You have an AR15, one of the most upgradable and modifiable weapon platforms ever made… the question is, “what should my first upgrade be”? It’s a reasonable question. The AR15 is the most modular rifle available. Human nature is what it is, and we want to make the AR15 a better rifle. First off I would like to offer a suggestion if you just got your rifle. Don’t start upgrading the rifle itself just yet. We will talk about the rifle upgrades in a minute, but there are a few items I would like to suggest you get before you start bolting gear on to that new AR.
New gun owners often skip equipment that will make them more productive at the rifle range. Instead new shooters want to bolt something on to their rifle. Stop right there. Instead think about products that will make you more productive at the rifle range. Adding a few pieces of range equipment will GREATLY add to your experience and productivity at the range.
1) Spotting Scope
I would first recommend a good spotting scope. This tool will allow you to set up multiple targets down range and check your progress from the convenience of the shooting line. While you wait for other shooters to finish firing you can adjust your zero, check which technique is working for you, and examine your progress as you shoot. A spotting scope is one of the objects I wish I had purchased earlier in my shooting career rather than later. Without a scope, I had to wait for the line to go cold to retrieve my target. I can check my groupings, adjust my rifle on the fly, jot down notes, check 4-5 different targets that I set up… and generally have a more productive range day.
2) Shooting Mat
The next item is definitely a shooting mat or tarp. When you’re at the range, practicing prone shooting is a good way to hone long-range skills off of the bench. If the ground is moist or is a simple concrete slab… then a mat will keep you padded and comfortable for shooting sessions. It can also help keep you warm as the ground can really suck the heat out of you in colder months so using a padded mat adds a bit of insulation.
3) A Quality Rifle Bag
A good rifle bag with room for your gun, magazines, accessories, targets, ect will be a great purchase. A good bag will keep you organized and more productive with your range trips.
4) Quality Eyes and Ears
I have a nice set of ballistic rated eye-wear and a good set of hearing protection. These items make great upgrades to your range kit because 1) you don’t want to go blind or deaf, and 2) the guy in the next stall will bring his magnum rifle with a muzzle break and make your shooting much less enjoyable. Get some good hearing protection and vision protection… these items will pay for themselves in value immediately.
On To the AR15 Upgrades!
So you have the stuff you need for a productive range session. Great! Let’s talk about upgrading your rifle. Let’s skip all the “practice is the best upgrade” talk. While this is true, you came here to examine what physical upgrades make you and your rifle perform better. Your AR15 is an exceptionally accurate weapon right out of the box, and there is only *one* upgrade I can think of that will allow you to take advantage of the accuracy during practice and competition.
A Quality Optic:
No other upgrade, for your dollar, will increase your ability to hit the target and increase your accuracy than a quality optic. Any optic, such as a red dot, a 1-4x variable, or a fixed magnification optic such as the ACOG will give you many advantages over iron sights:
1) One Plane of Focus vs Three
The human eye cannot physically focus on three objects at once. Shooting your AR15 with irons is great, but modern optics have surpassed iron sights in speed and precision. With irons you are forcing the eye to focus on three separate objects: the rear ring, the front sight, and the target. Proper use will lead you to focus on the front sight, but even this can cause eye strain and fatigue. A scope eliminates the need to focus on so many things and instead gives you a crystal clear target.
2) A Sharp Aiming Point.
A 2 or 4 MOA red dot is a sharper aiming point than iron sights. I much prefer a red dot over irons for shooting both up close and at a distance. The dot simply obscures LESS of the target. Magnified optics take this one step further and give defined, sharp cross-hairs to aid you with your shot.
3) Magnification and Light Transmission
This only applies for optics with magnification. Quality magnified optics will “gather” light and funnel it into your eye. A quality scope with the right specifications will give the appearance of a brighter image than what the naked eye can view alone. This is especially important if you are going to use the weapon at dawn or dusk.
So there you have it. After you get some good range gear, I firmly believe that your very first AR15 upgrade should be an optic. I lean towards the magnified optics myself. Once you see the clarity of an ACOG it’s hard to go back to a red dot. There are a million other pieces of equipment out there for your rifle… but your best bet will be to run the rifle through a course or competition and ask other shooters about their setup. Many times they will let you handle their weapon system and then you can make an educated choice about what components will suit your rifle the best. Like this article? Follow my Blog Click here for the Guide Index