AR-15 Upgrades: How to Up Your Rifle’s Game

AR-15 rifle
Dan Z. for SNW

The AR-15 platform has a dedicated following for a lot of very good reasons—it’s fun, versatile, and available in a wide variety of calibers. Then there’s the fact that it’s a highly customizable platform, which is a big plus.

AR-15s are sometimes referred to as Legos for adults, and while that isn’t exactly accurate, it does capture the building spirit. If you have an AR-15 you’ve been considering upgrading, here some ideas where you can start. We’re going for functional improvement here, not tacticoolness. Check it out.

triggertech trigger
TriggerTech makes high-quality drop-in triggers with glass-rod smooth breaks. (Photo credit: TriggerTech)

TriggerTech AR-15 Trigger

Swapping out your rifle’s factory trigger for a high-quality drop-in model is a fantastic way to immediately up your shooting game. Fast. The TriggerTech AR-15 trigger offers a crisp, clean break, brief reset, and adjustable pull weight. Yes, it’s a higher-end model that comes with a correspondingly higher price tag, but it’s well worth the investment.

The TriggerTech Diamond model has an adjustable pull weight range of 1.5 pounds to 4.0 pounds and is offered with a straight, curved, or Pro Curved blade. There’s zero creep, the angle of the trigger blade is great for control, and it’s compatible with standard trigger pins.

It’s normal for a factory AR-15 to ship with some version of MIL-SPEC trigger. And while the actual feel and performance of those triggers varies, the bottom line is that they’re typically stiff and gritty. Installing a cassette-style aftermarket drop-in trigger is easy and it’s a sure way to improve your accuracy.

Velocity BCG
This BCG is designed for reduced mass and improved reliability. (Photo credit: Velocity)

Velocity Recoil-Less Bolt Carrier Group (BCG)

Ask any AR builder and they’ll probably tell you the bolt carrier group is the heart of the rifle. Without a well-made, properly designed BCG, your gun just won’t be as good. If you want to cut weight and improve your rifle’s overall performance, the Velocity Recoil-Less BCG is a good way to go.

This BCG is skeletonized, which makes it lighter with a lower mass, and is said to be one of the lightest BCGs available. It has an ArmorLube DLC (diamond like carbon) coating to increase lubricity and deliver superior durability. The carrier weighs 6.8 ounces and is a good option for running suppressed rifles.

Velocity offers it as a package with one of their adjustable gas blocks or it can be purchased on its own. Putting a new BCG like this one in your AR-15 can make follow-up shots faster, reduce felt recoil, and improve reliability.

magpul miad pistol grip
Magpul makes quite a few awesome AR-15 accessories. This pistol grip is perfect for getting the ideal fit. (Photo credit: Magpul)

Magpul MIAD Gen 1.1 Grip Kit—Type 1

Did your AR-15 come with a plain plastic pistol grip? Or maybe you built your AR-15 and just went with the pistol grip that came with your lower parts kit? Replacing your grip with a better quality design is a great way to make shooting more comfortable (which translates to gains on target). The Magpul MIAD Gen 1.1 Grip Kit—Type 1 is the perfect example of an AR-15 pistol grip that’s been exceptionally well designed.

This aftermarket pistol grip ships with interchangeable backstraps so you can adjust the fit of the grip to your hand size. It also has a storage compartment to hold objects up to the size of a ½ ounce bottle of lube. You can throw a spare battery in there, a couple of Allen keys, or whatever tiny objects you think you might need.

Don’t discount the value of a well-made pistol grip. It really does make a difference.

radian raptor charging handle
A charging handle as an upgrade? Absolutely. (Photo credit: Radian Weapons)

Radian Weapons Raptor Ambidextrous Charging Handle

If your AR-15 doesn’t have a quality ambidextrous charging handle, you’re really missing out. The Radian Weapons Raptor Ambidextrous Charging Handle is durable, well designed, and makes charging your rifle smooth and easy. It’s comfortable to operate and has been around long enough to have proved its worth and resistance to wear, too.

The Raptor handle is made from aircraft grade 7075 aluminum. Radian offers it in a variety of colors, too, including Black Anodized, Tungsten Grey, Flat Dark Earth, Radian Brown, Radian OD, and Radian Grey.

Skeptical that a new charging handle really would be a good upgrade for your AR-15? Assuming your existing rifle doesn’t have an ambi charging handle or that the existing handle is a simple factory design, odds are changing it is a great idea. The Raptor is easy to use and cycles smoothly, making operating your rifle faster and more enjoyable. There’s nothing much worse than a sticky or hard to grab charging handle.

hornady superformance ammo
Sure you have ammo, but is it the best ammo for the task at hand? (Photo credit: Hornady)

Hornady .223 Remington 35 grain NTX Superformance

You’re probably wondering why ammo is included an article about upgrading your rifle. I’m going to tell you. A ridiculous number of AR-15 owners feed their guns nothing but poor quality bulk ammo, then wonder why it won’t cycle well or isn’t terribly accurate. It probably won’t come as a surprise that if you use higher quality ammunition, your results will improve.

Hornady is one of the premier manufacturers that’s well known for producing great ammo, and their Superformance line is a nice choice for the AR-15. Hornady .223 Rem 35 grain NTX Superformance is made for varmint hunting, but is also awesome on paper and steel.

This ammo has polymer-tipped bullets and delivers velocities up to 200 fps faster than most common .223 ammo. Thanks to those NTX bullets you can get truly impressive precision out of this ammo.

Does it cost more? Yes, but when you want (or need) good results, you need to be shooting good ammo.

Hornady also offers target loads for .223 Rem and other popular AR-15 calibers. If you want to achieve better results, stop and consider what ammo you’ve been using. All ammo isn’t created equal and just because two loads utilize the same bullet weight and type doesn’t mean they’re the same. Not even close.

What’s your favorite upgrade for the AR-15? Which ones have you made to your rifle? Drop your thoughts in the comments.

2 Responses

  1. “It’s normal for a factory AR-15 to ship with some version of MIL-SPEC trigger. And while the actual feel and performance of those triggers varies, the bottom line is that they’re typically stiff and gritty. Installing a cassette-style aftermarket drop-in trigger is easy and it’s a sure way to improve your accuracy.”

    And while that is true, its easy to make it a lot less so with a shoe lace or a piece of para-cord and five minutes and some trigger pulls and end up with a trigger that rivals in feel to a lot of drop in triggers touted to be the ‘best thing since sliced bread’.

    And believe me, on a defense gun you do not want a, say, 3 lb trigger pull in an actual defense incident and if actual defense you will never notice the nerdish things about triggers like travel or creep or break point or pull weight and during the defense incident and when its over and you calm down and reflect on you and/or family still being alive no matter how much the gun cost or the trigger ‘stiff and gritty’ or not a sleek-n-latest-n-greatest it will be the best gun that has ever existed.

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