By Doug Howlett While the AR market remains more than steady, though perhaps slightly off-pace from the red hot buying frenzy of 2013, the tactical accessories market is blazing right ahead. It makes sense, now that so many people own an AR or two or more, it is only natural these savvy gunowners will want to trick out and customize their rifles to match their intended purpose or, quite simply, to make them look even cooler.
That is, after all, one of the great attractions of this firearm platform; it is so easily customizable, that every gun can be tricked out to match its owner’s personality and purpose no matter whether it is competition, hunting, self-defense or simply plinking. Following are seven essentials every AR owner will want to consider.
Handguards – Also simply referred to as a rail by many operators, this is where your forward hand will grip the rifle (or for many tactical instructors, just before it) and where you will run your Picatinny rails for rapid attachments of many other accessories. AR-15s with quad-rails certainly had their day—when shooters simply wanted as many railed attachment points as possible. While quad-railed systems are still common, modular systems that allow the addition of any number of small rail panels (M-Lock, Key-Mod, Etc.) are rapidly taking over. These options simply expand the possibilities for accessories. Consider this the foundation of your platform when it comes to accessories such as lights, bipods, vertical grips and more as this is the area many will attach.
Sighting Systems – Is your AR for varminting or hunting hogs over open fields and hillsides? Then you’ll want a quality variable optic that will allow you to deliver pinpoint accuracy at longer ranges. For more close-up targets or if magnification is not an issue for your hawk eyes, a quality red dot is maybe more up your alley. Since ARs are often used for closer targets (30 to 200 yards) red dot sights provide quick, accurate target acquisition and can be adjusted for extremely bright or low-light shooting.
Variable magnification optics with a tactical pedigree are the most preferred route for pinpoint accuracy out to ranges beyond 100 yards and having the option to adjust the magnification for both optimal sighting at longer distances and for lower or higher light can be helpful. TRUGLO®’s new TRU•BRITE™ 30 Series of scopes offers shooters a choice of 1-4x or 1-6x from a 30mm tube. The magnification ring boasts a quick adjustment lever, easy to work when wearing tactical gloves and two-precalibrated BDC turrets in calibers .223 (for 55-grain bullets) and .308 (for 168-grain bullets) for adjusting aim out to 800 yards away. With a true 1x minimum power, and the ability to zoom in to 4x or even 6x, this style optic works well for fast close-range shooting and reaching out to medium distances with precision. This combination often fits the bill for a 5.56mm tactical, yet practical, carbine.
Lasers – Rail-mounted lasers either beneath the barrel, above it or even along the sides can be great for rapid target acquisition, easy sighting as the laser rests directly on the target at the sight of impact thus building confidence in the shooter and work great in low light situations when many defensive situations likely take place. For an ingenious take on the laser, check out the TRUGLO® TRU•TEC™ 30mm Red Dot Sight with an Integrated Laser. The unique combination incorporates a built-in side-mounted laser that gives the shooter a choice between a crisp red dot sighting system or direct laser on the target. A quick detach lever allows for rapid mounting and dismounting of the optic and it is built at a natural co-witness height so it can be used in conjunction with back-up sights.
Lights – When it comes to utilizing a firearm for home defense, the majority of situations will be in low light. For that reason, many AR users like to have a weapon-mounted light to help flood the areas where they may need to aim with bright, white light. Manufacturers have done an excellent job of creating lightweight, small-scale lighting systems that attach directly to the Picatinny rail of an AR. Some provide the option to remain on or to turn on only when a grip-mounted button is depressed. A unique take on the latter is the TRU•POINT™ LASER/LIGHT COMBO, which combines both shining light with an optional use laser lighting system. This particular light features a medium-to-wide flood, superior to narrower beams for most defensive purposes. The integrated laser (available in red or green) includes windage and elevation adjustments, allowing the beam to be either aligned to the bore, or zeroed to an exact point-of-impact at a given distance.
Forward Grip – Gripping the handguard with a natural shooting position can twist the wrist of the foreward hand at an almost unnatural angle. Vertical and angled grips can great not only a more comfortable hold, but a surer handle on the front end of an AR when engaged in fast-paced shooting scenarios or tactical simulations. Like virtually everything used in conjunction with the AR, these are designed to quickly attach directly to the rail.
Bipods – For a steady rest when shooting at targets down range, a compact, rail-mounted bipod folds out of the way when not needed and with an easy flip, can be set and extended in seconds. The legs adjust independently when shooting from uneven surfaces or lying prone on the ground.
Sling – Whether practicing tactical carry techniques or using your AR for hunting, a sling makes toting your rifle a much simpler—and comfortable—task. Think of a rifle sling the way you think of a handgun holster—as a critical implement that connects the weapon to the shooter. Single-point, two-point (similar to a traditional sling) and three-point slings are all an option, with the single-point attaching behind the receiver and worn like a bandolier slung over the torso and a three-point sling, which is slightly more complicated but can hold the gun in a more secure position.
The fun of owning an AR is experimenting with all of these accessories and finding out which setup works best for you and for the type of shooting you typically do.