Precision AR-15s for Accurate Shooting and Functionality

The National Geographic show “Doomsday Preppers” contacted me yesterday. They’re getting ready for Season 2 and asked about casting me. The next season will focus on skills building. They’re looking for people to cast that can teach a skill to viewers. I said, “no thanks.” I think the person I spoke to was miffed. Oh well, Season 2 might make for decent post material when it comes around just the same.

Post today from Graduate Shootist. Many preppers own and shoot an AR15 for defensive training purposes, but to own one solely for that purpose limits the potential fun that can be had by shooting one for other purposes. While a bit technical in nature, Graduate describes his experience shooting long-barreled precision AR15s.

Ranger Man

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I’ll always have an accurate bolt-action .223, but the capabilities of a well built AR-15 have changed my thinking, as well as the contents of my gun safe. A few years back I maintained a 26″ Remington VSSF Model 700, as well as lighter “walking varminter” – a 20″ Model Seven. Both shot well and the M-700 was a true .5 MOA performer. However, experience with several varmint-type AR-15s confirmed reports of stellar accuracy – a surprising twist considering the supposed inferior accuracy of semi-automatics.

Around 15 years ago I owned a Bushmaster V-Match. It shot below .75 MOA with good .223 ammo. Later, we procured a couple Bushmaster 24″ Varminters as tactical over-watch rifles for agency use. Based on their performance I picked up a third personal Varminter.  These are flat-tops with free-floated forends, decent triggers, fluted 1×9 barrels and non-threaded muzzles. All consistently shoot right around .65 MOA with good ammo like Hornady 55 grain, and even lighter 40 grain, TAP.

In 2004 a fellow firearms instructor and I drove 2100 miles for a prairie dog shoot. We brought lots of .223 ammo and several bolt-actions, including our heavy-barrel M-700s. We got in a bunch of shooting during a very entertaining three days. However, when engaging hamster-sized targets at 300+ yards wind is a significant factor. A miss will will kick up dust, which helps determine the correct hold for follow-up shots. Relocating these small targets can be tough after running a bolt. It takes time, resulting in lost opportunities. At that point we’d been testing various precision AR-15 rifles. It didn’t take us long to realize the advantages offered by fast follow-up shots……..

Scene two, 2009: We were back in the Nebraska Pan Handle for a return engagement. I had my Bushmaster Varminter and Mike had a 24″ Rock River.  We each had an ammo can full of 20-round magazines, which are legal for anti-gopher operations. Our plan was to load no more than 5 rounds per magazine in order to maintain cool barrels. This lasted maybe 5 minutes. Brass was flying and sod poodles were break-dancing. The combination of accurate rifles, Leupold Varmint Hunter reticles, and quick follow-up shots noticeably multiplied the carnage quotient. We did stop for a while on day #2 to uncase our bolt-guns. After less than a box of ammo we were back on the AR-15s, hot barrels and all.

Having watched Mike shoot some incredible groups with his heavy-barreled RR (and because of experience with others), I bought a 24″ upper. It was special ordered with a slower, 1×12, stainless barrel, and has a Wylde chamber. That’s a hybrid SAAMI/NATO cut, and fixes much of the slop associated with a looser mil-spec chamber. Our interest leaned toward light, match-grade .223 bullets calibrated to the highly effective Leupold VH hold-over lines.

Like Mike, I wasn’t disappointed. Groups were on par with our pet HB M-700s, running .5 MOA. This begs the question: Why even bother with our bolt-action varmint rigs? That’s a personal decision. In my case, I condensed the inventory to one in-between, 20″ M-700 Compact Tactical (which was recently reviewed here). Interestingly, my slower-twist 1×12 Rock River fires lighter bullets with accuracy similar to the quicker 1×9 Remington. Go figure.

Since an AR-15 is the ultimate transformer, it’s easy to switch out upper receivers. During winter months I push out two pins and replace the varmint assembly with an 18″ coyote killing upper. Rifled 1×8, it too shoots darned well, in this case with slightly heavier and tougher bullets. The familiar Rock River two-stage match trigger probably doesn’t hurt. The shorter version doubles as a do-all rifle.

Between both iterations I’m able to enjoy year-round shooting, thanks to this accurate and highly adaptive system.

The Graduate Shootist