Garden Update – 18 June 2014

So our garden is doing pretty well.  We’ve had a hot dry spell the past week or two, so I’ve had to go out and water the garden myself.  One of my friends has already found 90% of his garden dead and wilted because he never thought to water it himself.  The green beans are almost ready to be picked, they just need to fatten up a little.  Peas are getting there, although a couple of them look wilted.  I thought maybe they had just dried out from being uprooted from some excessive rain we had a few weeks ago, so I piled some fresh dirt around them and watered them, and although they haven’t died, they haven’t recovered, so I’m starting to think maybe they have caught something.

Here’s some sunflowers I planted next to the walk-way up to our porch.  There was 4 of them, but one of the dogs dug one up and despite re-planting within 10 minutes and watering with fertilizer, it has died, so I put up the lattice work to discourage them from running through them and to give myself something to tie them to when they get big.  Last year we had sunflowers that got 10+ feet tall with heads on them that had to weigh in the neighborhood of 20 pounds.


Here’s our green beans.  They were doing a lot better than I thought they were.  I’ve been focusing mainly on just watering and weeding them and keeping the dirt loosened, but hadn’t taken the time to pull the leaves back and look under them lately.  I was actually kind of surprised that we already had beans.


Here’s our peas.  One or two of the vines appear to have caught some kind of disease I think.  They are growing, but appear wilted.  At first I assumed it was from having lots of grass around them in the first few weeks until I got them weeded, and then the rain kind of uncovered their roots a bit, so I hilled up some fresh dirt and watered them through this dry spell and although they haven’t died outright, one or two of the vines are still yellow.  I’m considering just pulling those up tomorrow in case it’s some kind of a blight or something that the other vines might catch.  Most of them though look nice and healthy and are getting some nice fat pea pods already.


I’m about 80% sure it’s too late in the year to plant pumpkins, but we had just a handful of seeds, and I had never planted them, so I figured what the heck.  There was some space in the garden at the end of two or 3 rows where we had planted peppers and a few other things that didn’t take.  Since we had a couple spots where there was a nice wide open spot, I just hoed up two nice big hills and planted some pumpkins about an inch down.  According to the planting instructions on the packet, we could plant these all the way up until the 1st of July, just depending on when the weather decides to dip down and get cold.


Call me weird, but I love the smell of Marigolds, and I’ve been told that they will help keep insects away.  I started this one in a small flower pot and then just transplanted it into the garden.  I planted this one next to 4 or 5 tomato plants and there were no pests on those tomato plants.  The tater bugs are about to eat some of my potato plants up though, I’m going to have to get some more bug dust for them.


Overall I’m pretty happy with our garden this year.  There’s talk that agriculture might be the economic replacement for coal in eastern Kentucky, and seeing as how things appear to be working out for me, I’m going to do some research.  There’s a program where the state will give you the seeds, send you to training on how to can/preserve your vegetables, and they’ll even plow up your land for you.  If I can get involved with that, it might actually turn out to be a sustainable source of income doing something I enjoy, 🙂

This is my 2nd year really trying to have a garden.  Year 1 was a learning experience, and things seem to be working out this year.  It’s odd, but my family is full of people who grew up gardening, but as a young boy we didn’t really do much gardening, so I’m having to learn things that a lot of people already know.  Here’s the whole thing at a glance, 🙂


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Our Family Garden for 2014 – June 11th Maintenance

So this year is the first year that we as a family have really buckled down and had a productive garden.  My wife and I got married while I was in college, then I joined the Army where we lived in an apartment in town, and we moved back to Kentucky in the fall.  We tried to plant one on property we own elsewhere last summer, where my parents live, but not being close to it proved to be a deal breaker.  We managed to get some peppers out of it, and lots of turnip greens, and that’s about it.  The deer ate the corn and the birds ate the tomatoes.  The grass almost took it once or twice because my wife and I were both working full time.  The rabbits ate just about anything they could reach.  All things that could have been prevented if we had planted in a more accessible location where we could keep an eye on it and maintain it.

Right now we actually live on property that we are renting a few miles from the family property where my parents live.  Part of the reason I was hesitant to plant a garden here last year, even though my landlord told me he didn’t care a bit, was because I just didn’t want to go tilling up a yard that was “technically” somebody else’s.  He told us to go for it again this year, so this year we decided to plant our garden here, and it has done MUCH better.  The convenience of being able to just walk out the door and go weed it, dust the taters, till/hoe up fresh dirt, etc. has proven invaluable in raising a healthy garden.  We’ve already harvested some of the onion greens, although I’m going to leave about 3/4 of the onion plants alone so that they’ll hopefully form bigger bulbs.  We’ve harvested some of the lettuce and mustard greens as well and they’re both already back with a vengeance.

The only pest problems we’ve had so far have been tater (potato for those of you who live north of the Mason Dixon) bugs.  The tater plants got pretty large before the bugs showed up, so I haven’t had to do a ton of work to control them because the plants are so big that it would take a pretty large infestation to cause any real damage.  I dust the plants occasionally around sun-set and the dew that collects on the leaves kind of makes it stick to them and stay on longer.  It has been doing a decent job of keeping the tater bugs away until it washes off with the rain.

The garden has been a family project, although with a wife that is literally ready to give birth at any moment, the majority of the burden has been on me.  She was hoping to be able to plant some pumpkins and watermelons, but feeling overwhelmed with the garden and feeding the dog and mowing the grass and generally trying to take care of things, including many things she physically cannot do at the moment, I never got around to planting them.  I may plant a few just to see if they take, but we’re pushing it a little bit, and may be too late.

Anyway, I just thought I would share a quick story about my family garden and some photos.  The garden has served as a project for our family, from myself to our 3 year old son to participate in.  It is something that with some hard work and dedication has proven that it will probably yield more than enough vegetables to last us through the winter.  We’ve already begun to harvest some of them, and have given away quite a bit to friends and family.  It’s one more way of being self sufficient.  Not only does it build a strong family bond to work hard on something together and see it do well, but it also reduces your dependency on others.  It has put better tasting food on our table, and there’s just a certain amount of satisfaction that comes from eating something that you grew in your own back yard, not to mention the lower price tag at your local grocery store when you don’t have to buy things like lettuce or spinach or corn or tomatoes, etc.  It also builds valuable life skills in children, and gives them a very tangible reward for hard work.  It’s something that can teach them the value of both hard work, and patience.  They have to realize that although their hard work will pay off, they will have to wait to see the results.  I think that is a valuable lesson to instill in today’s world where people are more and more conditioned to instant gratification.

This evening I went out and did some maintenance on the garden.  It has needed it for a day or two because I noticed some of the onions were starting to pop out of the ground, so this evening I finally got around to weeding, tilling and hoeing the garden.  The only thing I didn’t bother was the lettuce because we got romaine and iceberg lettuce, both of which are hard to weed because it just kind of grows everywhere, and the grass grows in with it.  The lettuce appears to be out-growing and killing out most of the grass, so rather than spend hours on my knees picking out individual blades of grass, I just left it alone.

Below are some photos we took today while out working the garden.


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My Place

I am a product of the times. I am a young man, trying to find his place in this world. I am part English, Scottish, Cherokee, and Apache, and probably a dash of a few other things thrown in there that I don’t know about. I have served in my country’s Army. I have a wife, a son, and one more on the way.

My skills have caused me to receive job offers that would have paid more money than I know what to do with, under the condition that I move into big cities where the jobs were located. Instead, after leaving the military, I chose to come back to Kentucky. These hills are my home, they are where I grew up. They are one of few places in the world any more where I can go and find silence and be left alone, where I can hunt, live off the land. They offer me the closest thing I can imagine to real “freedom”. I hate to quote celebrities, but Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty once said, “If you can’t take a leak in your own yard without offending somebody, you’re not really free.”

So many people of my generation, and of generations before me, place so much emphasis on money that they lose a sense of who they really are. My wife and I both work. We make enough money to pay our bills and have a little bit left over, and I’m happy with that. I have no desire to slave my life away, be an absentee father, and then fall into a chair for the last 20 years of my life so I can gloat, “Well, I may not be able to walk totally upright any more, but look at my bank account!” What does a man gain if he works away his life for a large bank account if he loses track of his own soul, of what really makes him happy in life? By the way by “man”, I refer to “people”, not just those of us who happen to have penises. I have absolutely no problems with working hard to take care of yourself, and your family. However, I see myself differently. As long as the bills are paid, I am perfectly happy applying my hard work toward taking care of my parents, hunting for wild game, working on a house for my wife and I, things that have tangible benefits and improve our quality of life. I am the kind of person where money does not necessarily make me happy. If I had a million dollars in my bank account right now, I wouldn’t want a new truck. If I spent it on anything, it would be on buying up land and creating wildlife habitats.

I guess the point of this post goes back to the title. I’m just a man who enjoys nature, who feels, I guess I could say spiritually connected to the woods. I want to work hard to give my family a good life, but I don’t want to go slave away at a factory for a high dollar paycheck where I won’t get to be with my family, and neglect the housework because I’m too tired to do anything when I get home. I’ve been there. I’ve spent years away from home working my ass off on 3 hours of sleep or less for a week straight, and that’s no way to live. Because this is how I feel however, I feel a lot of societal pressure to change. I feel like this is the right thing to do for my family since we are doing fine and living comfortably, but I feel like society pressures people to live a certain way and to do certain things, else they be considered lazy, or a failure. If you’re not working hard for somebody else, then it doesn’t count. If you’re working hard on things you love around your home, it doesn’t count.

I would much rather spend my time being a father. Teaching my children how to be good human beings, how to live in harmony with nature, the value of hard work. I would rather spend my time working hard for the betterment of my family by providing them with fresh food and maintaining the house and the equipment we need to get things done. I would rather take my children hunting and teach them the value of real freedom, how to safely operate a firearm when they are at a reasonable age, how to skin a deer, how to change the oil in the car, how to manage their money and how to build a porch. There a million things I would rather do that I think would have a better impact on the next generation than working myself into an early grave. I want to live to be an old man, the patriarch of my family, there to give advice to my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren for many years. I think that is the way I can have the most positive impact on this world.

In many ways, I wish I had been born a hundred years ago. Today’s world has become so commercialized, so hectic, so confusing, that it really is depressing. Even here in the woods of eastern Kentucky, when I go hunting, it’s not uncommon to be meditating, right on the edge of total relaxation and peace, only to have it interrupted by the sound of an airplane flying overhead. I think our “progress” is damaging our connection to our humanity, to the natural and spiritual worlds that exist all around us.

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Perception of Reality

I have a hypothesis about reality, spirits, death, and our human perception of all those things and more.

We live in a world where our experience, our perception of “reality”, is completely dictated by the limitations of our 5 senses; touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell.  We are essentially a squishy collection of molecules gifted with intelligence, and at the end of the day, we are really quite limited in just how much of “reality” we can experience.

Humans can only see between infra-red and ultra-violet, but there is a whole slew of wavelengths of light that we are completely in-capable of seeing.  Our ears can only hear a very small portion of the spectrum of vibrations and frequencies.  Only in relatively recent years have we developed the technology with which to perceive some of the things that we cannot see with our own eyes or hear with our own ears, but even those devices just convert those things into a spectrum where we can perceive them.  Infra-red cameras just convert heat into colors of the light spectrum that we can see.  When you look through an IR camera, you aren’t actually seeing the IR light rays as they actually are, you are seeing an interpretation of those light rays, as depicted in our visible light spectrum.

What I’m getting at is that we literally cannot even perceive the vast majority of the universe.  In the infinite vastness of space, there are planes of existence that we cannot sense with any of our 5 senses.  There could be sentient beings that exist in this universe with us that we simply cannot interact with because our senses don’t allow it.  Just because we, as human beings, cannot sense something, does not mean that it doesn’t exist, it is just another example of how narrow our perception of “reality” really is.  What if people who practice yoga and/or meditation really are able to, at least temporarily, peer into these “realms” that really are not separate from reality, but exist right along-side us, in wavelengths of light and vibration that we cannot sense?  Even our sense of touch is not really “touch”.  You never really “touch” anything.  Our atoms react to materials by repelling them.  When you’re sitting in a chair, you’re never really touching the chair, you are, at a sub-atomic level, floating above the seat of your chair.  Your sense of touch is a reaction to electrical signals picked up by your nerves when the atoms in your cells react to the atoms of the world around you.  What if there are beings that have a perception of having a physical body, like ours, but exist at different wave-lengths so that they react with materials on those wavelengths?  What if, in the very space you occupy right now, there is a whole other world that exists at a different wave-length that you cannot perceive?

What if “heaven”, as described in so many different cultures and religions, is just another wave-length of reality that exists right alongside our own?  What if when we die, our consciousness continues to exist in this very world on different wave-lengths of light, sound, and matter?  What if, all throughout history, the shamans, the healers, the medicine men, the prophets, what if all these people were just human beings that, at least under certain conditions, were particularly sensitive to the other wave-lengths of light, sound, and matter that exist, and were therefore granted an expanded sense of reality compared to the rest of us?  That would mean that there really is a spiritual realm, that exists right along-side us on different wave-lengths of light, sound and matter, and therefore behaves entirely differently than what we are accustomed to experiencing under the extreme limitations of our 5 human senses.

The take-away from my ramblings today is that we have our sense of reality, but it really is quite a minuscule portion of what we know exists, and what is possible in the infinite vastness of our universe.

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Building My Own Utility Trailer – The Value of Recycling

So I have, for a while, been looking for a way to purchase a utility trailer. Something to hook onto the back of my Dodge pickup or the Ford Explorer and haul things on. Any time I needed one, for example to move my riding lawn mower, I had to borrow one from one of my uncles. The problem however, was that I didn’t have the $500+ laying around to buy one, and at $500 they are pretty small.

A solution to my problem became apparent however. I had an uncle named Earn who lived out in the woods for most of his life. He had a small camper trailer, about 15 feet long, where he had the essentials. He hunted and fished, grew a garden and lived off the land until the day he died.  The road was just barely good enough to take a 4 wheel drive vehicle up. He lived on the property of a friend of our family who didn’t mind him being there.

He died several years ago, and since then his little trailer had been sitting there falling apart because nobody was willing or able to go move it. A tree had fallen on it and broken the roof, allowing rain and moisture to get inside, and most of the wood was too rotten to be of any real use. The landowners had told me a long time ago that I could use their property as I needed to as long as I was respectful and wasn’t destructive. I try to avoid being up there too much out of respect for them and use my own land, but decades ago my mom’s family owned a large piece of that property, so there’s a lot of old scrap metal still there from before nature re-claimed it, so I go up there and retrieve scrap metal from time to time. The landowners told me that they wanted to reclaim the field my uncle had lived in, and if I pulled that trailer out of there and cleaned it up for them, I could have it to sell for scrap metal.

So to work I went. I, along with my brother and cousin for help, started the business of ripping that old trailer apart.

Here’s a picture of the trailer when I first started by myself. I went to pull an electric cord out of the wall because it was snagging and holding pieces together, and when I pulled the whole front wall came out.


Here’s a picture of the crew working on tearing it apart.


We burned all the wood, hauled the insulation off to the recycling center to be disposed of properly since it was asbestos insulation, and every piece of metal on it got loaded into the back of my truck, hauled off and sold for scrap.

However, when I started busting through the floor with my wood maul, I noticed something. The frame of the trailer was solid steel, and heavy duty as well, with beams several times as thick and wide as your average boat trailer. On top of that, it wasn’t hurt too bad because the rest of the trailer had been sitting on top of it, mostly protecting it from the elements. The tires even held air, and once I pumped some grease into the bearings and pulled on it, the wheels broke loose and started rolling. Of course the tires, being 50+ years old, weren’t safe to put any weight on, but they were good enough for me to get the trailer out of there so I could put some better ones on it.

Here’s a picture of the trailer frame, after I cleaned it off and sprayed it with undercoating to protect it. The silver piece laying on it was a bumper that extended out the back of the trailer. The lights and reflectors I added after I got it home since the old ones were so old they wouldn’t fit a standard vehicle light hookup any more.


So after some experimentation and a new set of tires, I was able to find some deck boards to floor it with, and now have myself a 15′ utility trailer that’s several times stronger and much bigger than the ones sold at the stores. At the local Tractor Supply store, you can get an 8 foot trailer made out of some cheap wire mesh with 1 inch support beams for about $500. By simply cleaning this up and putting some effort into it, I was able to get myself a 15 foot trailer with 4 inch wide beams for the price of the lights ($30 for a full set) and the tires ($50 for both together), because the deck boards I also got for free from an uncle who was repairing a porch and had some extra ones laying around.


This was an interesting little project for me. The tires in the photo above are the old ones, but since taking this I’ve put new tires on it and already used it to haul off loads much heavier than you could ever put on one of the dinky trailers sold at the local stores, and way more than I could safely load on my pickup frame by itself. The place I sell my scrap metal to cuts it up and sorts it by type (Aluminum, steel, etc.) and then ships it off to a foundry where it is melted back down and put back into the system to make new products. All of this was possible because I was willing to use what was already available to me.


So I guess if there’s anything to be learned here, it’s that you would be amazed at what you can do with your “trash”. Before you just throw anything away, see what you can do with it, make it useful. The “throw-away living” way of life is a dangerous one. Birds and animals in parts of the world uninhabited by humans are dying because they’re eating bits of plastic washing up on the beaches because of the amount of things that we use and throw away. Most of us don’t think twice about what happens to our trash. Paper will degrade over time, but some things, like plastic, last for a very long time, and cause an immeasurable amount of damage to our environment. Let’s all try to make use of the things we already have. Let’s try to invest in things that will stick around for a while. If you’re going to buy plastic plates and silverware, make sure they’re dishwasher safe so you can continue to re-use them instead of just tossing them in the garbage. We only have one planet Earth, and we’re a long way off from figuring out how to survive anywhere else, so let’s all make a conscious effort to be kind to the world we live in by recycling a little bit.

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Harvesting Wild Roots

I know I haven’t blogged in a while, but I thought I would take this opportunity to write about something that has been occupying my time as of late.

There is something to be said for somebody who can live off the land.  There is also something to be said about somebody who can make money off their land, especially if they do it in a way that doesn’t harm it.  Lately I’ve been on the hunt for valuable roots, specifically ginseng, bloodroot, and yellowroot.  They may go by varying names depending on the region you hail from, but that’s what I call them, so that’s what I’ll refer to them as in this blog.  I will also briefly talk about a 4th option, Mayapple, and explain why I don’t really care to dig Mayapple.  These are all plants that produce roots that can be made into various medicines or supplements, or in my case, sold to a middle man who will pay you cash money, who then sells them to pharmaceutical companies, etc.

Bloodroot is the first one I’ll talk about.  Of the 3 that I dig, it is the least lucrative, bringing $8-$10 USD per pound in my area after it has been cleaned and dried.  It is a plant with a unique shape, and if you know how to spot it, it is, of these 3, the easiest to spot, even early in the year way before it’s time to worry about harvesting the root.  The leaf does however change its appearance slightly as it grows, but retains the same basic shape.  It just becomes more ornate as the plant gets older. Below is a picture of a field of plants, with a bloodroot plant in the middle.  You can see how, if you know what to look for, it stands out from the crowd.

Now below is a snapshot from a YouTube video of mine.  This is also a bloodroot plant, but it’s a much larger plant.  You can see how it has retained the same basic shape, but has just become more ornate than its smaller self.

When you dig bloodroot, as with other plants, dig at least 3 to 4 inches away from the plant, because its stalk tends to break off the root easily.  Push your shovel straight down, then lift up the dirt.  This makes it easier for you to pick through and find the root without breaking off the plant and making it hard to locate.  When you remove the root, you’ll know for certain it’s bloodroot if it is red in color.  As far as I am aware, bloodroot plants do not produce any berries or seeds, so when I dig the root, I cut a small amount off the end that is attached to the stalk, and replant the stalk with its now tiny root.  The sap inside the root may dye your hands red for a little while, but it’s not like hair dye, it will rub off on its own probably before you even get home.  The plant may die this year, but the root will continue to live and grow so you can harvest it again in future years.  That’s just part of being a responsible outdoorsman.  You can’t just take take take and not make any effort to preserve or give back, because eventually you’ll find that what used to be a sweet spot for your desired plants or animals has become barren, so always make an effort to preserve the population by leaving a small piece of the root in the ground to continue growing.  Once you’re done harvesting, take it home, use a soft bristled toothbrush under running water to remove any dirt and remnants of roots from other plants that may have gotten tangled in, and then lay it out to dry for about a week.  Once it’s thoroughly dried out, it’s ready to sell.

Yellowroot is the next plant we will discuss.  It’s the middle of the pack in this race; it will sell for more than bloodroot, but not as much as ginseng.  It’s also slightly more difficult to spot unless it has berries.  Below is a snapshot from one of my videos of a yellowroot plant with some berries on it.

You may not always find plants that have berries on them, even if they are this big or bigger, that’s fine, but if you dig a plant that has no berries, and discover that it has a root large enough for you to keep, then cut the root so a little bit is still attached to the stalk and re-plant it, like I mentioned with bloodroot.  If the plant has berries, simply plant the berries.  Ants will eat the berries occasionally, so size is generally a better indicator of root size than whether or not it has berries, although keeping an eye out for a red berry in an ocean of greenery while you’re in the woods does make it a little bit easier to spot the ones that still have their berries.  When you dig the root, you’ll notice that, like its name, it is yellow, especially if you cut it to be re-planted.  The inside of the root when cut is very yellow.  Follow the same procedure for harvesting this root and preparing it to be sold as you would for bloodroot.

Ginseng is the most lucrative of the 3 roots I look for, but unfortunately, it is also the hardest to find.  Even if you’d never heard of bloodroot or yellowroot until now, all you have to do is buy a can of Arizona Green Tea to realize that ginseng is used in everything from medicine to herbal teas to sexual stimulants.  It sells for about $600 per pound on the low end, and I’ve heard of it selling for $900-$1,000 per pound at times.  Below is a picture of a ginseng plant and its root.
Images courtesy of

A single ginseng plant should only be harvested every 5 years or so at the max, because that’s about how long it takes for the root to mature.  Treat it like you would yellow root when you harvest it.  Plant the berries, or if the berries have been eaten away or have fallen off, then cut the root so a small portion of it is still attached to the stalk and re-plant it, then wash it, dry it, and sell it.

Mayapple is another plant you can dig, however I’ve chosen not to pursue this one for one main reason, a horrible cost benefit analysis result, 😛  The Mayapple plant comes up very early in the spring and grows fast, and may even be ready to harvest by May.  Starting in July you may start seeing the plants turn yellow and die, so if you wish to harvest it, don’t wait any longer than that.  The plant’s dried root brings a little less than $5 per pound here, but the roots are huge.  The problem is that it’s a pain in the behind to harvest.  The roots are long, and in a patch of Mayapple, you may discover that 3 or 4 plants are all connected to the same root, forcing you to dig away most of the topsoil so you can remove the entire root without breaking it up into pieces and losing parts of it by just trying to yank it.  If it sells for more in your area, then feel free to harvest and sell it, but for me, that amount of effort was not worth the price I would have gotten paid for it.  Below is a picture of a Mayapple plant from one of my videos.

Mayapple comes up very early in the spring and its leaves will be folded down to its side, so at a distance it may appear to be some kind of mushroom.  It also produces small apple fruit, which is edible, but only in small amounts because it is poisonous if you eat too much, so at the end of the day I would just avoid eating it altogether.

Now the big question is, who do you sell these roots to?  Well that really depends on your area.  We’ve had a local stock yard here for as long as I’ve been alive, and every Saturday morning you can drive down there and there will be a couple of people with little scales to weigh your roots and pay you for them.  Ask around, post online.  Heck call local pharmacies and ask them.  It’s all about learning your area really, because I’ve never seen a chain store that advertised “We buy ginseng!”.  So I hope you have found this blog at least somewhat helpful.  Good hunting, now get out there and enjoy mother nature, 🙂

Here’s a YouTube video I recorded in pieces of myself in the woods harvesting some of these roots.

Here’s a follow-up YouTube video covering the same thing. As of right now, 12:28 AM 16 July 2013, this video is still uploading, but I’m inserting the link here anyway so that once it’s uploaded you’ll be able to watch it from this blog post.

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Advice: Purchasing an AR-15

I thought I would take this opportunity to offer some advice to people interested in buying an AR-15. If you’re considering buying one, take the time to read some of what I’ve written here, it may save you some time and money. Prices have gone up quite a bit in recent months because of simple supply and demand. So many people are buying them that stores are having to place back-orders to request more, which are then instantly sold.

1) Expect to spend no less than $1,000. There are a few rifles that cost less than that, but if you allot yourself at least that much, you’ll be ok for purchasing a good rifle to get started with. For my Windham Weaponry HBC rifle that I bought in Washington 3 or 4 years ago, after 9% state sales tax and a layaway fee I paid $918, and it’s an outstanding weapon. Look for a well known manufacturer, and look up some video reviews of those rifles on YouTube. If you’re going to drop some cash on one of these, go with a well known brand name, and do some research. I carry a WIndham Weaponry (Formerly Bushmaster), and I’ve put hundreds of rounds through it in one sitting for practice and never had it jam. I’ve seen and used rifles from other manufacturers that were much lower quality. Colt is another big name in the AR world, and still makes rifles for the military I believe.

2) Don’t shop at flea markets. I picked up one at a stock yard today and it was beat up and the guy wanted $1,800 for it. People know that they’re hard to come by, so they’re polishing up theirs, or buying bits and pieces and building them, and then selling them for ridiculous prices at stock yards touting “Never been fired!”. If you want an AR-15 that won’t blow up in your face or jam because the parts are from 20 different manufacturers, then go to a reputable dealer and get a new one.

3) Pay attention to the caliber markings. Make sure what it is marked for. Some are marked for only .223, and some are marked for 5.56 / .223 . Even though the 5.56mm NATO round was derived from the .223 Remington, there IS a difference. A 5.56mm round uses minutely thicker brass, causing it to have slightly higher internal pressure than a standard .223 Remington round when it goes off, and rifles chambered only for .223 have a shorter lead between the chamber and the rifling, so a 5.56mm round in a rifle only marked for .223 could come into contact with the rifling of the barrel before it actually goes off. All of these things mean that if you put a 5.56mm round in a rifle that’s not marked for 5.56 / .223, you could cause an excess of pressure and damage your weapon. If your rifle is marked for 5.56 or 5.56/.223, it is perfectly safe to fire either of those rounds through it, but if it is only marked for .223, do NOT put a 5.56mm round in it.

4) Buy ammunition in bulk, if you can find it. If you plan on buying ammunition in 20 round boxes, expect to spend about a dollar a round, the same as you would spend on much higher caliber rounds. I tend to buy the overflow 5.56mm green tip NATO rounds from Federal in the steel cases, which gets you 420 rounds for usually around $170.

5) Pay attention to your state regulations. Some states have regulations banning threaded barrels and such. If that is the case in your state, you may find that your flash hider has been tack welded into place so you can’t put anything else onto the end of your barrel, or that your “collapse-able” butt-stock has been frozen in one position. On Windham Weaponry’s website you will see they have several rifles listed as “California” compliant with modifications made to the rifle capabilities or what it ships with to conform with differing state laws. Research availability and applicable state laws so you know what you’re allowed to have on your particular rifle.

6) Be aware that the military M4/M-16 and the civilian AR-15 are functionally identical. They can share magazines, accessories, and ammunition as long as your rifle is marked for 5.56/.223 and not just .223. The civilian AR-15 is missing the military fire control group, so you will not have “Burst” or “Full Auto”, only semi-auto, but outside the fire control group, most civilian AR-15s are built to military specifications. So if you served in Iraq or Afghanistan, bought your own magazines but didn’t want to give them to the supply guys when you came home because you paid for them, then you can use those magazines in your personal AR-15.

7) Make sure your rifle comes with some sights on it. I’ve seen a lot of AR-15s that just come with bare rails along the top. If you buy one of these rifles with no sights attached, expect to drop another hundred or so on a decent set of iron sights or an optic of some kind. I highly recommend putting on some flip up iron sights even if you plan on using an optic, just so you have some backup sights.

8) There are AR-15 style weapons chambered in other calibers. I’ve seen them in everything from .22 LR all the way up to .308, so if 5.56/.223 isn’t your cup of tea, but you still want an AR style rifle, you do have options.

9) As always, when you’re shooting, whether you’re just zeroing it in or hunting coyote or whatever, always make sure of your target and that you have a good backstop. A 5.56mm round is a fairly light projectile, weighing in at only 55 or 62 gr, but it comes out of the barrel at 3,000 feet per second, and will completely penetrate most living things and keep going. If you’re using a round that has a green tip, then the core of that round is made of steel and it will punch through at least a half an inch of steel inside of 100 yards. So when you’re shooting, make absolutely sure of your target, and make absolutely sure that whatever is behind your target will stop the bullet when it comes out the other side.

10) Always wear ear protection when shooting. A 5.56mm round, especially for it to be as small as it is, is LOUD, especially in a confined space like a range, because you’re basically putting a .22 bullet in front of a .30 caliber charge, which causes it to break the sound barrier before it exits the barrel. In my experience, it always seems much louder when I let somebody else shoot my rifle and I’m standing beside it than when I’m actually the one behind it pulling the trigger. Always wear ear protection, and even if you go hunting, take a pair with you, put them in your shirt pocket, and if you’ve got a second to do it, put them in before pulling that trigger. Your ears will thank you, 🙂

Hope some of you find this advice helpful.

Here’s a YouTube video of me shooting my Windham Weaponry AR to break it in when I first bought it.

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