a women firing ar15 with aero silencer

AR Setup for Women Shooters

A Guide to Customizing & Assembling Your Own AR Style Rifle.

By Amy Dillon

Setting up your rifle for a specific use case is one of the many benefits of the AR platform, but it can also be an intimidating process to a beginner. 

While there are many beginners who are new to the shooting world, there is a large portion of this demographic that are women. More than one third of the 5.4 million first-time gun buyers in 2021 were women, according to survey results released by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). Among the report’s findings:

  • Women say their purchases are mainly influenced by Fit, Quality and Practicality.
  • Women purchasing a gun in the last 12 months spent on average $870 on firearms and more than $400 on accessories.
  • The majority of women report they are not driven to buy a gun on impulse but rather considered their purchase for months before deciding.
  • Nearly all women (95 percent) have tried target shooting, and more than half (58 percent) have hunted.
  • Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of women reported having taken at least one training class.
A women carrying an Aero Precision AR 15 gun

These survey results prove that the women’s market is a force in our industry, and manufacturers, retailers and shooting ranges are taking note. Many consider making changes to their products and services to satisfy women’s tastes and needs. 

But is this Really Necessary?

As a female firearms instructor for the past 15 years, I’ve had the privilege of training over 10,000 students, in both the military as a Marine Corps Marksmanship Instructor, as well as training civilians after my active duty time ended. 

While I don’t have the breakdown of how many of my students were men versus women, I can say that it’s something that I never tracked. The information I would present to my male students was the same information I would present to my female students regarding safety rules, nomenclature, cycle of operations, and marksmanship fundamentals. I did, however, notice when there were more women in my classes than there were men. And when it was suggested, and later requested, I did offer women only firearms classes. 

It was during these classes when I realized that some women’s questions were different from the typical questions I would hear from my male students. Here’s a breakdown of some of the subjects surrounding the AR platform that some women would ask about, and in how to best set up a rifle for a female shooter.

Size

The AR15, being relatively lightweight and compact, is an ideal choice for anyone looking for an AR to use for self-defense, recreational target shooting, or as a modern sporting rifle for competition. A 16” mid-length barrel complete rifle is a common starting point, but you may also prefer to change out your barrel length, depending on your use case. Additionally, the AR platform is available in multiple calibers.

A women shooting a silenced AR 15 rifle

Recoil

Many people new to shooting are surprised to find that an AR15 is easy to control and some have even remarked that the recoil seems less than a traditional handgun. Due to a rifle being shoulder-fired, the majority of the felt recoil is absorbed by your body. Unlike firing a handgun where your grip and stance is more needed to control recoil, the additional stability point of your shoulder assists with recoil control. This makes the AR15 sometimes even easier to shoot for men and women, in contrast to many other rifles, semi-automatic or not.

Next, we see how an AR15 can be fully customized to gain the best shooting experience for your particular body and frame. This is the most significant benefit of choosing an AR15 for female shooters.

The reason why this is so important is that you can easily customize your AR15 to make it even more comfortable and easy for you to shoot. You can swap, or upgrade,  everything – from the trigger to the furniture (stock, grip, handguard) to the bolt carrier group and more. Each of these things can improve an already easy to control, shootable firearm.

Stock

Any rifle that is too long to shoulder and fire properly is not a good choice for anybody, man or woman. 

Assuming you go with an adjustable stock over a fixed one, this will make it easy to adjust to one’s body type and size as well. A fully adjustable, precision stock is also an option for shooters requiring length of pull and cheek height adjustment and is intended for semi-automatic sniper or varmint type rifles.

Grip

The Magpul MOE Grip is a common upgrade for a universally loved grip that is ergonomic, feels comfortable in the hand and provides an anti-slip texture, along with storage capability.

If you’re looking for something smaller and slimmer due to your hand size, the MOE SL Grip (MOE Slim Line) is another popular upgrade with more of a vertical grip angle which brings your primary hand closer to your body. You may find this more optimal for positive control along with the same anti-slip texture on the grip itself.

A women laying on her back for tactical shooting drill

Handguard

Choosing a handguard all comes down to personal preference. For those with small hands, the Aero Precision ATLAS S-One Handguard provides a slim, ergonomic grip while the lightweight design maintains the strength and stability needed. The eliminated center of the top rail aids in overall weight reduction to keep your build as light as possible. There is a picatinny rail on the front and rear end which provides the real estate space you need to mount your favorite sights and/or accessories.

If you prefer a continuous top rail for additional accessories, the Aero Precision ATLAS R-One Handguard or the AR15 Enhanced Quad Rail Handguard are both great options for advanced modularity and customization. Those with larger hands might also find a more comfortable fit with the larger design as well.

Trigger 

Having a reliable trigger is a great way to improve your accuracy. A smoother and lighter trigger also makes a rifle easier to shoot. I would encourage any beginner to ensure a basic understanding of proper trigger control by practicing on the range as well.

Typically, a Mil-Spec trigger will have a trigger pull weight in the range of 5-9 pounds. If your trigger pull is too light, it may be easier to negligently discharge your gun if you’re new to shooting. If your trigger pull is too heavy, you may not be able to pull the trigger when needed, which is not what you want in a defensive situation.

However, if you are shooting competitively, you may want a lighter trigger for better accuracy upon target acquisition, and for follow-up shots. 

There are many excellent options for drop-in trigger upgrades by brands Geissele and Rise Armament

External factors to consider:

Magazine capacity

Depending on your shooting position (sitting, kneeling, prone, standing), I generally recommend carrying a variety of magazine capacities. For example, if I am shooting a competition in which I need to be in the prone position for maximum stability, swapping out my traditional 30-round magazine for a 10-round or 20-round magazine, allows me to properly get behind the gun while keeping my elbows on their stability points on the ground. Because of my shorter torso, my eye relief and adjusting to my natural point of aim, sometimes poses a problem when in the prone position depending on the distance of the target I am aiming at. 

A woman laying on the ground for tactical shooting drill

Sling

A rifle sling can make it more comfortable to carry your AR15 for an extended period of time. This can be especially useful in the field or when hunting. A sling should properly help with load distribution and can be used for added stabilization in certain shooting positions, and to quickly and efficiently switch between your rifle and a handgun, as applicable. 

The AR-15 is a rifle that can accommodate a wide variety of shooters. Whether you’re a 6’5 man who weighs over two hundred and fifty pounds, or a 5’0 woman who weighs less than a hundred, the AR-15 is practical in size and customizable for nearly anybody.

What are your thoughts on men versus women shooters? Are there specific factors to consider for setting up a rifle for female shooters? If you’re an instructor, what’s been your experience? Let us know any questions or comments you might have on this topic.

Comments (2):

  1. Lisa Ventura

    October 11, 2023 at 5:57 pm

    I would like to add that I’ve come to prefer the ambidextrous charge handle. I can operate it with either hand, on one side, or on both sides. I also like the narrower hand guard which helps with gripping the gun with my support hand. I have also enjoyed my Ergo grips rail covers in light purple which makes it stand out amongst all the guy’s guns when at the range! Swampfox makes super nice optics for the AR and they give a Veteran’s discount!

    Reply
  2. Michele Alfano

    October 17, 2023 at 11:00 am

    Amy. Very interesting. I’m super new to ARs and didn’t even know you’re suppose to build one from the ground up. I wrote down all the information you recommended and am prepared to ask questions at my local gun store.

    Reply

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