The Truth About the AR-15 Carry Handle
Matt Sandy for TTAG
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The AR-15 carry handle has long been a subject of controversy. Is it a sight platform, a carry handle, or both? The original ArmaLite M16 design elevated the sights as a result of the charging handle that stuck out the top of the upper receiver.

The Truth About the AR-15 Carry Handle
Public domain image

But that carry handle design stuck, even after the charging handle was relocated to the back of the receiver where it is now. And if you have an A1 or A2 style rifle and want to attach an ACOG or other magnified optic, there are carry handle scope mounts for that.

ar-15 carry handle
courtesy opticsplanet.com

So no, it doesn’t seem like the AR carry handle was originally designed as a carry handle, but it sure made for a near-perfect one.

The Truth About the AR-15 Carry Handle
Courtesy Daniel Defense

That changed when flat-top rifles became the new standard. Flat-top rifles spurred the creation of detachable rail mount carry handles for those who still want their sights mounted high.

The Truth About the AR-15 Carry Handle
courtesy Brownells and DPMS

The detachable version mounts to the rifle’s mil-spec Picatinny rail via two thumb nuts. But there’s one problem with most of these “carry handles”…most of them aren’t very good for actually carrying your rifle. That’s because they generally have a lower profile than the original handles and don’t allow enough space to really get your fingers in there. I doubt that was an accident.

If you really want to use your detachable handle to carry your rifle, buy one like this.

The Truth About the AR-15 Carry Handle
courtesy liongears.com

Even if you have a detachable version that works as an actual carry handle, its status and usefulness depends on who you talk to. Looking at it solely as a mount for rear iron sights, the “carry handle” is pretty great. It’s very solid, so good luck breaking it. More importantly, it provides a great sight picture.

Full disclosure: during my military career, I only shot red dot sights on my M4s. CCO in basic and EOTechs after that. That makes me a target-focused shooter.

Near the end of my service, I acquired a detachable carry handle sight for an AR I had just built for a 3-gun match. I was worried that I would be a lot slower with the irons, but was pleasantly surprised by how well they worked for me.

The Truth About the AR-15 Carry Handle
Tyler Kee for TTAG

Even though I was focused on the target and the sights were fuzzy shapes in my peripherals, the large wings on the sides of the rear sight made it easy to line them up and get accurate hits quickly. The dual aperture design helped with this too.

The Truth About the AR-15 Carry Handle
Image courtesy the author
The Truth About the AR-15 Carry Handle
Image courtesy the author

While the large peep makes it easier to pick up the front sight, the small peep refines the sight picture.  It also flipped a switch in my head so I would use the sights as intended and get good hits at range.

All that being said, a carrying handle attachment takes up a lot of rail space. If you have no interest in putting anything other than fixed sights on your AR, a carry handle is a great option. Otherwise, there are better alternatives.

AR-15 carry handle ultradyne sights
Jeremy S for TTAG

There are plenty of high quality flip-up iron sights on the market that feature similar sight pictures and don’t take up your rail space. There are also compact fixed sights, like these, that have the same sight picture.

Unless you have a specific reason for needing the carry handle design, it’s just not as practical for most rifle owners these days. It may be a cool thing to have, but I can’t say I’d pay a lot of money for it.

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57 COMMENTS

  1. first time i heard colt, hbar pop top was about ’90. the service mgr was ordering it from one of the kitchen table ffls. he still has it. i went stamped hungarian.

      • All my AR-15 Carbines have detach carry handles with forge marks, all are converted to night sights and have sight tower guide pins which requires relocating the elevation wheel spring and bearing access bore to the sight bottom using a M4 x 3mm Socket Set Screw to plug the access.
        All my AR-308s have import NcStar shorty style A2 sights set up like the aforementioned with exception the NcStars get USGI windage screws and a recoil block in the rail slot. All my AR builds have rail height gas blocks and use modified import detach front sights which vary in quality and thread pitch for using a night sight post otherwise chase the threads with a suitable tap. Gas Blocks for .308 High Receivers use PRI # 03-750-94.
        The longer .308 carry handles are scarce as hen’s teeth, the AR-15 handles are too short for longer 308s and the carry balance is way off, etc. May work on the new short receiver .308s.

  2. In my time we used iron sights only with the fixed carry handle. No flat tops then and I never saw any type of sights other than the issue peeps. We adjusted our sights with the tips of a bullet.

    We did use the carry handle as a carry handle. I’ve never owned an AR so I will not comment on the more modern versions available.

    • “We did use the carry handle as a carry handle.”

      That honestly surprises me, I have heard the fastest way to inspire the ire of the drill sergeant in boot camp was for him to catch you with your hand in that slot.

      And no grunt wants to be in the crosshairs of the DI, as that means lots and lots of extra push-ups… 🙁

        • “It isn’t all boot camp.”

          No doubt, but I thought boot camp was about instilling reflex responses in their training…

        • Geoff a mix of both depending on what skills are relevant to the field when one gets there. We have a nasty habit of training for the last war and not allowing for the flexibility of rapid change in enemy tactics. On the other side the enemy often studies our tactics extensively (exhaustively really) and then will be surprised when we barely acknowledge there was a doctrine rule book when we are tasked with achieving mission objectives over following doctrine so I can see the argument for having a mostly useful training that can be abandoned when needed. Also remember adjusting the front sight with a 5.56 and not even 2 decades ago but only the flip up rear sights for the M4’s. I know we still had a few M16A2’s but they barely were taken out for training let alone deployment.

        • SAFE, I remember reading a comment from an officer in the USSR Warsaw Pact forces.

          The problem with the Americans is that they either don’t know their doctrine or don’t have any compulsion to follow it if they do.

        • Southern the last time I heard of that one it was paired with the an anonymous american servicemans evaluation “If we don’t know what we are doing the enemy sure won’t”

      • Basic training/OSUT is over when you graduate. Most of that BS is behind you unless you went to a total crap unit with a prima donna CO.

        With a bipod attachment the carry handle came into it’s own on the M-16’s and is used exactly like those on a ’60 or SAW when jumping up to move from cover/concealment.

        Maybe REMP soldiers don’t do a lot of this movement training like us combat arms did all the time.

        • Graduate of INF school in the 80s, no, we didn’t use the carry handle – because it was a matter of knowing the proper manual of arms. Using the carry handle meant you were incapable of return fire – not a good point when jumping up to advance against the enemy.

          A lot of us had been observing how the Brits carried in Africa, we had already adopted their methods of low ready – NEVER by a carry handle. I still do, deer hunting. The original point was a charging handle guard integrated with the charging handle – and leaving that forging die alone was a reasonable economy measure when a lot of changes were being thrown at the prototypes. Delete the channel under the handle, add a cut to the rear under the sight, done. Production and engineering made it an economical change.

          As for the detachable handle, I found its the best source for a rear sight yet made – at surplus pricing. Just cut the handle leaving a one screw rear sight mount, voila, your irons work and a good red dot mounted forward will too. Those of us using a flat top with clip in handguards have little reason to pay 25-50% more for a plastic rear sight that isn’t GI.

          BTW, those carry handle rails that were mounted did do a good job at longer ranges, you didn’t have to scrunch you head down as much. The added scope height worked, we weren’t planning on having to correct shot location because the enemy was ten feet away.

      • Ditto.

        Our drill sergeants did not allow us to use the “carry Handle” for carrying. In the unit, that mindset was maintained because carrying the weapon in a ready state with your hands supporting/gripping the weapon.

      • Ready state requires training. Carry handle does not. So they train for ready state, knowing you will figure out the carry handle on your own, including when it is appropriate.

        There is a popular view that much of the stuff they do in basic is stupid – absolutely not true. Or maybe used to do (60s). I have no info on current practice.

        * disclaimer – do not want to give the wrong impression – did not serve in the military. Recently stopped doing business with some folks because they insisted on giving me a veteran’s discount. Thanks, but no thanks. Don’t understand their motive.

      • I came here to say just that as a Marine recruit back in June of 1994 – if you used the “carry handle” of an M16A2 as a carry handle, Senior Drill Instructor Staff Sergeant Manion would thrash you and the whole platoon. Or maybe you would stand watch was being thrashed in your honor.

  3. It’s a fact, the lower you get your sight to the axis of the bore the more accurate you will be.
    All my rifles ,except the .22’s, that are scoped have one piece mounts.
    Adds rigidity to the action, which aids accuracy.
    Others may have different experiences but I’ve found it seems harder for me to be as accurate with a pistol AR type gripped rifle. I’m somewhat of a stock crawler and the pistol grip puts my shoulder at an odd angle.

    • Not exactly true. The closer the two axis are together the easier it is to match the Line of Sight point of aim to the ballistic path of the projectile for zeroing. The bullet rises way up over the point of aim the crosses through it again at some point followed by it falling. Those points depend totally on how the sights were zeroed and at which range.

      • Actually the bullet doesn’t rise. It is falling from when it leaves the barrel. But the bullet may appear to “rise” at distances less than the zero distance.

        For example, when I had a AR15 SP1, I zeroed the short range sight to 200m. So at 100m the bullets struck 2″ high. The long range sight was on a 200m with 55g bullets. At 400m I had to aim about a foot high.

        • “Actually the bullet doesn’t rise. It is falling from when it leaves the barrel.”

          The way it was explained to me, the bullet behaves like an underhand softball pitch in its trajectory. The aimpoint (and barrel axis) is *above* the target, and the bullet “falls into” the intended impact point, when the bullet eventually gets there…

          Or did I pick the wrong day to quit sniffing glue (or main-lining heroin)? 😉

        • Because of the 200m zero, the muzzle will be pointing slightly upwards which explains the “rise” in the trajectory. If you used a 0-degree elevation the bullet will fall as soon as it exits the muzzle.

        • I believe I mentioned that the trajectory rises “in relation to” the point of aim (as defined by the position of the front and rear sight.) This is because the line of the the barrel and the line of the sites are intersecting at the calculated zero range. This is obvious looking at the zeroing targets we used back in the 90’s where the silhouette one aimed at had a ghosted second silhouette which was where the hits are marked and the two were not at the same elevation. So in practice the bullet comes out of the barrel below the line of the sights and rises up eventually through that line and then eventually falls back down to it and then falls below it.

          Firearms are not laser blasters. The bullet travels in an arc (to a greater or lesser degree depending on the cartridge, powder strength/burn rate, barrel length and bullet weight/shape) and the sighting mechanisms we use are (hopefully) the best we can do without a laser rangefinder and a self-adjusting electronic reticule to compute and place it exactly at a calculated point of impact. Until then we have to do it the hard way in our heads and adjust as necessary.

  4. I wouldn’t even consider owning an AR without the carry handle or the forward-assist. IMHO any AR I might covet would look like an A1, A2 or M4 clone without position three on the selector. No interest in the fugly flattops at all.

    • The only reason I would select the carry handle is to cut it off and just use the rear iron sight. As for the FA, the market makes us pay a premium for an upper without it, it’s not worth the hassle either way.

      I was taught SPORTS on a misfire, which doesn’t pound in a bad round, it ejects and inserts a new. As for checking to see if a round did feed correctly, you can drop the mag to see which round fed, from one side or the other. Since we loaded before going out of the wire, there was no “silent loading technique” which exposed us to carrying an unloaded, empty weapon into a combat environment. It has to be asked, who the heck does that?

      The internet.

      BTW, the M4 is a flattop.

  5. When i bought my first AR i knew relatively nothing about them, guns period for that matter. It was during the Obama ban scare. I ended up getting a basic model with an attached carry handle. I kicked myself for years afterwards when i saw it was going to be a bit of a pain to use an optic (and look a little funny as well).

    Turns out now that i love that gun. Its bare bones, light, and love just using the irons. Its the first one i reach for now and the handle is quite effective for actually carrying it. Whoulda thunk it.

  6. “Matt Sandy
    http://gritweapons.com

    gritweapons.com

    Is that a real/valid web site? I’ve seen that appear a few different times with a Matt Sandy missive and I’ve never been able to get it to come up. There’s a facebook and instagram account but no web site ‘gritweapons.com’ and nothing in search engines indicating a ‘gritweapons.com’ web site exists.

      • yes, I know that. But no web site and hes using the website here. I saw something for a knife on facebook from 2017.

        • and there is a “https://de-de.facebook.com/GritWeapons/” (entitled ‘Grit Weapons’) page that’s also a knives place but it seems to be in Germany and is in German.

        • and there is a ‘Grit Weapons, LLC’ in Prescott Valley, AZ registered in Arizona with a Matthew Sandy.

          Its just curious that a non-existent web site would keep appearing with Matt Sandy articles.

  7. Since I have qualified with an M16A1, an M16, and an M16A2 (and yes in that order) I guess I’m ‘allowed’ to offer an opinion (and we all know the qualifier to that) – the carrying handle is a ‘feature” (or is it a bug?) that the individual owner can decide to have, or not. Unless of course it is issued to them. I’ll neither confirm nor deny that I ‘may’ (or may not) have examples of both types 😉 YMMV.

  8. Never was a big fan of the handle, but miles, hills, heat, cold, and body aches can make you look for all sorts of ways to shift the weight.

  9. Carrying Handle came in very useful for several oddball (but still frequent) transport scenarios while I served in the Army (11BV, 18B, 18Z). Things such as exposed weapon rigging to parachute harnesses (dispensing w/ bulky attached weapons container) as well as a means to secure weapons to Zodiac (or other) inflatable raiding boats that might get overturned in surf zones or rapids). Or to tightly bundle up several rifles for portage off of a drop zone, a mass casualty event, weapons cache, or a UW resupply of weapons to indig (where each man carried multiple rifles/carbines to some distant reissue or another cache point). Also useful for climbing operations when going up a cliff face. Or transport of loose spare weapons in a truck bed, ATV, or snow machine.

    Some folks like ’em with today’s trend of high mounted RD sots used in conjunction with passive head mounted night vision monoculars/binos.

    I used one to run a forward mounted M68 CCO (with issued goose-neck mount attached to that carry handle) in 2001/2002 Afghanistan. Worked very well and provided for absolute co-witness to the fixed irons on my M4A1. Had my red dot ever failed, I was already staring straight down a set of well zeroed fixed BUIS that required no manipulation to get into action. That combo was a blazingly fast/accurate setup that worked as well in a shoot house (or Afghan village CQB target) as it did out in open country.

    That big “hole” provided by the carry handle meant you could run climbing ropes, A7A straps, etc. quickly through a weapon to secure it, haul it, or hump it… while having your hands free for other tasks.

    Like most, I mostly moved on to lesser usage of the carry-handle configuration, but…

    It’s still a practical, useful, & bombproof bit of kit. As long as it’s a quality version. Like the ones still offered from Colt. Or US military surplus versions. Not cheap offshore knock-offs.

    • I guess if someone is in front of you. Ive wondered myself what the protocol is for carrying a long gun. Hopefully someone can shed some light.

      • “Ive wondered myself what the protocol is for carrying a long gun. Hopefully someone can shed some light.”

        the protocol is the same as it is for your car when operating it – when you are ‘moving it around’ don’t point it at anyone.

        😁

        the basic recommended ‘protocol’ method is to sling it (or carried or ‘racked/leaned’) barrel pointed up ‘skyward’ or (when carried, or in some cases racked) down ‘towards the ground’ when outside a case, and when in a case then case closed and secured and carried normally, and when on range always pointed down range if outside case or laying in open case and not racked or slinged or carried as stated. For ranges, some ranges may have other rules too so check if you want to know what those are. But basically, don’t ‘muzzle’ anyone unless its a bad guy and you absolutely need to do so then ‘muzzle’ away.

  10. The M16 carry handles were designed so you could cut a straight stick and hang 50-60 rifles on it. Two guys could carry a string of rifles.
    That left more people to carry other sht like portable AM radios and batteries, souvenir rocks(GF)and extra cans of tuna fish and crackers(dont forget the asswipe) and toilet paper, cigarettes,and lighters ,and other essential stuff.
    Then if might you hear *Pow, PowPowPow* and a lieutenant says “Form A Line!” all your rifles are already in a line for you.
    Military Intelligence

  11. That changed when flat-top rifles became the new standard. Flat-top rifles spurred the creation of detachable rail mount carry handles for those who still want their sights mounted high.

  12. Still have and use an old Colt AR with the fixed carry handle sights. Currently has a low power optic on it. Used it for many years with just the iron sights. But my old eyes make using a scope a better choice for anything over 100 yards. I do have a newer flattop AR with a simple red dot and 1 with thermal sights for popping coyotes or other critters that go bump in the night.
    Never really considered which was better for general use. Grew up using iron sights and used them for most of my Army career. Guess it’s what you prefer and are familiar with.

  13. I never really cared for the handle. But then I don’t care for shag carpeting either. I can see it if your going for nostalgia. Outside of that…no.

  14. Eh, I traded my flattop upper receiver for an integrated carry handle on one AR just because I was specifically trying to replicate the Vietnam-era A1 style on it, and I did that because I think it looks really cool and I already had another AR with the modern bells & whistles.

    The nice thing about being a gun guy is, despite what entirely too many other gun guys seem to believe, I actually DON’T have to give a shit what they think. At all.

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