The AR-15 is the most popular firearm in the United States today…. and for good reason. They are effective for home defense. AR-15’s are good for shooting small game and small predators like coyotes. Recoil is not very high, ammunition is relatively inexpensive and easy to find… and they are easily customized to the taste of the owner.
Here is a list of quick and easy improvements and accessories we think everyone should add to their AR.
One of the major improvements I put in place on my personal AR-15, was a pistol grip with a steeper angle than the standard A2 style grip or standard Magpul grip that most AR-15s come with as stock. The stock grip angle is way too shallow and forces the wrist to either sit at an uncomfortable angle, or compensate with a less than optimal grip.
In order to have an efficient trigger pull, getting hand alignment is a must. I spent three days with Haley Strategic learning about biomechanics and working around the AR-15 platform. Changing the pistol grip is inexpensive and minor change (less than $30) you will absolutely love. It will most certainly help improve your performance on the trigger and decrease any fatigue while shooting.
The pistol grip I replaced my stock with, was the Bravo Company BCM Gunfighter Mod 2 grip. The grip angle allows my wrist to stay in a more neutral position and relieves the strain of bending it in an uncomfortable position. The Mod 2 also has replaceable panels to customize the size of the grip for bigger or smaller hands.
I have a few old-school United States Marine Corp friends who will occasionally rag on me about using an optic instead of iron sights on my rifle. While I 100% believe you should have back-up irons sights on the gun, if technology offers you an advantage, take it. From non-magnified red dot optics, to high powered scopes, you have quite a few options here.
Personally, I prefer a non-magnified red-dot optic on my defensive and competition rifles. My personal preference is for an Aimpoint T-2 Micro. It is a rugged, waterproof and accurate little optic. The dot is only 2 MOA (minutes of angle) which is quite precise and the battery life can exceed 2 years with a small button type battery (CR2032) which I change every year on my birthday just so I don’t have to worry. The Aimpoint T-2 Micro has one downside… it is on the expensive side at about $750.
There are many more economical optics on the market. The Aimpoint PRO (Patrol Rifle Optic) is a good choice and comes in under $500, and we are hearing good things about the Sig Sauer Romeo 4 optics (I have seen some of the less expensive models between $200-$250). Needless to say, with optics, there are tons of options. Just make sure you choose a high quality product and change the batteries on a good schedule if it is a rifle you depend upon.
Most stock charging handles are typically small and have the catch release only on the left side. While they function just fine when you go to the plinking range, they are less than optimal when it comes to manipulation during malfunction clearances and other immediate action scenarios.
We recommend an ambidextrous charging handle that is larger than the ones we find on stock rifles. Guaranteed, some manufactures, like Bravo Company, include these on some of their build configurations. If yours did not come with one from the manufacturer, look into some of the nicer charging handles from Bravo Company and Geissele. The Geissele Super charging handle on my AR is both ambidextrous, and oversized allowing me to get a solid purchase and operate at speed.
A lot of AR pattern rifles come with some sort of hand guard rail system these days. There are lots of varieties and designs out there with a multitude of features. You will see quad rails, which have picatinny attachments on all four sides of the rail. Some hand guards have a picatinny rail along the top and modular attachments along the other three sides, like M-Lok and Keymod.
One thing is for sure… gone are the days of the plastic tube style hand guards. These hand guards typically have no attachment points, or very few attachment points. This means no lights, lasers or forwards grips to help make your rifle more controllable and adaptable to your environment.
If you are using a rifle in a dynamic environment, you need solid control over the muzzle end of the rifle. You might need help to control the swinging weight of the barrel when transitioning between targets. With feds have, effectively, mandated 16 inch minimum barrel lengths on rifles (unless you go through hoops of getting your NFA tax stamp from the ATF). This means you are forced to deal with a decent amount inertia from the front end weight in your rifle.
Enter the forward grip. This handy little accessory allows for a better grip of the front end of the gun. It allows you to distribute the weight of the barrel and control the inertia as you swing between targets. Again, there are many options out there.
I am pretty minimalist in my application of forward grips. I use a grip technique where my support hand thumb lays over the top of the hand guard. This helps control muzzle rise and recoil while firing. This means I do not need a big tall forward grip. I prefer to use the small, stubby grips or angled grips on my AR’s.
My favorite forward grip right now is the Bravo Company Kinesthetic Angled Grip (KAG). It is ergonomically designed to reach further up the length of the rifle while providing a somewhat neutral wrist position. This helps maintain control of the gun while minimizing fatigue. You will be thankful in a situation where your rifle is no longer a hobby; and it has transitioned into a life protecting device.
Everyone has a personal preference with what they like in a buttstock. This is really a “nice to have” and not a “need to have”. The features range from fixed length solid stock to adjustable stocks. Some can be moved quickly depending on the instant need, and some are made with precision adjustments. Many designs have compartments for storage where some are minimalist in design.
Solid lock up is a must have with a good adjustable buttsock. When you set your stick length, there should be very little play or wobble between the stock and the buffer tube. You also want a stock that is sturdy and rigid enough where it will not collapse or break if it takes a hit. There are literally hundreds of variations out there. What you have to find out is what works for you. Balancing price, weight, comfortability and purpose, there are few limitations.
My preferred buttstock is a VLTOR iMod stock. It is easily adjustable on the fly. It has a nice, comfortable recoil pad, and compartments for battery and part storage on each side. The top of the stock has a Sopmod (special operations modification) style, slanted check rest which allows for easy cheek weld and eye-indexing behind the sights.
The aftermarket variety of customizations you can do to your AR-15 are nearly limitless. Just determine what purpose you have for your rifle, whether it be for self-defense, competition or a fun plinking rifle. Other modifications to look into are better trigger groups, buffers and buffer springs, bolt carrier groups All of these modifications are meant to improve performance for specific purposes. They also have some complexity as different combinations of springs, buffer weights and bolt-carriers may not work consistently together.
Do your research, reach out and ask some experts and read reviews of competitive shooters and professional gunsmiths. You may find that you need to purchase a few more AR-15’s to make all the variations you need in your life.
My Personal AR-15 Setup:
Sig Sauer model 516 Piston Driven AR