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Ultimate Defensive Carbine Rifle Setup

What is the recipe for the ultimate defensive AR carbine rifle? Here's what one warrior thinks every carbine should consist of.

Ultimate Defensive Carbine Rifle Setup
Photo by Mark Fingar

Short-barreled carbines get a lot of attention because they’re sexy and fun to shoot. They’re highly portable and easy to store. Some think they’re the go-to in all cases. However, getting a carbine set up for a little bit of everything is no small feat.

When striving for that ultimate do-everything one-gun, don’t fall prey to current trends that are based more on what looks cool than what is functional in a variety of shooting scenarios. The carbine outlined in this build can do everything well and will last for a long time while doing it.


SureFire has been making weapon lights for our nation’s warfighters since before the War on Terror even began. No one has done more research and testing on what’s needed for a good firearm-based light than SureFire. Every rifle that might be used for any type of defense should have one.


A 13- or 15-inch handguard offers a shooter plenty of real estate for the support hand when trying to hide behind cover or trying to get stable during a field shoot. A shooter has to have options if they expect to get stable enough to shoot accurately under difficult conditions, and a long handguard is just the ticket.


I have a couple of top optic picks because narrowing it down to just one is too difficult. I like the Aimpoint CompM5 because the Comp M red dots from Aimpoint all have 7075 T6 aluminum housings, not the far more common 6061 used on everything else. The 7075 T6 aluminum is a much tougher material, and it’s harder to deform, so it does a better job of protecting the circuits and lenses inside the optic. The AAA battery lasts forever, and the dot is plenty visible across any and all lighting conditions.

For a bit more capability, I selected the Nightforce NX8 1-8x24mm. It is a tiny low-powered variable optic (LVPO) that weighs almost nothing. While I appreciate the magnification range and weight of the optic, it is the illumination system that sets this scope apart from the pack. Instead of just blasting red LED light across an etched reticle (about 20 percent efficiency), Nightforce put a tiny lens on the LED and turned it into a laser beam. That laser beam hits the center of the reticle before bouncing about 90 percent of the light back to the shooter’s eye. This means Nightforce found a way to make a LVPO truly daylight visible while still using the tiny 2032 battery. This scope can be used for everything from close-quarters battle to precision rifle work.

Photo by Mark Fingar


A collapsible stock is an important feature on any rifle/carbine. For this carbine, a LMT Sopmod buttstock fits the bill. Not only is it a favored stock of many U.S. Special Operations soldiers, but it also features a nonslip rubberized buttpad, improved cheekweld and two watertight storage compartments for spare batteries or other small items. Another thing about an adjustable stock, most shooters can find a length of pull that works for them. Keep in mind, you may not be the only one using this firearm, so go to the range with your significant other and mark where their setting is.


Since this carbine will be used to defend hearth and home, I selected a suppressor from SureFire, the FA556K-212. I chose this because it adds just four inches to the length of this build while still offering the sound suppression needed for interior use. I’m also using a SureFire adaptor to attach it to the barrel. If I don’t need the suppressor or it gets damaged, the adaptor makes removing the suppressor quicker than having to unscrew the suppressor directly from the barrel.


I have chosen a 16-inch barrel for this carbine. It gives enough velocity in the 5.56mm NATO cartridge to have excellent terminal effects out to 300 yards. Without lots of velocity, bullets cannot expand, so terminal effects suffer. That old wives’ tale about tumbling bullets giving the best terminal effects is garbage. A polymer-tipped bullet with a thin jacket at high velocity is just what the doctor ordered when the stakes are high.

Gas System

The midlength gas system is also essential because it isn’t as hard on the bolt and extends the bolt’s life. Because of its placement a couple of inches farther down the barrel, the gas system delays unlocking the bolt. This allows residual chamber pressure to drop and places less binding force on the bolt lugs when it twists to unlock. The bolt lugs stay attached to the bolt longer, as does the bolt tail beyond the cam pin.


The ammo carrier of choice for this build is a 30-round Lancer Advanced Warfighter Magazine (AWM). The AWM combines hardened steel feed lips with a durable polymer body. What I like best about these mags is the translucent polymer allows me to know how many rounds I have left. Always good to know when in a tense situation.

Ammo Choice

Top ammunition selections include Hornady’s 55-grain TAP FPD and Black Hills 55-grain TSX. I like the TAP because the bullet has a polymer tip and will begin to expand as soon as it hits the target. This cuts down on overpenetration risks and provides top terminal performance. The Black Hills load has the monolithic TSX bullet that can handle barrier penetration without coming apart, so any shooting around vehicles and obstacles will have a better outcome with this bullet. Whichever bullet you choose, stick with the 55-grain weight because the lighter bullet has higher velocity. That means better expansion inside 300 yards.


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