TOP 5 ACCURACY UPGRADES FOR YOUR AR-15
Any experienced shooter will tell you that accuracy is more than a sum of parts in a gun. Accuracy is the ability to put many bullets in a single, bullet-sized hole, consistently — on every shot you take. Yes, the gun and ammo need to perform reliably, but more importantly, you the shooter need to be consistent with every shot. Most guns on the market can outperform a novice shooter who is not using proper form and has no mastery of core foundational shooting skills. Heck, most if not all of my AR’s perform better than I do and this has been proven by more seasoned rifleman who have shot my guns. So before looking for upgrades with the hope that you can spend your way to better accuracy, first and foremost, build a core foundation of skills that enable you to shoot consistently. Learn proper form in multiple shooting positions, learn how to properly hand support or bench/bipod rest your firearm when you shoot, learn how your breathing affects accuracy and get the body mechanics under your control. As you build this foundation, you can start to look at ways that will help you further achieve even greater consistency, and you will see your accuracy improve.
WHAT ARE THE BEST UPGRADES TO YOUR AR-15 TO IMPROVE ACCURACY?
When looking to improve your accuracy, it goes beyond components. It first starts with a rifle that will operate reliably and consistently from shot to shot. Let’s do a rundown of this before breaking into the top 5 components that to me rise to the top when looking to improve accuracy. And then I’ll throw in some honorable mentions.
First off, your rifle has to run and run 100% of the time. If you are consistently experiencing feeding concerns, failure to fire concerns, or any other concern as it relates to the operation of the rifle, you will spend more time making your gun work and focusing on whether it will go boom each time you pull the trigger. This removes your focus from where it should be. On executing your core foundational shooting skills and concentrating on each shot at hand, analyzing that shot, and making corrections or repeating the shot. If your rifle or AR pistol is not working 100% of the time, you need to fix that first.
So what are my top 5 upgrades? Glad you asked.
For components, honorable mentions go to stocks/furniture, free float handguards, and muzzle devices which will also be covered in detail.
For AR services to enhance accuracy potential the following can be performed:
- Bedding the barrel
- Polishing feed ramps
- Lapping the bolt to the extension
- Polishing of certain bolt components
- Optimizing the buffer system
All of these services aid in creating a more consistent and accurate rifle.
While most consider the barrel to be the heart of the AR-15, I disagree. I consider it to be the spine of the rifle because the AR platform gun is built around the barrel. The barrel is the first part that I carefully choose when building an AR. But, the barrel is the heart of the AR’s accuracy. Essentially, the barrel is the most important part of your rifle. Operation and accuracy doesn’t end with the barrel, but it most certainly begins with it. There is a saying: “you can’t build a good gun around a bad barrel.” Why is it that a lot of individuals will skimp on the barrel and go to a “budget friendly” option while they drop absurd amounts of money on other components that do not increase functionality, operation, or dependability? Most rack grade AR’s will ship with barrels that are accurate enough for the recreational or new shooter. Mastering the other elements of core shooting fundamentals will give you the greatest improvements accuracy. In most cases, finding the best upgraded barrel will take those vast improvements in your accuracy and fine tune them into precision shooting at longer distances. Here are the things to consider when shopping for an AR-15 barrel or barrel upgrade.
MATERIAL AND PRODUCTION
There are some myths out there that need to be dispelled regarding barrels. The first is, many shooters believe that the best barrel for accuracy needs to be a Hammer Forged Chrome-lined Heavy Barrel. This is simply not the case. These materials and production techniques have little to do with accuracy. They have everything to do with durability and reliability during sustained automatic fire. For most civilian shooters of semi-automatic AR-15’s, their typical usage does not require these materials or the substantial cost of these barrels from reputable manufactures. The most popular material for precision barrels today is 416 and 416R stainless steel. Quality precision barrels made with this steel can turn your AR into a tack driver. While the barrel’s material has little effect on the accuracy of the weapon.
Stainless barrels are popular for match rifles for one primary reason: they are easier to machine and finish. This is what allows for the precision and accuracy that these barrels typically achieve. As for barrel profile and width, since precision shooters typically do not shoot at a high rate of fire, a variety of thicknesses, barrel profiles, and fluting techniques can be combined to craft some match-grade barrels.
When it comes to the rifling of an AR barrel, the two most common methods found in precision barrels is cut rifling, and polygonal or 5R rifling. Cut rifling is the original “old school” way. A machine cuts each groove one at a time over many passes. This produces the least amount of stress on a barrel but requires the most care to get right. Generally, these are the most expensive barrels due to the extra time and care required, but cut rifled barrels are usually some of the most accurate barrels. Polygonal or 5R rifled barrels are also single cut but they do not use the sharp shoulders that are found on the lands of standard rifled barrels. This decrease in angle reduces pressure on the bullet as it travels down the barrel, and this reduces the deformation of the bullet which aids in increasing external ballistics and accuracy. Also, an increase in velocity is typically seen with 5R rifling as the bullet obdurates better to 5R rifling which provides for less gas blow by and increased velocities.
Chamber dimensions are a critical within the barrel and can affect accuracy and consistency as well as operation. Reputable barrel manufacturers closely watch their chamber reamers for wear and will sharpen when required, but most importantly they will also discard worn reamers when required. I once spoke with a top barrel manufacturer who stated to me that they replace their chamber reamers after they have been sharpened two times. As a reamer is sharpened it becomes smaller which creates a smaller chamber in the barrel.
Calibers….. So some calibers will allow for multiple calibers to be chambered within a barrel. This is done thru the design of the chamber and throat or leade. An example of this is 5.56 NATO and .223 Remington. You can fire a .223 Remington in a 5.56 NATO Chamber due to the longer leade of the 5.56 NATO chamber. But with this comes some side effects that can affect accuracy. This longer throat provides for more bullet jump to the rifling which can have a negative effect on accuracy. It also effectively reduces the velocity of the .223 Remington which reduces its external ballistics and this reduction in velocity can reduce effective yardage as well as accuracy.
Then there are hybrid chambers such as the .223 Wylde. The .223 Wylde was designed by a competitive shooter named Bill Wylde. The .223 Wylde is considered to be a match chamber and it combines the 5.56 NATO chamber with a shorter leade than the 5.56 NATO, but it also has reduced ramp angles into the rifling. This reduced ramp angle allows for proper feeding and safe operation of 5.56 NATO ammunition and as well as for .223 Remington ammunition. Noveske at one time had a hybrid chamber very similar to the .223 Wylde. I am not sure if they still offer that or not. Do your research, as there may multiple chamber offerings in a particular cartridge that you’re considering.
Another myth is that longer barrels are required for accuracy. A poorly-made 24-inch barrel can easily lose out in accuracy to a well-made barrel that is 10 inches shorter. When good quality precision barrels are used, barrel length becomes more important as the length of the shot being taken increases. The longer the barrel, the faster the velocity of the round. If you are shooting at 100 yards, a 16-inch barrel is ideal. If you want to be more accurate at ranges beyond 300 yards, 18, 20 and 24-inch barrels will propel the bullet faster and flatter. Match your barrel to your anticipated shooting distance and ammunition.
There is a caveat in that dependent upon the caliber and type of ammunition used, you may actually see a decrease in velocity in longer barrels. When this phenomenon occurs we have to look at internal ballistics. That is, what is occurring within the barrel. When it occurs, it is typically due to an increase in friction between the barrel and the bullet. This is typically caused by the selection of powder for the cartridge, in that it was too “fast” of a powder and it all burned up early in the barrel which leaves for little to no pressure to keep building bullet velocity.
GAS TUBE LENGTH
Your gas system operates your AR-15. Gas from the explosion is directed through a hole in the top of the barrel known as the gas port, and into the gas block. From there it travels down the gas tube into the receiver where it pushes back the Bolt Carrier Group (BCG). The closer to the chamber the gas block is situated on the barrel, typically the higher the pressure of the gas that pushes back on the BCG. But, dwell time also has an effect on this. Dwell time is the amount of time the bullet is still in the barrel once the bullet passes the gas port. The longer the dwell time, the longer gas is applied to the gas port, gas tube, and BCG. Barrel length also affects dwell time, as the longer the barrel the longer the dwell time is.
A pistol length gas tube (shortest) increases the felt recoil of the gun. This, as a result, influences accuracy –, especially on follow-up shots. From pistol-length gas systems, we move to longer lengths which are carbine, mid-length, and rifle-length. Longer gas tube lengths result in a shooting experience that is smoother and has less recoil. Most precision rifles have longer tubes for this reason.
The caliber of the AR can effect gas system length as well as port size. In some calibers such as .300 Blk, 350 Legend, 450 Bushmaster, and others, it is not uncommon to find shorter gas systems combined with longer barrels. But in general A longer barrel with a longer gas system will provide for a smoother, “softer”, shooting experience as long as gas port sizing is correct and the chamber is correctly cut. A longer gas system generally means longer parts life too because the gun isn’t beating itself to death with excessive gas pressures and BCG velocities.
Few things confuse new AR 15 shooters like twist rate. 1:7, 1:8, 1:12 – what does it really mean? Twist rate describes the rotation – or spin — of a bullet as it travels down the barrel. The first number in the twist rate ratio represents one full rotation of the bullet as it travels down the barrel. The second number represents the number of inches the bullet will travel down the barrel to complete that one rotation. So, as an example, a 1:7 twist rate means that there will be one rotation for every 7 inches of travel the bullet completes down the rifled barrel.
It is commonly assumed that heavier bullets require more spin to achieve a stable flight trajectory and be accurate at long distances. While this isn’t 100% correct, it is pretty close. Bullet length and ogive size and location are what truly effect stabilization and the required twist rates. With a few exceptions, it just happens that heavier bullets typically have these traits. Hence why “heavy” bullets need a faster twist.
Lighter bullets can suffer from over-stabilization and become less accurate if they spin too much. On the far end of this spectrum is catastrophic bullet failure from excessive velocity combined with a barrel that is too “fast.” The bullet literally comes apart in flight. I’ve experienced this in bolt action rifles.
Therefore, it is critical to match your choice of ammunition to barrel twist rate if you want to be accurate. The below chart provides the ideal twist rate for different weights of bullets. If you want the most versatile twist rate available for 5.56 NATO, go for something in the middle like 1:8 or 1:9.
|1:8 or 1:7
|1:7 or 1:8
Ammunition for your AR-15 comes in varying types and grades. What you feed your rifle has a huge impact on accuracy. Cheap steel case ammo is very popular choice for 5.56 NATO plinking at short distances on the range, but it is not known for being able to shoot a consistent, tight group at distance. Mass produced brass ammunition from large companies improve upon accuracy and reliability, but these cartridges are designed for combat effectiveness where larger groups are acceptable. On the flipside you have smaller boutique style ammunition manufacturers that offer reman ammunition. While these will typically save you money, they are not always the most consistent ammunition. There may be discrepancies in the brass, in bullet seating depth, in overall concentricity, etc. While this may make for good plinking ammo, it typically does not provide for exceptional accuracy. Terhe are exceptions though, as there are some small shops that only produce smaller lot competition style ammunition. In the large scheme of things, you will notice a significant improvement in accuracy and consistency if you shoot with precision match ammunition. Granted, you also typically pay a premium price for this, as well as purchasing it in smaller quantities.
Quantity versus quality. That is the major differentiator with match-grade ammo. If you are wanting to accurately shoot your AR at 300+ yards, you do not need to be buying all-purpose, bulk 223 or 5.56, 300blk, 6.8 SPC, 6.5 Grendel, or whatever caliber of ammo. Precision is what you’re after. You need the quality of a match round that uses a specific bullet weight and powder combination to attain those small groups at long distances. Yes, you will pay more to get less for match ammunition, but it will enable closer groups with far less effort and luck.
As previously mentioned, .223 Remington ammo may be safely shot in a barrel chambered for 5.56×45 (5.56 NATO). There may be a decrease in accuracy as the rifling on a 5.56 NATO barrel is designed for a higher-pressure round. It is UNSAFE to fire a 5.56 NATO round in a barrel chambered for .223 Remington. The barrel may not withstand the additional pressure of the military-grade round. A .223 Wylde barrel will safely fire both rounds.
If you are shooting with the equivalent of iron sights on your AR 15, with practice you will be able to achieve relatively good accuracy at short ranges, but you’ll see your effectiveness tapering off after a couple hundred yards. Especially if you have less than 20/20 vision, your ability to actually see the target at long distances will be your greatest limitation. The answer is a quality optic.
All optics, however, are not created equal. If you have a top quality AR platform rifle that cost you $1,500 or more and you equip it with a $50 optic that you purchased at a gun show, you are setting yourself up to fail in regards to your accuracy. When it comes to riflescopes, you’re going to have to pay for quality — corners cannot be cut on the way to a good optic. Here is something that most people do not want to hear or accept. As it relates to a scope, a good quality scope will cost as much as a top quality AR, and in a lot of cases it is more. For long range shooters, precision shooters, and others in a similar position, it is not uncommon for a quality scope that will fill the required role of intended use to cost as much as 2x or more than the rifle.
However not everyone needs a supremely powerful and costly optic, it depends on what you want to get out of your rifle. One thing is certain, though, any quality optic you put on your rifle will increase your accuracy and provide you with a tactical advantage over iron sights.
The AR 15 is the most popular rifle in America because it’s versatile and people put them to use in all sorts of applications. From target shooting just for fun, to competition, small game hunting, self-defense, and tactical shooting. Your optic choices are just as varied as the potential uses of your rifle, and there is an option for nearly any scenario you can imagine. Are you in search of a competition scope, hunting scope, a target shooting scope, tactical scope or defense optic? Based on your intended use, you may want a red dot sight, a fixed magnification compact prism scope, or a variable magnification scope. Each option has Pros and Cons to consider depending on your intended use for the rifle, so let’s take a look.
Red dot style sights are very popular for AR 15’s. They are unmagnified, are quick to get on target, and allow the shooter to keep both eyes open for full use of peripheral vision and better situational awareness. A properly zeroed red dot provides the shooter with a consistent point of aim, and excel at close combat ranges from 0-100 yards for most shooters. But they are not for everyone. Shooters with an astigmatism may be unable to see a crisp dot, making exceptional accuracy almost impossible. Instead, these shooters see things that have been described as a “smudge,” “comma,” ”light streaks,” or “comet”. If a red dot sight looks a little undefined to your eye when you look through it, chances are you have an astigmatism and you may want to consider another option. Let’s break down the Pros and Cons.
Rapid target acquisition
Consistent aiming point with a bright dot
Easy to use and master Excellent for ranges from 0-100 yards
Cost-effective optic solution
Can be paired with an optional red dot magnifier to increase range
Can be difficult to use if shooter has an astigmatism
If eyesight has difficulty at distance, effective range is limited
Inability of positive target identity at distance
Offset issues are greatest at shorter ranges
Prism scopes are fixed-magnification, compact scopes with a reticle etched onto the interior glass instead of projected onto a lens like a red dot sight. Prisms typically range from 1x to 5x and are ideal for the AR-15 or M4 style platform. 1x magnification prisms are comparable to red dots in features and intended usage. Without magnification, they perform in the same role, yet have advantages for shooters with eye issues as the etched reticle is easy to see without distortion. For those with trouble seeing long distances, or for those who want to shoot out to even longer ranges, 1.5x to 6x fixed magnification prism scopes provide an excellent option to give your AR some distance potential. You can choose from many advanced reticle designs too which are incredibly versatile and aid in removing the guesswork out of long-range ballistics.
Magnification extends accuracy at longer ranges
Greater precision with etched reticle
Variety of reticles available to customize your shooting experience
Robust and durable
Many affordable quality options available
Fixed magnification limits flexibility Light transmission limitations effect image quality
VARIABLE POWER SCOPES
A variable power scope allows you to manually adjust the magnification, providing greater flexibility for your shooting experience. Very popular with hunters, competitors, and recreational shooters that shoot at multiple ranges, the adjustable magnification lets you tailor your scope to the shot you want to take. That flexibility comes at a cost though, as added weight can cause some scopes to feel cumbersome on the lightweight frame of an AR rifle.
There are two types of variable power scopes to choose from: First Focal Plane (FFP) and Second Focal Plane (SFP). With an FFP scope, the reticle visually grows and shrinks as you change your magnification setting. This ensures that your zero and bullet drop compensation marks that are etched into the reticle remain accurate at any magnification. An SFP scope’s reticle remains the same size as the magnification changes, resulting in a consistent sight picture. However, any bullet drop compensation marks will only be accurate at the maximum power setting. Do your research to choose which type is best for your specific shooting requirements. Typically, single focus plane reticles will be found on higher priced scopes.
Range of magnification provides maximum flexibility
Variable magnification allows for simpler reticles
Better light transmission improves image quality High magnification allows for precise windage and elevation adjustments at longer ranges
Typically more expensive than prism scopes Heavier and bulkier than prism scopes
Must buy additional hardware to mount the scope to your rifle
Lower quality scopes may not hold zero well as you adjust for windage and elevation
A note on glass quality: This is something that varies widely among manufacturers. The simple truth is, the better quality the glass, the sharper your image will be as you view through the scope. Research what other people have to say regarding the glass quality of a scope before you purchase.
Most AR-15’s come out of the factory with a MIL-SPEC style standard trigger. These triggers are machined to meet military standards and require an average of 5.5lbs or more of pressure to fire the gun. The MIL-SPEC trigger is not fancy, but it is reliable and relatively inexpensive to mass produce. The typical stock trigger on a new AR-15 does not have a consistent “break” point — or the point during the trigger-pull at which the hammer is released. They don’t often have consistent pull weights either. The reason for this is that there are many contact surfaces within a trigger group that cause varying degrees of friction. In addition to trigger pull weight, other factors such as length of pull, trigger reset, take up (or “slack”), over travel, production quality, and trigger shape all contribute to the overall shooting experience and performance of the trigger.
For many shooters, all these variables combine to produce an inconsistent shooting experience with a MIL-SPEC trigger. If you are shooting for precision and accuracy, you rely on your trigger to perform the same way each time you pull it. The standard AR trigger just doesn’t deliver that consistency. The remedy is a trigger upgrade. You can readily find many trigger upgrade kits for sale, as well as drop-in trigger assemblies that install in just a few steps. After you shoot an AR that is equipped with a quality trigger upgrade, chances are that you will not want to go back to the MIL-SPEC trigger ever again. It really is that much better.
A good AR trigger gives the shooter precise mechanical control over the fire control group. Precision machined components, tighter tolerances, better springs and even different shapes all combine to create a predictable trigger that “breaks” cleanly and consistently. This is more important than pull weight for accuracy, but can be further enhanced by a lighter pull. WARNING: Not all trigger pull weights are suitable for all purposes! If triggers are set to a pull weight that is too light, the probability of a negligent discharge increases dramatically. Most multi-purpose trigger upgrades are between 3.5 and 4.5 pounds in pull weight for safety.
AR trigger upgrades come in two varieties: single-stage and two-stage. Which style you choose is really driven by preference, so let’s examine the Pros and Cons of each one.
SINGLE STAGE TRIGGER
Since you already have an AR, you are familiar with a single stage trigger. In one motion, you pull the trigger until it “breaks.” It is simple and standard on most firearms. Match-grade single stage trigger upgrades make the break as consistent as possible, and the shooter exerts the same level of effort the entire time to pull through the “break.”
Familiar mechanics for shooters that are accustomed to a MIL-SPEC trigger
Single motion with consistent force applied Crisp “break”
Not as predictable
TWO STAGE TRIGGER
A two-stage trigger splits the force required to pull the trigger into two different operations, the “take up” and the “break”. Using a Geissele SSA trigger as an example, the overall pull weight is 4.5 pounds. The shooter applies 2.5 pounds of pressure through the first stage and then hits a clearly identifiable “wall”. At that point, and additional 2 pounds of pressure is all that is required to break the trigger in the second stage. After the first shot, the user only needs to reset the trigger to the 2-pound second stage for a follow-up shot.
Creates a predictable “break” point for the trigger
Can allow for faster and more accurate follow-up shots
May require some practice to familiarize yourself with the mechanism
Can induce finger fatigue if holding the first stage for extended periods as you wait for the perfect shot
Once you’ve decided on a single stage or a two-stage trigger, there are a nearly unlimited array of options for the physical construction of the trigger you may want to put on your rifle. Growing in popularity in recent years are flat faced triggers, skeletonized triggers, and even triggers with adjustable finger pad placement. Whatever you decide, it’s a good idea to buy from a reputable manufacturer like Geissele, LaRue Tactical, CMC Trigger, Timney Triggers, or any other brand with a reputation for quality.
I’m not go to say a lot here. Other than the best way to improve your overall shooting skills, and to do it quickly is to go get training. Find a reputable trainer in the discipline that you’re shooting or wish to improve in. If you’re a PRS competition shooter, find an instructor that competes in and specializes in PRS. Are you a 3-Gun shooter? Go find yourself an instructor that is a Master or Grand Master class shooter who shoots 3-Gun and take a course or two. Do you see a trend here?
You can’t find an instructor? Find a capable and well versed mentor in your discipline of shooting and become friends with them and start shooting with them. In my experiences in competitive shooting and training in general is that most competent and well versed individuals are more than happy to help out other shooters.
Save yourself a lot of headaches, trial and error, lots of failure, lots of money, and everything else that goes with trying to become proficient at something on your own. Find an instructor and mentor and take the shortcuts. Reputable individuals have already been thru these process and spent needless amounts of money to learn what works and what doesn’t.
There are three AR-15 parts that contribute to accuracy but didn’t make the cut for my top 5 list. Not only do these parts help you shoot better but they can also make your shooting experience better and much more enjoyable. These three parts are the free float handguard, AR stock/furniture, and a good recoil-mitigating muzzle device.
FREE FLOAT HANDGUARD
Many inexpensive AR-15’s come in a configuration that has an A2 front sight post and gas block, with a polymer handguard fit between the front sight and the upper receiver. On a carbine-length gas system, your handguard covers around 7 inches of the 16-inch barrel. This short length restricts your options for supporting techniques and AR accessories that can greatly improve stability. Furthermore, a standard handguard has multiple points where pressure is exerted on the barrel, which can interfere with ideal barrel harmonics and impact accuracy. The solution is a free float handguard.
A free float handguard reduces pressure points on the barrel and allows for lengths up to 15 inches on a 16-inch barrel. All that extra real estate, combined with a picatinny rail, Keymod, or MLOK system for attaching accessories can provide numerous additional options to stabilize your rifle and improve your accuracy. For many shooters, the ability to move your support hand out towards the end of the rifle provides a major improvement in shooting stability. Attaching an AR bipod can create a platform suitable for precision shooting. Even attaching foregrips and forward sling points can increase stability.
This upgrade involves some additional modifications, so you need to make sure you’re prepared. You will need to remove your delta ring, possibly your barrel nut, and the A2 front sight (if you have one), replacing it with a low-profile gas block. Research the best methods on how to do the modifications to ensure that your rifle and gas system will function reliably after the upgrade.
For those AR’s that may already have a free float handguard, there may be better options to upgrade to that will increase the rigidity, dependability due to a better retention system, anti-rotation capabilities, reduced shift or deflection due to barrel heat, etc. In this case, most upgrades are straight forward and require the removal of the current gas block/ gas tube assembly that can typically be reused, muzzle device if so equipped, and then removal and replacement of the barrel nut. Then reassembly of the removed parts and installation of the new handguard.
More than any other component on the rifle, what stock you choose is a matter of personal preference. Ultimately, you want a stock that provides a solid check weld to help you stabilize the rifle as you shoot. Depending on your shooting requirements, body and facial build, length of reach, comfort level, and other characteristics, there are numerous options. Fixed length, collapsible and even PDW style stocks. Choose the one that works best for you. As you get into more precision shooting using more powerful optics, eye relief to your scope becomes a major consideration. For precision long-range shooting with powerful optics, many shooters opt for an adjustable precision stock like the Magpul Precision Rifle Stock (PRS), Luth-AR Modular Buttstock Assembly or the Seekins Precision ProComp 10X. These stocks allow for adjustable cheek weld, adjustable length of pull, and some even provide for the ability to shift the stock and/or cheek weld left or right.
Grip. The grip is an import part of furniture that most take for granted and overlook. There are a number of grips available on the market. There are grips such as the Magpul MOE K2, BCM Gunfighter Mod 3, and others that reduce the angle of the grip. What this does is provide for a more efficient biomechanical operation of the trigger as well as weapon handling and recoil mitigation. A more vertical grip reduces the angle of the wrist in relation to the grip. This makes for a more inline bone structure to the grip. Angles are weak and straight lines are strong. Hence aiding in recoil mitigation. This also puts our trigger finger in a more straight line correlation to the trigger, whereas a more traditional grip (A2) puts our trigger finger in a downward angle below the trigger. This inline correlation to the trigger allows us to manipulate the trigger with more precise control and trigger.
Then you have more specialized grips that have molded thumb rest shelves in them as well as some that have a shelf attached to the bottom of the grip to rest your hand on for stability. It is not uncommon to find these style of grips on precision style guns.
Play with your furniture. Try some out if possible before you purchase. But the stock and grip are two of the four points of contact with a rifle. Meaning that these are user interface areas that can and will make a difference in your operation of the AR.
MUZZLE DEVICE THAT MITIGATES RECOIL
When a bullet exits the barrel, it is followed by a cloud of expanding gas that pushes back against the rifle. This can contribute greatly to felt recoil as well as muzzle rise. Most budget AR-15’s ship with the equivalent of the A2 “birdcage” flash hider. This muzzle device was designed to mitigate the effects of the muzzle flash on a shooter’s night vision in low-light engagements. It doesn’t do much to impact recoil. What you need is a muzzle brake, compensator, or a hybrid device.
A muzzle brake is designed so that the expanding gasses are redirected and harnessed to act in a linear opposition to the natural force of recoil caused by firing a bullet. A compensator on the other hand expels gases out the top to provide an opposing force to the rising barrel which aids in keeping the barrel “flatter.” A hybrid is a combination of both a brake and a comp. It expels gases out the side and out the top to act in opposition of the natural forces of recoil. It should be noted that while a good muzzle brake or hybrid device can make a noticeable difference in recoil management, these items also direct a substantial amount of noise and pressure outwards to the sides. This is even more pronounced on shorter barrels. Another side effect of these devices is that when shooting prone with larger calibers a debris cloud can be created by the pressure of the gasses when the gun is fired.
A good muzzle device can dramatically reduce recoil, improving your shooting experience and make it easier to get back on target for follow-up shots. Some of my favorite muzzle devices are the SOLGW NOX, Surefire Warcomp, VG6 Gamma for 5.56 NATO or the Epsilon series for other calibers such as the 6.5 Grendel, LANTAC Dragon, the Miculek comp, and the JP Enterprises Barrel Tactical Compensator and JP Comp series. The intended use dictates what type of muzzle device that I use.
AR SERVICES TO ENHANCE ACCURACY
I’m not going to spend much time going into detail about the services that can be performed to an AR to enhance accuracy, but instead I’m going to just give a very brief overview of a few.
BEDDING THE BARREL
Bedding the barrel is done either with the use of stainless steel shim stock, with the use of liquid bedding, or by installing an oversized barrel extension of the appropriate size. The easiest and most cost effective ways are the stainless steel shim stock or liquid bedding. If you are building an AR a good option is to use an upper receiver that has a thermal fit barrel extension as this eliminates the need to bed the barrel.
Bedding the barrel aids in reducing or eliminating movement of the barrel extension when firing which is due to barrel whip, and when the bolt cycles closed. The action of the barrel extension moving reduces the consistency with how the bolt locks and unlocks which has been shown to affect accuracy. It can also induce and distort unwanted barrel harmonics into the barrel.
POLISHING FEED RAMPS
When polishing the feed ramps the ramp angles are not changed. Instead, what is done is to remove burrs, rough edges, and machine marks that are left over from the machining process. Also, the entry way of the feed ramps can be contoured to match the M4 cuts in the receiver if required, as well as to correct any overhang of the ramps to receiver.
All of the above conditions can contribute to bullet and/or case damage which will obviously effect accuracy as well as proper operation. Also, polishing the feed ramps aids in proper feeding of certain projectiles such as hollow points, soft points, polymer tips, etc.
LAPPING THE BOLT TO THE EXTENSION
This is a process that’s done by hand and should only be performed if a bolt is going to be dedicated to a barrel. I.E. you are not swapping BCG’s between guns. This needs to be carefully done because if done incorrectly it can have a negative effect on headspace.
By lapping the bolt to the barrel extension the rough edges on both components “wear in.” What this provides for is smoother locking and unlocking of the bolt, as well as overall cycling. This provides for a more consistent operation cycle. While this is something that will happen naturally as many many rounds are expelled downrange thru the gun, the process of hand lapping the bolt gets you to a similar point without the wear and tear on the bolt and other components that firing those rounds does.
POLISHING OF CERTAIN BOLT COMPONENTS
Chamfering the ejector, polishing the ejector, and polishing the tip of the extractor aid in a cleaner and smoother cycling gun. By polishing these components the case head is allowed to enter the bolt face smoother and cleaner with very little friction and case damage. Ever seen brass flakes in your upper receiver? This is typically caused by the process of the case inserting into the bolt case. But it can also be a byproduct of the extraction process depending upon a number of variables. It’s not uncommon to see a lot of brass flakes.
On a comp gun or range toy, this can be taken just a little bit further. The face of the bolt can be carefully polished, as well as breaking the edge of the bolt face directly underneath the extractor. Both of these tasks need to be carefully performed and are not things that I would do to a defensive or duty gun.
OPTIMIZING THE BUFFER SYSTEM
By optimizing the buffer system to the gun and ammunition we can aid in getting a smoother cycling gun that typically has less felt recoil. This is done by slowing the cyclic rate of the gun which reduces chamber pressures by delaying the unlocking of the bolt. To do this the buffer spring rate is changed as well as most likely changing the buffer weight. But we never sacrifice dependability for the gain of a smoother rifle. Too heavy or too light of a buffer system combination will result in operational failure of the AR.
When optimizing the buffer system correctly, an added benefit is that we also usually gain increased dependability of the gun when it is dirty and fouled. This is achieved because the majority of store bought rack rifles have under lower buffer spring rates and buffer weights than they should. This is an area that manufacturers cut corners in to save money. Heavier buffers cost more money, as do the specialized springs for changing spring rates.
To Sum it Up
All of the above items discussed have the potential to improve your accuracy, but that will only occur if you continue to build your core shooting fundamentals, increase your knowledge of firearms and ballistics, and practice regularly. Accuracy is about consistency, but that consistency will never be realized unless you practice. The bottom line is this: upgrading your rifle and customizing it to be unique to you is fun. And it can help you shoot better. So build your core foundation of skills, understand your options, install some parts and go shoot.