The Perfect* AR-15

A few nights back, I disappeared into my gun room, a jumbled mess of ARs and parts in my arms. After some sweating, grunting, and cursing, this is what came out of the room.

No, I’m not going to name it.


It’s the perfect AR-15 (for me), and here’s why.

– The heart of any AR is the barrel. This rifle has a Centurion Arms 16″ lightweight midlength barrel. It’s not as light as an A1 profile barrel, but it is lighter than “government” or standard profile barrels. More important, it shoots groups that are highly competitive with my White Oak Armament stainless match barrel, although the Centurion is much lighter. It’s capable of hitting point targets well past the oft-published maximum effective range of the M16 (550m). Also the midlength is handy as far as where I like to place my hand on the firearm.

– The front sight base is of the fixed type and is taper pinned in place. A pinned front sight base/gas block will stay in place until the end of days, which is important if you want your rifle to function properly. Furthermore, if the barrel moves relative to the handguard, the front sight will move with the barrel, not the handguard.

– The bolt carrier group is M16 weight/profile, hard chromed, and was properly tested/inspected before shipment. Spike’s Tactical used to sell hard chrome BCGs before they switched to nickel boron. I have two of them and I’ll never let them go (until they break). Hard chrome is far easier to clean than either phosphate or nickel boron. The M16 weight carrier is what the system was designed to operate with. It’s this mass moving at a specific velocity that magazines are designed to feed rounds in front of. Moving to lighter carriers will sacrifice reliability in adverse conditions or extreme temperature ranges.

–  The receiver extension tube and buffer/spring are the Vltor A5 type. This system more closely approximates the performance (control and reliability) of a fixed stock/rifle buffer and spring, but allows length of pull adjustments. If I could make one change to the M16A4 used by the Marine Corps, it would be a change to the A5 recoil system. Normally the longer and heavier EMod stock would be used with an A5, but I’m using an IMod because I don’t need the weight of the EMod.

– The muzzle device is an A2 because I want a balance of muzzle flash reduction and blast/muzzle signature reduction.

– The charging handle is the Rainier Arms/AXTS Raptor because it’s easy to use with either hand and regardless of the method by which I manipulate the charging handle latch, but it does not protrude away from the rifle in a way that would cause it to snag on gear. It also enables more effective malfunction clearing than other types of charging handles I’ve used.

– The handguard is made by Apex; functionally, what I need from an AR handguard is to protect the gas tube and keep my hand from burning. The Apex handguard does this. It’s also lightweight and “grippy” and gives me a few QD socket options. I don’t like the way it installs – it’s kind of a pain in the butt, really – but once it’s there, it’s there. It’s also a good size and shape (round). If I want to add rails for lights and stuff, I can, but right now I haven’t because I don’t need them.

– The trigger is a Geissele SSA-E. I use a lot of stock triggers and think they’re a lot more useful than some might think, but it is really hard to beat the SSA-E. I like the Rock River two stage as well, but of late I haven’t seen them as regularly available as the Geissele.

– The optic is an Aimpoint CompM3 in a GDI mount. I also have a Trijicon TA02 – better known as the “battery ACOG” – in a GDI mount. Because the GDI mounts return to zero within .01 MOA, I can swap the red dot and ACOG back and forth to my heart’s content (one-handed!) without worrying about anything unnecessary. The Aimpoint and ACOG are as durable and reliable as you can ask of a firearm accessory, both offering long battery life. I am not normally a fan of the 4×32 ACOG eye relief and this one is no different, but the adjustable illumination is really neat and I somewhat prefer the crosshair reticle for distance shooting.

– The magazine is a Lancer L5 (loaded with 30 rounds of Prvi 75gr BTHP, thanks AIM!), which is durable, reliable, and lets me see how much ammo I have left. It fits in all mag pouches. Also it looks cool.

– The rear sight and pistol grip are Magpul. Thus they are well made and affordable. I highly doubt that I will actually need to use the MBUS rear sight, but it doesn’t break when you hit stuff with the rifle, which is important.

So that’s my idea of the perfect AR-15. As photographed (loaded), it weighs 8 pounds 7.6 ounces. Unloaded it weighs 7 pounds 6.2 ounces. It’s what I plan to use for the 2013 24 Hour Sniper Adventure Challenge, and it’s a rifle I plan on owning for a very long time.

42 thoughts on “The Perfect* AR-15”

  1. So… you going to name it?


    The Centurion barrels really are something… good “build.”

  2. I’ve been eyeballing that Apex handguard for a long time. I was set on using one on a .308 project I’ve got in the works, but Centurion has now promised low-profile format .308 versions of their new CMR rail, and that sounds really really good to me.

  3. That is close to my ideal config, the only thing I would change is I usually run an a1 but stock. It pust my LOP perfect for me with a plate carrier

  4. Ive never used the SSA-E, but have a ALG ACT in my rifle and feel it is some of the best bang for your buck if you need a smooth pull and crisp break. Supposedly they are “tuned by Geissele” which I don’t know about, but they are a subset of Geissele. I have been shooting competitively for some time and would not hesitate to use it in a 24 hour challenge

    1. I’ve read several reviews of the ACT that claim it is only a bit better than a good quality stock trigger. I’m not sure it’s worth $65 to upgrade.
      On the other hand, PSA sells LPKs that include the ACT for just about $20 more than their standard LPK.

  5. Good article. I have a couple questions:

    1. What’s the estimated cost of this setup?
    2. Do you recommend swapping out a standard AR-15 (semi auto-type) carrier for an M16-type? Is it worth the expense/nuisance?

    1. Without optics, I’d guess $1100-1150ish at normal retail prices. I did actually buy most of the parts without an “industry guy” discount and I have less than that in it because I waited for deals or scratch n dent type parts. Including the cost of both optics and mounts would add another $1500 at least.

      If you already have a semi auto carrier, I would stick with it. Building a new rifle, no reason to get the semi version.

  6. So you left out one detail that really interests me. Could you expand on your upper receiver choice for this rifle? Seeing as how you typically have a logical reason for everything you stick on a gun I’m curious to see a breakdown of your upper choice. Also, outside of a mil-spec lower were you looking for anything for this build?

    On that note, how about a full post sometime about features you look for in a upper? Billet v Forged and what features you look for in each. Or I notice you always seem to use forged uppers, so maybe explain why…. Really I’m just trying to get you to write about this as I need more material to read and I’d rather read an actual factual comparison instead of another idiot who is convinced his brand X is the only brand worth buying…. Unless you have said Brand X in which case id like to hear your breakdown. So all of this to say, what is your go to upper out there, and why?

    1. Actually, same question for upper and lower. Lowers have always seemed much less important to me, but I’d like to hear your input on em….

    2. I use forged lowers because they’re durable, affordable, and generally issue free. Same goes for uppers. Billet uppers/lowers, in my opinion, exist for two reasons:

      1. They look cool and/or people will buy anything that company makes, sexy receivers included
      2. There’s a shortage of receiver forgings, so people with CNC machines feel the need to fill that void

      I have owned some billet lowers with nifty features like ambi bolt releases and so on, but since I’m not going to transition every single AR I own over to that type of receiver (at a cost of maybe several thousand dollars), I always end up getting rid of them.

      Really my only guiding light here is whether or not I like the logo and whether or not the company’s name on the side of the lower annoys me.

      1. Thanks, for some reason I felt like that was your opinion…..

        So…. When is your “Vuurwapen’s AR Builders Bible” going to be published?

  7. All that and you didn’t mention the freaking caliber? Must be a 5.56mm then if you didn’t put thought into it.

  8. I am considering the Apex hand guard. Any reason for not going with the extended mid-length with cutout for the front sight?

    1. Not if you’re going to put it on a mid length. I originally had this handguard on a carbine.

  9. At least it has an Aimpoint on it….seriously though, in my opinion a trigger, a good sight, and muzzle device will have the most effective upgrades in terms of performance. Andrew and I differ a little when it comes to muzzle devices, I like breaks/comps….but they do come at a price ($$, flash, blast, etc). Again, these upgrades assume that you already have a solid platform to start with. All the other accessories are personal preference and their value is based on how you plan to use the rifle…..something most people don’t seem to consider.

    BTW, that gun would look more intimidating if I could see at least 2-3″ of gas tube. Think about it, if the gun is so awesome and scary….you might not have to use it, save a life and some money on ammo, just saying. Plus if the gas tube is exposed, you will be able to see it working…and if damaged it will be easier to see that too. Sometimes you just miss the little things…

  10. I love Lancer mags. They’re sort of like, “the secret fishing hole,” where only a few people seem to know about its location. It was so funny to hear people call into my pal’s shop during the gun scare scoff when he had run out of PMag stock and he’d offer them, “some unknown brand,” the Lancer.

  11. Have you had a chance to flesh out the L5 AWM? Out here in mosquito country DEET can be a mandatory “accessory” during certain parts of the day, and so magazines that don’t melt in the presence of DEET are a logical choice.

    I have some of the AWM 30 rounders that I haven’t really run much, but I was turned onto them by the 20 round version, which out of all the various 20 round mags I’ve tried is the only one that can keep up with the fast cycling bolt in my AUG. It also happens to be the only one I’ve tried with a curved magazine body. I haven’t tried the new Magpul 20 rounder that is also curved and at this point don’t see a reason to. I suspect a straight magazine body not being optimal for the 5.56 round had something to do with MagPul’s redesign.

  12. Some excellent choices there Andrew and very much in line with my experiences and preferences. I’ll be building two new carbines soon and they won’t be much different than yours. Chrome M16 carriers are vastly under-appreciated. GDI mounts, while pricey, are top of the line. You can’t go run with Monty’s FN barrels and the Geissele is the standard against which all others are measured.

    The A5 receiver extension was long overdue. My M16 carried an A2 fixed stock (with Colt LMG Hydraulic Buffer and green spring) because I was/am convinced that the short carbine buffer tube is the source of many of the problems of the carbine platform.

  13. On the advice of an army buddy, I have been checking my gas rings. I often find the gas rings have rotated nearly into line after I have started shooting my bushmaster. Any advice on changing or upgrading to eliminate this problem?

      1. Andrew, to flesh out my earlier post. The rifle is a Bushmaster OCR with a low round count. I have changed out the action spring with a Wolff extra heavy action spring, H2 buffer, and I use Lancer L5 magazines. I am still getting double feeds. My Army buddy advises downloading to 28 or 18 rounds respectively. I think a good magazine should operate reliably even fully loaded. Advice?

  14. Got rid of a Kriss Vector Carbine and bought a Black Rain .223 Fallout 15. What a nice smooth shooting weapon. I could spend the day at the range just shooting. Optics are Trijicon ACOG 3.5X35 G H which has the scaled horseshoe green sight. Black Rain builds some primo rifles.

  15. Andrew, in a previous comment you stated that you had this hand guard on a carbine. I’m assuming that the handguard was on a carbine without a front sight block? Or was it a carbine length with a front sight post cut out. The reason that I ask, is that i have a carbine length barrel/gas system on my 6920 that i would want to switch to midlength configuration once i shoot out the original barrel, and am not sure as to which size hand guards to purchase in the meantime.

    1. Yeah, it was on a carbine length barrel with a low profile gas block. If you bought this exact handguard for your current barrel, you’d need to swap gas blocks, but I’d advise waiting until you replace the barrel with a mid length example. Or you could buy the carbine length Apex version now and not switch gas system lengths in the future, or buy the carbine one now and sell/ trade it for a mid length once you replace the barrel. It will probably take a lot of shooting to kill that 6920 barrel.

  16. I know I spent some bucks on mine but I love it. sweet to shoot, Black Rain AR15 Blackout 5.56. ACOG with green horseshoe recepticle. Ammo is reasonable and just got a 1000 rnds for 405 shipped.

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