One of the most appealing aspects of the AR-15 platform is how very modular and versatile it is. There are literally thousands of possible configurations, making it possible to buy or build the AR-15 that’s right for your weapon needs and your budget.
The AR-15 platform is clearly top of mind in popular culture. A recent article in the tech publication Wired Magazine was entitled “The AR-15 Is More Than a Gun. It’s a Gadget”. If one ignores the slight undercurrent of gun phobia, it’s actually a decent article on the history and current state of the AR-15.
Jay Duncan, VP of Sales at Daniel Defense, describes the appeal of the AR-15… “Because it’s so modular, you can build the firearm the way that you want it, and it can be like nobody else’s firearm. It’s about personalization.”
Should You Buy or Build An AR-15? Or Buy Now and Upgrade Later?
You can purchase a pre-built AR-15, or you can mix and match components yourself to build an AR-15 to your exact specifications and budget.
Pre-built AR-15’s can be had decked out with high end components, such as the Daniel Defense DDM4v1. Or they can be had in very base entry-level configurations, like some offered by Colt, DPMS Panther, and others.
The great thing is that what you purchase today can be upgraded later. So if purchasing a pre-built AR, go with a high quality base platform, and upgrade individual components as your needs/wants evolve and your budget allows.
Here are the AR-15 accessories you should be looking at…
Arguably one of the most important weapon accessories is the magazine. Always have extras! And, of course there are quite a few manufacturers to choose from.
Magpul revolutionized the AR magazine market in 2007 with their well known PMAG product. Essentially while everyone was producing metal magazines, Magpul came out with a high quality polymer magazine… essentially their Glock moment. Their polymer design means magazines that are lighter, more durable, more weather resistant, less prone to damage if dropped, and textured for positive grip.
Living in Dallas, I’m very pleased that Magpul recently relocated their headquarters to Texas. The more, the merrier.
For an idea of options available, here are some Magpul PMAGs.
AR-15 Slings & Sling Mounts
A sling may seem like an afterthought, but unless you want to carry your rifle by the handle like a briefcase, it’s actually quite important. If you have an AR-15, you’ll definitely want to get a sling.
And not just any sling… you want to get the right sling for your specific needs, i.e. for how you intend to carry and/or deploy the weapon. This will also require sling mounts, so the sling can be securely mounted to your weapon.
The rights sling will keep the weapon in the position you require – comfortably, will be very easy to attach and detach – while being solid and reliable at all other times, and will allow you immediate access to your weapon should the need arise.
For an idea of options available, here are some Magpul slings and mounts.
A stock, also known as a shoulder stock, or a buttstock, or is a part of a rifle to which the barrel and firing mechanism are attached, that is held against your shoulder when firing the gun.
The stock provides a means for the shooter to firmly support the rifle and easily aim it. The stock also transmits recoil into the shooter’s body, and if well engineered, can absorb and minimize recoil. A good stock can also prevent slippage and provide for a more comfortable shooting stance.
Many rifles come with fixed stocks, which are one-size-fits all. But as we all know, one size rarely does fit all. Thankfully you can find collapsible stocks which quickly adjust to the right length for you, personalizing your rifle for comfortable and accurate shooting.
For an idea of options available, here are some Magpul stocks.
The barrel of an AR-15 becomes very hot when in use, and stays hot for some time after firing. A well constructed handguard will allow you to fire and hold the weapon effectively, without the danger of burning your hands/arms when switching positions or altering grip. A vertical fore-grip can also be attached to some handguards, for added versatility and support.
For an idea of options available, here are some Magpul handguards.
Rails are where a lot of the magic happens with AR-15’s, allowing you to attach various accessories to your rifle. These come in various configurations, including quad rails picatinny rails.
Picatinny rails, also known as Mil-Spec 1913 rails, or tactical rails, are used to mount accessories such as flashlights, scopes, red dot sights, lasers and more to your AR15 weapon system.
The rail consists of a series of ridges with a T-shaped cross-section interspersed with flat “spacing slots.” Accessories are mounted either by sliding them on from one end or the other; by means of a Weaver mount which is clamped to the rail with bolts, thumbscrews or levers; or onto the slots between the raised sections.
AR-15 Charging Handles
The charging handle, aka cocking handle or bolt handle, is a device on a rifle which, when operated, results in the hammer or striker being cocked or moved to the ready position. These devices vary significantly between firearms but often occur in the form of a small protrusion or hook from the side of the bolt, a pumped slide or lever.
It allows the operator to pull the bolt to the rear, facilitating any number of the following:
Ejecting a spent shell casing or unfired cartridge from the chamber.
Loading a round from the magazine or by hand through the chamber.
Clearing a stoppage such as a jam, double feed, stovepipe or misfire.
Verification that the weapon’s chamber is clear of any rounds or other obstructions.
Moving the bolt in to battery, acting as a forward assist but not necessarily .
Releasing a bolt locked to the rear, such as would be the case after firing the last round on a firearm equipped with a last-round-hold-open feature.
The charging handle performs similar actions as a slide in a pistol.
We all know what the trigger does, both in a rifle and in a pistol. You press it to n
As with every other component on your rifle, a “stock” trigger on a low cost or mid-range rifle is going to be, well, “average”. A redesigned, re-engineered trigger mechanism can provide greater reliability, accuracy, and comfort for the shooter, which all translate in to better shooting and a more enjoyable shooting experience.
AR-15 Muzzle Brakes
A muzzle brake, or recoil compensator, is a device connected to the muzzle of a firearm or cannon that redirects propellant gases to counter recoil and unwanted rising of the barrel during firing. The concept was introduced for artillery and was a common feature on many anti-tank guns, especially those in tanks, in order to reduce the area needed to take up the recoil stroke. They have been used in various forms for rifles to help control recoil and the rising of the barrel that normally occurs after firing.
The ability to stay on target (i.e. to not lose the acquired target) while shooting allows for far more accurate and thus more timely follow-up shots.
The advantages of muzzle brakes are not without downsides, however. The shooter or close bystanders may perceive an increase in sound pressure level as well as an increase in muzzle blast and lead exposure. This is because the sound, flash, pressure waves, and lead loaded smoke plume normally projected away from the shooter are now partially redirected outwards to the side or sometimes at partially backward angles towards the shooter or gun crew.
That said, this is definitely an accessory you’ll want to look into.
AR-15 Silencers / Sound Suppressors
A silencer, or sound suppressor, is actually a form of muzzle brake. The silencer essentially slows the gasses and turn the loud BANG into a more squishy noise also act like a massive muzzle brake and greatly reduce the recoil of the gun.
These were exceedingly rare for years because of the difficult and expensive regulations of the NFA rules around silencers. However, more and more people are purchasing them, and more manufacturers are coming out with high quality options in this niche. A recent estimate put silencers at over 500,000 in the U.S. today, and growing fast.
AR-15 Sights & Optics (Scopes, Red Dot Sights, etc.)
Just like with a pistol, your AR-15 needs some form of sights to allow you to aim when shooting. There are many options for AR-15 sights… from fixed “iron sights” that are often included on stock models, to flip-up “iron sights”, to add-on “red dot sights” (for mid range target acquisition), to “optical scopes” for longer range accuracy.
Upgraded optics have become common among shooters both civilian and military for good reason. They provide clear shooting advantages like better accuracy, faster target acquisition, and increased range. And paired with a cheap price tag (compared with just a few years ago), that makes for an easy decision to upgrade.
Iron Sights are the most basic sights you’ll find on an AR-15. Depending on the make, they can work just fine, especially for shorter distances. This includes fixed iron sights (as found on the Daniel Defense DDM4v1 for example), or flip-up sights. Optical sights are great for longer distances, but for close-in shooting, iron sights are often more useful.
Folding/Collapsible Backup Sights
Sometimes it’s useful to have the option of keeping AR-15 sights out of the way until they are needed, having them as a hidden backup in case of a primary optic failure. In the case where a primary red dot sight runs out of batteries, or the optic becomes damaged, folding sights work as a failsafe so accurate aiming remains possible.
A high quality scope can transform your AR-15 into a long range rifle, accurate far beyond the standard 50 to 100 yards you may achieve with basic iron sights. There are many options available today, from manufacturers such as Leupold, Bushnell, and others.
Red Dot Sights
A red dot sight is a common classification for a type of non-magnifying reflector (or reflex) sight for firearms, that gives the user an aimpoint in the form of an illuminated red dot.
A standard design uses a red LED at the focus of collimating optics which generates a dot style illuminated reticle that stays in alignment with the weapon the sight is attached to regardless of eye position (nearly parallax free). They are considered to be fast acquisition and easy to use gun sights, while also providing far longer battery life than the otherwise superior holographic weapon sights.
Holographic Weapon Sights
A holographic weapon sight or holographic diffraction sight is a non-magnifying gun sight that allows the user to look through a glass optical window and see a reticle image superimposed at a distance on the field of view. The hologram of the reticle is built into the window and is illuminated by a laser diode.
One drawback of a holographic sight is shorter battery life when compared to reflex sights that use LEDs, such as red dot sights. The laser diode in a holographic sight uses more power and has more complex driving electronics than a standard LED of an equivalent brightness, reducing the amount of time a holographic sight can run on a single set of batteries.
While not “accessories” per-se, moving parts inside of any machine are eventually going to need replacing. Various components like springs and rings, can wear out over time. Due to the modular design of the AR-15, these components are fairly easy to replace, and they are often found in complete “kits”. These are usually available from the manufacturer of your AR-15, or from a variety of component manufacturers.
The trick being to have them on hand or easily attainable. A weapon is only as strong as its weakest spring, and if that goes out, your weapon is down. Ideally you’ll have a replacement kit or two sitting around ready for when it’s needed, so that your weapon is not out of commission for while you wait for deliver on a tiny but critical spring.
As mentioned above, in addition to accessorizing your AR-15 with the features that suit your needs, it pays to be prepared and have some additional accessories and components on hand for easy replacement. This particularly applies to internal moving parts (i.e. springs) and especially additional magazines.