SHTF Guns: “Jack of All Trades” AR-15 – 16″ Barrel – 5.56mm – LPVO –

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I. Introduction:

> Setting: My livingroom, watching locally cached episodes of True Blood

> Voice comes booming over megaphone from a dune buggy in the cul-de-sac outside

There has been too much violence, too much pain. None here are without sin, but I have an honorable compromise.

Just walk away.

Leave the iPad, the SSD full of ‘Friends’ reruns, the shake-charge flashlight, and the whole compound, and I spare your lives.

Just walk away.

I will give you safe passage in the subdivision. Just walk away and there will be an end to the horror. I await your answer.

You have one full episode of “The One Where Ross Gets High”* to decide.

> Guy with a mohawk wearing red long johns plays a fire-spewing guitar in the background

II. Your Landscape/AOR Overview:

OK so not quite Mad Max, but my AOR is what I would consider to be semi-realistic:

1. Urban or suburban United States;

2. 0-120 days post-disaster/state of emergency. An example would be the immediate aftermath of the 2005 levee breaches subsequent to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans (where I live now), and/or;

3. Civil unrest. This also applies in post-K New Orleans or, to a greater extent, the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Essentially, a confluence of frustration, desperation, and opportunism, caused by a significant incident and then exacerbated by;

• Lack of supplies, medical care, or other forms of aid;
• Insufficient government resources to adequately or promptly address the situation;
• Inadequate or incompetent law enforcement, a good example being the Danziger Bridge Shootings;
• Law enforcement depriving law-abiding citizens of their civil rights under color of law, or worse, committing crimes in uniform.

People forget that these things have happened in recent history.

III. Specifications – Base Firearm:

It would have to be an AR-15. While I like Pete’s suggestion that an 11.5” AR-15 is the way to go, I’m going to make the argument for a 16” model and base it on my recent Thunder Ranch collaboration video, “The Ultimate Urban Rifle.”

Before we address 11.5” versus 16” AR-15, let’s discuss why the AR-15 and not a more sophisticated platform like the short-stroke piston SIG MCX or a reputedly, but disputedly, more rugged system such as long-stroke piston AK variants, e.g., the Galil ACE or Zastava M70.

We all know that the AR-15 is lightweight, reliable, light-recoiling, accurate, and easy to maintain and use. Adding modifications is uncomplicated, and perhaps the most important force multiplier, an optic, is a simple, functional, no-fuss addition. So Stoner’s golden child already makes logical sense.

However, when you factor in a crisis in the United States, you can anticipate that the AR-15 is going to be the most prevalent private- and government-owned rifle. Ammo is going to be more plentiful than other potential options, as are parts and magazines. Moreover, there’s going to be a greater chance of parts/ammo/magazine compatibility if you are cruising around the wasteland in a gyrocopter with your closest leather-clad friends.

And if you need to ditch the assless chaps and blend in with the National Guard for some reason (e.g., moving under a quarantine, curfew, or other order to remain confined), then some M81 BDUs and a black 16” AR won’t attract the suspicion that a Steyr AUG, Tavor, or even a short-barreled AR would. (Ignore the FDE build featured in the pics – I say go black for this reason specifically.)

A 16″ AR-15 is handy enough to fire from tight spaces like a telephone booth. If you can find a telephone booth in 2020, that is.

Finally, 5.56mm/.223 has a good weight-to-effectiveness ratio built on speed, meaning that your .223 ammo will weigh less than half of, say, .308 (while being significantly weaker – the compromise).  Moreover, the common aluminum and polymer AR STANAG magazines are typically lighter than magazines for common .30+ caliber carbines and rifles.

We’ve established the AR as the best possible choice for the coronapocalypse/flugaloo/TEOTWAWKI etc., so let’s talk about 11.5” versus 16”:

As mentioned in the Ultimate Urban Rifle video above, the guys from Thunder Ranch, Aero, and Ballistic Advantage agreed beforehand that 14.5” to 16” barrels would be the ideal compromise for an urban, sub-urban, or even rural setting as contemplated by the Urban Rifle course. They are light and handy enough to use in tight quarters (of course not as much as Pete’s 11.5” barreled model) but they shine over their little brothers in the range and lethality department.

A 55 grain .223 round needs to be moving at least 2500 fps in order to guarantee fragmentation on target.

A 16” barrel means fragmentation inside 200y and less drop:

Blue line: Approximate M193 55gr trajectory from a 16″ barrel. Green line: Approximate M193 55gr trajectory from an 11.5″ barrel.

With 55gr Federal M193, we are looking at approximately 3150fps at the muzzle with the 16” and 2850fps with the 11.5”. This means that you are just barely under 2500fps (fragmentation velocity) at 200 yards with the 16”, while the 11.5” is (respectably) short, falling out of 2500 fps range at just past 100 yards.

Blue columns: Data for M193 from a 16″ barrel.
Green Columns: Data for M193 from a 11.5″ barrel.

Furthermore, the 11.5” starts to rapidly separate in range from the 16” version after 200 yards. At 200, there’s only a one-inch difference in drop. At 300, that opens up to 3.5 inches, 8 inches at 400, and finally the 16” is shooting 15 inches higher at 500 yards.

I have to say, I was very impressed with the Goldilocks-like ballistic specs of Pete’s 11.5” build, and none could be faulted for going that route. But that extra almost-100 yards of bullet fragmentation and flatter trajectory make a good case for the 16” barrel.

IIIa. Backup Zombie Gat:

I also like the 15-round 12 gauge sub-$1,500 IWI TS-12 (get it from Brownells) for the zombies:

The IWI TS-12 and 00 Buck

The IWI TS-12 and 00 Buck

IV. Specifications – Modifications and Accessories:

I have AR uppers and lowers from 11.5” to 18” from Aero, Bravo Company, LMT, SIG, Troy, and some vintage pre-Freedom Group Bushmaster uppers and lowers. There are lots of other great options out there, but these are all good choices.

I’d probably drop $500 on a complete S-One Aero Upper (Aero).

And I agree on the spendy BCM Complete Lower that Pete recommended (Brownells).

More on this later, but I prefer 1:8 twist for my barrels. If it’s 16”, optimum dwell time is going to be achieved with a midlength gas system. Good arguments can be made for heavy, medium, and pencil profile barrels. In the spirit of compromise, I’ll go with the medcon or a Hanson profile for a blend of rigidity and weight savings.

16" 1:8 twist .223 Wylde Hanson Profile stainless steel barrel from Ballistic Advantage.

16″ 1:8 twist .223 Wylde Hanson Profile stainless steel barrel from Ballistic Advantage. An excellent choice.

As far as the build itself, an absolute must-have is a free floated handguard. While Daniel Defense makes some good ones, my favorite has to be the Aero Atlas S-One (click here to get from Brownells). Tough as nails but light, slim, easy install, and out of this world ergos. If you insist on a full-length top rail, I’d suggest the R-One instead. (Here’s the R-One at Brownells.)

Aero Atlas S-One

Good profile view of my favorite handguard, the Aero Atlas S-One.

In order of priority for accessories, I really only feel the need for an optic and a light.

For optic, I like an LPVO (low-power variable optic) with a true 1x setting. I used an EOTech Vudu 1-6x for a course at Thunder Range and was sold on its ability to switch quickly from short to long range.

EOTech Vudu 1-6x w/mount (Brownells)

Switching from 1-6x on the fly via throw lever on the EOTech Vudu.

Switching from 1-6x on the fly via throw lever on the EOTech Vudu.

I’ve also used the Trijicon Accupower optics with some success, and they are affordable as far as premium glass goes – half the price of the Vudu, but this one is only 1-4x, which is just enough. As a kicker, the Accupower linked below has a reticle with a BDC for M193 55gr ammo out to 800 yards, so if you are using M193 – and as long as you can range your shot – you just tilt and squeeze without the math.

Trijicon Accupower (Brownells)

If one were to go with the 11.5” build, perhaps an Aimpoint Micro with a 3x swing-out magnifier would be the way to go. I have the same setup on my lightweight build and it’s excellent.

For lights, I like the Surefire Mini-Scout Series. Take your pick from Brownells here. They are the standard for weapon lights as far as I am concerned. I did, however, just procure an X300 Ultra 1,000-lumen LED from SF and I have to say it’s impressive for being as small and light (pun intended) as it is.

Speaking of Surefire – a silencer would be a nice add. I think I’d look to the Surefire SOCOM556-MINI2.

Surefire SOCOM556-MINI2 Silencer from Brownells

Compact at only 5” long, and a little heavy at 14.5 ounces, but bulletproof durability. This would be not so much to mask the sound (hint: it won’t), but to make it so the shooter doesn’t go friggin’ deaf every time he/she has to shoot without ear pro.

A good budget option is the YHM Resonator for the same purpose at half the price:

YHM Resonator on a Mini-14 Tactical.

YHM Resonator on a Mini-14 Tactical.

V. Ammo Choice Narrative

Ammo choice for the AR is more complex than rocket surgery with fragmenting versus barrier blind loads (i.e., rounds that will perform better against soft targets and rounds that will still perform after contact with some form of a barrier) and common weights from 45-77gr to choose from. I’d suggest that you independently research this issue as there are ballisticians that have covered this ad nauseam.

That said, I’ll repeat Pete’s picks:

Matching grain weight to your BDC reticle is a consideration, perhaps. And I think you get more bang for your buck in my scenario with 55gr light-fast-and-long fragmenting rounds like M193, but again, this is its own complex subject.

VI. Fielding/Range time

If you check my video, I could not have been more pleased with this exact setup after a 1,000 round long weekend course at Thunder Ranch. The gun I’ve described will be light, accurate, and easy to use anywhere from 10 to 500 yards with minimal adjustment for offset or ballistic drop.

I’ve fielded 16” models in carbine courses in the past, but the main difference between my prior setups and this class was the use of an LPVO. This was the first time that I had equipped an LPVO for a hard-use class, and to me, it’s the key that unlocks the full potential of the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none 16” build.

EOTech Vudu

LPVOs like the EOTech Vudu have been an AR-15 game changer for me.

VII. Conclusions

In conclusion, you’ve noticed that I’ve used the phrases ‘jack of all trades,’ ‘Goldilocks,’ and ‘compromise.’ This is a Swiss Army Knife of builds, which should handle any realistic SHTF scenario with aplomb. It might not be as light or handle as Pete’s slick short-barrel-build, but it’s hardly much larger or heavier while delivering an edge in the ballistic performance department. I’d say either is an equally good choice, but experts with far more experience in battle-ready-rifles pushed this build to me, so here I am, pushing it to you.

*Also, for the record, I absolutely despise Friends as an eminently unfunny show which is only relatable to people who have no actual friends and, therefore, the series has appeal to them because it meets the expectations of the friendless as to what having friends might be like. Seinfeld ftw.



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