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THE PANEL OF EXPERTS
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Walt, David, Dewey, and John share ...err....uh....knowledge

AR-15, BUY OR BUILD?  OUR TAKE ON THE MATTER

A recent trend among shooters is the "do it yourself" AR-15.  I mean why not?  An AR-15 is a pretty simple platform, and requires a minimal amount of tools to assemble.  Unfortunately, from what we are hearing at gun shows, in the shop, and online, it is often being done without a lot of knowledge either.  Here is our take.

KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING BEFORE YOU TACKLE A BUILD

An AR15 is not a toy, it is a high powered rifle that generates well over 50,000 psi of chamber pressure.  Incorrectly assembled it CAN and WILL go boom, and that would be go BOOM right in front of your face.  Folks if you want to build one get educated.  Now by educated I mean from a legitimate source.  There are many fine books, manuals, and videos available on the subject matter.  Brownells and Fulton Armory are a good place to start.  There is a lot of information on building AR's on the internet, and a lot of it is bad.  There must be a thousand "built by Bubba in his basement" videos on You Tube.  We evaluate these as being as credible as a lot of the "reviews" on firearms that we hear about.  In addition, the 30 minute class at some Johnny Come Lately gun shop intended to make you an instant AR gunsmith is equally useless.  Read, research, and learn before you build.  And do so form credible sources.

BUILDING AN AR IS CHEAPER THAN BUYING ONE RIGHT?

Well, maybe.  But not if you are planning on building your rifle out of quality parts (remember 50,000 psi is only nine inches from your nose).  Quality uppers and lowers have names like S&W, Ruger, Anderson, DPMS, Rock River, and CMMG wrote on them.  Not "Bubba's Machine Shop"  When you stray away from reputable manufacturers you do know what you could be getting into.  A quality AR lower sells for about $85, minimum.  I know, I know, you saw them online for $40.  But who made them?  How long have they been doing this (again, think about that 50,000 psi again, its YOUR face)  A quality upper is going to run you $400 and up, then another $100 or so for the lower parts kit, not to mention $150 in tools.  Lets see, your now in your project at about $735, and you still have to put it together.  Now, for $619.99 you just bought a NEW S&W M&P-15 Sport II which has a lifetime warranty.  Folks, you only save money if you skimp on quality parts.  Saving money should not be the reason to build, getting a gun that suits your personal taste should.

SO IT'S NOT CHEAPER, BUT IT IS THE ONLY WAY TO GET WHAT I WANT

Not really.  The costs mentioned above are for a basic rifle, like the S&W that I mentioned.  When you start adding quad rails, tactical grips, etc the cost goes up, just like it does when you add these to your basic factory rifle.  The difference being, the factory rifle still has an upper, lower, and barrel that were assembled by a professional manufacturer.  And still has a warranty.  Commonwealth Arms has never been one to push high dollar AR type rifles.  Often these are loaded with extras, some you may want, some you may not.  Always better to start with a basic quality gun and add accessories that you personally desire.

LEGAL ISSUES

I am sure, or at least I hope, that everyone knows that assembling a short barrel rifle without an NFA tax stamp is illegal.  But did you know that you cannot legally sell your home built AR?  That is right, the ATF ruled in 1994 that assembling an upper and lower together constitutes assembly of a firearm.  Only a licensed manufacturer can assemble a rifle and resale it.  Federal law states that you can assemble a firearm for personal use, but only for personal use.  A home built AR would have to be resold as parts, not as a complete firearm.  Not that it matters much anyway, a home built AR has a resale value of about 40% of the value of the parts when they were new.  A factory rifle, will always maintain a reasonable amount of resale value.

In conclusion, Commonwealth Arms is not opposed to home built AR15 rifles.  We will gladly order lower receivers (when available) for anyone wishing to do so.  We just want everyone to understand that this is not , in our opinion, the best way to get the most out of your money when investing in an AR type rifle.


WHY SHOULD I BUY FROM COMMONWEALTH ARMS?

The modern shooter and hunter have many options when it comes to buying a new firearm.  Here in Alleghany County alone there are four legitimate independent retailers.  There is also the big box store of Wal Mart and a Gander Mountain and a Sportsmans Warehouse nearby in Roanoke.  So you may ask yourself why should I buy from Commonwealth Arms?  Here is why we feel like you will get the most satisfaction.
 
- PRICE - We absolutely without a doubt will give you the best price.  We sell our new guns for far less than our competiton. 
 
- SERVICE - We go the extra mile to get you the gun you want.  Of course we have availability problems sometimes, but so does everybody else.  Our volume also insures that Commonwealth Arms will get the desirable new guns FIRST.  You can't please everybody ("I want my super wierd gun part that none of your distributors carry, and I want it now!")  but we sure do try.
 
- KNOWLEDGE - Mike and Robert do their very best to stay on top of what is current in the firearms industry.  We are both experienced, match winning shooters, and competent reloaders.  At Commonwealth Arms we did not get off the technology train in 1955 like far too many dealers did.
 
- QUALITY - We only stock quality firearms at Commonwealth Arms.  We are not going to tell you a bold faced lie, like a $150.00 cheapy gun is as good as a $489.99 Glock just to get a sale.  We spent many years on the other side of the counter before we started this business.  You demand quality, we provided it.  If a firearms is not of good quality we will not stock it.  And when you ask us direct question about the quality of a certain firearm, we will give you direct answer.  Likewise, we inspect guns that we take on trade to the best of our ability, and we will not accept trades that are junk, or have been abused.
 
- INVENTORY - We stock the guns the modern shooter wants.  Glock , Ruger, Smith & Wesson, SIG Sauer, Springfield Armory, and more are in stock everyday at Commonwealth Arms.  We stock quite a bit of ammo at great prices.  And we get the hard to get guns first.
 
- HONESTY - We do not ever, under any circumstances gouge prices.  A lot of dealers were guilty of that last year on many firearms, and many are still doing it, on 22LR ammo in particular.  We just flat do not do it, it is wrong.  And when it comes to special orders, if we say it is on the way it is, if we say it is back ordered it is, and if we say it is out of stock, it is.  We do not make excuses like many dealers do.
 
- PART OF THE COMMUNITY - Commonweatlh Arms pays taxes locally that help fund our schools, public works, fire & rescue, local police, and much more.  Commonwealth Arms is also a major contributor to local organizations and events.
 
We want to thank each and everyone of you who has chosen to do business with us in the past.  And we look forward to serving you in the future.  And if you have a friend that is not dealing with us, let him or her know why they should.

SIGHTING IN A RIFLE THE RIGHT WAY

Regular visitors to Commonwealth Arms sometimes hear me joke about "minute of pie plate" accuracy.  What I am refering to is a deer rifle sighting in technique that I see all too often.  Bubba drives gets out of his truck, walks out about 25 yards or so, sets up a pie plate, or piece of poster board, or whatever, then walks back and fires a shot.  If the shot is within 6 inches of the center he says "good enough"  Gets back in his truck, heads home for the couch, the Dallas Cowboys, and a six pack of Bud Light.  Sound appauling?  It should.  I can not imagine heading to the woods without a properly sighted in rifle.  Yet many hunters do this each year.  Here is some advice for how to get sighted in right.
 
1. The Right Stuff
No we're not landing on the moon, we just want to be able to hit something smaller than it.  The first thing you have to understand is that the modern hunting rifle for the most part is a precision machine.  No it is not a $2000 bench rest rifle, but even the $339.00 Ruger American rifles are capable of sub MOA accuracy.  So we are not talking about the rifle here, unless it has been abused ANY modern hunting rifle will shoot an inch or better group at 100 yards.  Optics on the other hand can make all the differnce in the world.  So many times we have seen someone spend $500 or more on a new hunting rifle, only to run to Wal Mart and buy a $20 scope and a $6 set of rings.  Nine out of ten rifles that are traded in because the owner thinks they are inaccurate are not, they are simply being handicapped by garbage optics.  A qaulity set of steel rings is a must.  Burris, and Leupold both offer quality steel rings for around $25 a set.  This simple investment will save you a lot of headaches in the long run.  In additon you can not expect to ever acheive accuracy unless  you invest in a quality scope.  Now I am not saying run out and spend $400 on glass, unless you want too.  Qaulity hunting scoeps can be had for as little as $85.00.  Commonwealth Arms reccomends the Bushnell Banner 3x9x40 as an entry level hunting scope.  The optics are good, the construction is reasonably rugged, and the price is affordable.  If your are on a really tight budget the Tasco World Class or Simmons 8 Point will get you buy.  These scopes sell in the $50.00 range and will give the average hunter 7 to 10 years of use on a rifle with moderate recoil.
 
2.  Foresight is to Boresight
If you are mounting a new scope you will want to bore sight it.  This is not applicable if you are using last years rifle and scope combo, but if you have one of those Wal Mart Cheapy specials on it I hope you changed scopes, otherwise this article isn't gooing to help you very much.  Odds are you do not have a boresighter.  No problem, we do.  Bring it down to Commonwealth Arms, I can bore sight your rifle in a matter of minutes, and I never have charged anyone for this service.  My experience is that our boresighter ON AVERAGE puts you within 3" of center at 50 yards.
 
3.  To The Range We Go
Now that you are boresighted you are going to need to go to a rifle range. No don't lean over the hood of your truck, don't lean against a tree.  You need a real shooting bench, you may have one on your property, but if not go to a real shooting range.  In addition to your rifle and ammo you are going to need a solid rest.  At the bare minimum this should be a bull bag or a front and rear sand bag.  Many of us use a steel rest like the Caldwell Rock for the front and a sand bag for the rear.  The Caldwell rest is a good inexpensive rest that is rugged and stable.  As I said though, you can get by with sandbags, so long as the rest is stable.  You will also need targets.  Open cicles or dots large enugh to center a crosshair on work good here.  I am not a fan of the so called "sight in" targets because all the lines and grids are more of a distraction than an aid.  lastly you will need hearing protection and perhaps your cleaning box.  I like to clean my guns at the range, but this is optional, you can clean at home if you like, just don't forget.  Copper kills accuracy.
 
4. Start Short
Once you are at the range and set up hang your first target at 50 yards.  If you are boresighted you will be on paper.  If you are not boresighted go back and read #2 again and let it sink in.  Because if yo are not boresighted you are not listening.  So I am going to assume you are boresighted.  Now that you have hung the target and are set up take a little break. Not a long break, just a couple minutes to let your heart rate and breathing relax since you have been moving around and setting up.  This is important because your breathing technique can affect your accuracy.  Now that you are rested sit down and line your rifle up on your 50 yard target.  Use whatever scope power you are comfortable with.  Now chamber a round and get in position.  Rest your finger on the trigger and adjust your aim.  Now slow your breathing and and as you exhale squeeze the trigger and place your first shot.  Note the point of impact then fire another.  Your second shot will likely be somewhere different as a clean barrel with oil residue will not hit true.  You have fired two shots now, so you should let your rifle cool for a bit.  How long depends on the caliber.  Touch the barrel with your fingers.  If it is hot, you need to let it cool longer.  Warm is o.k, but hot will rob you of accuracy.  Once you have cooled fire a third shot, it should be close to the second shot unless your breathing was off or you jerked the trigger.  Now you can make your first adjutment.  Center your crosshairs on the target, then use your turrets to move them to the center of the last two bullet holes.  If your rifle is cool fire a fourth shot.  It should be close to the center of the target.
 
5.  Going Long
Now you have expended four shots and your gun should be somewhat close.  Now move your target out to 100 yards.  I know some folks sight in at 50 yards, but I find that sighting in a hunting rifle 1" high at 100 yards is a good technique.  This puts you in the kill zone from 25 to 100 yards with ease.  Now that you have hung the target take another little break.  Again, this lets your breathing normalize and gives your rifle added time to cool.  Once you are ready position the rifle for the 100 yard shot, chamber a round, and fire.  Again minding your breathing and trigger control.  Do not adjust your scope at this time, wait a few minutes then fire a second shot, then a third.  You now have a group.  Unless you messed up your breathing technique or jerked the trigger your group should be an 1" or less.  Now position your cross hairs one inch above the center and move them to the center of the group.  Let your rifle cool and shoot another three shot string jsut as mentioned before.  Take your time and control your breathing and squeeze the trigger.  Your rifle should now be sighted in, give or take a click or two.  You have expended 10 rounds of ammo and maybe an hour of your time.  But you now can have total confidence in your weapon when you teke to the woods.

SHOULD I BUY USED OR NEW?

The prospective gun buyer in the 21st century has more options than ever when it comes to purchasing rifles, shotguns, and handguns.  There are more models and styles available now than ever before.  Furthermore the prospective gun buyer must also choose whether to buy a new firearm or a use one.  Hopefully this article will aide you in your decission. 
The advantages of buying a new firearm are apparent.  First and foremost the gun has only been test fired at the factory so barrel condition and overall mechanical conditon is not a concern.  Also the gun will include all the neccesary operating, cleaning, and safety instructions.  And lastly the gun will be covered by a manufacturers warrantly.  I acknowledge that on occaision new guns, like new TV's, cars, etc, can have problems.  But for the most part these issues can be avoided by purchasing a quality firearm.  Notice that I did not say expensive.  That $324.99 S&W SD9VE on my display will give a lifetime reliable performance.  But I would be leary of that $209.99 Super Wierd Special in Deer Gun Dan's display case.
All of the above said I am not advocating that buying a new firearm is always the way to go.  There are some truly good bargains on the used market today.  Probubly the best deals are the police trade handguns that we keep in our shop.  Typically these guns show external wear from carry in leather holsters but are in excellent mechanical condition.  These guns will give years of useful service and often cost $150.00 to $200.00 less than a new pistol.
The slippery slope in the used market is and always will be hunting rifles.  There are many fine vintage sporting rifles on the market today.  However most of these worth mentioning appeal more to collectors  than casual hunters.  Pre 64 Model 70 Winchesters, vintage Remington 700's. vintage Sako's, and Older Brownings are rising in value each year.  Thus making them less and less of a practical investment for the casual hunter.  On the other hand Winchester rifles made in the 60's and 70's, Savage bolt action rifles, and many little known brand firearms are worth very little.  These firearms if obtainable at a low enough price, and in good enough conditon can make good inexpensive hunting rifles.  But this is where you need to be careful.  A lot of folks do not realize that a Winchester Model 70 in .30-06 made in 1961 is worth almost three times what one made in 1971 is.  I have seen folks get taken for hundreds of dollars.  And what really disgusts me is I have seen other licensed dealers in my own town knowingly do this to people.  Come on guys, this is supposed to be an honorable profession.  When shopping for a use deer rifle I would advise everyone to be vigilant.  Inspect the rilfle thoroughly. These guns all have a story to tell, you need to pay attention.  A rifle that is five years old that shows serious gouges in the wood and scratches on the barrel has been abused.  Do not buy into the "Oh it's just normal huntin' wear" line.  My dad bought a new Remington 760 Gamemaster in 1976.  He hunted with this rifle every year through 1999 when he quit hunting.  For 23 years this rifle was in the woods in the cold, in the rain, and yes even the snow.  He still owns this rifle and the only wear showing are a few scratches on the stock and some thinning bluing on the receiver.  Folks that is normal hunting wear.  If somebody beats a gun to pieces on the outside what do you suppose it looks like inside?  We have had rifles traded in our shop that it has taken weeks to clean the copper out of the bore, weeks.  And these rifles have looked good on the outside.  Frankly, we will not trade for something that is beat up.  Another hazzard with used rifles is barrel abuse.  Folks high powered rifles get very hot when they are fired.  Some calibers need to cool after only one or two shots.  I have personally witnessed members of our own gun club, members that have years of shooting experiece mind you, fire rifles until you think the barrel will melt.  One of our members, who has years of competetive experiecne fired a .243 seventeen times in a ten minute period.  Seventeen times!  What do you think the throat life is going to be like in that one?  The bad thing about this kind of abuse is that you cannot see it without a borescope and most of use do not own these very expensive tools.  Nothing is worse than spending $500.00 on a used Remington 700 BDL .300 Win Mag only to find out that the gun won't hold down a two inch group at 100 yards.  Believe me I know, it was my rifle. 
The only way to make out on buying a used deer rifle is to buy a fairly late model gun in very good or better conditon at 75% or less than the cost of a new one.  Our selction of used hunting rifles goes up and down.  Reason being it is hard to find quality used rifles at fair prices for our customers.  Most are either over priced, or in very poor condition.  A customer of mine informed me the other night while in the shop that he has wittnessed people paying $700.00 for a USED Remington 700 BDL in another local shop.  Folks that is just plain stupid.  Nobody should bitch about the cost of ammo and primers if they are going to make boneheaded decissions like that. 
The caual hunter looking for a deer rifle now has the option of a rifle like the Ruger American.  These quality Amercian made bolt action rifles sell for as low as $339.99.  Even if you add a Nikon scope you are looking at less than $510.00 out the door.  Always remember, new does not always mean expensive and used does not always mean you are getting a deal. 
At Commonwealth Arms we want our customers to get our moneys worth.  I hope this article helps you each make your shooting dollars go as far as possible.

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