When I set out, to build my latest AR-15 style rifle, there were four things I felt I really needed for a properly built “tactical” AR:
1. Quality parts
Unfortunately, there are handfuls of ARs that are subpar because of cheap parts. There are others that are par excellence. I figured I could make a really nice gun for less if I put it together myself, but I had no illusions that, above all else, my gun had to sport quality parts through and through and that this was going to take some research and some money. My life isn’t worth cutting corners on materials to save a few dollars.
My suggestion: Seek out user reviews and manufacture procedures and research the materials used in production. Educate yourself on each piece. Don’t stop looking until you are satisfied.
2. No hiccups
With quality parts, the expectation is that the gun will function perfectly, but for this to come to true the parts also need to be put into place properly. In a shooting situation neither you nor I can afford to have a gun jam because of some flaw in design or assembly. I recognize my armorer shortcomings and when it comes to precise work, I am absolutely sure of the correct measurements and tools and/or I get a buddy with more skills check my work.
While there are a lot of cool race guns with various settings and parts (e.g. alternative buffer tubes and lighter spring weights), I figured that if I started mixing and matching, things could really get discombobulated. I personally required rugged and time-tested parts and designs, like a forward assist even though I hope I never have to use it.
3. Tactically functional
When it comes to gunfighting, I want the barrel to be short enough to be operational inside a building. That means a carbine—either a 16-inch barrel or a 14.5-inch barrel with a staked compensator to equal 16-inches to avoid lame NFA requirements.
For my most recent build, I purchased a Battle Comp compensator to reduce muzzle jump and minimize flash signature because I bought one for my other AR and loved it. I opted for a flattop rail complete with backup sights. There’s no need for a carry handle, unless you want a tacti-cool mug.
I also tried by best to keep this gun to be light. I don’t want to be carrying more weight than an enhanced battle load and armor during an end-of-days shootout. Forget that.
4. Nice looking
The last thing I really wanted for my AR was for it to look nice. I figure, if I’m putting all this work and money into making the weapon, I should be proud of everything about it, including how it looks. (And when I’m not shooting it, I can at least admire its beauty, right?)
In a word, I wanted this AR to be tacti-cool. My other AR is fully camouflaged, so I kept this gun black. I still believe that sometimes tactical guns are better left plain, but, after going this route, I think the next gun I make, I’ll color it a different cool camouflage color, in whichever pattern I’m in the mood for at that time.
Of course, I realize that no matter how hot my new AR may look, for it to be worth making, I have to also be able to really run and gun with it. That takes time and money as well.
As a good rule of thumb, we all should invest at least as much time and money into training as we put into making our ARs. Like the saying goes, “it’s not the weapon that makes the operator, it’s the operator that makes the weapon.”
Safety warning: Jeffrey Denning is a long time professional in the art of self-defense and any training methods or information he describes in his articles are intended to be put into practice only by serious shooters with proper training. Please read, but do not attempt anything posted here without first seeking out proper training.
Cover: Jim Grant