Editor's Note: View our photo gallery, "AR Accessories."
One of the fastest growing sectors of the law enforcement market is enhancements for the AR Series of firearms. The AR has become the firearms counterpart of Burger King's Whopper: You can have it your way, any way you want it, literally.
There are so many companies making AR accessories that an article like this can't be comprehensive. All we're doing here is giving you a sample of what's available. So if you don't see your favorite accessory, that's why.
One of the simplest pieces of kit that I have used for nearly a decade is Buffer Technologies' Mag Cinch and Pull Tab. This simple bracket, screw, and strap will secure two 15- or 30-round magazines side by side, keeping them at the ready in your AR. My original Mag Cinch has been used all over the country and has yet to fail me. The Mag Cinch works best on GI or Brownells SOCOM contract magazines.
Buffer Tech also produces a replacement tip for the AR's recoil buffer. This is one of the most overlooked pieces on most operators' ARs. With time it becomes brittle and does not serve to reduce the impact of the buffer. This is a $10 piece, and I would recommend that you replace it annually. This problem is particularly common on surplus military ARs.
Another AR part that has been known to fail is the charging handle. Bravo Company's Gunfighter is made from 7075 T6 billet so it is nearly indestructible. I have used one on my DPMS M4, and my partner has one on his Bushmaster. Both have been to numerous shooting courses and used on duty and have yet to show any signs of bending or being out of true.
Forearms and Rails
Let's move on to one of the most commonly modified parts on any AR: the forearm. It seems there are as many styles of forearms as there are colors in the rainbow; come to think of it you can get forearms in a number of colors.
Midwest Industries makes one of the best direct replacement forearms I have seen, the MCATAR17. It simply clips into the delta ring and front gas block. The two pieces clip in from the top and bottom. These parts are so well machined they look like one piece when in place and there is a block on the top to mate with the upper receiver of your AR and give you a continuous rail.
If you prefer a "free floating" rail, you would be hard pressed to beat Daniel Defense's Omega 7 Rail. This rail secures via the delta ring and set screws. I have used it on a 20-inch barrel to mount a bi-pod and zero was not affected no matter how hard I leaned into the rifle. The Omega 7 is easily installed by the end user and comes with three sets of rail covers.
Should you want to lighten your AR, I suggest Precision Reflex Inc.'s Gen III Carbon Fiber Forearm. This forearm mounts via a barrel nut that replaces the delta ring. You must also remove the front sight, gas block, and gas tube. The Gen III will reduce the weight of your M4 by several ounces over a metal rail system. And you will still have four forward mounting points to add lights, lasers, or a fore grip.
One of the newest players in the AR accessory business is Choate Machine and Tool. Choate makes excellent stocks for many rifles used by precision shooters. Choate now offers quad rail forearms and stock assemblies for ARs. The machining of the forearms is excellent and they fit like a glove.
Choate's stock assembly is SOPMOD style with storage for batteries in the cheek piece on each side of the stock. You can order it as mil-spec (1.14 inches) or as a complete assembly if you have a commercial buffer tube (1.17 inches). Choate uses a larger locking pin in the stock and it will not fit standard buffer tubes.
Removing the buffer tube is no big deal as long as you have an AR wrench and a padded vise. If you or your agency has ARs, this is one piece of equipment you should have. I ordered mine from Brownells several years ago. Once the buffer nut is loose simply remove it and replace the new buffer tube.
If you wish to add a sling attachment, you can do that while replacing the buffer, as many require you to remove the buffer nut. The list of sling attachments reads like a Who's Who of AR parts: Brownells, Daniel Defense, DPMS, GG&G, Magpul, Midwest Industries, Vltor, just to name a few.[PAGEBREAK]
Slings are the subject of many diverse opinions among operators. In this way, they are kind of like boots; everyone has a favorite.
Single-point slings, while great on the range for dominant and non-dominant shooting, do not control your weapon when you are moving or going hands on with a suspect. If a single-point sling is your preference, check out BlackHawk, CSM Gear, or Daniel Defense.
Quick adjust two-point slings like those from Blue Force Gear and Viking Tactics are rapidly taking over the law enforcement and military market. Tapco offers the Tactical Sling System, which is a crossover between a single- and double-point sling.
Three-point slings give you the most control over your weapon, but they can hang up on the front of a tactical vest. Spec Ops Gear's Mamba or 101 are the class of the three-point sling market.
It is my experience that nearly all of the stock manufacturers offer both mil-spec (1.14-inch) and commercial (1.17-inch) size adjustable stocks. Over the years, I have used stocks from CAA/EMA Tactical, DPMS, Duostock, Lewis Machine and Tool (LMT), Tapco, Vltor, and now Choate.
The biggest change I have seen in stocks is that nearly all AR stocks now have some type of a polymer recoil pad. With a .223 Remington or 5.56mm cartridge there's really not a lot of recoil to reduce. But there is a benefit to these pads. The material keeps the stock from slipping on tactical vests or duty wear.
Some folks will argue that you shouldn't consider vendors that are not DOD approved such as LMT and Vltor. These stocks have been used as part of the military SOPMOD upgrades to the M4. Vltor's IMOD, LMT's SOPMOD, and Choate's AR stock have inline storage for batteries or other small parts. There are also quick release attachments built in that make installation of a sling a snap. Also, the enlarged cheek rest on these stocks gives a comfortable solid cheek weld to the stock.
I know of many folks, myself included, who have and do use non-contract stocks for duty and competition. These stocks have been popular for many years and keep on trucking. My thoughts on stocks are like other parts: I wouldn't buy flea market specials or deals that are too good to beat. Stick with names you know and trust.
When mounting a variable low magnification optic, a red dot, or specialty type scope, a mount with repeatable zero is critical.
Quick release levers are an important feature of any optical mount. They allow you to change optics to meet your mission requirements or remove the sight should it fail so you can go to iron sights. If you use a non-magnifying red dot, I suggest that you be able to co-witness your iron sights at the middle of slightly below middle of the sight's centerline.
I have found the most versatile and durable mounts for duty, competition, and self-defense are mounts from A.R.M.S, American Defense, PRI Mounts, and LaRue Tactical. All four of these manufacturers use quick release levers. American Defense's QD Auto Lock and LaRue's QD Speed Lever both use their own proprietary locking systems to ensure your optic does not come loose. Mounts from either company are easy to use.
A.R.M.S. mounts use QD Throw Levers. While they do not have a lock, these mounts use a cam that itself will lock and secure them to a Picatinny rail. I have yet to see an optic using A.R.M.S. mounts work loose.
One of the newest players to the quick release market is PRI Mounts. PRI's Cantilever Mount uses a self-adjusting spring-loaded throw lever lock. To say the spring lock is snug would be an understatement; you won't rip the scope off of the base. I have mounted a large variable power scope on my SIG 556 using this mount and it has yet to fail me.[PAGEBREAK]
Occasionally you come across a mount that fills a need but does not offer users a quick release feature. Warne Mounts' RAMP is available in one-inch or 30mm versions for the main optic. What sets this mount apart from others is the dual offset backup optic mount. There are two 45-degree offset mounts at the rear of the mount so you can use one of the popular mini-red dots that are on the market. This gives you two sets of optics to meet your duty needs, and that's why the mount doesn't need to have quick release levers.
If you use an EoTech and attach a quick release base you have to confirm the new zero because your sight alignment will change. To solve this problem, GG&G offers the Accucam QD Lever, which is a direct replacement for the factory attachment screw. Simply remove the hood of the EoTech and install the new Accucam screw, and you are ready to go with no loss of zero.
And while you have the hood of the EoTech off, install GG&G's lens covers. The covers simply slide into the hood of the sight to give your EoTech flip-up protection. I have used this on my 552 and liked it enough that when I upgraded the XPS with an Accucam, I installed the covers, too.
This is not an article about optics but I really feel like I have to mention my newest favorite: Aimpoint's new Patrol Rifle Optic. This is one of the most affordable red dots on the market today. What sets it apart from other sights is that this is a complete rig: sight, mount, and lens covers, all for $440 suggested retail price. It's a good optic and a very good deal.
There are a number of flip-up and fixed backup iron sights (BUIS) on the market. It seems there are just as many BUIS as there are optics. My only advice is to buy a good set; I would steer clear of the polymer ones for duty. How well they hold zero has not been proven yet.
The backup sight I want to discuss is an offset front and rear A2 sight set from Dueck Defense and SureFire: the DD Rapid Transition Sight. Designed by Barry Dueck, who heads up SureFire's Suppressor Division, these sights give you a true AR sight picture at a 45-degree offset. I was skeptical of how well they would perform, and was pleased to see I was able to shoot tight groups with them at ranges from 10 to 100 yards.
Brakes and Suppressors
SureFire also offers excellent muzzle brakes and flash suppressors. SureFire's Mini is a five-inch suppressor that secures to SureFire's brakes and flash hiders, adding less than a pound to the weapon and reducing the sound output to less than 130 decibels with standard M855 military ball. The noise reduction is but one advantage of a suppressor; you also reduce dust and pressure signature. SureFire calls this Total Signature Reduction.
"Muzzle brake" is an expletive for many operators, and the reason they think of them as vile is because of the quality of many of the brakes on the market, which are gawdawful loud and actually increase muzzle flash. That said, I have found SureFire's Muzzle Brake is loud if you are parallel to it, but the flash does not affect night vision. I fired many rounds in low or no light with it and have not really noticed the flash. What the Brake does over a flash suppressor is reduce muzzle rise, but in a .223/5.56 you might not notice it. However, when the brake is used on an M1A there is virtually no muzzle rise. At 200 yards you can make sub two second follow-up shots.
SureFire's Flash Suppressor looks much like an A2 model. The difference is the locking points for a SureFire suppressor. When I have fired a carbine with this suppressor on it there is virtually no flash.
A new muzzle brake/flash hider that I really like is BCE's Battle Comp. This combo brake is loud in an enclosed setting, but it gives nearly zero muzzle flash and no muzzle rise. The BCE Battle Comp has been on the market for roughly a year, and the company cannot keep up with production. The comp works well enough it is an OEM for many AR manufacturers.
Another "Battle" part I would look at is from Battle Arms, an ambidextrous safety. I know many will argue you don't need one, but if you are a lefty, it makes operating the AR easier. BA's safety is low-profile and made from machine tool steel so if you break it odds are good your AR is in trouble too. This is an end-user installable part, but heed this word of advice: Do not lose the small ball and retainer spring when you remove the grip to remove the safety.[PAGEBREAK]
Covers and Grips
I have found that the Ladder LoPro and ERGOLOK RIGID Low Profile Locking covers are some of the lowest profile covers on the market. This reduces the size of the rails, making the AR easy for all to handle.
Ergo Grips' Express Lever Broomhandle is also one of my favorite vertical grips. It is easy on/off thanks to a quick release lever. The grip also has battery storage or a place to carry a spare firing pin and cotter pin for the bolt.
The CAA Short Vertical Grip is another grip I have used, and I have grown to like the compact size. It gives a solid grip without getting in the way or catching if you are carrying it vertical in a cruiser.
CAA also offers a rail to fit on the bayonet lug. Since most of us are not going to fix bayonets, it is an ideal place to attach a light. This keeps the light in line with the muzzle and reduces the odds of flashing yourself off of a barricade or other inanimate object, which is possible with a left or right offset placement.
Odds and Ends
Brownells' AR-15 magazines are some of the finest on the market. This magazine was a major contract purchase for USSOCOM's troops: SEALs, Rangers, Special Forces, and JTAC/CCT/PJs. If they approve the magazine it will survive police duty use, no problem.
Another cool AR product from Brownells is the enhanced trigger guard. This product allows you easier access to the trigger if you are wearing gloves. It fits like a glove and is easy to install.
You can also ensure your AR is safe and empty in training or in transport with the Brownells magazine well block. It simply clips into the ejection port with a block for the barrel to prevent an errant round from accidentally going up the chamber.
You're also going to have to clean your AR, and I think Iosso Products' AR-15 Cleaning Kit is the cat's meow. It will clean every hard to reach spot including the gas tube, and it does the tube in one swipe. There are brushes to clean the bolt carrier and chamber, and a bore cleaning rope for the barrel. Coupling Iosso's Bore Cleaner and Triple Action Oil Solution will make short work of cleaning the nasty nooks and crannies of an AR.
I have found that ARs are easier to maintain with some tools specifically designed for the task. Options include the Brownells Multitasker, Leatherman MUT, Gerber eFECT, and Samson's Field Survivors. These all have tools to adjust sights, clean the bolt, and remove pins that are specific to the AR. And believe me, they are worth every penny.
To secure my AR when cleaning or doing any work on it, I use MTM's Tactical Range Box, which is kind of like a third hand. Not only are there two wedges to hold your weapon to mount optics or safely set your weapon down, there is also a magazine holder. This inserts into the magazine well so you can open the upper from the lower receiver for easy cleaning. The Tactical Range Box not only is a cleaning and work station, it also carries tools for cleaning and shooting.
This piece barely touches the surface when it comes to parts and gear for the AR. But I hope it has given you some experienced guidance to make your AR more user friendly and keep it running for duty.
For more information:
Brownells Law Enforcement/Policestore.com
Precision Reflex Inc./PRI Mounts
Scott Smith is a former federal police officer for the Department of Veteran's Affairs who currently serves as a reserve officer and is a contributing editor to POLICE.