AR-15 Skills for Beginners: A Comprehensive Guide

Owning an AR-15 comes with a significant responsibility and requires a solid understanding of both handling and maintenance. Whether you’re new to firearms or a seasoned enthusiast, mastering these basic skills is crucial to ensure safe and effective use of your AR-15. In this guide, we will cover the essential skills every new AR-15 owner should develop, drawing from practical experience and key standards.

AR-15 Skills – Safety First

Our sister site has interviewed dozens of the world’s best firearms trainers. Over and over again, the biggest issues they see in their classes have to do with basic safety and firearms handling skills. The first and foremost AR-15 skills any AR-15 owner must master is safety. Understanding and following firearms safety rules is non-negotiable. This includes always treating the firearm as if it is loaded, never pointing it at anything you do not intend to destroy, keeping your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot, and being sure of your target and what is beyond it. Not only should you be able to explain these rules, but you should also live by them. Safe handling practices are the foundation of responsible gun ownership.

Firearms safety is paramount for ensuring the well-being of yourself and others. Other things to remember when it comes to safety? Proper ammunition and appropriate safety gear, such as eye and ear protection, are essential for safe shooting practices. Avoid pointing a firearm at anything you do not intend to destroy and do not rely solely on the safety mechanism. Refrain from handling firearms when under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or fatigue, and avoid making alterations to the firearm unless you are a qualified professional. Never leave firearms unattended; always secure them to prevent unauthorized access and accidents. By adhering to these guidelines, you can maintain a safe and responsible environment for firearm use.

AR-15 Skills – Weapons Handling

Effective weapons handling is essential for reliability and safety. New AR-15 owners should practice drills that involve loading, reloading, and clearing stoppages. A good starting point for AR-15 skills is the 1-reload-1 drill, where you perform a bolt lock reload within 5 seconds. This drill helps you become proficient in handling your firearm under stress and ensures you can quickly get back into action if you encounter a stoppage.

The bottom line though is that you need to get comfortable. New AR-15 owners should take the time to familiarize themselves with the feel and handling of their rifle. Spend time with your unloaded AR-15, practicing how to grip it, manipulate the controls, and aim it comfortably. This hands-on experience is crucial for building muscle memory and confidence, ensuring you can handle your weapon safely and effectively. By dedicating time to these practices, you’ll become more proficient and comfortable with your AR-15, enhancing your overall AR-15 skills and safety.

Shooting Capability


A frequently debated topic among AR-15 owners is “what is the best zero distance?” The answer depends largely on your operating environment. Consider your specific needs: if you are a rancher protecting livestock over open spaces and longer distances, you might opt for a farther zero distance to engage targets without worrying as much about bullet trajectory. On the other hand, if your primary concern is home defense in an urban environment, a different zero distance would be more appropriate. Tailoring your zero distance to your unique circumstances ensures optimal performance and accuracy for your specific situation.

A common misconception is that zeroing your AR-15 is complete after firing your last shots at 25 meters for a 300-meter zero or at 50 meters for a 200-meter zero. In reality, this is just one step in the zeroing process. True zeroing requires shooting at the actual distance you intend to zero (100, 200, 300 meters) and confirming where the bullet impacts relative to your line of sight. This final step ensures that your bullet crosses your line of sight at the chosen true distance zero, completing the zeroing process. Everything done at closer distances serves as preparation.

To start, using a laser boresight at 10 meters can be helpful. This initial step ensures that your rounds will hit the target at 25 meters (or 50 meters) by using the proper laser offset. Next, at 25 meters or 50 meters, fire 5-round shot groups to ensure your rounds are striking where they should be, using the correct ballistic offset if necessary (adjusting for the slight difference between your point of aim and the bullets’ point of impact). Finally, move to your true zero distance and confirm your zero by firing and making any necessary adjustments.


One of the fundamental skills in shooting is being able to consistently hit your target with precision. For new AR-15 owners, aiming for a grouping standard of no more than 4 MOA (Minute of Angle) from a supported position is a good starting point. This means that at 100 yards, your shots should form a group no larger than 4 inches. Practicing this helps improve your accuracy and consistency.

This article is intended to serve as a checklist for new AR-15 owners, rather than a comprehensive guide. Each point covered here highlights essential skills and knowledge areas that you should focus on as you begin your journey with your AR-15. Use this checklist as a starting point to further research and practice, progressively building and stacking your skills to become a proficient and responsible firearm owner.

Timed Hits

Speed and accuracy are crucial in many shooting scenarios. Practice hitting targets at 200 yards within 5 seconds and at 400 yards within 10 seconds. This drill helps you develop quick target acquisition and effective shooting under time pressure.

Reduced Range Testing

A useful way to assess your shooting skills is by participating in reduced range testing, such as the Appleseed Qualification Test (AQT). This test is typically conducted at 25 yards and provides a baseline score to gauge your abilities. A score of 200 out of 250 using supported positions is considered a good standard. This type of testing focuses on your ability to make precise shots under controlled conditions.

Precision at Distance

Being able to hit targets at long distances is a skill that comes with practice. Aim to be capable of hitting targets at 500 yards and beyond. This not only demonstrates your precision but also your understanding of external ballistics, including bullet drop and wind correction. Even if you don’t have regular access to a long-range shooting facility, dry firing and using simulation tools can help hone these skills.

AR-15 Skills – Reading Wind

Wind can significantly affect your shot placement, especially at longer distances past 100 yards. Learning to read wind is a critical skill. Start by practicing to read normal winds within 3 mph, which allows you to make accurate adjustments to your shots. Understanding how wind affects bullet trajectory will improve your accuracy and effectiveness in various shooting conditions.

Estimating Range

Accurately determining the range to your target is essential for precise shooting. This skill involves using your knowledge of ballistics and potentially a rangefinder to estimate distances. Aim to estimate ranges within a 10% margin of error up to 500 yards. This skill ensures you can make the necessary adjustments to your sight or scope for accurate shooting.

Considering a rangefinder can greatly enhance your ability to estimate distances accurately. A rangefinder is a device that measures the distance from the observer to a target, providing precise distance readings. Modern rangefinders use laser technology to calculate the distance by emitting a laser beam towards the target and measuring the time it takes for the beam to bounce back. They are easy to use and can be a valuable tool for shooters, hunters, and outdoor enthusiasts. By incorporating a rangefinder into your gear, you can improve your accuracy and confidence in distance estimation.

Understanding Ballistics

A fundamental understanding of ballistics is necessary for any serious shooter. This includes knowing how different factors like bullet weight, velocity, and environmental conditions affect the trajectory of your shots. Spend time learning about ballistics and how to apply this knowledge in real-world shooting scenarios.

Cleaning and Maintainance

In our recent article on cleaning and maintenance, we covered the essential steps to keep your AR-15 in top working condition. From disassembling and cleaning the various components to inspecting for wear and ensuring proper lubrication, the guide provides a comprehensive overview for maintaining your firearm’s reliability and longevity. Regular maintenance not only prevents corrosion and malfunctions but also ensures your AR-15 is always ready for action. For a detailed step-by-step process and tips on effective maintenance, check out our full article.


Becoming proficient with an AR-15 requires dedication and practice. By focusing on safety, shooting capability, weapons handling, reading wind, estimating range, and understanding ballistics, new AR-15 owners can develop the skills needed to use their firearm effectively and responsibly. At, we offer a wide range of products to help you on your journey, from training materials to cleaning supplies and accessories. Visit our store to find everything you need to keep your AR-15 in top condition and ensure you’re always ready to hit the range.