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.

About Gerowen

I’m just a man. I’m probably the strangest combination of a person you’ll ever meet. I’m a country boy, and live in the woods of eastern Kentucky. I’m a veteran of the Iraq war and received an honorable discharge from active duty with the US Army. I’m a son, brother, husband, and a father. I take great pride in providing for my family and myself, and being as self sufficient as reasonably possible. I believe if you can do something yourself, if you can earn something by working for it, then you appreciate it more. I’m a staunch defender of the 2nd amendment and believe in individual liberty and responsibility. I love the outdoors; hunting, fishing, and hiking. I am also a tech nerd. When I was in the Army I was a 25B, which is basically a computer nerd in camo. I enjoy video games, building and working on PCs, CB radios and all things technological. I'm primarily a PC gamer on Steam, Origin, etc. I enjoy role playing games and SOME first person shooters such as Battlefield 1 and occasionally Overwatch. Generally speaking I like playing alone, or if I'm online, it's usually some sort of role playing game.
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