Choosing the Right Gun : Carbine/Rifle

choosing the right Carbine rifle ar-15 ar-10This is an article sure to stir the pot…a bunch. Why? Because gun-lovers all have their personal preference and are usually passionate about expressing the opinion. Not me. Well, I am a gun-lover but I look at guns as tools to use to accomplish a certain task. Other than that, they are just another prep item to me. OK, they are incredibly enjoyable to shoot with friends and family but that is another whole story. For now, we will stick to what is the right carbine for a prepper.

However, let me forewarn you, you may not be expecting what you will hear by the time you are done reading this article. There will be answers but maybe not the one(s) you are expecting. But you will have an answer and I truly believe you will be pleased when all is said and done. But let’s get to it…

First, as always, I want to clearly define the “mission” for any tool or piece of equipment. And it is no different for a carbine. But before I get into that let me differentiate between my use of the term “carbine” vs. “rifle.”

Most everyone can recognize a rifle, not hard to do. They are generally bolt action, lever action or semi-auto. But difference between Carbine and a riflesome people will have a harder time recognizing a carbine without wanting to call it a rifle. But the primary difference is a carbine has a shorter barrel. The shorter barrel made it easier for mounted cavalry to have most of the benefits of a rifle but without awkwardness of a long-barreled rifle. However, the shorter barrel did tend to reduce the distance that a soldier could shoot accurately. But mounted cavalry tended to engage the enemy at shorter distances so the shorter barrel wasn’t really much of an issue.

In today’s day and age the modern soldiers generally like a shorter barreled weapon because it is more maneuverable and weighs less than the long-barreled alternatives. As this article progresses you will see those factors will come into play here as well.

Let me back up a little so you can get the full appreciation of where I am coming from when it comes to rifles/carbines and the foundation of this article.

While most kids in the 60’s & 70’s were having fun in high school I was shining shoes, polishing brass, marching Springfield 03-A3and learning to love my Springfield 03-A3 rifle. I absolutely loved that rifle and could strip it, clean it, and reassemble it with my eyes closed with my 17-year old company commander yelling at me. But that rifle was a boat anchor, it weighed in at almost nine pounds. Doing calisthenics with it was even more fun…yeah, right.

When I joined the US Navy right after high school (age 17) I was introduced to the M1 Garand. Wow! Another M1 Garandbeautiful piece of weaponry. But it was even heavier and more cumbersome to use than the 03-A3.

Then once I left the military and I got out on my own, becoming somewhat of an adult, I gravitated to the Ruger Mini-14. I am not sure why anymore, it was a long time ago. But I gotta tell you, the Mini-14 is a great carbine! That thing would shoot any kind of ammo and at one point I went years without Ruger Mini-14cleaning it. Then I took it out of the closet dirty from using it a couple years earlier and it ran fine.

About 10 years ago when I started to get more concerned with the direction of this country I decided it was time to “arm up” again. So naturally I went back to the reliable stand-by MIni-14 carbine that I knew well. I acquired one, then two. I bought some extra magazines and ammo. But as I looked at the Min-14 more and more as a tactical weapon that I might have to trust my family’s life with, I started to feel uneasy. The mags were not consistent quality unless they were original Ruger magazines. My buddies had AR’s.  Our mags were not “swappable” in a pinch. I finally broke down and bough an AR, but it was an AR-10. I didn’t have a .308 weapon at the time and decided that was the best choice at the time. Whoa, was I wrong!

So I went down to my local gun shop that I had been working with for years, the owner was a friend of mine. Notice the use of “was” in that sentence. I explained to him what I wanted as far as “mission” and asked for his advice. Little did I know that gun shop owners are there to sell guns. I thought he was there to be my friend, my confidant, and help through the process. I was wrong.

DPMS AR-10 Sportical .308 7.62 sucksI walked out of the store that day a proud owner of a DPMS AR-10 Sportical. Boy, did I get screwed!

That DPMS went back to his gunsmith four times and back to DPMS twice. It was an utter piece of crap. I was assured it was a fluke and that DPMS was a good brand, I ended up with a different Sportical as a result. Same piece of crap, same problems, and a weapon that I would never, ever trust. So my opinion of DPMS rifles…they are pure junk!

So I decided that I would go with an AR-15 platform but was not thrilled with the stuff I was hearing about keeping them clean. The sand here in the SW is tough on them, and the AR had the reputation that they weren’t the most reliable weapon out there. OK, Sig Sauer 5.56 Patrol Rife carbineso I believed it and bought a Sig 5.56 Patrol carbine. It is a fantastic carbine, I love it! But I was burnt before on a gun from this guy so I was not going to trust him on his word.  I headed out to the field straight from the gun shop with the carbine still in the box.

I had 6 different brands of .223 & 5.56 ammo with me. Some high-end stuff and most of it cheap junk, including  poly coated Russian ammo. I was going to see just what this thing could do, and see if it would live up to the Sig sterling reputation. I was so determined to push it to its limits that I didn’t even clean the rifle first, Sig Sauer 5.56 Patrol Rife carbinejust started shooting it right out of the box. I wanted to make it FTF or FTE, jam, stove-pipe, anything. I just wanted to see this thing give up and stop running.

I failed.

600 rounds later I was out of ammo and running out of daylight, I gave up. I didn’t experience a single problem of any kind with that Sig, it just kept eating up the ammo and spitting out the bullets. And it was amazingly accurate. I was hitting 4” plates at 300 yards with iron sites. Good enough for me.

Since then I cleaned it a time or two, added a rail under the fore-guard for a light or vertical grip if I want to add one later. I also put a very nice 2-point Condor bungee sling on it. Yes, mulicam. Duh. And I had a buddy of mine Duracoat it in a great desert cammo paint job.

So, why did I buy a Sig Patrol? I gotta go back to “mission” to explain that. Here was the mission of the carbine that I wanted to purchase:

“A completely reliable 5.56 carbine platform capable of using any available .223 or 5.56 ammunition.”

That’s it, nothing more. I figured anything else was a bonus. And there are some great bonuses with this carbine:

  1. It uses standard AR-15 magazines.
  2. It is piston driven so there isn’t a bunch of gas being driven into the gun’s upper.
  3. Sig Sauer Patrol 5.56 folding stockThe stock folds back onto the upper to make a very compact carbine capable, very low profile.
  4. The bolt carrier group rarely needs disassembled for cleaning, mostly just wipe it down. The rest of the weapon is easy to clean as well.
  5. If the gun starts running dirty and you start to experience FTF or FTE issues you can adjust the gas level running the piston with a simple 1/4-turn. That adjustment will assist in correcting the FTE/FTF issues by forcing more gas against the piston that runs the bolt carrier group.

Here are the drawbacks:

  1. There is a plastic “boot” that covers where the stock goes into the hinge. It is there to make it look pretty. Sig Sauer Patrol 5.56 stock problemThe plastic retainer clips broke fairly early on and I ended up doing a Gorilla Glue fix on it. I had to add a small screw later as well to ensure that it would stay in place. It was no big deal but on a rifle that price, it should have never been an issue.
  2. The gas port exhausts right by the forward sling attachment point. Not that big a deal at all but it is a little annoying.
  3. Empty, with sling and optic, it weighs just under 10 pounds. That is fairly heavy for a carbine, especially if you might have to carry for days at a time while walking.

And one slight modification that I made was removing the “bird cage” flash suppressor and replacing it with a Yankee Hill PhantomYankee Hill Phantom 5.56mm Comp/Flash Hider. I like the improved performance of the Phantom, and I like the aggressive edges if I have to use the muzzle as a “poking” device.

Why do I keep the Sig around? Because it eats any ammo that I can feed it and it never, ever fails to go “bang” when the trigger is pulled.

But I am not done with the “carbine saga” by any stretch of the imagination.

I got a little tired of the weight and decided it was time to move 100% to the AR platform. We had adopted the AR as the “standard” in our little shooter group. Remember how badly burnt I was with the DPMS? Well, I had stopped frequenting the particular gun shop by then and was at a little bit of a loss on where to buy an AR, and also to trust what I was getting.

About that time a buddy of mine told me he was selling his Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR). He builds really high-end rifles and I trusted him from other interactions I had with him. I talked to him for a couple of days and ended up owning his custom-built DMR. Oh, my, gosh! That thing is unreal sweet! He was telling me that he could shoot 600 yards with it all day long, even a cold barrel shot. He was right. But I am not a long distance shooter. I am more of a medium-distance and CQB kinda of guy. So I swapped the long distance scope for an ACOG. I very, very nice set-up. But it was still a little heavy and had a long-ish barrel. I wanted something for CQB and very light.

Well, being the guy that I am I also decided that I needed to get more involved and familiar with the AR platform. You know, being able to fix one, or at least swap parts, if it broke down. So I got the brainy idea to build my own AR. Yea!

Three months later I was sitting at the dining room table building my AR. I researched for all the right bits and pieces. Here was the mission:

“A completely reliable and accurate AR platform that is as light as possible.”

It took me some time to meet the mission requirements, but I was able to do it. I did find that any reasonably decent lower would work. I am not talking the lower parts, just the lower blank. I bought one that carries a good reputation but I don’t think it was totally necessary to worry that much about the highest quality lower, I just happened onto the deal.

BCM BFH-14-5 MIDWhen it came time for the upper I decided it had to be a Bravo Company upper. They have a top notch reputation BCM bravo company manufacturingoverall, but especially in the Special Ops world. My choice was a BCM BFH 14.5″ Mid Length Upper Receiver Group with a 1.5 Battle Bravo Company Manufacturing Battle Comp 1.0 AR muzzle compensatorComp permanently installed. That made me legal by 1/4 of an inch on the barrel length. I didn’t want to build my upper because there are some precise measurements that are necessary for professional grade operations. I didn’t think I had the skills to do that.



Now came time for the lower parts. I chose the Spikes Enhanced Parts Kit. The kit has:

•  Spikes-SLPK301-LPK-FDE-2KNS Gen II Mod II Anti-Rotation pins
•  Spike’s Billet Trigger Guard (oversized for gloved finger access)
•  ST Battle Trigger
•  Ambi Safety Selector
•  Spike’s Billet Trigger guard w/Set screw
•  KNS Gen II Mod II Anti-Rotation pins
•  ST Battle trigger –
◊  Nickel Boron Coated Mil-Spec Single Stage Trigger, Disconnect, and Rounded hammer
•  Ambi Safety Selector
•  Mil-Spec bolt catch, mag catch, and mag catch button
•  Mil-Spec detents, plungers, pins, and springs
•  Quality Spiral roll pins for trigger guard and bolt catch
•  1/4 Allen screw with washer for grip
•  Spike’s Tactical Lifetime Warranty

I added the Spike’s ST-T2 Heavy Buffer with their Mil-Spec 17-7 Buffer Spring. That all went inside of a Magpul MOE Collapsible Synthetic Carbine AR-15 Stock in flat dark earth color. To give myself a 2-point sling connection point I used a Daniel Defense EZ Carbine 2 Position Ambidextrous AR-15 Carbine Quick Detach Sling Swivel Attachment Point. For a sling I used a Blue Force Gear Vickers Combat Applications Sling. To finish off the lower I added the Original ERGO GRIP AT (aggressive texture).

MI-handguardTo complete the upper build I went with the Midwest Industries Gen2 Two-Piece Drop-in Mid-Length Tactical Handguard. To attach the sling to the fore-stock I used a quick-connect swivel that connects directly to the MI handguard. For the bolt-carrier group I used a BCM Bolt Carrier Group (MPI) – Auto coupled with a BCM AR15 Bolt Assembly (MPI). Then I topped it off with a BCM GUNFIGHTER Charging Handle (5.56mm/.223) w/ Mod 3 (LARGE) Latch.

Aimpoint MicroT1 opticFor optics I chose the Aimpoint Micro T-1 as my primary red dot optic. For back-up iron sights I went with the Troy Dioptic Tritium Folding Sight in flat dark earth.

From start to finish it took me about 4 – 5 hours to put it all together. But when I was done I really knew how the rifle functioned and why. I also could clearly see the difference quality parts make. My buddy has an AR, a budget model. When you rack his weapon you can feel the grit and a “cheap” feel to it. When you rack my AR you know you are holding a high-quality weapon.

For this article I don’t want to go into why I chose each piece that I listed above. But I will do another article later that covers the “build,” each piece and the thought process that went into each item. Some of you may really enjoy it, others…not so much, so I will leave it out of this article.

The point I was trying to make is this; when I was done building the AR, the thing is incredibly reliable, unreal accurate and can take hard field use without any stress on it at all. And all for under nine pounds empty with everything I listed above.

I had originally bought into the hype about keeping an AR spotless to ensure that it would be there for you and run when your life depended on it. Well, I believed that till I saw a video with an old Marine sergeant that is pretty Slick 2000 EWL for AR-15 and pistolscrusty, and an award winning shooter. He talked about the main thing is to keep the bolt carrier group “wet” with a high-quality lubricant such as Slip 2000 EWL (Extreme Weapons Lubricant). He also talked about cleaning the bore with a bore snake as well, but only using the Slip 2000 without bore cleaner. So I put his idea to the test. I ran my weapon four times in the field and at the range without the “normal” way of cleaning it. But I kept it “wet” as he said. I was particularly worried about the sandy conditions here in the southwest. Well, the gun ran fine, no FTE or FTF issues.

Now, I have since cleaned it and I do regularly clean it. But I learned a valuable lesson and realize that I shouldn’t believe hype, go to those that know.

Next up – new mission…

I love the 5.56 round for just about everything, but it is not a perfect round by any stretch of the imagination. I love the saying “7.62, turning cover into concealment since the 1950’s.” There is a whole lot of truth to that. Just ask anyone that ever ran an M60 or M240 machine guns. So I wanted a bit more punch capability, a longer “reach out and touch someone” for hunting purposes or serious defensive capability. I also like the AR platform…a new mission was born:

“A completely reliable and accurate AR-10 7.62 platform able to stay operationally cool for long periods of extended fire.”

Don’t forget, my first experience with this platform was DPMS. And DPMS turned out to be absolute pure junk! And no, it wasn’t just me. I knew another fellow that had a DPMS .308 as well. And when we got to talking he had the exact same problems that I had but just 1 – 2 years after I did. DPMS = junk! (in my opinion)

So I spent literally months researching AR-10 manufacturers, models, reputations, reviews, and everything I could POF P308 16.5"get my hands on. And only one manufacturer kept coming to the surface consistently… POF (Patriot Ordnance Factory) in Arizona. They had the best reviews hands down, period. A whole host of SpecOps folks and other operators raved about them. So I initially made the decision that I would purchase a POF P308 16.5” with the nickel-boron bolt carrier group. The P308 is a piston system vs. a gas impingement system.

WOW!!!! Is about all I can say. But I still had to add a few things. I put on a Blue Force Gear Vickers Combat Applications 2-Point Sling with detachable swivels. Then I added a Trijicon ACOG 4×32 TA01B Scope with .308 Full Line Red Illumination and BDC. For back-up iron sights I went with a Troy Industries 3EZ11 folding front battle sight. For the rear I went with a Sig Sauer Rear Diopter Sight. All told…it comes in at slightly over 12 pounds. And it is worth every single ounce!

So there you have it…Choosing the right gun : Carbine

But I really didn’t identify a single carbine, did I. I actually identified three. And there is a reason for doing so. As I “evolved“ in my training, skills, and knowledge I realized I actually had three different missions for a carbine. Here are the “old” mission statements for what I thought I needed:

  1. “A completely reliable 5.56 carbine platform capable of using any available .223 or 5.56 ammunition.”
  2. “A completely reliable and accurate AR platform as light as possible.”
  3. “A completely reliable and accurate AR-10 7.62 platform able to stay operationally cool for long periods of extended fire.”

Here are the new mission statements based on what I know now:

  1. “A completely reliable 5.56 carbine platform capable of using any available .223 or 5.56 ammunition. Additionally, suitable for up to medium distance targets (300 – 400 yards maximum) and CQB.”
  2. “A completely reliable and accurate CQB AR platform weighing as little as possible for long-duration missions.”
  3. “A completely reliable and accurate AR-10 (7.62) platform able to defeat most ‘cover’ and suitable for up to 800 yard targets.”

The three weapons that I described here meet all those mission requirements:

  1. Sig Sauer 5.56 Patrol Rifle.
  2. High-quality custom-Made AR-15 (BCM upper).
  3. POF P308 16.5” AR-10.
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