Here are the most recommended “must haves” to make your AR the perfect setup.
The AR-15 arose to be America’s most popular rifle in the 21st century. Its utility, ease of use, accuracy, and reliability have kept it at the pinnacle of practicality for nearly 20 years. The design received many small improvements and has many very useful features and forms. Those options can be a bit overwhelming when you ask something as seemingly simple as ‘what is a good AR?’ in a search bar.
But the AR-15 doesn’t exist alone. That rifle isn’t a solo act, it’s an ensemble of quality components to get its job done. There are some accessories you should immediately consider adding to the AR to get it set up right for the job. Here are 5.
Many AR-15s are purchased with the idea of home defense in mind. It might not be their only role, or even their primary role, but it was one of the purposes when you made the purchase. Home invasions and dangerous situations do not always occur when the light inside favors you that could be day or night. The easiest way to solve that variable of ‘will there be enough light for me to make a good decision?’ is to bring the light to the potential fight.
A quality weapon mounted light (WML) brings that illumination and puts it where the light and the rifle can quickly align at need. It simplifies what to do with your hands if you have to hold or move through your house. Light, especially sudden and bright, can make a potential adversary pause and flinch and that gives you a little more time to make decisions. Most importantly, that light gives you information you might not have if you could not see and that information can make the difference between a good and bad decision with that firearm. You don’t get to take a bullet back.
Lights vary, some are good at searching far away (high candela) and others are good and lighting up a wide space (high lumen). A few are pretty good at both, but just like a 16” barreled AR isn’t both an 11” and a 20” at the same time a light designed to do both is going to perform somewhere in the middle. So ask yourself are you lighting up rooms, or are you lighting up open spaces as the main task the light must do. Then pick accordingly.
The sling is the most mundane and overlooked piece that your rifle should have. They, like holsters on handguns, are the underrated workhorse and you should give it the attention it deserves. A proper 2-point sling adjusted for you and put properly onto your rifle is crucial.
The sling helps you control the rifle instead of the rifle somewhat controlling you, it gives you the ability to use both hands and stow the rifle away against your body safely. It also is one more strong prevention against losing control of your rifle to someone else. It cannot be snatched away with ease, it’s tied to you in a manner where you are in the position of advantage for controlling it. With good options in the $40-80 do NOT skip or skimp on your sling.
Bonus: With the advent and maturation of quick detach (QD) technology, one sling can work for many firearms and the sling is already sized for you. If the QDs are in approximately the same position from firearm to firearm then sling will transfer with no adjustments required, if they’re in different positions then the free motion of the 2-point will very likely cover any required adjustment without needing to move the fixed hardware adjustment points.
If you want, you buy once and cry not at all. Slings are awesome.
You might ask, ‘why wasn’t this number one?’ That is a fair question to ask.
The answer is fairly simple, you were already thinking about optics. Nearly without question, especially in this era of optics, the right optic was already something you were thinking upon when you were considering buying the AR-15. Unless you have a carry handle and front sight post build, and perhaps even then, the optic and its role was prominent on your mind.
The question now is have you selected the optic(s) to do the job and what are your plans to make that happen if you haven’t already. We’re in a golden age of quality/affordable variable optics that is following on the heels of the rise of the red dot. Those two optics are often used in conjunction with each other, either stacked or offset. Classic fixed power and micro fixed power optics are also popular options still.
With all the options, which to choose? First, like with your light, consider the rifle and its job(s). Next, and with equal emphasis, consider your eyes. Our eyes are complex and not all of them work the same way. We’ve known that for centuries and have been correcting it with eyewear and surgeries. Don’t forget this now when you’re choosing a vital piece of equipment that works with your eyes.
Astigmatism will influence your interaction with projected optics, red dots and holographics. Color blindness may significantly limit illumination effectiveness in illuminated scopes. Popular options are great starting places, but whenever possible put your eyes and the system together properly adjusted to make certain they team up correctly.
You. Cannot. Have. Too. Many. Magazines.
On purchase, your rifle probably came with one. You may have picked up two or three more. Maybe you splurged a little and picked up 6, 12, 20 even.
Keep doing that.
Make it a habit to pick up quality spare magazines when the opportunity arises. 1, 2, 3 at a time is more than fine.
Magazines are the most disposable of the durable parts of the rifle and they are crucially important. You are more likely to bust a magazine than you are a spring (springs wear and need replacement the next most often after magazines). If you are in the habit of grabbing spares then you will have them around when, not if, one takes the long walk to trash. It won’t really bother you all that much either, you have plenty of spare.
Start to think of magazines more like you think of batteries than a true durable good, you use them up slowly but they do go bad eventually.
What’s a good number?
That is not just a Hitchhiker’s Guide reference, there is some logic behind it. Some of the more shooting intensive activities in the space like classes and competitions require upwards of 1,000 rounds of ammunition for the event.
That is 34 loaded magazines of 30 rounds, 36 if you are in the habit of loading 28 which many are. 42 magazines allows you to fully preload for an event and that is a time and rest savings that is wonderful to have. While people around you are filling the same 6, 8 or a dozen magazines every couple of drills or strings, you just plunk fresh magazines out and refill while piling the empties.
Drink water, take a minute to sit, help with range maintenance, lend out a spare or two to someone who needs it. Loaded magazines make you ‘the prepared one’ and give you flexibility with your time.
If you don’t need all the magazines for the event, then bring what you need plus 2 or 3. The rest can stay loaded for a very long time without any ill effects just stacked and ready for their turn. Refill the empties when you get home and put them back in the stack. The time savings this will mean when you are at the range and preparing to go to the range is incredible.
As for those last six to eight magazines, a few can be dedicated spares for a break and a few can be loaded with more serious ammunition for more serious situations.
Like magazines, it is difficult to have too much ammunition. Especially if you are in the fun habit of going and using it training or competing, you will use it and need more.
Like magazines, start buying a little spare ammunition whenever a few spare dollars come available until you have a reserve of 1,000 rounds. Then, as much as is feasible, do not dip below that reserve. If you dip into it then fill it back up asap.
For the same reason you are getting to 42 magazines. You will not be limited from participating in an event for lack of the resources to make it happen. You might see a class, or a competition, or want to go shoot with friends. Any and all of them are possible, on demand and at will, by having that reserve to dip into, even if your main supply is short at the moment. Just make sure you fill it back up as soon as you can comfortably manage.
Let us know in the comments what your top 5 must haves are!