Previous Post
Next Post

While driving to an open shooting position on a recent range trip, I saw AR-15 type firearms in every bay as I looked around. Some bays had as many as 10 different varieties of the AR-15 platform rifle. 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 what I saw was 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 their use, care, accessories, or capabilities.

While looking for some common ground, I made a list of seven skills that every AR owner should know.

Proper Low Ready Position

7 Things Every AR-15 Owner Needs to Know

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 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 at an approximate 45 degree angle, splitting the distance between me and my target.

Doing so allows me to follow the fundamental firearms 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. Any extra milliseconds needed to flip that lever are worth the dramatic increase in safety.

The Combat Reload

7 Things Every AR-15 Owner Needs to Know

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 do this cleanly and smoothly.

Starting from a bolt lock position, I release the firearm with my support hand as I bring the gun up into my workspace where I can see it. The muzzle of the gun assumes an almost vertical orientation (above). 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 magazine.

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 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 what’s in front of me.

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

7 Things Every AR-15 Owner Needs to Know
Basic AR-15 disassembly (Courtesy Nick Franssen)

This is one of the least sexy or 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 rifle 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. Not to mention that there’s a certain level of clean that’s 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’s stopped by the detent.
  4. Tilt the rear portion of the upper receiver upward, separating it from the lower receiver.
  5. Pull back approximately three inches on the charging handle (but leave it in the upper receiver).
  6. Pull the bolt carrier group (BCG) 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 parts as needed.
  15. Reassembly follows these steps in reverse.

People tend to get nervous about taking an AR down. Don’t. It’s easy and 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 dozens of great videos out there that will help.

Testing and Replacing Gas Rings

7 Things Every AR-15 Owner Needs to Know

The Stoner-designed gas impingement system isn’t the death sentence many would want you to believe. Piston systems are awesome. However, they aren’t the end of an era for gas impingement.

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 gas impingement M4 is the common theme you’ll see.

“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 biggest contributor to mechanical problems.

After completing a basic field strip (see above), you’ll need your bolt carrier group (BCG) 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-inch. With the bolt extended, it’s simulating a round chambered in battery.

Now, over a table or bench, place the bolt carrier group bolt face down (above photo), standing it straight up. If the carrier can’t be held up by the tension of the gas rings, they need to be replaced.

7 Things Every AR-15 Owner Needs to Know

To do that, disassemble the BCG. Once the bolt is removed, you don’t need to go any further. Use a dental pick, small pin punch, or even a 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 the new rings, 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

7 Things Every AR-15 Owner Needs to Know
Double feed malfunction

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 identifying 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 it, clear it right, and you’ll be done in less time than it takes the average shooter to reload. Here’s how . . .

Look: First, identify the problem.

7 Things Every AR-15 Owner Needs to Know

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 button and drop it. Rip the magazine out if you have to., but get rid of it. Throw it across the range for dramatic effect if you want. This is the rare time when I leave bullets nearby. Chances are, in a semi-automatic firearm, the malfunction is being caused by the magazine anyway.

7 Things Every AR-15 Owner Needs to Know

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 . . .

7 Things Every AR-15 Owner Needs to Know

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 more time recovering your hand placement on the handle.

7 Things Every AR-15 Owner Needs to Know

Feed it: The gun is now un-jammed, clear, and unloaded. The mag you dropped was likely the problem. Load your gun with a fresh magazine and you’re good to go.

7 Things Every AR-15 Owner Needs to Know

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

7 Things Every AR-15 Owner Needs to Know

Mechanical Zero

7 Things Every AR-15 Owner Needs to Know

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 then top it off with something from Trijicon, Aimpoint, or EOTech. The electronics are usually close to where they should me, but the irons have almost 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 rifles 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. Here’s now to do it . . .

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 here should be done with three-round shot groups. It’s best to have someone else mark your target and advise you of any shot corrections as this will keep you honest.

Continue to adjust until you’re zeroed. Once you think you’re where you need to be, shoot three more rounds to confirm.

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

Figuring out your mechanical offset

7 Things Every AR-15 Owner Needs to Know

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-15 rifle, 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 the point of aim and point of impact becomes less and less. From a field use standpoint, the difference disappears at about 30 yards. It’s not complicated, but it’s good to know that.


Are these seven points everything you need to know to go forth and conquer (or protect your home and your family)? No, but they’re right on the edge of beginner/intermediate proficiency.

We didn’t get into shooting fundamentals, marksmanship, accessories, or bore cleaning. This assumes you’ve read the owner’s manual and have made your rifle go bang before.

Now go out and practice and learn some more. I’ll catch up with you on the line doing what all professionals do; getting in some range time while practicing the 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 [email protected].





Previous Post
Next Post


  1. before any of that other stuff…
    first things first:
    learn how to boresight your sights/optic on your own at home for free
    *before* you take it to the range
    and go through 3 boxes of ammo
    trying to get it on an 8×12 sheet of paper at 100 yards

  2. second…
    learn what ar15 stands for:
    “americas rifle – 15 ways better than an ak”
    – and know the 15 reasons –

    • AR, denotes Armalite Rifle. The company that produced/marketed the Eugene Stoner designed rifle.
      AK, designates Avtomat Kalashnikova. A tank commander in the Russian army during WWII. Who designed the AK-47.
      As for 1 being better than the other. Thats an argument that will go on for eternity, in the firearms world. One thing is for sure. You can’t treat an AR-15, like you can an AK-47 and get the same performance. While I have more than 1 ARs, I also have an AK-47. They each have their place and they both will do the job. When SHTF. It won’t matter where them come from. As long as they work. Arm Up, Stock up and Get aware.

  3. Wow that cleaning process certainly made a lot of good reasons why the AK should be America’s favorite rifle.
    Ask the Russians, Americans are fat and lazy, we dont have time or the patience for that cleaning stuff. Kalashnikov made the AK for Americans. Plus Alaska is bigger then Arkansas.
    Bigger is better.
    Now I know they’re supposedly not as accurate as an AR that’s why the magazines are shaped like a boomerang.

  4. You better know more than seven things if you want to keep an AR up and running. The mechanical offset thing is something everyone should know. Of course, it applies to a lot of rifles and sights.

    • It’s a good idea to know everything about your AR and AK. As well as have extra parts stocked up and manuals. If SHTF, You won’t have the internet to answer your questions or solve your problems. You may not even have a LGS to fall back on.

  5. If an AR-15 is assembled with decent components by someone who knows what they are doing all that’s needed is cleaning, lube after shooting. On the other hand an AR-308 is a different animal that is picky about its ingredients, assembly, etc. Once correct the .308 needs cleaning after it is shot. Shooting is like cooking, nobody wants to wash the dishes but it must be done.

  6. “The Basics: 7 Things Every AR-15 Owner Needs to Know How to Do”

    # 8: Know thy ‘enemy’ before thy ‘enemy’ knows you.


    If you live in or very near a city with at least 14% of the population being democrat voters, or an area with lots of left wing liberals, or an area where drug use and sells is ‘liberalized’ by policy or ‘society acceptance’, or an area with trans people…… collectively, the chances of you or family members being violently attacked or suffering a home invasion is ~70% higher than not living in those areas.

  7. Ever try the “low carry” for more than 5 minutes on the move?
    What happened to the empty magazine? Is it just left on the ground? It is one thing to have the big green DoD logistical train to resupply magazines, another if that is your own supply. Dump magazines enough that sexy AR is a single shot if not a club.
    Learn to clean your AR to turn into the armory clean. Then you will come to appreciate the AK action or a gas piston design. BTW, after the Is the 1911 Outdated article TTAG posted the other day, the Stoner DI outdated too? I read Delta Force replaced their DI with gas pistons as soon as they were cleared to.
    Never had gas rings go bad on me with the M16A2 service rifle.
    I am sure double feed is possible on any semi-auto fire arm. Only experienced it with the M16A2 and like AR15s. Never experienced it with the M1A.
    I would rather have a rifle that can do most things I need rather than just one thing. A rifle in .308WIN can put meat on the table, self-defense, anti-material to a degree, and long range. More so than a 5.56/.223.

  8. We had a public education system that included training in weapons and 2A education on a national level. In every state city and county. You had private groups like the boy scouts of america. First educating boys and then educating girls as well about firearms.

    Now that all of that has been destroyed by the liberals. I think most people probably feel they don’t see why they need, to pay someone to teach them about their civil rights.

    Teaching people about how to handle and shoot a gun properly on the internet, will get you banned by the internet overlords.

    Because the internet overlords “have the right” to stop you from getting proper safety instructions.

  9. “mainstay of law enforcement for years” means diddly squat

    “Low Ready”, in the US, indicates that during the 80s someone watched news reports/movies about the Brit army on patrol in N.Ireland/etc.

    • “Low ready” looks all kinds of sexy on the big screen or on TV.
      Try it for more than a few minutes at a nice, safe range, like somewhere in the sandbox while on foot patrol.

  10. Not sure if this is for people who want to be soldiers or police officers but most of us self-defense folks might just like to have one or two sidearms handy in case the AR15 fails for some reason. Given the fact that most self-defense events take place at 10 feet or less the only other situation I can think of where you might want to engage someone at somewhat greater distances would be a home invasion. Sounds to me that some of this stuff is geared towards riots or that type of event. Also, if you are shooting 20 or 30 rounds for self-defense you are probably a bad shot or you are actually in an all out gun battle. I haven’t seen too many real time videos where a lot of this applies to civilian self defense situations.

  11. Good advice. Too many ‘new’ shooters who choose an AR platform don’t have the skill-set to proficiently operate the weapon. They want something that looks ‘mean and sexy’, but don’t know or understand even basic gun-handling skills. An AR platform requires advanced gun-handling skills that involves lots of time and practice to attain and maintain combat efficiency. An AR platform, like most modern military-style rifles and pistols have a lot of moving parts that require co-ordination and thinking under stress in order to operate them efficiently. ‘New’ shooters who cannot (or won’t) obtain advanced gun-handling skills should choose less challenging firearms for self-defense such as a double-barrel shotgun or a revolver. ‘It’s not the gun, son. It’s who’s pulling the trigger that counts’.

  12. I think in the type 3 malfunction you should drop the mag first. Double feeds will fall out with it, or as soon as the charging handle is cycled. This clears the weapon faster, and allows you to see the problem fall away. Cycling the action before dropping the mag can actually bring yet another round into play if it’s a double (now triple?) feed. Drop mag, cycle action until verified clear, insert another mag, cycle to charge. If you do it in most of the order of a reload it will be more intuitive anyway.

Comments are closed.