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While driving to an open shooting position on a recent trip to the range, I observed AR-15 type firearms in every bay. Some had as many as 10 different varieties of the platform. I saw another local gunsmith test firing the fruits of his labors. I watched a group of 20-somethings challenge each other on a timed course of fire. I observed a dad helping his daughter to hold the gun up while she shot ground-mounted clay pigeons. I even saw a married man in what appeared to be his 60’s trying to tell his wife how to pull the charging handle back.

The common theme in this; all of these people had different reasons for purchasing their version of America’s most popular rifle. And none of them appeared to have had any standardized training in the use, care, accessories, or capabilities of them. While looking for some common ground, I made a list of seven skills that every AR owner should know.

The proper low ready position

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The “low ready”, challenge, or guard position has been a mainstay of law enforcement for years. We use it because we don’t have rules of engagement. We have the 4th Amendment and Supreme Court Decisions to follow. The low ready position is a presentation of the weapon when there’s a potential threat that must be identified prior to be being engaged. It needs to be aggressive, safe, and comfortable. When properly utilized, there’s almost no risk of a negligent round injuring the potential adversary at the business end of the gun, but it’s is extremely fast to engage from here if need be.

Start with in my normal shooting position. The toe or bottom of the buttstock is high on the shoulder/clavicle notch. The muzzle of the firearm is pointed towards the ground and an approximate 45 degree angle, splitting the distance between me and my target. Doing so allows me to follow the fundamental firearm safety rules, while also being able to address a threat very quickly. The safety is on and the trigger finger is indexed.

Does having to flip the safety on sound too slow? I’ve been teaching this for many years and have yet to find a student or operator who was measurably faster when starting with their safety off during a drill from the low ready. And the extra milliseconds needed to flip that lever are worth the dramatic increase in safety.

The combat reload

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The combat or emergency reload is probably the most poorly practiced skill by novice AR shooters. It’s also one of the most important gunfighting skills you can have. If you’ve fired your 20 or 30 rounds to save your ass and you still need more, it’s already a bad day. There are no pause buttons. You probably can’t call for a UAV or airstrike. If you mess this up, you will not respawn. You need to know how to get this done clean and smooth.

Starting from a bolt lock position, I release the firearm with my support hand as I bring the gun into my workspace where I can see it. The muzzle of the gun assumes an almost vertical orientation. I form a “L” with the pistol grip, while depressing the mag catch with my trigger finger.

Usually, the inertia or snap of the gun will aid in the magazine being ejected from the gun. At the same time, my support hand moves for my reload. The buttstock of the gun is between my forearm and chest, as I’m too lazy to hold its full weight. A new magazine is inserted with a slap, followed by an immediate pull. As I bring the gun back on target, my support hand moves up the receiver. Once over the top, the bolt catch is depressed, then the support hand now follows the lines of the rifle back to its shooting position.

Why go through all of these steps and hold the gun like that? Simple: it works. Also, I’m lazy and it doesn’t take my eyes of the battlefield. Trying to reload a rifle (or pistol for that matter) at full extension (or down around your waist) is like trying to tie a fly on to your line with your arms fully extended. Bringing it up and in affords you all of your dexterity and allows you to take that quick peak if there’s a problem without losing your perspective.

Basic field strip

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This is one of the least sexy and glamorous tasks that every AR-15 owner needs to learn and use every time they shoot. But it’s not just for cleaning. It also develops an understanding of how the weapon system works and is an opportunity to inspect critical areas for wear and security.

You don’t have to learn how to do a field strip blindfolded, but the continued weapons handling will increase your proficiency and confidence in the weapon system. Not to mention that there’s a certain level of clean that is required to keep the gun running.

  1. Ensure your firearm is unloaded and all live ammo is secured somewhere else. This is best done with the help of a second person who can verify that the firearm is safe and unloaded.
  2. Make sure the bolt is forward.
  3. Press the rear takedown pin out until it is stopped by the detent.
  4. Tilt the rear portion of the upper receiver, separating the two halves.
  5. Pull back approximately three inches on the charging handle (but leave it in the upper receiver).
  6. Pull the bolt carrier group straight out the back of the upper receiver.
  7. Pull back and down on the charging handle until it’s free of the upper.
  8. Push the firing pin retaining pin out of the bolt carrier.
  9. Tap the back of the carrier on a firm, yet safe surface. The firing pin should drop free.
  10. Push the bolt into the carrier approximately ½ way and turn the cam pin 180 degrees.
  11. Lift the cam pin out.
  12. Pull the bolt straight out of the front of the carrier.
  13. Locate the extractor on the bolt. Placing pressure on the back of the extractor, use a punch to push out the retaining pin. Do not use the firing pin to do this!
  14. Wipe down, inspect, and lube all of your parts
  15. Reassemble following these in reverse.

People tend to get nervous about taking an AR down. Don’t. It has to be done, and frequently. AR’s don’t have to be cleaned within an inch of their lives, but keeping them clean and in good working order is an investment in your future. Also, I don’t care who says what…no AR should be run dry. For initial break-in, I run them wet, say 200-500 rounds. After that, well-lubed is the standard. It’s hard to get an AR to run better than it does with a fresh coat of CLP.

If you get stuck on any part of this, go to YouTube or exercise your best Google-fu. There are a ton of great vids out there that will help.

Testing and replacing gas rings

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The Stoner-designed gas impingement system isn’t the death sentence many would want you to believe. Piston systems are awesome; however, they are not the end of an era. If there are any questions as to the reliability or viability of the AR, just look at pictures from Special Forces from all over the world. The M4 is the common theme.

“Wear parts” aren’t weaknesses. They just need to be properly maintained. I have purchased more than one 80’s era AR that has never seen a new set of gas rings. That’s unacceptable and is the single largest contributor to mechanical problems.

After completing a basic field strip (see above), you’ll need your bolt carrier group and three new gas rings. Always replace all three at the same time.

To test the gas rings, grasp the rear portion of the carrier and the bolt itself. Pull the two apart. This should cause the bolt to move forward, approximately ¾”. With the bolt extended, it is simulating a round chambered in battery. Now, over a table or bench, place the BCG bolt down, as if to try to stand it straight up. If the carrier can’t be held up by the tension of the gas rings, they need to be replaced.

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Disassemble the BCG. Once the bolt is removed, you don’t need to go any further. Use a dental pick, small pin punch, or paperclip to push up on the rings far enough that you can get an edge over the bolt tail. Continue to strip the old gas ring around the tail. It’s not recommended that you use a sharp object such as a pocket knife. Once free, complete the same process two more times.

To install, just reverse the process adding a drop of oil. There are other gas issues such as the carrier key and gas tube that can present themselves, but those are truly better left to armorers and gunsmiths.

Type three malfunction fix

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Oh God, the mother of all malfs. This can be anything from a slight double feed to cartridges in backwards, bullets inside of brass, cut cartridges, and gunpowder everywhere. The bad news: improperly identify the problem and trying  to clear it wrong will only make it worse. Some will scratch their heads. Some will go to YouTube. Some will get out a hammer. Just talk yourself through and clear it right, and you’ll be done in less time than it takes the average shooter to reload.

Look: You must identify the problem

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Lock: Pull back on the charging handle and activate the bolt catch. This takes the pressure off the magazine and makes some room.

Strip: Push the magazine release and drop it. Rip the magazine out if you have to. Get rid of it. Throw it across the range for dramatic effect if you want. This is the rare time when I do leave bullets on the battlefield. Chances are, the malfunction is being caused by the magazine anyway.

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Sweep: If you have to, insert some fingers through the bottom of the mag well and make sure it’s clear. When two rounds are stuck in the chamber, one is stuck in the feed ramp, or somehow a round gets jammed behind the gas tube or charging handle (yes, I’ve seen it), this is the only way to get them out. Miss this step and you just pound them in more during the next step, which is…

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Rack, rack, rack.

This is simple, but should be done with vigor. Push/ pull, push/ pull, push/pull hard and fast. Don’t let go of the charging handle while doing this. You will lose your power and take too much time recovering your hand placement on the handle.

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Feed it: The gun is now unjammed, but unloaded. The mag you dropped was likely the problem. Load you gun with a fresh one and you’re good  to go.

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Charge it: Get that first round in the chamber and re-evaluate your threat.

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Mechanical zero

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Of all of the student and customer AR’s I’ve had on the range, the number of carbines that have their iron sights actually zeroed can be counted on one hand. I’ve seen customers buy a top shelf rifle and install a set of Magpul MBUS’s on it. They top it off with something from Trijicon, Aimpoint, or EOTech. The electronics are usually close, but the irons have never been shot for point of impact.

I recommend a 50-yard zero for fighting carbines. There are more precise zeros, and some that are better for long range, but these are short range weapons with medium range capability. With a 50-yard zero, you’re never more than mechanical offset above or below your point of aim from zero to 225-ish yards.

Using a carbine with an A2 front sight base or backup sights with similar, raise or lower the front sight post until you’re flush with the housing. On the rear, almost all have witness marks. Center the sight up. Everything should be done with three-round shot groups. It’s best to have someone else mark your target and advise of shot corrections as this will keep you honest. Continue until you’re zeroed. Once you think you’re where you want to be, shoot three more to confirm.

What’s the best part of zeroing the irons first? If you’re using a non-magnified optic like an Aimpoint, Leupold LCO, or a RMR, adjust the electronic dot to the iron sights and you’re already almost there. It will be so close, most people won’t move it.

Figuring out mechanical offset

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In its simplest form, mechanical offset is the distance between the aiming point of a proper sight picture and the centerline of the bore. Due to the nature of the sights on an AR, this distance is approximately 2.5 inches. There are more precise measurements out there, but they have no real world purpose or application for minute of bad guy use at defensive distances.

What’s the practical application of such information? During one of our qualifications, we’re required to put one round in the ocular area of a target five times at five yards. The ocular area is the human “light switch”. Hit someone there with a high velocity rifle round and it’s like turning off the computer. Everything stops quick, fast, and in a hurry. This is commonly practiced as a hostage rescue shot.

Using an Aimpoint PRO, I find if I place the top of the 2 MOA dot on the top of the head, my rounds are centered in the ocular box. As I move back, the difference between point of aim and point of impact becomes less and less. From a field use standpoint, the difference disappears at about 30 yards.

Are these seven points everything you need to know to go forth and conquer? No, but they’re are right on the edge of beginner/intermediate proficiency. We didn’t get into accessories, or cleaning a bore. This assumes you read the owner’s manual and have made the gun go bang before. Now go out and learn some more. I’ll catch up with you on the line doing what all professionals do; practicing these basics, over, and over, and over again.

 

Nick Franssen is the owner of HCTC Firearms, LLC, where he specializes in custom gunsmithing, training, and consulting. Nick is also a 10 year Law Enforcement Officer in the Pacific Northwest, where he is currently assigned to patrol. Nick has several years in the firearm industry, as a professional civilian and law enforcement instructor, gunsmith, and competitor. Nick was one of the original Idaho Enhanced Concealed Weapons Permit instructors, and maintains/repairs the firearms of several police agencies throughout the region. For more information on training or custom gun work, see HCTC Firearms on facebook or email nick at gunsmith@hctcfirearms.com.

 

 

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52 Responses to Seven Things Every AR-15 Owner Needs to Know How to Do

  1. The combat reload is probably the most useless and impractical drill ever created.

    If you have expended 30 rounds and are not in cover or at least concealment, you deserve to die.

    • Combat reload: Step one, get under cover, drop on the ground, or kiss you ass good buy. If you really need to practice them, don’t get into the habit of trying to do it standing up.

    • I do not see the need of ALL AR 15 owners to know the combat reload either. Most of us are not soldiers or police, and will not be throwing large volumes of fire down range. On top of that I CAN’T perform a combat reload with my bullet button equipped AR (with its 10 round mag). (In fact, slowing down reloads is the whole point of all of the AR ban laws since 2000).

      • Are we really that myopic on the word “combat” in the title of a rapid, well-executed reload that we can’t see all of (or any of) the non-gunfight applications to having this skill? Y’all sound like the antis…”the only purpose of a gun is committing violence”…”the only reason an AR/high capacity magazines exist is to kill as many people as possible as rapidly as possible”…”the only reason to be competent at reloads is if you’re an Operator.”

        • While the “combat reload” may have been created/refined and, therefore, titled for that purpose, acting like it’s relevant only to that purpose is a total sham. It’s an efficient, controlled, rapid way to exchange a magazine while helping to maintain visibility downrange and is a great skill for any rifleman to have whether using it just to enhance fun times blasting tin cans on the range or shooting a competition or, yeah, being in some form of combat. While words have meaning, in my experience titles — especially those with a marketing bent — rarely do. They can call Subway a restaurant all they want and politicians can title a bill whatever they want, but the reality rarely aligns. If you truly think a “combat reload” only applies to combat or that being able to do one makes you a warfighter or implies that you’re preparing for said combat or that the “SAFE Act” must make NY safer because, duh, it’s in the name!, I hope for the sake of your bank account that you don’t get the home shopping network 😛

        • They could have called it a speed reload, or expedient magazine change. But no, they went with combat reload because their mastery of the English language was tenuous at best.

          You know who has never done a combat reload? Anyone in actual combat.

    • Combat reload? Throwing away a magazine due to a jam? Where did this fool come up with this shit! Only a novice listening to a no-experience moron like this author would do this crap! I’m guessing that his whole credibility comes from being a Youtube AR expert!

      • rattlesnake

        Clearly the author has absolutely no credibility or experience.

        I blame the publication……….they will let anyone write whatever they like on here

        On a serious note, ask any manufacturer where most malfunctions come from. They will all tell you that shooting reloaded ammunition is first. The second, usually over 70% of all other malfunctions are caused by a bad magazine. So we can either define insanity, or get rid of the most probable problem and move on

  2. I’m a little confused, what does his observations of people at the range have to do with the rest of the article? How does he know they haven’t mastered all of the things he thinks an AR owner needs to know?

    • I think the observation was to suggest that odds are, if you own a gun, you probably own an AR and should know these things.

  3. I do not consider disassembling the extractor as “basic”. While not mentioned, The pic shows the mass damper removed as well, not sure I’d call that necessary. I shot an AR for a lot of years before using anything other than iron sights, do people really leave them unadjusted? That seems stupid! All in all, pretty good!

  4. What an excellent article. Got a laugh from the respawn thing of course haha. But some really good points, especially the dreaded type 3 malf and mechanical offset stuff. I already know this stuff, but i sure didn’t when I started!

    • There is good stuff in here. Including the small things. Some of that training with Rob Leatham at the SAINT event involved AR mag changes. He asked “what do you do immediately after inserting a new mag?” Everyone said “hit the bolt release” but I said “pull down on it.” Bingo. That was the answer he was looking for and he was not used to hearing it. I learned that from Franssen.

  5. Just a word to the wise for those who may follow the author’s recommendation to look for youtube vids on AR maintenance: You can watch five such videos and get five different recommendations for what, where and how to lubricate.

    You’ll need to figure out for yourself which “guru” is most credible.

  6. Something overlooked which is just MHO.

    Never, ever, ever use the forward assist if your rifle has one.

    If a round is failing to feed there is a reason and smashing it forward with the assist will, more often than not, just make the problem worse. Eject that round and try again. If that fails, swap mags and figure the problem out later.

    The last thing you want is to smash in a round that you can fire (maybe) and then can’t extract without beating it out with a rubber mallet and dowel rod. You don’t want bent up casings going farther forward either. If you have a forward assist leave that thing alone. It will only create more headaches.

    • The forward assist is for making sure your first round is correctly seated after loading a new mag.

      Less relevant now with M4 feedramps.

      • The forward assist is important when directly loading a single cartridge. Of course, most of us will never need to do so.

      • I’m not the oldest person so I was never taught to seat the first round with the forward assist.

        I have seen many people have the rifle fail to go fully into battery and sit their and whack on the assist to try to chamber the round. I’ve never, ever seen it work out well.

        Problems from munted cases and improperly seated bullets to bits of shredded primer in the locking-lug area of the chamber are all made infinitely worse by smashing on that assist. With a modern AR there is no reason for that assist to be on the rifle and, IMHO, it should never be used.

    • Except when the action is just dirty, the FA gives you at least a single shot when there’s no time to strip and clean the gun.

      And when a tap-rack is required, I’d personally tap – push forward assist and then rack. The AR15 extractor, in most cases, only slips over the rim at the last moment. So if the action is retarded by foreign matters that it stays slightly out of battery, a tap-rack could lead to a doublefeed, with the possibility of driving the nose into the primer, to very interesting results.

      Also, it helps close the bolt after press checking.

      So if the gun is funtioning right, or you are not in a hurry, forget the forward assist. Otherwise, it does provide some benefit.

      • No offense but your argument makes no sense.

        Cops don’t spend a lot of any time in a combat AO. They have 0 excuse for being on duty with a patrol rifle that’s so dirty they need the forward assist for what you describe. 0.

        I ran my AR without cleaning it for months just to see what would happen and how many rounds I could get through it without problems. Unsuppressed we’re talking 1500+ without a fouling problem. Other folks on AR15.com report 2000+ rounds with no problems.

        In a non-military/non-field situation there is absolutely no reason to even have a forward assist unless you’re torture testing the rifle in which case the moment you hit the need for the FA you’ve hit the end of the test. If you’re doing that with your patrol rifle as a cop then you deserve to get killed by the BG.

        Even if you assume that the rifle needs care every 600 rounds, that’s 20 mags. How often does a cop need to dump 20 mags? They don’t even have that many mags on tap.

        Further, for a civilian owner, if you’re not cleaning and/or lubing the damn thing then you’re an idiot. Again, you don’t need that forward assist unless you’re going full retard.

  7. Regarding the Type 3 malfunction fix, I would add a caveat as to WHEN to perform that fix once you’ve mastered the how. A well known and, unfortunately now deceased carbine training guru, was adamant that the fix should only be performed beyond 15 – 20 yards from the target. Inside that range the fix would always be go to the secondary. I tend to agree with him.

  8. What is an “AR15 type firearm?”

    Is that like an AR15… you mean an AR15, right? Seriously, folks, let’s stop adding unnecessary descriptors to everything.

    • I don’t know, man, most of the 7 things in the article carry over to the vast majority of modern sporting rifles, semi-auto rifles in general, various carbines or other long guns, etc (if they can be held at a low ready, can be zeroed, have sights above the bore, accept removable magazines, can jam…some of it applies). Plus there’s the AR-15, sure, but all of this stuff applies to the AR-10 and to all sorts of nifty variations on the general platform like MCX, MPX, ARAK, ARX100, some bullpup designs, etc etc. And if you want to get truly pedantic, “AR-15” is a registered trademark owned by Colt. Nobody else can put “AR-15” on their guns. What I’m trying to say is, a Colt is an “AR-15” and everything else is an “AR-15 type firearm” 😛

  9. Useful information to me…and I don’t have an AR or any plans to buy one. BUT with a Trump win who knows😜

  10. Geez, such a long article to promote your expertise. Did it occur to the author that maybe, just maybe, people want to enjoy shooting a firearm for fun. Not everyone thinks they need to be a Tactical Tom with pocket pants to enjoy shooting. AR’s are just fun to shoot. I’ll wait for his article on people at ranges with pump action shotguns, bolt action rifles, or Ruger 10-22’s. Nothing turns off new shooters than someone pontificating their way of shooting. And yes, I’ve done all the “cool training” and actually have gone to bad places.

    • Except possibly for the low-ready position, all of these things are perfectly applicable to shooting purely for fun. You will have a more enjoyable time if you are able to change mags, sight your gun in, know to compensate for sight offset when you’re shooting at close targets (and not shoot your chronograph), do basic maintenance, clear malfunctions, etc. Actually, having been instructed to start competition stages in the low-ready position and generally using it when on a hot range but not actively firing on target, that one’s handy for normal, recreational shooting as well. Obviously as a police officer and police trainer much of the application-related text of Nick’s article here speaks to that sort of use, but these are skills and points of knowledge that will benefit anybody running basically any semi-auto rifle for any purpose. We aren’t kicking down doors here, we’re talking basic proficiency and familiarity.

  11. One Thing Every AR15 Article Writer Should Learn: Cycle of Ops.

    It will keep you from making statements like this that demonstrate that you don’t understand how the weapon, you’ve proclaimed yourself an SME on, actually works:

    “To test the gas rings, grasp the rear portion of the carrier and the bolt itself. Pull the two apart. This should cause the bolt to move forward, approximately ¾”. With the bolt extended, it is simulating a round chambered in battery”

    • I saw that too. Also a recommendation to use oil for lubrication, not grease. Oil is for cleaning. Nothing more. Guns are open systems. Grease is for open systems, oil is for closed systems.

      • Point of correction: the AR15 was designed to use oil. Slip 2000 EWL is one of the better ones out there. There’s a reason to use oil and not grease: when carbon builds up, it sticks to and mixes with the already thick grease and turns into a gunky paste that jams up the action. With oil, not only is it thinner, but it flushes away carbon or at least keeps the oil-carbon mixture thin enough that the bolt carrier group can still cycle. For non-critical things like the charging handle or buffer spring or pivot pins, sure you can use a thin coat of grease. And if for whatever reason you do use grease on the bcg, keep it very light and then use oil on top. This applies to the AR15. AKs and such are different, as the clearances are looser and you have this massive bolt carrier group meant to ram through dirt and snow and ice.

  12. I’m sorry. Why should I independently adjust my buis, when I can set it to easily set it to my much more accurate red dot? I think you have the order backwards unless you’re running a qd scope.

    • as to why you should zero your iron sights…..
      First off, anything battery powered can and will fail. The irons will always give you an aiming point. The irons have proven to be more rugged than almost any mounting system on the market. They are not perfect, but rugged enough for our combat troops. Personally, the most important reason that I feel they need to be zeroed is redundancy. If you know your irons are on, you can always check and make reasonable adjustments to your red dot. The chances of both being off is much less then a red dot being off because it got bumps and needing some slight correction. I use my red dots for fast work and dark work. My irons confirm my red dot is on and I use them for distance.

  13. Instead of fingering the gun, I’d propose, pulling the action back as far as it will go, pressing down the bolt catch to hold the BCG by friction, and then pushing the charging handle forward.

    One more reason to get a reciprocating charging handle attached to the bolt carrier – one little nub of metal serving as the chargeing handle, the forward assist, and the case deflector. No extra weight, no extra mechanism, no nonsense malfunction.

  14. Buy an AK and bend your damn knees at least a little when you lean into the shot. Bob Knight taught me that a long time ago. makes moving alot easier. He looks like a statue.

      • Officer Franssen I commend you, my fear is that we get new shooters in here and the basics aren’t covered at the beginning of each article. I suppose it’s Trump’s fault. Maybe if you could just go over the basics for the very folks you were talking about at the beginning of your article you could do some awesome stuff.

  15. Judging by the man’s stature and the rifle length, he is shooting a static vertical steel target at about 9 yards. Not good at all no matter the caliber.

  16. That muzzle up combat reload is frowned upon at some clubs holding 3 gun and or carbine matches as being unsafe if there is an AD. As far as lubing goes, after seeing LAV dunk a M4 in a vat of Castrol and then perform a mag dump, I am convinced you cannot over lubricate an M4.

  17. The average American male is assumed to be an expert driver, gun handler, horseback rider and pilot. READ the manual? No, we know all that.

    The military learned about 100 years ago that the Manual of Arms was necessary to get city boys familiar with the handling of their rifle. The Marine Corps still believes this, that all grunts need to be able to put rounds on THE target, all of them.

  18. The easiest way to “zero” an AR-type rifle is to separate the upper receiver from the lower receiver. Remove the bolt carrier from the upper receiver. Place the upper receiver on sandbags or a steady platform, Obtain a spent round with the primer removed. Place the primerless round in the chamber. Sight at an object (preferably a dot target) approximately 50 yards through the primerless shell in the chamber. Adjust your sights to correspond sighting through the barrel. You will hit paper on the first shot.

  19. In other news, distributors stacked crates of AR15s and mags up to the rafters gambling on a Hillary win to sell them for big buckaroos. After the inauguration expect Fast Eddie low low prices on this stuff as Trump permanently deflates the Obama era bull run of gun sales and price spikes.

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