AR-15’s and stuff I’ve learned

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Some background on me. I didn’t have a lot of exposure to firearms when I was young. I spent the first 9 years of my life in Los Angeles California, not a very rural area where ranges are more common. Although guns were likely everywhere in 1980’s LA, I didn’t have “healthy” exposure to them early on.


We moved to Utah and what a culture shock! Outdoor adventure was more common, and I was excited to see what my boy scout troop had going on. Much to my chagrin still not a lot of gun safety or shooting, more pinewood derby, skiing, hiking, and knot tying. I was still very gun-curious so I made things complicated when one day my friend left a Crossman Co2 powered pellet gun at my house. While my parents were away, I handled it outside in my neighborhood playing with the other kids who turned me in to the fuzz and left me with a juvenile record and a 500-hour community service bill to pay.


It was over for me. No way would I ever be an avid shooter and marksman! Now I’m left thinking that these forbidden objects were now completely taboo for me, I couldn’t even draw a picture of one without a serious scolding.


September 11th, 2001, changed my fate just like it did the country. I watched the terrorist attack on the news in my college class during the first hour of my first day and knew I wasn’t going to stand by and do nothing. I lost 140lbs of fat, signed the dotted line on an 18X contract and found myself at Infantry school a few months later.


I remember my first rifle clearly, it was an M16 A4, 20” barrel, flat top picatinny, and quad rail. It was the coolest thing I had ever laid eyes on. Rack number 411, her name was Sarena, named after my first girlfriend. She smelled like CLP and was eager to eat some 5.56.

M16 A4_20_ barrel

During the first phase of Basic Rifle Marksmanship, BRM as they call it in the biz, we disassembled and learned the function of this remarkable piece of engineering. Everything about its simple and elegant design just clicked in my mind with an “of course” or an “aaaahh that makes sense”. There was a buildup of anticipation as we did dime and washer drills, shot the arcade simulator and continued to carry our rifles everywhere we went.


Finaly the first range was upon us. We marched the 5 miles on sand hill to the 25-meter zero range and my pack never felt lighter. The day’s mission was to prepare our Iron Sights for what was to come. Just as the sun was breaking over the tree line, I drew my bandoleer from the ammo shed then went to the bleachers to wait my turn.


I sat attentively during the safety brief committing to following the instructions to the absolute letter, it’s still tattooed in my brain so much that it became the framework for the safety briefs I later delivered as an NCO. I made it to the firing line and after the first shot I was in love.


It’s been over 22 years and I’ve grown to know this rifle intimately as not just a part of my kit but as a member of my team. There were other players but ultimately every soldier is a rifleman first and that is why we dominate a firefight.

The AR-15

Eugene Stoner’s story is an entire book and I’ll not go into granular detail, but I will point out that his skills in engineering were honed in the aircraft industry. The prevailing goals are to make things stronger and lighter without sacrificing durability. The AR 10 was the first but it was not the ideal candidate for a large force newly deploying to South East Asia. A smaller lighter rifle with a lighter and more easily carried cartridge was just the right fit.


The anatomy of an AR-15:

Every variant must have some variation of these parts to function.

  • The foundation is the lower receiver which is typically an aircraft grade Aluminum to which the pistol grip and shooter interface controls are attached, it houses the trigger mechanism, and is the part with the serial number.
  • The brain of the operation is the upper receiver. Also most often crafted from Aluminum, this houses the bolt carrier group comprised of a bolt carrier, bolt, firing pin, cam pin, firing pin retaining pin and gas key. The upper is the center of the action and is where you attach the barrel.
  • Barrels have a vast number of options but the original govt profile is still to this day the most common. Attached to the barrel you must have some way to capture and use the expended gas to cycle the rifle and we’ll get to that later on. A handguard is preferred but not critical to the function of the rifle and since there are too many options, we’ll leave that alone for now.
  • Note on the gas system: Direct impingement (DI)  works and is great as an original design.
    • The flaws and problems are as follows. Cleaning is necessary and far more frequent, especially with a suppressor. A gas tube filled with water WILL explode and that’s bad. Heat and carbon fouling can lead to a more rapid degradation of internals and compromised reliability.
    • The simplest solution is well known, a Piston System! It can be an inexpensive and simple to install Piston Kit (the Adams Arms design is perfection), a complete piston upper assembly, or buy a whole rifle that is Piston operated. There are many firearm manufacturers that make piston AR-15s most notably is again ADAMS ARMS. The myths of carrier tilt and piston pop are misinformation and propaganda spread by the dirty fingered DI fanboys. You can have both.
    • The buffer tube and buffer are attached to the lower, they hold a spring and buffer plug that must be strong enough to return the bolt carrier group forward while stripping another round from the magazine and properly locking the bolt into battery.


Those four major pieces of course have sub components but that’s primarily it. Simple, elegant and effective.

So finally, we come to what I’ve learned.

  1. The AR-15 is not bombproof. I mean this literally and figuratively. It takes maintenance to ensure it runs as expected. Cleaning and lubrication are part of your life if you shoot regularly. You can get away with it being a bit sooty, but you definitely want to eliminate carbon build up from all the metal on metal contact surfaces and run a bore snake or cleaning rod down the barrel at the very least. Much easier if you’re running a Piston Operated AR.
  2. Not every rifle is the same. Manufacturing tolerances can be tight but that doesn’t mean that they are always assembled exactly the same. Do a complete check of every part to make sure snug things are snug and springy parts spring. It’s your gun now so make it yours. A little Jewlers cloth on the feed ramp and Loctite on some screws make a huge difference in how you experience “your” gun. Through this process, get to know her, she has birthmarks and nuances that distinguish her from the crowd. Treat her like the special girl she is.
  3. Train often. Don’t just train on mag changes or target acquisition or trigger squeeze. Create a muscle memory on clearing malfunctions, disassembly/reassembly, SAFETY behavior. If it’s something that you do while holding or carrying your rifle train on doing it often enough that it comes naturally. Then do it in the dark and blindfolded for good measure.
  4. Just like you, it needs a good diet. If you feed your body trash, it turns to shit quickly. This applies to ammo. You don’t have to break the bank and only buy match grade, lathe turned, angel kissed ammo, but you should be aware that you get out what you put in.
  5. Shooter preference is king (as long as you’re safe). If it looks dumb, but it works, it ain’t dumb. If you get great results from the way, you do things, then the YouTube Rangers can go pound sand. For example, I knew a guy that was stacking mounds of bodies in combat with an M14, but squeezed the trigger with his middle finger and used his left eye while shouldering right.
  6. Finally, and this one’s important, the logo etched into your rifle or the price you pay for something DOES NOT MAKE IT BETTER! Look I get the brand loyalty thing, you get stickers to patch up that empty part of your personality and you feel good about it. Fanboys are missing out on the vast ocean of options and opportunities that are out there and fuck ‘em they deserve to live in their HK, Glock, Noveske cave of self-aggrandized worship.

I’m learning more about shooting, and gun culture every day. I know that expertise has no end point and that it’s a cyclical journey of trial and error. Being open to check yourself and ideas about what you think you know has only served to help me improve. If I’ve written something here that may seem wrong to you or inaccurate to your experience, I would like to invite you to let me know so I can understand your perspective and most likely ignore it if it stupid and make fun of it with my co-workers if it’s really dumb.

-Christopher Salgado

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