK mags exist, so it decreases production costs and allows consumers to use mags they already have or are widely available on the market. But, the slight differences by all the various manufacturers, in all the various countries, make these mags a crapshoot when it comes to finding ones that feed reliably in your specific gun. This problem is magnified by the fact that the bcg is similar to an AR, not the AK platform these magazines were intended for.
Even if you can get past these issues, there's another, perhaps more obvious issue: if you want a gun chambered in 7.62x39, why not just get an AKM variant rifle? Why would you want to get an AR that loses many of the advantages of the platform? (After-market Manufacturing, widespread availability of parts, easy to load mags, reliable feeding and ejection, etc.) It's got almost all the problems of both platforms.
The only reason I can think of to get one of these rifles is if you have $1500 lying around and you already have AKs - then, this makes a great range toy. For practical purposes, there are better rifles out there. These rifles are something you should skip, if you aren't looking for a range toy.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Why do Preppers Buy So Many ARs?

Preppers buy truck loads of cheap AR15s. You'll see Preppers with tons of these guns (And, AKs, too), especially in the US. They stock pile the ammo along with the guns. That's on top of everything else they stock up, including food and water. The question is, for many people, why? Here's my best attempt to answer that:

  1. Low Cost - Preppers are going to stockpile SOMETHING for self defense, so they look for things they can stockpile cheaply and effectively. Enter the AR15. In the US, they are extremely plentiful and they are very affordable for relatively high quality rifles/carbines. So is the military surplus ammo that they use. In terms of cheaply purchasing quality rifles for self defense and hunting, you won't beat the AR15 in the US. Compare to the Tavor or MCX for cost and the cheap Yugo AKs or old/cheap FALs for quality.
  2. Spare Parts - You also have to consider the availability and cost of spare parts for repairs. AR15s are so plentiful and available, that you can go to any major city in the US and find an AR and their parts for sale. That kind of availability provides you with something Preppers crave: large sources of needed materials and products. Bolts carrier groups for $100 or less, complete lower parts kits for $30, spring kits for just a few bucks - cheap and available replacement parts. And, they're good quality, too.
  3. Friends and Family - Not every AR is an daily shooter. Some of these are being bought so that a friend or family member will actually have a rifle to help hold down the fort after they appear, looking for food and shelter. If you prefer an AR, then having a gun that shoots the same ammo and uses the same mags for these friends or family is a huge plus.
  4. Ease of Use - There is a general consensus that the AR is extremely easy to use - so easy a child can use it... and they do. There are a number of weapon options that fit that bill, but none so familiar to the US populace or as ergonomic. Plus, ARs tend to have easier recoil and  lighter weight than their alternatives, for weaker shooters. (Compare to the AK.)
  5. Ammo Cost and Availability - There are only a few rifle calibers that are this cheap and even fewer that are this widely available in the US. In fact, .223/5.56 is the most plentiful ammo for a defensive rifle in the US. It's tough to beat .22lr for cost, but this is the standard for self defense in this country and this continent.
  6. Compatibility with the Military - If we are going to form a militia or work with ex military units to help fight some invading force or help to restore rule of law, being able to use military ammo reserves and share magazines is hugely beneficial. Exotic calibers are going to be hard to get resupplied.
  7. Availability via Scavenging - Another benefit of these being so popular and being used by the military is that the dead will leave behind ammo and compatible parts to use in or repair any ARs you own. It bears specific mention because you never know how bad you may need to find it if SHTF or WROL ever happens.
  8. Reliability - Despite what some crazy guys who still latch onto the early problems of the AR in Vietnam will tell you, the AR is reliable and durable. Filthy 14 went 40,000 rounds without much problem or cleaning and my experience has led me to believe that with these better-than-space-age materials being used today actually make the AR platform ridiculously reliable. Don't think an AR is a jam waiting to happen - they will run for a LONG time with very little upkeep! Besides, who has 40k worth of stored bullets and will shoot them through a single gun? (Really, how many people out there will honestly shoot 40k rounds of anything in their lifetime? You'd be replacing the barrel long before that point, typically.) This is a durable machine we're talking about - even the cheap ones!
Are there other guns that would serve you well in a WROL or SHTF? Sure, but the AR, for better or worse, is the king of these rifles for prepping in the US because nothing scores as well, in total, when considering all the above points. If you favor another platform, stick with what works for you, but that is why Preppers are buying so many cheap ARs. Which country you live in and the applicable laws in your area have a huge effect on what will work best for you. I recommend you weigh the options and get something - because something is better than nothing in this case.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Optics: List of Recommendations


One major advantage of the AR platform is the ability to easily and reliably mount optics. Another chief advantage of the AR platform is SAWC. If we are concerned with the SAWC of the gun, that doesn't go out the window when we consider optics. There are many optics manufactures that produce extremely high quality optics, but are too heavy for what they provide. (Nightforce and US Optics are two prime examples.) If you find an optic worthy of their name, but they managed to make it a reasonable weight, go for it! But, remember, every ounce counts.

The thinking in favor of using these extremely heavy optics is maximum dependability - like if you were fighting in Iraq or Syria, jumping out of Helos, jumping in and out of APCs, etc. First off, very few people who are buying their own optics are actually doing those things with their own optics. Secondly, how much more dependable or durable are these heavier optics than, say, a Vortex or a Burris? I mean, if you shoot it or run over it with a tank, the brand, quality, and weight really doesn't matter. The best way to determine durability for real-world use is, if you drop the gun and it lands on the optic, will the optic still work and did it hold zero? Based on that definition there are numerous manufactures that fit the bill. Of those manufacturers, who has the best warranty? For my scopes, it seems to always come down to products by a handful of manufacturers, notably including: Vortex Leupold, and Burris. For Red Dots, obviously the aforementioned manufacturers also make the cut, but I would add Aimpoint and Trijicon.

So, what specific optics do I recommend for an AR15? Well, I tend to break those down into 2 categories based on cost: is it either more or less than $500, basically. If you're outfitting multiple guns and have middle-class income, paying more than $500 is a lot to ask. If you're only going to outfit 1 or 2 guns and you want the very best available, something above $500 might be possible. "Buy once, cry once," as they say. If you're going to pay over $500 of your hard-earned money for an optic, it better be extremely durable and have valuable features you can't find on lower-priced optics. Then, I sub-divide those categories by Red Dots (Typically zero magnification) and Scopes (Magnified). Which one you need depends on POU and you may possibly need both. I will note which Red Dots I would advise as the primary optic and which ones will be best used as a secondary to the scope.

So, really, what do I recommend? Bear in mind that this is for an AR15, chambered in 5.56, not a Georgia Precision rifle in 300 Win Mag, so these are not meant for extreme long-range. Here's the list, which I plan to update periodically for new products and changes to products:


Under $500:
  • Red Dots
    • Primary: 
      1. Vortex SPARC II - Tough Red Dot (Shockproof, waterproof, fogproof) that weighs 5.9 oz in a compact size. This isn't the best Red Dot money can buy, but it has Vortex's VIP warranty and a pricepoint at $200. The battery lasts a long time (not like Aimpoint, but really good), it has both an automatic shut off set at 12 hours (not so short it cuts off while you're shooting) and an on/off button to be sure you aren't wasting battery life. I also like the temperature range of this optic. Some brands have poor operational temperature range, like Holosun, but this will work in most environments.And, it exactly co-witnesses with iron sights.
      2. Burris AR-F3 - This is a small, lightweight option that is designed to co-witness your iron sights. At 4.6 oz, it's one of the lightest weight options available at a very reasonable price. The 3 MOA dot is a little large for my taste, but for bumps in the night, this is great for fast target acquisition. The overall design does a good job of not cluttering your field of view. This also has the definitive push-button on/off selector that I require - I need it to turn on when I tell it to and I need it to stay on, regardless of light conditions. And, I like the peace of mind, knowing that it is actually off before I put it away.
      3. Aimpoint Pro -A little heavy for a Red Dot, coming in at 11.6 oz, but it's super durable and it's not any heavier than your typical scope. You also get the benefit of up to 30,000 hours of continuous use - that's some battery efficiency there. (Compare to 5,000 hours for the Vortex SPARC II.) This also has an operational temperature range that is beyond outstanding - by far the best range of the budget Red Dots. All that is good considering this is pretty close to the $500 limit. In fact, you can buy two SPARC II sights and some extra batteries for the same price. The good thing about this is the ultra-dependability of these sights - if you want the very best so that you can bet your life on it, even though you're on a budget, you're getting the premium dependability for a reasonable price with this optic. So, would I recommend this over the other Red Dots? If I were in Iraq or Alaska, I'd prefer this Red Dot due to operational temperatures. In most of the US, I would be just fine with the AR-F3 or the SPARC II, plus I'd save weight and money. I think it's great to have at least one of these Aimpoint sights, but it's not needed for self-defense in most areas.
    • Secondary:
      1. Vortex Venom - The Venom is all of 1.1 oz! That is incredible. It's also waterproof, shockproof, and fogproof. So, what is a "secondary" red dot? If your primary optic is a scope, this is a great 45 degree offset option for close-range because of the weight and size. This will help when you are transitioning between close and long-range targets. (For instance, the red dot can have a 25 yd zero, while you zero your scope at 100 yards for distance shooting.) This could be a primary red dot as well, but Vortex does not make an exact co-witness mount for this. If you're ok with a 1/3 co-witness with your irons and want the lightest weight possible, this is a good choice for that as well. (I prefer that my red dot and my irons verify each other - it's helps my distance shooting with a red dot to be able to line up the front sight and the red dot through the rear aperture.)
      2. Burris FastFire 2 - Basically, this is the Burris competition for the Venom. This is very similar to the AR-F3, but without the co-witness mount. You should still be able to co-witness this optic if you want, but it is intended to be used on top of the scope mount or on a 45 degree offset for a secondary optic. I prefer the Venom due to weight and dot size, but have no issue with this for CQB uses. It's a great option with a great warranty. If you're more familiar with Burris or prefer a larger dot, this is for you.

  • Scopes
    1. Vortex Diamondback 3-9x40 - Shockproof? Check. Waterproof? Check. Fogproof? Check. Check. It has excellent glass for the price and it is only 14" and 11oz. Such a good scope for the money and the warranty is outstanding - it is hard to find a better value. The biggest drawback is that it is Second Focal Plane - which means the reticle's marked adjustments are only accurate at the highest magnification. However, for fast adjustments to point of aim, doing a hold-over with the Dead-Hold BDC Reticle is easy.
      •  Note: If you're shooting beyond 50 yards, Ballistic-Dot Reticles give a quick point of reference to adjust your aim for longer distances. I would prefer a simple MOA grid reticle for precision, but that costs more money. The problem with Ballistic Dot reticles is that each load and barrel length has a different velocity and, therefore; a different trajectory. So, it's unlikely to get a reticle that matches your specific load/gun. Now, you can adjust the ballistic dots on many of these reticles, but then you shoot another type/load of ammo and the holdovers are off again. However, when you have a split second to take a shot, these are much faster than turning knobs and more accurate than just guessing because it gives a point of reference. If you need precise MOA adjustments, the turrets will provide that for you.
    2. Burris MSR 3-9x40 -  This checks all the Boxes: Lifetime Warranty, Shockproof, Waterproof, Fogproof, etc. It comes with non-critical eye relief and a Ballisic Plex Reticle, which is solid for adjustments on the fly. The scope comes with uncapped turrets, which makes for faster sight adjustments. It also has a good, tactile dial for zooming in. It is an excellent value and you would be happy to have it on a 5.56 or .223 caliber weapon. It's only drawback is the lack of an illuminated reticle. If you need one of with an illuminated reticle, you should be looking in the $500+ range. Excellent scope for the money.


Over $500:
  • Red Dots
    • Primary: 
      1. Trijicon MRO -  These are all the rage. They might also fall into the under $500 category if you get them on sale. At 4.1 oz, it's very light. a 2 MOA dot is also a nice. (I prefer 1 MOA dot size, but this is still excellent, especially for CQB.) Of course, it's shockproof, waterproof, fogproof, and extremely capable of long-term use - a hallmark of Trijicon products. The battery will also work for 5 years of continuous use. Yeah, you don't even need to turn it off - you'd have to replace the battery every 10 years if you were storing it on a shelf, but this provides 5 years of continuous use. That is mind-blowing. It also uses 7075 T6 aluminum - which is stronger and harder than the typical 6061 aluminum that is used in sights and scopes. If you're willing to spend a little more, this is a truly excellent sight.
    • Secondary:
      1. Aimpoint Micro T-1 - 3 oz and a 5 year of continuous use battery life. Shockproof, waterproof, and fogproof. You can also use this as a primary and, frankly, this is the best red dot money can buy, IMO. (I prefer these over the T-2, actually.) Usable in temperatures ranging from -45°C and +71°C. The weight, battery life, temperature range, and dependability make this an awesome choice, especially for set ups where this is the primary (only) optic. The problem: they aren't cheap. As a secondary optic, they're a little heavy, but they still have great benefits, like a mind-blowing 5 years of continuous use for the battery. You may not need this good of a secondary optic (if you even need a secondary optic at all), but anyone who has one should use it with extreme confidence.
      2. Trijicon RMR - This is a rich man's Vortex Venom. Why spend the extra money? 4 years of continuous use battery life and the company reputation. Is that worth it? I don't know, but I would rather not spend $600 on a secondary red dot. If money was no object, I'd consider this solely based on the battery life because optic batteries are the kind of thing that can get you killed when they fail you. Between this and the Aimpoint Micro T-1, I'd prefer this as a secondary optic due to weight, but the Micro is more versatile (For use as a primary) and more technically impressive. I won't own any of these because I view the Venom as a reasonable alternative at a much lower price point. But, if you have one, the RMR is more premium in terms of precision adjustments and having a more precise 1 MOA dot. In my experience, these are preferred by competition pistol shooters because of the added accuracy potential of the 1 MOA dot and the precision measured optic.

  • Scopes
    1. Burris XTR II 2-10x42 - First, it's extremely heavy-duty, but a reasonable 22.7 oz with a 13.5" length. Secondly, it's First Focal Plane, which means the markings on the reticle are accurate no matter what magnification you're using. The key difference in price of scopes is the glass - not just quality, but the reticles offered. In this case, I love the SCR-MOA reticle. I prefer MOA, so this is a great reticle for me. The ability to use this reticle for a precise holdover, instead of turning knobs, is such an advantage. And, another key advantage (which should really be standard on all scopes) is that the turrets and the reticle match eachother! (They both use MOA in this case.) So many scopes have MOA turrets with a Mil-Dot reticle, which is completely retarded. (A prime example of gun products being made by people who don't shoot.) 
      • Note: I don't have an issue with Mil-Dot, it's just not my preference. I just won't waste my money on a scope that makes me convert from one to the other. There are great Mil-Dot reticles out there, just be sure to get one with a scope that has Mil-Dot turrets.
    2. Trijicon ACOG - Most people can use these with both eyes open, which is pretty useful. I prefer model TA01NSN for the back-up irons that it has built-in, so that you can have something to aim with, even if your reticle is filled with cracks and you can't see through it to co-witness your standard back-up sights. This allows for fast transition to irons, without having to take off the sight or flip up your back-up irons - a potentially life-saving advantage. Having this magnification will be helpful when shooting 100 yards away, as shot placement will be more precise, while still providing the iron for close range. The illumination used in these is also worth noting. These sights use Tritium, which doesn't require a battery and would work almost indefinitely (many people get the Tritium replaced after 10 years as it starts to fade), even after an EMP. Excellent quality, shockproof, waterproof, and fogproof - at 14.6 oz. Normally that weight would drive me away from such a limited power scope, but I really like this optic after considering two factors: 1. this gives a secondary iron sight for CQB and eliminates the desire for a secondary red dot (like a Vortex Venom) and 2. a typical scope weighs 14 oz anyway and this is a magnified optic as well. After considering those points, these actually make much more sense than buying a 1-4x or 3-9x scope with a offset red dot because this would save weight and be more reliable than such a set up. If I had unlimited money, I'd use these on most of my AR15s. The problem is I don't have $1300 to spend on the optics for each gun.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Should I Build or Buy an AR?

Do you really want to build an AR?

When I told friends and family that I would be building an AR for the first time, it was pretty much only my father who asked me if I knew how to ensure the thing didn't blow up in my face. Once I explained that I did know and what it entailed, he didn't have any other questions. I build computers, fences, furniture, and many other things myself - because I want them made a certain way. So, aside from my dad, no one asked me if I knew what I was doing. They assumed I did. No one asked me if I really wanted to. They knew I did.

But, do you really want to?

There are a ton of things to know, some more important than others, like the specs for how tight to torque the barrel nut (Min 30 ft-lbs; Max 80 ft-lbs), for instance. But, it's more than knowing specifications. You have to choose parts, which means you need to know what parts you need and which particular design is best. For instance, which handguard/rail and which gas block do you want? Perhaps, even more importantly, are they compatible with each other? Are they compatible with the barrel you've chosen? There really are a ton of things to know.

That said, I found it to be extremely rewarding. During the process, I learned so much about my guns. I learned how important staking a Castle Nut is and why. I learned the differences in materials and which is actually better. I learned how the gas and buffer system relate to one another. And, more than any of that, I know there are no cut corners on my gun. Everything is just as I prefer it - and that is what really makes it all worth it. At least to me. As the old adage goes: if you want it done right, do it yourself.

Here are the top 10 things, in my opinion, for you to consider before going down the path of building an AR:
  1. Is it worth it to you to buy the proper tools? You need a bench, a bench-vise, a Castle Nut tool, a Torque Wrench, Vise Blocks, numerous Star and Allen bits, pin punches, a good hammer, and some heavy-duty grease. If you'll only build one, that's a lot of expense for just one rifle.
  2. Do you know enough of the parts and how they fit together to be able to  purchase them all and fit them together? You can buy parts kits and watch Youtube videos, but it will take hours to digest all the info you need.
  3. Do you know what you want from your gun or how each material or design effects the performance of the gun? Hint: the internet is full of clowns with no clue who speak from ignorance, simply parroting what they read on another forum.
  4. Do you have a place to put a work bench and these extra tools or a place you can work on them without getting noise complaints from the apartment above you? Having a place to essentially build a work area is important.
  5. What are the applicable State and Federal laws about what are permitted features of the gun? This is extremely important for our Comrades in California. Anywhere on the Left Coast, actually, and places like Chicago and Washington DC.
  6. Are you building it to do it cheaper? You should comparison shop before trying to save money by building it yourself. Aero Precision will be tough to beat on price for their pre-built rifle with no furniture, exclusively at Brownells.
  7. Are you just doing it to learn about your rifle? This is no doubt the best way to learn about your rifle, but it can be the school of hard knocks.
  8. Are you mechanically inclined enough to understand how these parts fit together? A lot of guys do not know how to properly torque things and they have serious malfunctions because of the weird ways some guys install their triggers, to name a couple common issues.
  9. Is there a gunsmith you know that you can go to if you get stuck and need help? This is key. As long as you have this for a back-up plan, all the money you've invested in the project will likely not go to waste.
  10. Are you going to purchase go/no-go gauges to ensure headspacing? If not, or if you don't know how to use them, I urge you to consider paying a qualified gunsmith to check the headspace and even test fire it before you take it on the range and try it yourself. (Or, buy a factory-built upper and build your own lower to avoid that issue.)
I'm definitely one for lists. Keeping with my tradition, if you want to know some common build questions and get some good info, here's some food for thought for you.
  • Barrels - What type of barrel do I need? There are 3 uses I can Identify for a barrel: combat, distance shooting, and competition shooting. 
    • Combat - If you want to defend yourself with this gun, anywhere from 0-300 yards, I would recommend a Cold Hammer Forged barrel with chrome lining, chambered in 5.56 or .223 Wylde. (You won't find such a barrel in wylde atm. Criterion is the closest thing to offering that.) Why Chrome? Man has not yet devised a way to make a barrel more durable for rapid fire than to Chrome-line it. Melonite is fine, but it will wear down much faster than Chrome, because the nitriding just doesn't penetrate that deep into the metal, and you probably wouldn't want it to. It would make the surface very hard, but the barrel itself would shatter more easily if the barrel was melonited throughout the material. Why Cold Hammer Forge? It increases the sectional density of the metal. It also ensures consistent rifling from one barrel to the next. If you find a Cold Hammer Forged barrel you really like, you can get a nearly identical rifling on the other barrels being produced by that company.
    • Competition Shooting - This is simple. You want stainless steel for this. Why? Predictable rate of wear and the most precise rifling. You can melonite it, but that can throw off point of impact. Since you might be lugging it all of 40 feet, it's acceptable to get a heavy bull barrel. Basically, whatever improves accuracy and consistency.
    • Hunting/Outdoors - This is where melonite shines, in my opinion. Your rifle will be exposed to the elements, at night in many cases, and you probably aren't going full auto on a deer or any 400 yard target. For corrosion resistance and general durability, melonite is an outstanding choice. Stainless isn't bad here and neither is a chrome-lined barrel, but stainless Is less durable and more visible, while a chromed barrel doesn't have the resistance to the elements on the outer surface that a fully melonited barrel has. When stealth matters, particularly in low-light conditions, melonite's black color will be great.
  • Forged or Billet - Which is right for you?
    • Forged is my preference, mostly due to cost. I do like Billet because it can be made lighter than forged by taking off less-needed metal and any machine shop can potentially make it, which makes it real hard for the government or a terrorist to shut down that part of the industry. (What happens if someone shuts down the 12, or so, forges and cut off the supply of AR15s? Both military and civilian, potentially.) Either will work well. I only caution you to be careful with the weight of a Billet Receiver - sometimes, they can be way too heavy or the weight-savings can be too aggressive and you really don't want the receiver walls to fail. Typical forged receiver weights are a good baseline - about 10 ounces for an upper. Don't vary much from that and you should be ok. (The lower handles significantly less stress and will generally be fine, structurally.)
  •  Match Triggers - Do I need one and are they worth it?
    • No, no one needs a match trigger, but it sure helps for competition shooting and distance shooting. I would recommend a drop-in, single-stage trigger like a CMC or Wilson, assuming this is meant to defend life and liberty. For competition, I've heard great things about AR-Gold triggers and I know Geissele makes great triggers, as well. If you don't want to shell out $250+ for a decent trigger that pulls crisply and is ultra-reliable, I highly recommend ALG's QMS trigger. Nothing will be more reliable in your rifle than the "mil-spec" triggers, but a few competition versions can match that reliability with added benefit. I typically go mil-spec, unless the rifle is purpose-built for distance shooting.
  • Brands - What brand should I choose for parts? 
    • Well, some brands make great rifles, but getting their stripped receivers are a real problem, such as with Daniel Defense. My advice is to get Wilson Combat (Forged), Aero Precision, or Spike's Tactical - any of those are great, they're easy to find online, and you should be very happy with the quality, especially Wilson Combat. Any reputable company should be perfectly fine, especially if it's forged. For other parts, I generally stick to BCM, Spike's, ODIN Works, Daniel Defense, Mission First Tactical, and V-Seven. For specific recommendations, check my Builder's List for my favorites. I stay away from some brands due to reputation or my personal experience, but I don't want to call them out by name.
  • Length of Barrel - What length should I get?
    • To me, its not worth paying $200 and waiting several months, on top of having an attorney draft a trust for you to get a barrel below 16". Now, if you want to get a 14.5" barrel and have the muzzle device affixed to it permanently, that's a way around the unconstitutional NFA rules. But, that reduces the velocity of the round (due to the shorter length), you're probably having to pay someone to do that for you to ensure it satisfies the law, and you're probably not going to be able to re-use the muzzle device on a new barrel. Anything less than 16" is really just extra money for no real improvement in performance. That said, I would only go above 16" if you were building this rifle for distances beyond 300 yards, in which case I recommend either an 18" or 20" barrel. Any longer than that is not practical if you need to use it in a typical US building code hallway. (As in a home-defense situation.)
    • But, what if there were no NFA? (Or, if I were willing to pay the money and wait.) If there were no NFA, I would probably have a 10.5" barrel with a suppressor on my bedside gun, but definitely no shorter. Barrels below 10.5" are prone to reliability issues because, in many cases, it just doesn't get enough gas to properly cycle the weapon before the bullet exits the barrel and it doesn't load the next round or has problems loading the next round. (Also known as a "dwell time" issue.)

Saturday, March 5, 2016

What Caliber Should I Choose for My AR?

5.56x45?
300 Blackout?
.223 Rem?
6.8 SPC?
6.5 Grendel?
7.62x39?
9mm?
.22lr?
...

Yes, there are a LOT of options. And, there are even more options when you start including the AR10 platform. (.308 Win, 6.5 Creed, etc) So, which do you want and why?

First, let's tackle the idea of what we should be looking for out of a cartridge. I have my own uses for a rifle and they may differ from yours, which might lead you to look at the decision differently. For instance, you might need a rifle to kill multiple hogs that wander onto your property. You might need a rifle to kill hogs for food, ie there is meat left on them to eat. You might also need to kill small varmints, rather than hogs, primarily. You might need a gun for competition shooting. You might want a rifle specifically for CQB in your home, with no need to shoot more than 25 feet. Or, you could be like me and want a gun for self defense and the occasional varmint that is capable within 300 yards - capable, especially, within the short distances found inside your home. Basically, you need to decide how important accuracy, lethality, recoil, cost, and effective range are to you. You'll need to prioritize those factors based on the task at hand and the intended purpose of the rifle.

Now, to look at those intended purposes...

1. Hunters - If you're looking to hunt with your rifle, and you're looking at an AR platform rather than a bolt-action, you could be looking at medium to large game - anything from Whitetail Deer to Grizzly Bears. If you're that rancher or farmer that has a hog problem, you might fall into this category too. Basically, you need to drop the animal with 1 shot (Or, as few as possible.) If you start looking at what is an ethical distance to hunt at, given that requirement, we're not talking about 500+ yards for most hunters. So, realistically, any heavier round would do the job. So, supersonic 300 Blackout, 6.8 SPC, or 6.5 Grendel. (And, definitely AR10s in .308 or 6.5 Creedmoor.)

2. Varmints - If you're specifically trying to defeat varmints, any of the rifle calibers will do - it may take more than one shot of .223 for a larger animal, but it'll do the job just fine. In fact, well-placed .223/5.56 will take a deer as well, but it's not preferred for serious hunters. The fact is, they're varmints and you're shooting them because they're costing you money already, so why spend more on expensive target ammo? 5.56 or .223 will do here. I'd favor 5.56 for cost, the options available for 5.56 in the AR platform, and the ability to shoot both .223 and 5.56.

3. Survivalists - From a survivalist perspective, 5.56 is a great option because it's cheap, available, and can kill most animals you'll encounter in North America. It is a great all-around option for any purpose you can think of for a rifle. (Aside from sniping at 2,000 yards. Of course, you'd have to consider how many people actually CAN do that with any caliber.) I'd also go with 5.56 for the cost and to have the ability to shoot .223 as needed. Not to mention, being able to buy CHF barrels with the M249 chrome call-outs is so beneficial - long term durability!

4. Home Defense - I would go 5.56 here. It's cheap and readily available. You're shooting at short distances, in theory, so the need for a long-range scope and Sierra Match King ammo isn't really there. 300 Blackout is another popular option here and I have no issue with someone trying to save their hearing by shooting it suppressed and sub-sonic. 300 BO is a somewhat limited option because it basically has the trajectory of a thrown rock and there are much better choices for use at 200+ yards. However, specifically for home defense, it's a great option. Also, many people try to make a SMG (Sub-Machine Gun) out of an AR and chamber it in 9mm. Of course, people successfully defend themselves and their families with 9mm every year. That said, my feeling is that, if you are using a rifle, you should take advantage of rifle rounds and their lethality. Compare the muzzle energy of a 5.56 load (1200ish ft-lbs) and a 9mm +p+ load (500ish ft-lbs). The rifle cartridge is just so much more lethal.

5. Competition - .223 Wylde or .223. The stainless steel bull-barrels chambered in .223 Wylde are making serious headway into the competition scene. In many cases, it seems they are more accurate than simple .223 barrels and they allow for someone to fire most 5.56 ammo out of it. The key thing here is the accuracy, however. This chamber is providing excellent stability to the round due to the design of the throat of the barrel and the throat angle appears to be improving the life-span of the barrel with .223 ammo being used in it. That means less barrel changes - which is a great thing for a number of reasons, not the least of which is cost. But, realistically, for low-recoil, fast follow-ups, medium distance shooting, and extreme precision, one of these .223 chambers are the best choice. For 600 yards or more, it's a little different story. 6.5 Creedmoor is my pick beyond that yard mark. The Ballistic Coefficient and the extra powder are huge in aiding accuracy and achieving those distances. If you're shooting beyond a 6.5 Creed's effective range in a competition, you probably won't be using an AR for it.

6. Sniping or Hunting Dangerous Game - This is kind of like competition shooting and kind of like hunting, but with added requirements. Let me first explain for those that are wondering what I mean by sniping. Numerous situations can arise where one might need to snipe as a real option - ie kill another human being from a long distance away. The situations that call for a civilian to do this vary from pure fantasy to very real, though the situations are rare and I hope none of them ever come to pass for any of us. Some examples:
  • Those that are familiar with the UT Austin tower shooting know that civilians with hunting rifles were asked by police to fire at the sniper. This allowed the police to storm the tower and get to the sniper, but any one of the civilians could have killed the sniper themselves if they were able to make the shot. This is one real life example of people needing to be able to return fire from another person with a long-range rifle. You might not have the clarity of a go-ahead from the police, but you might still need to be able to defend yourself against a sniper and defense of one's life is an inalienable right.
  • In the event of a war, be it civil or an invasion, a member of the militia or any resistance group would be well-served to be able to take distance shots. A militia would need a sniper for the same reason our military needs them now.
  • The infamous zombie apocalypse! Best to shoot them long before they have the chance to bite you! And, shoot fast because there's always a horde of them for some reason...
So, what does a rifle need to be able to do in order to be good for this purpose? You need kinetic energy and lots of it. You need a high-mass projectile for penetration. You need a high ballistics coefficient. You need extreme accuracy from the weapon system. The faster you can operate and fire the weapon, the better. You need to be able to reach out to beyond 1,000 yards with enough kinetic energy to kill something or someone. For this kind of shooting, the minimum you need for this is an AR10 chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. A .308/7.62x51 will also do the job and both calibers are readily available for purchase and fairly reasonable price. They have the stopping power to kill anything in North America and are excellent for distance shooting, especially the 6.5 Creed. But, for seriously dangerous game or extreme long-range shots, larger calibers may be needed. Calibers like .338 Lapua or .50 BMG might very well be exactly what you need. There are other, more exotic, calibers in the upper-end of the ballistics spectrum, but these are the ones that are most common and affordable for anyone that has a need for such a rifle. .338 Lapua would be my preference for extreme distance shooting and .50 BMG for extremely dangerous game.

Overall, for most people and the widest variety of uses, I recommend a tried and true AR15 in 5.56. The durability of the barrels, the availability of parts, and the cost/availability of the ammo are all supremely important. If you are looking for a rifle to fill a special purpose, like distance shooting or hunting, then you have some other options that would do the job a little better. For subsonic ammo, you have your option as well. For me, there's always the siren's call of the bigger calibers, but I think 5.56 is exactly what I need. I want to be able to defend my myself against any animal (2-legged and 4-legged ones) that I would typically find in North America, be able to do so within 300 yards, and, especially, defend myself within my home. Other cartridges seem great, but the 5.56 is reasonably priced, effective, lightweight, good for high capacity, abundant, and the benefactor of tons of AR accessories. (Magazines, barrels, etc.) Ultimately, you'll choose what's best for you, but I recommend you have several AR15s in 5.56 before you make the leap to something like .338 Lapua. And, unless you don't care about shooting through a wall and killing your neighbor's kid, 5.56 is better for home defense than these larger calibers. Whichever you pick, pick the one that best fits your needs and train with it so you can use it effectively and safely.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Modern Bullpups vs the AR 15

#1 Bullpups are a newer design and allow for longer barrels in the same length rifle, therefore they deliver more lethality in a potentially shorter package. Given the benefits of a shorter package in CQB combat combined with the increased lethality of a longer barrel, Bullpups are clearly better. If you're not playing favorites for national pride or nostalgia, it's cold, hard math - Bullpups are the best type of weapon system.

#2 AR15s are used by the greatest military force in the world - and the soldiers overwhelmingly love the M4 and M16 variants of the AR15 that they use. There is no more diverse or well-engineered aftermarket for any other gun in the world - the options and the variety of the AR15 platform are unparallelled. It can be built to fit any shooter, having adjustable stocks, different handguard lengths, lightweight options, a large variety of grips to fit virtually any hand, etc. Given its ability to adapt so well to any situation with all the options it has at it's disposal, the AR15 is clearly the best rifle in the world.

They both sound like compelling arguments, right?

So, you may be asking, "Which is really better?" The answer to that is not a simple one. I have to qualify the answer I give. Today, based on the currently available Bullpups in the market and the cost of the AR and its variety of aftermarket parts choices, it's the AR. It's not even close. But, it should be close. In fact, a Bullpup should be better than the AR... but, it's not.

So, why is the AR better? Let's look at the Bullpups out there that can compete with an AR, so we can compare.
  1. IWI Tavor
  2. Styer AUG
  3. Kel-Tec RDB
  4. FN FS2000
  5. Desert Tech MDR
Out of all these, the Kel-Tec is the lightest at 7 pounds. None of them have adjustable stocks. Though they all claim to be modular, you can't change the grip out on any of them. They all have significant polymer material in their bodies. They all have a common complaint, except the MDR - squishy/splashy trigger. So basically, they're short, they shoot the same caliber as the AR15, they've got bad triggers, and they're almost completely un-modular. Sounds awesome, right? Yeah... I don't think so either. Compare them to an AR with a match-grade trigger, modular/adjustable stock, modular grip, and a huge aftermarket for parts. Oh, and with those upgrades to the AR, the AR still costs less. It almost seems unfair, right?

The problem is that virtually every Bullpup is proprietary by design. What do I mean by that? Well, you can't switch out parts on an FS2000 if the whole gun is one big tuba-like piece. You can't replace any parts because they're all one part, so they're not exactly modular. Same with the Tavor. Kel-Tec didn't build much modularity into the RDB, but the options there should at least be pretty reasonable cost. Welcome to the world of Bullpups - they are designed to be all one piece to maximize sales for the company that created them. Basically, they're making throw-away guns for militaries instead of making modular guns that people can customize or improve upon in the aftermarket. These manufacturers are making the single biggest mistake they can make: they're literally trying to cut out the aftermarket. BIG mistake! The aftermarket is what has kept the AR15 up to date and viable today. It's what drives the custom building AR market. And, they're cutting out the aftermarket intentionally to maximize profits... or, so they believe. The aftermarket is what makes the AR the best rifle available today and it is what is going to determine the next great rifle. By cutting that out with their proprietary designs, they basically ruin the civilian market for the gun and the weight of these single-piece polymer monstrosities ruins the military market.

The thing is, Bullpups should dominate the market. The problem is that manufacturers are looking for profits in a short-sighted way. They keep producing new, proprietary designs that are destined for the scrap heap. Until the rifle manufacturers, or at least one excellent manufacturer, produces a modular design that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, the AR15 is going remain the king. If that manufacturer receives a US military contract, you'll see a paradigm shift in the market. Having that kind of financial backing will lower production costs and create a military market for parts and that will trickle down to the civilian world. That will be the only way to dethrone the AR. Until that day, stick with an AR - you don't want to be stuck holding the bag on a discontinued rifle that no one wants.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Commercial Spec or Mil Spec?!?

Mil Spec or Commercial?

Mil Spec sounds like it's Military tough, but what does it mean to be Mil Spec vs Commercial Spec? Well, if you don't mind if I spoil it for you, you're really shooting pretty much the same bullet from the same gun at the same speeds. So, not much in a practical sense. But, there are differences right? Yes, there are. In fact, there is a clear winner between the two.

So, what is Mil Spec? Well, this is a designation for a gun or part that is designed to be used on a military rifle with the tolerances, connection types, and materials specified by the Technical Data Package (TDP) and military manual of arms for the weapon. Generally speaking, these are chambered in 5.56, have chrome-lined barrels, use a particular set of dimensions, use particular materials (such as Carpenter 158 steel for the bolt), and use a specific anodizing process for finishing. Many manufactures make parts that are compatible with Mil Spec rifles, but are not truly Mil Spec. Truthfully, all ARs currently available are not actually true Mil Spec - many are based on Mil Specs. If you don't have certain features like select fire, a 14.5" barrel like an M4, or a solid A2 stock like an M16, then you don't have a M4 or M16, which is what the US military issues. The important thing to know about Mil Spec is that it's a huge part of the market - as in people are obsessed with Mil Spec rifles because they want to own something that is as close to what our military uses as is possible in the civilian world. Hence, people want Colts - not because they're the best ARs, but because of the idea that, "If it's good enough for our soldiers, then it's good enough for me." I understand that sentiment. If you think about it, Colt ARs are a great baseline for what your expectations should be for your rifle because they are a manufacturer of combat proven rifles and the civilian versions they produce use mostly the same parts. As a result of people looking for military weapons to ensure they are getting something they can "bet their life on," there is a huge market for Mil Spec-compatible parts.

For you and I, it's these Mil Spec-compatible parts that we should be most interested in. For instance, BCM doesn't actually make the M4A1 for the US Marines, but I wouldn't hesitate to use a BCM over the standard issue M4A1. (On a side note, full auto is not especially important to me because it really just wastes ammo faster. At 50+ yards, I really want to fire semi-auto exclusively, for accuracy.) The fact is, the Military makes decisions about their guns based partly on cost - literally weighing the value of our soldiers lives against the perceived benefits of any different or "new and improved" design. We have to make that choice too, but we get to make those choices for ourselves, unlike our soldiers. That is where the benefits of the civilian market come into play. You see, we can get parts that are better than Mil Spec. For instance, CHF Barrels or stronger, lighter, and snag-free stocks are benefits that our soldiers don't get because the military either doesn't see the benefit of these products yet or lacks the funding to swap out those parts for every gun in inventory. We also get to to choose what works best for us - "Does this stock fit the pocket in my arm well?" or "Do I want an 18" barrel for extra muzzle energy and better distance shooting?" or "Can I get a barrel with .223 Wylde chamber for better accuracy?" The thing to remember here is that we have a standardized set of specifications, Mil Specs, that allow us to swap out interchangeable parts on our rifles to custom fit the gun to our needs/preferences and, ultimately, make lighter, stronger, better rifles.

Ok, so how does all that relate to Commercial Spec, you ask? Commercial Spec is really just a different set of specifications than Mil Spec. The only differences between Mil Spec and Commercial that are worth noting are:
  1. The buffer tubes are different diameter and have slightly different threading. (Commercial: 1.168" vs Mil: 1.148")
  2. Commercial Spec generally isn't as demanding about specific materials.
  3. Commercial Spec rifles more commonly use .223 or .223 Wylde chambers for accuracy and sporting use. (Though, there is nothing that prevents you from putting a .223 barrel on a Mil Spec rifle - it's just not Mil Spec.)
Many people will look at point #2 and say, "Ah-hah! Mil Spec is better!" However, that isn't totally accurate. I mean, using a specific material is great, but using a better material is better, right? I think the answer to that is obvious. Not only that, but you can make a "Mil Spec" diameter buffer tube from 6061 Aluminum, rather than the stronger 7075 that is required by true Mil Specs. (Some manufacturers use the term "Mil Spec" more liberally than I would like.) Within the Commercial Spec world, 6061 is common, but not a rule. Simply put, the requirements are just less strict for what is considered a Commercial Spec rifle. Commercial rifles are often fine guns. The quality depends more on the materials used than the diameter of the buffer tube. Get a quality Commercial Spec rifle from a quality manufacturer and it'll last just as well as a quality rifle from a quality Mil Spec manufacturer.

So, which is better? For me, the answer is obvious: Mil Spec. I can already hear the cries from Bushmaster owners everywhere:  "But, you just said the quality depends on the manufacturer, not the buffer tube diameter!" Yes, I did... and that is true, by the way. The reason Mil Spec is so clearly better is the number of available options. For instance, you won't find a Commercial Spec BCM Gunfighter stock - BCM doesn't make a Commercial Spec version. Because of the driving market force I described above (people wanting to get Mil Spec rifles that they can bet their life on) combined with a little hero-worship of our armed forces, there are just a lot more options if you go Mil Spec because it's more popular. That's how Capitalism works - companies produce more of what people buy more. The beauty of it is that you don't lose access to better than Mil Spec materials for your rifle by going Mil Spec - you just get parts that are meant to fit a Mil Spec rifle with whatever material you prefer. On the other side, you'll see that you have less options in terms of materials or designs for Commercial Spec because those rifles aren't as popular and, in some cases, proprietary. Ultimately, for customization and availability of replacement parts, the choice is clear: choose Mil Spec.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Debate to End All Debates: AR or AK?

It seems everyone has given their two cents. Some people have given better, more accurate information than others. I've obviously made a decision, but that doesn't mean I don't see value in both platforms. My intent is to provide you with the information that made me choose the AR platform, so that you are able to consider these points when you choose what's best for you. To those that disagree with my conclusions, the unfortunate truth is that there is no "best" gun on earth, because different situations favor different qualities in a firearm. However, both these rifles are on the short list of those competing for the title, "The Best." Before reading on, I want to make it very clear: if you like and use the AK platform, you have made a good choice. It's just, in my opinion, if you live in the US it's not as good of a choice as an AR. I can hear the screaming from the AK fanboys already... just, please, at least read on to see WHY I have come to that conclusion before screaming at me through the internet about how the AK is the most reliable and most awesome gun in the world.

So, why even consider an AR? I mean, according to the devoted disciples of Kalashnikov, the AR is broken by design and will never be able to compete with an AK. The AK47 even shoots a larger caliber and is better at defeating obstacles than the AR15! The AR is all about national pride, not substance, right? The AK must be better, right? Not so fast AK fanboys! The AR platform has some serious advantages in its favor. Here's some points to consider:

  1. Mounting Optics - So, this is something you should strongly consider. Having a red-dot or variable power scope is a HUGE advantage. So much so that our military invests more money in optics than the actual firearms they go on, in many cases. This is a big advantage for the AR because the built-in rail is perfect for maintaining zero and providing improved accuracy at longer ranges. The M4-style top rail is actually built into the upper receiver and the optic is left on during field stripping. AK guys are going, "Yeah. And, an AK can mount those too!" It's true, an AK can mount optics, but it's done in an ineffective way. There are basically two ways to mount an optic on an AK: side-attached mounts or on top of the handguard. If the AK proponents can be honest (I hope some can), these are both terrible options. TERRIBLE! Why? Let's start with the side-attached mounts. These put the optic above the top of the receiver, which is really bad for an AK because you have to remove the optic to field-strip the weapon! So, any time you lube it, clean it, try to clear a jam, try to fix a malfunction, replace worn parts, or just inspect the internal parts to ensure they are in working order, you have to remove the sight and mount. That effects the zero and adds extra steps to any of the above-mentioned actions. So, honestly, if you don't check your gun regularly, you're just waiting for it to break when you need it. And, getting back to the need for honest AK users, even AKs break. The other option, mounting on the handguard, is reasonable for red-dots, but not optimal. It's impossible for scopes, however. Trying to get your eye at the right distance to the scope to actually see through the optic is difficult. You can try cantilever mounts or extending the rails backward over the receiver, but both those options will, again, prevent field stripping the receiver and are not a good choice. They have developed dust covers, but those aren't exactly the most solid option to ensure you hold zero and, again, they require removing the optic to field strip. Ultimately, this alone classifies the AK as a dated system that isn't equipped for use in modern warfare, no matter how many Russians and terrorists love it. One would be better off purchasing a Sig MCX or a Piston-driven AR than an AK, just for this reason alone.
  2. Availability of parts and ammo in the US - If you're in the United States, you may have noticed that ARs are everywhere. Until recently, you could pick up a gallon of milk and an AR at the grocery store. (Walmart is full of crap, btw. Daniel Defense, BCM, Spike's, Aero Precision, and online retailers selling factory ARs can hardly keep their guns/parts in stock, but they weren't selling at Walmart?) Cartridges such as .223 and 5.56 are widely available, very affordable, and typically in large supply. 7.62x39 is also very available, world-wide, but not anywhere near the scale of 5.56/.223 availability. Also, when you look at the crazy precision shooting world and the precision ammunition available for .223, you see commonly available ammo with advanced ballistics and performance - much more than what you can find for 7.62x39. For preppers or enthusiasts and everyone in between, cheap available ammo with high-quality options is a big deal. If you live in the US, the 5.56, .223 Wylde, or .223 chambered AR15s offer a serious advantage to the AR. You'll find similar benefit to the .308/7.62x51 over the AK47 round, as well. Almost every gun manufacturer in the US produces an AR variant. Many, many more companies make parts for custom building or accessories. The result is that replacement parts, like a BCG, are more widely available and easier to acquire.
  3. Customization - The ability to so extensively customize the rifle and the variety of do-it-yourself build options provides AR owners with a distinct advantage. There are places you can buy AK flats, various build kits, etc, but they are few and far between. We have very limited choices when it comes to upgrading an AK-variant rifle - few companies produce after-market parts and few options are provided by those that do. Plus, how available are the parts in your area? (Not on the internet!) The AR on the other hand... to say the after-market parts industry for the AR is robust would be an understatement! AKs are really getting hand-me-downs from the AR, like AR-style stock kits that allow AK owners to use AR stocks on a buffer tube attachment. There is no doubt that you can customize the trigger, the length of pull, the weight, the length of barrel, the material of the parts, the coating of the parts, etc of an AR much more than any other gun on earth.
  4. Technology - This circles back into point #1, specifically the part about the AK being dated because it isn't as capable of adding optics and other modern implements of war. You see, the AK doesn't have the same market behind it, improving it's materials and function. The advancements in coatings, treatments, materials, and weight savings that are present for the AR just dwarf and, honestly, over-power anything the AK market can muster. The ability to bring to bare improved quality from new production methods and technological innovations provide  the AR world with an extreme advantage over the AK - one that it cannot compete with. With innovations such as piston-driven kits that can be added to virtually any AR, there is no reason to make the age-old argument about fouling in the AR's chamber from Direct Impingement - that is effectively a mute point. The technological advances in the AR market have modernized the AR - it is a MUCH better weapon than it was when it was first created. Meanwhile, the AK is fast becoming a dinosaur, despite the best efforts of its supporters. The ability to upgrade the AK platform is extremely limited.
While you may not completely agree with my assessment of the AK, the fact is that the AK is dated, it is resistant to modernization due to its design, and there are just too many things it can't do effectively that modern militaries ask of their weapon systems, especially mounting optics. If you own an AK and like the platform, you're not using the best possible weapon, but you're using a great weapon that you can depend on. If you like it, stick with it. Out of these two weapon systems, if you want the gun that is generally the best and most adaptable to any type of combat, currently the AR is it.

However, I know for a fact that the AR will be replaced soon. It's only a matter of time until something forces the US government to switch to a new firearm, which will have a trickle-down effect on the firearms market and the production devoted to the AR will switch to the new king of the hill. I suspect it will be a cost-effective, highly modular and adjustable bullpup, with a free-float barrel, and uses AR15 magazines. That rules out the Tavor (not modular, adjustable, or a free-float barrel) and numerous other options on the market. It's coming and it will be a huge step forward, not a leap back to the AK platform.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Are AR 15s Good For Home Defense?

Yes!

End of article, right? No? Ok, I can explain why.

Of course, I have come to the determination that the AR platform is the best home defense weapon, but I'm making this for people that are looking for a well-reasoned opinion as to why it's so good. I know there are those that would disagree. I can assure you that this is the best choice for me, hands down. And, it's probably the best for you. Virtually all criticisms of the weapon are completely unfounded. It's near-perfect, really. Being able to custom-fit the AR 15 to the task it is designed for is, in my opinion, the strongest case for ARs as Home Defense weapons. Being able to shoulder it and easily manipulate a gun with a light and a red dot optic provides you with the control and the tools to own every shot you fire. When your family's lives are on the line, you better hit what you're shooting at, you better know what you're shooting at, and know what is beyond the target before you shoot. ARs are excellent in every way you need a home-defense gun to excel. And, you can depend on them like only a few, special guns in the world. Remember, once you've decided to shoot, whatever gun you're using better go bang - or you'll be dead.

So, why would you want an AR 15 to do all that, you ask? There's really two ways to tackle the question: 1. What benefits does it provide and what are the negative aspects of the gun? (Pro v Con) Or, 2. What else are you going to use and how does it compare to the AR? This isn't Twitter, so I can spend the text to tackle both and, hopefully, provide a good understanding of why it's the best home defense choice we can make.

1. Pros vs Cons:
Well, the benefits are numerous: Extremely lightweight (for a rifle), affordable price tag, powerful cartridge (compared to handguns), extremely high capacity, high rate of fire, affordable ammo, highly available ammo, affordable magazines, great availability of magazines, plenty of mounting options and space for every conceivable accessory or optic, safe operation, great accuracy, and tremendous reliability, even in the worst of conditions. It's also extremely modular - from the muzzle device to the stock, from the length of pull to the length of barrel, from the finishes/coatings to the types of ammunition it can be chambered in, this gun is incredibly customizeable and can be made to fit the demands of virtually any application or shooter. You have virtually unlimited options and the very finest materials are being used in the production of AR 15s and their various parts. When you think of the options available for ARs, like the Keymod system, M-LOK, Picatinny rails, the various configurations of handguards (length, material, connection types, mounting options, etc), and options for furniture to provide the textures, ergonomics, etc that you want/need... you just can't beat an AR. It can do almost anything.

Cons: It's a little difficult to fire and operate one-handed, you have to have another gun for concealed carry, not as lethal as a shotgun slug or .300 Win Mag, and it's not as easy to hide within arms reach of your bed as some other guns.

There are, of course, counters to some of those Cons. First, ambidextrous controls and products like Arm-brace Stocks and B.A.D. Levers allow for easier one-handed operation and can be very effective if you actually train for situations where you've lost use of one arm. Of course, you can hide your AR in plain sight so it's very easily accessible. As far as the lethality of the ammo, it's extremely lethal. Our soldiers use it in Iraq and, if you prefer a larger caliber, you can get ARs chambered in 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC, 300 AAC Blackout, and even go AR 10 for beefy .308s. Unfortunately, no one has developed a comfortable inside-the-waistband holster for ARs..... yet. So, does it seem like the Pros out-weigh the Cons? It certainly does to me and it should to you.

2. What options are there? Well, there are: 1. Other Rifles, 2. Handguns, and 3. Shotguns.
  1.  Other Rifles/Carbines - I'm going to say we can eliminate bolt-action hunting rifles for CQB. So, you're really looking at something like an IWI Tavor, Sig MPX, or AK-variant. None of those are bad choices, but the AR is better. First off, the AR has quality, factory-new options that are much cheaper than any of those I listed and even the cheapest alternatives - WASR AKs, Scorpion Evos, etc - still fall short in cost of magazines, availability of parts, customization options, and relative quality. I'd take a Ruger AR556 over any of those other options. It's not to say they're bad choices, but the AR has certain benefits that each of those lack and they don't offer much in return for the loss of those benefits. Take the Tavor, for example. Fine gun, but there are some things to consider. It has a little shorter package without sacrificing barrel length (as with a short-barreled AR rifle), which can be helpful, but it's significantly heavier - 7.9 lb Tavor vs 5.8 lb AR 15. (Personally, I feel like a squirrel holding a nut when trying to get both hands on a Tavor, but maybe that's just me.) A price tag of $1500+ and uni-body construction makes replacing damaged parts on much of the gun impractical because it's a serialized part that is being replaced - which makes the gun proprietary and allows IWI to over-charge. Not only that, but your customization is limited by the proprietary design. And, how easy will it be to find spare parts in a Without Rule of Law (WROL) situation? Welcome to the uncertainties and additional costs of AR rifle alternatives. Abandoning the AR platform has significant costs and pitfalls, while offering very little in return.
  2. Handguns -  I like Handguns. Well, I like the idea of handguns. I find that they always are over-priced, have limited customization, and aren't as lethal as a rifle. I mean, for $100 less than a Sig P226, I could buy a Ruger AR556 - think about that for a minute. I, mostly, am dissatisfied with the sub-optimal designs. I'd use Gen 3 Glocks, except the grip was not made for a human hand. Maybe ol' Gaston lost his pinky-finger and part of his palm in a wood-cutting accident or he's really an alien, but I don't think he could have designed a worse grip for his gun. (Compare the contour of the G17 to a Sig P226, which has one of the best handgun grips ever made.)  The rear sights are also grotesquely bad. Pretty much the rest of the gun is perfect - near flawless operation, extremely lightweight, inexpensive magazines, and high capacity mags. Just think, what if I could could buy a Magpul grip for $20, in a variety of colors, and replace the  grip with something that fits my hand better? Nope. Not with handguns and definitely not Glock. Gaston is holding it down for 4-finger people (including the thumb) and he won't change. The closest thing I can find to ideal is a S&W M&P9. Melonited Stainless Steel barrel/slide and a good frame/grip. The factory original trigger is the worst one I've ever pulled, but I can replace it with a Glock-style trigger by Apex for a reasonable price. So, how does the most ideal handgun compare to an AR? Well, $40 magazines, $475 price tag (which isn't terrible, but you'll need a trigger and night sights), only 17 round capacity, and you're shooting 9mm bullets out of a 4" barrel. Oh, adding optics also requires a custom slide - more money. That's just to mount the optic - not to buy one. Not just that, but adding lasers or lights on a pistol can effect their performance and your aim significantly. And, that's before we consider the disadvantages of your optic/sights actually reciprocating with the action. Now, I use handguns and highly recommend having them, but the AR has huge built-in advantages when using them in a home defense situation. Basically, the AR has more lethal ammo, higher capacity, better mounting options for light/optics/grips, etc, and can be better customized to fit a person's needs.
  3. Shotguns - So, we're talking... what, 8+1 capacity? Maybe you've got a Magazine-fed Shotty and get 10+1 or something similar? What about use for weaker shooters? A 3" 12 gauge slug would likely send my wife flying backwards. Are they lethal? Sure! Just try not to think about what happens after the shot exits the body of the person you're shooting. And, using a pump... it's ultra-reliable, but really slow rate of fire. The problems with Shottys are obvious: low capacity, high recoil, and over-penetration are serious concerns. The benefits are also obvious: extremely lethal, relatively inexpensive, and a wide variety of loads.  Shotguns are good, but like every other option listed here, they have serious drawbacks - ones that are not present in the AR.

So, when you consider the alternatives, does the AR seem worth it to you? For me, it's a no-brainer: ARs are the best home-defense weapon I can get! If you need to have a bullpup rifle because you have such tight hallways or want a handgun to fire one-handed and can't be bothered to have a rifle too, then maybe an AR isn't for you. But, ARs are easy to shoot, they last forever, and are extremely customizable to whatever tasks/needs/functions you have for them. Do yourself a favor and make the leap to ARs - if you ever need it, you won't regret having an AR.

Sootch00 made a great video for preparedness with the AR platform. I 100% endorse what he says in this video.