ALRIGHT! All of you existing and future AR-15 rifle enthusiast out there! Here is some awesome info for the purchasing process of the first AR-15 rifle that you’re looking to throw down some greenbacks on. There is a lot of accessory info for those of you that already have said rifle and want to upgrade, tweak or add another AR-15 to your collection that is decked out “Special Forces” style!
If there is one thing that I have learned over the years when considering the purchase of something like this is RESEARCH….RESEARCH….RESEARCH! If you even think about going into purchasing an AR-15 half cocked or any accessory to add a little “turbo” or “high-speed” to your current platform, step back, take a breath, put your eyeballs back in their sockets and pick your chin up off the ground. These platforms are like computers, they are constantly changing, evolving and becoming more advanced everyday.
At the same time, when looking at purchasing the latest and greatest accessory or rifle, you should make sure that they have been thoroughly tested and the reviews are high. There is nothing worse than spending a butt-load of money and having your new rifle or accessory “gizmo” malfunction straight out of the box.
Let’s start with the whole ‘Mil-Spec’ (Military Specifications) rating. Only rifles made for the U.S. government and military are Mil-Spec. These testing parameters inspect every piece and part of the AR-15 for overall performance. The only downer to this information, mil-spec is only for U.S. government and military contracts. These are not commercial standards that Dick or Jane can get at the local “five-and-dime” gun shop. If they tell you that they are mil-spec, back away and go someplace else. These are not the people who you want to trust your money with. Which configuration should I buy? Well, that all depends on what you plan to use it for.
A professional competition AR-15 configuration will be different from that of an AR-15 for hunting or home protection. Let’s talk about some of the specifics of the different parts that go along with or are included in your AR-15 package. You will notice as you are looking at the AR-15’s on the back wall or the stand alone rack on the floor that they may look identical while having extremely different prices. This could mean that there is different aspects to the barrel, trigger system, rail system, etc. With that in mind and not to have you thinking ‘holy crap, where is he going with this?!’ I will try not to overwhelm and keep it easy to understand. Let’s start with the barrel. You can purchase many different barrels for many different reasons. It all comes down to the primary use of your AR-15. The primary barrels today are either chrome lined, stainless steel or melonite lining. They are all quality barrels, but have different purposes. There is also something that is called minute of angle (MOA) which “contributes ” to how accurate you are at different distances. If you ask a professional long-range shooter, hunter or military sniper, they will tell you there is a lot more to it than just the MOA. They are 100% correct. This is not about long-range shooting, but about the AR-15 platform and its parts.
Chrome Lined Barrel – The chrome lined barrel is the primary barrel for the military gun fighters and most likely the stock barrel at your local gun shop. This is probably the most common barrel for the AR15 platform that is out there for the general public. Whether I was diving underwater and coming into a beach to go on patrol, or crawling through mud and sand, or navigating through a marsh, this barrel never let me down. This was the barrel that I used in the military and definitely stands up to the rigors and different extremes of environmental change that I put it through.
Stainless Steel Barrel – The stainless steel barrel is more commonly found in hunting rifles and long range shooting rifles. If you think that you will be putting thousands of rounds through the barrel, your 0.5 MOA barrel may become a 1.5 MOA barrel which is still as accurate as a chrome lined barrel, so keep that in mind. If you like shooting as fast as you can pull the trigger, go melonite or chrome. Stainless steel is great for competition shooting, or hunting. If rapid fire or full auto is what you desire, stick with the chrome lined or melonite barrels for extended life.
Melonite Barrel – The melonite barrel is known for the following traits; corrosion resistance, stronger/harder surface layer and the ability to withstand friction and wear for a longer duration. The process involves dipping the barrel in a salt bath and applying these traits to each barrel. Making a melonite barrel involves several different dipping processes which infuse the metal of the barrel and changing the characteristics, longevity and durability of the metal the barrel.
The last part of the puzzle that “I” will be talk about on the AR-15 is the hand guard. The first one is referred to the classic “drop-in hand guard”. This hand guard was the first one to be used when the M16 was developed. It is still used in basic training in the military and comes on many models available today in your local gun shops. These hand guard’s will get hot to the touch from extended rates of firing. It does not breathe nearly as well as the more advanced designed hand guard rails do. They can be somewhat difficult to mount on to the rifle. For the money, this is an excellent option to start with. I learned to shoot the with iron sights in training and was not exposed to scopes or red dots until I proved to my platoon that I was ready for the sight. Needless to say, I was still using the classic drop-in hand guard and always used shooting gloves during live fire training and deployment readiness training.
I now have AR-15 with a free floating hand rail. The things that you have to remember, when mounting sights on your AR-platform, you do not want to mount any optics or red dot sights forward of the front of the upper receiver rail. This will allow you to maintain your accuracy, because your optics are mounted to a rigid point of your rifle. Free floating eliminates the movement your barrel by isolating it from the hand-guard and has free float rails with slots or rails to mount things like lights, lasers, bipods, foreword grips, ect.
Key-Mod and MLOK
There are two other free floating rail systems. Key-mod which uses key hole slots to attach your accessories. To mount your accessory to the Key-Mod rail, line up the lugs of the accessory with the round part of the keyhole. Slide it forward, and then tighten the screws.
(video courtesy of: Darin Cepeda)
The MLOK which is made by MAGPUL, use slots instead of keyholes to mount your desired accessory. This allows the accessory to be placed at the front or back end of the chosen slots. Ultimately they are both quality systems and I would choose either for my AR15.