Ken Hackathorn: Make Your AR 15 Rifle Kit Choices Based on Need

Gun Education

Colt LE6920 Carbine
Colt LE6920 Carbine

Strasburg, OH -( I see lots of stupid ARs in my classes; guns loaded up with cheap aftermarket crap with no real world need at all.

Sometimes these carbines look like an ad for CAA. That’s fine if all you want to do is impress your gunshop commando buddies. Some guys are real AR snobs, and will write you off if you are not using a $1500 or higher priced boutique AR. I have used Colt and BCM (Bravo Company MFG) for years……they are the Gold Standard in ARs in my book.

Colt is sadly stuck in 1991 and refuses to get into the twenty-first century of ARs.

That will hopefully change, but as of now, you will likely have to buy a 6920 or 6720 and then modify it to your needs. BCM offers ARs to meet the needs of 90 percent of the market.

The ‘KIT’

Remember, you need a reliable gun. I like a 1/7 twist Barrel so I can use about any 5.56/223 ammo I run across. I want a good sling, so I use Blue Force Gear Vickers Slings. If the range that you will primarily be using the carbine at is going to be 175 yards or less, I always recommend and select an Aimpoint. I’m a huge fan of the Micro. Recently I have been using the Scalarworks Micro Mount, it is the tits. If your carbine is for self-defense, a white light is required. There are many on the market and Surefire, Streamlight, and Inforce all have worked well for me.

Magnified Optics

Leupold Mark 6 1-6x20mm Angle
Leupold Mark 6 AR Scope

If your needs are such that the range may be greater than 150 yards, a magnified optic may be a wise choice. I now live in a part of the USA where longer range (in excess of 150 yards) is an issue. For a 5.56/223 carbine which is in the real world pretty much a 400-yard max platform, a good 1-4 or 1-5 scope has merit. There is a number on the market and price tends to be your guide. Cheap rarely pays off, but stupid expensive is not required either. I have an S&B 1-4 on my Colt prototype 16″ mid length lightweight carbine, a Trijicon 1-4 on a couple of BCMs, and a Leupold 1.5-4 Fire Dot 1″ tube on my lightweight Centurion Arms build.

Illuminated Reticles & Mags

FNH USA - SCAR 16S 30RD 223/5.56 Magazine
FNH USA – SCAR 16S 30RD 223/5.56 Magazine :

Do not get a first focal plane scope for carbine use..dumb ass idea. First focal plane makes sense on long-range/sniper applications. But for a 400 meter or less use carbine, when set on one power the reticle is much too small to find in a hurry or in low light. Yes, I know about illuminated reticles, but you need to note the battery life on most of these as it is a no go.

Make sure you have at least 10 or more quality ar 15 magazines per gun, if possible. GI or Magpul. I have others that work great such as Lancer and Tango Down. Make sure your rifle runs them reliably. I am a believer in down loading 30 rounds AR mags to 28 rounds. Zero your rifle at a range that is reflective of your needs. Why zero your carbine for 300 meters if you will never use it more than 100 yards?

Serve Your ‘Mission’ Best

Select ammo that will serve your ‘mission’ best. The most important rounds to have are good quality practice rounds and plenty of them. If you are to stay on top of your combat marksmanship skill, you will need to go to the range often. Always confirm your zeros, as they can change as a result of bangs and clangs weapons take in the real world.

Do not suffer from a crappy trigger. If you are not a cop or soldier who must use what you are issued, then get a quality trigger. Geissele is the gold standard. [ See Best AR15 Trigger – A Top Five Review ]

There are many other good aftermarket triggers available, but do not install a trigger in your ‘social‘ AR that is made for competition use as they are dangerous and prone to ADs when not used for ‘games‘.

If you have taken a carbine class, you have likely been provided some excellent skill drills to use in your quest to remain up to speed. Select those skill drills that reflect your needs with a carbine and practice them regularly. Stay safe and always be aware of points of cover. Observe your environment. Don’t be a slug.

Stay Alert!
Ken Hackathorn

Ken Hackathorn
Ken Hackathorn

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James Bailey

I’m really amazed that someone who writes an article pooh-poohing the buying of high-end goodies for an AR platform, has high-end goodies as his go to Pieces. News flash Mr. Hackathorne: most of us out here in the real world don’t have the kind of money to buy your list of quality guns and accessories. It took me 3 years to save up the money to buy the non-brand name not off the custom high end shelf AR. It was built by a local dealer using generic parts and it shoots quite nicely thank you. Further, you may be able… Read more »


Well said brother, well said.


Great article don’t get people bashing Mr. Hackathorne for stating his expert opinion. Just cause he didn’t list the exact rifle you have doesn’t mean your AR15 is junk he’s just saying what in his experience is the go to. Colt and BCM are excellent rifles but are not what I’d call high end but more great value rifles. Just get the best you can afford and take care of your gear and spend the money you have wisely on your guns the only one you need to make happy is yourself but it’s always nice to have the opinion… Read more »


Hack: Unlike the previous guy I only have one bit to pick. Geissele is NOT the gold standard. They might be the most touted, most published but you want to get in the weeds try an AR Gold by American Trigger. When reviewing drop in triggers you guys continually ignore these folks and, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. Have you even tried them? No matter how many rounds I throw down range that trigger breaks like the proverbial glass rod every single time without fail. Pricey? Yup, do they hold up in combat? Yup again.… Read more »

Steve Gwilt

“Cheap rarely pays off, but stupid expensive is not required either.”
I’m sorry but your collection of Colt prototype, couple of BCM’s, Trijicon, Leupold, etc. all seem like stupid expensive to me and my budget. I just have ONE AR that I can change around as needed, not the other way round.