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Today’s episode is bringing back to the Minimum Capable Carbine that I wrote about in my article about your first AR-15. With so many new shooters out there dealing with their first guns, I’m seeing a lot of questions about all the little minutiae that I remember obsessing over when I got started. So this episode is really about giving some advice.

Here’s the short version: Don’t do it.

Easy, right? Well, that’s a whole lot easier said than done. The hard part is that we see so many marketing images of cool dudes decked out in OCP rocking crazy looking guns that it’s hard not to drool a bit. Flip through any number of “picture threads” in message boards and you’re bound to see something that just seems too cool not to try and copy it.

So consider this my case for avoiding it.

The Simple Truth

A few episodes ago, I interviewed professional PRS shooter Mike Keenan. He said something during that interview that stood out to me. In a single year, he burns out five barrels through competition and practice.

Granted, he’s shooting a bit of a hot rod 6mm Creedmoor that burns a barrel in a few thousand rounds. But we’re still talking the realm of 20,000 to 30,000 shots per year and not including the countless dry fire sessions and everything else that goes into becoming the best. 

For context, the average AR-15 barrel will last 20,000 to 25,000 shots, and most owners will never have to replace the barrel as long as they own thing. 

That’s the kind of dedication it takes to really take advantage of something. The same thing applies to special operations members spending days, weeks, months, and years practicing close quarter combat in shoot houses. 

It is only when someone gets to that level, where they have really maximized their personal capabilities where the characteristics of the weapon they’re using really start making a difference.

Choose the Harder Path

So what am I getting at? This is not to dissuade anyone from buying the gun of their dreams. But I want all of the new shooters who just bought their first AR (or anything else) to know that there’s a whole world out there that opens up to them once they put in the time to build their personal capabilities.

The “easy path” is spending money on gimmicks and doodads designed to improve something about the gun itself without addressing the shooter. It’s a trap that nearly all of us have fallen into at some point.

So if you’re brand new, just bought your first rifle and are looking for advice on what to do next, let’s talk about that.

The Upgrade Priority List

When you’re starting out, the best upgrades for an AR-15 are slings, lights, and sights. In that order, unless the thing didn’t come with sights already. If that’s the case, then definitely get some sights first.

I polled members of our own community about their thoughts, and the results were remarkably consistent. Granted that accessorizing is very use case dependent, such as not needing a light for a competition rifle, but let’s assume we’re talking about a general-purpose carbine used for training, defense, and competition.

The first thing is a sling because it’s the holster for your rifle. Slings also help you stabilize your shots and become more precise.

Lights help you identify your targets and know what you’re pointing at. Don’t point your rifle at anything you can’t positively identify as something you want to shoot.

Improved sights help us gain sight pictures faster and be more accurate. But don’t be afraid to stick to irons until you can buy something of reasonable quality. 

Everything Else is Window Dressing

Outside of slings, lights, and sights, everything else is just window dressing. It can be very fine window dressing, but it’s not vital to the operation of the weapon. So instead of spending your money there, go put it towards ammunition, training, support gear, and magazines.

Work on your own capabilities first, and then worry about the weapon.

Matt

Matt

Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's 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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