At the Range: A Non-Tactical Guy Goes Tactical

Ace Luciano with his Ruger SR-556E

This is the first installment in a four-part series of my transformation from MSR-neophyte to “functional expert,” hunter, shooter and advocate.

Phase One: The Purchase and Explanation

Ace Luciano with his Ruger SR-556E
The author with his Ruger SR-556E

Yes, I finally took the plunge. Got on board. Leaped in with both feet. Got on the boat. Joined the team.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, after surviving for my first 40 years of life without having any interest in a tactical weapon, I have finally joined the rank-and-file of Modern Sporting Rifle (MSR) owners.

All I have to say is, boy, do I wish that I had discovered how much fun this was a lot sooner! The sad part is, I was one of those people in my own little world, I was never “against” the ownership of a tactical-style rifle. I just felt that I had no use for one. Since I took the plunge, I have fielded questions from just about every niche of my network of friends, colleagues and acquaintances… From my “Fine Gun Fellows” asking, “What are you going to do with that?” to my dyed-in-the-wool hunting buddies and forum members asking, “Why do you need a gun like that?” and, “I thought you were more of a shotgun and big-game rifle guy.” For a long time, that is exactly what I was. Before this past year, all I knew how to do with an MSR was check to see if it was loaded and drop the magazine.

In truth, I really believed for a long time that a hunter had no use for the AR platform. Sure, you can shoot things with it, but there are bolt-action varmint rifles with better accuracy for a lot less money. Certainly, I believed the vast array of hunting calibers available in bolt-action, double barrel, and semi-automatic rifles far surpassed what you can put on an AR platform. Understand—I have spent my entire life shooting guns. I know a lot about firearms. I have been an avid hunter for 35 years. I can disassemble and re-assembled most shotguns and hunting rifles in a matter of seconds. I have shot a lot of handguns that aren’t typically used for hunting. I have also done a great deal of recreational shooting. However, prior to 10 months ago, I had pulled the trigger on a MSR only once or twice. I really did not have an excuse to buy an MSR, except the thought that I wanted one. At the time I didn’t have an idea which brand or model to choose. Everyone told me, “Pick one—it’s all the same parts.” That delay almost cost me my chance to ever own one. Many say fear is a great motivator. With the current mood of the country—and a few mentally-disturbed wackos conducting mass-shootings and attempting to assassinate members of Congress—I was more than a little concerned of potential legislation. I worried if I didn’t get one soon, I might be denied the right to ever have one. Luckily, just prior to last year’s election, I ordered my first MSR from Ruger. I was lucky on several fronts. First, Ruger still had some SR-556s in stock. Second, the full-fledged panic had not yet risen to epic proportions… Ruger SR-556E When asked what I wanted, my answer was, “An AR-15.” Sure, I knew that there were other calibers that were available, but did anyone really ever order those? The model I settled on was the SR-556E in 5.56mm/.223. When my package arrived at a local dealer a few weeks later, I was actually at a bit of a loss as to how to even assemble it. For the first time in many years, I actually read the entire product manual and safety brochure.

  • I learned about the forward assist and how it works.
  • I learned how to clear a jam or malfunction. (Not as simple as it looks.)
  • I even learned the basic principles and differences between a gas-impingement system and a piston-driven recoil system, which is what I have.

I even took it apart—it was easy. And, thanks to a great video library at the Ruger website, I was able to put it back together—only after a LOT more time than it should have taken. Join me over the next few weeks as I talk about my experiences with shooting, hunting, and basic maintenance of the AR platform, beginning with sights, optics, and at the range… All from a humble neophyte to the MSR community.

Do you have a modern sporting rifle? Tell us about your experience in the comment section.


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Comments (17)

  1. @ Neil;
    There are many models of “black rifle” that are acceptable legally in California. If you go to Arizona, be sure and tell the stocking dealer that you need a California compliant version. Many of the online retailers also list Cal/Compliant versions of their stock. It really isn’t worth it to try to edge around local laws, as law enforcement in that state are as paranoid and schizoid as some criminals! I’ve not looked at whether you can go the Title II route on that over there, but you’d have to wait for BATF approval and pay 200 transfer tax if you can afford that. Many folks are surprised to find their state is NFA compliant in Title II weapons, and much fun can be derived from that field – as long as you can afford the huge price of transferable weapons!

  2. I have never owned an AR-15, but am considering it. Problem is that I live in California. Can I just order one from the local gun shop, or can I have one shipped to a local FFL dealer from Arizona, when I plan to visit some gun shops there?

    Also, would it be a good idea to choose a manufacturer who offers a model with switch-barrel capabilities? I shoot ground squirrels and coyotes. A .204 might work for both varmints.

  3. Make sure you all catch up on my transformation.
    What a ride the last year has been.

    Something I’ve noticed… Not a lot of “hunter” or even “shooter” posts.
    LOTs of Military folk.


  4. I am also an old M-14 guy who simply did not like a Matti-Mattel. And combat shotguns do have a special place in my heart. Finally my Military serving son gave me one and the rest is history. Before the first craze I built a 6.8 AR then a complete Armalite 5.56, then a RockRiver 5.56 pistol and a .22LR followed by a 6.8 SPC II Rock pistol; and now a 300 Blackout pistol. Of course now I have an extra Savage barrel in .260 Rem laying around so I think I will make a custom 6.5 Grendel; just for fun. All are really fun toys and shoot great. I plan on taking a deer or two with that 6.8 pistol, just for fun. They ARE ballistically superior to a 30-30 at any distance, so what the heck. Talk about a fun compact gun to slide through the brush.

    Those AR’s don’t even seem finicky any more about cleaning. Just pour in the oil and work the mechanism. (Blasphemy I know, but what the hell they work) Now I have probably 50 or 60 custom bolt action rifles in about any caliber you can name, but those AR’s are just plain fun. And sure I still believe if I had to grab one rifle when it really did hit it would be that trusty old 14 (or my Benelli, but I have to admit that first AR that impressed me because it would shoot MOA would be a good choice. Now not all of them will shoot quite that good, but if not MOA then damn close. I remember when only custom bolts that cost a first born could do that. So whether it is killing paper, or punching holes in those killer Prairie Pups, AR’s are just fun and hard to beat. And since under the divine inspiration from God we have 30-06’s to kill any meat we really need, the only purpose of all those guns and calibers is really for fun, I guess AR’s simply fill the bill better than anything else around. I started to say the most fun you can have in a vertical position, but darn those light kicking AR’s are even fun shooting prone. SO it also comes in second from the horizontal. 🙂

    Happy shooting, (and for all you Vets, remember that you may have been released from the military, but you never were released from a sacred oath you took when you went in.)


  5. Congratulations! It’s always good to see someone that obviously seems to enjoy their first experience with the AR platform. I’ve owned a Bushmaster XM-15 Dissipator for years and love it. I was a shotgun person for a long time, and still love a good shotgun, but I will always have my AR. Each weapons has its uses as far as I’m concerned. Look forward to reading more of your experiences in the days to come.

  6. I’ve grown weary of AKs in my time. I have only one now, which is a pistol kind of like a Krinkov. I must admit – I like an old Universal Pistol M1 carbine derivative I had years ago even better. But the components were made of cheap metal by a firm in Hileah Florida known to build “Saturday Night Specials” and the barrel/chamber couldn’t even take NATO ammo. So I will be on the perpetual look out for something better – I may even have to go Title II to get an M2 automatic carbine in .30 carbine, as this was the most satisfying shooter I’ve EVER owned. I can’t explain it, but hunting wild dogs, as a young man proved its worth to me. Making 5 gallon tin cans fly though the air in the back pasture was another complete joy of mine!! I’ve never seen such a compact weapon with as much hard hitting energy, controllability, and fire power as an M1 carbine pistol!!

    The problem with AKs is not in the engineering or design, but in the accuracy. They bend and whip like rawhide when you shoot them, and you can’t hit the broad side of a barn with anything short of a Finish M76 – in my not so humble opinion! I love PKMs too, but only if they have American built receivers in them, because they can be an unwieldy piece of junk too! Call me prejudiced by experience, if you like.

  7. Good to hear Ace!! It is always welcome and interesting to see the perspective of folks arriving to the tactical scene! I must admit I’m slow to acquire one myself. I have and AR lower, but I like putting almost anything but 5.56mm on it. Maybe one day when a belt fed version comes out. I got a lotta M-27 links I’m itching to try. I usually shoot 7.62mm NATO, 7.62mm X 57R, or 8mm Mauser. Its all fun an literally a blast for me and my buddies; many of us don’t even hunt. Most of us just like going out on the range. To us that is more fun than a barrel of monkeys! 🙂

    I too will look forward to any more of your posts – I love reading a fresh look on the subject.

  8. Welcome to the club !!! I’ve had M16’s/M-4’s all my military career (23 yrs) so it was easy for me to pick one up. I chose a Windham Weaponry MPC as my personal “go to” weapon. Then I picked up some accessories to personalize her.
    of course like so many of us ammo is always an issue (hopefully Cheaper that Dirt will start living up to their name again sometime soon.) and yeah its easy to burn through the ammo quick ! but I know I have a excellent rifle and she’s a lot of fun to shoot and very accurate too boot.
    Again welcome to team and I look forward to reading the rest of your posts.

  9. Having been trained on the M-14 and M-16 during Vietnam I’ve found that’s the only long rifle I’d like to own. Have been eyeing them lately since my Marine son has returned from deployment. I think a lot of guys my age who shot the AR style rifle in Vietnam may be partial to them. Outside a .22 that’s the only rifle I’ve ever shot. Cost of ammo is one main reason I haven’t jumped in yet. My son wants to build his own like his Marine buddies have done. I may go that route. I want one for sport and home defense; and to be honest, in case our government ever stops sales of them to regular citizens…I’ll have mine and ready for the TSHTF moment.

  10. Thanks for the encouragement, guys!
    I’m having a lot of fun… and look forward to more.

    I was lucky and stocked up on a lot of ammo, but I’m learning that you can really burn through it.
    My only other issue: TIME!


  11. welcome to the “TEAM” hopefully you will enjoy your as much as I enjoy ALL OF MINE, yes you will buy more . the ammo shortage will let up I WILL GARENTTE IT

  12. Ace,

    Interesting post. I am now in the same position that you were in. However, I am significantly older. I grew up with the M-1 and M-14. We disparaged the 5.56 as a “mouse gun” and “made by Mattel”. In the last few months, I considered an AR type platform but in 7.62X51 mm.

    I have varmint rifles and used them on coyotes, marmots, rabbits and digger squirrels. The rifle is an excellent Browning A-Bolt, Boss in .223. Dandy rifle. I know that the 5.56 can take deer sized critters but never felt it was more than marginally adequate at best. I have killed quite a few animals and do not mind doing that but never wanted the animal to suffer.

    I once shot a deer with a .243, at an estimated 180 or so yards. It left the little Oregon black tail alive and in obvious pain, but with a shot a bit high that broke its back. So, the deer was on the ground mewing. Never took anything smaller than a 7mm-08 since.

    I have always thought, perhaps incorrectly, that a 30-06 would have been adequate to silence the suffering deer, with the same high hit — but it would also have probably hit just a bit lower than the .243 to start with at that range.

    I once lost an elk shot with a .300 Win Mag when it was a brand new cartridge. Used Remington factory ammo and discovered that in that batch of ammo, Remington used the same bullet as in the 30-06. Bullet jacket was too thin for the speed and the bullet blew up on hitting the elk shoulder. Blood and hair everywhere. Dandy bull. We tracked it for two and one half days and never found anything to indicate it ever died. It did not lay down. Did not stiffen up to where it could not get up, just stopped bleeding and kept moving.

    Corresponded with Remington and they admitted that the bullet jacket was thin and they sent me two boxes of improved ammo. I sold them with the gun.

  13. Both my wife and I have AR-15’s chambered in 5.56, mine a S&W M&P and her’s a DPMS. They are equipped the same with bipods and 4×32 scopes (we don’t need much power beyond 100 yards). While the main purposes of both are for fun and defense (we’re not hunters), I also have a stock of DRT ammo in .223 Rem to be used if and when TSHTF and we need a meat gun. We have lots of deer nearby. In the meantime, we shoot both at the range once per month and thoroughly enjoy them.

  14. I haven’t been able to swing the price of the AR. But I learned how to clean and feed an M-16 in the USAF. You’ll get used to it.

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