Welcome back to our series on AR-15 build tips. In our last blog post, we covered the tools you need to keep on your workbench to successfully build your first or next AR-15 rifle. While many choose to build their own rifle, many more choose to purchase one instead. For some, this is an economical choice. Purchasing a rifle off the rack, however, doesn’t preclude you from customizing your rifle to your needs. But with so many accessories and parts now available on the AR market, it’s hard to choose the right ones and to decide which one to purchase first.
While we can’t direct you towards which parts are right for your rifle (besides, of course, the ones offered here at Rail Scales), we can help you decide which ones you should upgrade on your rifle first. Take a look at our list of six parts you should upgrade first.
Recently, we wrote a pretty extensive blog on the types of AR-15 triggers and their advantages and disadvantages. You can head over there to check it out and find the right trigger for your needs.
But to summarize our work, here’s why you need to upgrade your AR-15 trigger first. Unless you’ve purchased a truly high-end rifle, the standard mil-spec rifle trigger is going to be characterized by two words: gritty and heavy. While these are qualities we expect in a Clint Eastwood film, they are not qualities we want in our rifle triggers. That’s not to say that these aren’t perfectly serviceable triggers, but a new trigger can dramatically improve your shooting experience. A lighter and smoother trigger makes for more accurate and more precise shots.
In a similar line of thought, a new trigger guard can go a long way in enhancing your range experience. Stock trigger guards are often flat and difficult to use with gloves. You can find much nicer trigger guards for as little as five dollars and they can be easily installed along with your new trigger.
If Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” is constantly running through your head and you’re building a Vietnam-style M-16A1 clone, you can ignore this advice. However, if you’re building a rifle that is meant for use at the range, self-defense, or hunting, a free float barrel will offer you a low-cost and minimal effort way to improve the accuracy of your rifle.
This process is fairly simple to do. Simply remove the existing handguard and A2-style front sight on your AR-15 along with the current barrel. Replace them with a free float barrel and an adjustable gas block. Purchasing an adjustable gas block gives you the added benefit of reducing your rifle’s recoil and allowing you to fine tune your rifle cycling. Plus, many gas blocks are now offered with Picatinny rail segments that allow you to mount a folding front site to them.
If you served in the military or have a friend or family member who served in the military, you’re likely well aware of the standard U.S. G.I. steel magazines. While these are perfect for military use, mostly because the individual soldiers not paying for them, they aren’t something you should make a regular part of your range trips. Instead, invest in any number of the high-quality magazines that are now available on the market. Made from rugged and durable polymers with crisply tuned springs and followers with smooth and reliable actions, using the right magazine can often eliminate many of the most common rifle malfunctions before you’re even aware of them.
In many cases, these magazines are the same price if not more affordable than the steel magazines available through surplus. Not only that, there’s no need to clean them when you first get them, as they haven’t been fouled by hundreds of hours of range use or through combat. Additionally, you’ll find that these magazines are available in a variety of different capacities that better meet your range time needs than the simple 30 round G.I. magazines.
Realistically, your rifle is only as accurate as you are. However, the right set of shooting optics can seriously enhance your shooting precision. Currently, the market is flooded with a variety of optics, some inspired by military service and some designed specifically for civilian use. All of them share the common purpose of helping to identify targets more readily and make longer shots.
New optics can cost as much or as little as you want. You can start by upgrading your stock sites with aftermarket flip up sites that save weight and space on your rifle. You can also invest in some basic red dot sites. These make for great shooting aids that can help you acquire targets more quickly and ensure that your follow-up shots stay on target. For those interested in long-range shooting, there is any number of scopes that can help you drill targets at hundreds of yards out. Some offer variable magnification power, allowing you to use them for close quarters as well as distance work.
Whatever optic you choose to use just remember to buy the correct mount for them. You’ll find mounts for nearly any optic designed to fit your Picatinny, KeyMod, or M-LOK rail systems.
For those who are regulars at the range, you'll soon find that the mil-spec A2 grip has a "universal" fit. What this means is that it is universally bad and it doesn't really fit anyone's hands particularly well. If you're spending a lot of time at the range or carrying a rifle for work or on patrol you'll want to quickly invest in a new grip. The market is now flush with grips that offer improved ergonomics and control. In many cases, these groups are textured so you don't lose hold of them in slippery or wet conditions. Others are even modular so that you can make a grip that best fits your hand whether or not you're wearing gloves.
This upgrade is one for utility and for looks. An often forgotten part of the AR-15 is the charging handle. Investing in an upgraded AR-15 charging handle offers you a host of benefits. First off is added durability. In many cases, your mil-spec charging handle will not stand up to regular wear and abuse if you frequent shooting ranges. Additionally, many aftermarket charging handles are now offered in ambidextrous models. This is ideal for left-handed shooters or for those who are worried about being able to operate their rifle one-handed.
If you're using the standard Picatinny rail system, your fingers are already aware of the abuse they take after just a few rounds at the range. This is why it's important to cover unused rail sections with rail covers. When these covers are textured, they offer increased leverage and purchase on the rifle leading to added control. You'll also find that rail covers immediately add a custom look to your rifle. Rail covers are practical in other ways too. For instance, you can mark the rail cover closest to your barrel with the caliber of the rifle. This quick visual reminder can prevent unwanted complications at the range when you're shooting multiple rifles in multiple calibers.