The Ultimate AR-15 Guide For Beginners

The AR-15 is a versatile, dependable, and highly accurate rifle for both home defense and self-defense purposes.

This lightweight rifle has gotten a back rap by liberals, who deem it an “assault rifle” primarily because the anti-gun crowd mistakenly believes the “AR” stands from that dog whistle of a phrase – and it falls into the “big, black, and scary looking” rifle category. Let’s clear up once and for all that the “AR” stands for ArmaLite rifle, after the company that created the rifle during the 1950s.

ar-15 rifle

The simple fact is, an AR-15 is no deadlier than any other type of semi-automatic rifle or handgun – regardless of the caliber. Any gun will kill, as will any hammer, knife, machete, or tire iron, when wielded for either self-defense or nefarious reasons.

If I aimed my .22 caliber handgun at the head of an attacker, he or she would be just as dead as they would if I had squeezed the trigger on my AR-15 after leveling it at their noggen.

wooden board damaged by an ar-15

This board was fired upon by both an AR-15 and a .22 caliber rifle. The holes in the lower left of the board were created by the semi-automatic rifle, and the holes on the upper right were made by a lever action .22 rifle.

Why Do Preppers Need An AR-15?

The versatility of the AR-15 makes is a natural fit for preppers. It’s equally excellent for home defense and as a personal self-defense rifle to keep in your bugout vehicle.
And yes, the AR-15 is even good for hunting.

During the early years of this new century, some AR-15 fans, who were also hunters, began toying around with rifle rounds that could be used in the semi-automatic rifle past the typical .223 and 5.56 caliber rounds.

By about 2005, new commercially manufactured cartridges started to pop up on the market that effectively served to turn the AR-15 into a quality hunting rifle, as well. The 6.5 Grendel, the Bushmaster 450, and the Ruger 204 are just some of the rounds hunters have successfully used in one of the most popular self-defense rifles on the market.

Why is the AR-15 Good for Hunting?

1. It is compact.

2. The vertical grit and ergonomically fitting magazine are easy to handle for both young or small hunters and large men. The design of the AR-15 allows the shooter to reach and fully grip down further on the on the handguard to maintain maximum control while aiming the rifle.

3. The sling attachment system most of the rifles boast allow it to be carried as easily and safely (while maintaining total maneuverability), as any traditional hunting rifle.

4. The high-capacity and detachable magazine negates the need to struggle with reloading frequently in inclement weather. Unlike the common bolt action hunting rifle, the shooter does not need to reposition his hands in between shots.

This aspect of using an AR-15 as a hunting rifle could be extremely advantageous if hunting pack animals like wild boar or coyotes, where a second shot might need to be taken quickly. Because the AR-15 is equipped with both a low recoil feature and gas operating system, the firing of the rifle is far smoother, and potentially more accurate, than that of most hunting rifles.

AR-15 Facts

• An AR-15 semi-automatic rifle is really not much larger than a typical .22 caliber rifle – or, as noted above, anymore deadly.

• The AR-15 rifles used by the military may share the same tactical facade, but our soldiers use automatic and not semi-automatic versions of the rifle – a massive distinction liberal politicians and their talking heads in the mainstream media relentlessly fail to comprehend.

• The AR-15 was originally manufactured by ArmaLite by Chief Engineer Eugene Stoner, but sold to Colt. There are currently dozens gun companies that make their own versions of this semi-automatic rifle, selling it under another name because Colt still holds the registered trademark on the AR-15 name.

• The AR-15 as originally chambered for .223 Remington or 5.56 NATO rounds. Some versions of the semi-automatic rifle are now available in .22 long rifle, 450 Bushmaster, .300 Blackout, or 6.8 SPC caliber rounds.

• The primary difference between the 5.56 and .223 rounds is the thicker brass used to make the 5.56 when manufactured for military use. The thicker brass coating he 5.56 mm NATO and .223 Remington cartridges and chamberings are similar but not identical. Military cases are generally made from thicker brass than commercial cases; this reduces the powder capacity and increases chamber pressure.

• NATO mil-spec cartridges (such as the M855) in a .223 Remington chambered rifle can lead to excessive wear and stress on the rifle and even be unsafe, and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) recommends against the practice.These rifles are incredibly lightweight due to the use of synthetic materials and aluminum alloys used in the manufacturing process.

• The AR-15 semi-automatic rifle uses a magazine feeding system that is air-cooled.

• The rifles also boast a rotating lock bolt that is actuated by a gas piston system.

• The most common shooting stances for the AR-15 are a standing sideways and prone position. A squared of standing stance with the shooter’s weak side is facing the target slightly, is also commonly used by more advanced handlers.

AR-15 Accessories And Upgrades

Iron Sights

Some version, but not all, of the AR-15 come complete with stock iron sights. When opting to use the sights instead of a scope, you must learn how the feature is intended to be used to increase accuracy.

The rear sight is comprised of two different parts, the Peep and the Ghost Ring apertures. They are not identical, the Peep is always smaller than the Ghost Ring. The Ghost Ring often bears the marking – 0-200.

The AR-15 iron sights are positioned on the barrel to allow the shooter to aim without any rear alignment being necessary. The eye of the shooter is positioned so close to the rear sight that it is basically already aligned

Unless the AR-15 guide on the rifle states otherwise, the Ghost Ring and the Peep should have a different zero. Some AR-15 gun guide state the semi-automatic rifles have a “same plane rear aperture.” This means both iron sights apertures possess the meaning same zero, as long as one or the other is flipped up.

• The Ghost Ring is designed to be both a quick and simplistic iron sight alignment tool – that is especially useful in low light shooting scenarios. This feature of the AR-15 is one of the main reasons it’s the rifle of choice for close proximity.


Military rifles based upon the AR-15 style of platform have single stage triggers that are non-adjustable. These type of triggers are inexpensive, strong, and consistently reliable even when exposed to the elements. They typically have a trigger pull ranging from 5.5 to 9.5 pounds.

While this type of trigger is highly beneficial to the military, it might not be the best option for civilian shooters with targets that are far closer during either a home invasion or when out hunting.

Triggers can come stock or be switched out in both straight and curved versions. Some experienced AR-15 shooters maintain a curved trigger – the more traditional trigger option, is best for tactical shooting and offers an ergonomic advantage when it comes to finger placement – especially during inclement weather and in the dark.

Fans of the straight trigger often claim the curved version reduces finger sensitivity and could prevent the shooter from achieving the same trigger placement each time the rifle is used.

Best AR-15 Upgrades

Magpul AR-15 MOE Grip – This is one of the most popular aftermarket accessories for this semi-automatic rifle. It is often considered the most comfortable and lightweight option currently on the market. It typically costs less than $20 for the standard version, less than $25 for the anti-slip coated version and comes in multiple colors.

• VLTOR IMOD Stock – This AR-15 stock is adjustable and often deemed to be one of the most comfortable on the market. The sloped cheek weld portion of the buttsock is likely the reason so many shooters find this stock so easy to use. It is a lightweight and typically costs less than $100.

• ELF Ultralight Stock – This stock is not known for how comfortable it fits a cheek, but it is incredibly lightweight – about five ounces. This stock typically sells for less than $150.

• Faxon Firearms Barrel – This AR-15 aftermarket barrel is 16 inches long and known to be incredibly accurate. It’s manufactured with Gunner’s aerospace expertise.This barrel commonly sells for less than $200.

• White Oak .223 Wylde Barrel – These AR-15 aftermarket barrels are made out of carbon fiber and cold hammer forged. They typically sell for less than $300 each.

• JP Industries Adjustable Gas Block With Rails – A gas block permits the shooter to attach a free floating handguard which can pave the way for enhanced accuracy. Gas blocks can also offer more rail space if you want to add a scope, bipod, or grip to the semi-automatic rifle.

• BUSHNELL AR OPTICS FFP ILLUMINATED BTR-1 BDC – Many AR-15 owners prefer to use only iron sights on their rifles, but if you are looking for a quality scope, this one by Bushnell offers a 500 yard view field. It also boasts exceptionally clear views in low light situations.

The PCL Throw Down quick view feature permits the shooter to change fields of view at a rapid pace. The scope has been applauded for its Target Turrets because they too allow for quick viewing field changes. This scope is easily mounted and often makes transitioning from using open iron sights.

Top 3 Most Popular AR-15 Brands

1. Colt LE6920 – This AR-15 weighs a full seven pounds, has a Magpul MBUS flip up rear iron sight, flash hider, a 16-inch long barrel that is a 1:7 twist that is chrome lined, a carbine-length gas system, an M4 SB, as well as a handguard.

2. LWRCI DI – This AR-15 platform semi-automatic rifle weighs 6.7-pounds, has both an angled handstop and foregrip, an A2 flash hider, a mid-length flash hider, 1-piece modular free floating rail, a 16.1-inch barrel that is spiral fluted, cold hammer forged, and NiCorr treated.

3. Daniel Defense – This version of the AR-15 platform has a 16-inch cold hammer forged barrel, a mid-length gas system, a flash suppressor, a 15-inch free floating M-LOK rail and weighs just over six pounds.

Find more budget AR-15 recommendations here.

Should You Build Or Buy An AR-15?

Over the course of the past four years or so, there has often been a mad rush for AR-15 parts, the lower receiver in particular. When mainstream media talking heads and politicians start blaming the gun after a mass shooting, threats of banning the AR-15 prompts the rapid buying of the semi-automatic rifles, replacement parts, or parts to build a rifle by folks who cannot afford a manufactured rifle at the moment.

My husband once paid more for an AR-15 lower receiver than he eventually did for a quality second hand complete rifle, long after the liberal gun ban hysteria died down.

It can be less expensive to build your own AR-15, but if you don’t have any gunsmith training or abilities, you could select subpar parts or assemble a gun that does not work either properly or safely.

One distinct advantage to building your own AR-15, if you have the skills to do so, is being able to create a custom gun that will suit you specific needs.

My Journey To Becoming An AR-15 Fan

My husband wanted an AR-15 for quite a while, and about four years ago, after a knee-jerk reaction to a mass shooting had liberal politicians clamoring for a ban. Christmas was only a few weeks away, so an AR-15 is what I placed under the tree for my beloved Bobby that year.

I loved watching him fire his new rifle, but have to admit being a bit intimidated by it at first. The movable stock was attractive to me, as a short woman, all the rifles we have with solid wood stocks can be difficult to maneuver and line up my eye with the sight properly.

The AR-15 does not have the massive kick of a shotgun, which I also considered a major plus. Our daughter has loved shooting shotguns since my husband first taught her how as a young teenager, but I would never consider them my weapon of choice.

I hesitated when Bobby offered to teach me how to shoot the AR-15, but ultimately took the rifle into my hands and learned how it worked. Before emptying the first mag, I lowered the rifle and turned to my husband and said, “Oh, I want one!”

My Valentine’s Day gift that coming year was an AR-15 of my very own – beats the heck out of chocolates!

As much as it pains me to admit it in public, I have a liberal in my family. One of my brothers is vehemently opposed to “assault rifles.” Trying to infuse some reason into any discussion about the AR-15 when speaking to him, fails epically each time – logic is not part of the liberal toolbox, after all.

My brother has his CCW (concealed carry permit) and has a semi-automatic handgun strapped to his waist, and yet, wants to yank my AR-15 out of my hands and ban them from use. So, as a bit of payback for all of the frustrating discussions I have had on this topic with my big brother over the years, I chose his son, Conner, a former Marine, to demonstrate the AR-15 in this article.

man with ar-15 rifle

This is my nephew Conner as he prepares to demonstrate how to fire an AR-15 rifle.

Yes, revenge can taste ever so sweet. Maybe my words and his son’s actions will open his mind just a little bit, but probably not. Perhaps I will put a Trump bumper sticker on his truck as a Christmas present this year, as a means of furthering his enlightenment, of course.

Here’s how to fire an AR-15:

The AR-15 comes equipped with a pistol grip, making the way you hold the rifle when shooting even more important. To hold, aim, and fire the semi-automatic rifle properly, center the pistol grip in a “V” shape between your thumb and index finger on the trigger hand.

Here’s how to clean an AR-15:

There are approximately 5 million AR-15 owners in the United States. That gun ownership figure equates to about 60 percent of all the rifles sold in America being being this version of a semi-automatic.

ar-15 guide pinterest

About Tara Dodrill

Tara Dodrill
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, 'Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out', Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.


  1. Avatar

    “The versatility of the AR-15 makes is a natural fit for preppers. It’s equally excellent for home defense and as a personal self-defense rifle to keep in your bugout vehicle. And yes, the AR-15 is even good for hunting.”

    These statements are true under certain conditions. First of all is caliber – the “default” of .223/5.56 is marginal for most purposes, particularly defense, large game hunting and small game hunting. Yet it is important to have for a prepper due to the commonality of the round. The nice thing is that you can have one lower in 5.56 or 223 WYLDE (the only two which can safely fire both .223 and 5.56) and another one (or more) in a more effective caliber(s).

    For defense inside a building, any rifle is often not a good choice. Over penetration is a major concern; a handgun or shotgun is a safer choice. Outside, of course, the rifle can come into its own – if a suitable caliber. Not because over penetration is not a problem there as well, but at least you can see who is at risk if the round penetrates or misses.

    The weakness of the .22 calibers can be overcome somewhat with a proper expanding bullet. Unfortunately, these rounds tend to be harder to find and more expensive. But then again, this is also true of better calibers.

  2. Avatar

    As a defense rifle you can keep your AR15’s a will stick with my tried and true M1. I will be firing 30.06 150 gr verses .223/5.56 55 gr. I will take the bigger bullet ever time. And remember you will not be able to use the radio to call is a ammo drop when you have blasted all you ammo any. The on thing that matters is hits on target.

  3. Avatar

    .223/5.56 is a sub-optimal round for hunting large game and a truly bad round for small game. .223 is a varmint round were you did not plan on eating the game shot, 5.56 is military round designed to wound the enemy.

    That is way there are so may different cartages offered for hunting. and most of them are not offered in the AR15 style rifles.

    If you use .223/5.56 in a AR15 rifle for a home defense you will be penetrating several walls with each round fired and YOU are responsible for each round fired!

    If you live out in the country and have reason for needing long shot in defense then there might be a reason for a AR15. Note that I have shot feral dogs that were after some young livestock in the past and used a Mini 14 to do it. using the “3S” shot, shovel and shut up.

  4. Avatar

    There is a fair amount of misconception and bad info here in in the comments regarding the 5.56x45mm and .223 Rem. cartridge.

    There is nothing marginal about the innate performance of the 5.56mm or .223 against humans assuming solid shot placement and correct load selection. Hunting of animals is not my area of expertise so I won’t comment on that. Do keep in mind not all bullets perform equally at all tasks, but this does not mean you need to be shooting the latest and greatest top-tier soft point or total-copper hollowpoint for good terminal effect. Of course if you are serious about self-defense and can afford it you should be seeking the best possible loads for the purpose, though their greater cost will make keeping large quantities on hand an expensive proposition.

    The common trope that 5.56mm will overpenetrate structures is overblown to a huge degree: yes, naturally the hazard to bystanders from a missed shot piercing a wall or two is significant and must be trained for, but ALL common defensive handgun and shotgun calibers/gauges also penetrate multiple walls. The argument that you should disqualify an AR for home defense due to overpenetration risks is toothless. Argue a shotgun or handgun for their other merits, but less penetration is not one of them.

    If the 5.56mm was designed to merely wound then the designers of the cartridge failed abysmally. The 5.56 cartridge, fired from AR family rifles, has turned thousands upon thousands of enemy combatants and domestic scumbags into room temperature meat with efficiency. It was so terribly ineffective that the Soviets created the 5.45×39 to duplicate its most essential performance metrics for their AK-74 family of rifles.

    The AR, and the 5.56mm, are not the same guns that they were when they premiered in Vietnam.

  5. Avatar

    The AR-15 platform can support at least 35 different calibers usually by switching out just the barrel.
    And, one can build a rifle to meet one’s desired match using numerous accessories available on the market by a multitude of companies producing quality items.
    There are firearm owners building weapons inexpensively for less than $500US.

  6. Avatar

    To the anti-AR commenters: your argument makes sense if you’re already in a position where you can safely store heavier ammo & parts without any need to travel very far. For the rest of the country, the AR-15 remains a better choice.

    The .223/5.56 cartridge was selected by the Army to replace the .308/7.62 because the smaller round had much better stopping power at typical combat range (<500yds). The .308 is great for longer-range shooting, but the rounds are much heavier and more expensive to make. If you're thinking of long-term survival, especially in a migratory or semi-permanent setting, this may be an important consideration. The AR-15 is a jack-of-all-trades, but in a survival situation, that's better than the .308 or .30-06, which is only a master of one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *