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The AR-15: Practical, Tactical, and Versatile

For an off-the-grid, self-defense, and survival situation, there is perhaps no firearm more well-suited to the job than an AR-15. There is no need to bore you with the history of this firearm; so instead, you will find a discussion of “practical-tactical” uses and some must-have accessories that can put this weapons system over the top for you.

The AR-15 isn’t the finest piece of equipment ever made, certainly not the most accurate or reliable, and definitely not the coolest looking, though it can hold its own in these categories. The true beauty of this weapon is its versatility, adaptability, and the vast array of quality aftermarket accessories that can really enhance the capabilities of the gun.

Surely anyone who owns a long rifle within earshot of the gun industry knows what this weapon is and why it’s so good at what it does. Simply put, the billions of dollars spent on the OICW project and the XD series of infantry weapons has failed to usurp the prodigious AR-15 chassis (M-16/M-4 in this case).

What are the most useful items to add on? And which will really give you the upper hand in a true survival or defensive situation? In no particular order, here are some of the best.

A .22LR conversion kit could be the best item you can have for your rifle for any number of reasons, including:

  • Cheap training ammunition.
  • A cheap and plentiful option for small-game hunting and for last-ditch defensive protection.
  • Allowing any small person to handle the gun without recoil fears (though the .223 is a relatively mild round in its own right).

It could be a game changer in a long-term scenario. It may cost you the same amount of money to buy fifteen cases of ammunition for a .22LR as it does for one or two cases of the .223 military rounds. In an extended survival or off-the-grid situation, this could provide food for you for up to fifteen times longer than your rifle would, and it leaves the high-powered ammunition for threats that require more firepower.

The conversion systems have been built to be foolproof and are fast to change in and out, giving a gun owner a truly versatile product. Whatever you have to pay for one of these (usually $250 to $450 for super high quality), it’s worth it.

Another accessory to consider is a forearm with attachment rails (Picatinny rails). You don’t have to replace the forearm completely for this modification, but you are probably better off doing so, as you will get better stability, a cleaner function, and better looks if you do. This will allow you to add anything from sighting systems to grips, flashlights, and quick detachable modifications like slings and bipods. It’s quite simply a “must have” because it gives you the ability to tap into the versatility of the AR-15 like no other modification. For the price (under $250), you cannot beat the functionality. This is a no brainer if the AR-15 is your ONLY weapon. Can you do without it? Yes, but you will regret not having it when it counts. Don’t install this item if you aren’t willing to look into parts to attach to it, however, because it’s a modification that screams out to be utilized.

A forearm pistol grip can attach to your newly installed tactical Picatinny rails and provide a more stable CQB (close quarter battle) gun. It shortens the time to bring targets into view, and the positioning keeps you locked into an engagement position. It lowers felt recoil and brings you on target for repeat shots faster. It will also steady the sight plane for longer shots where prone position is not an option. It’s cheap and easy to install, and for around $40 and ten minutes of time, you are in business.

Brass catchers are indispensible to the reloader. They also help those with no desire to reload but need to collect their spent casings for whatever reason by saving them the time to pick up their spent casings. It definitely makes collection easier for possible resale to a reloader. Essentially this item is for training or for when you want cut back on debris exiting the weapon. Cheap and relatively foolproof, brass catchers will make your life simpler and prevent smashed up casings for usage in reloading. With the recent price spikes on ammunition, it may be more than just a convenience, as brass can cost upwards of 30 cents apiece for high-quality brass.

Accu-wedge inserts are the cheapest modification you can make to your AR-15 and at most will cost you $12 to $15. It will eliminate the rattle and play between the upper and lower receivers and will give the cycling of the gun a better, more solid feel. It cuts noise considerably and makes the gun feel tight. It’s so cheap and easy to do that it’s a definite “must-have.”

A QD (quick-detachable) bipod is excellent to put on when you are hunting or making long-range defensive shots, as it makes a built-in rest for your gun. It’s simple: If you want to make excellent shots, to steady your gun, and have the versatility of a bipod but not having to always have one, buy a QD setup.

QD) Sling mounts are the most utilitarian simple accessory for most any long gun. It gives you a way to keep your gun safe and out of the way and also helps steady the gun when you’re ready to shoot. They are cheap ($35 for a very high-quality one), easy to use, and provide infinitely more value for their cost than just about any other accessory. Functionality is the key here: Look for adjustable and customizable slings and fit it onto the weapon with QD swivels so you can remove it when unnecessary.

An ACOG or other multipurpose quick-view scope is another great accessory to consider. The ACOG is a quick-detachable, easy-to-use, tritium-lighted reticle scope. The mouthful that describes it does it no justice, as this is the premium scope for the AR-15 since the optics introduction many years back. It allows you to go out past 300 yards (with small calculations), and provides a tritium (nuclear-glowing green) reticle, which can be bought as a traditional crosshairs view or with a post-range finding view for real customization. It’s such an easy scope to use, and the technology is still incredible 15+ years after its introduction. Made of lightweight aluminum, the body gives off a sci-fi vibe, but the characteristics and specifications are all the real deal—there’s nothing fiction about this piece of gear. It will get you on target in a CQB fight or when you need to make that 100+ yard shot count. It can keep up with the best optics as they are released and is truly a timeless design. The ACOG is perhaps the most utilitarian sight available for this weapon.

This article covered only a few key items, and with the plethora of available manufacturers and accessories available for the AR-15 chassis, it is by no means a definitive list. There are plenty of other items someone might think are “must haves,” but pay particular attention to these for their utility.

In the end, aside from the absolute minimum requirements to keeping your gun functioning (below), having something that will swing the momentum of the situation into your favor is very important. These items above will do just that.

Minimum to keep your gun functioning:

  • G.I. cleaning kit or equivalent with a nylon chamber brush
  • Quality extra magazines
  • A spring kit
  • Extra extractor, gas-tube, and firing pin
  • Field stripping equipment

If you haven’t considered an AR-15 for your setup, look at the many benefits you gain by adding such a universal and versatile piece to your arsenal. Large caliber hunting rounds can also be put to use on such a chassis with the proper setups, so don’t discount the potential of this firearm. It’s important to be realistic though; with add-ons, this system can tie up financial resources as well, so be prudent in your decisions of aftermarket accessories, and make sure you are getting great value for your money and time.

©2011 Off the Grid News

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  1. Nice, “quick and dirty” run down the the MUST of having an AR15.

    You are right that there are nearly endless accessories for the AR15, perhaps too many for most folks new to the platform to assimilate. Most of them can be added later, once the rifle is purchased and used, as the owner determines a need or desire. I usually recommend that folks, when they purchase their first AR15 (there is always a first, and often a second 😉 ) is to get a flat-top upper. This allows you to remove the carry handle and allows for a wider variety of optics/sight options, later down the road.

    The benefits of using a 22 kit in your AR15 really boils down to using it for training in your primary rifle. If this is not a huge motivating factor in getting the kit, I would kindly suggest that one would consider getting a dedicated 22 rifle vs. a 22 kit. The kits run about $150, or more. For less than $130 (Dick’s often carries them for under $100), you can pick up a Marlin 795, which I think is a very good 22 , semi-auto, magazine fed 22 rifle. You can put Tech-Sights on it, to give you the aperture sights, like your AR15, for about $75 (I find it to be a worthy investment). This route gives you two operating/functional rifles for the price of one, and a kit.

    Finally, get ye to an Appleseed Shoot. For $70 (free for kids, women, military, LEO), you get a weekend of very good rifle marksmanship instruction, and learn the fundamentals of shooting your AR15 accurately, out to 500 yards. A great way to break in your AR, learn it’s functions and build the marksmanship foundations for further learning.

  2. Even though you listed it as part of the minimum to keep your gun running, I would have to move the cleaning kit to the top of the list. Few things are as important as cleanliness and proper lubrication with this gun, and the only way to do this is with the proper tools. A GI kit is a great start, add another gallon of CLP (or equivalent) to keep the little bottle full, and maybe add a couple Norton’s Universal Cleaning Sticks (U.C.S.) (available at Then add the tacti-cool pictinny hand guard, hand grip, etc.

  3. Good info, Two guns are always better than one. I introduced my group to the S&W 15-22. Children and Petiet women are not intimidated by the .22, makes for a very good training tool, it breaks down very similar to full size AR’s, and is a pound lighter, very accurate, and will make adversarys duk just the same. It can also be carried as a secondary weapon if needed….

  4. Nice article that would have been better with pictures of the mentioned accessories.

  5. I hope you will reply to this inquiry.

    I have been considering buying an AR 15 by Colt, chambered in 9mm, as opposed to .223/5.56. I have a 9mm pistol (a .38 special and a .45ACP, too) and a CZ452 rifle chambered in .22LR. I could see the advantages of buying a conversion kit to allow use of .22 LR. for training, ease of use and for hoarding inexpensive rounds in anticipation of a SHTF scenario.

    Would you recommend the 9mm round as a hunting and defensive round for this platform? In a rifle as opposed to a pistol, what kind of range would a 9mm round have as an effective “target stopping” bullet?

    Thanks for your time and the courtesy of a reply.

    • The 9mm is an anti-personnel round, meant to kill people. It will most assuredly kill a deer, out of a rifle. An AR platform in 9mm will give you pretty fair range to about 100 yds. though. Which isnt a lot for an assault rifle. There are laws of armed conflict, created by an irishman named murphy, one of them says, remember, when the enemy is in range, so are you. Anyone with a .308 Cal rifle is gonna make your life hell. The 9mm round is a pistol round and the rifle version that fires it would be considered a sub-machine gun which is specifically for spraying groups of people who tend to be very soft targets. But a 9mm will kill what every you hit with it be assured.
      Ammo is very cheap, and available from Chinese and russian marketeers.
      While I would not “recommend” it for hunting, in a survival scenario it will most likely get the job done for you.
      Be careful when asking “gun nuts” for advice on your gear. Kind of like pilots, all they know for sure is that they are always right and their stuff is always better than your stuff, even if you happen to have the same stuff they do. To be sure there are better choices for hunting, but since you are asking this question I take it you do not now hunt!?! Local hunting laws will restrict further your choice of ammo and gun to a certain amount of energy produced upon impact which could technically restrict your 9mm from hunting in your local area.
      But the answer to the question of “Would it work if you needed it to?” Is most assuredly “Yes” if you can hit with it.
      Cheap ammo means more practice and better results. If it is the only two guns you have, go for it.
      The Col

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