Eugene Stoner’s creation, the Armalite AR-15, has become America’s Rifle. The most popular rifle sold in the country, the AR-15 is available from dozens of manufacturers in many variants with parts and accessories too numerous to count. I like to think of the AR as the ’57 Chevy of rifles; you can configure and customize it to your liking and have your own unique rifle built to tackle a range of tasks.
What are some of the things you should think about when taking your AR-15 to the range for the first time? Especially for new shooters, here are some tips and drills to get you started.
1. Loading and Seating AR-15 Magazines Properly
Have you ever heard the story that the reason for loading AR magazines a couple of rounds shy of full capacity is to prevent malfunctions? Well, it turns out that’s not true. Actually, especially with original GI magazines, it may be difficult to seat a fully loaded magazine if the action is closed because the top round contacts the bolt carrier and won’t allow the magazine to lock in place. Many newer magazines, like those from Magpul, Mission First Tactical, Lancer, Daniel Defense and others, are designed to eliminate this problem, and can be seated when fully loaded so check this with your magazines to see whether they need to be downloaded.
Speaking of loading, take a look at the top round in your magazine and note if it is on the left or right side. Insert the magazine in the magazine well then give it a tug to see if it seated. Now, either press the bolt catch to send the bolt carrier forward or retract the charging handle and let it go to load a round into the chamber. Place the safety on then push the magazine release; remove the magazine and check to see if the top round moved to the opposite side. If it did, your rifle is loaded and you can re-insert the magazine. Don’t forget to give it a tug to make sure it locked into place.
2. Zeroing Your AR-15
To sight in the AR let’s assume yours is chambered in .223 Rem./5.56 NATO. While there are small variations for barrel length and bullet weight, generally speaking, if you zero the rifle at 50 yards it will also be zeroed at 200 yards. Starting at 25 yards you will want to be about 1.5 inches low and at 100 yards you will be about 1.5 inches high. This simple 200 yard zero will keep you on a reasonable target from right off the muzzle to a bit beyond 200 yards without having to hold over.
Because the sights on AR-15s, whether iron sights or optics, generally sit 2 to 3 inches above the barrel you’ll next want to consider offset. What this means is the bullet is going to impact below your line of sight. Try shooting five rounds at 3, 10, 15, 25 and 50 yards and watch how the offset reduces then disappears as you move back.
3. AR-15 Familiarization Drill
Now that you have your offset figured out, you can work on a few training drills. Here’s an example of a course of fire you can work on with a silhouette target, all strings starting from a ready position with a loaded carbine, safety on and trigger finger off the trigger:
5 yards: Fire one shot to the head in 1.5 seconds, repeat five times. Total five rounds.
10 yards: Fire two shots to the vital zone (center of mass) in 2 seconds, repeat five times. Total 10 rounds.
15 yards: Fire two shots to the vital zone, reload with a fresh magazine and fire two more in 10 seconds, repeat three times. Total 12 rounds.
25 yards: Fire two shots to the vital zone in 4 seconds, repeat five times. Total 10 rounds.
25 yards: Fire one shot to the vital zone then one shot to the head in 5 seconds, repeat five times. Total 10 rounds.
Enjoy shooting your AR style rifle and, like millions of other folks, I wager you’ll end up with more than one.