Whether you're new to the world of long-range shooting or looking to expand your horizons, there's a lot to consider when thinking about customizing an AR-15. A quick look at websites dedicated to long-range shooting reveals many terms and equipment that a casual shooter or novice may not be familiar with. But don't let that deter you from diving into this exciting sport.
Building a custom long-range AR-15 or upgrading an existing one is a surefire way to get the right equipment into your hands and succeed at long-range shooting, both for hobby and for sport. But before you start ordering random parts, it's important to understand what goes into building a long-range AR-15 and how to choose the parts that will best suit your own needs.
What Is Considered a Long-Range AR?
Long-range precision shooting is a subjective term, largely because the distance a shooter defines as "long-range" depends on their own abilities and years of experience. For a newer sport shooter, their long-range may average somewhere around 200 yards. Someone more experienced with long-range AR-15 shooting, such as a competition shooter or military veteran looking to maintain their skills, will likely be looking for a firearm that will allow them to hit a target 800 or more yards away. Others will fall somewhere in between these two.
A standard AR-15 is designed for longer-range targets, but a standard model typically doesn't come with all the match-grade AR-15 parts someone will need to use this gun for long-distance competition shooting or hunting. To build or upgrade an AR-15 to use for long-distance shooting, you need to consider several features and components that will impact the speed of your ammunition as it leaves the barrel, as well as your ability to sight and go after a target at varying distances.
Things to Consider When Building a Precision AR-15
You should consider several components to ensure accuracy when shooting at long distances. This is the point where some people get confused because they are looking for a one-size-fits-all recommendation. But when it comes to building a precision AR-15, there's no one right design. Plus, there are a lot of different long-distance AR-15 shooting parts.
As you're building your firearm, stop to consider your own specific needs, such as where you'll use it, how long you've been shooting and what you plan to accomplish. In other words, are you a novice looking to start with target practice? Are you an experienced shooter looking to hit targets as far as 800 yards away? Or, do you fall somewhere in between the two?
Use your own abilities, needs and budget to inform your decisions about various features on your custom AR-15, including:
Several types of rounds will provide optimum long-range performance in your AR.
- 300 Blackout: A tried-and-true caliber for the AR-15 platform, 300 Blackout is known to provide additional penetration and power at an intermediate range as well as reduce recoil. Although more expensive than a 5.56, 300 Blackout gives you plenty of bang for your buck with a bullet weight ranging from 110 grain (gr) to 220 gr and long-range capabilities up to 300 yards. 300 Blackout is a great choice for short-barreled rifles, and it's a highly efficient option for hunting larger game, such as deer, boar or small bears.
- 5.56: If you're looking for a higher velocity at a cheaper price, then 5.56 is the way to go. After all, if you're primarily using them for target practice, then the extra cost isn't worth it. But it's not all about the cost with this one. 5.56 has less recoil, shoots flatter and weighs less than 300 Blackout. It's also easier to find in stock. 5.56 rounds are designed to break apart on impact, making them a better choice for home defense rather than long-range shooting.
- .223: Although similar to 5.56 in many aspects, .223 has some differences that can impact your aim, especially in target shooting. .223 has a slightly lower pressure level, as well as a shorter throat. The shorter throat can provide increased accuracy, but velocity and pressure are decreased as a result. Many people make the mistake of viewing .223 and 5.56 as interchangeable. While it's true that you can use .223 in a chamber designed for 5.56, you should never use 5.56 in a chamber designed for .223. Although it's not likely that the firearm will explode, the excess pressure may damage it.
- 6.5 Grendel: Originally designed to extend the firing capabilities of the AR-15, 6.5 Grendel is more effective than 5.56 when it comes to long-range shooting because of its outstanding penetration and greater firepower. Although it costs more than the 5.56 and the bullet weight is greater, this workhorse is designed for maximum impact, especially if you're using it for hunting larger game. However, 6.5 Grendel is often associated with barrel erosion, and you may have difficulty finding magazines for it. The cost of bolts and barrels for this caliber can also be quite steep.
Arguably one of the most important parts of an AR-15 is the barrel. It's essential in determining how the bullets will leave the gun and travel to meet their target. When selecting a barrel for your AR-15, pay close attention to both the length and profile of the barrel you choose.
- Length: The barrel length will determine the accuracy of your round, as well as muzzle velocity, so it's important to select a barrel that will get the results you're looking for. Shorter barrels are better for home defense or close-quarters shooting. Longer barrels provide increased accuracy and optimum acceleration for ammunition. AR-15 barrels range from 7 inches to 24 inches in length, although 16 inches is the most popular option. The 16-inch barrel meets most requirements for long-range shooting, and barrels this length and longer aren't required to carry a Tax III stamp from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
- Profile: The barrel's profile or weight breaks down into three categories: lightweight, government and heavy. The heavier the barrel, the more resistant it is to the heat generated when you fire, so heavier barrels last longer than lighter ones. If you plan to use your AR-15 frequently, such as for competition or target shooting, you may want a heavier barrel. If you're going to carry your firearm through the woods on hunting expeditions, a lightweight barrel may make it easier to move around. One popular option is the M4 government version, which offers durability without being too heavy, providing many AR-15 owners with a happy middle ground.
3. Single- or Double-Stage Trigger
Another frequent question that comes up when someone is building a custom long-range AR-15 is, "What kind of trigger should I choose?" In the past, there wasn't much variety when it came to choosing a trigger for a rifle. You got whatever the manufacturer put together and hoped you could hit a target with it. But today's gun manufacturers offer options for shooters of all levels.
- Single-stage trigger: The single-stage trigger is exactly what its name sounds like — a little bit of pressure on the trigger, and the gun fires. This trigger is designed for precision shooting because there's no mystery as to when your firearm will fire, and it doesn't take a lot of thought. However, this isn't the best option if you're building an AR-15 for home defense since a quick trigger may get you in trouble in a high-stress encounter. Single-stage triggers also aren't conducive to close-quarters shooting.
- Double-stage trigger: A double-stage trigger requires an extra pull before the gun can fire. Often called the "slack," the first pull in a double-stage trigger is the heavier portion of the process, ending once the second stage begins. In this "first stage," it's possible to release the trigger back to its original position without firing. Although two-stage triggers were once thought of as a liability in precision shooting, they actually perform well in competition settings — they're incredibly accurate at long-range — and have a variety of applications for law enforcement, military, sport and competition shooting.
4. Optic Power
Before you buy a scope for an AR-15, it's important to know how you intend to use your firearm. One of the biggest mistakes gun owners make is buying a scope with either too much or too little power for their needs.
- Close range (Yes, this is an article about long-range shooting, but the AR-15 offers a lot of flexibility for different levels of ability and various uses. If you're using your AR-15 for small game hunting or target shooting, then a close-range scope with a 1-4x power scope is a good choice.
- Medium range (150-400 yards): 1-6x power scope or 2-7x power scope: Whether you're hunting in the woods or protecting your property from pesky foxes, coyotes or other vermin, a medium-range scope gives you the additional magnification you need. You'll have a little more flexibility than you would with a close-range scope, but it won't be more powerful than what you need for the task at hand.
- Long range (400+ yards): 3-9x power scope or 4-12x power scope: You likely won't be using an AR-15 to hunt something over 400 yards away, but if you're using your firearm for long-range competition shooting, then a scope at this level is a good choice.
Recommended Parts to Upgrade
Although you can certainly buy a standard AR-15 and enjoy the benefits it brings, many dedicated shooters prefer to customize their firearms to meet their own needs and specifications.
In addition to selecting the length and profile that meet your needs, you can upgrade to a barrel with a higher twist rate. A barrel's twist rate refers to the number of rotations a bullet competes per inch of barrel. v For example, a barrel with a 1:7 twist ratio will be more accurate than a barrel with a 1:9 twist ratio, which is most common.
Another option to consider is upgrading from a barrel with a chrome lining to one with a stainless steel lining. Chrome-lined barrels are typically standard because they stay clean and last a long time. However, chrome barrels can also reduce accuracy at long distances. Stainless steel barrels can improve long-distance accuracy and, except for in extreme conditions, also provide the same benefits of chrome.
There are many aftermarket trigger options for the AR-15, all designed to offer a smoother, lighter trigger pull each and every time. If you're using your AR-15 in competition, you'll want a trigger with a lighter pull weight so it discharges quickly and simply. For hunting or home defense, you might do better with a trigger that has a heavier pull weight to prevent unexpected or rapid discharge.
There's also some debate about whether a single- or double-stage trigger is better in long-range and competition shooting. There's no right or wrong answer here, but changing it up and trying a different trigger stage may take your AR-15 to the next level.
3. Muzzle Device
Muzzle devices are among the easier AR-15 upgrades to make, but they provide some of the greatest benefits whether you're in the forest or on the range. Muzzle compensators and muzzle brakes are designed to reduce recoil and muzzle climb, increasing accuracy and improving your firearm's ability to complete rapid follow-up shots.
The right grip goes a long way toward improving your comfort with your AR-15. A good grip reduces tension in your hands and helps you relax as you line up your shot. The ultimate goal is for the firearm to fit comfortably enough into your hand that you don't think about it once it's in place.
The right grip can also reduce recoil and improve your accuracy, but choosing the right grip for an AR-15 is a very subjective process. Some AR-15 owners prefer a more rigid grip, while others prefer a smoother grip. It's also important to select a grip that fits your fingers and hands. After all, if you're focused on how the gun feels in your hands instead of lining up your shot, then your accuracy will probably suffer.
Build a Custom Long Range AR-15 With Wing Tactical
Whether you're new to the world of custom firearms or you're looking for the next step up, Wing Tactical is the place to find the best accessories at the lowest prices. As a veteran-owned business, we're proud to serve military personnel, law enforcement officers, hunters, competitive shooters and gun enthusiasts around the country. In addition to our wide inventory of gun parts, we also sell survival gear, range gear and gun tools.
Ready to start a custom build on an AR-15? We've got the precision AR-15 parts you need. Get started with Wing Tactical today!