I have grown fond of the AR-15 rifle in the various roles it has come to play for American shooters. It has served America’s military for more than 50 years, but shortly before the end of the old century, it began to emerge as a good deal more than that.
Its chief rival, the AK-47, is a formidable military weapon in the hands of a poorly trained conscript army. However, that is pretty much the whole story. It’s a one-trick pony—that’s all the AK-47 is, or will ever be.
The AR-15, on the other hand, offers a wide variety of configurations—fixed or collapsible buttstock; dozens of chamberings from .22 Long Rifle to .460 Beowulf; light or heavy barrels from six inches (pistol) to near 30 inches along with standard, match-grade or binary triggers.
Picatinny rails reside on the flat-top AR-15 receiver as well as top, sides and bottom of the fore end to mount accessories such as lasers, spot lights and vertical hand grips.
Build an AR-15 Lower Receiver
I am no gunsmith, so I was a bit apprehensive when I first tried to assemble an AR-15 lower receiver starting with a stripped receiver from Aero Precision. Now, after completing five of them, I firmly believe anyone who can use basic tools can build one.
It might take you an afternoon (or two) to do what a skilled factory assembler could probably do in 30 to 45 minutes, but you can take pride in the finished product. More important, your AR-15 is yours—ALL yours—in a way that you’ll never feel from forking over cash (or credit card) to buy a brand-new, factory-built AR-15.
I have to admit, I haven’t tackled an upper receiver yet. But give me time. By the way, the BATF considers only the lower receiver to be a firearm that must be transferred by an FFL dealer on the BATF Form 4473.
SIGNIFICANT FACT ALERT!! — An AR-15 upper receiver is legally NOT a firearm even if it is complete with bolt carrier assembly and barrel. You may buy one (or more) over the counter or via the internet WITH NO PAPERWORK.
The above fact makes it very easy to obtain several upper receivers chambered for different cartridges with all sorts of barrels (heavy or light, long or short), fore ends, etc.—all of them intended to fit on the same lower receiver.
Just attach whichever upper suits your needs today. Pull two takedown pins to remove the old one, put the new one in place, push the two pins back in place and you’re ready to rock.
One day, maybe you want to mount a tack-driving, heavy barreled .223 on your lower receiver for a prairie dog shoot. The next day (or night) you want a silenced .300 Whisper/Blackout to bag feral hogs that are tearing up your neighbor’s pasture. If you’re hunting an eland on a game ranch in the hill country, a .450 Beowulf is good medicine at short range.
The point is that an AR-15 can do all of these things and do them well—now, back to building an AR-15 lower receiver.
What you’ll Need
A good quality lower receiver such as an Aero Precision costs about $50 to $70 through Brownell’s and a few other sources. If you go for a fancy name brand receiver such as DPMS, Bushmaster or even Ruger, you might have to pony up $150 to $200. If that gives you more confidence, go for it; but you’ll not regret choosing Aero Precision and saving a few bucks.
Besides the lower receiver, you’ll need a lower receiver parts kit. Parts kits are available for around $40 to $50 from several sources, including Midway USA, Brownell’s and Cheaper Than Dirt.
A buttstock assembly is also on your list. This includes the buttstock itself, buffer, buffer tube, and buffer spring. Several companies, such as MagPul, UTG and others make excellent collapsible stocks in a bewildering array of choices for $50 to $100. An alternative is a fixed A2-type buttstock, but most users prefer one of the collapsible models.
So far, you have an investment of as little as $150 unless you choose one of the higher cost options. But you aren’t quite ready to begin yet.
As I said earlier, you don’t have to be a gunsmith to assemble an AR-15 lower receiver. Nevertheless, it is not a WHAM-BAM-dust-your-hands-off kind of project. You need detailed instructions on how to proceed, preferably illustrated. (It goes without saying that you need to follow those instructions meticulously and completely.)
My instruction book has never led me astray and has given me timely warnings about pitfalls to avoid. It is called The AR-15 Complete Assembly Guide by Walt Kuleck with Clint McKee. It is available from Amazon and other book retailers.
You will need a few ordinary tools such as a small brass and plastic mallet and a screw driver set or a set of hex wrenches. In addition there are several specialized tools are essential to the project. If you don’t have all of them on hand, you’ll need to spend another $50 to $100. Again, Brownell’s, Midway USA, Cheaper Than Dirt, and other retailers can supply them to you.
CAUTION: If you don’t have these tools on hand, get them now. Your sanity depends on it.
One last tip—The names “pivot pin detent,” and “takedown pin detent” sound as if they belong to a fairly substantial piece of the puzzle.
Despite the nomenclature, they are FAR from substantial, yet they are important. These detents play an important role by ensuring that their respective pins do not fall out to be lost as you’re cleaning your AR-15 or switching to a new upper.
The bad news is that these detents are tiny steel cylinders about the size and shape of a grain of rice. You install them into a hole in the receiver under great spring pressure.
If you slip—and you will— the tiny tidbit becomes a high-speed projectile that can ruin an eyeball. Otherwise it will zing into an obscure crevice somewhere, never to be seen again. Of course your parts kit will have only two, and you need both of them.
To guard against unforeseen consequences, wear safety glasses and order a packet of spares from one of the above suppliers.
Now, if you are still game, you have about $200 to $300 invested, and you are finally ready to begin. Next time, we’ll delve into the process of actually assembling your lower receiver.
I promise you it will be worth it.
—by Stan Skinner
—BY STAN SKINNER
I’m a red dot guy.
Perhaps it’s because of my local terrain and shooting style, but I find a high-speed, red-dot optic to be the best choice for most AR style shooting, close quarters hunting, and defensive situations.
Over the years I’ve tested many electronic optics, and I’ve settled on a few personal requirements before I’d even consider running one on any of my defensive rifles. They need to be rugged, clear, accurate, instinctive, and dependable.
Most electronics optics have trouble with the last two requirements. Any budget red dot will have short battery life, You will have to purposefully power it on and off when using it.
This isn’t acceptable on a defensive rifle. In a defensive situation you don’t need to be worrying about turning an extra switch or dial in order to shoot straight. This is why I was happy to get my hands on the new Holosun 503CU.
Holosun has been getting a lot of attention lately with the shooting community because of its competitively priced optics. They have a large variety as well, that closely mimics major manufacturer’s sights such as Trijicon, Aimpoint and EOTech.
Rumor has it that some of the Sig optics are actually rebranded OEM Holosuns which means that when the FBI approved the Sig Romeo 4 optics for duty use, Holosun 5 series piggybacks that approval as well.
One of Holosun’s newest models, the 503CU caught my attention for a few reasons. First and foremost was battery life. It can stay on continuously for 10,000 hours.
I refuse to use an optic on a defensive rifle that I have to remember to turn on and off. Murphy’s Law ensures that you will forget to turn it off, and not have time to turn it on in a life-or-death situation.
In addition to the long battery life, the 503CU also has an integrated solar panel that serves two purposes. The first, of course, is to supply supplemental power to the sight to increase battery life.
In fact, in daylight you can remove the battery altogether, and the optic won’t miss a beat. The solar panel also works in conjunction with a sensor, so your reticle automatically adjusts to the correct brightness for ambient light.
Yet another battery-saving feature is the motion-sensitive switch that shuts the optic off after 10 minutes of inactivity, then wakes up as soon as you move the rifle. I tested this several times by setting the rifle down where I could look through the optic before moving it. Sure enough, it was always off and woke up right away.
If you like either the EOTech 65 MOA circle reticle or more precise Aimpoint style 2 MOA dot, you can swap back and forth between each on by holding down the “-”button for three seconds. Occasionally, I like to dim my dots less than ambient light for precise shooting. This is also possible by holding down the “+” button for manual brightness adjustments. The dot will also warn you by blinking if the battery is low.
The Holoson 503CU includes both a high and low mount. I was pleased to discover that it is built to Aimpoint Micro specifications, so my LaRue lever mount worked as well. I also torture-tested the Holosun optic and mount by whacking my sight against a fence post several times while mounted to my rifle. I was pleased to still able to hit four-inch steel without issue at 110 yards.
The Holosun 503CU retails for $325 but I was able to find it around $275 in a quick web search. If you want a quality red dot optic full of useful features at half the price of the competition, it’s definitely worth a look.
—by Dustin Ellerman
—BY DUSTIN ELLERMANN