Like a lot others spending more time at home I have time to ponder upgrades for my newest AR-15 pattern gun. In my case, I bought a new CMMG MK47 pistol. While the CMMG pistol is a fantastic weapon out of the box I find myself falling into a very familiar pattern. This pattern is responsible for hours of reading online, watching YouTube reviews, and spending more money. Right now, I have ample time to do all of the above. Thank you Coronavirus! So what is this pattern? It is the How-can-I-make-this-gun-better? Syndrome. These are the four upgrades you should consider making to your AR-15.
Here’s my disclaimer: I purchased the majority of the products in this article.
“Treat every gun as if it is loaded” is a cardinal gun safety rule. So what’s the first thing we do when we pick up a an AR? Pull back the charging handle to check the chamber. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” definitely applies in this situation.
The ability to solidly grip the charging handle, together with how smoothly it pulls, might be good indicators of whether you’ll enjoy your relationship with this gun or if there is a divorce in the future. But there’s not reason for it to be so drastic. If the pull doesn’t make you smile, it’s time to look at upgrading either to a different gun or a new charging handle.
Can I say it? Mil-spec charging handles suck.
The latches are too small and they feel cheap. I don’t mind spending the extra money on an ambidextrous charging handle for a couple of reasons.
First, ambidextrous charging handles have a much larger latch than the mil-spec counterpart. Have you ever had to clear a malfunction in the pitch black with hogs running all around you? This is not the time to fumble around while trying to find the charging handle tucked under your bulky thermal optic.
The larger latches allow you to locate them better in the dark and they are also easier to find with gloves on. In some instances, the position and/or size of an optic can impact your ability to access and operate a mil-spec charging handle. Plenty of traditional scopes can create the problem, not just thermals. The longer latches on an ambidextrous charging handle eliminate this problem since they extend further away from the rail.
The other reason I like to upgrade my charging handle? I usually run suppressors and that exacerbates gas to the face with ARs. Some charging handles mitigate the problem. My preferred charging handle upgrade is a Radian Raptor SD. The difference between the Raptor and Raptor SD is the porting (slots) on the top of the SD model. These twelve slots, divert gas away from the shooter’s face and towards the front of the gun. For more, see our prior review of the Raptor SD charging handle. Getting gas to the face is one of the most unpleasant things that can happen to you while shooting.
There are a lot of good options when it comes to ambidextrous charging handles in today’s market. Some of the AR’s, like the Alexander Arms 6.5 Grendel Blitz and the Primary Weapons Systems MK111 Pro Upper (that I just ordered) come standard with a Radian Raptor. Besides the great work from Radian, BCM and Geissele also produce some great charging handles.
AR-15 Trigger Upgrade
We all do it. We dry fire cleared guns. Some do it to release the spring tension. Some do it to feel the trigger. Some, well, who knows, it’s not the point here. The point is, that even before we talk about live fire, we’ve interfaced with our AR trigger. Do we like what we feel?
Most AR’s come with the dreaded “mil-spec” trigger. There’s that term again. I am not sure, but I think mil-spec translates into “just good enough to be okay” in some languages.
When contemplating trigger upgrades the first decision you need to make isn’t about brand, it’s about function. Do you want a single-stage or two-stage trigger? Let’s look at those options.
Single-stage triggers have a consistent, clean break with little to no travel. You can read about my choice to put a single-stage Timney AR-15 trigger in my in my custom built 300 Blackout pistol. This trigger has a 3-pound pull weight and works perfectly in my home defense and hog hunting pistol. It is very crisp and has an extremely short reset.
Two-stage triggers are different. When you first pull the trigger it moves easily back to a “wall.” Once you are at this “wall,” it takes very little pressure on the trigger to move through the 2nd stage and for the weapon to fire.
For my hunting rifle (Alexander Arms 6.5 Grendel Tactical Rifle), I use a Geissele Super Dynamic Enhanced trigger. The first stage on this trigger has about a two-pound pull while the second stage only requires about one-pound. To say the second stage is superlight is an understatement. There may or may not be a video of me shooting early on a sounder of hogs back in the fall because of this light, second stage.
Timney and Geissele are not the only players in the trigger game. CMC, Rise Armament, and Elftmann are making some pretty great triggers too. There are other options you can explore like getting a flat or curved trigger as well. For a more in depth look, check out our story and video on the Timney Targa two stage triggers.
Bolt Carrier Group
Many people say that the bolt is the heart of the gun and I would agree. The BCG does the grunt work in a rifle or pistol. Can a bolt be reliable and aesthetically pleasing? Yes! Yes, the bolt can meet both of these requirements if we look at the Lantac Enhanced Bolt Carrier.
I am not going to go into a ton on this BCG because you can read this in-depth review of the Lantac Enhanced Bolt Carrier of it by fellow SHWAT contributor, Eric Alexander. But when I did my build, I wanted a great BCG and it had to look good.
The last piece of this puzzle and the item is probably the most luxurious upgrade on the list. This item was never on my radar until a friend brought it to my attention. For this upgrade, I suggest the JP Heavy Silent Capture Spring. As the name suggests, it is silent – magically so, in my opinion. There’s more to it than just being silent, it changes the feel of the rifle.
It would be hard to justify the cost if all this spring did was provide a quieter experience, but that’s not the only reason to buy one. If the AR-15 has an adjustable gas block along with this spring, you can fine-tune your weapon. While I have not proven it scientifically, I feel this spring reduces the felt recoil. I am certain this would be more noticeable on an AR-10 platform. Even though this is not a necessity, it’s something you should spring for if you want to maximize your AR-15.
These are not the only upgrades you can make to your AR-15, but they are the upgrades you should make. Am I right? Wrong? Let me know in the comments!