While it is unlikely that your AR will ever see combat that does not mean it shouldn’t be considered something worthy of betting your life on. Now that the “Great Firearm Scare” and resulting panic buy has receded, there are some really great deals on budget AR-15s as well as top of the line flagship models. That means there has never been a better time to pick up a new AR or dress up your old AR.
Dressing up an AR-15 is the perfect way to make it your own while building a bond and familiarity that will make the difference whether it be in a gunfight or the first stage of a local competition. Those with an eye for the AR-15 platform appreciate the effect small changes can have on performance.
Operate an AR for any length of time and the first upgrade on your wish list will be a replacement for the standard A2 grip. It is likely too small for those with larger paws or simply provides less than adequate purchase when wearing gloves. Either way, it is one of the cheapest upgrades and the simplest ways to distinguish your AR in the sea of competitors at the range.
Popular grips include:
Although Glocks dominate the handgun market, you still hear debates about the texture of the grip. Some say the Gen 3 was inadequate while others feel the Gen 4 RTF2 was akin to 60 grit sandpaper. I am from the camp where I would rather feel the bite shot after shot and not worry about the gun slipping when caught in inclement weather or heaven forbid when shooting with a bloody hand if the wolf came knocking on my door.
Stippling is cheap and effective. For the artistically inclined, you can really add a touch of flare and customization like no other. For those like me who cannot draw a straight line with a ruler and a pencil don’t fret, there is hope. Of course, you could always send it out to a gunsmith or someone who specializes in stippling (www.jandlgunsmithing.com). While I have not risked a firearm, I have spent a few hours improving my magazines risking no more than a few dollars. All you need to stipple is a cheap soldering iron. I picked a slightly used one up online for about $5. From pistol grips to magazines, stippling significantly enhances the grip and aesthetics of many firearms and components. At a minimum, you can number or place you initials on the bottom plate of you magazines to distinguish them for your buddy’s.
Once upon a time, a trigger job meant a trip to the gunsmith if you were smart. I wasn’t, and it nearly cost me dearly. A buddy said he could tune up the trigger on my Savage Model 10 and boy did he. The trigger was much lighter and broke clean. It performed fine at my next range session. I hunted with it a few weeks later. I stalked a small herd of wild boar, picked the largest and took the shot; the remaining 10 or so hogs charged. I immediately cycled the bolt and bang! The shot slammed into the ground as the bolt slammed home. My mind raced and quickly I cycled the bolt again thinking my finger must have been on the trigger. Again, I was sickened as the rifle discharged into the ground as the bolt slammed home. Fortunately, the hogs raced by giving me a 10-yard buffer zone.
Today, dozens of manufacturers sell quality aftermarket triggers that will easily drop into place. Pick your poison and choose from single-stage, two-stage, match, 3-gun, adjustable, non-adjustable, straight or curved bow, cassette or combat from manufacturers such as:
The popularity of the A3 flat top design has proven to be the demise of the iron sight for most. At best, shooting irons has become a lost art for most. There are also people who do not understand the meaning of mechanical failure. Special Forces often use the phrase “two is one and one is none.” If your only sighting system is glass, you are setting yourself up for failure. Perhaps you attach and sight in your Back Up Iron Sight (BUIS) and never again use it. Great! That is some mighty cheap insurance against an emergency, but to be effective we both understand the importance of practicing with the irons, not just slapping them on…
Flip-up-designed BUIS most often serve as back-ups for red-dot optics and attach over the modular, free-float handguard extending over a low-profile gas block. Most popular is likely Magpul’s MBUS, however, in doing so you are opting for polymer over steel. I’ve never found this to be an issue, but others land in different camps so choose wisely. Don’t fret Magpul fans. Magpul also sells the MBUS Pro with steel construction.
Popular manufacturers of folding battle sights include:
- Knights Armament
- Daniel Defense
- Midwest Industries
- Precision Reflex
- Yankee Hill Machine
Again, pick the model that sings to you, but be sure to exercise the iron regularly at the range.
The charging handle is a simple and effective design. It has served its purpose for decades with a low failure rate, however, there is a better mousetrap. Gone are the days of grasping the charging handle with your index and middle fingers. Today’s enhanced models are larger and easily manipulated with the palm of the hand. Others are ambidextrous. Options are always good in competition as well as a gunfight—not to mention trying to operate a tiny standard charging handle while wearing gloves. Or with a longer optic hanging off the back.
Ambidextrous Safety Selectors
An ambi-safety selector is common among competition shooters. Why? Course designers often design stages forcing the shooter to go to shoot from his or her weak hand. This mimics the requirements of real world scenarios, so the lesson is easy. If you are a competition shooter, an ambi-safety is desirable. If you are not a competition shooter, an ambi-safety is desirable. Once when setting up a youngster’s gun, I included an ambi-safety. No, the young man was not a competitor, nor likely to be engaged in a gunfight. However, regardless of my positioning, I wanted the ability to inspect the gun visually from either side to show it was safe.
I still run my first Bushmaster with a fixed stock; call me sentimental. However, that is the only AR I own with a fixed stock. Even guns that come with a cheap six-position stock will immediately find placement in the upgrade line of my man cave. Aesthetics be dammed; the right stock for the job enhances performance and reliability. Why would anyone sacrifice either of these? The key is to choose a collapsible stock offering a solid fit while maintaining accuracy, adaptability and adjustability. When replacing your stock, be sure to choose the correct replacement to fit the size of your buffer tube—whether mil-spec or commercial size.
You have plenty to choose from depending on your setup, requirements and personal frame.
Few will put enough rounds down range to wash out a barrel; long-range shooters are likely the notable exception. Factors to consider when selecting a barrel include: length, profile, chambering, twist rate, quality, gas system length and barrel lining.
Top manufacturers to consider include:
Looking to boost accuracy? A free-floating handguard is a quick, easy, and all but guaranteed to tighten. Free-floating handguards offer slight increases in accuracy over traditional two-piece, non-floating designs. With a free-floating handguard, you can hang all the furniture you want without applying pressure to the barrel, which would vary as the barrel heats up. This ensures an increase in accuracy. The most common culprits are slings and forward grips.
Most free-floating handguards feature quad-rails at the 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock. However, more often the tide is shifting toward lighter, modular variations with removable rail segments and direct-attach accessories.
Start your search with offerings from:
Having discussed the importance of BUIS, it would be a major omission to skip over optics. The most desirable AR-15 optic is dependent on the intended purpose of the rifle. Remember, you’ll be better served saving up for the right optic, than going cheap, regretting it and buying the higher dollar model later—or worse, blaming the rifle for the poor performance.
Red-dot, reflex and holographic sights are popular among competitive and tactical shooters alike for quick target acquisition. It is easier to put a single dot on the spot than aligning three dots. Top choices to consider are Aimpoint, EOTech and Trijicon. Paired with a 3x flip-to-side magnifier, these sights are capable of accurately engaging targets at varying distance out to about 300 yards. Additionally, you’ll want to look into a co-witness micro-sized sight. Commonly mounted on a 45-degree offset for quick transitions to short-range targets (Close Quarters Combat also known as CQB).
Top choices include models from:
Unless you are rolling large and have night vision goggles and an infrared laser, a quality weapon-mounted light is more than worthy of consideration and a real asset when things go bump in the night. In truth, the range of the light does not necessitate a free-floating handguard. You won’t be shooting far enough to affect accuracy. However, when training during daylight, you won’t be pulling off gear and reattaching it, which does necessitate a free-floating handguard.
A few years back, I went turkey hunting in Mexico and forgot to include a sling. Mexico was fun, but not exactly a place where you can run down to the local sporting goods store and pick up forgotten supplies. Carrying a long gun for any distance without a sling flat out blows. There is no other way to say it—well, not in language I can use here anyway, but you veterans can fill in the appropriate colorful metaphors for me.
Again, this is an area where choosing a sling will be dependent on the intended use. One, two and three contact points all have advantages and disadvantages. Two tips I can offer. Paracord slings sound cool and I enjoyed making a couple—they are not comfortable for a long haul over a weekend or more. Second, we should all bow down to whoever invented the neoprene rifle sling—‘nuff said.
Quality slings are readily available from:
Select mounting hardware from companies such as:
Did we forget your favorite accessory or upgrade? Share it with us in the comment section.
Growing up in Pennsylvanias game-rich Allegany region, Dave Dolbee was introduced to whitetail hunting at a young age. At age 19 he bought his first bow while serving in the U.S. Navy, and began bowhunting after returning from Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Dave was a sponsored Pro Staff Shooter for several top archery companies during the 1990s and an Olympic hopeful holding up to 16 archery records at one point. During Daves writing career, he has written for several smaller publications as well as many major content providers such as Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times, Outdoor Life, Petersens Hunting, Rifle Shooter, Petersens Bowhunting, Bowhunter, Game & Fish magazines, Handguns, F.O.P Fraternal Order of Police, Archery Business, SHOT Business, OutdoorRoadmap.com, TheGearExpert.com and others. Dave is currently a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!
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