Hot-Rodding Your AR On The Cheap

So you just brought home your first AR15. Maybe you cheaped out like me and bought the basic $750 DPMS carbine-length flat-top with the non-chrome lined chamber. Congrats! You saved about $800 over one of those boutique ARs and still got a dependable carbine that will likely give you just as many years of use. Now, how do you customize it without spending all of that $800 (that you’d much rather spend on ammunition)?

If you’re like me and have spent any amount of time with an AR-type rifle in your hands, the first thing you notice is how the trigger guard digs into the middle finger on your trigger hand. I consider this a major ergonomic design flaw on what is an otherwise nearly perfect weapon. Fortunately, there is a cheap and easy fix. For less than the price of a six-pack of decent beer, you can swap that stock torture device out with a curved and rounded piece that is smooth as butter. As a bonus, you just replaced aluminum with polymer, lightening your rifle by fraction of an ounce (hey, it all adds up!)

While you are improving your trigger hand’s quality of life, why not replace that cold, hard factory pistol grip? I’ve always liked Hogue grips. They are soft and grippy and make me a better shooter.

OK, so you’ve spent about $30 so far and have improved the ergonomics of your AR by 100%. Let’s load up that flat-top with some sights and optics, shall we?

The great thing about a flat-top is that the optics world is your oyster. You can literally put any combination of iron sights, scopes, holographic sights, or red dots on your AR.

But, of course, all you really need is a cheap 30mm red dot. There are plenty to choose from and you can bet all the $30-$40 ones come from the same factory in China so don’t be too picky: Tasco, Barska, Truglo, and Leapers – they’re all pretty much the same. Don’t forget to get a riser base to raise your red dot up to eye level.

Like the old saying goes; “Two is one, and one is none” so you’d better put some back up iron sights (aka “BUIS”) on your AR for when your red dot craps out, loses zero, or runs out of batteries. Now you can spend hundreds on fancy flip up sights, or you can just get some cheap no-name A2 style sights like the ones I got. In case you’re wondering, yes I can “co-witness” and sight through both the red dot and the BUIS’s along the same axis. This wouldn’t be possible without the YHM riser that my red dot sits on…

A vertical fore grip is entirely optional but, if you decide you need one, be careful because down this path lies a lot of high priced doo-dads – very few of which you really need to get the job done. Most AR geeks eventually replace their factory handguards with a fancy – and expensive – quad rail system. Good news! If all you need to mount up front is a vertical grip and maybe a flashlight (keep reading), you can keep your factory guards. All you need is this handy bottom-mount rail. Doesn’t look like much, I’ll admit, but it works surprisingly well and costs as little as another six-pack of decent beer.

Mount the rail, slap on your vertical grip and now you are ready for the final piece in your customized AR: a light. I am very fond of my Streamlight Polytac LED flashlights (yes, I have more than one). I seriously doubt you can find another 130 lumen compact LED flashlight for under $50 – especially one that is this well made. All you need to mount one to your AR is this small rail-mount bracket.

Finally, there is no substitute for a nice padded bag for your AR. Bulldog makes one that is the perfect size, is ruggedly constructed, and doesn’t cost too much.

There you have it: ten cool upgrades that are guaranteed to make your AR more fun. And we spent less than $300! That leaves us with $500 for ammo and maybe a few boutique West Coast IPAs for afterwards. See you at the range!


3 responses to “Hot-Rodding Your AR On The Cheap

  • Devil's Advocate

    The AR-15 is a great rifle in the right hands. But when the going gets tough, some people think that a classic advisory, the AK-47, is a better choice. It can be less accurate and less customizable, but it is cheaper and the .30 bullet leaves a bigger hole than the .223 out of the AR.

    So, do you feel the AK-47 should be left out, relegated to a back-up piece, or given it’s time in the sun?

  • krispykirk76

    I am not an “either/or” guy so I keep a true battle rifle in 7.62×51 around as well. You know, for the “bigger hole”.

    But an AK-type rifle would find a warm welcome in my arsenal nonetheless. I like its rugged durability and the fact that its “soldier proof”.

    I just happened to start out with an AR instead. Here’s why: a) the ammo is lighter so I can carry more of it; b) I can change calibers/barrel lengths/etc just by pushing two pins and swapping my upper; c) the AR shoots flatter and will give the average shooter more hits in a stressful environment; d) the 5.56×45 round will be more commonly available after a true SHTF scenario since it is a “universal” military and law enforcement caliber; e) all the “flaws” in Stoner’s original design have finally been worked out leaving no room for complaints about unreliability, difficult cleaning, jamming, etc. Just treat your AR with the same care and respect you would any of your other guns and it will reward you.

    The AK has no shortage of fans (especially if you consider how popular full-auto AKs are), but the AR is still the overwhelming favorite in the prepper community, and for good reason (see above).

    AR15 – accept no substitutes!

  • krispykirk76

    And, just in case anybody wants to bash DPMS and show off how awesome their own taste in AR’s is, I’ve heard it all before! Sorry!

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