Bushmaster Carbon 15 for Home Defense

Good Morning, I have something here I am pretty excited about right off. Most people tend to lean towards handguns for home defense. They are a fine choice no doubt. Any pistol beats the hell out of harsh language and swinging your golf trophy at an intruder. If you’ve read some of my articles though I have said I would always rather fight with a rifle. I recently did a piece on the USGI M1 Carbine for self defense. A fine choice with the right ammo but maybe we can do one better??

So what are some of the parameters I think need to be met for a good HD rifle? It needs to be lite, a good bedside rifle needs to be lite enough you can easily grab and deploy it quickly and I think one handed is nice too. The older I get the wounds from the past seem to catch up to me more and more. How many guys out there have “dead” hands and arms when they wake up? I do. Years of heavy gear and weight lifting have left me in rough shape for the first 30-45 mins I’m up and moving. So an easily hefted rifle.

Short: You’re in your home or maybe in your yard. Short range right? A short rifle is simply handier for turning tight corners in a structure. A lot of well set up carbines are not even sticking out as far as a pistol in your outstretched hands. Plus you have a better hold on the rifle more than likely. Harder for it to be taken away from you. Especially with a sling over a shoulder like a good bungee cord single point sling.

Accessories: For an HD rifle you must have a light. Period. No if’s, and’s or but”s about it. I prefer some kind of reflex site, lots of choices out there. I think a single point sling is a good idea. If you “2 gun” it then you will want it for transitioning to your handgun. I want it because it straps the rifle to me. Your close up with your intruder, this will make it more difficult to have it taken away from me.

Right off the bat I am using this Walther cheapo green dot site. It is alright but will definitely switch to something more expensive later. I can’t see myself using a $21 reflex sight on my HD rifle. I used a TLR-3 from Streamlight which is a great compact pistol light but will switch to something brighter and probably end up getting a lite-weight quad-rail and move it forward. This single point sling is available from Botach Tactical, it is sling package #4. Inexpensive and easily mounted. These accessories are OK I guess but I just used stuff I had laying around to test the rifle. This will not be my final setup.

Reliability: You want to have unquestioned reliability from your HD gun. AR’s from quality manufacturers have just that. Buy a good one and it will last you a lifetime. The M-16/AR series rifles haven’t been in service this long for nothin’.

Ammo: Is it safe to say the 5.56 round is the most common one now in the USA?? Factually for sure I don’t know. I would guess it is. There is certainly a LONG, LONG list of kinds of ammo for it. Long range heavy stuff, ball ammo, military ammo, match ammo, hunting ammo and frangible ammo to name some. There is a lot of myth-buster stuff out there about over penetration of 5.56 rounds in the home. Truth is often times pistol bullets will pass through more walls because their weight to speed ratio doesn’t cause them to come apart. That statement is backed up by my own 2 eyes in real world use AND many studies proving it including one from the world famous Gun-Site School. Those dudes know what they are doing. A small rifle projectile going fast tends to come apart when it hits something. Simple physics. Size and bullet type to speed. This is why the 62 grain steel core Penetrator’s came about, 55 grain ammo was lacking penetration. Obviously we want to minimize over penetration. For this we will probably want to use some frangible ammo which is designed to disintegrate. A fine choice for HD. At least stick with soft or hollow points at 55 grains or less. Avoid the 62 grain steel core military stuff as they do not call it the “penetrator” for no reason.

Last thing I want to point out is the AR style of rifles have an infinite supply of parts, magazines, ammo, sights, lights, lasers and after market super gadgets to make them better or custom fitted to the individual. The amount of stuff out there for them is mind boggling. If you can’t have an AR built to suit you then you are probably too picky.

The rifle: Bushmaster is a trusted name, I generally prefer RRA but I have nothing against owning a Bushy. They are producing this Carbon 15 which has a carbon fiber upper and lower receiver. They come with a lite weight barrel and a smaller collapsible butt-stock than you see on most rifles. The thing tips the scales at a mere 5.1 lbs. making it a very handy little rifle.

I’m sure I’m not the only one but I was hesitant to buy a “plastic” AR. Then after reading and looking at the research I just decided to go for it. If we remember back in the day a lot of us were pretty sure Glocks were the cheapest piece of junk ever made and wouldn’t last but look how that turned out. So here I am with this new rifle. They offer several other Carbon models like this 9mm too. Now let’s get out there and bust some caps.

Shooting: I have now put about 600 rounds downrange of various ammunition. Two kinds of PMC, 2 kinds of Federal, some Lake City and some old FN military ball I have had stockpiled for I don’t even know for sure how long. 15 years probably. I was pleasantly surprised to see the trigger was lite and crisp. I for whatever reason expected to have to nearly stand on it to get it too break. I had planned in my head to replace the trigger with a 2 stage RRA match but as it turns out that will not be needed. I’m satisfied with the stock trigger for an HD rifle.

Now with the Federal, LC and PMC the function was flawless. Not a single hiccup of any kind. This makes up the bulk of my 600 rounds. I fired exactly 4 rounds of the FN military ball old stuff and had 2 cases stick in the chamber and have to be knocked out with a section of cleaning rod down the bore. I don’t know what’s up with that. I wasn’t very pleased as this stuff works in all my other AR’s. The stuff is from 1983 but that shouldn’t matter and it is FN factory so it should be good GI spec ammo. Whatever the reason this Carbon 15 hates the stuff. I just decided seeings how I am at the end of that case and I haven’t seen it for sale anywhere for years this isn’t the end of the world. I don’t like it but at the same time I know not to use any of what’s left in it.

I do have a personal “500 rounds without a failure” rule for defensive weapons to be trusted. I made my 500 rounds before trying some of the FN stuff. I don’t have any trust issues with the rifle. Just this particular batch of ammo and this rifle. I won’t sweat it. I think it’s a trustworthy weapon.

One thing I have found shooting her heavily is it gets HOT! Of course anything will warm up, I mean it gets hot beyond what I am used to and very quickly. That lightweight barrel and I have had a few accidents and the hand guards get a bit too warm too. Of course this won’t be an issue for a HD scenario. You shouldn’t end up firing 600 rds for something like that. Out on a range running her hard though be prepared to get burned. I did several times, my weak hand touching on the gas block. I also installed the new style of Slidefire stock on this thing at one point and by the time you’ve burned up your 3rd mag going cyclic if you go home right away you can heat your house with that rifle. I wanted to try that stock out anyway and it seemed like some good extra abuse for the Carbon 15. Except for the heat the rifle did quite well with that stock on. Last thing on the heat. A quad-rail and a forward grip would probably help me out here as far as burns. It’s a small stock handguard and for people with big hands like me I think that will spare us some misery.

Accuracy: At first I wasn’t very thrilled. The metal rail on the top of the upper receiver for mounting your optics flexed if you twisted on the scope at all. I tightened it up a bit and it seems OK now, not great but better. I think it needs another screw securing it in the middle of the receiver. I don’t know what that front screw threads into? If it threads into the carbon fiber be VERY careful too not over tighten. If that thing strips out 🙁 UGH….I shudder to think it. In fact I will call Bushmaster today and find out what that does thread into. I would hope some kind of metal implanted in there but I’m guessing NO! I bet it threads into the carbon fiber. I’m going to talk to my smith about adding a screw in the middle of the upper receiver for that rail. It could be more solid than it is.

The average groups were 4 inches at 100 shooting at paper plates with a non magnified cheapy Walther green dot sight. A few groups were around 2 inches but for the most part around 4 inch groups. That’s good enough for HD work and likely as a lite-weight “ranch” rifle too. Being that I am approaching this from an HD standpoint I wasn’t trying to see how small a group I could achieve. Just that it will fire reliably and with adequate accuracy. It’s not a match gun and nothing I can do is going to make it shoot like one of my free floated, HB, scoped, match grade AR’s.

Summary: Am I jumping for joy at this wonderful creation? No, not at all, I do not “love” the thing. Am I saying I don’t like it? Nope, not saying that either. I do think it’s useful for a home defense, lite ranch rifle or plinker based solely on the weight. The weight is nice. All my other AR’s weigh 10 lbs plus with all my junk bolted on. It is refreshing to heft this little girl. I have to admit though after the cases sticking and the scope rail being so flimsy that some of my initial excitement has left me.

It will not shoot as tight as what you may be used too and will heat up faster but for that bump in the night it is very quickly and easily deploy-able which is what I was after in an HD rifle. It has the benefit of a million accessories and so many choices of ammo it’s impossible to list it all.

All in all I trust the thing to go bang and don’t think your going wrong by buying one. I mentioned a 30 carbine in the first paragraph. The AR obviously has technology and all the supporting accessories on it’s side. Still….in the end I think I would still pick up my 30 Carbine if they were sitting side by side but that’s a personal choice for me, NOT a recommendation. Maybe it’s because that M1 has been in my life since I was a little boy and it belonged to my Gramps, I don’t know. You won’t hear me say “don’t buy a Carbon-15”. I got my $597.36 worth out of this rifle for sure. (I bought it without the factory supplied Bushnell scope) I think it will make a decent HD rifle or plinker especially for kids or people that may not be as physically strong but that’s about it for me. I’d get something heavier built for serious target shooting or most any other application.

As always thanks for reading and train often.

By: Cary Kieffer

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Cary Kieffer

USMC Infantry/Combat Veteran - Med Retired LEO/8yrs.

Latest posts by Cary Kieffer (see all)


25 Responses to Bushmaster Carbon 15 for Home Defense

  1. Tina says:

    Looked at the Carbon 15 about a month ago, as a pre-owned. Light weight, and fitted me well. As some people say “l will think about it.”
    After looking at other ARs I went back and checked it out two more times before lay-a-way.
    A great AR for a lady.
    Just wondering if I could hunt with it?
    It has a Bushnell scope, is that a good scope or should I be looking for a better scope. My limit is $ 500 for a great scope.


    • Cary Kieffer says:

      Hi Tina, you sure can hunt with it as long as you’ve got the right load for the job. I don’t know if your Bushnell is good or not, if it’s an AR series it might be fine. If you wanted a new one, with a $500 cap on my scope budget I would look at these 3:

      Vortex Viper PST 1-4X
      Vortex Strikeeagle 1-6x
      Burris MTAC 1-4X

      Any of the above scopes will sit nicely in a Burris PEPR one piece mount available on eBay for about $75. Any of them will also work like a red dot on 1x yet have enough magnification for you to take a longer shot. All three have nice clear glass, good turrets and in my opinion are better than any Bushnell I’ve ever owned. Thanks for stopping by TGR and let me know if ya need anything else. Cary

  2. Big Dave says:

    Remove the top screw. Slide the picitinay rail OFF the upper receiver. Carefully mix FRESH JB WELD (not the quick set up version) at exactly 1:1 and spread on the rail and the bare receiver top. Slide the rail back on. Wipe the excess. Tape or clamp the rail tight while drying. Wipe any additional excess. Use denatured or isopropyl alcohol for clean up..NOT acetone or any other solvent.
    Buy Primary Arms Micro Red Dot or Bushnell TRS-25 red dot. For the PA red dot I use a UTG $11 HIGH riser. That combo works great and comes in at less than $100. Adds only a few ounces.

    Got some extra $$? Add a 12″-15″ AP Customs carbon fiber hand guard. Even the 15″ will weigh LESS than the old tiny hand guard. Add small polymer bottom rail and a stubby (light) vertical fore grip.
    NOW you have an awesome, but still ultra lightweight 5.2lb AR-15.

    • Cary Kieffer says:

      Big Dave, good tips, thanks! I used one of those AP carbon handguards on my priciest super duper SBR build, really like it and it looks great. Everybody who see’s it remarks on how sweet they think it is.

  3. JC says:

    I just bought a carbon 15 and the scope that came with it. When I look through it,it almost looks like there are 2 or 3 round dots in it can some one help me and tell me what this may be

    • Cary Kieffer says:

      Jc, this is an old post and the carbon 15 has come and gone for me but as I recall I bought it without the red dot. My uncle on the other hand has the factory supplied scope and in simple plain English it’s a piece of crap and not worth bothering with. Don’t bother with the scope, rifle is fine never a problem with the weapon itself. Start looking for a Vortex SPARC for an economy red dot or a Aimpoint PRO if you want to spend a bit more. Either are nice. Also I haven’t reviewed them yet but have been using the Vortex Strikeagle 1-6x. I have been super happy and bought a 2nd one just about an hour ago online over morning coffee. It works like a red dot with a good sized red circular reticle that’s plenty bright or you can crank her all the way up too 6x. Really nice scope for the money. Thanks for stopping by TGR. Cary

  4. James Lardie says:

    Having a terrible time getting them to stand behind their warranty. Scope is junk.BUYER BEWARE!!!!

  5. KommieKiller says:

    I don’t know, if it’s WOROL time the long gun maybe the way to go, but in my opinion the best home defense weapon is shotgun with a pistol grip and no stock.
    Easier to wield, much more knock down power and you don’t have to worry about that 5.56 mm round going through the walls of three separate houses before it hits the neighbor down the block.

    • Cary Kieffer says:

      Kommie, its a personal preference. I have used an m4 for real many times and am just most comfortable with one. I also have 2 mossbergs with pistol grips loaded up at home and a 12 inch AOW waitin for me at my class 3 shop for when the Gov finally decides to bless my paperwork with a tax stamp. Thanks for stopping by TGR.

  6. Randy Williams says:

    I previously owned a Bushmaster AR was a ORC and i put a Leaupold rifleman on it was very accurate really liked the weapon,however had to get rid of all my weapons. I now purchased a Ruger mini-14 tactical with cheap jap made hologram site and front pistol grip that also has by-pod inside is plastic but works,also has tac light on it ans this weapon is a heavy sob!!! My question is I prefer a AR platform and thinking about trading back. My Ruger is stainless with carbon fiber adj stock and would be good for hunting but not for carrying, would you make the trade or keep ruger and just buy a Car-15.

    Enjoyed your review and would like to discuss with you feel free to call me at
    352-262-7015 thanks.

    • Cary Kieffer says:

      Thanks Randy, glad you enjoyed it. I would trade it. Logistics being the reason. If I’m going to have 2 5.56 rifles I want parts and magazine interchangeability, not 2 different guns. AR prices are down a ton. I wouldn’t take a beating on the Ruger, hold out for the right buyer but I would ditch it and stay with one platform. That platform would also be a Rock River Arms or Sig 516. I have quite a few Rocks, for 10 years or more,but recently bought 2 sigs. Both sigs are sweet. Hope that helps point you where to go. Thanks for stopping by TGR.

  7. Kelly says:

    I am currently kicking around the idea of the bushmaster AR. I am just wanting some no BS assessments. Thank you.

    • Cary Kieffer says:

      Kelly, my no bs assessment would be to buy a rock river as your first ar…no way to be unhappy then IMHO. The uses of the carbon 15 are limited but I also bought a 2nd one…so obviously I like them…just that they dont hold a candle to a RRA Operator series or the Entry Tactical. Good luck. Let us know what you bought. Cary

  8. Ed says:

    Had mine about a year. The red dot provided was insufficient for any hope
    of accuracy. Put on a Nikon, sighted it in, & was doing 1.5 inch groups
    at 55 yds

  9. Larry Webster says:

    I just purchased a new “Carbon fiber” AR-15 Bushmaster in .223 cal. I have shot over 100 rounds through it with a “Redfield” “Battle Zone” tactical scope. I can not get a group tighter than 4.5″. I’m useing Hornady 55gr. V-Max shells so it’s not the shells or me. Has anyone else been having this trouble? If so is there a fix or am I going to have to take it in the shorts and replace it with another brand.

    • Cary Kieffer says:

      Larry, I have had high quality shells not group in weapons before. Try something else first. I usually try at least 5-6 brands and weights, then make a decision. Make sure your rail on the upper receiver is not loose or flexing. That can be an issue. If it flexes, use some high quality glue under neath the rail and tighten the screws up and let it dry. That will help. I have also (several times) had brain farts and not tightened up ring screws or the bases to the rail before too. So check those again. The rifle will shoot better than that with a magnified scope. I was shooting those groups with just a cheap red dot. My first best guess is trying out other ammo though. Those groups will probably shrink to 2 inches when you find what she likes. If all else fails don’t “take it in the shorts” LOL. Get ahold of me. If you want to ditch it email me at and maybe we can work something out. You can ship it to my FFL no problem. Thanks for stopping by TGR anbd good luck. Let us know what happens.

      • larry webster says:

        Thanks for the info. I’ve tried the ladder method of different shells in 3 shot groups at the same target. I’ve also used a Williams scope mounting tool to make sure the mounts and rings are exact and torqued the screws to recommend inch pounds etc. To be honest I got better groups at 50 yards with the little red scope that came with the rifle. Again thanks…… you have give me a starting point.

        • Cary Kieffer says:

          Larry, no problem. It’s tough these days to find any shells at all let alone a variety for a task like yours. In general though, through all my AR’s Federal Gold Medal usually out shoots Hornady except in my RRA ATH. That one prefers Hornady 75 grain moly coated match but she is the only one. Also for cheapy practice the PMC X-Tac 62 grain steel core tend to shoot the best out of all the military ball stuff I have tried. I can usually shoot .75-1.5 MOA with that stuff depending on me and the day I am having. Just a thought if you run across any boxes of them. If not and you can’t solve your problems again get ahold of me with that email and I can either buy it or ship you a box of PMC and Federal match at cost to test it. I have oodles of both. Good luck.

    • Scott says:

      Mr. Webster, I reccomend you try 62 grain or even 70. The twist rate might be your issue.

  10. John Daharsh says:

    I just picked one up this morning, surprised me to see a Bushmaster on the shelf at the normally barren gun store.

    I saw the carbon and wasn’t sure, but the price and overall lack of any other AR15s convinced me to pick one up.

    I haven’t been able to shoot it yet but I have found one problem. I put a few different mags in it just to check. Everything seemed fine until the factory mag wouldn’t go back in and I saw that the magazine eject button was stuck too far in. I couldn’t get a mag to stay in, and even after fiddling with the button it wouldn’t pop out.

    I locked the bolt back and reached down to push the latch, when I did the button popped back out but the bolt also flew forward and nicely mangled my finger. Stupid me I guess.

    SO just a warning that apparently that button can go too far in and get stuck.


    • Cary Kieffer says:

      John, I’d remove the magazine catch (it’s easy to do) and look for a burr in there somewhere. If you don’t find one I wouldn’t sweat it. I bet it loosens up with a few rounds fired and some mag changes. My LAR-8 (308 AR from Rock River Arms) is a rifle that to me is nearly beyond reproach I like it so much, yet when it was brand new my mag button was a pain as well and that is a metal receiver. It loosened up in no time flat. So look for a burr if you want. Otherwise I think she’ll be fine with a bit of use. Congrats on finding a gun! Cary

  11. Bryan says:

    Thanks for your review. I found the info useful and it was good to hear it in the perspective of HD. Most AR guys would just dismiss the carbon as junk for some of the reasons you stated. But I think it is refreshing that you were able to look at this weapon in light of its intended purpose, and not like it is below par for a battle rifle so it must be junk. It sounds like this rifle would suit my needs just fine.

    • Cary Kieffer says:

      Thanks Bryan, If it fits your needs I wouldn’t hesitate. It will never be my first SHTF weapon choice but that doesn’t mean she’s a pile of junk. I don’t regret the purchase one bit.

      • Tom says:

        I got my Carbon about a year ago and have about 3000 rounds in it and not one malfunction. I have found no abnormal wear at all. Don’t get me wrong I’m not taking it to Afghanistan. I did find the fit and finish could be better. I had to sand the upper and lower a little bit to get a tight fit and I also had and issue with the rail moving a little. So I used a two part epoxy to bond the rail and the upper together…Solid as a rock now. Plinking at the range or taking out varmints this thing is worth the short money.

        • Cary Kieffer says:

          Tom, glad to hear the carbon is holding up after 3 cases. I haven’t fired but 8 centerfire rounds of any kind since all the craziness started. That was 45 acp just to test a mag for function quick. So mine barely has more than the 600 and sumthin’ I fired for the review. I’m in a holding pattern with all my stockpiled centerfire till prices come down. My 22’s have been getting more use than they ever did. Thanks for stopping by TGR. Cary

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