Being a left-hander, I know the pain of running an AR set up for right-handed shooters. I actually find it odd that the U.S. Military still issues its main battle rifle, the M4A1, with right-hand controls only, but its specialized weapons, such as the FNH SCAR rifle, Knights Armament M110 sniper rifle (U.S. Army), HK M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle (used by the Marines) and the HK 416 (in use with Special Operations) all have some ambidextrous controls on them.
While running a standard AR/M4 left-handed is doable, let’s face facts—if you really want to be as fast and efficient as a right-handed shooter, you have to set up your rifle with left-handed or ambidextrous controls. I’m all in favor of any accessories that can aid you in running an AR as close to the same manual of arms as a righty, especially if they can cut down the time it takes to get the rifle into action.
NOTE TO THE TACTICAL SHOOTER
If your line of work requires you to use a rifle and you also have your own personal rifles, I follow one rule in outfitting rifles whether for left- or right-handers. Your work rifle set-up should match that of your personal rifles.
The reason for this is to prevent training scars. Using your own rifle rigged up with ambi-controls and your work rifle without means two different manuals of arms. The last thing you want is to be using your rifle in a critical incident and hit some trick magazine catch button or bolt release that’s not there because you’ve got one on your home gun, which you practice with.
Using myself as an example, all my three-gun competition rifles have ambidextrous charging handles that allow me to charge my rifles with my non-firing hand. I don’t want to get into the groove of doing it one way (even if it is easier with ambi- controls), then under stress find myself reaching up with my non-firing hand on a work gun to get my rifle into action and failing to do so because it’s the opposite of how I practice.
So whatever I put on my own rifles, my work rifle has the same controls. I don’t have the same exact accessories on all my rifles, but my primary competition rifle and my work rifle have the same items.
BREAKING THE BANK
I am only going to cover items I have tested and used personally on my own rifles. As most shooters know, there is a whole industry devoted to AR-15 accessories. Some great things are out there, but also some items suited only for usage like competition— and unfortunately some items not needed at all and downright worthless to the serious shooter.
Additionally, the items here are not only quality, but will save you money. Going back to my ambidextrous charging handle, I don’t recommend an entire ambidextrous charging handle, because the average price for one is $60 to $70, but just a lefty latch that you switch out on a stock charging handle on your rifle for around $20. The average price for a quality rifle these days starts at $1,500, and if you are outfitting multiple rifles, every penny counts.
AMBIDEXTROUS SELECTOR LEVER
The first and most important item is an ambidextrous selector lever. For the first ten years or so of my military career, I did what all lefties have done to put their rifle on fire: have your thumb resting on the right side of the grip and not around it—this does not make for the firmest of rifle grips—when it comes to getting on the rifle during speed drills. I always found a fraction of a second delay to firing because I had to manipulate the safety with my thumb then get a firm grip as compared to righties.
I have been using DPMS brand ambidextrous selector levers for years. I have both the semi-auto version on my personal guns and a fullauto version on my work gun. At around $35, it’s a steal. Durability-wise, I have been using the same full-auto-capable one since 2006, to include one Iraq and one Afghanistan tour.
Every time I’m issued a new work rifle, I just switch it from the old rifle to the new one. The only exception is that on my three-gun competition rifles, I have the JP match trigger kit, which comes with its own ambi-selector.
AMBIDEXTROUS CHARGING HANDLE
The next item is an ambidextrous charging handle. As mentioned, I prefer to replace the latch itself on standard charging handles to save money. There are two I recommend.
The first is from M&A Parts, their Ambidextrous Tactical Latch. It has both an extended handle for righties and an extended lever that allows lefties to reach over with the non-firing hand and unlock the latch by pushing in on the lever. Like your right-handed counterpart, your firing hand can remain where it needs to be—on the grip.
At about $14, the M&A Parts latch is very inexpensive. The only thing I do not like is the extended handle for right-handed shooters. I actually had one break off when a buddy was shooting my rifle. Being a lefty, I do not need it, so to make things simpler on all my M&A Parts latches, I take a Dremel to the extended latch portion and cut it off.
Even though I cut on the M&A latch, I prefer it because of all the available lefty latches, I think their design of the extended lever that allows lefties to push it in is the best.
Most of the latches on the market are just one flat piece of metal. The surface area of the latch is very thin and may have some sharp edges. No big deal as far as using it with your hand, but when I shoot “nose to charging handle” for those long, hard shots, it can be uncomfortable enough to be a distraction when I shoot.
The M&A Parts latch has almost half an inch of flat surface area on its extended lever side. This eliminates any sharp edges and gives you more to push on to unlock your latch, making for a very positive button.
The other latch I really like is from Phase 5 Tactical. Their “AMBI Latch” is a little bit more expensive, retailing for $19.99. While it does not have anything on it that requires modifying (unlike the M&A Parts latch), it does have the very flat, thin extended lever I mentioned, which can be a little sharp on the nose if you shoot like that.
GETTING YOUR RIFLE INTO THE FIGHT
Next to getting the weapon on fire and into operation, the biggest hurdle lefties have is reloading their rifle from bolt lock as fast as a righty. There are three accessories I find very useful for this.
EXTENDED BOLT RELEASE LEVER
The first and the one I get the most questions on is an extended bolt release lever. Where a right-handed shooter can use an extended bolt release lever like the Magpul BAD (Battery Assist Device),which allows trigger-finger operation to lock and release the bolt, it does nothing to help left-handed shooters.
Boonie Packer has an extended bolt latch that comes in their Redi-Mag kit. The lever slips over and screws down around your standard bolt catch. When using the entire Redi-Mag system, it facilitates not having to search for the bolt release around the Redi-Mag itself.
As a lefty, I find using the entire Redi- Mag set up no real help at all, since I have to grasp around past my empty magazine to try to hold onto the full magazine to make the switch. Righties just grasp the full one and let the empty fall.
But what I do really like is using the extended bolt release by itself. The one I use is from the Redi-Mag MK I. It puts your bolt release lever sticking out an inch off your rifle. I like this because instead of trying to feel for the bolt release, the lever sticking out an inch allows me to just slap the left side of my rifle to get it back into battery.
Some will say taking my firing hand off the pistol grip to slap the side is unnecessary and counter to good economy of motion. On the flat range, there is no problem finding the bolt release with my trigger finger, but what if I’m under stress and have no control over the situation?
Finding the bolt release can be difficult, especially with gloves on or in adverse conditions such as moving and shooting, in low or no light or trying to keep up with a team in a stack—and that’s where it counts the most. It is much more positive and faster to just slap the side of my rifle on the Redi- Mag extended bolt release whenever I need to get my rifle into action on an open-bolt reload.
Boonie Packer has moved on to the Redi-Mag MK II, but still offers an extended bolt release lever. It’s a little different from the MK I, but will still do the job. The GEN 2 version (BCE II) still sticks out, but is designed to be pushed up as opposed to straight in to operate the bolt release. The BCE II can be found at Boonie Packer’s website and retails for $29.95.
EXTENDED MAGAZINE WELL
The next item aiding reloads is not lefty specific, but greatly enhances my ability to reload: the Arredondo extended magazine well. It’s basically a giant funnel (made from polycarbonate) that attaches around your existing magazine well and provides a no-miss hole for you to insert your magazines into. Given a larger opening to work with, you can reduce the time it takes to reload, even if it’s just a fraction of a second. More importantly, like the extended bolt catch, I find it much more positive under stress. I have no problem hitting a reload on the run without the need to really look at the mag well to make a positive insertion.
It’s a little steep at $50, but well worth it. Aside from one of my rifles that has a non-standard-shaped lower receiver and cannot accept one, all my rifles have an Arredondo magazine well on them. If the number of accessories I could have on a rifle were limited, the Arredondo mag well and the ambi-selector would be my must-haves.
AMBIDEXTROUS MAGAZINE RELEASE
The last item is an ambidextrous magazine release. I use Norgon’s Ambi-Catch. In the December 2012 issue of S.W.A.T., Eugene Nielsen wrote an excellent review of it. As Mr. Nielsen pointed out, since it’s in use with the U.S. Marines, it has a national stock number and therefore can be ordered through the military supply system.
In terms of lefty accessories, it’s the newest item I’ve employed. And even though I’ve been using the Ambi-Catch for about two years, under the stress of a fast and furious three-gun stage, I may forget to use it and just hit the magazine release on the right side with my support hand (which is slower). But I do have one installed on my work gun, so whether I use it or not, at least I have the option to.
I am all for any accessory that can aid lefties in running the AR as fast and efficiently as possible. Except for the Redi-Mag extended bolt release, all items discussed here can be purchased online at one place—Brownells. Total cash outlay will be a little over $200. Compared to other single accessories such as a new forearm, which averages between $200 and $300, or a muzzle brake/comp, which averages around $200 for the really effective ones, these items are not only steals, but well worth the investment if you are a left-handed AR shooter.