Here's a properly staked AR gas key. Note how the gas key metal is bashed into the two screws so they can't turn loose.

Here’s a properly staked AR gas key. Note how the gas key metal is bashed into the two screws so they can’t turn loose.

If you think people hyperventilate over hypothetical scenarios in politics, spend some time visiting online gun forums. While fun, and a great way to chit chat with others of like passion, you might leave convinced that your AR rifle has the operational complexity and maintenance requirements of the Trident II D5 ballistic missile.

Yes, your AR rifle requires care and maintenance like any other mechanical device, but don’t fret too much over it. In the past 40 years or so, the design has been improved to the point where it will function properly in some pretty nasty environments and under the worst of conditions.

With that said, here are a few things I like to keep an eye on. And no, if you miss one of the details below, your rifle will almost certainly not explode, but it may not function properly.

Gas rings

You’ll hear all sorts of panic about the three gas rings on your AR bolt.

“I change my gas rings every 9 rounds, because I shoot exceptionally tactically and need to replace them before they wear out.”

“If all three gas rings aren’t in place, the American Idol voting system will crash and Clay Aiken may capture the hearts of pre-teen girls – again.”

“If the gaps in each ring are lined up with each other, Spain will immediately declare war with the National Rifle Association, thereby causing a massive increase in membership solicitation mail.”

OK, so there’s a tiny bit of truth in each of these statements, but only just that – tiny.

Well, actually in the case of lined-up gaps in the gas rings, I don’t think there’s any real truth. The idea is that the gas rings are supposed to do what their name implies and seal gas. With a proper seal, the gas ported back into the bolt carrier will exert the right amount of pressure to unlock the bolt and move it and the bolt carrier back far enough, and fast enough, for proper ejection. The thinking behind the gas ring myth is that if the gaps are lined up, gas will leak between the rings and your semi-automatic rifle will function about as well as the congressional ethics committee.

These three gas rings almost have the gaps lined up! No matter.

These three gas rings almost have the gaps lined up! No matter.

In reality, the bolt and carrier move back and forth and rattle around at speeds approaching Warp 19. This action moves things, including has rings, all over the place. No matter how carefully you line them up to avoid the dreaded alignment scandal, they’ll end up aligned on their own accord at some point.

This brings up a related point. The idea behind three gas rings in the first place is redundancy. They’re consumable items and will break on occasion. Your rifle will most likely work just fine with two, or even just one, gas ring. After all, we’re talking about a lot of gas pressure at play during recoil, so a “mostly sealed” scenario will be just fine.

Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to keep some spare rings on hand. A pack of three costs a grand total of $2.19 from Brownells.

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