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!