Like most married men, Iíve learned that combining my passion for something with the joy of giving doesnít always end well. Giving power tools to my wife is a good example; camouflage clothing is another. However in late 2007 my lovely wife made a whopper of a request: she wanted an AR-style rifle for Christmas. In this case giving something Iíd enjoy having was going to be a win-win. After coming down from my high, the next step was deciding what to buy her. There are so many AR configurations and chamberings to choose from (45-50 and counting) that selecting just one can be daunting. Like a stymied kid trying to choose just one jellybean from a candy dish, a month later I still had no plan. While frantically searching the aisles of a local gun show I happened upon a table of AR receivers and had an uncharacteristically good idea: build it myself. I figured I could buy some parts, give them to her in a box and eventually decide what flavor it should be. That would have made a lot of sense were it not for the fact that although Iíd carried and shot ARs of all shapes, sizes and styles, since I was 17, Iíd never taken one down past basic field-stripping. I knew a lot about how to employ them and a little about what makes them tick, but that was it. When I presented her with a stripped upper and lower receiver set on Christmas morning, it was with the assurance that Iíd have it built ďin no time at allĒ. Thus began my odyssey into the deep and cavernous world of custom AR building. So far Iíve learned several key lessons:
1. Building and customizing ARs is a rewarding challenge I thoroughly enjoy.
2. Even an idiot can build a fully functional AR (see #1).
3. AR-style rifles are the most versatile modern firearm platform available.
4. Good material selection, attention to detail, and solid technique can yield very accurate rifles and carbines.
I configured that first gun as an accurized 5.56x45mm carbine out of both utility and curiosity. A carbine best suited her needs and I wanted to see how well the product of my unskilled hands could be made to shoot. The result is a very handy gun for the dense woods and tight fields of the eastern US, yet accurate enough for 300 yard shots at predators and targets alike. It came out better than Iíd hoped, but not without some hand wringing in the process.
The Varmint/Match rifle configuration thatís a consistent performer uses heavy 20" barrels, 2-stage match trigger, rifle-length gas systems and adjustable pistol grips/stocks. Thus far itís been a good combination for accuracy and reliability. Photo courtesy of Rifleman Consulting LLC.
Being a do-it-yourselfer (sometimes referred to as a ďcheapskateĒ) I decided to build from stripped parts instead of using one of the AR kits. The latter consist of either complete upper or lower receiver groups. While affording great modularity with minimal effort, the kits are better suited to changing configuration on an existing AR. A key attribute of this rifle is that with the push of two takedown pins, receiver groups can be swapped, transforming a tactical carbine into a varmint hunter or mid-range competitor in less than a minute. I like to have a hand in parts selection and fitting so I decided early on to order everything separately. Of course, I also figured out that route is cheaper than buying a kit. Aside from the stripped lower receiver purchased from a local FFL dealer, all other components were purchased from parts companies like Del-Ton Inc. (DTI), Midway USA and Brownells. Itís worth mentioning that all AR lower receivers have to come through an FFL since theyíre classified by BATF as the ďfirearmĒ and serial numbered accordingly. My only formal gunsmith training at that point was on bolt-action rifles and auto-loading pistols, so I dove into the internet and found enough info to get started. Using sites like AR15.com (http://www.ar15.com), I was able to find guides for building an AR. This website is a decent resource for novices, which I definitely fit in with for this project. Like all blog-type affairs though, you have to understand youíre reading opinions, so nothing is gospel. Still, I found the siteís pages informative enough to keep me tracking in the right direction. An additional web resource is available for intrepid AR-builders, courtesy of Brownells. They now have video clips posted online from their instructional CD-Rom that talk you through the basics. Iíve not personally reviewed them but given the quality of Brownells other products and services, Iím confident itís well put together.
Typical performance of standard grade carbine barrels from Wilson Arms is in the 1 to 1-1/4 MOA range at 100 yds. After accurization most carbines shoot consistent 3/4 MOA groups. After all work was done, this Rifleman Consulting Eastern Predator shot regular .6 to .7 MOA groups with 55 gr. factory loads. Photo courtesy of Rifleman Consulting LLC.
As with most accurate platforms, ARs need good quality, free-floated barrels and match-type triggers to have a chance at turning in tight groups. The latter component was the easiest choice; pointing me towards a company I became familiar with while still in the Army: Geissele Automatics (GA) of Jeffersonville, PA. Bill Geisseleís triggers were well covered in the Nov, 2008 PS article ďGeissele Automatics, the Trigger of the FutureĒ by Dan Arnold. Over the years Iíve been exposed to many good and bad triggers. It seems attaching ďMatchĒ as a suffix is all thatís needed to make triggers sell, but a triggerís quality isnít in the naming scheme, itís in the flawless form, fit and function. Iíll simply say GAís products are the finest 2-stage triggers available to AR aficionados. Billís engineering and manufacturing expertise are backed by excellent quality control and rounded out with a background in competitive shooting. The end products are superb and Iíve put them in many ARs Iíve built, including replacing inferior or problem triggers from other manufacturers. These triggers are simple to install, adjust and hold their settings well and are well worth every penny paid.