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How to use the AR-15

How to use the AR-15

The AR-15 is the most commonly owned rifle in the United States. Therefore, I decided to write a simple post about how to use an AR-15. This is a basic guide to help you understand how to operate the rifle. So, let’s get started.

Be sure to follow all of the basic rules of firearm safety throughout. Anytime you pick up a firearm, there are certain dangers to be aware of. Safety should be your biggest priority. I also recommend keeping your rifle clean and well oiled.

Clearing the AR-15

Start by placing your right hand on the pistol grip. With your thumb, move the safety selector to “safe”.

Keep your right hand on the pistol grip. With your right index finger extended straight, find the magazine release button. While holding the magazine with your left hand, hit the magazine release with your right index finger and let the magazine drop free into your left hand.

Set the magazine down. Now with either hand, grab the charging handle and pull it to the rear. If there is a round in the chamber, this will usually eject the round.

You can lock the bolt to the rear if you choose by pressing the lower part of the bolt hold open on the left side of the rifle. However, that isn’t required. You should be able to look into the chamber and check to make sure there isn’t a round in the rifle. Good lighting may be required to get a good look into the chamber.

Your AR-15 should now be completely unloaded, and you should verify to make sure that is the case.

NOTE: Inserting an EMPTY magazine and pulling the charging handle to the rear should activate the bolt hold open feature. This could be a good way to get a good, long look into the chamber.

Loading the AR-15

There are two ways to load an AR-15, but they are both similar with one specific difference. You would load it from either a “bolt locked back” position, or “closed bolt”.

Inserting the magazine

With your dominant hand, take hold of the AR-15 by the pistol grip. Pick up a loaded magazine with your support hand. Insert the magazine into the magwell of the AR-15. Be sure to listen for a “click” as that will indicate that the magazine has locked into place.

At that point, give the magazine a tug to make sure it is locked into place. If it is not locked into place, give it a smack on the bottom of the magazine to lock it into place. You can also give a pre-emptive smack on the bottom of the magazine before tugging on it.

Chambering a round from a closed bolt

Now that you have a loaded magazine in the rifle, you simply need to pull back sharply on the charging handle all the way, then release it and allow the bolt to slam forward. You don’t want to ride the charging handle. Allowing it to slam closed is the proper way to load the rifle and will decrease the chance of a malfunction or failure to feed.

The rifle is now loaded!

This is also how you would complete a tactical reload with the AR-15.

Chambering a round from an open bolt

This is typically the method for reloading the AR-15, as the bolt will hold back when you fire your last round from a magazine.

Once the magazine is inserted, (for righties), hit the bolt release on the left side of the rifle. The bolt will slam forward, stripping off the top round of the magazine into the chamber of your rifle.

The rifle is now loaded!

Using the forward assist on your AR-15

If the bolt does not close all the way, you have two options. Most experts would suggest that you simply pull the charging handle back all the way, ejecting the round and stripping off a new one into the chamber. This is generally preferable because the nose of the round could have been damaged during loading and could create pressure issues if it is forced into the chamber and fired.

However, sometimes you may not have time for that, such as the case with Kyle Rittenhouse. You may also know that you rode the charging handle to some degree. In some instance you may simply choose to use the forward assist. Hitting the forward assist once or twice will sometimes fully seat the round in the chamber.

Firing the AR-15

Accurate fire is dependent on two factors primarily, sight alignment and trigger control. Those skills are applicable when shooting any firearm.


A good stance will help you manage recoil. The better you manage recoil, the faster you can put accurate fire downrange.

You want to assume an athletic stance or fighting stance. Feet should be about shoulder width apart. Put a little more weight on the balls of your feet. Your upper body should be leaning forward just slightly.

As most AR-15’s have an adjustable stock, adjust the stock length to fit you comfortably.

Place your dominant hand as high up on the grip of the rifle as you can. You will want to pull the rifle firmly into your shoulder, up to your face. If you are shooting with iron sights or a red dot, you want your nose touching or very close to the charging handle. Your dominant elbow should point downward. Your support hand should be placed out as far towards the end of the handguard as possible. This will give you the most amount of control and help you aim the rifle quickly in any direction.

Iron sights

The AR-15 utilizes peep sights, or an aperture sight, with a ghost ring in the back. There are usually two different rear sights, a larger ring, for quicker target acquisition. The smaller ring is better for longer range and/or more accurate shooting.

As you bring the rifle up to your face and look through the rear sight, the ghost ring will essentially disappear/fade and you will focus on placing the top of the front sight post on your target.


If you are using optics, you will place the reticle or crosshairs on your target.


Carefully select your target and flip the safety from “safe” to “fire”. Pulling the trigger at this point will fire the weapon. Pull the trigger smoothly and let it surprise you.

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