My AR-15

my ar-15I’ve been ordering back issues of Backwoodsman Magazine, and the latest batch got here today. In the Jan/Feb 2013 issue there is an article by Mickey Eckhoff titled My Ruger Mini-14. As the former owner of a Mini-14 I really enjoyed reading it. As the current owner of an AR-15, I found his comments on the AR-15 interesting. I figure it’s worth throwing in my 2 cents on the subject of Mini-14 vs AR-15, so let me tell you about my AR-15…

Ruger Mini-14

I used to own a Mini-14 and I loved it. Actually I owned 3 – a standard blued model, a stainless Ranch Rifle, and a Mini-30. All were reliable and accurate enough for me. The styling can’t be beat IMO. I love the classic M1 looks. The action is gas piston which some claim is more reliable than the direct impingement system used by the AR.

The downside to Ruger’s Mini series is they’re proprietary. If you want extra magazines you buy Ruger mags. If you want to change the stock there are maybe 2 or 3 choices. The stock barrel has a 1-9 twist which limits you to bullets weighing 69 grains or less. If you want to re-barrel a Mini-14, you’d better know a gunsmith that knows how to do it.

In spite of the downsides, I liked my Ruger Minis, and they were only sold because of financial difficulties I was having at the time. I think they’re nice guns and I wish I still had them. Enough about that though, I want to talk about my AR-15…

If looks could kill…

I’ll be the first to admit that the AR-15 is ugly compared to more classically styled guns (like the Mini-14). I’m a traditionalist, and I like my guns with richly figured wood stocks and blued metal. The AR-15 is plastic and dull metal. The visuals are definitely an acquired taste. Because of it looks like a military M-16, the AR-15 can draw unwanted attention. I realize that’s not the fault of the gun, but still it’s a fact. The direct impingement gas system runs a little dirtier than a piston system, so you might have to clean it a little more often. All in all though I find the benefits of the AR system far outweigh the negatives.

AR-15 Versatility

OK, enough about looks. My AR-15 is a shooter’s gun, not a safe queen. One of the best things about the AR-15 is its versatility. Don’t like the stock? Get a different one – there are dozens of choices. Same thing with the trigger, fore end, whatever – the AR-15 is probably the easiest gun on the planet to customize. Need to shoot heavy bullets? For the AR you can get barrels with a fast enough twist to stabilize a 90 gr. VLD bullet. Try that with a Mini-14…

Even better than parts selection is workability. Most firearms require specialized tools and high skill levels for anything more than the most basic gunsmithing. My AR-15 on the other hand is a DIYer’s dream. Anyone with average mechanical skills and a small set of tools can fix any problem that might come up on an AR-15. Broken bolt? No problem, order a new one and replace it yourself. Worn out barrel? Same thing… The AR-15 is so easy to work on that you can fix just about anything that goes wrong yourself. You can even build one yourself from parts.

My AR-15

The lead picture is my AR-15. I built it myself, exactly the way I wanted it. This is my truck gun so I chose a fixed stock. It would have been just as easy to make it with a collapsible stock. The barrel is 16″ long with a 1:7 twist. It’s made from 4150 steel and it’s chrome lined. It will stabilize bullets up to 77 gr. and will probably last longer than the non-lined 4140 steel barrel on a Mini-14. Accuracy is at least as good as the Mini-14.

Since the upper receiver is machined with a Picatinny mount, I can choose whatever rear sight I want. I decided on an HK-style sight from Brownells. The front sight is also the gas block, and I chose a standard M4 Carbine fore end. It would have been just as easy to use a low profile gas block and free floating fore end. After the picture was taken, I added an Eotech red dot sight that works well with the irons.

I’ve since built another AR-15 for hunting. My hunting AR has a collapsible stock, free floating fore end, and a 3×9 scope. It’s chambered for 6.8 SPC, which I think is better for deer than 5.56. Like my truck gun, it was built using off the shelf parts, no custom work needed. Also like my truck gun, it worked perfectly from the start. That’s just how AR’s are…

AR-15 for the Backyardsman…

I really think an AR-15 comes close to being a perfect gun for the backwoodsman or backyardsman. You can build and maintain an AR-15 yourself without expensive tools like a lathe. It’s easy to pick your caliber (at least 11) based on intended use. Accuracy potential is at least as good as any other semiautomatic rifle.

So when you’re thinking about your next rifle, don’t look down on the AR-15. It has a lot going for it, and IMO is pretty close to perfect as a backwoodsman/backyardsman rifle.

Peace out,

Best Survival Rifle

What is the best survival rifle?

best survival rifleThat’s kind of a loaded question (no pun intended).┬áThe best survival gun depends on where you live, what kind of game is available, the threats you’re likely to face, personal skill level, and any other factors that are unique to your personal situation. That’s why articles claiming to tell you what “the best survival rifle” is are usually full of crap. I’ve made a list of long guns (I’ll talk about handguns next time) that have been claimed by various people, “experts,” keyboard commandos, armchair mountain men, and others to be the best survival gun. Let’s gore some sacred cows…

Black powder rifles

Some people think a black powder rifle is the best survival rifle. They like to point out that cartridge ammunition might not be available post-SHTF. Somehow though, black powder (or the components to make it) will miraculously be easy to get. Maybe. Personally, I don’t see how. Black powder is already harder to get than cartridge ammunition. How will it be EASIER to find post-SHTF? As for black powder ingredients, potassium nitrate, pure sulfur, and pure charcoal are also hard to find. I’m guessing they’ll be even harder to find in a post-apocalyptic world (PAW).

Add to that the complications of keeping your powder dry and the fact that if you’re really good you can maybe get off 2 shots per minute… I hope you can see where I’m going with this. Being able to run a black powder rifle is a good, useful skill. Does that mean a black powder rifle is the best survival gun? Not by a long shot.

Single shot rifle

Some think a single shot rifle makes the best survival rifle. The reasoning is unclear to me; maybe it’s because a single shot rifle is cheaper than other options, or maybe they think it’s simpler to operate. There is no doubt that some single shot rifles are cheap, and no doubt that some people can run them very well indeed. There is also a reason that military, law enforcement, and those who hunt dangerous game don’t usually pick a single shot rifle as their primary weapon.

22 Long Rifle

People who claim the 22 LR is the best survival rifle like to site meaningless statistics “More people are killed every year by 22 LR than any other caliber” (which I find questionable). “James Brady was felled by a single round of 22 LR.” So what? Their mantra is “shot placement is everything.” Left unexplained is how well they can place a shot into a charging mountain lion, wild pig, or determined human predator.


Those who claim a shotgun is the best survival gun actually have some pretty good points. A shotgun works great on everything from the smallest bird to the largest North American game animal to the most determined human predator as long as you’re using the right ammunition. There are still some issues with the shotgun though. First, ammunition is bulky and heavy. Second, the kick of a 12 gauge (the most recommended shotgun for “survival” use) is too much for many people to handle well, at least without training and lots of practice. Finally, there are the stupid myths that are perpetuated by many fans of the shotgun as survival gun.

Traditional hunting rifles

Many people (mainly hunters) seem to feel that not only is a traditional bolt action hunting rifle is the best survival rifle you can have, it is also the only survival gun you need. They may have a point. IF you’re careful with cartridge selection and IF you’re never going to be in a situation where you need to get off a lot of shots in a hurry, a bolt action rifle might be a good survival gun. I’ll concede that some bolt action rifles can sustain a respectable rate of fire if the operator is highly trained. If you’re planning on using one as your only survival gun, don’t forget to plan on lots of training if you’ll be operating in an area with large numbers of human predators.

Semiautomatic Rifles

Modern Sporting Rifles – AK-47’s, AR-15’s, AR-10’s and other semiautomatic rifles are very popular as survival guns. I could probably do a whole post on each model, but here I’ll just touch on the highlights. I think they can make for an awesome survival gun. The key word is “can.” Once a mall ninja or tactard gets a hold of one, all bets are off. The biggest problems I see with these guns are:

  • People try to go too cheap. Sometimes cheap is good, but spending money on something that your life might depend on is not one of those times.
  • People spend too much money on bling. It’s a tool, not a cheezy piece of “art.”
  • People hang to much crap on them. Trust me, you don’t need an optic, 2 sets of backup sights, bayonet, light, dildo grip, muzzle brake, extra “tactical” accessory crap, etc.

They’re all pretty similar. The AK-47 is purported to be the most reliable, but its accuracy isn’t all that great and it’s hard to put a scope on one. It shoots 7.62×39, which is about as powerful as a 30-30 Winchester. The problem is most ammo is FMJ, which is NOT suited for hunting.

The AR-15 is the most versatile. It’s also the most popular since it’s a semiautomatic version of the US military’s M-4/M-16. That means parts are cheap and readily available. They used to have a rep of being unreliable, but that is no longer true. If you can’t keep an AR-15 running good, it’s because you went cheap and bought a POS, you aren’t paying attention, or you’re a moron. The 5.56 round isn’t exactly a power house, but with the right bullet it’s OK for game up to deer. If that’s not enough, there are lots more cartridges you can buy or build for. The design of the AR-15 makes it inherently accurate unless the person putting it together was incompetent or just not paying attention.

The AR-10 is basically an AR-15 on steroids. It shoots 308-class cartridges. It’s bigger and heavier than the AR-15, but a good choice if you like the AR platform but need something with a lot more punch than the 5.56 has. I’ve never shot an AR-10, so that’s about all I can say about them. Hopefully that will change by next year.