September 17, 2013
By Dusty Gibson
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
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"http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=12835831" target="_blank">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
, Rock River Arms
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"https://danieldefense.com/components-parts/sights.html" target="_blank">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"http://www.bravocompanyusa.com/BCMGUNFIGHTER-Charging-Handle-GFH-Mod-44-AMBI-p/bcm-gfh-mod-a44-556ambi.htm" target="_blank">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"http://www.battlearmsdevelopment.com/badass.php" target="_blank">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"http://www.knsprecisioninc.com/gun-parts-and-accessories/kns-lower-receiver-parts/gen-2-non-rotating-trigger-hammer-pins.html" target="_blank">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"http://store.magpul.com/product/MAG331/34" target="_blank">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
. 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.
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"http://www.gunsandammo.com/shooting/blogs/for-the-love-of-competition/" target="_blank">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"http://www.aimpoint.com/products/all-products/product-singleview/product/Micro%20H-1/" target="_blank">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"http://www.advanced-armament.com/BLACKOUT-Flash-Hiders_c_31.html" target="_blank">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"http://www.brownells.com/rifle-parts/barrel-parts/compensators/ar-15-m16-ar-style-308-benny-hill-rolling-thunder-compensator-prod26977.aspx" target="_blank">Benny Hill Rolling Thunder, LaRue SJC Titan
and Surefire SFMB
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.
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"http://www.failzero.com/buynow/ar-15-products/ar-15-bcg-kit-with-no-hammer-detail.html" target="_blank">FailZero, Les Baer Custom
, Rainier Arms
, Spike's Tactical
and Wilson Combat
The upper and lower receivers"http://www.blackrainordnance.com/products/category/receivers/receivers" target="_blank">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.
Slings and Sling Mounting Hardware
Let's face it, if there's ever a time when you need to be"http://www.blackhawk.com/catalog/Tactical,1342.htm" target="_blank">Blackhawk, Blue Force Gear
, 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"http://www.gggaz.com/sling-attachments-en/ar15-m16-sling-mounts.html" target="_blank">GG&G, Midwest Industries
, Tactical Link
and Troy Industries
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