The Pistol Caliber Carbine

So much focus has been placed on the AR platform. It’s a fantastic system. It’s reliable, compact, powerful and plentiful. I think however that there is another choice in the defensive carbine game.


Beretta CX4 Storm

Pistol caliber carbines (PCC) seem to be overlooked a fair amount for one reason or another, I’m not really sure why frankly. The value of putting a pistol caliber round through a 16″ barrel with a long sight radius is extremely high. Terminal ballistics are improved, accuracy is greatly improved and ease of shooting is outstanding. A great resource to check is Ballistics By The Inch, they have painstakingly gone through a huge swath of pistol ammunition and testing its performance in various barrel lengths. On the average for a 9mm cartridge, the velocity is increased by 200fps and muzzle energy is increased by at least 100ft-lb. That’s an incredible increase in power from a pistol round! Straight walled cartridges feed very reliably in the available carbines as well. While these handy carbines are very useful, they are limited on range. The AR platform is easily effective out to 500yds or more depending on the operator. The PCC is good for 100yds in my humble opinion. The round will most certainly travel further and will travel with more than enough energy to do damage at great distances but I’m talking about effective range. The range at which the round is still going to do what it was designed to do.


Hi-Point 995TS

There are quite a few more available options for PCC’s than there were a few years ago. There are AR platform PCC’s which (depending on maker) can be spotty with reliability  depending on brand and use a myriad of different stick style magazines and tend to be on the heavy side, the JRC carbine is a nice and well thought out option that uses Glock magazines and has been reviewed here. It is offered in 9mm, .40S&W and .45 ACP. Hi-Point has produced a PCC for years and is reliable and incredibly affordable though it has a face only a mother could love, their customer service and warranty is second to none though. Beretta has a very nice and expensive carbine.  Hi-Point’s carbine is also available in the big 3 pistol calibers and uses proprietary 9-10rnd magazines. The futuristic CX4  uses a few different Beretta pistol magazines as options and with the aid of an adapter can be swapped out at will. Lone Wolf is now producing a PCC and components to manufacture your own that utilizes Glock magazines like the JRC Carbine but is all AR platform. I haven’t had the opportunity to get my hands on one but it looks incredibly promising with it’s only detractor being cost. The Kel-Tec Sub2000 is an incredible choice as well. The carbine sports a polymer receiver and the ability to fold in half for easy storage makes it really stand out. The lightweight Kel-Tec has models that accept Glock, Beretta and Smith & Wesson model 59 magazines. (The Model 59 mags work in their P-11 handgun as well) and is available in 9mm or .40 S&W.


JRC Carbine

There are more models coming to market these days as the awareness of how useful a PCC can be is increasing. The ability to share ammunition and possibly magazines is really excellent. These abilities simplify ammunition purchasing and storage and gear choices such as magazine pouches. These carbines allow for so much more accuracy than the pistols that shoot the same round and are easier to shoot than a handgun as well. Those looking for a home defense option would be well served with a pistol caliber carbine. With the right ammunition, these are more than adequate as woods guns and can be used to take small to medium game to put food on the table. For those of you that are reloaders, the straight walled pistol cartridges are easier to reload as well. Brass and projectiles are plentiful for handgun ammunition. These useful little carbines are absolutely worth purchasing and integrating into your systems.

Wilson Combat’s Beretta Short Reach Trigger

IMG_4569A while back, my partner in crime wrote a post on modifications he has made to his beloved Beretta 92FS. I myself am also a grand fan of Beretta’s handguns, in case you couldn’t tell by now, and have recently acquired a model 96FS Inox (Stainless Steel) for myself. I carried an M9 during my 8 years in the military and was among the apparent minority that loved it. I feel as though the M9’s reputation among service members is entirely undeserved (but that’s for another time).

After purchasing the used 96, I discovered that there were a couple issues that need to be fixed so I proceeded to get the Italian masterpiece back up to duty condition. Included in this was performing my signature trigger upgrades for Beretta handguns. This includes a lighter weight hammer spring courtesy of Wolff Springs and the INS trigger spring upgrade, also from Wolff. With these two new springs installed, the double action trigger pull on the 96 was tamed to an incredibly manageable level (Granted my Cougar still has a much nicer double action pull) and based upon my incredibly accurate trigger finger scale, is in the comfortable range of around 9lbs. The very crisp and short single action trigger pull is in the 3-4lb range with a very short and positive trigger reset.

There has however, always been a glaring issue with the 92/96 that many people just can’t get over. You need to have huge hands and an unnaturally long trigger finger in order to overcome the very long reach to be able to manipulate the trigger when in double action. I just so happen to have such oddly shaped hands so that was never a big issue for me. That’s not to say however, that it couldn’t be improved.

IMG_4567I saw recently online that Wilson Combat had gotten into the Beretta game and was very impressed at their catalog of parts. The spring sets appear to be re-packaged Wolff items but I have no way of verifying that with certainty. The item that really caught my eye was the Short Reach Trigger. Thanks to clever marketing by Wilson Combat, I didn’t have to work hard to figure out what that particular item does. The price was indeed very nice at $28.95 so I decided to make the purchase.

Around a week later the very underwhelming package arrived at my mailbox and I immediately opened the package, removed the old trigger to compare and installed the Wilson Combat trigger. I’m well versed in working on these guns so it took me all of 15 minutes from start to finish. As soon as I had everything all put back together and made that first dry fire trigger pull, my whole world changed. Angels sang, flowers bloomed, church bells rang … and I’m pretty sure my wife should have been jealous at that moment too. For the first time ever, I experienced what can only be described as true perfection in a double action trigger pull on a semi-auto. While the overall weight of the trigger pull felt the same, the change in the geometry of the trigger seems to allow more leverage on the trigger which makes the pull feel so much more smooth and controllable.

IMG_4568Later that week I was able to make it to the range to run a few rounds through the 96 for function testing and to really get a good feel for the new trigger. I must say that I think this trigger is a true winner. Follow up shots were so much faster, the reset so incredibly short into single action and  it’s nice and positive thanks to the altered geometry and upgraded plunger style trigger spring. I just can’t say enough, the trigger changes the dynamics of how the gun handles for the better. It retains all of the reliability and durability necessary in a defensive or duty gun while having a trigger that feels like it might belong on a competition gun. This is easily one of the best $30 upgrades I’ve seen for a handgun.

Alien Gear Holsters Cloak Tuck 2.0

Beretta 8040 Cougar in Cloak Tuck 2.0

Beretta 8040 Cougar in Cloak Tuck 2.0

So the idea of the hybrid holster has been around for several years now and they have been just about universally accepted as the most comfortable way to carry concealed. Generally speaking I have almost always been a fan of OWB holsters, they just have been the most comfortable way to carry for me. Around a month ago, while scoping out the Alien Gear Holsters website, I saw that there was a new model being released. They have ditched the leather backer and have gone with a neoprene/plastic/vinyl sandwich. That was very different, I hadn’t seen that before…nobody had really. I placed my order (around $45 including shipping $35.88 is just the holster cost.) and waited the obligatory lead time, which was right at 3 weeks for my holster (I was quoted 4-6 weeks). 

Upon opening the package, I was impressed with the quality of the holster. Good stitching, thick and sturdy kydex, sturdy belt clips. Inside the bag is a small bag of extra hardware to replace any of the pieces should they fall off or should you lose a screw. It also contained extra rubber spacers to permit the end user to change retention on the holster.

Wearing the holster can only be described as comfortable. The neoprene backing against the skin is just the right amount of padding on the back of the pistol to allow it to ride very comfortably. There is no jabbing or prodding from the safety on the slide of my Beretta Cougar which for some reason is hard to accomplish. It also permits the double stack .40 S&W to disappear under a light t-shirt when I wear it from the 3:00 to 5:00 positions. Retention is fantastic as I received it from the manufacturer, as is the cant and ride height but all of these things are changeable by the end user to tailor the holster to their individual needs. 

All in all I’m thoroughly impressed with the holster, in particular at it’s price point, it does everything a crossbreed does just as well if not better at half the cost. What’s not to love? It has a no questions asked lifetime warranty and they offer free replacement kydex shells should you ever decide to change your carry gun. 

Brooks Tactical Agrip REVIEW

If you are like me, you may have heard of the Agrip but have never used one. Personally I had seen a few over the last twenty or so years but had never had the chance to put one through it’s paces. That changed when I talked to Brooks and he sent one over for me to review.

 There are only a few types of wrap around grips on the market. The first is the rubber slide on types with and without finger grooves. I had tried these a few times over the years but they add a lot of bulk and never were secure enough for my taste. The second is the paper backed rubber or skateboard tape style. These have always had ill fitment in my opinion. They never stand up to abuse and I had to replace them rather often.

 Then there is the Agrip! The Agrip is a completely different grip altogether from attachment to texture. The Agrip is soft to the touch, similar to suede in texture, there is no stiff paper backing, and it actually works as advertised!

 This thing flat out works, period. Wet, dry or dirty, it increases grip and stays where you put it. I was actually considering getting some rather expensive stippling work done at around $200, but not anymore. I love the fact that I got what I wanted without permanent modification to my gun.

 So far I have 1000 rounds down range with this grip with zero complaints. Installation takes a little patience, but a sharp edge and a few minutes gets the job done. There are grips made for specific weapons and you can also get sheets that can be used for custom applications.

 Made in the USA, quality product, and works as advertised…what else can you ask for???

LaserLyte SCV 4 review

Sight SCV4

Photo Credit: Laserlyte

The good folks over at LaserLyte sent me one of their compact mount lasers to try out and review. It is definitely a quality piece and the battery lasts forever. It comes with all hardware needed to mount it as well as spare batteries. Mounting is quick and easy and there are step by step instruction inside the packaging on how to zero the laser after you get things set up

 Windage and elevation are adjusted using using the included hex wrenches at the distance 21ft. I mounted the SCV4 on my Smith and Wesson 9c and headed to the range. This laser is bright! It works well in daylight and even better at night or in low light conditions. The diameter of the beam is large enough that it is easily detected and matched up well with my 10-8 fiber optic front sight in red.

 One of the things I liked most is the size, it fits this handgun perfectly. Nothing hanging out past the muzzle, and it fits snug enough that I never lost zero. For the average shooter this is a great high quality product, but there are a couple of small grips that I do have.

 Activation of the laser is by small push buttons. My concern is that under stress they are a little difficult to actuate, and I did fail to turn on the laser once during stress drills. This is easily remedied by using your support hand thumb during initial grip engagement. Smaller hand shooters will definitely have to train this method as the firing grip would have to be broken to activate the laser otherwise.

 All things considered this is a great product that will increase speed and accuracy for just about anyone with a small frame handgun.

Emergency Comms

baofeng-uv5rSo a few months ago, a few friends of mine and I decided to up our game with communications capabilities. It has become apparent over the years that in the event of a mass emergency, one of the first things to go down is the cell phone network. We wanted to have a backup method that wouldn’t fall victim to this particular phenomenon. There was some back and forth as to what the best plan of action would be, with one camp firmly staked in the CB radio option and the other in Ham radio. At the end of the day, the benefits of Ham radio far outweighed CB. So we were then left with what to do next. A lot of research was done on radios and it came to pass that the best option for us, for both cost and capability, would be a small handheld model also known as an HT. The model we chose was the Baofeng UV-5R, a very inexpensive VHF/UHF handheld that is made in China. These radios run around $30-$40 on and are very accessible. The reviews of these radios are just amazing. For what you pay, there just isn’t a more capable radio out there. You can get two of the Baofeng radios for the cost of a blister back of FRS/GMRS radios from Walmart, with 8x the power and ability to communicate extremely far distances through the use of repeaters.

I went on to the ARRL (Amateur Radio Relay League) website and found a test date and location close to me and then immediately began studying for my Ham test to get my technicians license. The test is fairly easy and I was able to study for it and pass it within 4 days, although in full disclosure I have some significant radio experience from the my time in the service. You will need to take practice tests that are available online, as well as read through the multitude of free information available online. The test covers basic antenna theory and electrical components, not really applicable for someone like me who will never get more in depth with the radio then plugging in different antennas and changing out the battery but it’s what the FCC requires so it had to be learned long enough to be regurgitated in multiple choice test form.

When I received my callsign and license card from the FCC I immediately went to work. I spent hours looking around online and setting up a database in order to program my radio with all the local repeaters (Radio stations that relay your transmission with more power and range). I found quite a few active clubs in my area as well. There is one particular repeater that is close to me that is linked to quite a few repeaters state wide, thus allowing me to communicate from my living room to nearly anywhere in the State of North Carolina. That is an extremely exciting bit of capability. Most repeaters are set up with battery backups or generator systems that permit the system to be operational despite a lengthy power outage. There are a couple of programs you can use with your computer to program the radio. One is called Chirp (which will program many different radios), and the other is a proprietary program just for the Baofeng brand of radios. I found both to work quite well. Information about both can be found here, this page also has full users manuals for the Baofeng radios as well as a wealth of other information. If you purchase one of these radios, it is worth bookmarking that page.

The idea of Ham Radio has seemed to have changed from what some people picture in their heads of the young kid in his room or basement with the huge transistor radio setup, trying to talk to stations all around the world (which is of course still done) to the image of lots of dedicated and professional “amateurs” that are capable of setting up a large regional radio and data network at the drop of a hat to facilitate emergency communications in the event of some manner of disaster. That is why I have embraced Ham Radio as my backup communication of choice. There just is no other way to maintain communications in the event of an emergency that is better.

The Case for a Full Size Carry Gun

1911So today I wanted to talk about the benefits of carrying a full sized fighting gun. As many of you know there is, and has for as long as handguns existed, a trend towards carrying a small compact pocket model for defensive purposes. I sincerely want to change that, at least as much as I can. CCW methods are deeply personal things for many people, what I plan on illustrating works very well for me. I am not a small man, I’m 5’10” and about 220lbs on a light day so that tends to open up some concealed carry methods to me that I wouldn’t have had if it was back at my active duty military fighting weight of 170lbs but that was a long time ago.

I know that there are many of you out there will argue with me until you’re blue in the face that I’m wrong. Well I’m sorry you feel that way. I have always preferred a full sized gun. It offers so many more advantages over smaller pocket guns such as better ballistics, higher capacity, more reliability (bear with me here) all with not but a couple detractors. Size and weight tend to be the biggest issues cited when people decide against carrying a full sized gun, perhaps that it’s uncomfortable. I agree with those but a simple shift in carry method or minor modification of wardrobe can negate many of those complaints. When you’re carrying a large handgun your options for carry methods are pretty wide open. You lose pocket carry but maintain all manner of waist mounted options and then you have shoulder holsters which I’m fond of in the right circumstances. You also can consider off body carry. I could go into a lot of details about off body carry but there is only one big concern I have with that method of carry, and that’s maintaining positive control of the receptacle in which you’re carrying your handgun. There are whole host of backpacks, book bags, laptop cases, day planners ..etc that are available and designed specifically for off body carry. If that option suits you then do your research and have at it. For on body carry, the venerable and ever popular IWB hybrid holster is a very popular and comfortable option; and with many makers on the market today you’re sure to find one to fit your budget and your gun. But the big issue that you run into when you’re carrying a full sized handgun is printing (the visible outline of the grip of your pistol through your clothing). Its hard to get around printing but there are ways to help disguise it as much as you can. Wearing a heavier or thicker cover garment (whether it’s a t-shirt or button down or a polo) will help immensely, as will wearing a patterned button down shirt which is one of my most favorite methods. It doesn’t get rid of the print but it does help to break up the outline of the grip to fool the eye a little better. Generally speaking, a tuckable IWB holster will be a little harder to pull off with a full sized double stack handgun, there is just going to be some printing with this method.

cougarIf I can avoid it, I’d never want to deal with an armed confrontation with a small pocket gun. Don’t get me wrong, My LC9 has treated me well and it’s great to shoot and reliable, and I like to carry it as a backup but it’s my last ditch gun generally. It would never be my first grab when the chips fall. The capacity just isn’t there, the barrel length isn’t there, the heft and feeling of confidence isn’t there and the way I grip, my support hand thumb tends to drag on the slide if I’m not careful. I have that problem with every small gun I’ve shot, it’s the curse of having big hands. The LC9 is about as small a gun as I can shoot comfortably. A LCP/P3AT sized gun just wouldn’t work for me. So that brings me full circle back to the full sized gun. Well in full disclosure, when I say “full sized” I’m more talking about the frame size versus the barrel length. My go to gun for quite a few years now (even when I had a Glock 23 as my department issued duty gun) has been my Beretta 8040 Cougar. I have had the opportunity to use my Cougar as a duty gun and a CCW gun for a long time. It shoots beautifully but it’s not a small gun. It has many of the same controls and some interchangeable parts with Beretta’s 92 series and was a very comfortable transition gun for me from the military to the civilian world. I’ve already done a review of it so I won’t go to far into the details but it’s a boringly reliable gun and I can conceal it well and it’s above all comfortable to carry. A gun that’s not carried comfortably will get left behind when you may need it most and that is a big deal. Am I able to carry my Beretta all the time? Of course not. There are times where my attire or the situation dictates a more discrete carry or the inability to carry a firearm at all. That being said, the Beretta is never far away, or a rifle for that matter (if that’s legal in your area). The LC9 becomes my option to fight to a bigger gun if that’s all I am able  to carry.

I hope I’ve given you a few things to  think about here. There are so many benefits to the full sized fighting gun that carrying anything else just seems like an unnecessary compromise to me. I firmly believe that the gun you have is better than no gun at all but at the end of the day, a full sized gun can make a significant difference in your survival in gunfight.

Remora IWB Holster

Beretta 8040 in Remora IWB

Beretta 8040 in Remora IWB

I was skeptical. I didn’t think it would work. I got proved wrong.  It’s really easy to let your pre-conceived notions take over when you encounter something that is similar to products you’ve seen before that don’t have a very good reputation. I’m primarily talking about those cheap nylon holsters that have the metal clip on them that tend to fall apart and couldn’t stay on a belt if it’s life depended on it. You know the ones I’m talking about.

I’ll say it right off the bat, the Remora Holster isn’t that kind of holster, well it kinda is but it isn’t. Let me explain. It is a soft IWB holster that has no clip, or any other kind of belt attachment for that matter. It relies simply on friction and the textured rubber material of the outer skin to keep it in place, and it works very well and only seems to get better as it’s warmed by body heat. The holster’s body is made of a thin closed cell foam and the inner liner is a fairly slick high denier nylon material that offers a very comfortable and fast draw. Re-holstering can prove problematic but Remora does offer a reinforced top model if that’s a concern of yours. Remora actually offers a whole host of custom touches for their holsters. There is a leather lining option, a belt clip option, the reinforced top, a white one (like an iPhone), a bra carry option for the ladies, and more that are to come as time goes on I’m sure.

So I began my testing of the rig and I was immediately struck by two things, how comfortable it is and the quality feel of the construction and materials. Too many holsters out there really let you know they’re there. They poke and poke and poke and really make you have a bad day, especially when you carry a full sized gun like I do. You do have to wear a belt or something with heavy elastic or a drawstring to maintain pressure on the holster. With this kind of holster you have to keep it in place with tension but those of you that regularly wear a belt anyway won’t be put off in the least. The holster worked perfectly with jeans and the ubiquitous 5.11 tactical pants but the real test came with this pair of L.L. Bean hiking shorts that I have. They have  an elastic waist with a built in belt and have a lining much like a bathing suit. They are insanely comfortable but aren’t really well suited for CCW given how thin and light weight they are. Well I’m here to tell you, the combo of these shorts and the Remora was a match made in heaven. The holster stayed tight to my skin and was held in place more than adequately by the elastic and built in “belt” of the shorts. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not gonna run a marathon with it or anything but for day to day life this holster is quite secure. One very cool ability of this holster is that you’re not locked into a particular style of carry. If you want S.O.B, you’ve got it. If you want cross draw, you’ve got it. If you want no cant, well you’ve got that too. All is possible and all are very comfortable. One more method of carry I found that suited the Remora extremely well was tucking it in between the center console and seat in my car as a secure car carry method.

So let me get to the down side of the holster. I had a good friend of mine also test the holster while I was away in a state where I couldn’t carry a gun. He is a tow truck driver and is constantly in and out of his truck, crawling around on the ground and contorting himself into all kinds of strange positions on a daily basis. He also happens to be a rather skinny individual and initially had a difficult time finding a spot where the holster would hold secure. Once he was able to find a place to carry the holster it stayed firmly where he put it throughout his daily activities, but it would take a fair amount of training on his part to learn a draw from a new position. I don’t suffer from that same affliction and was able to find plenty of places where the holster could be comfortably secured, most importantly I was able to place it exactly where I position all my other holsters.

I found in my testing that the Remora is well suited for an EDC holster as I’ve been using it as one for a couple months now. If you require higher retention or a holster that will stay in place during more rugged activities then the Remora may not be for you however. As stated before Remora offers a few different options for their holsters so it’s worth checking out their full line up to see if they have one for you.

Gunfighter Mods Pt.2

So when I last left you I was recommending modifications for true a gunfighter, those that train with their weapons and carry them daily. Let me start with what I don’t feel you should do. Don’t spend several thousand dollars on a custom gun with extremely high tolerances. A $4500 1911 may be a sweet piece to brag about and may shoot the nuts off a gnat, but they also fail on a regular basis due to the extreme tolerance levels they are built to. Obviously not ideal for daily carry or a real shootout situation. What one needs is a weapon that will work every time no matter what, period. You don’t need a Barstow barrel installed by a gunsmith in your Glock to win a gun fight. You don’t need the latest and greatest in optic either. What you need are simple usable modifications that compliment your weapon and shooting abilities.



This post may explain why I carry what some consider an antiquated handgun on a daily basis. Many consider a 92 series Beretta to be less than ideal. I obviously disagree with the nay sayers. When I recommend guns to students and clients I always explain the  fact that whatever you carry it needs to be time tested and proven (none more so that the Beretta 92 series). A good example is the NC Highway Patrol. They traded from the Beretta 8000 series Cougars to S&W M&P’s in .357Sig. Guess what, they had issues from the “latest and greatest” on the market. I’m by no means bashing the M&P line, I own one and adore it! There were issues with the gun because it was new and because of the high pressure cartridge that was chosen.

The issue was the extractor in the M&P, it failed due to the abuse of the sheer pressure of the .357Sig cartridge on the weapon. Conversely, the NC Dept of Corrections also carries the M&P but in 9mm and has had zero issues. This brings us to the first recommendation when it comes to daily carry gun; Buy a solid platform that has been around the block, experienced the routine recalls and had  all the issues addressed. Smith and Wesson addressed the issues of the extractors as well as the trigger safety and have one hell of a fine weapon now! Apex also makes solid aftermarket parts for the M&P line that  up the game to a whole new level.

Speaking of APEX, these guys make several iteration of triggers for several guns. From “duty” to “smoothed”, to “competition” trigger set ups they have you covered, as do many other manufacturers. Which brings me to my first real modification, triggers! From the factory guns are similar to automobiles in that they are built from a one size fits all, let us not get sued standpoint. Trigger weight is assigned for the sake of so-called safety so that litigation doesn’t occur, and not so that the weapon is optimally primed for daily use or even reliability. I’m by no means saying that everyone needs a 3lb. trigger set up. What I am saying is that the mechanism can be tuned and smoothed, or possibly lightened to assist in the speed and accuracy of your shooting.Rogers_Glock_Gri_4fedc8daa239b

The usability of your weapon is another reason for modification. Usability can mean a lot of things to people as it is subjective to an individual. In my case I felt that the magazine release on my gun was too small to be activated under high stress and therefore replaced it with a much larger one from Beretta. For you it may mean installing an aftermarket magwell extension, or contouring the back strap of your polymer pistol. It may be as simple as installing night sights. Each person is different and the uses of their weapons are just as different.

The main goal in any modification is to make your weapon an extension of your body so that it is as accurate and reliable as possible. My recommendation is that you learn about your gun, find areas of weakness, and fix them with reliable parts. I could give you a laundry list of must have modification, but that in my opinion is cheating. Fads come and go, but a weapon built for you will fit you for a lifetime. So if you want to put a set of grips on your gun to see if its more comfortable to shoot, DO IT! If you want to install that over sized front sight on your baby Glock, by all means have it done. Parts are cheap and life is priceless. Find what works well for you and makes your gun part of your person, and keep in mind to never install a modification that could compromise your firearm’s reliability.

My First (and possibly last) AR-15 Build


Today’s post is brought to you by Patrick Shipp, Patrick has served his country down range in Iraq and on the front lines of the energy war in Washington, DC.

Roaming the aisles of The Nation’s Gun Show in Chantilly, VA, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of today’s small arms industry. Nearly every make and model of rifle, shotgun, and hand cannon in the world is there, and eager buyers are salivating at the thought of owning that which the liberal media has made taboo. Among the tables of Colt 1911s, Remington 700s, and Winchester Repeaters, there are a few vendors who are targeting a more discriminating customer; the AR-15 armorer.

Merriam-Webster defines an armorer as “one that repairs, assembles, and tests firearms.”

I wasn’t looking to build the best AR, but wanted to gain a better understanding of how the rifle operates. I began my build with some internet research. There are over 150 individual parts in an AR-15, and all of them must function together in order to effectively send 62 grains of lead towards the intended target. All of the parts can be purchased online and shipped directly to your home, with the exception of the stripped lower receiver. This is the serial number component, and must be transferred to the customer through a Federal Firearms Licensee. I bought my Smith and Wesson M&P stripped lower at the gun show for $130. At the show, I also purchased several Magpul components, including flip-up front and rear sites, a pistol grip, trigger guard, and adjustable buttstock. The remaining components I purchased online from Del-ton (flattop upper receiver), Midway USA (buffer tube, buffer spring, buffer, lower receiver parts kit, and bolt carrier group), and Ebay (replacement buffer tube for the one I over torqued). Where there was an option to, I bought mil-spec components. I switched out the 18” barrel on another AR platform for a 20”, and used the 18” barrel on this build. I found a handguard left over from deployment and got to work.

I went to my local range, Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly, VA, and had the armorer there put the barrel on my upper receiver. There’s a lot that can go wrong, including miss alignment which could affect gas tube alignment, so I went to the pro. He switched out the short barrel, and installed the longer one for fifty bucks. That was money well spent. I did the rest of the assembly in my basement, using Cheaper Than Dirt’s YouTube videos on building a lower receiver and the Army’s TM9-1005-319-23. It’s important to know that all of the components fit together in a specific order. Anyone who has ever tried to repair their car knows what I’m talking about. Step-by-step instructions are essential to success. Watch the video and read the instructions a couple of times for real success. With the lower complete, I replaced the fixed front site post with a gas block with picatinny rails and attached the front and rear sites. I snapped top and bottom together, performed a functions check, and took it to the range. This was the most nerve wracking part. I knew everything had been done correctly, but in the back of my mind, I thought, “what if this damn thing blows up in my face. I’m going to look like an idiot.” One hundred rounds later, and I was satisfied with my work.

No after action review is complete without the obligatory what went wrong, and for me, those are the most important lessons learned. My buttstock has a little bit of wobble when fully extended. Though the buffer tube and buttstock are mil-spec, I can’t help but think that the replacement tube I bought after busting the one from Midway USA was not the correct diameter. The upper and lower aren’t as tight as the pros prefer, though you can purchase a small plastic block that will make the fit snug. I would recommend always buying a matched upper and lower to avoid any wiggle. The bolt carrier group from AR Stoner is snug, and did cause the rifle to fail to cycle completely. I have tried sanding, and will take the Dremel to it sometime soon. After the fact, I read some disparaging reviews on Midway USA, regarding the AR Stoner bolt carrier group. I’d say this is one of the components where you want to spend a little bit more, especially if you’ve incurred some savings elsewhere by catching Magpul and CMMG lower reciever components on sale.

All in all, I’m pleased with the outcome. The final cost to complete, I’d estimate at about $900. You can purchase a complete stock AR-15 for this much, and add the Magpul components for another $150 or so. The bolt carrier group is an easily replaceable part if the Dremel doesn’t work, and the wobble reminds me that I need to look into getting another buffer tube. The feeling, though, of firing the weapon you built, well, that’s just priceless.

See you at the range.