I’m a huge fan of military movies. So, the first time I saw an AR in action up on the big screen, I was impressed ... and a bit intimidated. Then when I watched, “Lone Survivor,” I knew I had to shoot one. But the way the guns are portrayed in the movies, and in the media, they seemed like big, heavy, overwhelming guns that kick like a mule. I also have an old rotator-cuff injury that bothers me to this day, so my right shoulder can’t handle a high-powered firearm with a lot of recoil. Afraid of injury, and not wanting to embarrass myself at the range, I kept putting off trying an AR.
Then a few years later, the opportunity to shoot an AR came my way during my training course to qualify as an NRA-Certified Firearm Instructor. I had to shoot many firearms, including several ARs. At the risk of sounding like Gomer Pyle, “Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!” it didn’t kick nearly as much as I thought it would, and was an exciting gun to shoot. And as long as I slapped on my shoulder pad (boy, did the guys tease me about that!), and positioned the AR correctly, my bum shoulder was OK.
If you are a female firearm enthusiast and are hesitant to shoot an AR, I encourage you to put aside your concerns. You can start with the basic model, the AR-15, which is one step up from a .22-cal. rifle. They can be rented at gun ranges, or plan to visit the range with a friend who owns one. If you don’t know someone who has an AR, I suggest you do what I did—join a women’s firearm group, such as The Well-Armed Woman or A Girl & A Gun, among others (check with your local gun range for additional resources in your area). AR-platform rifles are fun and exciting to shoot, and they are customizable. Here are my top five reasons to shoot an AR:
Reason No. 1: It’s NOT an assault rifle! Let’s get that straight: "AR" does NOT stand for Assault Rifle. It never did. The “AR” in “AR-15” stands for ArmaLite Rifle, named after the company that developed it in the 1950s. AR-15-style rifles are NOT “assault weapons” or “assault rifles.” An actual assault rifle is capable of fully automatic operation, meaning it fires multiple rounds when the trigger is pressed—and those are heavily regulated under federal law. By contrast, the AR-style rifles we are talking about here are semi-automatic, which means they fire only one round when their triggers are pressed.
While the AR-15 was inspired by the M14 used by the military, it was originally designed as a sporting firearm for civilians. The company eventually won a government contract, thanks to its lighter .223-caliber round, which gave an infantryman the ability to carry as many as three times the amount of ammo as a soldier carrying an M14. The original AR-15 also weighed less than 6 lbs. without a magazine, whereas the M14 weighed on average 9.2 lbs. when empty.
Reason No. 2: Low Recoil. “The AR-15 was designed for any level shooter, and is a very easy firearm to shoot,” says Mark Oliva, public affairs director, National Shooting Sports Foundation. Inside the AR-15 is an extra-large buffer and buffer spring, which absorbs a lot of the recoil. In addition, the ergonomics of the rifle itself make it easy to handle recoil. The pistol grip is designed to allow the shooter to position the stock tight to the shoulder. "These features result in much less recoil and increased accuracy, says Oliva. "We are aware of the fact that many women perceive sport shooting as a very male-dominated sport, so we would like to remove some of the barriers, and encourage more women shooters. The AR-15 is the perfect entry-level firearm to do just that.”
Reason No. 3: You Can Make It Your Own. “The AR-15 is the Mr. Potato Head of guns,” says Dianna Muller, professional 3-gun shooter and Team Benelli member. “It’s America’s favorite gun because you can customize it however you want, whether it’s the stock, trigger, fore-end, bipod, light, laser, compensator, barrel or grip.”
For the first-time buyer, Muller suggests renting several ARs, then purchase the model that comes the closest to the one with the preferred features. “Try to focus on trigger and optics,” says Muller. “For competition and hunting, you might want a lighter trigger, whereas for tactical or home defense you would want a heavier trigger,” It’s the same with optics, she says, emphasizing doing one's research ahead of buying. "If you are hunting or doing anything longer range, you would need a scope with proper magnification. If it’s for home defense, iron sights or a red-dot sight would be the better choice."
Tatiana Whitlock, national director of training for A Girl & A Gun, believes the AR’s adjustable stock is a real game-changer. “The AR has a collapsible rather than a fixed stock,” notes Whitlock “If you have a long arm, you can fully extend it. If you have a shorter arm, you can collapse it to the shorter length. With just this minor adjustment, you can truly make it yours, and master the gun very quickly.”
My Own Story
After renting a few ARs and checking them out at various stores, I still couldn’t make up my mind as I weighed various factors such as weight, size and ergonomics as I placed the stock felt against my right shoulder.
So I asked a friend, Charles Wallace, an NRA-certified pistol instructor and firearms service technician at Cro Arms Guns & Ammo, Oley, Pa, to help me build one. I told him I wanted an AR primarily for target practicing at 50- or 100-yard ranges, as well as for home defense. After some research, we started with the highly recommended Aero Precision lower. “Due to the confines of a home, and the shorter ranges for recreational shooting, we decided to make it a pistol build rather than a rifle build,” recalls Wallace. Going with a pistol build also meant the gun wasn’t as heavy as a rifle build, making it easier for me to shoot without getting fatigued.
We then utilized a Radical Firearms upper assembly with a 10½" barrel. "There are shorter barrels, but you lose long-range accuracy," says Wallace. "We went with a .223 Wylde chamber, so she has the flexibility to use either .223 or 5.56 ammo," he added. Additional features included a low-power optic with an illuminated reticle to help her see in home-defense situations.
Finally, in consideration of my shoulder issue, we went with a heavy buffer. As with all other self-loading rifles, the AR-15 needs a recoil spring to cycle the action. The carrier and bolt, blown off of the gas tube by the gases, cycle back in to the buffer tube, which is inside the stock of the gun. AR-15 buffers come in a variety of weights, such as lightweight, heavy tungsten, and performance level. A heavier buffer takes longer to move, slows down more quickly, and minimizes the recoil of the firearm. Works for me!
Reason No. 4: Variety of Uses. “The AR-15 is a very versatile firearm,” says Whitlock. “You can take it for target practice at the range, and use it for home defense, as long as the person has the right training. I think it’s a phenomenal gun for competition shooting. And when I go hunting, I take my .308 AR.”
Reason No. 5: It’s Fun to Shoot! The first time I shot an AR-15, I felt it was exciting and fun, compared to other firearms. “Any woman can be successful in the first 20 minutes of shooting an AR-15,” says Whitlock. “It opens the floodgates of enthusiasm and interest. It also gives the woman shooter a sense of accomplishment, because she pushed outside her comfort zone.”
Check Out the LWRCI IC-DIADEM: An AR-15 designed by and for women
Eighteen months in the making, the first AR-15 designed by women was introduced in 2017. Developed with direct input from The Well-Armed Woman chapter members and leaders, the limited-edition IC-DIADEM is built on the award-winning LWRCI Direct Impingement platform with innovative features specified by the Well-Armed Woman to meet the needs of a woman firearm enthusiast.
Features like a specially designed slimmer lighter rail, full ambidextrous lower receiver, sleek ergonomic Ergo grip, reinforced Magpul stock for added recoil protection and an innovative "keyless" bolt carrier design combined with an operating system that is time-tested. For more information, go to LWRCI.com.