The saga of the AR-15 is an interesting one. From the time of its adoption to the present, its come nearly full circle in terms of opinion among shooters. Growing up in the 90s it was considered by most to be unreliable and usually passed over in favor of the lesser expensive and contemporary-looking (for the time) Mini 14. Today its seen as the weapon of choice among most and in my own experience a robust, fast handling and most important, a highly efficient optics mounting platform. Its a weapon that works, plain and simple.
How did it earn such a bad rap early on? In Vietnam the cause was three-fold: the weapon was sold to Joe as being maintenance-free, which is hideously stupid considering the climate, the wrong powder was being used for that particular gas system in the early models, and third, the magazines were considered throwaway items, literally being an afterthought in the design. Its unfortunate that the stigma stuck in that era, especially considering the excellent weapon it would become. In my own experience, magazines are going to be the one thing that gives you problems more than any other- everytime I’m at the range and someone is having issues with their AR, the magazine is the first issue I help them address. Of all the malfunctions I’ve encountered with the AR platform over the years, with the exception of a catastrophic bolt failure and worn out gas rings, the rest have been magazine related.
This might come as a shock but I’m a fan of the plain old GI aluminum magazine, even after the PMAG and its various competitors got hot and heavy when I was in Iraq. And like everybody, I picked up my share of them, but after having (and losing) a couple dozen of them, these days I run what I have the largest stock of- the plain old GI-spec aluminum magazine. Sure, it’s got it detractors, and there’s always a better mousetrap, but I’ve got literally hundreds of them left over from my time in the Army. And they work.
But that said there’s two main upgrades I make to the mags I run on my combat load. The first and most important is the addition of a no-tilt follower. About a decade ago or so the Army started issuing modified mags with the brown followers, and while they help the issue a lot, the best one on the market is made by Magpul. I’ve been running them in my go-to-war magazines since Afghanistan and I’ve got a couple dozen with them in there.
The second upgrade I make is adding Magpul’s Ranger floorplates. I’ve run these for a couple of reasons. Back in my Line Infantry days, a standard mod we’d make to all of our issued magazines was taking a short run of 550 cord, tying the ends in a square knot to make a loop and replacing the floorplate, so you’d have a loop to pull your magazine out quickly. The problem with that is eventually you’d bend your floorplate and the original Magpul was designed to replace this old mod.
But later on they came out with a replacement floorplate for the magazine itself and I really like it. If you’re in the prone and rest the mag on the ground for support, the rubber loop on the bottom makes a decent prop and gives a little bit of protection to the magazine body. And most important, it works exactly how its designed. I’ve never had an issue with them in countless magazine drills and running them in Afghanistan, so I have no reason to believe they’d fail me now.
The bulk of reliability issues I’ve seen come from bad mags, and save for deformed magazine lips, bad springs, and flat out poor maintenance, these mods will cure just about all of the rest. On top of that, they’ll be easier to index with the floorplates. And most important, you’ll look cool running it. Just remember to clean your magazines regularly and oil the springs, and you’ll be good to go.