Gun Digest

How To Prioritize Spending On Your AR-15

Building, upgrading and becoming proficient with your AR-15 can quickly add up to big bucks. So how should you spend your money to get the most out of your carbine?

What Are The AR-15 Essential You Should Prioritize Your Money For:

Each year brings about an assortment of new products and supplemental gear that’s released for the AR platform — even different configurations of rifles, carbines and “new” calibers.

The “essentials” category includes everything needed to keep your AR running. Small parts, such as pins, springs, detents and such are affordable and small — so you can carry them with you in the field. Keep some funds ready for when you find a good buy on ammo and magazines, or anything else necessary to ensure you don’t get caught out of commission.
The “essentials” category includes everything needed to keep your AR running. Small parts, such as pins, springs, detents and such are affordable and small — so you can carry them with you in the field. Keep some funds ready for when you find a good buy on ammo and magazines, or anything else necessary to ensure you don’t get caught out of commission.

Everyone likes procuring new gear. Sometimes it’s something we really need — it fits a specific application — or it’s a new piece of gear we simply want. And then there are training classes we want to schedule and attend.

Few of us have the ability to buy everything we need or desire, which means we have to choose. So, when it comes to budgeting your “AR dollars,” there are main “clusters” I like to organize all this into: essentials, entertainment and education.

AR-15 Essentials

The “essentials” include everything necessary to clean, maintain and operate the AR. Every AR owner should know how to properly clean their rifle and maintain it, swapping out small parts as needed. There are a few special tools you’ll need to correctly clean the AR, such as a chamber brush. This brush cleans the lugs in the barrel extension, where lugs of the bolt mate up — and at the same time it’s cleaning the chamber.

Also, get a good cleaning rod, which means a one-piece rod that’s coated. I use Dewey. And get a bore guide: It protects the chamber and keeps the cleaning rod traveling straight down the barrel, and that’s highly recommended. The proper cleaning gear isn’t cheap, but it protects your weapon for a lifetime of use. Make sure to budget for the good stuff.

Books can fall into the “education” or “entertainment” category. They don’t have to be AR-specific for you to learn something, and there’s great works both past and contemporary that a rifleman or woman should read.

The AR is one of the great firearms ever designed. You’ve heard me say it before, and you’ll hear me say it again. Its simplicity and modular design make is easy to maintain, and most of the parts you need to keep on-hand are small and affordable. Get a breakdown on the parts, and then get replacements and extras. This includes pins, springs and detents for the trigger and bolt groups. Having spare bolt is a good idea.

Items such as magazines and ammo also fall into this category. The availability and price of ARs and related gear can be very fluid … and the same is true of ammo. I’ve seen this scenario olay out several times during the past 40 years: A tragedy occurs. Politicians and the media start talking “gun control. And then anything related to the AR either sells out or rises greatly in price — regardless of the caliber. Almost overnight.

Need More AR Knowledge:

Right now, items such as parts, magazines and ammo are plentiful and affordable. Put some money aside to grab necessities each month. One thing is for sure: These items are always a good investment.

Speaking of investments, I consider upgrading and acquiring new gear as an investment: I’m spending money in hopes of making things better. Some upgrades are not that stiff — swapping out grips or changing slings. Clamping an optic on top your AR, on the other hand, is going to be more financially significant. There are budget options out there, but if the reason for shooting is important — lives might depend on your ability to make an accurate shot every time — you can’t skimp on that scope or red-dot sight. Study and research well, and make sure you get exactly what you need. Having to buy a piece of gear twice is a lot more expensive.


Sometimes, there’s just something you want — the “entertainment” category — even though there’s no justifiable need for it … it’s just a piece of gear you’ve been yearning for. Gear like this should be budgeted for over a longer period of time — it should never be a spur of the moment decision or impulse purchase. And it’s my strong opinion that you don’t pay for something unnecessary by “borrowing” from one of the other funds, no matter how cool it is.

Don’t forget to budget for training, which is educational and fun. Class cost includes ammo, travel expenses and any specific gear that might be needed for the instruction. After training comes practice, so you’ll need to
allot money for additional ammo.

For example I’m fascinated by thermal vision gear. I’d like to have some, but the probability of me actually needing it is extremely low. So, I keep saving — the compact, good stuff is expensive. And who knows, maybe while I’m saving the technology will keep advancing and the prices might drop.


One area a lot of AR owners don’t budget for is training. Owning an AR — or any firearm — requires knowing how to use it safely and efficiently. Any time you’re around firearms, safety is your No. 1 concern — we all know this but few invest in it. This is also true in the field and during defensive encounters.

Most everyone knows the at least some rendition of the four basic safety rules of firearm safety:

Rule I: All guns are treated as though loaded.
Rule II: Never point the muzzle at anything you’re not ready or willing to shoot.
Rule III: Keep your finger off the trigger until the sights are on target.
Rule IV: Make sure to identify your target and what’s surrounding and behind it.

With training, you understand why Rule II is so important with ARs. The AR has a free-floating firing pin. Every time a round is chambered, the firing pin strikes the primer, though usually not with enough force to ignite it. Even though it’s very rare, the AR can fire during loading or reloading. Keep the muzzle pointing downward in safe direction. Always.

Big purchases, such as optics, can take time to save up for. Research, and test if possible, before buying. And pay a little extra if you have to so that you get what you want, so you don’t end up having to buy again after settling for something that doesn’t really fit your needs.

The techniques used to manipulate the AR are not instinctual. The AR is ergonomic, and once learning the proper techniques for loading/unloading, reloading and clearing stoppages, you’ll understand this: All the controls are in just the right place … and having someone teach you how to manipulate them most efficiently is a great investment. This is especially critical for defensive use: On the range or in competition, not knowing how to reload or clear a stoppage efficiently means no trophy — in a fight, these skills could be the difference between life and death.

Plus — and this is important — training introduces you to defensive principles and techniques needed to respond to a threat. We’re not born knowing how to fight with firearms. Training, followed by plenty of practice, is required. You need to budget for training, and the ammunition required for live-fire practice after attending class.

For me, this category also includes books and other reference material. Yes, there are videos, etc out there for free, but what I call the “good” stuff, both past and present, is mostly available in book format. Plus, I like to turn down pages, highlight and make notes in the book. You can’t do this on a computer. The act of writing makes a mental connection that typing doesn’t. You learn more from an actual book, but they are expensive.

As time passes, the more I realize that it’s about software — and not hardware. I get the same amount of pleasure shooting a vintage carbine from the ‘70 as I do a contemporary version of the AR. And I could use a plain-Jane carbine to defend my life.

However, my modern sporting rifle with a red-dot sight, weapon-mounted light and ALG combat trigger does make the job easier. And, regardless of how old I get, budgeting for the essentials, entertainment and education components of AR ownership still require me to keep a budget.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Storm Tactical Printable Target Pack

62 Printable MOA Targets with DOT Drills - Rifle Range in YARDS
This impressive target pack from our friends at Storm Tactical contains 62 printable targets for rifle and handgun range use. Target grids and bullseye sizes are in MOA. Ideal for long-range shooting! Get Free Targets

Exit mobile version