Tips to Setting Up a Defensive Rifle

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It seems like I have written a large majority of blog’s about handgun related subjects, so it’s about time to cover some rifle material!  Before I begin this article, I want you to know that everyone’s personal preference that will dictate some of the accessories on a rifle.  That said, I firmly believing in keeping things simple, functional, light, and most importantly consistent.     The word consistent might stand out to you, and what I mean is that if I have four different rifles, I try to keep them set up as consistently as

If you looked at my 14 and 16 inch JP Rifles, you would find them set up the same, keeping aftermarket accessories in the same location.

If you looked at my 14 and 16 inch JP Rifles, you would find them set up the same, keeping aftermarket accessories in the same location.

possible.   For example, if I mount a light on each with a pressure switch, I will mount the light and pressure switch on each in the same location.   Or maybe if I have a Magpul BAD level on one gun, if possible I want one on all of them.  The point is, I want to be able to operate each of them in the same manner under stress.

In this article, I am going to cover the basics and what I think you might need on a Defensive Rifle, and I am going to prioritize them in order of importance.

First of all, the base rifle you pick needs to be one that is a reliable, well built gun with a decent trigger.   Remember, you get what you pay for and spending a bit more money on a brand that is reliable is an absolute must for a defensive rifle.  All mechanical devices fail at times, but given good ammunition and good magazines, a quality rifle should not fail if it is relatively clean, even if it is shot hundreds if not thousands of rounds.   My personal rifles are JP Tactical Rifles (as well as my 3-gun rifle), and full disclosure here (as always), I have been provided rifles by John for several years now.  I am biased only by the fact that they are incredible rifles, and in my opinion the best on the market.   Having said JP products are incredible rifles, I do want to clearly acknowledge there are several other brands on the market that I have owned and I would highly recommend them.

Ok, so lets assume you have a great base rifle that came with the basics including a good set of iron sights and a good trigger (I prefer a single stage JP trigger).  The goal now is to figure out what else you need on the rifle, and what you don’t.  In the context of this article, lets assume this rifle is going to be set up for defensive purposes.  That means to me that the ability to shoot and hit a threat at 300 yards is probably not likely unless your description of “defensive” is defending your parameter in Afghanistan.   I am writing this article primarily with the civilian or patrol officer in mind.  My thought on civilian rifles is that you will almost never have the ability to articulate a reason to shoot someone much more than fifty yards away.   Now, I would never say never, but my preference is to set the gun up in the context is it designed for.    This means that the optic selected for the

An Aimpoint Micro such as this one is an incredible optic for a defensive rifle.  And with training, hitting targets out past 200 yards is relatively easy.

An Aimpoint Micro such as this one is an incredible optic for a defensive rifle. And with training, hitting targets out past 200 yards is relatively easy.

rifle needs to perform really well to fifty yards, and reasonably well past that distance.  A one power red dot is my preference because of the speed with which it can be used, and also that the dot is easy to use with both eyes open and in low light.  My personal preference has been the Aimpoint line of optics, and I have both the Micro and full sized versions.  I have also owned Eotech sights with and like them, yet have a slight personal preference for Aimpoints.   There are also several other companies that make great optics such as Leupold, Vortex, and many others.    My selection of Aimpoints is because of their durability, reliability, daytime brightness, and the fact that the newer models have a battery life that is incredible.  I can turn my optic on and leave it on, all the time.  I can literally do this and change the battery once a year and never have to worry about grabbing my rifle and having no dot.  Hopefully you will be able to leave the current iron sights on the base rifle and select a mount that will allow you to co-witness the optic and iron sights.   This will allow you to use the iron sights by flipping them up if you lose the dot.   If your current irons won’t work well then find a set of suitable sights that fold down when you don’t need them.  JP Tactical makes a good set of sights, and I also have had the Magpul sights on my rifles for years.  The Magpul sights are light, durable, and very fast to deploy.

Once you have a good set of sighting systems,  the next logical step is to outfit the rifle with a good sling.   I

Magpul MS2

Magpul MS2

Safariland Sling

Safariland Sling Model 4016

use a single point slings made by Magpul (the older version MS2 ),  and incredibly well made Safariland 4016 AR-15 single point sling.  I have tried both and really like single point systems.  While I have many operational friends that love single point slings, I also have just as many that strongly prefer two point slings.   Kyle Lamb Viking Tactics sells one of the most popular slings on the market called the VTAC sling if you go with a two point, I recommend his.  In either case, a sling is a must on a rifle for various reasons.   One will allow you to sling the rifle and do numerous things you could not do with it in your hand.   A sling will also help you retain your rifle in a fight or a fall.

My next item of preference is to add a light to the gun.  A bump in the night will cause and incredible amount

Surefire weapon mounted light at 6 o'clock on the gun.

Surefire weapon mounted light at 6 o’clock on the gun.

of stress and the thought of having to turn on lights to see and discriminate threat versus family is scary at best.   A high illumination weapon mounted light with a pressure activation switch is the way to go.   I strongly prefer a light that is mounted at the six o’clock position, since mounting a light on the other rail positions will cause either smoke obscurant or flashback on walls and obstacles you are using for cover (See my PDN article on low light).  The lights on my current guns are Surefire weapon lights.  I have used both the scout lights and X300/400 series lights with pressure activation switches on the 12 o’clock position.

After a light, the next thing I might strongly consider would be a suppressor for a home defense gun.   Think about it for a second.  Shooting a rifle on the range outside is incredibly loud, shooting one indoors is going to be much worse.   If you plan on defending family members then you should consider that shooting around or past them with a standard flash hider or comp will probably cause permanent hearing damage, and in that particular situation will render them temporarily deaf and unable to hear your commands/instructions.   While there are numerous manufactures of suppressors, Surefire is a good choice and

Templar Tactical Supressor

Templar Tactical Supressor

in the near future I will be testing one made by Templar Tactical (I will blog about it when I get it).    One thing you need to be aware of with a suppressor is that it might change the way your weapon functions because of the effect on the gas coming out of the barrel.  The key is to make sure to thoroughly test the gun once you suppress it.


Magpul B.A.D. Lever

My next preferred items on a rifle would be to consider improved controls such as ambidextrous safety selectors (most good rifles come with them now), bolt locking/releasing devices such as the Magpul BAD lever, and aftermarket stocks and handgrips.   I personally use the BAD lever on my guns, but truthfully it as a part that is very nice but not mandatory.  For stocks, I really like a collapsable stock and use either the Magpul MOE stock or the Safariland SS-M4 Superstock.    You won’t find much more on my guns and I tend to

Safariland SS-M4 Stock

Safariland SS-M4 Stock

keep additional accessories off the gun just to keep the bulk and weight down.

Lastly, as you might know I am a full time professional trainer.   I can give you all the advice in the world about setting up your rifle, but if you don’t train with it you will never be able to succeed when the stress is up and you need to perform.   The set up accessories listed above are all very important, but it I had to recommend between buying all of them, or ammunition (IF you have a solid gun with good iron sights and a sling) I would tell you to spend the money on ammunition and train hard.   Add the accessories (sometimes very expensive) as you can afford them, but DO NOT neglect training!!

Until Then – Train Hard!

Mike S.


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