As most in the shooting world know, the ArmaLite 15 was developed as a classic assault rifle for a US military competition in 1959. Designated as M16/M4, it became an iconic American weapon which has spread its fame through the world`s battlefields and war zones.
Built on the same underlying platform as the original AR-15, the new semi-automatic rifle is supported by an entire industry that sprouted up. This industry offers an endless array of accessories and modifications.
For many owners, modifying an AR-15 is the perfect way to personalize the rifle. Every shooter prefers a rifle that is designed differently. Some research claims that if you build the AR-15 to best suit your particular shooting preferences, you will become up to 45% more accurate at the range or in the field.
The AR-15 is an extremely customizable rifle with an endless amount of interchangeable and aftermarket parts. That makes this platform a blank canvas for unlimited customizations. And best of all, the AR-15 modular system makes upgrading most components a breeze without the need for a gunsmith.
Usually, the first steps for common AR-15 upgrades include attachment points for optics, lights, and slings in the form of Integrated Rail System (IRS). Like other AR platform items, the options are overwhelming to new rifle owners, and many of them need some guidance.
What Is An Accessory?
At this place, we have to explain a difference between AR-15, furniture and accessories, and how different configurations affect performance. In order to function comfortably, the primary furniture of every AR-15 includes the three essential ingredients: the buttstock, the pistol grip, and the handguard. As you can conclude the standard AR-15 furniture are the actual parts of the gun. The accessories are all the items added on. We won’t claim that’s a universal definition, but we’re going to use that here.
AR-15 furniture customization will be the subject of another article. In this small guide about accessorizing your beloved Black Rifle. Although the aftermarket is flooded with hundreds of new AR accessories - some good and some pointless - we have to avoid making an AR-15 a complex and overburdened platform.
Let's mention a few accessories that might mean going a bit too far. Surfing the net, you can come across bizarre attachments like axes and tomahawks that attach directly to your Picatinny rail system. Or how about a pointed tire deflator installed directly to your barrel over your flash suppressor? Those are a bit beyond what we’d consider “normal” - they might fit somebody’s needs for some reason, but we’ll skip them here.
Actually, just a few useful accessories need to go on a rifle, and for sure, you have to start with accessories such as scopes, slings or foregrips.
While some high-end scopes cost more than an entire rifle, the average enthusiast is usually looking to add optics at a reasonable price. Any AR -15 can be converted into a great home-defense, competition or hunting rifle with a well-chosen riflescope.
Due to difficulties to mount an optic reliably atop a carry handle, many shooters prefer a rifle with a flat top or the A-3 model with its removable carry handle.
Appropriate optics can be determined according to the distances you plan to use your rifle. In short, for close ranges chose red-dot sights. For close to medium ranges chose variable low-power optics. For mid- to long-range take a full-size, traditional scopes.
However, a growing trend amongst knowledgeable shooters is to replace red-dot sights with a low magnification scope and/or to mount these micro-sized reflex sights at an offset, 45-degree angle for quick transitions to short-range targets.
Suggested: Leupold VX-2 1-4×20
One of the best AR-15 upgrades is to exchange the stock foregrip of your rifle with custom foregrips that can offer enhanced and accurate shooting.
Besides traditional foregrips, another trend is moving towards a vertical grip, which providing you better handling and control of your weapon. Also, if you live in a state where a vertical handgrip is illegal, you have alternative grips in the form of Magpul AFG, the Angled Foregrip or Handstop grips.
These grip types work to absorb recoil, resulting in less muzzle climb, but they can protect your hand against barrel heat that occurs during extended use. Customers also have an option of choosing the magazine well grips, known as the Magwell Grip.
Suggested: Magpul MIAD Gen 1.1 Grip Kit
The simplest sling job is to allow a person to carry the rifle slung over their shoulder, but it also offers slight increases in accuracy when the shooter properly holds it. Although in recent years there has been an explosion in all sorts of slings, our advice is to stay away from the single point or triple point slings, since simple two-point strap will work best for most users.
You should also think of the appropriate mounts and purchase compatible sling mounting hardware, such as quick-detach plates and swivel sling attachments.
Second Level Of Accessorizing
After customizing essential parts of your AR-15, the next tier of modifying refers to some of the easier AR-15 upgrades and we’ll take the risk of saying “less critical” accessories. However, they will also allow you to shoot more accurately and better gain control of your weapon. All in all, they can help give you an optimal shooting experience.
One big family of "secondary" accessories consists of muzzle devices divided into three categories: muzzle brakes, compensators, and flash hiders. Muzzle devices redirect gases exiting the barrel to help bring recoil down to a manageable level, reduce flash and suppress sound or a combination of each.
By redirecting the expelled gases through vents on the side and forward on the muzzle, brakes reduce the effects of recoil, and the shooter is better able to acquire targets after firing the weapon. The downside of a muzzle brake is a cloud of dust when shooting prone and an often loud report, which is unacceptable for most indoor shooting ranges.
Suggested: Lantac Dragon
Unlike muzzle brakes, compensators are explicitly created to direct the gases from the muzzle upward to reduce muzzle climb or "flip." Like the muzzle brake, the compensator is loud and does not have a flash suppression feature.
Suggested: Odin Words Atlas 5
Some gun enthusiasts provide their AR-15 with a flash suppressor or flash hider to resemble their military-issued cousins more closely. Since their function is limited to eliminating muzzle flash, this device is most helpful to the military as it keeps the soldier's position concealed when on nighttime combat operations.
All three muzzle device types could perform a combination of these functions. As such, a wide variety of aftermarket hybrids available actually shares some of the qualities of brake, compensator and flash hider in one package.
Suggested: Smith Enterprises Vortex
However, the most intriguing muzzle component that you can attach to the muzzle of your AR-15 is a piece of equipment known as a silencer. Or more politically correct, the sound suppressor.
While suppressors will not tame the “crack” of a bullet breaking the sound barrier, they reduce the loud sound the rapidly expanding gas makes when a gun is fired. Depending on the caliber of the weapon, this handy accessory will protect your hearing by reducing the sharp report of rifles. Besides taming the noise signature, silencers will significantly reduce muzzle blast and firing recoil. Before taking advantage of suppressors' benefits, though, it is essential to make sure you are well-versed in the laws in your particular state.
Suggested: Sig Sauer SRD556 QD
Ambidextrous Safety Selectors
By upgrading yours AR-15 with an ambidextrous safety selector, you will increase safety in handling and transport while gaining enhanced ergonomics and speed. This feature is particularity appreciated by competition shooters as well as southpaws and right-handed shooters alike.
If your AR-15 is intended for night hunting or home defense, a recoil-proof tactical flashlight is a must. The easiest way to attach a flashlight is to use a single rail on the bottom half of the handguard for a platform. A weapon-mounted flashlight confirms a rule of thumb that you never fire your AR-15 into the dark without first identifying the target.
Suggested: Streamlight 69260 TLR-1 HL
Customization of your AR-15 would be not completed without adding your personal touch with some less-familiar accessories.
While the standard A2-style grips come on most offerings and feature rubberized coating, finger grooves and palm swells, one of the more efficient customizations that play a part in the comfort of your grip is stippling.
Arguably, stippling significantly enhances the grip and aesthetics, adding texture to a polymer material. Many of today’s AR manufacturers offer stippling on many firearm components, ranging from pistol grips to magazines.
Regardless of whether stippling is art or useful function, more and more AR-15 owners are stippling the gripping surface of their polymer-framed AR components with a DIY method. There is an important note that stippling will cause a permanent modification to the surface of a material. This can decrease its structural integrity.
Suggested: Oregon Trail Defense Stippling Kit
Since the brass catcher catches the ejected brass, it is ideal for range shooters and perfect for reloaders as it keeps empty cases off the ground. The brass catchers easily mount to any rifle with a flat top. Or it can be placed anywhere on a Picatinny rail that will prevent it from interfering with the rifle’s cycling and keep hot brass from hitting anyone near you.
Suggested: Caldwell Shooting Supplies Brass Catcher
The slip-on muzzle cap or muzzle condom is used to protect the crown of the barrel from damage and to keep dirt, mud or water out of your barrel. Typically, rubber and plastic muzzle cover can be shot through in case of an emergency.
Suggested: Muzzle Cover
The most straightforward type of shroud is a jacket that covers the barrel and comes in a variety of lengths and threads patterns. The primary purpose of a barrel shroud is to protect the shooter from heat-related injuries and keep the barrel from marring.
Some AR-15 barrel shrouds have a sound-suppressor look, giving your AR-15 short-barreled rifle a cool and aggressive style.
Suggested: Kini-Tech Barrel Shroud
You probably won’t use all the rails seen in some presentation and showpieces, so there is a necessity to put rail covers to increase your comfort. The rail covers are not only aesthetic and affordable; but also easy to apply and durable once installed. Practical covers protect your rails from abrasions and insulate heat for improved comfort.
Suggested: Magpul M-Lok Rail Cover
Mass-produced firearms like the AR-15 are probably acceptable in their stock configuration. But that doesn't mean that they're optimized for every shooter. By upgrading and accessorizing your Black Rifle, you should gain better performance and some real functional advantages.
Our advice would be to monitor the use of specific accessories in 3-gun or other competitive shooting competitions first. Also, you can follow how accessories are used for military purposes to see how these accessories are used. Observe then start accessorizing your gun to make your shooting sessions more enjoyable and effective!