Friday, February 10, 2006

Boomsticks: "Project Housegun: Lessons Learned" or, "Pimp My Ride."

The AR-type rifle and carbine have become some of the most popular longarms in America today, and it was somewhat inevitable, given their modular nature, that they would benefit from a gigantic aftermarket industry catering to every possible whim a shooter might have for these excellent shoulder weapons. In the early days, there was a marked tendency for owners to hang every doodad and geegaw possible off of their weapons. It got bad enough that it has recently spawned a backlash (similar to the reborn Cult of the Unmodified 1911, which we'll cover in a later post) of folks who take pride in not using any accessories on their AR, and who look askance at those who do. As in most things, there's a happy medium, and I'd like to go ahead and share the lessons I've learned over the past several years; lessons currently objectified in Project Housegun.

For starters, this post is about accessories for the AR-type in its role as a CQB-oriented carbine. There are a plethora of gizmos and gadgets available to adapt the AR to the roles of general service rifle, NRA High Power or Three Gun competition rifle, or varmint exploder extraordinaire, but those aren't what this post is about. What it is about is the weapon that LE, the military, and increasing numbers of private citizens are using to replace the shotgun, subgun, or pistol caliber carbine as a CQB tool: the short AR carbine.

First and foremost, lets get some items out of the way that you definitely do not need bolted to a fighting carbine:

  1. A magnifiying scope of greater than about 1.5 power. These are too unforgiving in eye relief and field-of-view. That, and the fact that you shouldn't need magnifiying optics on your gun if its only intended use is home defense: If you can't see it clearly with the naked eye, you're going to have a hard time explaining to the DA why you thought it needed shootin'.
  2. A bipod and/or free-float forend. What, you're gonna go after prairie dogs in your living room?
  3. A match trigger. Undoubtedly a Good Thing on rifles, they don't make enough difference on a carbine (which will be seldom fired at ranges past 15-25 yards) to offset their reduced durability.

Now on to the things that you do want.

The biggest thing for an AR carbine isn't even hardware at all; it's software. The squared-up fighting stance, with the shooter facing squarely towards his target and keeping his elbows in like a boxer, has revolutionized the way that the shorty AR is both viewed and employed. With the carbine held high, so the toe of the stock barely contacts the shoulder, and the head held up and body squared in a fighting stance, the shooter is much more aware of his surroundings, and has an easier time moving without dismounting the weapon from his shoulder. Many of the newer accessories seen on short AR's come from this change in employment. Let's look at a couple of them.

1) Sights.

Not too many years ago, any kind of optic on a fighting rifle was heresy. With the advent of rugged red-dot zero-magnification optics, like the Aimpoint and Eotech, folks have discovered the joy of having an easy to use dot sight that is immune to eye-relief problems and virtually parallax-free. Don't waste time lining up the dot with the front sight when shooting; where the dot is, there the bullet will go. Speed is the advantage that these sights offer in spades over conventional irons, and speed is very important on a long-gun that may well be used inside Tueller Drill range. While the aforementioned two optics hold the lion's share of the market, Trijicon's Tri-Power and ACOG lines are also worth a look, as well as Leupold's CQ/T.

As far as iron sights go, if the front sight tower hanging in front of your dot sight bothers you, then by all means get a folding front sight. Better still would be to learn to ignore it while the dot is up and running, because having to flip up two back up irons (front and rear) in case of optic failure is (by definition) twice as time consuming as erecting only one, and time may not be on your side when you have to do it. For a folding backup rear, look to a quality manufacturer like ARMS, Yankee Hill, or GG&G, and make sure you get a Same-Plane aperture, so that switching back and forth between coarse and fine settings doesn't throw off your POI like it does with standard A2 sights. For the front sight post, a replacement loaded with tritium from XS Systems is invaluable. For a dedicated indoor gun, look to the dot sight post, while a carbine that may be pressed into more general service would better benefit from the vertical stripe.

2) Lights.

Unless you live by yourself in downtown Fallujah, your home is not a free-fire zone. Shooting a target without first identifying it could have a negative impact on your future social life. Given that self-defense encounters in the home tend to take place after lights-out, a white light on the weapon is a good thing. If you have the bucks to spend, a SureFire dedicated forend or M900 vertical pistol grip light is the Mack Daddy of weapon-mounted lights. For a little less money, SureFire's Millennium series or the new lights from PentagonLight will fill the bill nicely. If you're forced to light the cheap seats, Viking Tactical makes a handy bracket that will allow you to clamp a cheap SureFire 6P or G2 Nitrolon to any available Picatinny rail.

3) Miscellaneous Good Stuff.

  • In the squared-up fighting stance, the non-dominant hand will be more comfortable grasping either the front of the mag well or a dedicated forward pistol grip. If you use the latter, you should probably locate it as far rearward as you can without interfering with fast mag changes. Eschew goofy gizmos like bipod/forward-pistol-grip combos on a dedicated CQB carbine.
  • Some type of oversized charging handle latch will allow you to perform simple malfunction-clearing drills without dismounting the weapon from your shoulder or breaking the firing grip of your master hand. PRI's Big Latch is less likely to snag on stuff than Badger's Tac-Latch, if not quite as easy to use one-handed.
  • A better grip (like those from Hogue, Tango Down, or ErgoGrip) and a gapper to fill the space in the rear of the trigger guard will make long practice sessions more bearable for your hand and trigger finger.
  • A sling is to a carbine as a holster is to a pistol. You need some way to retain the weapon while your hands are busy doing other things. Three point slings are good for carbines that are intended to be carried around a lot, as they combine shooting functions with carry strap comfort, but they are bulky and have straps running every which way. A single point is better for a gun that will only be used for short periods of time; it is less encumbering, since its only purpose is to catch the gun and let it swing while your hands are otherwise occupied.
  • An Vltor or Magpul stock is a zillion times better than the standard 4-position collapsable. Trust me.

Anyhow, that's some stuff I discovered while gradually circling towards replacing my house shotgun with a house carbine. A lot of it is optional, although I think the dot, light, and latch are pretty close to necessary to get the full measure out of the gun in this role. Try stuff yourself, study the available literature (the series of Pat Rogers articles in SWAT Magazine are a gold mine), practice, and if you dicover cool and new stuff, let me know; I'm always up for Project Housegun II.


Anonymous said...

Why, Tam? Why so much effort and so many acessorires for what is basically a flawed design. The AR sh*ts where it eats; blowing superheated carbon directly back into the bolt. Also, the locking lugs are a pain to clean, and the AR design is rather delicate. Baby the girl, and she'll do you fine, but when things get rough, she won't be around.

Dr. StrangeGun said...

Anonymous, I think you're about to get proven wrong...

Jay G said...

Here's a unique perspective, which may be entirely due to my residing (currently) in the Volksrepublik of MA.

If, G-d forbid, I am ever forced to employ deadly force in my home, I would MUCH rather face a grand jury with the overzealous DA holding up a pump-action 12 gauge shotgun than a tricked out AR-variant.

You have to remember, here in MA we have a rising star DA named Martha Coakley who has gained some level of national attention due to one Neal Entwhistle, who is alleged to have murdered his wife and infant son and fled to England to avoid prosecution.

She made a statement in a press conference that should chill your bones. I didn't see it, but Bruce over at mASSBACKWARDS live-blogged the press conference yesterday. She made a comment to the effect of "putting your finger on the trigger of a gun constitutes pre-meditation".

Think about that mindset for a second. Then think about the eeeeeevil black assault rifle being held up in court at your trial.

Replace it with a warm and fuzzy Winchester pump shotgun, the kind your grandpa might have busted clays with, and think about not spending the rest of your life in jail.

All my $0.02 from behind the socialist curtain...

Anonymous said...

Then think about the eeeeeevil black assault rifle being held up in court at your trial.

But that's an evil green, tan and black assault rifle ;-)


buzz_knox said...

Given that definition of premeditation includes a millisecond of forethought, putting one's finger on a trigger meets the criteria, even in a defensive shooting. I'd much rather say "yes, I intentionally shot him because he posed a threat to my life" than "I didn't premeditate; the gun just went off!"

The idiots will hate and harass you regardless of what you use, merely because you used something to defend yourself, rather than giving in. While you don't want to give them ammunition against you, if you have a rational and articulable reason for your choice of weapon, then run with that choice. There are good reasons for a house carbine over a shotgun (ease of shooting, accuracy, reduced likelihood of overpenetration with effective ammunition). Learn those reasons and learn to articulate them.

Mulliga said...

I've heard lots of people say having an innocuous weapon may help convince a jury you acted in self-defense, but I've yet to see any concrete evidence. A gun is a gun is a gun - even a pump-action shotgun or scoped rifle is threatening to the hoplophobe. Hell, my sister was freaked out by my SwissTool when I got it for Christmas.

As for the AR, it may not be perfect, but it's the best thing available.

EgregiousCharles said...

Anonymous, I don't own an AR or intend to get one. But, the well-substantiated critcisms I've read of the AR design, such as Mad Ogre's, apply to military use: guns which are fouled by extensive shooting without extensive cleaning (sh*ts where it eats), or used in the field (muddy, dusty, or other dirty conditions). These do not apply to a specialized house gun that will be babied. For that purpose, the much-praised AR ergonomics are much more critical.

jay g, I think your point is probably a good one in Massachusetts but perhaps not so compelling in Tennessee. Also it's worth considering that a scary-looking gun may scare your attacker as well as a grand jury, and it's going to be a lot better at trial time if you didn't need to shoot.

Tam said...

"But, the well-substantiated critcisms I've read of the AR design, such as Mad Ogre's, apply to military use:"

And are wildly, wildly overblown. But, then, George has made hyperbolic, iconoclastic hatred of the AR part of his whole schtick. He's so personally invested in it that even if you let him watch one shoot ten million zillion malfunction-free rounds while being submerged in magma, he wouldn't be able to see it; his mind would blot it out. ;)

David said...

I've always thought the only valid add on for a 16, sorry, ar-15 is an m-203.

Jay G said...

" Also it's worth considering that a scary-looking gun may scare your attacker as well as a grand jury, and it's going to be a lot better at trial time if you didn't need to shoot."

Charles, I'd posit that a big honkin' 12-bore bearing down on a goblin would be AT LEAST as frightening as an AR... Especially with the instantly identifiable sound of a pump-action shotgun chambering a round...

'Course, it'd also be interesting to see what happened if you sparked up a 3'-bladed McCullough chainsaw... ;)

Alston said...

YYou know, I don't think it's a coincidence that even though Brit Special Forces could use SA-80s, they use M16 variants. Aussie spec ops types could have an AUG in either hand, but they use M16s. And in Israel? Well, God forbid we claim that there's any combat in Irael, or sand either, but HOLY SHIT, the Mos uses M16 variants in favor of Galils. and in our nation, where operators from all 4 branches could acquire any carbine they chose? Predominantly the M4/variant.(note that I caid carbine, before someone comes to refute me and claim that they saw MP5s in the '80s, so that must be a carbine.)

Anonymous, if you're so sure that the AR15 is a flawed design, you will first have to explain to me why carbon in the upper receiver is a flaw. It gets there. You can't carry the 1-3 thousand rounds of ammunition on your person neccasary to make an in spec M16 start jamming. If you're going to claim that just firing the gun in a clean environ makes it jam, then go burn through the thousand rounds on your tactical wheelbarrow, and let me know. And if the dirty enviroment is the problem, you might have to clean your rifle if it's got sand or mud in it, and it stop running.

On a daily basis, I deal with people with military experience in all capacities, even one of my co-workers. The appreciation for the functionality and durability of any M16, A1 variant and above, is nigh universal. Even if I had no experience with them myself, I might be swayed by speaking to 10 honest- to-God been-there-done-that combat vets, who prized their M4.

From the madogre site(where, amongst XM8 sales propaganda, he denigrates our servicement who claim that their M16s actually work as "zit faced, roll-playing, counter-strike addicted pussies")

"FACT: AR-15/M-16 based rifles SUCK."

Well, that's been well thought out, son. Grab an AK, then, and stop bothering the people who aren't stuck in the 3rd world.

Alex N said...


Thanks for the info. I've loved the idea of having a red-dot sight on a carbine since I saw one mounted on a Wilson Combat CQB carbine.

Here's what I'm wondering as a result of your post: Would it be possible to turn a 16" FN FAL carbine into a CQB carbine suitable for home defense? I'm particularly wondering if the more powerful .308 round would be an advantage to have over the .223 or if it would have inherent overpenetration issues. From a legal perspective it might be advantageous to only have to shoot a perp once to get him to cease whatever he's doing. The bullet tagging your neighbor after it exits the perp would be a definite disadvantage, though.

Your thoughts would be much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

And if you're so worried about the issues of gasses in and around the bolt carrier, look to POF and HK for their gas piston systems... HK isn't presently planning on selling to civies, but hey, POF has that covered...


coderpunk said...

What about ammo? 55gr FMJ is going to go through your BadGuy and the rest of your house. Unless you live in a rural area I'd have to agree that a shotgun is a much better choice (with proper ammo selection as well, no slugs!)


Tam said...

"What about ammo? 55gr FMJ is going to go through your BadGuy"

M193, if you are using it, will exit said BadGuy as fragments.

B&N said...


Excellent post. I will have to do one up now, just to see how much I like it. I love the look of Project Housegun, particularly the tan VLTOR stock. Me wants.

TripleNeckSteel said...

Um, guys,

There's more than 55gr FMJ available.

I personally use
in my home-def carbs.

As for lethality, ask some Tallybanners what they think. You'll have to dig them up first.

My lefty Stag M4...full of kickass Mk262 goodness.