The other day, I stopped by the newspaper and had a visit with Justin Tubbs, the managing editor. We discussed several items about upcoming columns, and the conversation turned as to what I was going to do Saturday.

It was a reasonably warm and pleasant day, so I explained I was going to try out a new AR-15 rifle, and just do a little plinking. Justin explained that he had never fired an AR-style rifle before, or much of anything else for that matter, and would love to see what all the hype was about. We quickly set a time to meet up.

The term “AR” comes from the name originally associated with the first manufacturer. The letters stand for ArmaLite Rifle, and not assault rifle or automatic rifle. ArmaLite first developed the AR-15 in the late 1950s as a military rifle.

ArmaLite had very little success selling the rifle they developed, and in 1959 they sold the design to Colt. Colt continued development of the automatic rifle and eventually was selected by the U.S. Military to manufacture the rifle in 1963.

That rifle eventually became the standard issue for U.S. troops in the Vietnam War. The rifle was known as the M16. Colt later developed a version of the rifle in a semi automatic model.

The semi automatic version was marketed to law enforcement and civilians alike, under the name AR-15. When Colt’s patents expired in the mid-1970s, other manufacturers began making similar models.

Because AR-15 style rifles are semi automatic, the person firing must pull the trigger to fire each shot from the magazine, one pull, one shot. In contrast, a military M16 style rifle is fully automatic. There is a selector switch on the rifle that can make the weapon fire fully automatic; pull and hold the trigger back and the weapon will keep firing until the ammunition supply from the magazine is exhausted.

Fully automatic weapons have been tightly restricted in the United States since the 1934 National Firearms Act, which was directed against machine guns at the time. Citizens can own a machine gun, but must pay taxes and fees, and go through an extensive registration and licensing process that includes fingerprints, background checks, pictures and the signing off of the sheriff. The government closely monitors ownership of fully automatic weapons.

Today, there are many styles, calibers and sizes to fit just about any budget or purpose. A complete AR-15 rifle can be purchased for less than $500 dollars, and the premium versions can run into the thousands. There is no limit to the amount of accessories, upgrades and customizations available today.

AR-15 style rifles and the newer design AR-15 pistols are primarily used for recreational shooting, and hunting purposes. The AR-15 platform seems to be a perfect match for folks who hunt predators. There are quite a few competitive matches available for AR owners, to include 3-gun and long range shooting competitions.

I have been shooting firearms for over 50 years for competition, law enforcement, hunting and for fun. Being an armorer for many types of handguns and rifles, to include the AR-15, I have had the opportunity to handle and fire most makes of firearms available.

Before heading out for our shooting trip, I stopped by Area Best Pawn at 2014 S. Townsend, in Montrose. There I visited with the store manager, Tim Wise, to get his take on AR-15 sales and availability.

Tim manages the store that is the largest AR-15 dealer in the Montrose area. Inside the store, you can find many types of AR-15 rifles, and pistols in dozens of configurations and many caliber choices.

“ARs can be tough to get at times. The demand has steadily increased over recent years, but so have the different options and accessories. New items are coming out almost every day. We pride ourselves on carrying a huge selection of parts and accessories,” said Tim.

“We have a lot of law enforcement customers shopping here. Most departments provide rifles for their officers, but at least 50 percent of our accessories are sold to those officers,’” Tim continued.

Tim explained that 75 percent of his sales of AR-15 style rifles and pistols are sold for recreational purposes and hunting, with only 15 percent for defensive purposes. The remaining sales are divided between competition shooters and law enforcement, mainly for their personal use.

When Justin showed up at my house, he brought Katharhynn Heidelberg, the assistant editor from the Montrose Daily Press. She said firing an AR-15 was something she would like to experience as well. I made sure both had eye and hearing protection. With the team set, we headed to the adobes.

The first AR I let the newbies try was one built in a pistol format. Justin was first up and quickly went through the first magazine, firing at a target 100 yards away. His accuracy grew with each shot, and so did the smile on his face.

Katharhynn was next up with the pistol. The pistol format was a natural fit for her and she quickly began working on a target at the 200-yard line. For a first time shooters with AR-style rifles, I was really impressed with how well they both shot.

After the break-in period with a pistol, it was time to get serious. I wanted them to experience how accurate an AR rifle can be, when outfitted with some optical accessories.

I set up a Christensen Arms model CA-15 Recon, which has a carbon fiber wrapped barrel, and topped with a 6 to 18 power Leupold scope. This rifle is too heavy to effectively shoot long distance free hand, so I set up a portable bench.

Poor Katharhynn had a difficult time seeing through the scope and offered a few excuses about the sun being in her eyes. She suffered a merciless ridicule from Justin and me, which was all in fun. Clearly, she preferred the pistol set up to the heavier and much larger version. Considering she was hitting targets at 200 yards with a pistol, I could not find fault with her decision.

Justin then assumed the position behind the long-range rifle. I happily report that Justin hit the 300-yard target with monotonous regularity. If we had the availability of targets out further, I am sure he would have done well, but 300 yards was our limit here.

Both Justin and Katharhynn enjoyed shooting the ARs. They both admitted that the rifle and pistol were lots of fun and had no recoil at all. We went through a couple hundred rounds of ammunition in the couple hours we were up there. I think I made two new shooters join the ranks as both want to do it again. We will definitely make that happen.

Mark Rackay is a columnist for the Montrose Daily Press and avid hunter who travels across North and South America in search of adventure and serves as a Director for the Montrose County Sheriff’s Posse. For information about the Posse call 970-252-4033 (leave a message) or email

For outdoors or survival related questions or comments, feel free to contact him directly at his email

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