One of the reasons why the AR-15 is America’s most popular rifle is because it’s so easy to change out existing parts on the rifle for newer parts. In many ways, a new AR-15 is a blank slate that you can use to create a gun that fits your exact needs. With so many upgradeable parts, though, it’s easy to get confused and not know where to start. Here are five ideas that work with just about any introductory-level AR-15 that will increase the accuracy and utility of your AR-15—without locking you out of future upgrades or breaking the bank.
1. Optics May Vary
A variable-power optic like the Vortex Strike Eagle 1-6x-24 scope gives you a one-two punch that combines better accuracy at long ranges and fast target acquisition at closer distances. Mounted on the upper receiver of your AR, low-power variable optics, or LVPOs for short, can be adjusted with the twist of a dial from low-power for quick sight pictures to 6 power to get your shots on target at longer ranges.
The BDC reticle on the Strike Eagle is calibrated to compensate for bullet drop as the distance to your target increases, allowing for accurate hits on targets as far away as 600 yards using common 5.56mm/.223 ammunition. This type of reticle is common on LVPO scopes like the Strike Eagle and is a big upgrade from the post- and dual-aperture peep sight found on many AR-15s. The Strike Eagle is just one of many different LVPOs from other manufacturers offered at many different price points, giving you the power to choose a scope that works within your budget.
2. Free Floating
Most entry-level AR-15s come with a handguard (the part that covers the barrel that your non-dominant hand holds on to) that holds onto the rifle barrel from the end of the upper receiver all the way to the gas block. There’s nothing wrong with this system (after all, it is how Eugene Stoner designed the rifle), but it’s not the best way to achieve optimal accuracy with an AR-15.
There are a lot of free-float handguards out there, some with Picatinny rails on them, some not. One the best ones this author has found is the Samson Manufacturing SXS lightweight free-floating handguard ($249), which gives you the benefits of free-floating your AR-15 barrel along with a lightweight design and the flexibility of either the Keymod or MLOK accessory attachment systems.
3. Get a Grip
The standard AR-15 grip is designed to work for the hands of the average infantryman, which I am most assuredly not—and chances are, you’re not either. In addition to this, I’m cross-eye dominant, which means I shoot long guns with my left hand, and finding a good grip that works with my left hand can be a challenge. I’ve found, though, that Ergo Grips solve all those problems, and their Amdbidextrous Rigid Grip ($28.50) has become a favorite of mine. Soft and easy to hold, it also has a compartment in the grip to store an extra battery for your optic or something of similar size.
4. Trigger Warning
The standard, mil-spec trigger on a regular AR-15 is pretty good for a semi-automatic rifle, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. There are many manufacturers who make improved aftermarket triggers for the AR-15, and Timney Manufacturing makes some of the best around. Their AR Targa 2 Stage trigger ($237.90) drops right into the trigger pocket on an AR-15 lower and gives you a light, crisp 4-pound trigger which augments your accuracy at longer range.
5. Stock Market
The standard fixed stock on an AR-15 is another item on that rifle that was built to be usable by as many different sizes and shapes of people as possible. As a result, while it works for almost anyone, it’s of the optimal length and shape for just a few people. This is where a collapsible, adjustable stock like the Daniel Defense Tornado ($70) comes in handy. By moving the stock in and out to one of its preset positions, you can get a more consistent, more comfortable grip on your rifle. In addition to this, the Daniel Defense Tornado comes with two different thickness of buttpad, allowing you to further tailor your rifle to yourself.
If the accessories that came your AR-15 rifle work for you, that’s great—you made a good choice when you bought that gun. If you’re like me, though, you’ll soon take advantage of the flexibility and modularity of the AR platform to build yourself a rifle that’s optimized for your purposes and is tailored to work with you and your ability.