When Teaching a New Shooter, Does the Gun Matter?

Picture shows a black, fixed stock AR-15 A2 style rifle with fixed carry handle and carbine length handguard.

I’m sure your immediate response is, “of course it does!” Picking the “wrong” gun might just turn someone off from shooting. I took a risk letting a brand new shooter fire a DPMS Classic 16 Carbine as her first .223 Remington, semi-automatic rifle. Fortunately, in this particular case the gun did not matter.

On Spring Break, it was my pleasure to have one of my girlfriends—a brand-new shooter—ask me to teach her how to shoot a gun. Due to the nature of our circumstances, we had available to us a Smith &Wesson M&P 15-22, an S&W M&P .22 pistol and a DPMS Classic 16 Carbine chambered in .223 Remington.

I started the lesson with basic firearm safety rules. We first shot the Smith & Wesson M&P .22 pistol, and then the S&W M&P 15-22. I wanted to make sure she had a good feel for holding and handling both a rifle and pistol, aligning the sights, trigger control and recoil. She took to shooting both .22s very well and by the look on her face, enjoyed it. I asked her if she wanted to give The Big One—as we had nicknamed the DPMS—a go.

The DPMS Classic 16 is modeled after one of the most classic rifle designs in firearm history—the M16 A2. The M16 is the full-auto version of today’s modern sporting rifle. For those of you who have been around longer than me will recognize the Classic 16 A2 configuration. Its fixed carry handle with built-in rear sight, pistol grip, fixed buttstock and heavy barrel characterizes the A2.

My friend complained about the sights before she started shooting. I had to agree. In the classic A2 style, the DPMS has a fixed front sight tower and a A2 rear sight on the fixed carry handle—very different from the S&W 15-22’s Magpul MBUS adjustable flip-up front and rear sights. I concluded it was the fixed stock on the DPMS giving us trouble finding a clear sight picture.

Neither of us could get our head close enough on the comb to see the rear sight properly. When a gun’s length of pull fits you, the sight picture should be right on target when you shoulder the long gun. Clearly, the length of pull on the fixed stock Classic 16 did not fit either of us—to learn more about why this is important, read, “What is Length of Pull and Why Does it Matter?” We analyzed our video afterward and quickly realized my friend’s poor stance. She had to point the muzzle of the rifle too low for her to get a clear sight picture. Due to where I was standing, I was unaware of her poor aim and unfortunately unable to correct her.

Finally on target, my friend did blast away some cans with a satisfying PLUNK! PLUNK! She did not shy away from shooting through 10 rounds before she complained the rifle had gotten too heavy. While my friend only had the 5.5-pound S&W to compare it with, the 7.1-pound DPMS Classic 16 with heavy barrel and fixed stock, the extra weight feels significant. On a positive note, the weight of the DPMS absorbs more recoil. We were very pleasantly surprised at how minimal recoil is on the DPMS.

My friend only knows AR-15s through mainstream media. When I pulled out the DPMS she asked, “What is that?” I told her it was an AR-15—what the media has been calling an “assault rifle.” I briefly went into why this was so and let her hold it before loading it. I am thankful my friend, unknowledgeable about guns, was able to look beyond the “scary” perception of the black rifle to just have a thoroughly good time shooting The Big One.

After we were finished shooting, my friend admitted that although she felt entirely comfortable with me and with the rifle, she was still nervous. I told her I was glad she was nervous and it was a healthy response. I told her, “That means you recognized the power you were holding in your hands. I hope you may now be able to make a wiser decision about purchasing your first gun.” Admittedly, I have very little experience with fixed stock ARs… okay, actually none. However, with the DPMS as my only option, I questioned if it was the right decision for my friend’s first shooting experience. Did I make the right choice? I wished her first AR-15 experience could have been with the S&W M&P 15-22’s big brother, the S&W M&P 15. However, after reflecting on our lesson, I know now I was projecting my own experience with the AR-15 world on someone who had nothing to compare with the DPMS.

Will she be buying the DMPS Classic? Doubtful, however, this time the particular gun didn’t matter. My friend got a thrill shooting the AR-15, regardless of the lack of fancy optics and an adjustable stock. At the end of the day, what mattered the most—our safety and sharing the joy of shooting.

What do you think of the A2-style AR-15s? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section.

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 (4)

  1. Recently a friend introduce me to one of her girlfriends who had recently been introduced to the world of crime through a drug abusing boyfriend. The request was to teach the girlfriend how to shoot pistols in the hopes eventually of self defense, should the wrong sort of person come barging into her bedroom. Coming from her family in Kansas, the girlfriend borrowed one of her father’s pistols to learn with. When I found out it was a Walther PPK, the Bond jokes ensued, and I forbid her to shoot the gun. Instead we started her on a Sig Mosquito, and just the basics of safety, stance, grip, sight picture, and trigger pull. After 2 such sessions, she started bugging me repeatedly to shoot her PPK. I tried explaining the differences in the rounds and the effect of the smaller pistol, but she didn’t understand. So the next time I brought an HK USP 9mm for her to try. After shooting both the Mosquito and USP consistently, I finally let her shoot the PPK. She hated it. She tried different grips, and ammo but in the end returned it to her father. She repeatedly thanked me for not letting her learn to shoot on the PPK, claiming she never would have become a shooting enthusiast, or even enjoyed shooting. She had since purchased a Sig P229, and is frequently seeking advice on her next purchase.

  2. I really couldn’t say Suzanne, as I’ve never owned or fired any type of AR platform gun, but yes, it absolutely does matter what gun is used. It may not have been the best idea to let my daughter, maybe seven or eight at the time, fire my old 12ga pump that day, down at the deer lease. I handed it to her, and she fired before even mounting it completely against her shoulder, knocking her down. Ok, that’s a little extreme, and hindsight is golden, but I feel it even carrys beyond new shooters. For years, I hunted with the 30.06, in several different brands, both in bolt and semi-auto. I never really enjoyed shooting it because of recoil, when a .308 would have done everything just as well, and probably been pleasant to use. I don’t know, because I’ve never owned or fired one, but hope some day to rectify that, though I haven’t hunted this millinium. Once, I had the chance to shoot my husband in-law’s Remington 700 ADL in .270 Winchester though, and that was a joy to shoot, and shoot well. I still have an ‘.06, but if I needed to hunt Texas game today, a Winchester model 70 Featherweight in .243 Win, or a Remington 788 in 6mm Rem, reside in my closet right next to that 30.06, and would be my first grab. Of course fit, action, weight, and barrel length factor in as much as the caliber. Length of pull, and quality trigger design as well. All these factors are as important to a new shooter, as to the oldest, most experienced outdoors person who ever witnessed the thrill of making memories, and that’s what it’s all about, really. Whether you’re a new shooter or a seasoned vet, if you have a gun you can shoot well, it instills confidence and proficiency. This is my take on it. There are many options available today, in guns and accessories. Not just for the beginners either. That’s a concept we all should keep in mind. Today’s new shooter has many more options available than in my day, when you couldn’t sit in your tree stand, and text your buddy. But their feet get just as cold, and the backstrap tastes just as good!

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