As most people today know the AR-15 carbine is quite possibly the most customizable platform on the planet, DTG decided to revisit which upgrades might offer the best “bang for the buck,” at least, from our perspective. Some upgrades have a huge “CDI (Chicks Dig It) factor” specifically designed for the square range and/or gun show, and others are designed with practical use in mind. Naturally, reliability upgrades should win over what might be a CDI enhancement if your AR is the primary tool you’d use for self-defense of hearth and home during a WROL or SHTF situation. And that’s what we’ll focus on here.
When it comes to practical enhancements, keep in mind that the market is flooded with parts as well as rifles. Some are top notch quality, some are mediocre and the others . . . well, they’ve been manufactured not using the best quality control. So, remember, not all parts and carbines are created equally. Caveat Emptor! Best strategy when looking for an AR? Whether building your own AR or buying a complete one; use reputable manufacturers, such as Daniel Defense, Bravo Company or Spikes Tactical, for example. (We have extensive experience with the quality turned out by BCM and ST. *Please see the note from ST at the bottom – and note that we have no interest, or than as consumers, from any company or product listed in this post).
AR Practical Reliability Enhancements (in order of importance)
I. Chrome or ‘Double Chrome’ Lined Barrel (CLB): This enhancement is listed as number one due to the service life extension of the platform that comes with the installation of the item. The fact that some manufacturers still make non-chrome lined barrels for non-competition (meaning field service capable) AR barrels is astonishing. By forgoing this option, the consumer saves between $75 to $125, depending on the manufacturer. So, it’s worth the money if you’re building, or having an AR built. Chrome lined barrels offer protection from corrosion and ease in cleaning after shooting a high volume of rounds at the range or in a ‘real world’ scenario. It also takes much longer to ‘shoot out’ a CLB, which is the practical advantage in terms of cost for having one. When it comes to inherent accuracy degradation from a CLB, it’s true that through the years, serious competitors have held that accuracy suffers from having a chrome lined barrel. Not so much anymore. Top quality manufacturers have pretty much perfected the process. Recently one of our DTG staff built a carbine with a ST light weight 16” barrel and clover-leafed his group off the bench at 100 yds with a 3x ACOG with standard M855 (IMI) ammo. Granted, that’s not field condition shooting, but more so a demonstration of the inherent accuracy of the platform with a good chrome lined barrel. Bottom line? Don’t let claims of diminished accuracy in a CLB dissuade you from protecting the lands and grooves of your bore from corrosive conditions. Most AR’s priced around $700 (or less) and up typically have a chrome lined barrels anyway, so this may be be a moot point for you. If you’re thinking about replacing your barrel, make sure it’s a CLB!
II. Bolt Parts Upgrade Kit: http://www.bravocompanyusa.com/BCM-Extractor-Spring-Uprade-Kit-p/bcm%20extractor%20spring%20upgrade.htm $4.95. This is a no brainer. Increased extraction reliability is a very good thing. http://www.bravocompanyusa.com/BCM-Gas-Rings-p/gas%20rings%20set%20of%203.htm New gas rings anyone? $2.95. Another no brainer. If you stand your bolt on it’s end and the weight of the carrier is forced down on the bolt by gravity, you need to replace your gas rings on your bolt. Some factory gas rings don’t do well past 1000 rounds. Some last much longer, but the point is to have a spare set to change out. You’ll be happy you did.
III. H2 Buffer & Sprinco “Blue” Buffer Spring: H2 buffer – http://www.bravocompanyusa.com/H2-Carbine-Buffer – About $30. Increased reliability and reduced felt recoil (read faster target reacquisition). Springco’s buffer spring – about $20: “The Enhanced Power spring is designed to provide a bit more spring power than a standard power spring along with improved consistency, long service life and sustained reliability of a high quality spring.“ http://www.nokick.com/Sprinco_M_4_Carbine_Enhanced_Power_Buffer_Spring_p/sprinco-25007.htm
III. Machine Gunners Lube: (instead of standard CLP). $3.50 to $40 for various sized bottles. DTG has been using this for over a year, and it’s every bit as good as the company claims. It’s worth a shot, pun intended. Anything that reduces friction and makes cleaning easier in the field is good by us. DTG carries a 4 oz bottle in the ruck and keeps an 8 ounce on the cleaning bench. It’s worth it to me. Here’s there web address: http://sprinco.com/tactical Here’s the product description from their web site: “Machine Gunners Lube™ is made from fully synthetic Group V base stocks. Poly Ester chains in Group V base stocks offer superior protection against thermal breakdown versus PAO’s and GTL’s, and contain significant natural solvent properties for self cleaning capabilities. In addition to minimizing carbon accumulation, the Poly Ester base oil acts as a water dispersant and corrosion inhibitor, protecting the lubricated parts in desert, jungle, and arctic climatic environments. Unique to Machine Gunners Lube™ is a proprietary re-micronized (0.3 micron) inhibited Molybdenum Disulfide (MOS2) component in colloidal suspension. In layman’s terms, this means that the particles remain suspended within the lubricant, and do not segregate to the bottom of the container. Our inhibited MOS2 is specifically modified to retard, rather than induce corrosion. This moly component allows for a solid lubrication barrier in conjunction with the hydraulic lubrication afforded by the host synthetic lubricant. The re-micronized particles are small enough to penetrate the molecular lattice structure of the carbon, stainless, or chromium plated steel working surfaces of the weapon, where they are released under the heat of use to maintain the initial solid or “boundary” lubrication layer. No other moly additives on the market contain particles this small, nor do they share the unique ability to remain in colloidal suspension. Our proprietary manufacturing process allows the uniform distribution of the re-micronized MOS2 both within and upon the lubricated surfaces of the weapon. This ability provides a further advantage over other gun oils in the form of lubrication retention when the host / hydraulic lubricant is removed by mechanical, chemical, or environmental means. Basically, the weapon is still protected and has a functional advantage even when appearing “dry”. The melting point of the MOS2 component is in excess of +2700°F !!! .”
IIIA. Gunzilla: DTG has been using this as well as a primary cleaning agent for a couple years now, on both pistols & rifles. Cleaning is a breeze; great rust inhibitor, and we carry in our rucks in a 6 ounce squirt bottle. So far, so good. Another good option.
IV. Bolt Carrier Group Finishes beyond Manganese Phosphate and Chrome:
There are others besides the ones listed here, but these seem to be the most popular and worth the money; your mileage may vary.
Nitride Coating (Nitrocarburizing, Black nitride, Melonite™, QPQ, Tennifer™)
The Nitride finish is commonly known by brand names of Melonite™ or Tennifer™, and isn’t technically a coating, per se. Rather, it’s a chemical treatment that results in a hardened black surface that is both durable and highly corrosion resistant. The coating process involves high temperatures that can have a bad effect on the more fragile parts in the BCG when done improperly, so caveat emptor when it comes to choosing who provides the finished product or upgrades your current BCG. The positive side is that when the process is done correctly, you’ll have a very tough, no-frills BCG that is markedly easier to clean than phosphate coatings.
Electroless Nickel Coatings (NiB, EXO™, NP3™, Nickel Boron Nitride)
The electroless nickel coating process results in a thin surface layer that is harder than the underlying metal, with excellent dry lubricant properties. This finish comes in many varieties, with the most common being nickel boron (NiB) (DTG’s choice FWIW). Dozens of other variants exist, such as Nickel Boron Nitride, EXO™, and NP3™, which tend to enhance the hardness and/or lubricity of the coating. Electroless nickel coats are easy to clean and less reliant on lubrication. There is a downside – electroless nickel coatings are known to wear off with time. This affect can be reduced by sticking to high quality parts and enhanced coating varieties, but it is still worth noting and watching as your round count climbs.
Practical Accuracy Enhancements (in order of importance)
I. Reliable set of Optics: Aimpoint, ACOG, Burris, Vortex Strike Eagle, Eotech, Etc. Optics whether magnified or not, help one hit what they are aiming at more reliably than good old iron sights. (Iron sight shooting should be practiced and the skill should be maintained as we all have backup sights on our personal protection carbines. Sometimes optics do fail. Simply having iron sights and not having practiced with them to a degree of proficiency won’t help you when your optic goes Tango Uniform.) You’re looking at $400 to $1300 for a good set of optics depending on the brand and the application. The ACOG would be the best in our opinion for general purpose accuracy on an AR IF the eye relief wasn’t so short that it’s uncomfortable. Like any other upgrade, the user best determines what’s going to work. I’ve owned 3 ACOGs and simply loved their reticles and ability to get me on target, but the eye relief was a deal breaker – for me. So for me, best is now between the Aimpoint Comp4 or Aimpoint PRO (what we have) and the Vortex Strike Eagle, depending on the application for the carbine in question. If you’re on a budget and can’t afford the Aimpoint Comp4, get the Aimpoint PRO for $400 shipped. You’ll receive a 2MOA (Minute Of Angle) red dot with an amazing battery life, mount included, and you’ll have an immediate leg up on engaging your paper targets. The Strike Eagle is a great replacement for the ACOG with a built in BDC for 5.56mm; it is also around $400 or less. You can’t go wrong with either choice. A word on cost: If I had to choose between a $100 red dot, ACOG knock-off, or other cheaply made optic or my irons, I would take my irons. Quality optics are that important.
II. Geissele 2-stage Trigger: $250 to $180 depending on sales. A Geissele trigger is just the cats-ass. I know; I took the plunge when my RD guy and I built my AR, and I’ve never looked back. You have to feel the trigger break on one of these to truly appreciate it. Picture a glass rod crisply breaking after a very smooth take up. As you may have guessed, I was indoctrinated in 2 stage military triggers and am the most comfortable with them, but I digress. Your groups will get tighter, given proper trigger control/depression, and after some consistent dry and live fire, you might even get to the point that you will know exactly when the trigger will break. Some like the ‘flat trigger’, others like that standard curved trigger. We have both on staff rifles. Either way, Geissele triggers are superb! So are the ALG triggers for the budget minded. Again, like all suggested enhancements, your mileage may vary.
There are many upgrades and customizations that offer a minimal increase in accuracy, however, the overall plain-jane mil-spec M4 (gery) works very well with the addition of the above and will see a noticeable improvement at the range, all other things being equal. Last, but not least, we need to touch on location ID signature, AKA, ‘muzzle flash.’ We don’t believe in using compensators or standard flash hiders because we don’t like being seen when shooting in low visibility.
III. Vortex Flash Hider: Why? Because it works. Extremely well. So much so that we use these exclusively on any defense carbine or AR pistol we have available for use. Several styles, all for $63. We’ve used night vision to try to see flash from semi-auto firing. No flash. It’s worth the money. Smith Enterprises, here.
There are a lot of folks who will ‘poo poo’ the idea of building your own AR for a variety of reasons, but the bottom line is that if you learn to do it properly, and use good, quality parts, you can have a “Cadillac” at Chevy prices. So, from our POV, and yours is certainly welcome to vary, We recommend learning to build your own AR, (with the help of an expert if you are not one), naturally complying with all applicable laws regarding the purchase of lower receivers and associated parts. A great benefit of doing so is that you’ll end up knowing your personal protection AR much better than if you had it built by someone or bought it “off the rack.” If you end up doing all of the reliability enhancements we suggest, you’re looking at about tacking on $165 to $275 on your $800 carbine. Not too hard to swallow that pill. And if you have the cash to spend on the suggested accuracy enhancements, you are looking at adding anywhere from $400 to $1500.00, give or take. It all depends on what you want to spend. When making your decision to enhance your AR to any particular level, whether it’s only adding a better extractor or going ‘whole hog’ and spending a few grand, always remember this true statement about anything to do with AR’s: You get what you pay for. So, don’t go ‘cheap’ or settle for a ‘reasonable facsimile’, because if you do, your AR will fail when you don’t want it to fail…
* SPIKE’S TACTICAL – Updated Policy for State and Local Law Enforcement Agency Sales: In light of the recent and numerous anti-gun and anti-2nd Amendment laws pending across the Nation, Spike’s Tactical will be joining other manufacturers and distributors and limiting the business we do with LE agencies in those states. As of today, it will be our policy not to sell prohibited items to government agencies and agents in states, counties, cities and municipalities that have enacted restrictive gun control laws against their citizens.
Spike’s Tactical LLC 2036 Apex Ct. Apopka, FL 32703 Phone: 407-928-2666 Fax: 866-283-2215
DTG tries to support companies like this whenever possible. We are aware that ST is not the only firearm manufacturer out there to take this stance. It’s nice when you see a company stand by the premise that citizens have the same rights to secure their lives and property as law enforcement.