Beginner’s Guide to the AR-15 Platform
Part 3: Maintenance and Shooting the AR-15
In the first two parts of this AR-15 Basics series we’ve looked at the history of the AR-15 and have taken a look at the main components of the AR-15. Now we will talk about shooting the AR and some tools you should have to maintain it correctly. However,
before we get into shooting the AR let’s go over the basic rules for gun safety; the same rules as we talked about in the article Hand Guns for Beginners.
The Four Basic Rules are:
- Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. This means watch where the muzzle is pointed at all times.
- Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. When you first pick up a weapon the instinct is to find the trigger by putting your finger on it, train yourself to rest your trigger finger on the frame or trigger guard.
- Always keep the weapon unloaded until you are ready to use it. Never assume a weapon is unloaded. When you pick one up verify that it is unloaded, keeping rules 1 and 2 in mind while you do this. Also never hand a weapon to someone unless you clear it first.
- Always be sure of your target and what’s behind it. When you are shooting at a paper target remember that it’s not going to stop the bullet. Look at what’s behind the target.
These rules are especially important when shooting the AR-15; the 5.56/.223 is a high velocity round that was designed to put holes in body armor.
Let’s examine the finer points of the AR-15 starting with the controls. There are 5 major components or controls for the AR-15:
- Fire select/safety
- Forward Assist
- Magazine release
- Bolt Release
Starting with the trigger, you’ll find that in most cases the factory trigger, is well junk, but there are a lot of aftermarket options to improve the trigger. The .308 AR shown in an earlier part of this series has a drop in CMC trigger that made a world of difference. your finger position on the trigger and trigger the control is the same as for a hand gun.
Then you have the safety or fire selector, the forward assist that can be used to move the bolt forward and the magazine release
The shooting stance, dominate eye and natural point of aim are all important and apply here. I won’t cover those in detail again but while the principal is the same the technique is different.
The most obvious difference is in the shooting stance as shown in Hand Guns for Beginners. The Isosceles stance has you square to the target but when shooting the AR you stand perpendicular to the target
The best way to think about the stance for shooting the AR is the old fashioned fighter’s stance as shown by our friend Tara in the picture below.
Your strong hand is on the pistol grip close to your body and the support hand is on the forward hand guard as far forward as is comfortable for you.
With a weapon it should look something like the picture below.
One thing to note, with an AR all of the moving parts of the recoil system are in the buffer tube. There is nothing that will come back and hit you in the nose. You want a good cheek weld with the stock tight against your shoulder. You also want your arms close to your body. This helps with control while moving.
As mentioned in the article Hand Guns for Beginners, when you pick up a weapon the instinct is to find the trigger with your finger, you should pick a place on the AR-15 to place your trigger finger outside of the trigger guard. For me I find the magazine release and place my finger just alongside it.
Now let’s look at how to shoot the AR. Assuming that the bolt is closed or full forward with no magazine inserted and the dust cover over the ejection port closed (shown open in the pictures above), insert the magazine and give it a solid whack, and then tug on it to make sure it’s seated. Pull the charging handle towards you as far as it will go. As the bolt moves back the dust cover will pop open. Let go of the charging handle and the bolt will move forward and strip a round from the magazine, and then place it into the chamber. As soon as you chamber a round make sure the fire/safe selector is on safe. You should get in the habit of placing the weapon on safe whenever you don’t have your finger on the trigger ready to fire.
From this point on each time you squeeze the trigger it will fire one round. Once the magazine is empty the bolt will lock back, just like the slide on a semi automatic handgun. Like with a semi auto handgun a failure to fire may not be an empty magazine. And just like with a handgun you should verify that it is indeed the bolt locked back. The simplest way to do this is lower the weapon and turn it so you can see the ejection port, and verify that the bolt is locked back on an empty magazine. Now press the magazine release and the magazine will drop free, well maybe, as demonstrated by Fred Mastison at Force Options in this video:
Once you have a new magazine inserted you can press the bolt release and it will move forward stripping a new round off the magazine. Once thing to note, under stress your fine motor skills degrade, making pressing the bolt release with your finger difficult. To overcome this just hit it with the heel of your hand.
And there you have it, a quick tutorial on the operation and shooting the AR-15. This is such a versatile weapon that just by changing the upper or adding an optic you can expand the usefulness of the AR-15 from a close quarter combat weapon to a long range shooter.
In AR-15 Basics – Part 4, we’ll look at some tools you will need for maintaining and cleaning your AR-15.
Special thanks to Straight 8 Photography for the featured header image.
AR-15 Basics – Part 1: A Brief History, it’s Nomenclature and Figuring out What’s Best for you.
AR-15 Basics – Part 2: The Lower Receiver and Ammunition.