Exploring Different AR Setups

Video best ar-15 setup

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By Seth R. Nadel

America’s Rifle, the AR15, is the most widely distributed rifle in the nation. They can be assembled in an infinite number of configurations, for a nearly infinite number of purposes, in a wide array of calibers. They can also be used for a vast number of disciplines, and that is the area I would like to explore. I shall set aside the caliber issue, and focus on potential uses and the modifications and accessories that you may wish to consider.

Being modular, I shall only assume that you have a complete lower receiver. Of course this is a boon as it can save you a lot of money while you create uppers for each use. The potential uses I will consider, in no particular order (and there is considerable overlap), are:

  • Toy
  • Home Defense
  • Trunk/Truck gun
  • 3 Gun Competition
  • NRA Bullseye Competition
  • Hunting
  • EOTWAWKI (End of the World as we know it)

Of course, nothing precludes using your hunting AR for home defense, or your Home Defense gun for 3 Gun Competition. I just want to look at ways to optimize your AR for your chosen purpose. Those of you with deep pockets may choose to have a separate AR for each use – and I encourage that – I just can’t afford it.

A variety of ideas for a ‘Toy’/local competition AR.


A Toy AR suggests occasional use for casual target shooting, which usually may involve family and friends. This calls for an adjustable stock, so the smaller stature men and women and the young’ns can enjoy shooting along with the full sized folks. The AR is second only to a .22 for introducing new shooters to the fun. Of course, if your AR is in .223/5.56, a .22 conversion kit cuts costs and noise. Or you could chose a dedicated .22 upper.

A lightweight barrel with no accessories, and either iron or a red dot sight (or both), plus a couple of magazines and ammo should make for a pleasant afternoon of plinking.

A home defense set-up – rifle with light mounted & sling, handheld light for searching, and a cell phone.

Home Defense

This is the most serious use of any firearm, and your situation should define your choice of rifle vs. handgun, and the caliber of that rifle. It is counter-intuitive, but true, that a 55 grain .223 bullet penetrates fewer interior walls than a 9mm pistol bullet. The downsides to selecting your AR include its length (an easier takeaway if your attacker is close), noise, and blast. Firing an AR next to a wall is only a partial view of what may happen indoors, without ear protection. You must also consider where and how you will secure it against little hands, unknowing visitors, or theft when you leave home.

Once again, a collapsible stock adjusted for the smallest person likely to use it would be my choice, along with a red dot sight with a battery life measured in years. I would also add a white light (never shoot at a target you have not positively identified), and a sling. A sling? Of course – or else what will you do with your rifle if the outlaw gives up, or the ‘’bonk” in the dark was something the cat knocked over, that you want to correct right now, or any one of hundreds of other possibilities? You can avoid entanglements with your sling by holding it close to the rifle with some rubber bands, that will give way with a hard pull.

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Unless you live way, way out in the country, one magazine should be plenty, and many crooks run away in the face of return fire. Obviously, your toy can pull double duty in this role.

Trunk/Truck gun

Let me start by stating that I do NOT favor leaving guns in unattended vehicles. I did do this in my Law Enforcement career, but our cars were completely unmarked – you could actually sit in my car and not know it was a Law Enforcement vehicle, complete with red lights and siren.

What hardened my position on this was a recent internet video of a fellow equipped only with a common household plunger. He walked down a street, opening locked cars and trucks in seconds, with no other tools. He did not enter any vehicle he opened, but he certainly could have. I would hate knowing a gun was stolen from me, to later be used in a crime. I will only consider a trunk/truck gun if I can solidly secure it to the vehicle. Our vehicles have no NRA/USPSA/gunmaker or any other gun related decals – why mark your car as a potential “gun source” for crooks?

I also note that the odds of needing a gun for defense are small – never zero, but small. And your car can be a far more effective tool for escape or attack – it has more “stopping power” at 25 MPH than any rifle.

Let us also discard the dream that one day you and your AR will stand between civilization and the Zombie apocalypse, North Korean invasion, or monsters from outer space. Sorry, but it ain’t gonna happen.

Should you choose to have a trunk/truck rifle it should replicate your home defense rifle – short, light, with a sling and a white light and long life red dot sight. Since it will be subject to extremes of temperature, your choice of lubricants may differ, and you will need to check its condition for battery life and rust much more frequently, depending on where you live. Also look at how you store it – foam lined cases can absorb moisture, enhancing rust. Securing the rifle and case against theft must mean that you absolutely secure the gun – but can still access it, or the entire exercise is useless. You also may need to have spare magazines, as it may take The Law a long time to reach you.

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A competition rifle, with elbow pads (green), Knee pads, spare magazines, and a magazine pouch, on a typical target.

3 Gun Competition

I am an avid competitor by nature, but I only shoot 3 gun locally. My friends who are serious about this tend toward longer, heavier barrels, recoil compensators, lots of magazines, and lots of practice. The current hot setup I see is a variable power ( 1 to 6 or 1 to 8) scope, with a red dot offset to one side, usually the right. Thus close targets are engaged by rotating the rifle to the left and using the red dot, far targets with the scope.

I have made it a practice to never give advice on things I do not do, so I will leave it at that, with one suggestion:

I shoot 3gun with the gun I use for home defense. That way, I get some practice with the guns I am likely to actually use to protect my family, shooting quickly from unusual/awkward positions. I would not use a 3 gun AR for home defense, due to it’s long barrel, heavier weight, and that compensator that could finish off my hearing fired indoors without ear protection – unless that was the only accessible gun at the moment.

An iron sight match rifle – note the leather shooting jacket.

NRA Bulleye Competition

Actually called High Power Rifle, this competition was originally intended to prepare men for service in the military. Since the AR/M4 has long been our issue military rifle, a lot of attention has been paid to squeezing the most accuracy possible out of the system. It is fired from standing, kneeling, sitting and prone, in what many consider generous time limits, out to 600 yards.

I have competed in High Power, but back when the rifles of choice were the National Match M1 and M1A. The AR has won the national championships for years, usually with very long, heavy barreled rifles and specialized hand loads.

You can start with any AR, and if the bug bites, build a top end to suit you. If you get really serious, you may need another rifle with a lighter trigger pull and a fixed stock. Of all these areas, this is the only one where, if you get interested, a different lower/rifle would be my choice. Since I still shoot my old wood/steel rifles, I suggest you try it with the AR you have. I found it to be a lot of fun, and essence of marksmanship. In fact my scores in 3 gun and practical rifle go up noticeably after I shoot some High Power matches. That is in spite of the fact that I still shoot iron sights in High Power, and a red dot in the other games.

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A true High Power competition rifle – note the fixed stock and heavy long barrel.


In this game, the first consideration is the game you will be hunting, and the anticipated distance. In the thick woods of the Northeast, a shorter, faster handling AR may be a better choice. Here in the West, where ranges can be long, the longer barrels, larger calibers, and techniques of the High Power competitor are a better fit. The collapsible stock allows you to use the same rifle in hot weather, or while wearing your heavy winter gear.

Again, I am not a hunter of animals, but I do see folks at the range shooting off of crossed sticks, packs, and standing. I also see too many shooting off the bench – I have yet to see a hunter take a concrete bench into the wood with him/her. I also see too few shooting dressed the way they will hunt. Few wear tee shirts for their fall hunts, but those who practice in their hunting jackets are rare indeed. Make sure to check the regulations where you will be hunting on caliber and magazine capacity so you stay legal.


Any version I described above may serve – just avoid the tendency to hang every possible add-on to your rifle. I did meet a gent who had an infrared laser on his rifle – but did not own any night vision gear, so he could not utilize it. He was toting around extra, totally useless weight, because it had (he thinks) a high CDI factor. (CDI = Chicks Dig It!) He also felt he had bragging rights – but I wonder if the IR laser even worked? How would he know?

You are highly unlikely to need a bayonet, infrared laser target designator, a glass breaker muzzle brake, built in canteen, sunscreen dispenser, or coffeemaker attached to your rifle. You may need a really reliable rifle, a select few spare parts (including batteries for your sight system), and a sling. Spare magazines are a good idea.

But since no one can predict the exact form of TEOTWAWKI (Alien invasion, North Korean/Iranian missile attack, global warming, global cooling, total electrical failure, etc.etc.), the one thing you almost certainly will need is a reliable rifle.


So, no matter how you choose to configure your AR (s), if you have any spare money, rather than spending it on a cool camo color scheme, get 1) Quality training and 2) More ammo for training and practice!

It is always the player more than the instrument! So get out and SHOOT!

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>