How to prepare your AR-15 for the range for the first time

A new AR-15 rifle is a fun firearm for the range, especially if you understand how many options are available for the platform and have had the opportunity to contemplate different builds and additions or optimizations. From changing the caliber with an upper receiver kit to adding an optic or trying out the newest add-on, the AR-15 is a great range gun. It’s hard to find a more flexible or capable rifle given the breadth of things you can do with it.

This is an article about preparing for the first range outing with your new AR-15 and what you should be thinking about, prepared for, and how to address any common concerns you might find with the platform.

Oftentimes purists or more traditional shooters can feel a bit out of their depth when it comes to using a more modular, component-heavy type of firearm – especially in the beginning.

Below we will talk about concepts that can make using an AR-15 easier from the first moment you bring it to the range.

Things you may want to be familiar with if the AR-15 is new to you

  • Sometimes the AR can feel front heavy. The barrel holds a majority of the weight of the firearm, even with a loaded magazine
  • The gun is based on two halves – the upper holds the interactive parts for the gun functionality based on the cartridge (bolt, chamber, barrel, etc.); the lower holds the interactive parts for the shooter (fire controls, trigger, buttstock, etc.); the two halves are connected by two pins, and you will almost never need to take the gun apart at the range any further than what is accessed by removing those pins (or even just the rear pin)
  • The ammunition or magazine is almost always the source of a malfunction – overwhelmingly so – a best practice is to have proven reliable cartridges and magazines, or at least a couple of options if testing it for the first time
  • Steel cartridges aren’t bad for the gun, necessarily, but they may not be ideal for the first break-in of the firearm

What should be in every range bag?

Basic tools to help you check, clean, and lubricate a firearm should be there. In the case of an AR-15 it is generally made to be field-serviceable using minimal tooling. You can, in a pinch, use fingers or a cartridge tip to push out the two pins holding the top and bottom receivers together. That said, having a few tools isn’t a bad idea.

We recommend having the following items in a range bag:

  • Eye and ear protection
  • Ammunition proven to be reliable in your firearm, even if you are trying or testing new ammunition – if you are firing the gun for the first time, it’s a good idea to have a few different types of loads for the given caliber you are shooting
  • A screwdriver (flat and Phillips both, are preferable) or bit driver with basic hex-driven bits
  • An extra magazine – preferably known to be in good working condition, or new
  • A bore and chamber brush and a cleaning rod
  • A pair of pliers
  • Some high-quality gun oil, and if reasonable, some solvent
  • A magazine loading tool if you plan on shooting a significant amount
  • An extra target, or some target patches
  • A simple first aid kit for basic cuts, scratches, or pinches from a gun
  • A flashlight
  • Some way to clean your hands after lead and powder exposure (most ranges have anti-lead soaps available free of cost)

Which extras should you consider to be extra-prepared at the range?

If you are trying to accomplish additional tasks you might also consider some extra items in your range bag, or at least your vehicle. This is especially true if you are shooting a firearm for the first time, or if you have a first-time shooter with you, or inexperienced shooters in your party.

Special considerations for your first range trip with the AR

Having several types of ammunition and magazines as a preparation for a first time range trip for a firearm cannot be understated. More than 90% of all malfunctions and concerns that can be easily diagnosed, center around some basic deficiency in the ammunition or magazines – this is also true of the AR-15.

Are you sighting in an optic?

A bore-sight can be a valuable tool, though it isn’t necessary, and can even be done at home prior to your range trip but will help you save ammunition by getting you pretty close to “on-target”, before you even shoot a round. Basic bore sighting equipment isn’t particularly expensive, some tooling can be found for under $50.

If you don’t have a bore sight or don’t intend on buying one, you can consider firing a round at 20 yards or so and then adjusting your scope while securing it properly to the mount and firearm, and then adjusting as needed for each shot, until you get to the desired range and precision of adjustment.

Are you shooting with children?

Hearing protection and eye protection suitable for children is a must-have for proper gun safety and no adult sized protection equipment will be able to adequately provide protection for a child. Sometimes multiple options are necessary, including doubling up on ear plugs and over the ear protection equipment. Due to the way audible recognition occurs, this method may have diminishing returns, but nothing can replace comfort when it comes to new shooters.

Eye protection, if it is sized incorrectly, can also contribute to poor performance for hearing protection. The AR-15 can provide an excellent stepping stone to progression in a shooter’s skills, and adaptation of more powerful platforms, but we stress the importance of step-by-step, procedural progression with great oversight and attention to safety concerns.

Are you trying to shoot at longer distances?

When bringing a rifle to the range to shoot at longer distances, you may also consider bringing extra targets, some loc-tite or other products which can help maintain scope zero, and adjustment tooling to help with optics, mounts, and other associated items.

Having properly loaded cartridges that match the rifling twist and general capabilities of the rifle are important too. A general understanding of the trajectory and ballistic behavior of the cartridge you are shooting can also be important. Additionally, you may consider a notebook, a wider range of cartridges and some basic cleaning equipment to ensure speedier, more comprehensive cleaning at the range in addition to the items listed above.

Having the ability to service your rifle well in a long-range precision setting can be a game changer.

Knowing the behavior of your chosen firearm and the loads made for it can prove to be invaluable. Explaining the nuances of such behaviors can also help those who are in your shooting group to understand their own skills and how to handle the firearm better.

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