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Explaining the Minimum Capable Carbine

Today I’m talking about my concept of the Minimum Capable Carbine. If you’ve been reading for a while, you might recognize this as my suggestion for your first AR-15. In truth, this episode is a chance for me to say things out loud that didn’t come across very well in written format.

Quick Summary

I don’t want to spend too much time here summarizing what I said because you might have already read it in my article on the topic. I’ll be embedding this episode’s player in that article as well. But as a reminder, I believe most people are well served by a basic quality rifle configured as a general-purpose weapon. That means 16″ lightweight barrel, plastic handguards, mil-spec trigger, basic stock, and not much else.

Of course, I think adding lights, sights, and a sling is important- but no more.

The intent is not to hobble anyone or make you feel like you’ll end up dead in the streets. Instead, I’m a firm believer that if you start with something simple (but high quality), then you will grow with the rifle over time.

But What About Specialization?

Everything is a compromise. Every step you take towards a specific use case, such as competition or close quarter battle, then the rifle gets worse at others. As an example, a full on match rifle with a long heavy stainless barrel is too heavy to want to carry day to day. It’s also got a gas system finely tuned for low recoil with a specific ammunition load. It might choke with the wrong ammo or with too much time between cleaning.

On the other end, the Mk 18 CQBR is fantastic for entry work and shoot houses, but its ballistics simply aren’t on par with a 16″ or 20″ barrel at 200 or 300 yards and beyond.

Stick to something general-purpose, trust me.

Wrapping Up

As a reminder, these were the specs I laid out in both this episode as well as my written guide

  • 16″ Lightweight mid-length chrome lined barrel with a fixed front sight base
  • Either quality plastic handguards or a basic free float rail
  • Quality collapsible stock
  • Quality pistol grip of choice
  • Standard trigger or something close to it like the BCM PNT or ALG ACT
  • Quality rear sight, with or without adjustment
  • If you have the money to buy an optic, then do so- but buy one of good quality. If you don’t have the funds for a good one, then rock the irons until you save for it.
  • Bonus: If you plan on using the weapon for defensive purposes, then you should mount a good light on it
  • Bonus: You should get a sling, because retention matters

Taken together, this rifle will last anyone a long long time.

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Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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I started listening to your podcast when you did the collab with NC Scout. Personally, I think the Colt 6920 is a great entry level rifle, or minimum rifle. Personally, I like 20 inch the best, its recoil is light, and more refined. I am fan of the A2 sights. The magpul buis sights work but I never shot them past 50M. I agree with you on the spend. Personally I wish I would of got a more capable sight that the Vortex Sparc AR. It works, and holds zero. Personally, I would of saved my pennies and got and… Read more »

Replying to  Matt

If you are using the AR for home protection, load the first magazine with good hunting ammo suitable for deer, and hog hunting. Hunt with it a reasonable ranges ~150 M. See if you like it for its attended role. Most military ammo is range ammo in my opinion. I have seen what a Nosler soft point does to a running pig, not well shot. I would bet my life on some Federal MSR or WInchester PSP or Hornady than the green tip. I see people load their 9mm with good ammo, why not the first mag for your AR?… Read more »


Solid advice Matt, as usual. It mirrors my own journey on this path. For years I had a vanilla A1 type carbine with 16” barrel. Lightweight and handy. Completely capable for most uses. Waiting in a CM4 upgrade to arrive. That will get a LPVO. I think the basic Smith Wesson M&P serves well as an entry carbine, despite the lack of a chrome lined barrel. BCM and others make fine options too. Quality training and disciplined practice will make more difference in target than a more expensive tool. Keep up the good work producing interesting content. Standing by for… Read more »

Replying to  Jon

A1/A2 are great weapons. They work, and they are handy. Glad to see a revival in them.


Matt –

Where can I find your ‘guide’ you mentioned? Specifically, with the possible political ‘regime’ change and future of our ‘black rifles’ I am interested in stocking up on the parts that wear or occasionally break on the AR15 with extended use (over time). I don’t have a huge amount of trigger time on an AR as you and many here but would like to keep mine reliable as possible. Maybe you could address this in an article?

Replying to  Matt

Thanks Matt! Realized a lower parts kit would be handy and seeing how the bolt and carrier do the most moving – that makes good sense.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!


Great site. I thought I had found all the worthwhile gun content on the web and somehow I had missed this. After decades of shooting and building rifles of every flavor, the just right do all that rarely gets back to the safe is exactly as you described. Specifically, it is a BCM rifle with BCM Elw fluted barrel, ALG act trigger, BCM Mlok rail, Surefire Scout light, Aimpoint T2 Vickers sling. A set of Magpul pros, to check dot placement for zero and as an aid to assignation with the dot when zeroing, rounds out the package. Recoil magazine… Read more »

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