The MOST Important Upgrade for Your New AR-15 Rifle

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Nick L for TTAG

[ED: A Foghorn classic from back in the day. The advice is still every bit as good, though there are more options out there now.]

There’s little doubt that the AR-15 is the most popular rifle design around. It’s been called America’s rifle. Just about everyone seems to have one. But while the design is solid, it can definitely be improved.

As a more than 60-year-old design, it has aged extremely well, but there’s one specific improvement that can be made to the average AR-15 pattern rifle that costs less than $50, is easy to install, and yet can make all the difference in terms of the accuracy and usefulness of the firearm. What is this improvement I’m talking about?

The trigger.

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Nick L for TTAG

There’s a depressing trend in AR-15 builds these days where manufacturers use top-shelf, state-of-the-art parts to build most of the gun, and then cheap-out on the trigger. Just about every AR-15 I’ve tested recently suffers from this malady, namely using a “mil-spec” trigger that probably costs about $10 to finish off a $1,000+ rifle.

With a modern sporting rifle, there are definitely some parts you can skimp on and get away with it. A better bolt carrier is nice, but won’t really make much of a difference in performance. A better stock is appreciated, but the “mil-spec” stuff that gets mass produced gets the job done just fine.

One place where scrimping really hurts performance, though, is the trigger. The reason is that while a substandard bolt carrier or stock might not affect accuracy much (if at all), a better trigger can cut group sizes in half all by itself — something my one-time roommate Tom McHale proved once more in his article on this same topic.

Trigger control is critical to accuracy. An inconsistent or excessively stacking trigger will lead to inconsistent shot placement. But a consistent, clean trigger will allow the shooter to make that precisely-aimed shot much easier.

Jeremy S for TTAG

A new trigger won’t make every rifle and rifleman into a Carlos Hathcock clone — only training and practice can do that. But the difference between a stock trigger and a match grade trigger will be like night and day, no matter the skill level.

I can anticipate the next question. What’s the best drop-in trigger for the AR? There’s no single “best” trigger for the AR-15, but here are a few I prefer.

  • ALG Defense QMS Trigger – $45
    An excellent replacement that provides a stiff, yet crisp single stage trigger at an amazing price.
  • Timney Trigger – $209.95
    No mucking around with pins and springs, this one-piece trigger drops straight into your receiver and provides the crispest single stage pull on the market.
  • Hiperfire 24E – $215
    The main claim to fame is the adjustability — you can set the trigger pull weight to suit your style. Also it’s extremely reliable.
  • Geissele 2-Stage (G2S) Trigger – $165
    The best 2-stage trigger at the best price.

Also see Jeremy’s drop-in trigger round-up post.

There are some who believe that upgrading a rifle is a waste of time, that the money could be better spent on ammo and range time. That’s true to an extent. There’s no substitute for practice when it comes to shooting accurately.

But when your equipment is working against you, it makes the training process exponentially harder. For as little as $50, a new shooter can swap out their mediocre-at-best stock trigger and make a huge improvement in an AR’s shootability.

So what are you waiting for?

comments

  1. avatar No one of consequence says:

    I’m getting quite fond of LaRue’s two stage triggers.

    1. avatar AGuyWithAGun says:

      +1 It just takes them a month to ship but I have a few

      1. avatar Spin Doctor says:

        I CMC mine all the way. Flat face, like my ex.

        1. avatar Ed Schrade says:

          I install the single stage 3 1/2 pound single stage trigger and the KynShot hydraulic buffer and all the rest is secondary. CMC trigger.

    2. avatar Simon says:

      I was just going to say. For $87, they can’t be beat.

    3. avatar BLAMMO says:

      LaRue MBT 2S is an outstanding value. I could spend twice as much on a Geissele or a Timney but I would be wasting the difference on my ego. I wouldn’t shoot any better.

      1. avatar No one of consequence says:

        Likewise. I can tell the difference between a bone-stock milspec trigger and a decent replacement 1- or 2-stage trigger. Beyond that, however … well, I need to get a lot better to have the next stage make a difference.

        1. avatar No one of consequence says:

          edit: step up, not stage. (A three-stage trigger, now … Hmmm…)

    4. avatar ORCON says:

      Hard to believe Larue MBT-2 didn’t even get a mention. It definitely punches above it’s weight class.

    5. avatar TCQ says:

      I agree, for $87.00 I will go with LaRue every time.

    6. avatar propeine says:

      Best value agreed. 99% of the way to a G2S for 99 dollars. If they didn’t send me so many goodies it would probably be even cheaper but you cannot go wrong the the Larue trigger!

  2. avatar D says:

    LaRue is tops for both quality and durability. I know a highly respected mil trainer who broke 9 Geisseles in one year. He switch to LaRue 3 years ago and never had a breakage.

    1. avatar Larry says:

      I call BS.

      I have had a Geissele SSA-E since 2012 in one my rifles that has probably 9,000 rounds through it at least. Trigger is a smooth as day 1.

      1. avatar D says:

        Apparently this mil instructor’s rifles see far more action than yours.

      2. avatar D says:

        His rifles see more in a week than yours see in a year

    2. avatar Anony Mouse says:

      What a load of BS!

  3. avatar Craig in IA says:

    For what I use AR-15s and AR10 for, Rise Armament 140 is a low cost drop-in that makes a vast improvement. They are often on sale af Dvor and Brownell’s. I’ve also gone with “”anti-walk” pins with these.

    1. avatar Carlos Danger says:

      What do you think of Black Rain Ordnance compared to Rise Armament? The RA SST and the BRO DIT seem on par with each other, but I like the looks of the DIT a little more, but it’s also more expensive. According to Jeremy’s article, the specs are nearly identical, but I’ve read hit or miss reviews on the RA trigger more. Though it’s also a more popular trigger than the BRO, so there’s bound to be more dissatisfied customers.

      1. avatar Craig in IA says:

        Besides a “match” standard-type trigger I bought at Brownell’s a few years back (don;t remember the brand) I’ve only used the RA140s. I have something like 11 AR 15s I’ve built over the years and primarily consider them toys. I started building them back around 1993 when the “ban” became imminent and Eagle Arms was across the river so we bought a bunch of theirs. I did find that I had to modify (as in, grind) a bit of the plate material off of the RA drop in to fit in the Eagle Arms action pocket- no go. (This after consulting the Rise Armament customer support.) In other receivers as well as the 80% ones there was no problem.

    2. avatar Shallnot BeInfringed says:

      My .300 BLK AR pistol build is nearly complete, and I’ve equipped it with an RA-140. Although I can’t compare it to other aftermarket triggers, the difference between this drop-in trigger and stock mil-spec is like night and day – there’s no comparison. Short takeup, almost no creep, and crisp 3.5 lb break, all for $90 on sale at Brownells! It’s the second-best trigger I own*, out of 14-15. For that kind of price (assuming it ever falls that low again), I will drop one into every AR I build – I see no reason to look elsewhere.

      (* Second only to the sweeeeet Timney I fitted to my Ruger 77/22 Varmint tack-driver… zero takeup, zero creep, there’s simply no movement at all… until it breaks like a tiny icicle at 1.75 lbs.! Ahhhhhh…)

  4. avatar PWinKY says:

    Surprised no one mentioned CMC in this article (they’re in the comparison I think). I love my CMC flat trigger and they’ve been on sale the last week or so at Ky Gun Co. Thought about picking up one just to stash, they’re great and a lot cheaper than Timney etc., usually under $150 (saw them for sale around $108!!!!!).

    Agree that this is a huge upgrade and the best part is that any old schmuck can do it themselves with minimal expertise.

  5. avatar Curtis in IL says:

    I read the title of the article and before clicking on it, I said to myself, “TRIGGER!”

    If you’ve ever shot a Hi-Point carbine, that’s pretty much what a mil-spec trigger feels like. You deserve better.

    The only hard part is, there are so many choices out there, it’s hard to decide. Read Jeremy’s roundup linked above. I bought my wife a Velocity trigger for her AR and she loves it, but there are lots of great triggers out there.

    1. avatar FMJAY says:

      I thought the same thing until I said the pictured AR without ironsights. Two definite must buys, decent trigger and irons you can see and shoot with

  6. avatar Victoriaillinois says:

    It’s articles like this that are a “learning experience” for me. I don’t own an AR, but would like to. I’m reading all I can on it and appreciate all your opinions. I did the same when I bought my revolver and semi. Now I need a rifle. (Chuck Hawks helped me decide what shotgun to buy. Smart guy, along with Randy Wakeman.)

    1. avatar Defens says:

      There are so many options for a reliable, accurate, economical first AR for your collection. That said, it would be hard to go wrong with a Smith & Wesson M&P Sport in one of its various flavors.

      1. avatar Gene Frick says:

        I like the M&P, but do a comparison with the Ruger AR556 , a little less money and to me it was hands down the better shooter, Core is worth checking out also , tho it is a little more money. Do your research and ask lots of questions and you will be pleased with your investment.

        1. avatar Widdler says:

          +1 for the ruger, wife has hers about 3yrs now and put close to 4000rds threw it. We’ve only recently started doing upgrades. It’s a good shooter right off the shelf, Dpms oracle may be another to check out. Friend got his real cheap, just needed sights. Shoots good, and both haven’t given any issues. Oracle is a commercial buffer if I’m not mistaken, in case someone’s looking to upgrade.

        2. avatar Darkman says:

          I went with the original evil black rifle. A Bushmaster XM-15 E2S. Have shot the Ruger 556 and the M&P 15. Easy 5000 rounds through the Bushy. Wouldn’t trade for either. Just my opinion. To each their own. Keep Your Powder Dry.

      2. avatar Mark says:

        Buy BCM. Unlike Smith and Wesson, they don’t reside in MA, which is a Communist state.

    2. avatar No one of consequence says:

      If you are at all mechanically inclined, and know someone who builds their own ARs, ask them to walk you through it.

      Assembling the lower yourself lets you learn about the guts “in depth” and select parts at your desired quality level from the get-go. (Trigger, but also stock and pistol grip are some of your major “interfaces” to throw rifle, and you can get them to suit you, not a manufacturer’s best guess at “average.”)

      There are many good options for fully-assembled, ready-to-go uppers if you don’t want to do that yourself. In fact I would encourage an “off the shelf” upper for your first build, since that’s where all of the really critical stuff is (bolt, barrel, etc.) for safe functioning.

  7. avatar Matt o says:

    You could make a fair argument that an optic is the most important thing you can put on an ar but with the low cost of a good trigger there isn’t a reason to be satisfied with mil-spec

  8. avatar Kroglikepie says:

    Elftmann Tactical
    LaRue
    CMC

    Pick one and rejoice.

  9. avatar bontai Joe says:

    I miss Nick’s contributions to this forum.

  10. avatar Mark N. says:

    I started out with an ALG base model, which had no creep but was very stiff, and eventually upgraded the springs to the ALG-QMS level for $10. Still not a target trigger, but it works well. For my son’s (now my) AR 10 build, I bought a Rise for less than $100. Not as light as I would like, but a very nice drop in. I like the hidden locking set screws.

    1. avatar Craig in IA says:

      One could also argue that “upgrading” from the standard varmint caliber to 6.8 or .300 BLK might be a good move as well. 🙂

  11. avatar Yarbles says:

    The author and the article are spot-on.

    Price and performance considered, the LARUE MBT is awfully hard to beat.

    The Geissele SSA-E is still my fave for a sniper type distance shot, but not by much.

  12. avatar Chris T in KY says:

    Compared to the trigger on my Army issued M16, my Daniel Defense AR-15 has a great trigger right out of the box. Maybe if I compete with it I would consider getting an improved trigger. But having a expensive trigger does not help you with marksmanship. You always need to practice, practice , practice. (smile)

  13. avatar Andrew Lias says:

    I’ve gotta say that you CAN work with a stock trigger if you’ve got a little bit of enginuity. The mods are well out there. The best way to do this is:

    -Bob the spur of the hammer off. It’s for FA use anyways so who cares. The reduced mass lets you do the next mod.
    -Add a set of JP reduced power springs. This drops the trigger pull to about 4.5lbs
    -Go to the hardware store and get a 1/4 UNF set screw and a drill/tap. I had to grind the tap a bit on the smooth part to get it to go deep enough. Drill your grip screw and tap it all the way through. Throw some loctite on your set screw and stick it in. Adjust it to pull the takeup out of your trigger. Re-install grip.
    -Polish the surfaces SPARINGLY if your trigger feels like it’s full of grit and/or made with a bench grinder. They’re surfaced hardened and we don’t need any accidents here. I actually left my hammer alone and only did the surface of the trigger its self.
    -Oil everything with a nice oil

    cumulatively this made a huge difference in my gun. You’re talking $15ish for everything.

  14. avatar Kevin says:

    I have been very happy with my Ruger Elite 452 trigger. Very clean, very predictable. MSRP is $159 but I just found it online for $130.

  15. avatar Jay in Florida says:

    What am I waiting for?? Ill tell you an outdoor anyplace to shoot my rifles.
    Not a decent place within a 2 hour drive from here in Delray.
    Please don’t anyone even suggest Markham Park.
    Its a craphole run by Nazis.

    1. avatar possum says:

      Could be worse, most of my long range rifles were burnt up in a house fire, not that I’ would have a place to shoot them anymore.

  16. avatar arc says:

    +1 for Geissle, best trigger I’ve ever used, equally expensive though.

    I disagree with going cheap on a buttstock. I can overcome mil-spec triggers since I’ve used them for years but a wobbly, shoulder digging, cheek slipping buttstock is just garbage. Magpul ACS, affordable, FAT, and doesn’t wobble.

  17. avatar Defens says:

    I was thinking a piece of 6 or 8 inch PVC pipe, a couple of end caps, and some VPI paper wrap.

  18. avatar Mike Marquis says:

    I recommend Williams set triggers for varmints or distance targets. Send your lower in with manufacturer’s/mil-spec parts (they will replace parts if necessary to aquire the pull weight, and add its $ to the invoice) – and receive back an incredible trigger!

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      Wait, now. Yeah, I’m old, but when I learned about set triggers, we were discussing replacing a single trigger with a pair of triggers, you can pull the front one (maybe 10-12 lbs) to get a bang, or you can pull the rear one first, after which the front one is somewhere like 1-1.5 lbs. Is that the “set trigger” you’re talking about? Because it does not seem practical for AR-style rifles.

  19. avatar jimmy james says:

    The Geissle rapid fire trigger that is proprietary to Brownells when on sale for $150 is the bomb.

  20. avatar Hoyden says:

    Can’t remember which one I have, but it replicates the stock Colt trigger, but smoother from harder smoother steel. All silverish metal.

    Foghorn said it would be a good option for chimps behind the trigger who can be outshot by most any weapon.

    No change in weight, reset, etc.

    $70ish.

  21. avatar Phil LA says:

    I liked this article more the first time I read it years ago.

  22. avatar strych9 says:

    Two things:

    First, there are companies that put nice triggers in stock rifles.

    Second, while as I’ve said numerous times before I’ve never understood the whole trigger argument thing, if you’re going to do this the right way you learn on the shitty trigger and then move up to the nicer one. If you’ve got the skill to run the inferior gear reasonably well the improvement you see when upgrading will be significantly more than if you just do the upgrade. Plus this ensures that if for some reason you ever get downgraded you know how to run the base-model gear well enough that it doesn’t much matter.

  23. avatar former water walker says:

    Oh man my $372 S&W Sport is getting expensive. Optics,forend,pistol grip and now a trigger. I hope I’ll be able to shoot it in ILLinois in other than SHTF. I doubt my not bad stock trigger will matter😄😊😏

    1. avatar strych9 says:

      Unless you’re going to get into serious competition I cannot believe that the trigger on an AR has serious effects on accuracy. The differences it makes in how the gun discharges in relation to the weight of the rifle are practically non-existent outside competition.

      If it does create a problem… I think that the problem resides somewhere other than with the trigger. Specifically, with the person using the rifle really not being a very good shot to begin with.

      1. avatar LarryinTX says:

        Strych, that makes perfect sense, but twice now I have replaced a trigger and had my 100-yard bench rest group size drop by 1/2 with no other mods. It does not make any sense to me, but it happened. And on a National Match M1A I replaced a CA required muzzle brake with a National Match flash suppressor and dropped my 100-yard group by half with no other mods, along with many other improvements. Other crazy shit includes ammo which is clearly less powerful than another until you shoot both through a chrono, and discover you had it backwards. You have to try it out with some amount of objectivity.

        1. avatar strych9 says:

          Part of my opinion on this comes from the fact that I don’t need trigger upgrades. I have some weird savant ability with firearms and have had it since I was a kid. When I was a kid my dad made a ton of money making bets with his friends that I could outshoot them. I think he lost a bet once and it was basically luck.

          That said, you’re talking benchrest target shooting. I’m not. There’s nothing wrong with going for the best group you can, and I do this all the time. I’ve poured a fuck-ton of money into doing it with precision competition firearms (though I have yet to find it necessary to upgrade a trigger). However for hunting, or any type of off-hand shooting a high-end trigger is not necessary. If you can’t hit a man-sized target at 100-200 yards off hand with an AR then the problem isn’t the rifle or the trigger; it’s you.

          I’ve never had the pleasure to shoot an AR that won’t easily take out beer bottles/cans at 100 yards with the irons. In a serious competition where you hit a target that size matters. In anything else it doesn’t.

        2. avatar Geoff "Bring the EDIT button back, will ya, TTAG?" PR says:

          “When I was a kid my dad made a ton of money making bets with his friends that I could outshoot them.

          I hope he at least split the winnings with you…

      2. avatar Ton E says:

        Double boom! Actually shooting helps loosen the trigger.

        1. avatar Craig in IA says:

          Actually, if you’re one of the people who shoot service rifle, or one of the thousands who now shoot prairie dogs and other varmints with an AR platform, the trigger makes a tremendous difference. Ditto with handguns and even cheap rifles like 10-22s. I think Jerry Kuhnhausen opines that after one has some shooting ability and is comfortable with the firearm, trigger action can account for something like 80% of one’s ability to shoot reliably and more accurately. I believe him.

          I came upon this statement in his 1911 book back when I bought an LAR Grizzly in .45 Win Mag. Awful trigger for a higher dollar gun- about a grand or so in the early 1980s. When I contacted the maker, he (Robinson, the “R” in LAR) told me the trigger was within standard issue (I’m assuming Govt) 1911 specs. WOW- the sear was around .045″. Taking it down to .018″ and it became a real shooter.

          I also know that when fired from bags or an improvised rest, my Steyr and Blaser rifles are much more accurate when using the set triggers.

  24. avatar Maureen T. Gyory says:

    Triggernometry

  25. avatar Jason Miller says:

    What about the EPT from PSA? I got mine in a complete lower, but swapped it for a Timney immediately. (Part of me wants to say “Timney all the way”, and I’ll add that PSA has worked well for me.) I built more and more, and buying a Timney each time gets expensive. When I realized I needed to build a pistol right now, I ended up using that EPT. Added JP springs, and it’s pretty darn good. Not a Timney, but at $150 less, it makes me ponder future builds.

  26. avatar Maureen T. Gyory says:

    Because I haven’t seen many of these articles before, I do appreciate your re-run articles.

  27. avatar Larry says:

    I could not agree more.

    Give me a new S&W Sport II and tell I can only change one thing……and I would choose the Geissele SSA-E.

    Done.

  28. avatar GS650G says:

    I put a Rise trigger in my LR308 and it change the guns feel dramatically. You don’t realize how shitty mil triggers are until they are gone.

  29. avatar Cliff Spirit says:

    I have used the Rock River 2 stage in a couple of guns. I love it and it can be had at a good price. The most I paid was $75 for one unit. I have also used the ACT trigger, and liked it. I have the PSA EPT in 2 guns. It is almost as good as the ACT at half the price! Both work great with JP springs and KNS .1555 trigger pins.

  30. avatar Sora says:

    Buy a bit of metal polish compound and a few Q-tips to polish your triggers.
    Even the Mil-Spec will shine with polish, the 2-Stage triggers can improve as well.

    http://www.shootingsight.com has quality two-stage RPS triggers for $195, along with drop-in two-stage Tavor SAR/X95 trigger packs.

  31. avatar Ark says:

    Wrong. The most important upgrade for a new AR15 is a proper sling, followed by a weapon light. Triggers are nice, but they are not mission critical. You CANNOT effectively utilize an AR15 without a sling and a light to identify what you’re aiming at. Your fancy trigger does you no good when you’re in prison for burning down the wrong person because your dumb ass couldn’t see in the dark.

    1. avatar Curtis in IL says:

      A few dozen dead groundhogs would beg to differ. The AR that killed them possessed neither sling nor illumination, but the groundhogs are still dead.

      Not every semiautomatic rifle is used for home defense. Try not to let your worldview become so myopic.

  32. avatar Buff cousin Elroy says:

    I like Geissle SSA trigger. Very expensive though.

  33. avatar Pete says:

    I look at the trigger as a near disposable item, if it sucks it takes only a minute to replace it with exactly what you want.
    It makes more sense for the manufacturer to spend money on the barrel and cheap out on the trigger to keep cost down.

  34. avatar Mark H says:

    Having grown up shooting Springfields and M1 Garands, I simply detest single stage triggers. First thing I do with an AR is throw out the junk stock trigger and put in a two-stage trigger.

  35. avatar Old Air Force says:

    I have switched to Hiperfire in all my AR’s. I use the 24C in the Varmint rifle set at 2.6 lbs. The more traditional AR’s have the EDT2 in them set at 4.5 lbs. No creep and half the travel of mil spec. Very crisp and clean. Shot groups improved a lot when I installed these.

  36. avatar Hammer says:

    I’m running Velocity Triggers in all my ARs. Their MPC is real nice so nice I replaced my Timney with it. I like the extra width on the trigger shoe and the finger stop guarantees I position my finger the same every time.

  37. avatar 22winmag says:

    There is the BFSIII trigger… and then… there is… everything else.

  38. avatar cj says:

    i would suggest shooting maybe a couple of thousand rounds through the gun before considering a new trigger. worse thing that will happen is you’ll get better use from the new trigger if you still decide you need one…

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