Unfortunately, what we often get sold is “overkill gear.” This is partly due to sales staff pushing expensive items, and partly due to an individual’s view of what makes a fighting AR.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve tested everything I could get my hands on, and will admit that I went overboard with the add-ons. It wasn’t until my initial trip to a tactical rifle school that I learned what constitutes a fighting rifle: functional simplicity. I soon abandoned all the eye candy and now reach for rail systems only if they’re absolutely necessary. Quite often they’re not.
Table of Contents
KEEP IT LIGHT
A fighting AR is one that’s light, strong and simply laid out. There are about 25 items of the AR that can be customized. All are items of varying importance, depending on what you’ll be doing with the weapon. However, there are about five items that absolutely must be addressed to ensure a gun is set up for defensive work.
In recent years, I’ve tried a great deal of the kit on the market. Few items have made me even bat an eyelash in interest, some have amused me with their ineptitude, and a handful have actually impressed me. Let’s focus on gear from a few manufacturers that make excellent kit at friendly prices.
If you’ve ever done any amount of distance shooting with an AR, you know the milspec six-position stock is not your friend. The biggest problem is that the adjustment lever is exposed to accidental pressure, thus throwing off your aim during long shots. The solution is to replace it with an MOE (Magpul Original Equipment) stock from Magpul.
The MOE stock is the simpler, more affordable version of the Magpul CTR (Compact/Type Restricted). Like the CTR, the MOE stock is profiled for proper ergonomics. The MOE lacks the CTR’s locking lever, which takes any slack out of the fit between the stock and the buffer tube. In reality, this feature isn’t all that crucial for most people, and adds production time and cost to the CTR. However, like the CTR, the MOE has the adjustment lever in a protected position so as to rule out any accidental adjustments.
I’ve been a Mako Products Group consumer for years. Their products, which are made in Israel by FAB Defense, are austere in presentation and form. They recently released a superb new stock called the GL-SHOCKCP. This stock reduces recoil and muzzle rise dramatically, and is the perfect solution for select fire and large caliber ARs. The Mako Group offers many multi-weapon stock packages that utilize the GL-SHOCKCP for improved recoil reduction.
The GL-SHOCKCP’s patented design allows it to be mounted on any standard milspec or commercial carbine buffer tube with a tight, rattle-free fit.
The GL-SHOCKCP features slots for three sling attachments, as well as ambi QD sling swivel mounts. It also features a hidden gasket-sealed battery compartment behind the buttpad.
One of the unique things the GLSHOCKCP can do that other tactical stocks can’t is transform itself into a precision stock. It offers a cheek riser for those who might find themselves having to modify their weapon into a precision rifle for specific mission needs. It provides the proper eye height for protracted periods of time behind a scope, and can easily be lowered when not needed.
GET A GRIP
Like the six-position stock, the A2 grip is not your friend either. Once again Magpul and Mako come to the rescue with their MOE Grip and AG-43 respectively. Both are made from reinforced polymer, are milspec compatible, have hidden compartments for small items, and offer superb tactile control when wet. I’ve used both and have found them about equal in ergonomics and function, and they’re both a quantum leap forward from the A2 grips that come on most guns.
Where these two grips really offer great value is in what they can do in a fight: They allow for the very necessary storage of a broken shell extractor. This simple device can mean the difference between life and death in a fight. It can clear a stripped casing from the chamber in an instant, thus getting your gun—and you—back in the fight.
The MOE Grip and AG-43 are the progeny of their more expensive predecessors, which shows that Magpul and Mako are listening to “We The People” and changing their products and prices to reflect current times.
NEED VS. WANT
You need a weaponlight but you don’t need a quad rail. There it is, as plain as can be. Quad rails are cool things to have on an AR, right up until you have to pay for one.
Whenever you get the urge to buy a rail, ask yourself “Why do I need this, and what am I planning to put on my gun that would require a quad rail?” If you’re a soldier, you do need a rail on your AR. A soldier never knows what his mission may require, hence he needs the ability to swap out multiple components.
As private citizens, we need three things on our ARs: a good optic, light and sling, none of which requires a rail system. But we do need a rail segment to mount the light to. This is where Magpul and Mako come to the rescue again, with more polymer goodies.
Mako now offers a handguard that made me smile when I first saw it. Someone really showed ingenuity on this one. The FGR-3 looks like a standard carbine handguard that sprouted rails. Mako really listened to the end user’s needs and wants on this one. The FGR-3 has three rails, is made of some seriously dense polymer, and is simple to install. It splits apart like any standard two-piece handguard set and is held in place by the delta ring.
With an integrated heat shield and enough strength to handle the abuse of a vertical foregrip, it’s all you need. The rails are made a bit large at the base so that you can tailor it to your delta ring’s fit with some sandpaper. Once seated the fit is nice and tight.
The next option is the MOE handguards from Magpul. Like the Mako FGR- 3, these polymer handguards have integrated heat shields that have never let me down. I’ve run a set of these at a couple of rifle schools and countless training sessions where my gun has been sizzling hot from sustained rates of fire, and I haven’t had any difficulty handling the weapon.
A unique feature of these handguards is that they have multiple slots molded into them that serve as vent holes and rail mounting points. The MOE handguards do everything that a rail system does but with far greater economy of space and money.
If you want a light, you adhere one rail segment to the MOE. If you want something else, you add another rail segment in another position. The MOE rail segments come in five-, seven-, nine- and 11-slot configurations and are made of very dense polymer with the trademark quality that’s synonymous with Magpul products. I use one to mount a single light to my duty rifle and call it a day.
In my estimation, the TLR-1s is near the top of the list in pistol-sized LED tactical lights. It’s reasonably priced, waterproof, employs battery-saving LED technology, and is one of the only lights on the market that can be locked down onto the weapon.
Most tac lights require the light to be slid onto the rail. This requires that a certain degree of tolerance be designed into the clasps that hold the rail segments. However, the TLR-1s has a clasp system that actually opens from the side and then is locked down using the thumbscrew on the light.
The latest version of the TLR series is the TLR-1s. The “s” stands for strobe, and it finally addresses the one drawback I found in the TLR series of lights. When used in a limited capacity, I like strobing tac lights. If budgetary constraints dictate you must choose between a light or an optic, “Go toward the light!”
A tac light can be a low-light aiming aid like no other. As you illuminate the threat, what you find is that in the darkness, your eyes are drawn to your iron sights in a way that can’t be experienced in daylight. The light also acts as a designator of sorts and marks your target with a concentrated sphere of light.
As is the case with all good things, too much light can be detrimental in an enclosed environment. I find that the TLR series of lights provides appropriate amounts of light for indoor applications and respectable levels for outdoor use as well.
LIFE IMITATING ART
The last item I want to discuss is an extraordinary magazine called the Count Down Mag (CDMAG) from EMA Tactical. PMAGs have dominated the magazine industry for years due to their ruggedness, reliability, and resistance to all forms of abuse. I’ve left my PMAGs loaded for years without problems. They’ve been run during training and performed with steadfast reliability. I have no qualms about trusting them in a personal defense capacity.
This is evidenced by the fact that my active shooter vest carries three PMAGs along with the one in my departmentissued Mk18 Mod0. However, when I first saw the CDMAG, it drew me in like the PMAG. Upon working with it, it began to show itself as a real contender to the PMAG.
The CDMAG was partially born out of the movie “Aliens,” where the pulse rifles counted down the round count on a digital screen. Life has imitated art, and here it is for real. The CDMAG uses a tapemeasure styled mechanism that keeps accurate count of your rounds. The colorcoded and numeric indicator on the rear and bottom of the magazine displays an accurate count of 30 to 20 rounds green, 19 to 10 rounds yellow, and 9 to 0 rounds red.
These mags have been drop tested and driven over without failure. When you perform high-round-count drills where you’re doing tactical mag changes, it’s easier to consolidate your mags forward during a break if you can quickly see which mag has more ammo in it. The CDMAG excels at this. It also gives the operator the ability to glance down and see his round count without ever losing sight of the target.
Imagine the worst-case scenario, where you and your partner are involved in a high-round-count incident. You come upon a downed officer. Your rifle, for whatever reason, has malfunctioned. You find your partner’s rifle lying on the ground unloaded, with three mags around it. Which mag has more rounds in it? Now is not the time for guessing. With a quick glance at the backs of the CDMAGs, you can see which mag should be used first. Green means “Go!” Seat the mag, rack the action and you’re back in the fight.
When I got into ARs many years ago, my local gun-shop owner said, “Welcome to the world of ARs, where there are countless goodies to buy.” He was right—there are countless goodies to buy. However, if you have a discerning eye and do some research, you can weed out what you don’t need and find the good stuff that you do.
It’s our job at S.W.A.T. Magazine to be sure you’re duty ready with the best kit you can afford to buy. We won’t steer you wrong.