Photo by Mike Healy
When it comes down to it, accuracy is arguably the most important thing you want from your rifle. You’ve no doubt been told that in order to increase your accuracy, you should get a free float handguard. But what exactly is a free float handguard?
To be brief, free float (or just “floating” for short) handguards are designed in a way that they don’t make contact with your rifle’s barrel. They attach directly to a barrel nut which is secured to the upper. This allows the handguard to “hover” or “float” above your barrel.
Preventing your handguard from touching the barrel is key when you want to be as accurate as possible. The less chance there is for the handguard to make contact with the barrel, the less chance there is for the angle of your barrel to be slightly altered. This bending, also known as warping, is the culprit that causes your accuracy to suffer.
Unfortunately, traditional non-free float handguards are sometimes prone to this issue of barrel warping. The problem stems from when you prop your rifle up against a surface to aim, use a bi-pod, grip, etc... The force created pushes against the handguard which ultimately pushes back up against the barrel. This in turn slightly changes the angle of the barrel, making your shots less accurate.
Free float handguards, on the other hand, don’t have this issue due to their floating nature. They have even been known to increase your accuracy in the range of .5-.75 Minutes of Angle (MOA). This allows you to not only use any accessories you prefer but also lets you prop your rifle up to aim against any surface available without the fear of accuracy loss.
While traditional handguards may not always be as accurate as their free floating counterparts, they are still a viable option. Many shooters have used them for years without any issues and some even prefer them to free floats.
It ultimately comes down to what you’re looking for out of your build. ARs are like Legos for grownups. The fun comes out of mixing and matching parts to build something that is uniquely yours.