8 Tips for the New AR-15 Shooter

By Wilburn Roberts published on in Firearms, How To

The AR-15 is America’s rifle. In fact, the black rifle in just about any configuration is very versatile. But choosing the right rifle is a daunting proposition for many. There are many choices, and many good choices. Let’s cover some of the basics.

Ruger AR 556s showing iron sights

Ruger’s AR 556 is supplied with good basic iron sights.

AR-15 Types—Which rifle?

A rifle to be avoided is the parts gun found on the shelf at the pawn shop. You are probably buying someone else’s trouble. A home enthusiast may build a quality rifle using parts from Spikes Tactical and few others. That is true, but you are under control of the contents. The best bet is to purchase a quality rifle from Colt, Ruger, or Smith and Wesson. The value line rifles from these three are reliable and have good actions. They are easily upgraded. Obtaining a quality rifle will make for a smoother path in learning to use the AR-15 rifle. Do not purchase the cheapest alternative. Buy a new gun.

Choose Everyone’s Caliber

The rifle should be chambered for 5.56mm. It is worth an article to discuss the difference, but in a nutshell the 5.56mm is the hotter caliber. There are slight differences between the two calibers—5.56mm and .223 Remington. The 5.56mm rifle is fine with either caliber. I have seen blown primers with 5.56mm NATO in .223 Remington chambers. Vote for versatility. As you become more experienced you may wish to obtain a .300 Blackout upper or even the 6.8mm, or 6.5 Grendel. However, the beginner should choose an affordable cartridge that may be easily obtained.

Chrome Chrome-lined barrels are best for longevity. (Some rifles now have Nitride coatings, others have Melonite.) I like the original chrome-lined bore. Some riflemen of great experience claim the non-chromed barrels are more accurate, but perhaps they are at a different strata of shooting than the rest of us. My chrome-lined bore Colt is the most accurate rifle I own. Costs are cut where you cannot see it, but you will realize the difference in a chrome-lined barrel. An NP3 coated bolt carrier group such as the one offered by Sharps Rifle Company is also a good improvement. Modern self-lubricating technology should be used when available.

Hogue adjustable stock on an AR-15 rifle

As you use the rifle, you may wish to upgrade the stock and other parts. This is a Hogue upgrade.

Understand Barrel Twist Rates

All of my rifles are carbines with a 16-inch barrel, and most of my shooting is recreational and sporting. I do consider the AR a defensive rifle, but that is limited to moderate range. So, which barrel twist rate? This depends upon the weight of the bullet to be used. A fast twist rate is one turn in seven inches. This stabilizes heavy bullets such as the Sierra 77-grain MATCH bullet. A slower twist rate is designed to stabilize lighter bullets. The 1 in 8 inches turn works fine with most projectiles and gives an edge with the standard 55-grain bullet. 1 in 9 inches is also good, and best if you use 40-grain Varmint Grenades. The Ruger AR556 with its 1 in 8-inch twist is proving to be a great performer.

Trigger Action

At present, most of the rifles in my safe exhibit 4 to 6 pounds on the RCBS registering trigger compression gauge. Carefully choose a crisp factory trigger when trying out rifle actions in the shop. I have confirmed factory actions as heavy as 9 pounds. Ruger offers an exceptional after-market trigger for its rifles or any AR-15. A true expert may wish to consider the match trigger, but that isn’t the beginner stage.

Which handguard?

Rifles in the entry price range—$700 to $900—will usually have the standard GI-type handguard or a similar modern version. This isn’t all bad. As you advance as a shooter, you may wish to have more space for optics, slings, and accessories. But take a hard look at the role the rifle is going to play in your life. Is the rifle a fun gun for casual shooting, a 3 Gun Competition rifle, or personal defense rifle? Sometimes the roles will conflict. Cheaper than Dirt! offers excellent service and more than a dozen handguard choices. If you need an upgrade, the project is simple and affordable enough.

SIG Patrol Rifle right with green A2 handgrip and adjustable stock

If you have the coin perhaps you should purchase the best rifle you can afford. This is the SIG Patrol Rifle.

Don’t Turn the Rifle Into a Rooney Gun

The AR-15 rifle is the Mr. Potato Head of rifles. It is a simple matter to fit advanced handguards, optics, laser accessories, range finders, and other gear to the rifle. The problem is the lightweight, fast-handling rifle becomes a burden with this much gear. And, unless you purchase first class gear that may be more expensive than the rifle, you are going to experience failures with some of the gear as well as experiencing battery life problems. A good rule is to add what is needed and nothing more. For most of us, that will mean a red dot or rifle scope. My personal Colt SOCOM wears a Redfield Battlezone optic with a LaserMax laser for close work. A Champion bipod is fixed because this is my dedicated long range AR. My Ruger truck gun is as issued.

Maintain the Rifle

The AR-15 rifle is a low maintenance rifle not a no maintenance rifle. The rifle must be cleaned to preserve reliability and ensure that eccentric wear doesn’t impede function. The bore must be cleaned often and the bolt carrier lubricated before use. This will keep the rifle running, and running for a long time.

The AR-15 is a great rifle, a reliable rifle, and an accurate rifle. It is also a rifle that gives the user much pride of ownership. Consider these tips and your introduction into the AR-15 world will be a pleasant one.

What is the best tip you can give a new AR-15 enthusiast? Share it in the comment section.


Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

View all articles by Bob Campbell

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The mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, "The Shooter's Log," is to provide information-not opinions-to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (46)

  • 70's Ops


    I’m late to this conversation, but to me, after 5 builds, 1 grendel and 4- 5.56mm, I can boil it down to this.
    Anderson manufacturing RF-85 parts. NO LUBE at all, clean up with “dawn” water. Faster cycling. 85% less friction. Runs a lot cooler too. Give them a try.

    As always
    Carry on


  • Laurie


    Very informative article, thanks for sharing!


  • Dave Carter


    I know what you mean about the eyesight! I have two WW rifles, in .308 and 7.62×39. Love them both. I wanted the AK round but wanted a solid American-made rifle from which to fire it. I have fired several hundred rounds of steel-case 7.62×39 rounds through it without one FTF/FTE! Really fun rifles to shoot. My therapy is cleaning them after every trip to the range. Makes you slow down a little to do it right. Merry Christmas!


  • Dave Carter


    Glad someone else came through for WW! Awesome rifles, tight and true. Proud to own two calibers of them.


    • Nealstar


      I trained on the M14, but assigned weapon was the M60. The first time I saw the M16, I thought it was made by Mattel and the reports from out in the field weren’t too positive. I finally decided that the AR15 was the modern day equivalent of the musket of the First War of Independence and to conform to being “well regulated” a citizen should have one. Being a concrete sequentialist, I did a great deal of due diligence and my first choice was the original Colt Sporter w/20″ barrel, triangular handguard and forward assist. Those were going for about $2K and I was only willing to pay so much for nostalgia so I kept researching. WW was the best I found for my needs at any price and their quality and service matched their marketing.Changed the iron sights to MagPul flip up rear, and a YMH gas block with flip up front, put a Primary Arms Microdot on as my eyes aren’t what they were 50 years ago and for better cheek weld changed to a MagPul ACS-L stock. It shoots better than I do.


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