In the first two parts of this AR-15 Basics series, we looked at the AR-15 history and its main components. Now, we will talk about shooting the AR and some tools you should have to maintain it properly. However, before we get into shooting the AR-15 rifle, let’s go over the basic rules for gun safety.
AR-15 | Basic Firearm Safety and Shooting
The Four Basic Rules for Gun Safety
- Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. This means you should watch where the muzzle is pointed at all times.
- Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. When you first pick up a weapon the instinct is to find the trigger by putting your finger on it. Train yourself to rest your trigger finger on the frame or trigger guard.
- Always keep the weapon unloaded until you are ready to use it. Never assume a weapon is unloaded. When you pick one up, verify that it is unloaded, keeping rules 1 and 2 in mind while you do this. Also, never hand a weapon to someone unless you clear it first.
- Always be sure of your target and what’s behind it. When you are shooting at a paper target, remember that it’s not going to stop the bullet. Look at what’s behind the target.
These rules are especially important when shooting the AR-15; the 5.56/.223 is a high-velocity round designed to put holes in a body armor.
Let’s examine the finer points of the AR-15 starting with the controls. There are 5 major components or controls for the AR-15:
- Fire select/safety
- Forward Assist
- Magazine release
- Bolt Release
Trigger Safety and Control
You’ll find that in most cases the factory trigger is junk, but there are a lot of AR-15 aftermarket parts to improve it. The .308 AR shown in the earlier part of this series has a drop-in CMC trigger that made a world of difference. Your finger position on the trigger and trigger control is the same as for a handgun. You also have the safety or fire selector, which is a forward assist that can be used to move the bolt forward and the magazine release.
Shooting Stance and Determining Your Dominant Eye
The shooting stance, dominant eye, and natural point of aim are all important. Before we get into sights and sight picture, let’s determine which eye is the dominant one. For most people the dominant eye is the same as your dominant hand, but not always. Here is a way to determine which eye is the dominant one.
Point at an object about 6 feet away. Focus on the object so that your finger is slightly out of focus. Now close one eye at a time so when you close the non-dominant eye the object will appear to move but when you close your dominant eye it won’t move. This is the eye that you should use when shooting.
For me, my right eye is the dominant one.
Shooting an AR with iron sights is no different from shooting a handgun.
The most obvious difference is the shooting stance between an AR and a handgun. The Isosceles stance has you square to the target but when shooting the AR, you stand perpendicular to the target.
The best way to think about the stance for shooting the AR is the old-fashioned fighter’s stance as shown by our friend Tara in the picture below.
Your strong hand is on the pistol grip close to your body and the support hand is on the forward handguard, as far forward as is comfortable for you.
One thing to note with an AR is that all of the moving parts of the recoil system is in the buffer tube. There’s nothing that will come back and hit you in the nose. You want a good cheek weld with the stock tight against your shoulder. You also want your arms close to your body. This helps with control while moving.
When you pick up a weapon the instinct is to find the trigger with your finger. You should pick a place on the AR-15 to place your trigger finger outside of the trigger guard. For me, I look for the magazine release and place my finger just alongside it.
Shooting an AR
Now let’s look at how to shoot the AR. Assuming that the bolt is closed or full forward with no magazine inserted and the dust cover over the ejection port is closed (shown open in the pictures above), insert the magazine. Give it a solid whack, then tug on it to make sure it’s seated. Pull the charging handle towards you as far as it will go. As the bolt moves back the dust cover will pop open. Let go of the charging handle so the bolt will move forward and strip a round from the magazine. This will place an ammo into the chamber. As soon as you chamber a round make sure the fire/safe selector is on safe. You should get in the habit of placing the weapon on safe whenever you don’t have your finger on the trigger.
From this point on each time you squeeze the trigger, it will fire one round. Once the magazine is empty, the bolt will lock back the same way as the slide on a semi-automatic handgun. Just like a handgun, you should verify that the bolt is locked back. The simplest way to do this is lower the weapon and turn it so you can see the ejection port and verify that the bolt is locked back on an empty magazine. Now press the magazine release and the magazine will drop free. Well, a magazine won’t always drop free, especially if it’s clogged with dirt.
Once you have a new magazine inserted, you can press the bolt release. It will move forward, stripping a new round from the magazine. Your fine motor skills will degrade, making pressing the bolt release with your finger difficult. To overcome this, just hit it with the heel of your hand.
Check out Jerry Miculek’s fast AR-15 shooting by Miculek.com:
So there you have it! A quick tutorial on the operation and shooting of an AR-15. This is such a versatile weapon. Simply adding an optic can expand the usefulness of the AR-15 from a close quarter combat weapon to a long-range shooter. It’s a great tactical firearm that has been used by the military for so many years. Intruders will definitely think twice if they know you have one in your home for defense.
Do you have an AR-15 rifle? Tell us about your own experience in the comments section below!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2015 and has been updated for quality and relevancy.