By Mike Keleher
You may not be aware of this, but these are the bargain days for obtaining AR-15 rifles. Back when Hillary Clinton was running for president, gun owners were very worried about their gun rights and the whole Democrat gun-ban agenda brashly came into the public light. Gun sales boomed, particularly AR sales. Prices for base line rifles routinely ran in the $900-$1000 range.
Once President Trump took office we all breathed a sigh of relief in the Second Amendment arena for the moment- and gun and part manufacturers had a lot of stock on the shelves with a lot less Hillary driven demand. Prices have been falling and now is a great time to buy or build .
I like to think anyone who wants an AR should have already obtained at least one by now-kind of like anyone that wanted a Smartphone, a flat screen TV or wanted to see Willie Nelson should have had plenty of opportunity to do so by now!
It is truly America’s rifle with huge amounts of diverse uses from self-defense to competition shooting, to hunting. If you have one, how about another? No one knows how many AR’s are in private hands, the NRA once estimated between 8.5 and 15 MILLION rifles are out there.
Using a recent Cabela’s sales flyer as a snapshot, they were offering baseline ARs like the DPMS Oracle for $479, a Ruger AR-556 for $649, Smith and Wesson M&P AR-15 for $649 and a much heralded entry by Savage, their MSR15 Recon for $679.
These are basic carbines in flattop configuration and can do many things well. The beauty of the design and current aftermarket parts supply make them super easy to work on and customize. They are the new hot-rod car for America. In a time when most of us can’t begin to work on our new-fangled, computer controlled cars we can still change out performance or stylish parts on an AR to our heart’s content.
If you have never built your own AR you are missing out a lot of fun and pride in accomplishment-and bargain prices to boot. I urge a lot of people to build their own rifle from kits and a friend of mine once said “I’m not handy” and felt it was beyond him. If you can run a screwdriver and a hammer and can put pressed wood furniture or Legos together you can probably put your own rifle together in about an hour with no sweat.
In the “What could go horribly wrong?” old days, you had to worry about head spacing the barrel and have a couple of extra pricey tools to make sure you were doing it right. Here in the modern days, the simple work around is to just purchase an upper/barrel assembly in the configuration of your choice pre-assembled by the manufacturer or retailer. Get a stripped lower and a packet of small parts and a stock assembly and put them together then push the two pins of the upper into the lower and it is done! Duh, so easy!
Assembly of small parts are very easy. I recommend printing out assembly instructions from AR-15.com or another internet site, obtaining an Army or Marine M-16 manual for cheap, or refer to the always superb gunsmith video segments offered by Brownells.com to help along the way.
Worried about expensive or exotic tools?
Worried about expensive or exotic tools? While an AR10 jig can be helpful, how about a mallet, a set of cold steel punches or better yet a small set of roll pin starter punches, maybe a screwdriver and pair of channel locks or pliers? Throw in a roll of duct tape (slap a couple of layers on the metal when tapping in roll pins with your punches to avoid marring the finish.)
The upgraded parts kit would include a dedicated AR armorer’s combo wrench ($15.99 Walmart.com) that can work on barrels, compensators and castle nuts really well and a small cheap and marvelous tool available from Brownells that lets you install the fussy little front take down pin (pivot pin detent assembly tool $15.99) in a single stroke. You don’t need it, but this little tool sure makes it a breeze for that single step.
If you are going to mount your own barrel you will need a torque wrench to tighten the barrel nut down. You can use the AR combo wrench or get a military surplus barrel tool for very little cash and a torque wrench-I got one at Harbor Freight Tools for about $9.00. I use it about twice a year and for nine bucks it hits my price point for a took I don’t need very often. Being a married man I am routinely torqued by just never need a wrench for it.
One of the beauties of assembling your own carbine, is you can pick and choose all of the parts to your exact specifications. Being a well known Cheap-Azz, I monitor email sales all the time. Get on a couple websites and you will be bombarded daily with all kinds of fabulous deals. I particularly shop for parts near or on holiday weekends. All marketers have huge sales associated with holidays-that is my kind of party.
Last year I took my time between Thanksgiving/Black Friday and Christmas collecting parts at bargain prices and assembled an AR-15 pistol (in desert tan if you must know) with a Stainless Steel 10.5 inch barrel and Sig wrist brace for about $400. I put a 9mm AR-9 together for about $450.
If you are new to this whole thing just buy a parts kit-everything you need for a lower is included and buy an assembled upper. I bought a Blackhawk brand parts kit for a carbine this summer for $69.00. Bought a stripped lower for $40…yes $40 with free shipping-now it has to go to my local FFL and I pay a transfer fee, but that is the kind of incidental fee I don’t bother telling my wife or friends about when I tell them I dropped a $200 assembled upper on it and had the whole rifle for about $310.
My favorite parts sales sights are Brownells.com, Palmetto State Armory.com, Primary Arms, CDNNsports.com, Aim Surplus and Midway.com. Get on their emailing lists-there are sales every day!
Palmetto State Armory has graciously accepted an awful lot of my money in the last year or so for good reason-they have terrific sales and tons of variations available. If you are assembling on the cheap look at their web sales-this week they had an assembled upper with 16″ barrel, complete with a bolt carrier group and charging handle for $219. They had a fully assembled lower too with a six position collapsible stock for $129. Order them both, push the pins together and you have a serviceable carbine for $348. They have a full rifle kit with no lower for $299. They are also offering a 10.5″ pistol kit with no lower included for $379. Some of the pistol parts sales have been quite satisfying to the budget conscious.
CDNNsports.com this week showed pistol kits with now lower and 10.5″ barrels (ballistically the best barrel length for an AR pistol) in 5.56 mm, .300 Blackout and 7.62x39mm for $199. Pick up a $40-$50 stripped lower and you have a cool “pistol” for $250!
Primary Arms is showing multiple 16″ carbine kits from Ghost ($499), Palmetto State Armory 18″ barrel with Wylde chamber for $499, Tiger brand for $299.
Davidson Defense si showing off their 16″ carbine kit for $379 with a variety of foreends suitable for mounting stuff for $379.
Some people are very fussy about their brand name firearms and are rightly proud of them. The quality of available parts can get you a starter gun or back up gun for half to two thirds of the price of some big name manufacturers. You can also upgrade along the way so easily you can adapt basic guns to your dream of the “perfect rifle” for very reasonable money.
Now optics…whooie…that is another money matter entirely. From red dots to holo sights to tactical scopes to long range scopes…Indulge yourself-you can always rationalize you saved so much on the rifle build you now have lots of extra money to spend on cool optics!