Interview with Larry Vickers – Building ARs for Training, Defense, Ideal Optics, Caliber Wars and the Future of the AR Platform

Larry Vickers with a BCM Carbine fitted with an Aimpoint and a pair of Scalarworks Peak Iron sights.
Larry Vickers with a BCM Carbine fitted with an Aimpoint and a pair of Scalarworks Peak Iron sights.

Larry Vickers of Vickers Tactical is a retired US Army 1st SFOD – Delta combat veteran with years of experience in the firearms industry as a combat marksmanship instructor and industry consultant. But you probably know this. You probably also know that when it comes to discussing the AR platform, there’s very few that both walk the walk and talk the talk like Vickers does. He’s done it all, from being involved in the development of the HK416 rifle and HK45 pistol, to having a large hand in the design of a wide variety of top-tier small arms accessories.


ARBuildJunkies wanted to touch base with Larry from the AR builder’s perspective, get his advice on what to build and why, and get his views on the AR platform post-release of his instant classic Vickers Guide: AR-15, Volumes 1 and 2.

Q: Larry, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule. I wanted to get your perspective on the AR building community as it exists in 2018/2019. Also, what guidance would you share with someone newer to building an AR?

A:  The great thing about it now is there is so much information out there. As long as you stick to reputable suppliers, and reputable companies, reputable brands, and you follow the information and the guidance that’s already out there, there is no reason in the world that you can’t put together a really good gun.

Not so much back in the day. Back in the day, you didn’t have near the options you do now. You certainly didn’t have as many different suppliers. On top of that, the knowledge on how to build one and make it a solid, reliable and accurate gun wasn’t as widely known. Now it’s very widely known. Go on places like the m4carbine forum, or like what you have going on…there’s a lot of knowledge out there.

So, my guidance to a new builder would be number one, educate yourself and figure out what you want, because there are different animals. Obviously, you’ve got shorter barrel situations, SBR type setups, or the pistol brace setups, and you’ve got to remember a direct impingement gun for those kinds of applications may not be your best choice. That may be honestly…most people don’t want to hear it, but maybe you need to look at a piston.

Now for most people with carbine length guns, 14.5 or 16” barreled guns,  probably setting up a good mid-length gas system is the way to go. You have a lot of options with that. There’s a lot of information out there. And then beyond that really, you’re into the 18” barrel stuff or even the 20”, you’re in the DMR zone. That is kind of where we’re at now with these guns and where they’ve settled into.

There is a ton of information out on the market on what direction to go in, and tips of the trade and how to build your gun …but before you buy anything or jump the gun, you’ve got to educate yourself.

And then, part two to that would be to stay with reputable brands. If it’s not a household name, you don’t need to be spending money on it. If it’s not something that makes you say, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of them,” then…you need to stay with reputable brands. If you get off in the weeds and start cutting corners or cutting costs, as a general rule, you are going to regret it.

Q:  You’re intimately familiar with the AR platform, not only from a usage and design view, but you’ve also spent an unfathomable amount of time on ranges training shooters with ARs.  Any advice on do’s, or perhaps what not to do?

A:  The number one problem I see wherever I go, and its been this way since I’ve started these classes almost 15 years ago…the number one problem I saw then and the number one problem I see now, and to be honest, if anything it has gotten worse…is people don’t lube their guns. Its the number one problem I see.

Part of that is really the “Glock Phenomenon”, or the “Glock Generation”… Glock being the first handgun they buy or the first handgun they are exposed to. Glock promotes little lube on the gun if you read their manual.

The way they explain how to lube, it is in my opinion, not well explained and it leads the average guy to believe you don’t really need to lube the guns. As a general rule, a Glock will run fine with very little to honestly, no lube.

Now, that same guy says “I’m going to buy a carbine.”  Well, the most popular carbine in the world is the AR. So, now they’ve got the carbine, but they treat it like a Glock. You cannot run that gun dry. If you do you’re begging for trouble. That is the number one problem I see wherever I go. And it has not changed.  It’s my call that it never will change. You don’t even have to be fanatical about cleaning them, you really don’t, but you need to keep them lubed.

Now, as far as training goes, I’ve got a good friend of mine who had a great quote. “A firearm is a life-saving piece of equipment.”

I mean, yeah, you can use it for recreational purposes and all that, but at the end of the day what is it designed to do? Its designed to defend yourself, your loved ones. That’s what it is all about.

Larry Vickers has been an in-demand instructor for over 15 years. Visit Vickers Tactical for a list of upcoming training dates.
Larry Vickers has been an in-demand instructor for over 15 years. Visit Vickers Tactical for a list of upcoming training dates.

So, just like you would do with a parachute or scuba or whatever, you need to have proper training on a piece of life-saving equipment. You cannot assume that, “hey I know how to load it, I know how to point it in a certain direction and I know how to pull the trigger…so I know how to use it.” That’s far from the case.

You have a life-saving piece of equipment, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to get at least bare minimum competent training on how to use the weapon…not only safely but effectively.

Q:  What kind of features are you looking for these days in what you’re using for carbine classes? 

I run still kind of the same gun I have run for a long time now. I shoot a long gun left-handed because I am left-eye dominant but I’m actually a right-hander. I don’t run any ambi controls at all. Generally nothing is ambi, because that way I can pick up anybody’s gun whether it is a right-handed gun or whatever and run it. So I generally don’t want to run any ambi stuff. If people want to do that…drive one, I think its great.

I wish we had seen ambi setups years ago, decades ago, but we haven’t. There’s millions upon millions of M-16, M4-style weapons out there that are not ambidextrous so, I run a nonambi gun.

Another thing is I try to run a gun that is pretty lightweight. A heavier weight gun…you are always going to be carrying it more than you are going to be shooting it. So running a gun that is really heavy doesn’t  make a lot of sense. We have better options than ever in terms of lighter rails,  barrel profiles now that are actually medium profile but are fluted for lighter weight, or have a lighter profile to cut the weight down. Obviously there are light uppers and lowers on the market. We also now have red dot sights that are miniaturized, very effective and very rugged that are very lightweight.

Today, you can set a gun up with a white light and a red dot sight and a sling and have it be almost the same weight as it would have been back in the day with just being a bare-bones stripped carbine. So, my call is instead of loading the gun down, you want to lighten it up.

Q:  A lot of AR builders are putting something together for home defense.  I know you recommend a carbine as an ideal defensive weapon over something like a shotgun or pistol.  Can you speak to what we should be thinking about for a home defense build?

You want to have an optic you can use at night. Plain black gun sights are not going to cut it. You have to at least have night sights, but I’m not a fan of those versus using a red dot sight. In my opinion, Aimpoint is the gold standard.

They are not cheap, but what I tell people is real simple – If you want to have guns that you go to the range with, shoot 3-gun with, plink with and go out and have fun with your family…cool.

But the gun you grab in the middle of the night to defend yourself and your loved ones needs to have an Aimpoint on it. If you don’t, your life is worth a whole lot less than mine is, because they are the only red dot sight I would trust my life to. It’s just that simple. They’re not cheap. The cheapest Aimpoint Pro is in the 400 range and they go up from there. 


Q:  My home defense rifle currently has an Aimpoint T1 on it.  Any opinion on the T1 or H1 versus the newer T2 or H2?

Aimpoint Micro T-1 Red Dot Sight
Aimpoint Micro T-1 Red Dot Sight

What I tell people on that, if you are going to buy a new one get a 2 series, a T2 or an H2. There’s enough differences that make it worth the extra money. If you already have a T1 or H1, you don’t need to get rid of it to get a T2 or H2. It’s still a very effective optic. I have both.  I’m not selling my T1 to get T2s. If you have at H1 or T1, you’re good to go.  Don’t worry about going out and swapping it out, but if you’re looking to go out and buy a new red dot, spend the extra money and get the T2 or H2. It is worth the extra money over the T1 or H1. That’s my take on it.

Q:  The books you’ve released on the AR platform are unlike anything else out there.  The comprehensiveness is stunning, as is the photography.  Did compiling all that information give you any new perspectives on the AR?

I brought a lot of things together for that.  The process of putting the books together helped me clarify some things…put things into reference in terms of just how widespread the gun is, how widely used it is, and how really now, we have basically boiled it down when it comes to military M4, AR-style carbines.  You’ve got shortened ones, and then you’ve got the DMR ones. Basically, that’s where we’re at.

Image of the HK 416 from Vickers Guide: AR-15 Volume 2. Larry Vickers collaborated with the German arms maker Heckler & Koch to develop the new carbine in the early 1990s.

The full-length M16A1 and M16A2s, those are gone now, being replaced by with your DMRs with your 18 or 20″ barrels. Then you have guns now that are 14.5 and shorter barrel lengths. That’s the two categories the gun has settled into on the military side.

Civilian sector is kind of all over the map. But your 14.5” with a permanently attached flash suppressor or a 16″…that’s kind of where everything went. It’s interesting to me how everything settled down. 

Sample page from Vickers Guide: AR-15 Volume 2
Sample page from Vickers Guide: AR-15 Volume 2

And I’ll tell you, on top of that, the technology to make those guns function reliably in those formats is really well known. It’s real simple.  As long as you do this, and do this and do that and don’t do this and don’t do that, generally your guns will run great.

There’s been enough of these guns built and shot enough with enough ammo…enough things have been tried and tested, we have a really good handle on what it takes to make one of these function reliably. As long as you stay in that format and stay within those goal posts you’ll be fine.

Q:  I’ve followed you pretty closely for a long time now.  One thing I don’t hear you mention all that often are cartridges like the 300 Blackout.  We see a lot of arguments online from builders about one caliber versus another.  In your experiences, is there a compelling reason for shooters to possibly stray from 5.56 at this point?

For the average guy, no. I’m just not…the saying is the “amateurs study tactics and the professionals study logistics.” We just get back to the world of 5.56 and 9mm or 7.62 NATO and 45 ACP…we’re back to that world. In order to get out of that realm, you have really got to be bringing something to the table. I think for the average person, I’m just not seeing it in the 300 Blackout. Now, I could be proven wrong.

Larry Vickers on 300BLK – “Get back to me in five years.”

We’ll see how things shake out five years from now. You’ve got to remember, this movie has been seen before. Not necessarily so much with 300 Blackout, with that subsonic capability or whatnot…But remember 6.8? Show me anybody, anywhere that’s shooting that, or even talking about it.

So like my buddy Ken Hackathorn says, get back to me in five years. Until then, let’s not even talk about it. Time will tell. That’s really what it boils down to. Time will tell. We’ll see. Would I be urging anyone rush out and buy one? Oh, absolutely not. But, we’ll see. Down the road, who knows?

Q: So, any final advice for someone on the fence about buying or building another AR?

A: It’s the world standard.  We live in a world where it is the most popular rifle in terms of people who have a choice.  When I go all around the globe, I don’t care if I go to Germany or Switzerland or wherever…if someone has a choice to choose a rifle, they choose an AR.

When you see somebody shooting something that isn’t an AR, it is because, as a general rule, it’s because that is what has been issued to them, and they don’t have a choice. That’s the world we live in.

I’ve done multiple classes all around the globe, and I show up and every single person there is shooting an AR.  You’re like, “oh my God, how in the hell can this be?”  It’s because it is the world standard.  Ergonomically it is the benchmark, and will be for a long time. God knows when the gun will be replaced.

People ask me what do I think is next. I say “dude, I have no idea.” This gun has been around for decades it’s been refined now to a point far beyond anything anybody would have imagined… I have no idea what will, or what could replace it.

It’s not perfect, but it has been developed far beyond what anything else has. We live in an AR world.  You can go on about the AK, but yeah, you gotta remember, they have been cranking those out, handing those to people that don’t have a choice.  Somebody who has a choice, as a general rule, they’re taking an AR.

Sample page featuring an SR-25 from Vickers Guide: AR-15 Volume 2
Sample page featuring an SR-25 from Vickers Guide: AR-15 Volume 2

Special thank again to Larry Vickers for taking the time to speak with us.  For more information about Larry and everything he’s up to, be sure to visit him over at https://www.vickerstactical.com or check out his growing library over at https://www.vickersguide.com/

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