Swapping out these three components will improve your rifle's accuracy and make it more pleasant to shoot
The first AR-15 purchase is usually a basic model that allows the new owner to get a feel for the gun.
After the rifle has a few hundred rounds through it, there are some common upgrades that can be done to make the rifle more accurate and more pleasant to shoot.
Ditch the Clamshell Handguard
The short two-piece plastic handguard that comes on most basic AR-15s quickly becomes a limiting factor with respect to the rifle’s overall usefulness.
It attaches directly to the barrel, so any input on the handguard affects the rifle’s point of impact.
This becomes most obvious when doing accuracy testing at 100 yards.
Small differences in how the shooter holds the rifle or loads a bipod attached to handguards like these can cause the point of impact to move an inch or more.
Additionally, the short handguard doesn’t leave a lot of room to attach a light. If the shooter does attach a light to the short handguard, there remains little space for support hand placement.
This lack of space becomes acute when the shooter wants to fire from positions utilizing cover because the short handguard means his hand has to remain in a confined area no matter his body position.
The fix is to purchase and install an aftermarket free-floating handguard that attaches at the barrel nut.
Getting a handguard that only leaves a couple inches of the barrel exposed offers plenty of real estate for the support hand and goes a long way to create options for shooting positions and mounting necessary accessories like a light and sling.
The longer barrel-nut mounted handguard also cures the bullet’s shifting point of impact common with the basic model.
Swap The Stock
The basic stock is usually an inexpensive knock-off of the poorly-designed military-issued model.
It has an exposed lever on the underside, a toe that comes to a sharp point, and a molded-in sling attachment point right on the stock’s toe.
All three of those design features make a miserable combination.
The good news is lifting the lever away from the factory stock and pulling it towards the rear is all that’s required to remove it from the rifle.
Slipping on a better stock, like one from Magpul, is an easy and immediate upgrade.
A replacement stock should avoid the exposed lever if the shooter does any shooting from a bench. Bench shooting is best done with a support bag under the stock’s toe and, with an exposed lever, the stock will compress when the rifle fires.
A flat toe also gives the support bag something to connect with, greatly increasing rifle stability and accuracy.
Finally, look for flush cups on the side of the stock to mount a sling. Mounting a sling to the side of the rifle allows it to hang comfortably when not in use.
Upgrade The Trigger
The trigger found in basic AR-15 rifles usually feels like pulling a dogsled down a gravel driveway.
The pull weight is heavy and the stroke is long and rough. The heavy pull weight combined with the rough condition makes precision more difficult and shooting more unpleasant.
Few things give a rifle a high-quality feel like a short and crisp trigger pull.
One good option for aftermarket and easily installed triggers is Timney.
Timney has been around for a long time and their cassette-style trigger makes installation as easy as driving out two pins, dropping the trigger inside the receiver, and re-installing the two pins.
This cuts the trigger pull weight in half and removes all the grit and excess travel from the basic trigger.
The AR-15 is a wonderfully modular rifle that is as simple as it is reliable. One of the reasons it has become so popular is the ease with which upgrades can occur.
The rifle works fine in its most basic configuration, but swapping out a piece at a time as desired or once the change proves necessary allows the customer to get just the rifle he wants when he wants it.