Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Reader Questions: Getting into the AR-15 Game

Hey I am in the market for a rifle chambered in 556 preferrably semi-auto. I have been rocking the an AK variant for several years but would like to increase my range performance and enter a new tier of weapon performance. Ive been scouring armslist in Washington and there seems to be quite a bit of options out there. Would you recommend purchasing new or looking for quality used? Any info or tips will help! I am new to the AR game.

Ryan here. As I see it we can break this down to 2 different questions.
1) Buying new vs used.
2) My thoughts on different types of AR-15's currently on the market. This will be broken down further to general configuration and make/ manufacturer. I will answer them in order.

New Guns- There are pro's and con's to buying guns new. The biggest advantage is that you can get exactly what you want. That is followed by the gun being new with which means there are fewer potential issues and manufacturer support for ones that do pop up. Lastly if you are a person who cares about getting a gun without any scratches, dings, wear marks, etc this is the best option.

The con's of buying new are the ATF form 4473 which some have called defacto registration through record keeping happens. Depending on where you stand with private party firearms that may not be an issue or could be a deal maker. Also you are going to pay retail price and tax.

Used Guns- Of course there are pro's and con's here also. For the sake of simplicity I am going to talk about used gun sales from private party's not via a shop. The biggest pro in my opinion is the lack of paperwork. A private party gun or two might be real handy some day. The second is that is the best place to find deals. This works best for the seller's also. Instead of selling a gun to a shop for $300 which they will immediately put on the shelf for $400 we can split the difference at $340 and both win. 

It is worth noting here that most gun owners do not shoot much so their weapons have very low round counts. They get a gun, test fire it with a couple mags then put it into the closet/ safe. It stays there till they decide on something else or run into money trouble. So you're more likely to face a few scratches and nicks from handling than actual wear on the parts that matter.

The biggest downside of used guns is the difficulty to find what you want. Instead of a local shop having it or ordering it you need to find an individual who owns one that wants to sell it. If you are looking for a Glock 17 or a Remington 870 that's not a big deal but if you want a Wizzbanger 900 X2L3 in Multicam or a limited edition 2 tone Sig .357 with night sights and short run factory grips it can be a big problem. 

The next biggest downside is guns hold their value really well. Part of it is that some folks pay a premium for non papered guns which drives up the marker. I definitely saw this phenomena in Arizona. In any case expect to pay more like 85-95% of the new price for a like new gun while other items tend to be in the 60-75% range. Of course guns do occasionally pop up cheaper when somebody needs cash fast but those cannot be defended on. 

The last downside is that the gun could have issues or be stolen/ linked to a crime. Some people cobble together and clean messed up guns then sell them used to unload the problem onto another person. [Don't be that guy, there is a special place in hell for these scumbags.] Also some guns were stolen previously or whatever. Even if you buy from a good person the guy who had that gun 10 years ago may have made a shady deal or whatever. A guy I know had a pistol taken by the cops because it was stolen a long time ago. Both of these happen rarely but they do happen.

To roll up this question. If you are not patient or want a really specific gun new is probably the way to go. On the other hand if a paperless gun matters to you that is the way to go. Occasionally a person who has cash handy can get some real deals in used guns.

As to different configurations as well as makes/ models of AR-15's. For a general use type rifle I favor a 14.5inch barrel of standard weight on a flat top AR with an adjustable butt stock. I favor chrome lined barrels and everything as mil spec as possible. As to rails I'd only bother with them if you plan to mount enough stuff to justify it. [Honestly in substantive ways I don't see myself varying from this much unless I build a pistol. You could go with a 20" barrel and a fixed stock to make it a SDM type gun but honestly for that role I'd probably get a .308.] 

To manufacturers. I'll break this down in 2 ways. We will talk guns by approximate price range and then I'll talk what of this is based on personal experiences and what is a general consensus of others. Please note that my discussion of manufacturers is not all encompassing. Part of the limitation is that I'm trying to stick as much as possible to stuff I know and part is due to time/ length limitations. Not saying those manufacturers are good or bad but there is only so much time in the day. Please don't get all butt hurt if I do not mention your favorite brand; let's stick to the big picture here.

First we will talk about what I would consider on the more expensive side. Probably closer to "a good job and some spare cash" than "assistant night manager with a young family barely getting by" territory. In this range you get professional grade guns. I hesitate to say an exact price but we are probably talking $1,100ish on the bottom end up to around 2k. The difference will be brand as well as specific features/ variants, obviously a gun with a $250 rail will cost more than an otherwise identical one with $40 hand guards.

Manufacturers in this price range include Colt, Knight Armament, Daniels Defense, LMT and Bravo Company. I have personal experience with Colt's at work and own a Bravo Company rifle that I love. John Mosby is running an LMT. Knight stuff I have anecdotal experiences with at work. DD is just a great company.

These are just great guns that can be used really hard. One can reasonably expect a genuine go to war gun right out of the box. The downside is that nothing is free. To some degree a customer is paying for better design, materials and workmanship which is worthwhile. Also to some degree they are paying for a name as well as the cool guy's they pay for endorsements. If you can afford the tab one of these rifles will suit you well. On the other hand if this sort of rifle is our of your reach do not despair as there are other options.

The second category of rifles I am going to talk about are closer to the "assistant night manager with a young family barely getting by" territory. This isn't ARF so I won't bash folks who can not or simply will not spend a mortgage payment or two on a rifle. The manufacturers in this category include Bushmaster, Olympic Arms, DPMS which I have varying degrees of personal experience with. Depending on exactly where the lines are drawn basic models from Stag Arms and in Smith and Wesson M&P series could fall in here also. While exact prices are fuzzy I'd say $600-900ish is about the right range.

As a general rule these are fine rifles, perfectly suitable for all needs average or even not so average Joe has. Fit and finish are less than the fancy brands but that is OK. To be blunt these companies do produce more lemon's than the professional grade manufacturers. However for every lemon there are a bunch of guns that work just fine. On this one the upside and downside are pretty obvious. You get a gun that is affordable but may potentially have some issues.

Personally I think we should consider option #3 which is to order the parts you want (complete upper, BCG, etc all) and put it onto a lower receiver purchased via private party. This way you circumvent the difficulty of finding specific stuff via private party basically get whatever rifle you want without the 4473 hassle. If this option doesn't appeal to you....

I recommend that you buy a gently used professional grade AR-15 from a private party. 

As always reader input to this discussion is welcome.


Justin said...

I recommend that you buy a gently used professional grade AR-15 from a private party.

I agree, Ryan. There is much to be said for doing a build (ie your AR middy or my AR pistol), but it's likely not the ideal way to get into the game.

I'm looking at getting some lowers when I can find them. Have to give the kids something when they leave the house... ;-)

Anonymous said...

Would 1500 rounds down a chrome lined barrel be considered light use age? Have only had steel barrels.

Ryan said...

Justin, I will build an AR pistol some day. Maybe next year but I need some more ammo and a bolt gun first.

Ryan said...

@9:01, I wouldn't call that light use but it's nothing crazy. The barrel still has plenty of life left.

AM said...

I've seen Colt bolts fail. I've seen Olympic bolts fail.

No matter what you buy, invest in spare parts.

Ryan said...

AM, Agreed. A small bag full of spare parts and a complete bolt ready to go are a comforting feeling.

Justin said...

@ Ryan 9:01-

I understand. I need more ammo for the AR. Running a bit low, myself. You need to run an ammo giveaway fro people named Justin. ;-)

AM- Agreed. This is another area I need to work on. Good point.


Anonymous said...

Quality counts. So buy once, cry once, or take yer chances with bargain priced junk. On the other hand, quantity has a quality all its own, but I generally find it tiresome to carry more than one rifle at a time.

I have a 20" LaRue upper of which I'm quite fond that has about 2-K down the tube with no drama or disappointments and still shoots quite well at distance. Based on the quality of this upper, I'd venture to say one of their complete rifles would be pretty darn good as well.


Ryan said...

H, In principle I agree. That being said the point is moot if you do not have the coin to spare.

As I acquire better tools the older more basic ones are either getting sold off or relegated to backup/ cache roles.

La Rue seems to make good stuff. I love my scope mount. A LaRue 7.62 OBR is on my wish list.

Anonymous said...

Any luck with armalites rifles?

Ryan said...

@8:07, Sorry but I personally have no experience with them. Generally heard good things though.

Commander_Zero said...

Its a personal thing, but I try to buy new or used where I know the owner. There are way too many ARs out there that have been tinkered with by folks who read something on a forum somewhere and decided they could gunsmith their AR all on their own.

Brandwise, I like Stag, Rock River, older Bushmasters, and pretty much most 'big name' ARs after that.

I stay away from Olympic, and outfits no one has heard of. Colt is too many non-standard parts/sizes in the lower receiver, making interchangeability with other ARs difficult.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone converted a AR pistol to a SBR? Any info on7.5 inch barrels?

justin said...

I thought about it, but that is a lot of money. My pistol with the 10.5" barrel does good out to 200 yards without an ATF permission slip and fee. The buffer tube is very useful.

I thought about the 7.5" but went with a longer one because that's what was in stock at the time, to be honest. There's a little more velocity and therefore power.


Ryan said...

@12:32, Justin pretty much covered it. A buffer tube with a pad gives most of the functionality of a stock without the $200 tax and onerous application process.

I would look hard at the ballistics of a 7.5in barrel before making a purchase.

Chris said...

I like the "build it yourself" option so you can put money where it matters most.

I like to put money into quality uppers and quality triggers, personally.

With ARs I've always built the rifle with good quality parts even if it topped out my budget then just waited to put glass on them. It is kind of contrary to my general rule of saving at least 1/3 of the budget for glass, but I feel like stock irons on an AR are decent for most applications until you can throw something else on there.

Ryan said...

Chris, I generally agree. If you can afford it the "buy once, cry once" rule can be applied. However I have found that AR building might be like a popular snack in that "You can't have just one."

I'd like to get a BCM lower and put a Giselle trigger in it for my rifle. Heck I'd also like to build an AR pistol but unfortunately gun fund money does not grow on trees.

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