In today’s flailing economy we consider every purchase. Am I overspending when America’s financial stability is uncertain? Should I be spending more on protection because of this instability? When it comes to protecting your home and family no amount of money seems too much. If you’re considering the popular AR rifle for protection, you might as well make your purchase serve double duty—in short, get the most bang out of your buck. Select the right AR and your investment can provide protection and security while delivering fun at the range and even the reward of a successful hunt.

Size Matters

Like people, ARs come in all sizes, shapes and colors. The civilian-AR was developed from the M16 and all its progeny, which had been tested and implemented in military operations for many years. Eight million rifles later the AR design has definitely been perfected.

To increase accuracy, hunting and benchrest rifles tend to be long and heavy. However, a double-duty AR should be short, compact and relatively light (7 pounds or less). Why? You’ll likely be using it for protection duties in and around your home, including hallways, stairwells, doors, outside shrubbery and so forth. This is one reason many personal-defense instructors recommend handguns for home protection: They are easily stored, retrieved and, most importantly, handled in tight spaces. Many of you have classic pump-action, 12-gauge shotguns that knock down geese and, when loaded with 00 buck, can take out intruders. But unless you’ve customized that shotgun, you’ll come out of a doorway swinging a firearm almost 50 inches long—try doing that gracefully at 1:00 a.m. in the dark, half asleep, with your heart pounding.

Although the standard-length M16 performed well in most battlefields, military thinkers knew it would work better with modifications. This became especially apparent as soldiers entered increasingly urban environments like Panama and, eventually, Somalia. The result was the M4, a shortened, more compact version of the popular M16. Today military and law enforcement utilize the compact design. More than a dozen companies manufacture ARs, so finding one that fits your demands is not too demanding. ARs equipped with collapsible stocks in a carbine format matching the M4 configuration measure a measly 32 inches collapsed and 35.5 inches extended. You may want your AR to be used in the field, but if its primary function is for protection, start shopping in the law enforcement section of your favorite AR manufacturer. You’ll quickly see the differences between styles, which center on length. Hunting and fixed-stock models reach 39 inches and may exceed 40.

In contrast, Smith & Wesson’s popular M&P15T has a 35-inch extended length and a weight of 7 pounds. It will set you back approximately $1,200 for double duty. Colt, the primary manufacturer of military M16s and M4s, also has a viable option with the LE6920-SOCOM. Also weighing in at 7 pounds the SOCOM has an extended length of 35.5 inches, providing equal maneuverability in tight spaces. Shopping around you’ll find LE6920s for as little as $1,200.

AR Upgrading
Another benefit of M16 offshoots, specifically the M4, are their ability to be customized for sights, lighting systems, grenade launchers and even shotguns. Most of these upgrades merit being in your AR arsenal (minus the grenade launcher), and you can thank the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) for the AR’s versatility.

After searching for a primary weapon for its operatives, SOCOM chose the M4. The U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center then developed a kit for the M4, consisting of a rail system to replace the standard handguards. Called the Rail Interface System, this kit enabled quick attachment and detachment of items such as telescopic sights, red-dot sights, open sights, laser aiming systems, suppressors, front hand grips and tactical light systems. The mil-spec version is the Picatinny system, so be sure to purchase Picatinny-rail-friendly accessories. As an all-purpose weapon your AR can have all of the above (or none at all) when using a rail system or four-rail gas block.

LET THERE BE LIGHT: Illumination is a central concern for two primary reasons. One, you want to be sure of your target when contemplating deadly force during engagement. Shooting hostile intruders is warranted, but it requires split-second decisions that are better and more easily made when you have light. Second, illumination buys you time to think and aim. If your intruder or aggressor uses darkness as a veil, sudden illumination creates blindness and confusion. You can evaluate the threat and have a moment to aim as the intruder attempts to readjust to the sudden sun flare.

The SureFire brand is trusted by law enforcement and military agencies worldwide and provides solid options for nighttime shooting. A midrange option with plenty of illumination is the X300, with 170 lumens and nearly 2.5 operating hours. You can upgrade to the X400 and combine your lighting system with a laser aiming point for optimum target acquisition. It will cost you nearly $600, but that’s peanuts compared to having the upper hand in a close-quarters gunfight.

SIGHT SYSTEMS: A Picatinny rail earns its keep in the optics department, especially if you want to swap for varied AR chores. A rail gives you freedom to take your AR to the range, zero in your sights for home and hunting and then remove them easily to equip the rifle for the objective of the day. If you plan on sniping groundhogs in a West Virginia hayfield, you can add on a telescopic sight such as Nikon’s M-223 4-16×42 riflescope using the Nikon M-223 AR mount. The addition of the .300 Whisper caliber to the AR family also allows you to swap uppers and be equipped with a short-range big-game rifle with plenty of punch to take brush country whitetails or heavy-duty hogs. After the hunt you may want to return uppers to 5.56mm NATO/.223 Remington, but certainly swap optics for close-range protection. A 4-16X riflescope can provide for detailed aiming out to 400 yards and beyond, but when shooting environments include lamps and end tables, telescopic sights hinder speed.

Sights such as the Trijicon ACOG series provide shooters with a variety of magnification options, objective diameters for light transmission and aiming reticles, depending on your preference. The tritium illuminated-reticle system doesn’t require batteries, which means you won’t be fumbling for a battery when someone’s breaking a window in the downstairs living room. Popular models for close-shooting situations include the ACOG TA45-4 and the ACOG TA47-4. These will set you back nearly as much as your AR, but the ACOG system has been tested in both Iraq and Afghanistan, passing military muster to be accepted by soldiers in all branches. Nikon offers low-power options in its M-223 series as well, for affordable prices. If you’re looking for other economical aiming systems, then look to red-dot and holographic sights.

Leupold’s DeltaPoint operates as a dot system and offers quick target acquisition while adjusting automatically to changing light for top reticle performance. Plus, the aspheric-lens innovation amplifies the field of view. Motion-sensing technology turns the red-dot sight on for immediate use and battery conservation. The site couples on Picatinny or Weaver rails for ease in swapping optics and comes in two models, 3.5- and 7.5-MOA.

EOTech offers a variety of holographic sighting systems, but one of its top models still continues to be the 512.A65/1. Easily removed and attached on a Picatinny rail system, the EOTech always returns to zero and has 20 brightness settings for nearly every lighting condition imaginable. It’s fast for targeting, and that’s important when the intruder is 10 feet away or closer.

LET THERE BE LASER: Combine a quality red laser with open sights and you can shoot in near darkness or daylight and choose the sight that fits the situation. Not only do lasers provide you with pinpoint, painted aiming but they also can be a deterrent, as Crimson Trace has noted in a popular marketing campaign, “Helping Bad Guys Make Informed Decisions.” Just seeing a red dot on your chest makes you think twice. Of course, for non-thinkers and those on illegal substances, the aiming system follows through with perfect, close-range accuracy. LaserLyte and Crimson Trace offer models for both rail attachment or vertical hand grips, such as the Crimson Trace MVF-515 with a combined tactical light or the simple CMR-201 Rail Master.

Feeding Your AR
You’ll definitely want to feed your AR baby. Range, hunting and home-defense ammunition options vary as much as AR manufacturing. Range-shooting can be a
cheap, down-and-dirty way to blow off steam while tagging zombie targets, exploding Tannerite or busting water-filled milk jugs. Military surplus 5.56mm/.223 ammunition is everywhere, with numerous bullet options that can fit anyone’s budget.

Hunting loads need more research and consideration—they depend on the game species you’re targeting. Varmint and predator animals require bullets that provide maximum fragmentation for internal shock yet minimal pelt damage, especially for predator species. Big-game hunting, on the other hand, requires bullets with controlled expansion to combine foot-pounds of energy with vital-organ destruction. Bullets such as Hornady’s GMXs tackle big game with modern, monolithic bullet construction. Hornady Superformance, Winchester Supreme and Federal Premium all offer solid hunting options in ammunition.

Home-defense ammunition is on a totally different wavelength. You need a bullet that is able to penetrate even bulky clothing. It needs immediate expansion for a devastating entrance wound yet controlled velocities to prevent the bullet or shrapnel fragmentation from over-penetrating and possibly injuring bystanders. Any old bullet won’t do, and if you slack on bullet selection you could be setting the stage for additional harm.

Most hollow-point bullets provide great stopping power with a lower chance of exiting. Options to consider include Black Hills Ammunition, with hollow-point varieties in 68- and 75-grain loads. For personal defense, most serious AR owners rely on Hornady’s TAP FPD line of ammunition in the 55- or 75-grain weights ad loaded with the XTP bullet. This bullet has been extensively tested in the lab and already has a stack of real-world successes to its credit.

The AR rifle deserves to be used in the field and at home. It has earned a reputation as a credible defender, but you’ll equally enjoy it at the range and for bringing home the bacon.

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