Tricking Out an AR-15

Dear Fellow Survivalist;

Anyone who has ever gone to a gun show has undoubtedly seen an AR-15 which has been tricked out to the max. Maybe you’ve seen one at your local gun store. It’s done as a joke, but shows just how ridiculous it can get, when one gets caught up in all the different modifications they can mount to their favorite AR-15.

But what makes sense? How far can we go, without it turning into a joke like that? Just what is practical?

I like tricking out my guns. I haven’t just done it to my AR-15, but to my pistols as well. But I always look at tricking out any gun as a way of making it more effective for its intended purpose. I don’t do cosmetic modifications, nor do I add additional gear just to impress people. I try to add accessories to my guns, which will make them more effective for me to use.

Purpose it First

With that in mind, the starting place is always figuring out the intended use of that particular gun. I have a Mossberg shotgun which was once my primary home-defense gun. As such, I had it set up for close-up shooting. Rather than a stock, it had a pistol grip and the only real sight on it, besides the bead on the barrel, was a laser sight with a pressure switch to help me point it at the intended target.

Later, when I started carrying concealed, that shotgun was no longer needed for use as an in the home defensive weapon, so I repurposed it into something that could be used for intermediate defensive work, with a range of 30 to 100 feet. As part of that, I went ahead and put the stock back on it, plus added a reflex sight. I realize that seems a bit odd for a shotgun, but I don’t want to be hitting innocent bystanders, so the idea of “point and shoot” doesn’t work for me. I’ll aim, even with a shotgun.

The AR-15 is like that as well. There are four basic configurations we can think about with an AR-15:

  • Pistol (I’m still not sure of the usefulness of this version)
  • CQB – close range indoor, building clearing
  • Combat – mid-range shooting
  • Sniper – long-range shooting

While it is theoretically possible to use the same AR-15 for more than one of these, the reality is that you can only set it up for one, even if you use it for more than one. The main difference here is the barrel length. A short barrel, appropriate for CQB, isn’t going to work well as a sniper rifle, or vice-versa. The basic combat version works okay for either of those options, but not as well as rifles which are set up specifically for that type of use.

Get the Right Optics

Once the barrel is decided upon, based upon the purpose, the next thing to think about is optics. Here again, your choice is purpose-driven. If you’re planning on using the rifle for CQB, it doesn’t make sense to install a telescopic sight. But on the other hand, if you’re going to use it as a sniper rifle, you pretty much have to have that scope.

One of the best combinations on the market is made by EOTech. This two-piece set consists of a red dot sight and a four power scope. The scope is mounted in such a way that it can be swung out of the way for close-in work, or locked in place for longer range shooting. With only four power, it’s not a sniper scope, but it’s great for that mid-range combat type of shooting.

Regardless of how you are purposing your AR-15, it’s a good idea to have iron sights, in addition to whatever other sights you might have. That way, in a worst-case situation, such as your scope getting broken or the battery for your red dot sight dying, you can still use the gun.

Of course, your optics may require that you install a quad-rail onto the gun. This goes back to purposing the gun before doing anything, as you should really have a pretty good idea of how you are going to use it, before you start. That way, you won’t buy a barrel with a forestock that you need to remove, in order to install a quad-rail.

Get a Grip

Many people add some sort of a foregrip to their AR-15, usually some variant of a vertical foregrip; although some like the angled fore grip instead. If you’re thinking in terms of a vertical foregrip and you’re tricking out an AR-15 which is being set up as a sniper rifle, you might want to consider getting a foregrip that does double duty as a bipod.

I hope you can see where I’m going with this. The basic idea is that form follows function. While it might be fun to add some decorative details to your AR-15; the main idea is to make it functional for your intended purpose first. That could mean adding quite a bit more to your rifle than what I’ve mentioned here, as I haven’t talked about changing triggers or adding a sling.

Once you get the functional stuff done, then if you want to add something to make it look more personal, then by all means, do so. But don’t let the quality of your rifle suffer, just because you want to make it look cool. Function really does have to trump form.

One last point; take your time. I’ve found that once I start working on a gun, I find all sorts of ideas that I never knew existed. So I tend to make my decisions slowly; allowing me to make sure I don’t see something I like better, as well as keeping my eyes open for sales. And as you’re working, always be sure to keep your powder dry and your survival gear close at hand.

Dr. Rich

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