The AR-15 is by far the most popular tactical rifle in America. It’s been around for more than half a century and its basic design continues to be improved upon every year. Likewise the aftermarket has added a bewildering array of accessories catered to a variety of consumers: competition shooters, collectors, and tactical professionals alike. This post aims to show the setup that is best suited for the majority of the tactical community. First, we must list the characteristics that we desire in the weapon system so we don’t end up looking like this.
First and foremost, it must be reliable, it must go bang on demand in any condition we are likely to find ourselves in; such as being stored for long periods of time, cold and hot temperatures, poor quality ammunition, and under lubrication. I’m not impressed by videos where they bury the gun in mud then shoot it. Amazing, you designed a gun that can be dirty on the outside and still fire. I’m much more impressed if you get the action dirty and it still functions. All guns should function when externally dirty, only the best function when internally so.
Secondly, it should be accurate. Realistically, we require a level of tactical accuracy that allows us to service the types of targets, at the average ranges, we are likely to face. For the majority of us, in an urban environment, it is roughly 50yds or less, according to an American Snipers Association study of police sniper engagements.
Note that this is specific to police sniper operations and not CQB, or active shooter situations. So we know that we aren’t likely to shoot much further than 50 yards, but we must, out of prudence, be able to engage targets at further distances as required. I believe that the optimal rifle should be able to handle targets out to 200 yards with no difficulty. This requirement also gives us an idea of the requisite mechanical accuracy needed. Given this information, I feel that a rifle that can group at 2 MOA (minutes of angle), or a two inch group at one hundred yards is ideal. We should not consider platforms that are less than 4 MOA accurate. Notice I do not mention which caliber we should use. Personally I feel that 5.56 is more than sufficient, but there is nothing wrong with something larger.
Lastly, we need a weapon system that augments our ability to see our target through the use of optical magnification. I prefer a variable power, illuminated reticle scope. Specifically, I recommend the Vortex Viper PST 1-4x scope.
It is very light, well designed, and very clear at its lowest and highest magnification settings. It has turret stops on the elevation knobs, allowing you to quickly dial in dope at extended distance. It further has an MOA sub tensions, which allow even quicker shots out to a distance of 600yds with mil standard ammo. Here is an affiliate link for the optic.
Some of you might be saying, why don’t you recommend a red dot scope? The truth is, they are very good optics, but they do not help you see your target any better, which is important given the types of chaotic situations that are present in the environments we are likely to experience. Red dots excel at putting rounds on target at 25 yards or less very quickly, but can they help you spot the cell phone in someone’s hand that you think is a gun? They cannot. I also believe that you can be just as quick with a magnified optic, otherwise 3-Gun competitors would not use them. So now that we know our big three, reliability, accuracy, and enhanced vision; where do we go from there?
When shopping for a rifle, we must first find those characteristics that enhance reliability. I believe that gas piston rifles are inherently more reliable as they do not induce unnecessary carbon fouling into the action. That is not to say that they are the only thing I shoot, just that they are my preferred rifle.
Next, we must consider what characteristics affect accuracy. I prefer a rifle with little play between the upper and lower receiver. Likewise, a free floated barrel is preferred over non-free floated. Lastly, quality machining, in the chamber, is a big plus as well.
I’ve already indicated my preference for the Vortex Viper PST 1-4x; however, I believe that there are other scopes that are very good. Many folks seem to have good luck with the Burris 1-4 scopes as well as a few others. Ideally, whichever scope we choose will have a true 1x magnification setting, which will allow quick and accurate shots at CQB distances. Illuminated reticles also assist in fast target acquisition, in a variety of circumstances.
I personally will not spend more than $500 on a scope, not because there is no benefit to a more expensive scope, there is. The real reason is that spending 2-4x more on a scope will not translate to any increased accuracy at 100yds and in. Remember, the purpose of this article is to specify an ideal tactical setup for most situations, not a niche setup for a few users, nor is its purpose to unnecessarily empty our bank accounts. Likewise, I prefer to use the scope mounts from the scope manufacturers themselves, not because they are any better, but because I know they are 99% as good as a set of Larue rings.
The rifle pictured below is a Ruger SR – 556c with a Vortex Viper PST mounted with Vortex rings, the stock is a Magpul ACS storage stock, Magpul trigger guard, Magpul angled foregrip and Troy rail covers, on the fore end. All links are affiliate links to Amazon.com where you can purchase for the lowest price, and help support us!
The angled fore grip, rail covers, and PMAGS I use are custom stippled by myself. I also use a Magpul BAD lever on the bolt release, the grip is a factory Hogue grip, the rail is a factory Troy Ind. 10in picatinny rail, with troy iron sights. I know you’re saying ‘No keymod?!? That’s so 2000 and late, yo.’ The truth is, I don’t really see the need to change just yet, call me vintage..
For me, this is a very accurate and efficient setup capable of 2 MOA accuracy all day with no malfunctions. I’ve shot a few thousand rounds through it and have never experience any malfunctions whatsoever, which is a better track record than the M4 I carried in the Marine Corps.
This is what I would consider a mid priced rifle. It generally retails for roughly $1900 dollars (but can be purchased for about $1300, which is what I paid a few years ago), the Magpul accessories are about $100, the scope and rings are about $600; bringing the grand total to roughly $2000. This is, to my mind, the best value in terms of the above-mentioned characteristics. Do you need to spend $2000? No, but I know this package will handle anything I can throw at it.
Now that we’ve spec’d out the ideal setup, we need to be able to effectively use it. It doesn’t matter how awesome your rifle, if you can’t hit anything. Stay tuned for following posts covering the Tier Three method for combat shooting.