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Budget AR-15

Posted on July 22, 2013

I know there has been plenty written about budget AR-15 rifles, but I wanted to share my experience on the subject so far. My team mates and I wanted to get more serious about participating in the local 3 gun matches. I already had a stock Glock 34, now I just needed a carbine and shotgun. My plan was to buy a complete rifle and build it up from there by switching out components.

After the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting I bought a basic Bushmaster LEM4A3. I was fortunate enough to purchase the rifle before prices and lack of availability got crazy. I have only owned one AR-15 prior to this one, and before I gave it to my father as a present I rarely shot it. The Bushmaster, for the money was a pretty good deal. The rifle came with a plastic case, nylon strap, one 30 round magazine, gun lock and owners manual. The fit and finish of the rifle was nice and it was ready to go other than ammunition. I was surprised how well the upper and lower fit together, the rifle doesn’t come with a “wedge” or have the tension screw feature. In every way it is a bare bone, basic AR-15.

Bushmaster LEM4A3

Bushmaster LEM4A3

I did notice one or two things I did not like about it. The adjustable stock isn’t the best, it rattles more than I would like. The trigger was also pretty terrible. I know that is par for the course with most AR-15s unless they come with an upgraded or aftermarket trigger. Beyond that I would just be nit picking. The rifle has the detachable carry handle/rear sight with ½ MOA clicks and the basic front sight/gas block. The front sight post is a little thick but, there I go nit picking. The barrel is threaded ½-28 tpi and has a 1-9” twist. It is chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO and comes with an A2 flash hider.

Shortly after I bought the rifle I headed out into the desert to set the battle zero and make sure it ran properly. I read the instructions on how to dial it in and began sending rounds down range. I used 55 grain Black Gun Ammo and quickly got things lined up. For grins I brought a few different types of ammunition to shoot. They were 62 grain green tip rounds, 55 grain Black Gun Ammo, 55 grain Wolf and BVAC frangible rounds. In total I only fired 100 rounds from the magazine they provided. The rifle ran perfectly and did what it was supposed to do.

Earlier I mentioned shooting 3 gun. You could use a rifle like this if you wanted to and be just fine. I had planned to do a lot of work to the rifle so it would be more specialized for this type of competition but other projects, school and politics took resources and interest away from doing that. I then turned my focus on just improving the things I didn’t like about the rifle and running with it.

Bushmaster LEM4A3

Bushmaster LEM4A3

The first thing I changed out was the stock trigger. My friend Tyler is a little bit of an AR guru, he took the time to let me try different AR triggers he had. Some of the triggers were excellent but also very expensive. The one that impressed me most, considering cost and performance was the Rock River Arms National Match 2 stage trigger. I was able to find one used for $60.00 on a local web forum. After purchasing the trigger Tyler helped me install it into the Bushmaster. For $60.00 it is a cost effective upgrade and is much, much better than the basic factory trigger.

Next was the flash hider, I was doing some work on the lathe for a friend and the flash hider was perfect for his project. I was already planning on getting a muzzle brake for the rifle so I gave him the flash hider off my Bushmaster. I was on Brownell’s website ordering parts for my 6.5mm SAUM build and saw the AAC non mount muzzle brake for $65.00. I decided to add it to my cart with the other parts I was buying. I like the AAC NM brake because it is short, and it doesn’t add much length to the rifle. I wasn’t really worried about it being the most effective muzzle brake in the world because the rifle doesn’t recoil a lot as it is. After my parts arrived I installed the muzzle brake and tested it out. I started by shooting my father’s DPMS AR-15 which has a A2 flash hider, then shot my rifle with the AAC NM brake. The reduction in recoil was noticeable to me and I felt it helped keep the muzzle on target. Between the Rock River Arms National Match trigger and AAC Non Mount muzzle brake the rifle was a lot nicer to shoot, especially while shooting multiple targets rapidly. The rifle had less muzzle movement and the lighter trigger made it easier to shoot accurately.

The next issue to address was the iron sights. When my father taught me marksmanship as a kid he did so with iron sights, but because currently the large bulk of my shooting is long range I don’t sure irons often anymore. Over the years we have had a lot optics developed for fast, accurate, close range shooting. Out of the new optics like EOTech, Aimpiont and Trijicon, the Aimpoint has been a favorite of mine. I have some experience with lower end red dot sights like the Vortex Strike Fire and they have always done what I needed them to do. For this rifle I wanted something that I knew would hold up and last. I also wanted something that was higher quality with efficient battery life and better clarity than the Vortex Strike Fire. While asking around I was told to look into the Aimpoint PRO (Patrol Rifle Optic). After doing some research I decided it was perfect. Compared to other red dot sights it was affordable and comes with a mount. The Aimpiont PRO possessed the battery life and quality I was looking for.

Bushmaster LEM4A3

Bushmaster LEM4A3

I plan on purchasing an Aimpoint PRO when my budget allows. I also want to buy a flip-up rear sight as a backup. The Aimpoint PRO is more expensive than optics like the Vortex SPARC and Primary Arms RDS but more affordable than other top shelf optics. For the flip up rear sight I plan on purchasing the Magpul MBUS. The sight is made of plastic but I believe it will get the job done and do what I need it to do. I eventually also plan on replacing the A2 pistol grip and adjustable stock with a Magpul CTR. I believe the locking mechanism on the CTR will take care of the rattle that has been bugging me. When it is all said and done I will have in the ball park of $1,500.00 +/- into the rifle. The rifle should be a good all around carbine that can handle 3 gun, hunting, training classes and everyday plinking. I will keep you guys updated on how it comes together when I get around to it. I think the set up would be solid for a carbine class with Progressive Force Concepts. For now I believe the Bushmaster is a decent semi-auto rifle, it doesn’t have many of the popular bells and whistles but I don’t really have a need for those things right now. Some people may turn up their nose at the Bushmaster because it doesn’t utilize mil-spec parts like the buffer tube, M4 feed ramps and bolt carrier group but near as I can tell it does just fine. In total I have fired probably 500 rounds through the rifle without cleaning it. When I took rife out of the case I wiped off the excess oil and lubed the BCG with Rem Oil. The majority of the ammunition I have put through it has been BVAC frangible rounds. The Bushmaster has run without any problems or malfunctions.

Running the budget AR-15 during 3 gun practice

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