You can change just about everything on a AR 15 to make it the rifle you need it to be. With this in mind if I challenged myself to pick my top 5 AR 15 upgrades to increase a weapons accuracy and overall performance.
The AR 15 is a fascinating rifle. From its initial development to its current state I can’t think of another weapon that has grown and evolved so much. The AR 15 has found a way to occupy many different roles. From a standard carbine for duty and defense to a near SMG sized package for close quarters use and all the way out to moderate range precision rifle.
This article was a challenging accomplishment with such a massive market built around the gun, but I feel confident in my choices.
5. Quality Optics
If you want to shoot further, shoot faster, and transition between targets seamlessly then an optic is a must have. It doesn't matter if the optic is built for shooting targets at 50 yards or 500 yards an optic will make hitting your mark easier. In terms of AR 15 upgrades, this is one of the easier installs.
Magnified optics offer shooters many advantages including:
- The ability to identify and see your target at extended range.
- Most reticles offer range and windage compensation holds to adjust on the fly.
- It’s much easier to place your shot exactly where you want them on a target.
- You’ll be able to hit smaller targets without a large iron sight covering them entirely.
Red Dot optics allow users to:
- Conquer close range shooting through rapid target acquisition.
- You can rapidly transition between targets.
- Reach beyond the range offered by most iron sights.
Like anything in the gun world, you want to choose a well made, high-quality optic. Reputable manufacturers are well known throughout the industry to produce quality optics are a variety of price points. These companies include Aimpoint, Vortex, SIG Sauer, Nightforce, and dozens more.
4. A Better Muzzle Device
A muzzle device may seem like an odd choice, and you may wonder does a muzzle device make that big of a difference? Big enough to be included on a Top 5 AR 15 upgrades list? When it comes to accuracy and performance, I believe so.
The classic flash hider is great, but a good muzzle device will improve the performance of your rifle and even accuracy in some regard. Mechanically it won't help the weapon's accuracy, but it does help eliminate user error which is 95% of accurate shooting anyway.
A modern muzzle device will aid in two critical factors to accurate and even fast shooting, recoil and muzzle movement.
Recoil is self-explanatory. The less the gun recoils, the easier and more comfortable it is to shoot. A reduction in muzzle movement means a reduction in sight picture movement. Less sight picture movement means you can shoot faster, with more accuracy and less readjustment.
That little thing on the end of your barrel makes a more significant difference than most think. I've been lucky enough to experiment with many brakes and compensators, and I've seen the real difference they can make. Some of my favorites include VG6 Gamma, the Axelson Tactical Adjustable brake, and the Lancer Tactical Nitrous comp.
3. Quality Stock
Any contact point between you and the gun is going to be crucial for accuracy, recoil control, and general comfort. The stock is no exception and is one of the most critical components of your rifle.
It’s no surprise your stock will likely be one of your first AR 15 upgrades. A stock that is too short, or is wobbly, too thin, or uncomfortable will affect rifle performance.
A quality stock will provide the user with:
- A comfortable length of pull for their body size.
- A good cheek weld.
- Be locked tight with minimal to no wiggle room.
- Should have a wide enough butt plate to aid in controlling the gun and distributing recoil.
If your stock doesn’t do the above, I recommend a hearty and quick upgrade.
2. A Free Float Handguard
Anywhere you have a point of contact with the gun is a critical component to accurate shooting. When you have a point of contact that also wraps around the barrel of your weapon you have to take it even more seriously. These days when it comes to AR 15 upgrades adding a quality handguard is a must.
Free float handguards take the cake when it comes to a modern option that does its job as a handguard without compromising the accuracy of your rifle. A handguard's job is to allow the attachment of accessories and to protect your hands from the barrel.
A free float handguard does that, but the same time they won't negatively affect barrel harmonics by putting pressure on the barrel through the handguard.
Free float handguards aid in preserving rifle accuracy, protecting your hands, and allowing you to attach accessories. Beyond that, they also offer many advantages, including:
- A longer length allows for more control and a longer sight radius.
- The more open design will help with barrel cooling as discovered by Marines with the M27 IAR
- The longer length allows for more room for attachments and the ability to precisely place accessories for an individuals shooting style.
Modern Free float handguards are easy to install, lightweight, and plenty modular. Check out our selection of affordably priced Made in USA free float handguards.
1. An Upgraded Trigger
The number one suggestion in AR 15 upgrades I’d make for most shooters is a high-quality drop in trigger from a company like CMC, Geiselle, or Timney. These triggers are often lighter, smoother, and offer the shooter a much more controllable break.
Your common Mil-Spec trigger will work fine in most applications, but a more refined trigger system will iron out the kinks when it comes to precise shot placement. The predictable and consistent pull of a drop in, high-quality trigger allows you to learn exactly when the trigger breaks.
Additionally, a lighter trigger will mean less force required to pull it. Less force means less pressure and this results in less jerking the trigger, as well as less pressure applied with the other fingers of your firing hand.
Honorable Mention - Good Ammo
Proper ammo can do a lot for you in terms of accuracy and performance. If you are going out to blast away at the range, then el cheapo steel ammo is excellent. If you want small groups or to ring steel that’s way out there, you need some good ammo.
It makes the Honorable Mention category because it is essential to high performance, but it's not necessarily a AR 15 upgrade. I was torn in how to list it, so Honorable Mention it becomes.
High-quality ammunition is a must have for serious shooting. Good ammo will,
- Provide consistent velocity, which means the round will consistently hit in the same general area.
- Increase reliability by igniting correctly.
- Expand reliably, if designed to, when used for hunting or defensive purposes.
Ammo can make a big difference in effective range, group size, and general reliability. Do not underestimate it.
Your Top 5 AR 15 Upgrades?
These are my Top 5 AR 15 Upgrades, and they may be different from yours. I tried to aim for parts anyone can install. Maybe you would choose a carbon fiber barrel or a bipod. The market is so massive it can be hard to contain yourself. Let me know which upgrades you would choose down below!