Maj. Gen. William H. Rupertus definitely got it right when he penned, “This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.”
While most AR-15s will likely never see combat, the Rifleman’s Creed emphasizes the importance of building a bond with your rifle, learning how it works and respecting it as a best friend or brother.
Every AR-15 owner’s agenda should include copious amounts of shooting, cleaning and tinkering. Getting to know a particular rifle inside and out ultimately translates to operating it more effectively.
For many, tricking out an AR-15 is the perfect way to personalize a rifle and simultaneously build a bond with it. The amount of interchangeable and aftermarket parts available today make the platform an open canvas for infinite customizations. Most folks who buy a new AR-15 usually have plans for how to accessorize it before they even bring it home. Others build theirs from scratch with superior components right out of the gate.
Those who have an eye for the AR-15 platform can appreciate how small details really make one rifle stand out from another. While some high-end accessories cost more than an entire rifle, the average enthusiast is usually looking to add form and function at a reasonable price.
As per Maj. Gen. Rupertus’ wisdom, those looking to make a rifle their own must learn its parts and accessories. Take a look at some of the best ways to trick out your AR-15, and transform it into something you can proudly call “my rifle.”
Nothing makes an AR-15 feel more impersonal and uncomfortable than a standard A2 pistol grip. Common complaints with the A2 grip include its hard plastic knot bumping their middle finger, and its thin profile that fails to accommodate larger hands.Those who operate their rifles for an extended period of time will notice a comfortable improvement when replacing their pistol grips. Popular grips include offerings from Bravo Company, Ergo Grips, Hogue, Magpul and TangoDown.
Effective and inexpensive, stippling is adding texture to a polymer material with a hot instrument. From pistol grips to magazines, stippling significantly enhances the grip and aesthetics of many firearm components—when its done right. While some shops such as Gripreductions.com and Lightfighter Innovations offer custom stippling services, doing it yourself is a fun and valuable technique to learn.Before starting a stippling project, its important to note stippling will cause permanent alteration to the surface of a material, which can decrease its structural integrity and likely void its factory warranty. This disclaimer is mostly directed at stippling polymer pistols, rather than AR-15 accessories. All you really need to stipple something on your own is an inexpensive soldering iron such as a Weller from RadioShack. The first item I ever stippled was the baseplate from a Magpul PMAG. I figured if I screwed up, I would just replace it with a new Ranger Plate. I stippled the 40-round PMAG (pictured) by melting one dot at a time and stacking them like bricks. You can try different patterns as you become more comfortable with your technique. Stippling can be very time consuming, but the results speak for themselves. It’s also a great way to keep from accidentally trading magazines with your friends at the range. However, keep an eye on them; they might not-so-accidentally end up in someone else’s range bag.
It’s always interesting to hear folks describe the performance of their upgraded aftermarket trigger. The feel of a quality trigger can be described as breaking like a carrot, candy cane, icicle or even dry spaghetti.Before the days of fancy drop-in parts, improving an AR-15 trigger required a gunsmith or skilled hand to adjust the factory-standard equipment. Regardless, the same holds true now as it did back then; enhancing the trigger can improve the abilities of a poor shooter, while giving skilled shooters a serviceable advantage. According to David Fortier of Shotgun News, “You can have almost any style of trigger you can think of. Single-stage, two-stage, National Match, tactical, 3-gun, adjustable, non-adjustable, straight or curved bow, cassette or combat.” Dozens of manufacturers sell upgraded triggers in the various styles mentioned by Fortier. Namely, a handful of those manufacturers include CMC Triggers, Geissele, Rock River Arms, Timney and Wilson Combat.
Back-Up Iron Sights
Shooting with iron sights is becoming something of a lost art among many newer AR-15 owners who attach high-tech optics and never learn the fundamentals of aiming with open sights.Flip-up iron sights are conveniently used as back-ups, especially when paired with red-dot optics and a modular, free-float handguard extending over a low-profile gas block. Many folks choose the value-based Magpul MBUS, but they are not the best choice for holding zero, nor does their polymer construction offer the resilience of steel and aircraft-grade aluminum. Magpul recently introduced the MBUS Pro with steel construction, a significant improvement over polymer. Right now, my AR-15 is equipped with a set of Folding Battlesights from Troy. Although they’ve held a zero after firing thousands of rounds of .223, I’m considering replacing them with a set of elevation-marked sights from Knights Armament, also available in a 45-degree offset flip-up variation. Another pair of offset sights are the Diamondhead D-45s, which lay flat on the receiver and fit under magnified optics when flipped down, but are spring-loaded and swing out to the side of the receiver with the press of a button. Quality sights are also available from Daniel Defense, Midwest Industries, Precision Reflex and Yankee Hill Machine. No matter what sights you choose, make sure to get on the range and become familiar with their operation.
Standard U.S. G.I. charging handles have proven themselves in combat around the globe. They’re also inexpensive and lightweight, but are not the greatest choice for those seeking to trick out an AR-15.The small latch on mil-spec charging handles have a long, gritty throw that can be hard to engage while wearing gloves, and are especially inconvenient for left-handed operators. Some will also argue these charging handles are outdated due to the positioning of optics and back-up sight configurations on modern flat-top upper receivers—which seem to play well with ambidextrous charging handles. Replacing the charging handle may seem inconsequential, but it’s a small touch that really can make a big difference in the look, feel and operation of an AR-15. A few options include the BCM Ambi Gunfighter, PRI Gas Buster and Rainier Arms Raptor charging handles. I tend to favor the Raptor because its latches have a very short throw and are held in place with substantially larger roll pins than G.I. models—not to mention it just looks like it belongs on the Batmobile.
Ambidextrous Safety Selectors
Commonly used by competition shooters, ambidextrous safety selectors are friendly to southpaws and right-handed shooters alike. Placing a safety selector on both sides of the receiver is beneficial—especially in 3-gun matches—for a number of reasons.Courses of fire are often designed with weak-handed target engagement in mind, forcing competitors to shoot from various positions behind cover and around obstacles. Also, range safety officers can more conveniently identify the safe condition of an AR-15 after running a course, when instructing shooters to unload, show clear and make safe. Aftermarket ambi safety selectors include offerings from Battle Arms Development, DPMS, Noveske Rifleworks, Rock River Arms and Troy Industries. As a right-handed shooter, I prefer using a Battle Arms Development Bad-Ass lever with the “short-thin” profile selector installed on the right side of the receiver. Compared to other available sizes—the short-thin variation is just big enough to engage weak-handed—it minimizes potential interference with my strong hand during normal operation and is less likely to snag on gear and clothing than full-size selectors. Always be sure to test and re-test for proper function after changing the safety selector on your rifle.
Pictured here in zombie green, anti-rotational trigger and hammer pins are a fairly unknown modification available for the lower parts of an AR-15. Standard trigger group pins rotate a small amount while shooting. Over time, the rotation can lead to unnecessary wear on the pins and slightly expand their respective holes in the lower receiver. Though relatively uncommon, a known failure point exists where the pins can become loose and eventually walk out of place. Mil-spec trigger pins are also known to break on rare occasion under the repeated stress of the hammer contacting the disconnector.A non-rotating pin kit from KNS Precision prevents both potentially catastrophic failures from happening. The kit comes with replacement hammer and trigger pins machined from 416 stainless steel, which are locked in place by two anti-creep retainers. The upgraded stainless steel pins are stronger and less prone to breakage than mil-spec pins, and also remove free-play in the trigger assembly. Anti-creep retainers eliminate unnecessary wear on the pins and lower receiver due to pin rotation.
Let’s face it, your buffer tube deserves to be outfitted with a stock of greater stature than a wiggly, old, generic, six-position, collapsible stock. Obviously, the term “generic” has no business being associated with a tricked-out AR-15. More importantly, correctly pairing the right stock with the specific configuration of each individual rifle will result in a well-balanced and ultimately more effective platform.AR-15 stocks come in two major styles—fixed and collapsible. Fixed stocks are naturally sturdy and offer an advantage for precision shooting. However, many modern, collapsible stocks have 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. Although it’s popular these days, the Magpul MOE stock isn’t far from generic. The CTR’s positive-locking feature is a huge improvement over the loose-rattling MOE. It’s generally better suited for lighter carbines and SBRs, since its 8.8-ounce weight fails to adequately balance out front-heavy uppers with longer barrels, quad rails and forward-mounted attachments. The robust 23.4-ounce UBR is better suited for uppers with 16- to 18-inch barrels and rifle-length gas systems. UBR stocks have a solid fit with minimal play on the buffer tube, making them a rugged option for those who desire a collapsible stock without sacrificing the stability of a fixed stock. When door breeching and butt-striking exercises are warranted by tactical entry teams or mall ninja fanboy fantasies, the UBR is also adaptable with an aluminum strike plate for close quarters maneuvers. Outside Magpul’s cult following exist several other high-quality collapsible stocks worthy of attachment to the finest AR’s out there. Notably, the 13.5-ounce LMT SOPMOD and 13.75-ounce LaRue RAT balance well with most 14.5- to 16-inch carbines. SOPMOD stocks are also suited for precision-AR builds when equipped with the Stock Attachment Precision Rifle (S.A.P.R.) cheek piece from Battleline Industries. Adding a S.A.P.R. tailors the balance of a rifle by adding 17.5 ounces to the buttplate of the SOPMOD, while providing an elevated, adjustable cheek pad for proper eye height and relief when using scoped optics. Also developed for the specifications of elite tactical operators are the 14-ounce EMod and 9.4-ounce IMod stocks from Vltor. Both of which are rugged, solid-fitting options with waterproof storage compartments and pronounced cheek welds. The lighter IMod stock also comes in a hybrid, clubfoot variation which better supports prone or rested shooting positions. For those looking to shoot rapid-fire strings through an AR-15, check out the Slide Fire SSAR-15 OGR. Slide Fire stocks enable the shooter to trip the trigger faster—also known as bump-firing—which is a whole lot of fun at the range, or when hoardes of zombies come knocking at your door. The SSAR-15 OGR stock also has a lockout feature to disable the bump-firing function, resulting in normal semi-automatic operation. Completely legal, each stock comes with a BATF approval letter.
Choosing the right barrel for an AR-15 depends almost entirely on the intended use of the rifle. Selecting a barrel can come down to some very intensive considerations in terms of terminal ballistics. Things to look for when shopping for a barrel include: length, profile, cartridge chambering, twist rate, steel quality, gas system lengths and barrel lining.With enough permutations to make an Ancient Greek mathematician abandon numbers and take up Roman peasantry, prescribing any one barrel for your tricked-out AR-15 is impractical and equally foolish. Any amount of companies between one and infinity offer quality barrels, but here are several prominent companies to consider in your shopping process: Bravo Company, Daniel Defense, Lewis Machine & Tool, Noveske Rifleworks, Pac-Nor, Rock River Arms, White Oak Armament, Wilson Combat and Yankee Hill Machine.
There’s nothing like a fancy free-floating handguard to make an AR-15 ooze excellence. Apart from aesthetics, free-floating handguards offer slight increases in accuracy over traditional two-piece, non-floating designs. These differences are noticeable when using a sling or vertical grip with a non-free-floating handguard. A forward grip position can transfer tension and stress to the barrel, resulting in inconsistent point of impact.Free-floating handguards correct this problem with a single, solid mounting point where the barrel meets the upper receiver, therefore preventing tension from being transferred to the barrel when using a forward grip position. Free-floating handguards also have the advantage of MIL-STD-1913 rails, enabling the attachment of nearly any accessory you can dream of. Common free-floating handguards have quad-rails extending their entire length at the 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock positions, but the emerging trend is going towards lighter, modular variations with removable rail segments and directly-attachable accessories. Examples include the Alexander Arms MK10, Daniel Defense MFR, Geissele SMR, Noveske NSR and Viking Tactics Alpha Rail. Another overlooked advantage of free-floating handguards is the ability to mount optics forward of the upper receiver. Specifically, folks using a night vision device need the extra space. Also, the combination of a holographic sight, magnifier and backup iron sight often warrant the need for more rail space on the upper.
Choosing an AR-15 optic depends on the intended purpose of the rifle. Whether your rifle is tailored toward competitive, tactical or hunting purposes, there’s an optic to fit any need. Optics vary in price and style, but be prepared to dedicate at least 25 percent of the price of a brand new rifle toward a quality sighting system. Many folks skimp on optics because they budget all of their funds toward their boomstick, only to end up buying twice and using the cheap optic as a doorstop.Red-dot, reflex and holographic sights have become popular among competitive and tactical shooters for quick target acquisition. Examples include the Aimpoint Micro H-1, EOTech XPS 2-1 and Trijicon SRS. Paired with a 3x flip-to-side magnifier, these sights are capable of accurately engaging targets at varying distance out to about 300 yards. A growing trend in reflex sights are micro-sized sights—commonly mounted at an offset, 45-degree angle for quick transitions to short-range targets. These sights include the Leupold DeltaPoint, Trijicon RMR and Zeiss Victory Compact Point. Adaptable to many shooting objectives are variable-power scopes, making a rifle flexible for many different purposes. Optics such as the Bushnell AR-Optics 1-4x Throw Down PCL or the Leupold M6C1 offer a rifleman the flexibility to use an AR-15 for anything from 3-gun courses to long shots on prairie dogs.
Muzzle devices redirect gases exiting the barrel to reduce flash, tame recoil, suppress sound or a combination of each. The intended use of a rifle often decides what type of muzzle device is attached. Most barrels longer than 14.5 inches are equipped with 1/2x28 threading for the attachment of a muzzle device.Flash hiders reduce the visible signature of ignited gases and ejecta as they exit the barrel. The most common style are A2 flash hiders, which come standard on most out-of-the box rifles on the market. Upgraded flash hiders such as the Advanced Armament Blackout, Smith Enterprise Vortex, Surefire SF3P and Yankee Hill Phantom are machined for more effective flash reduction and the adaptability to quickly attach a sound suppressor. Muzzle brakes and compensators reduce recoil by forcing gases to expand and then bleed off through ports and holes machined at various angles to barrel axis. Though they’re often loud and create a large dust signature when shooting prone, aggressive brakes greatly reduce muzzle flip, allowing a shooter to maintain an active sight picture. Competition shooters rely on muzzle brakes for quick, accurate follow-up shots and double-taps. Common muzzle brakes include the Benny Hill Rolling Thunder, LaRue SJC Titan and Surefire SFMB. Suppressors are designed to capture the energy of burning propellant gases and funnel them through a series of baffles and chambers. While suppressors will not tame the “crack” of a bullet breaking the sound barrier, noise reduction from a quality suppressor typically reduces muzzle blast by 20 to 40dB—a reduction your neighbors and bystanders at the range will be thankful for. Common suppressor manufacturers include Advanced Armament Corp., Surefire and Yankee Hill Machine.
Nickel-Coated Bolt Carrier Groups
Whether or not you believe the hype surrounding nickel-boron (NiB) and NP3-coated bolt carriers, the fact of the matter is they’re right at home on tricked-out AR-15s. The intended advantages of nickel-coated carriers are increased reliability and consistent functioning when exposed to dirt and debris.Meticulous clean freaks will also notice how it’s a bit easier to clean nickel-coated bolt carriers than traditional parkerized or phosphated carriers. Nickel-boron and NP3 bolt groups have also been touted to function effectively with less lube than traditional carriers, making them an attractive option for folks using suppressors, which can cause heavy carbon fouling in the upper receiver. Carbon fouling can make many gun oils dry up or become tacky, which decreases reliability and becomes a nuisance to clean. Several manufacturers offer nickel-plated carriers, which are often constructed with higher quality steel than mil-spec. Examples include offerings from FailZero, Les Baer Custom, Rainier Arms, Spike’s Tactical and Wilson Combat.
Unless you drop big bucks on a pair of night vision goggles and an infrared laser, you’ll need an adequate weapon light if you expect to engage targets when the sun goes down.Attaching a light is easy these days, especially when mounted to a free-float rail system. When shopping for a rifle-mounted light, it’s important to make sure the light is tailored for rifles and not specifically for pistols. Bulbs on pistol lights are known to be short-lived when attached to a rifle because they’re not engineered to adequately manage the shock from the recoil of larger rifle cartridges. A flashlight’s lumen output is another major factor to consider, but often overlooked is the shape of the projected beam. While pistol lights are generally designed to throw a broad-spilling flood light for clearing rooms, choosing a rifle light depends on the intended use of the weapon. An SBR used for close-range target engagement probably shouldn’t be paired with the beam concentration of a TLR-1 Game Spotter. Short- to mid-range applications may be better suited with the InForce WML or Surefire X300 Ultra. Lights for medium- to long-range applications include the Insight M3X LED, Elzetta ZFL-M60 and the Surefire Scout series. There are also many light and laser combination units available, though lasers don’t make much sense on the average civilian carbine other than their intimidation factor. A few popular light/laser combination units include the Crimson Trace MVF, Insight M6X, Streamlight TLR-2 HL and Viridian X5L-RS.
Slings and Sling Mounting Hardware
Let’s face it, if there’s ever a time when you need to be on foot with a long gun, you better have a sufficient means of weapon retention other than your own two hands. Whether that time occurs during combat, emergency, natural disaster or simply leaving the friendly confines of the bench rest, having and properly using a sling is a huge asset.But which sling configuration should you use? Slings come in several variations based on how many points of contact they make with the weapon, adjustability and attachment hardware. Your choice of sling largely depends on the configuration and intended use of the rifle, as well as personal preference of the operator. Slings are generally categorized between one-, two- and three-point configurations, each of which have its own tactical advantages and disadvantages. Common sling attachment points on the weapon include the buttstock, lower receiver end-plate adapter, gas block sling loop and handguard. Quality slings are readily available from Army surplus stores, as well as Blackhawk, Blue Force Gear, Magpul, Specter Gear and Viking Tactics. I find the Magpul MS3 QD works well with my 16-inch mid-length for competition, home-defense and training drills because it can easily transition between one- and two-point configurations based on the situation. Attaching a sling to your tricked-out AR-15 is possible with the aftermarket stocks listed in this gallery, as well as hardware from companies such as from GG&G, Midwest Industries, Magpul, Noveske, Tactical Link and Troy Industries.
The upper and lower receivers on an AR-15 are the foundation of the platform, housing its mechanical guts and serving as the point to which the other parts are anchored.Receivers consist of an upper and lower portion, with the serial-numbered lower being the only part considered the firearm itself. Upper and lower receivers come in two major variations—forged and billet. As their names imply, forged receivers are made by forming a hot block of aluminum between two forging dies. Billet receivers start as a solid block of aluminum, and metal is removed with a CNC milling machine, comparable to how a sculptor carves a statue from a solid piece of granite. As the military standard, forged receivers are the most prevalent and are considered less expensive to produce. Commonly made from stronger 7075-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum, forged receivers are less aesthetically-pleasing than 6061-grade billet variations—though many manufacturers are now turning to 7075-T6 aluminum for their billet receivers. Billet receivers can really become the centerpiece of a tricked-out AR-15. Their custom lines offer more character than the standard forged, mil-spec models. Popular billet receivers are available from Black Rain Ordnance, CMT Tactical, LaRue Tactical, Mega Arms, Patriot Ordnance Factory and Seekins Precision. An important note, upper and lower receivers from various manufacturers will typically fit each other, but buying them as designated pair usually results in the best fit and finish.
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