Mike's Shooting Pages

Not quite an obsession...but close!

The Black Rifle

The AR-15, or Black Rifle as it is widely known, is probably one of the most popular firearms on the market today.  Fully customizable in every way possible, this style of rifle has quickly become a passion, if not an obsession, for many people.

I certainly do not have the bandwidth nor knowledge to post all there is to know about this fine firearm on my website, but since I do enjoy tinkering with them, I thought I'd post a little information about them.  For what is probably the largest single collection of information on the AR-15 platform of rifles, visit ARFCOM.  Just be aware that there are a lot of internet commandos that post on the forums.  There is a lot of good information, but there is also plenty of misinformation out there too.

My AR's

I am fortunate enough to own a couple of these fine firearms, so I'll share a little bit about them with you.  Mine are certainly nothing spectacular, but they do what I need (or want) them to do.  As with a lot of people, I decided that I would build rather than buy.  I did want to start with good parts, but I didn't want to invest an entire life's savings into it either, so I started looking around to see what the process was all about and how to get started.  ARFCOM is where I found most of the information I used to make my decisions.  The forums there are a great way to learn about these rifles and decide what and how you want to build yours.

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Varmint Rifle

For my first build, I decided to start with a Rock River stripped lower receiver.  From there the daunting task of figuring out what upper, barrel, trigger, stock, furniture, etc I wanted to use.  After much debate, I decided to build a "varmint" rifle.  I decided to go with a flattop upper and a 20" stainless bull barrel with an aluminum free float tube.  I did a little searching and decided it would be best to go with a "kit" from M&A Parts.  I did upgrade to a 2-stage trigger, but left the other options basically standard.

With the exception of the front pivot pin detent, the build went great.  Anyone that's ever built one, and even those who have built multiple AR's will agree that this is the hardest part of the build, but if you have the right tool to do the job, there's nothing to it. There is a great set of detailed build instructions on ARFCOM, which I used for this and subsequent builds. 

Since this was a varmint gun, I wanted some decent optics for it.  Luckily for me, a friend of mine had a really nice Burris 6.5-20x50 scope that he wasn't using, and he sold it to me at a great price.  This was my first Burris scope.  I say first, because I liked it so much that I have since purchased others for some of my other sporting rifles.

Just about everything I had read and been told suggested that I needed some really high rings or a riser to get a scope mounted on my rifle.  Well, I lucked up and found a set of Tactical Precision Systems, TSR Scope Rings on eBay for a great price.  These things are awesome.  There may be some out there that are just as good, or maybe better, but I don't know that I'd ever look any further.  They are rock solid, and the way they are made, there is absolutely no rotation of the scope when tightening them down.

To finish off the build, I opted for a Harris Bipod mounted on a Yankee Hill Harris Bipod Adapter.  I had to drill and tap the holes in my free-float handguard, but that wasn't a big deal.  It too, is rock solid, so I am very pleased with both Harris and YHM.  I also added the Ergo Grip, the Badger Ordnance Tactical Latch on the charging handle, lo-profile gas block, and KNS Trigger/Hammer Pins. Here's a pic of my first build.

AR-15 Varmint

Update to Varmint Build:

Well, I decided it was time to update my Varmint Rifle with some new parts.  I purchased a new 24" Fluted Stainless Bull Barrel from Blackthorne Products (barrel mfg is Wilson Arms), a Viking Tactics VTAC Handguard from Rainier Arms, and a new Ergo Tactical Deluxe Grip with Palm Shelf.  With the new VTAC Handguard, there is no longer a need for the YHM Harris Bipod Adapter, as this Handguard came with a swivel stud that can be used to attach the bipod directly.  Here's an updated pic with the new accessories.

Updated Varmint AR

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Lightweight Carbine

Well, since I had my first one out of the way, and had such a great time building it, I decided to build another one - this time a 16" carbine length with a lightweight barrel.  I also decided that since I had spent more on the first one than I had hoped, I would go the "cheap" route on the next build.  I opted for a Double Star lower, and a kit from Model 1 Sales this time.  I am not going to flame either of these companies, but something just wasn't right about this build.  None of the roll pins fit properly in the receiver, and I just wasn't happy overall when I finished.  The gun looked good, and it was absolutely 100% functional, but I just didn't like it.  I guess part of it might have been that with the lightweight barrel, it actually had a little more recoil than I thought it should have.  I didn't keep this one long before I sold it to build yet another, but I did learn a few things in the process.  Here's a pic of it that I took before I sold it.

Lightweight Carbine

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M4 Carbine

Well, after learning a lesson or two on the 2nd build, I decided I'd go a slightly different direction on my third build.  I opted to keep some of the parts from my 2nd build to reuse on this rifle, like the flip-up sights (Wilson Combat rear, YHM front).  For this one, I started with another Rock River stripped lower, but this time I went with a kit from someone I had never heard of before - JSE Surplus - and I couldn't have been more pleased.  I actually bought the entire rifle kit from them at the Wanenmacher's Tulsa Arms Show in Tulsa, OK.  They were selling built AR's cheaper than I had ever seen them before, and they were going like hotcakes.  They had sold so many that by the time I made it to their table they were out of the ones that they had already put together.  This worked fine for me as I already knew how to assemble one, so I picked up the RRA stripped lower, and one of their M4 Style Carbine Kits with an upgraded Command Arms (CAA) collapsible butt stock.

Other options that I went with later were the 4-rail free-float handguard and gas block, both from YHM; Wilson Combat flip-up rear sight; YHM flip-up front sight; Badger Ordnance Tactical Latch; KNS Trigger/Hammer Pins; Ergo Grip and Ladder Rail Covers; Tango Down "Stubby" Forward Vertical Grip; Aimpoint Clone optics on an ARMS Clone mount; Spec-Ops "Mamba" Sling; Midwest Industries rail-mounted removable swivel sling stud; and a Smith Enterprises Vortex Flash Hider.

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Carbine HBAR

Well, this build comes to you courtesy of a very good friend of mine and fellow shooter.  He had a Bushmaster he had bought back during the "Ban" which didn't have a threaded barrel, and he wasn't quite satisfied with it.  Knowing that I had built a few (and enjoyed building them) he asked me what I might could come up with for him.  Now, we could have just found a replacement barrel for his, or possibly had his existing barrel threaded, but where's the fun in that!  So, here comes a new build...

My friend and I had talked a few times and with the information I had passed along to him, he decided that he wanted a very simple setup - no bells and whistles - just a flattop upper, regular carbine handguards, a collapsible stock, a railed gas block in place of the normal front sight tower, and a heavy barrel.  We decided that this would be the most versatile of platforms to start with.  It would allow for the use of pretty much any kind of optics, and it would be easy enough to add a set of sights later to spread out the cost. 

Based on my previous experience, I convinced my friend that we should start with a good quality lower receiver - nothing super high-end, but nothing from the bottom end of the spectrum either.  Having had such great success with my previous builds on Rock River lowers, I decided that's what we'd start with.  Prices have increased some over the past year, but I was able to find a reasonable deal at Firearms4Less - a local shop owned by a really nice guy who's also a fellow shooter. 

Also, having been very satisfied with my last build, I decided to once again call upon JSE Surplus.  The folks there were very helpful and good to work with, and they had a very reasonable price on the exact configuration that my friend wanted.  Their kits included a forged upper (keyhole forging mark), Wilson Arms heavy barrel (from Del-Ton, Inc.), DPMS lower parts kit and front gas block, and we upgraded from the standard 4-position collapsible stock to the UTG 6-position model for a small up-charge from the standard kit.

HBAR Carbine

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Midlength HBAR

Well, while I was at it, I figured I might as well take the opportunity to build another one while I was building the one for my friend (see above).  For it, I decided to go the same "simple" route, so I just picked up an extra Rock River lower from Firearms4Less, and another kit from JSE Surplus.   The only difference, as you can see in the picture below, is that I chose to go with a mid-length gas system on this one.  I'd never built or played with one, so I figured there was no time like the present!  I think this build turned out very well - classic "Black Rifle".

As it turned out, another good friend of mine was in the market for a reasonably priced AR, so I agreed to sell him this build.

HBAR Midlength

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Special Purpose Rifle (SPR)

Well, I wanted to build another AR to add to my collection, so this time I opted for something a little different and went with an 18" SPR.  I must say this was a really fun build to do, and even though the cost associated with a build like this is more than some of the ones above, I am very pleased with it so far.  Now, if it'll shoot as good as it looks, I'll be in good shape.

If you've read this far down this web page, you no doubt know that I am a fan of Rock River, so for this build I didn't deviate from that pattern.  I started with a stripped lower and added a standard parts kit (I'll be adding a new trigger group as funds allow).  Even though they are not really necessary for this rifle, I also added the KNS anti-walk pin set to the trigger and hammer group.  I like the look, even if I don't need the functionality. 

I believe the flattop upper is a Bushmaster, although I am not 100% positive about this; it does, however, have the keyhole forging mark, and seems to be of good quality.  The bolt is nothing special right now, although I do have plans to add an upgraded match-grade bolt group later as funds allow.

I like the look and functionality of the JP Enterprises modular handguards, so this was my selection for this rifle.  This particular one has an extra picatinny rail on the top, which lines up perfectly with the rail on the upper receiver.

I wanted a little more accuracy out of this rifle, so I went with a custom barrel from Compass Lake Engineering.  This particular one is from a stainless Douglas blank, has a Wylde chamber, rifle length gas system, and a 1x7 twist rate.  I had them flute the barrel and index the Jerry Miculek compensator as well.  Since no front sights will be used on this rifle, I opted for a Vltor low profile gas block as it was one of the smallest I could find.

For the stock, I went with the ACE Skeleton stock, and I have to say that I really like it.  It is extremely rigid, yet lightweight, and offers a great deal of comfort with the foam pad that covers the buffer tube assembly.

For this type of rifle, I wanted to go with a low powered variable scope, and the best value that I could find on the market that met my needs was the Millett DMS-1 scope.  It is a 1-4x24 power scope with a 30mm tube and an illuminated "donut dot" reticule.  It is not in this picture, but I have ordered a Cat Tail Throw Lever for the scope to allow for faster adjustment of the power setting.  The scope is attached to the rifle using the best scope mount on the market - the LaRue Tactial SPR 1.5.  While they are a bit pricier than other brands, the quality that LaRue puts into their products is second to none.

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Final Thoughts

Again, the customizations for AR's can go pretty much as far as your imagination will let them.  If you get ready to build or buy your first one, be sure to do your research and make sure you know your options. Building your own "Black Rifle" can be a lot of fun, and it will certainly teach you more about it than you will learn if you just buy one.

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