My first personal exposure to the AR15/M16 family of service rifles and their then new cartridge, the 5.56 mm, (eventually commercialized as the .223 Remington), took place at the Mother Lode Gun Club near Jamestown in the early 1960s. One of the regular, high power competitors was an officer in the Air Force Reserve and he brought a rifle and several cans of ammo to the range for testing after the conclusion of our regular monthly high power match. As I recall, about fifteen or twenty of us got to shoot it a few rounds in both semi-auto and full auto mode. In that era men shot 30-06 or .308 Win. Rifles, usually in a Model 70 Winchester bolt action. Some used a variant of the 1903 Springfield and a relative few civilians had M1 Garands. Most of us, including yours truly, thought the new weapon was an interesting “mouse gun” but were not otherwise unduly impressed. Certainly, we all agreed the little cartridge might have broad application as a varmint round in suitable sporting rifles. But we did wonder what it could do that other currently available commercial rounds were not already doing quite well. One could not place our doubts upon the mere fact the rifle was an automatic/semi-auto action type. We all admired and appreciated the Garand and we lusted after the time we mere civilians would be able to acquire M14’s.
Certainly, semi-auto sporting rifles were not new to most of us, nor repugnant to contemplate either. Both Remington and Winchester had a variety of offerings in center-fire and semi-auto sporting rifles since the first decade of the 20th century. My own favorite deer rifle of the 1960s was a Remington Model 742 in .30-06 which proved to be more than adequate on numerous occasions. I believe most of our doubts were centered around our thoughts that the little rifle/cartridge combination was just not suited to being our national service rifle. We knew it would perform very poorly at the 600 yard line-hitting the 1,000 yard target anywhere at all, would be mostly luck.
In the beginning, for quite a few years, we “doubters” were mostly right. But those who believed in the AR family continued to tinker, adjust, and modify. Today it is a whole different story. The evolution of the M16 in today’s Service Rifle is well documented. The rifle we see our troops using now, almost daily on the evening news, bears little resemblance to the “Tonka Toy” we test fired almost fifty years ago. As a first line highpower competition rifle, no one-who has watched Dennis DeMille, either one of the Taylor Brothers, or any of several other exceptionally talented shooters erode the XRing out of the center of the target during strings of rapid fire or do regular harm to the spindle in the spotter at 600 yards-can doubt the accuracy potential of the firearm and ammunition being used today.
Those talented men and women who have worked on improving the AR platform have now moved well beyond making it a better service rifle or building it into an adequate competition rifle. The basic AR design has now morphed into a whole family of semi-auto firearms chambered for a wide variety of cartridges, from the diminutive .22 L.R. up to special purpose cartridges with .45 or even .50 caliber bore sizes. Overall, this family of firearms is capable of handling virtually any legitimate purpose, including: big game, small game; varmint hunting, personal and home defense, basic firearms training for both adults and juniors; several types of competitive shooting; or just plain informal shooting and plinking for the fun of it at any established shooting range or other safe and lawful location.
Variations on the basic AR design are made by a large number of firms from the very large such as, Remington and Ruger, down to very small custom operations of only one or two riflesmiths. In spite of our rather onerous California Assault Weapons Laws, several variations of the basic AR platform, which have been designed to get around the specifics of those laws, are available here. In the aftermarket world there is a virtually limitless supply of parts and accessories available to help those so inclined to customize their own AR. Be very careful if you wish to modify your own AR that you do not make any changes which will run you into conflict with our existing laws. For a real exercise in frustration, try communicating directly with our California DOJ Firearms Division to see what is, and is not legal. Long standing litigation between the DOJ and some of our District Attorneys and Sheriffs about this is still ongoing, revolving mostly over the facts that our existing laws are so complicated and convoluted. Every honest citizen is fully justified in questioning the sanity of those legislators who drafted and voted for this garbage.
The next time you are in the field hunting or at the local shooting range and you see someone shooting one of the myriad of AR based rifles now available, don’t panic. It is probably just another fellow shooter who has discovered a rifle which meets his/her needs better than other types. If you get a chance, try one out. You may like it as well.