How to Choose or Build an AR Pistol
If you plan to buy an AR pistol you need to know these 7 things. They range from what ammo to buy, what caliber you should get, how much weight it should weigh, which accessories will make your shooting experience better, and what kind of sighting system you should choose.
You can't do justice to a discussion of AR pistols in just one article, but I'll give it a shot anyway. I'll want to discuss what makes a good AR pistol and talk about the types available today, as well as cover some of the basic uses for them.
With their short barrels and high-powered bullets, AR-type pistols can be very inaccurate, especially at longer distances. But advances in ballistics and components are changing that.
A pistol stabilizing brace is a device that attaches to the buffer tube of an AR pistol and allows the shooter’s forearm to support and stabilize the pistol when it’s fired one-handed. It appears it is unlikely that simply attaching an arm brace to a firearm will alter its classification or bring it under NFA control.
But keep in mind that while it may look similar to a stock, it is not a shoulder stock. This means you should use the device in the manner in which it was designed – to assist the user in stabilizing the platform for single-handed firing.
The ATF has concluded that adding a stabilizing brace to a handgun does not make it a short-barreled rifle. Unless the user makes modifications to the device to configure it as a shoulder stock, like permanently affixing the brace to the end of the receiver extension, removing the arm strap, or some other modification, the stabilizing brace can be removed and a usable handgun will be produced.
Finally, if the user happens to fire their AR pistol with an unmodified stabilizing brace from a particular position and places the brace on or against their shoulder, this act does not change the classification of the platform.
Choose a Brace
Choosing the right brace for your tactical needs is no easy task. SB Tactical, a company offering braces for nearly every platform you can think of and the maker of the industry-leading stabilizing brace, can help you determine which type of brace you need.
There are so many different types available because each shooter and pistol are different. You cannot simply choose a stabilizing brace by the way it looks alone. You need to complete the build of your pistol and then decide what type of stabilization is needed. Do you want a brace that sits inside your arm and straps onto your forearm, or one that wraps around your forearm completely? Once you have decided then it is appropriate to purchase.
Lighter Weight is Better
AR pistols have several benefits, including compact size and light weight, but two of the most attractive are the fluted barrels and reduced weight. When choosing a barrel, a lightweight barrel profile is best.
Other ways to reduce weight include a lightweight, free-float handguard (I like M-Lok), lighter upper and lower receivers, and not over-accessorizing a gun that’s designed to be an everyday carry weapon. After all, it’s a pistol.
With a shorter barrel you’re going to lose velocity when firing. It’s internal ballistic basics. But that doesn’t mean you have to lose capability. As long as you choose the caliber wisely. The 6.5 Grendel performance for an 11-inch barrel is amazing and capable of taking down mule deer-sized game (Hornady’s 123-grain SST is a great option), even at what are considered mid-range distances.
The .300 Blackout is also optimized for short barrels. With a 9-inch barrel you get a complete powder burn and the Blackout is going to work best. In fact, any longer barrel length gives very little improvement to the external ballistics of the cartridge.
The .300 Blackout also suppresses surprisingly well. A nine inch barrel with a suppressor means the overall length of the platform is still shorter than a 16-inch barreled rifle. Making it a great choice for going shorter.
With anything less than a 12-inch barrel, the .223 Rem/5.56 NATO platform quickly runs into reliability issues and terminal performance becomes less predictable as distance to the target increases. Making it a less desirable configuration.
Choosing the Right Round
The .223 Remington cartridge is nearly the same as the 5.56 NATO cartridge. The difference between the two is the difference in weight between the projectile and the casing.
Consider the 70-grain TSX by Barnes or Black Hills. Be sure you are using a 1:7 twist barrel. The reason is because 1:7 produces greater stability with heavier projectiles. Overall you should experience increased accuracy with this setup.
The .300 Blackout is considered by many to be the top choice for short barrel cartridge. Why you ask? Simply put, it cannot be beat. The Black Hills 110-grain TTSX, a.k.a. Black Magic. is a black polymer-tipped, all-copper projectile. It has literally become the standard by which all others are judged. It was developed by Barnes Ammunition.
Barnes published data states the projectile "will reliably expand in soft tissue down to around 1,400 feet per second". It shows that the round fired from a 9" barrel at approx 2350 ft per second remains accurate at distances above 300 yards. But here's the kicker. the same round fired from a 5.5" barrel remains accurate at a little over 200 yards. Simply incredible reliability and accuracy from such a short barrel.
Choosing a Muzzle Device
The first thing to note about mounting a muzzle device on a pistol is the shorter barrel length. It means that much more of everything comes out of the barrel end. This includes concussion, noise, and fire. This means that unless you are wanting an obnoxious and unpleasant experience every time you fire the weapon, consider choosing a flash hider or suppressor in place of a muzzle break whenever possible.
Getting a Grip on the Pistol
The next component to consider is the grip. Oh sure, any A2 grip will suffice. However, with shorter platforms like pistols, the more vertical the grip, the more ergonomic the feel. Magpul offers the K2 and K2+ and BCM offers the Gunfighter series with less angle for shorter configurations.
When considering a grip for your pistol, be sure to check your local laws and statutes. They vary greatly from state to state and county to county. You want to be sure you are building a fun but legal weapon.
Sights and Optics
Think carefully before choosing and purchasing an optic to equip your AR pistol. A red-dot sight equipped with a small dot, and a large window is always a good choice. If you want something that offers magnification, there are options for those. Several optic manufacturers offer quality 3-power magnifiers. These will greatly extend your aim when using your AR pistol. When properly mounted, these magnifiers can be flipped sideways out of the way or even removed when not needed.
You may even consider low power variable optics. Another excellent choice is a true one power or illuminated reticle in the 1-6x range with good eye relief. With the weight from the mount and optic, they will undoubtedly add a few additional ounces to your pistol, but a brace will certainly help with that.
No matter the optic you choose, just be sure, if questioned, you can explain how you plan to effectively aim, support, and shoot your pistol with only a single hand.
The Future of the AR Pistol
AR pistol platforms are ideal for many uses. They're fun at the range, useful for teaching children how to shoot, and useful for defense of the homestead. But they are making a notable move toward hunting applications as well.
The best AR for the money is a light, compact AR pistol in the right caliber. They’re fast, easy to handle, and comfortable to carry over long distances and over challenging terrain. They are easier to haul up a tree stand or carry with you on a regular hike. Plus, when it’s time to take the shot, they’re typically fast, well-balanced, and very ergonomic. Next time you and your loved ones head off into the backcountry, consider bringing your AR pistol along.