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John Lovell's Optimal AR-15 Rifle Set-Ups for Beginners, Hobbyists, and Pros

John Lovell's Optimal AR-15 Rifle Set-Ups for Beginners, Hobbyists, and Pros

Posted by Warrior Poet Society on Apr 17th 2023

John walks through three levels of rifle configuration based on context, functionality, and price. These three options, of course, all meet a level of quality that he would be comfortable carrying into a tactical scenario where comfort and reliability are of critical lifesaving importance.

I admit there is a ton of nuance and there is a seemingly endless array of options when you're deciding what AR-15 to buy and what accessories to put on it for optimal performance based on your intended use. It can be tough to narrow it down and a lot more could be said, but this article is the result of my own experience with the tools I recommend. PRO TIP: Listen. Guns are a lot of fun. But don't destroy your marriage or your finances by buying the biggest, baddest tactical tools. You're a protector. Protect your marriage.

If you're reading this post or have watched the video that accompanies it, CONGRATULATIONS! You're moving in the right direction, because I'm pretty black and white about one thing–you really can't go wrong with owning and learning how to trick out and shoot the beloved AR-15.

As I'm sure you know, "AR" does not stand for "Assault Rifle." Rather, "AR" = "ArmaLite Rifle." ArmaLite is the name of the manufacturer that originally developed the AR-15 design. I know I don't need to tell you this, but I like to remind the crawlers of this fact every chance I get. A rifle only becomes an assault rifle when the user decides to assault someone. For Warrior Poets and other law-abiding people, the AR-15 is a defensive tool for protecting innocents against assault.

And one more thing, crawlers, "semi-automatic" does not mean machine gun. And painting a rifle black doesn't suddenly make it an assault rifle. Anyway. Yay for willful ignorance and misappropriation of terminology. 

The Right Rifle Setup for the Beginner's Budget: < $1,000

If you're just starting on your AR journey and don't want to spend the big bucks, I completely understand. This is why I can enthusiastically recommend Palmetto State's black rifle offering and some accessories that meet my minimum standards of quality and reliability without breaking the bank.

The Rifle: Palmetto State AR-15. $500. I own this gun and while there are certainly more accurate barrels and guns with more bells and whistles on the market, you won't find them at this price range. If you're looking for a basic gun that's reliable and budget-friendly, Palmetto State might be just the right entry-level rifle for you.

Optics: 403R Holosun. $180. You need good optics, and this is the least expensive optic we carry and the most affordable option that I would recommend to anyone I care about. You don't want to invest so little in your optics that they fail you when it counts. You don't want to be left with a glorified paperweight in a tactical scenario. The 403R Holosun optic will get the job done reliably and relatively inexpensively.

Mounted Light: Streamlight. $140. The Streamlight I use is mounted to my Palmetto using a MagPul mount that attaches to the M-LOK system on the rifle's rail. The Streamlight throws out a ton of light (1000 lumens) and is very affordable.

Rifle Sling: MagPul. $40. It's difficult to recommend another rifle sling besides those we developed after decades of battlefield and range experience. But if you're looking for something a few bucks cheaper than our WPS RIfle Sling, MagPul is a company I've trusted for a number of accessories. provides just the right give and take, the right amount of adjustability, and quick release features

AR-15 Rifle Setup for the Dedicated Hobbyist. $1,000-$2,500.

If you're a serious hobbyist looking for a mid-range rifle setup offering a few more modifications and upgrades, I recommend the ZEV Technologies AR-15 and some more premium versions of basic accessories.

The Rifle: ZEV Technologies AR-15. $1,500. The ZEV Technologies series of AR-15 rifles offers more premium features and higher-end materials right out of the box. This includes 7075-T6 aluminum forged upper and lower receivers finished in true black type III class 2 hard coat anodize. The gun's Wedge Lock hand guard features full length top rail with M-LOK mounting system. This rifle's ergonomics and recoil management features provide greater comfort, all of which reduces fatigue and helps facilitate greater accuracy.

Optics: Holosun 515 on Unity Mounts with 3X Magnifier. $500. This is a few steps up from the 403R. The Holosun 515 features Micro Red Dot and comes equipped with the Multiple Reticle System (MRS) and advanced LED technology providing up to 50,000 hours of life from a single battery. The innovative MRS also provides flexibility between fast target acquisition and longer-range precision shooting, all with the push of a button. With the addition of a flip-up 3X magnifier, I can switch between CQB, mid-range, and longer distance targets.

Mounted Light: HRT AWLS (Advanced Weapon Light) with LightCap Add-On. $300. The HRT AWLS Light shoots out as much as 1,700 lumens, has tons of mounting options, and carries some cutting edge features that can be game changing and, possibly, lifesaving. This includes the Valhalla Tactical Omni Directional Activator (ODA). This completely redesigns how an operator approaches white-light activations. The extremely intuitive yet reliable mechanism offers the speed and accuracy of traditional remote switches without any of their drawbacks. The additional LightCap serves multiple important purposes. First,it can save your life. If/when you accidentally trip your light, the LightCap protects against signaling your location. In a war-time setting, accidental light engagement can be deadly. Awful stuff can happen. You definitely want to take negligent light discharges out of the equation in tactical settings. Second, it protects your expensive light lens from being crusted over by muzzle discharge. The LightCap is designed with an integral lever that allows the shooter to flip the LightCap off the bezel of the light for rapid deployment of the white light. The included ranger band allows the LightCap to be retained near the bezel when removed so that it can be quickly placed back over the bezel.

Rifle Sling: WPS Adjustable Sling or the OG WPS Rifle Sling with Jedi Buckle. Both $79. At this level of tactical instrumentation, why would you want to adorn your weapon with a lower quality sling? I love the WPS collection of rifle slings. I'm obviously a bit biased, but it's hard to find a better sling on the market.

The AR-15 I Love When You're Going Pro. $3,000 +.

I'm definitely not making any promises here about this rifle turning you into a pro (only time and  good training can tell you that), but I certainly feel like a pro when I carry my tricked out Cobalt Kinetics AR-15. I love this rifle.

The Rifle: Cobalt Kinetics AR-15. $2,500 It's got all kinds of good features I like right out of the box, including its premium construction.This is a direct impingement-driven rifle chambered in 5.56. The upper receiver is constructed in 7075-T6 billet aluminum, the handguard is built of 6061 aluminum. It features a two-stage Geissele G2S trigger, a Radian Raptor LT charging handle, a Cobalt 45 degree throw safety, and ambidextrous mag release. Other premium features include the high-quality Rosco barrel, B5 Systems pistol grip, and the Vltor A5 buffer tube housing the Cobalt Pro buffer system. Sounds pretty pro, right? It is. I've run thousands of rounds through mine and it's hard to say anything negative about it. The recoil management is simply astounding.

Optics. Aimpoint w/ Additional 3X Magnifier and Unity Mounts. $600-$1,500. Aimpoint is the industry leader for rifle optics, and all that durability, reliability, and cutting-edge technology comes with a hefty price tag.

Light. SureFire Scout. $400-$600. SureFire is a tried and true tactical lighting system that I used overseas, so when I'm going full-on pro, this is what I turn to. I'm also including the LightCap mentioned above. 

Rifle Sling: WPS Adjustable Sling or the OG WPS Rifle Sling with Jedi Buckle. Both $79. In my educated and experienced opinion, these are the best rifle slings on the market. It's difficult for me to justify using or recommending anything else (See all of our available slings and straps).

Wherever you are in your rifle journey, Train Hard. Train Smart. Stay Free.


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