By Jonathan B.
I don’t claim to be an expert when it comes to guns. I don’t get to go to the range as often as I used to, so for the most part, I satiate my thirst for all things gun-related by reading, reading, and then reading some more, with the occasional video thrown in for flavor. With the AR market continuing to blossom, there’s far more innovation on the market than I can afford to keep up with. That said, it’s a situation that could be more of a blessing than a curse . . .
My AR-15 is very simple compared to the more modern, super-sleek rifles that sit on the front page of every gun blog and magazine. I’ve done my fair share of modifications to it over the years, but it remains very spartan, even retaining the USGI front sight block that is becoming an endangered species in the AR world. The few “tacticool” parts I’ve added were chosen for their simplicity, weight, and cost-effectiveness. Like many other gun owners, I’ve taken my cues from subject matter experts like Travis Haley and Larry Vickers when it comes to learning how to set up and utilize my rifle. However, the #1 lesson that I try to keep in mind is that the equipment used by big name shooters won’t always be a perfect fit for me.
The AR-15 is the most customizable firearm ever invented, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the latest and greatest parts will make you a better shooter. Every time I visit the range, I’m confronted with a plethora of rifles and parts for sale, usually loaded down with no end of “tactical” accessories. Foregrips, bipods, flashlights, lasers, red dot optics with magnifiers, offset iron sights – the list goes on. Of course, people have every right to put whatever they want on their rifle, but seeing some people struggle to manipulate their weapon due to the mass of accessories bolted to a cheap quad rail on the front of their gun sometimes makes me question their judgment.
Oftentimes, these parts are purchased with the best of intentions. We’re bombarded on a daily basis by images of professional shooters showcasing the newest innovations from countless manufacturers. Outside of the shooting world, video games, TV shows, and movies also showcase “tactical” rifles, often using real-world equipment. Some gun owners will purchase similar accessories thinking these accessories will help them become better shooters, unaware of the reasons the parts were chosen by their individual users or the potential drawbacks of using certain accessories.
These drawbacks can be things such as excessive weight (leading to awkward weapon manipulation), poor build quality, or simple incompatibility with the shooting method they’re most comfortable with. Even I’ve been a victim of ignoring the latter – shortly after purchasing my AR, I purchased a Magpul AFG2 after having seen it in use by a number of famous shooters whom I looked up to. After some experimenting, however, I found that I greatly preferred shooting with the Magpul RVG and promptly swapped out my AFG2. I couldn’t be happier with my decision.
The lesson I learned was that what may be “tactical” for one shooter might not be practical for you, your rifle, or your budget. Experimenting with new gear is something we all do, but if you’re one of the many newcomers to the AR community in the wake of President Obama’s AWB push, focus on learning to shoot and manipulate your new rifle first and foremost. Rather than spending money hand over fist on the parts you think you’d want, it’s better to research and then purchase the parts that will best meet your needs. Your wallet will thank you in the long run.
Marksmanship fundamentals and understanding your weapon should be the primary upgrade… it’s an investment of time that most people don’t want to make. Many people would prefer to purchase nick-nack upgrades they see online before actually using their rifle to discover their deficiencies.
Discover your weaknesses, examine your rifle’s capabilities, and choose upgrades that will assist *your* ability to shoot the rifle over upgrades to improve the rifle’s performance.
1 percent of shooters are probably limited by their rifle. On the flip side 99 percent of shooters limit their rifle.
I agree to an extent, but there are thing one can know without shooting the rifle. For example I already know that I don’t have the ability to see in the dark. Thus if the rifle is for home defense one of first upgrade I suggest is to put a light on it. In fact when my mom bought a rifle for herself for home defense on our property, the following Christmas I put a Magpul handguard and attached a light to it.
A light on a home defense rifle would be a wise upgrade. I wouldn’t classify it as a nick nack. 🙂
I purchased a S&W M&P15 MOE that comes with the Magpul furniture. The only mods I have made are adding a rail riser and an optic. I don’t like lights, lasers, fore grips, single point slings, etc. I use a hasty sling for shooting stability.
M&P 15 with adjustable shoulder stock, flattop receiver, old-school gas block/front sight assembly, stock Army Handle/rear sight, stock 2-piece A2 style handguards, green nylon 2-point parade sling, 16″ 1:9 twist barrel. No quadrail. Not sure I really WANT anything else. It’s simple, light, even with a full mag, has nothing that requires batteries, nothing that has delicate fiddly parts, points well, and accurate enough that my mother can make a man-sized silhouette target ring at 300 yards… of course, she’s a pretty good shot.
Ive had my AR for a little over a year now…it still is sans quadrail and wears iron sights, including a GI front sight/gas block as the author mentioned. The only thing I think I will add in the future is a badlever and maybe a BCM gunfighter charging handle. I can see the utility in adding lights/grips/bipods/scopes/etc. if you are a competitor in one of the many shooting sports or using the rifle for HD, but my rifle is only used for plinking at the range.
I will say that as much as I encourage people to shoot the rifle bare in this article, the BCM Gunfighter is one of those things I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. It’s a straight upgrade from the stock charging handle in every way, though I’d recommend putting some thought into the pros and cons of the different lever sizes. I personally found the Mod 5 too small and the Mod 3 seemed to stick out too much, so I opted for the Mod 4 on my rifle. Couldn’t be happier with it.
The reason that i pretty much insisted on GI front and rear sights was because once you get the rifle sighted in properly, you can just dial in your range on the rear elevation, though for most things it stays at 6/3 -2, unless I’m trying a longer shot.
Personally I prefer to put a shooting sling, suppressor, diopter or optical sight and some way to attach a magazine or two to the rifle.
Keep it simple and comfortable.
Prove that you can first handle and shoot the bare rifle first. Then maybe you can start adding stuff (in good taste). Unfortunately a lot of new AR owners do the opposite.
I finally bought an AR last year after many years of sitting on the fence. I had a Magpul party for the AR, I tried out the BAD lever, ASAP plate, RVG, AFG, tango down QD, different slings, light mounts etc.
In the end I took most of it off. BAD lever is gone, ASAP is gone. Forward grips are off. I am not a single point sling guy.
I have a very light, high quality, free floated quad rail with a Thorntail light mount at 11 o’clock. I went back an forth about quad or tube. In the end I felt the quad gave me greater mounting flexibility. VFG is with me in a backpack if I am hunting with the gun. It can be useful if I have to hike a ways but I find that it gets in the way most of the time.
I will say THE BEST upgrade I have made was the Geissele SSAE trigger. It allowed me to really tighten up my groups. So much so that I will use the rifle to hunt Bambi with, out to 200 yards with nothing but a 1MOA red dot (Eotech) .
Interesting, why did you remove the bad lever? I can’t think of any reason not to have one, and it feels awkward to do a reload without one after a month of use.
I’ll admit when I first bought my S&W M&P15 I went a little crazy with the add-ons. Then I sat down and thought about what the rifle would be used for. This one is my GP/Scout rifle, so I added a 4x optic and a Magpul fore-end with vertical grip and a single point sling. On my home defense SBR, a light/laser combo is all I added. On my long range varmint rifle I added the full size variable power scope and bipod.
Thinking about what the rifle will be used for, THEN buying accessories that are appropriate for that use is the way to go in my opinion.
TO: Dan Zimmerman
 How much does that monstrosity weight?
 How long does it take to put together?
 If I buy it complete….does it come with a trailer?
Amen to that, mines based on simplicity, yet I want it to look good, something that can be used in any situation without changing more then a part. Now that depends on what the shooter considers optimal for any situation but you get the idea. Don’t care to use red-dots or scopes, good ol irons as always. The best changes recently were replacing my Magpul VFG with an AFG2 and putting on a 0.70 stock pad. Recoil? What recoil?
Gotta feel pity for those rifles down at the range though with enough crap on them to use it as a heavy club. But whatever works for em.
The heaviest rifle I’ve handled in years was an .308 AR that had a lot of bells and whistles on it. I’ve encountered AR15s that weighed more than my Mosin Nagant. This extra weight is fine for a range toy. I question it’s real world need. I understand putting a light and optics on a rifle primarily thought of as a self defense weapon, but the rest of the doo dads and whirly gigs not so much.
The thing on the cover looks like the mother ship at the end of ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’.
Eh, besides trigger upgrades and maybe a new stock to get a cheek weld (left-eye dominant, right-handed), and POSSIBLY an EOTech/Red dot and a magnifier. Not much else needed.