I bought my very first mil-spec AR-15 back in 2008, 4 years after the Federal Assault Weapons Ban ended. Ar-15s were still relatively new to the market and I remember quite clearly up until about 2010 seeing advertisements that declared the ban was over. This was also in fact my very first firearm purchase. It was a Smith and Wesson M&P15T, and I had no idea what I was buying (this was also pre-Army for me). I shot it fairly regularly, added an aim point red dot to it, bought a few extra mags… But it wasn’t until about two years later that I really got into it. Something clicked and realized what I had.
For the most part I don’t make a lot of modifications to my firearms; I tend to leave them in the as-bought state. I’ve switched parts out, but inevitably I just put them back the way they were when I got them. It just feels more natural leaving it that way. If I wanted to mod and trick out a rifle I would just build one to fit that niche. However, I recently made 5 modifications that I will probably never undo.
VG6 Gamma 556 Muzzle Brake
The S&W M&P15T comes with a standard A2 style bird cage. This isn’t unusual to the common gun enthusiast as it is the default muzzle device almost every manufacturer uses. It is the most basic of basic flash hiders and probably costs around $5 to put on. There is nothing special about the A2 bird cage.
Jesse has a VG6 Gamma on one of his ARs, but it is not the typical carbine that the M&P is so it was hard to compare when firing. It felt comfy to shoot, but because of the other major differences in our rifles it was hard to really feel the difference. But one day I was in our local gun shop, talking to our dealer, and saw it up on the wall. I decided it was time for an upgrade. I really don’t care for the A2 flash hider, and, to be honest, I’m not super worried about someone seeing my flash out at the range.
We slapped it on in about 3 minutes and headed out to the range with another buddy of ours. I stopped after the first shot that I took. It was amazing in comparison to what I had on there. It felt like I was shooting a 22lr and I honestly giggled out of excitement. I then proceeded to effectively do a mag dump just to feel it.
The Gamma comes with two main ports on each side to vent the gasses out to the side. This is pretty standard for most muzzle brakes, but the Gamma also has a series of slots along the top. This does two things: One, it allows gasses to escape up, providing some recoil compensation and allowing the shooter to stay on target with ease. Two, it provides some level of flash suppressant. The whole thing is CNC machined and comes in a black nitride finish, providing a smooth hard surface that is easy to clean.
If you are looking to make an upgrade to your rifle and do not have a muzzle brake, I strongly suggest you look into the VG6 Gamma 556. VG6 also makes a model called the Epsilon which combines the muzzle brake and flash hider into one device.
Aero Precision NiB BCG
This same trip I also replaced the phosphorous BCG with the Aero Precision Nickel Boron BCG. Nickel Boron is a coating applied to a material through electrolysis, similar to how watches are gold plated, or even chromed surfaces. Nickel Boron is hard and durable. The biggest advantage though is that it is super smooth. This coating is used on anything from oil rig drills to transmissions for trucks.
When first holding the bolt carrier I can feel the difference. Phosphorous has a rough and pitted feel to it, definitely not the case here. The finish is smooth and clean, it almost feels like it has a thin coating of oil even though there isn’t. It is often said that this coating is self-lubricating and I can honestly believe it. I still use a Teflon lubricant on it though just for safe measure. I was warned that there would be a wear in period, but I did not have a problem with it.
The bolt slid right into the upper receiver without issue. After working the charging handle, I could feel a massive difference. When charging most ARs I can feel a grittiness, a kind of scraping as I pull back. That feeling was almost completely gone. I could even feel the bolt slide much smoother during shooting.
For anyone who has cleaned an AR after more than 100 rounds, you already know that the phosphorous BCG seems like a sponge to carbon. You can clean it, and clean it, and clean it, put it in a sonic cleaner, and you still won’t get all the carbon off of it. It cakes on, and because the phosphorous finish is black, you have no idea whether or not you actually got all of the black carbon off. After about 200 rounds, I cleaned the NiB BCG. It didn’t take much to clean it off, not much more than a solid wipe down. The bolt itself did have a little carbon build up on the back side, but it did not take nearly as much work to clean it off. A little solvent and a 5-minute wait were about out all it took to get it off.
I’ve been on an Aero kick lately. They make a solid product and they have come out with a few really great innovations like their enhanced upper receiver. It makes for a very solid and rigid rail system; better than I have seen from almost any manufacturer. I actually already have one on the shelf for a 6.5 Creedmoor build. That build and review should be coming early next year.
BCM Gunfighter MOD3
One of the first things I learned from the Army in marksmanship training was to use just my left palm to charge my rifle, not by grabbing the charging handle with my fingers. Whether you are clearing a rifle or charging it for a fresh round, using just your palm allows you to charge the rifle while still keeping a good cheek weld and maintaining a threat on a target. The standard charging handle can do this, but it just doesn’t do it well. The catch is really small and doesn’t offer much in the way of grip.
Adding the BCM gunfighter MOD3 is something I have been putting off for awhile. I kept saying I was going to do it, but it’s a little pricey for a charging handle and it just wasn’t high on my priorities. Thank God I did, as this handle works awesome. It gives really positive control throughout charging the rifle.
The MOD3 gives you that positive control by adding about a one inch extended catch/latch out to the left side. It’s comfortable to grab and seems to fit easily into the palm of the hand right below the pinky and ring finger. It has a textured finish to improve the grip as well. BCM also makes an ambidextrous version of this handle, but being a righty, I did not see the need to go with it.
The only thing I don’t like, and this is by no means the fault of BCM, is that if I don’t pull straight back on the charging handle I can feel it grinding along the inside of the charging handle track. Though I think I would run into this problem no matter whose product I was using. But to be honest, it’s pretty minor problem. It took me about half a dozen pulls to figure out how to not make it grind along the track.
Magpul MOE+ Grip
I’m a fairly big fan of Magpul, and most of you probably are as well. They make a good solid product for several platforms. I have never been disappointed with their quality. I won’t buy every product they make, but they are usually the first place I look when adding something to a rifle.
I am a fan of the old A2 style pistol grip. It feels fine in my hand and I just never think about it beyond that. I do know a few people though that hate it. When I started building my latest AR15 I decided to use a new grip, and that was grip was the MOE+ Grip. I was not at all disappointed with it and decided to add it to my first AR as well. It adds a lot of positive control to the rifle. It grips to my bare hands and shooting gloves flawlessly. Shooting in the dirt or off my ruck, it’s always comfortable. When spending time to line up a long shot I tend to loosen my grip just a little so that any shaking or heart beat doesn’t cause the rifle to shift at all. The rubberized grip lets me do that and not have my hand slip at all.
Magpul ASAP QD
QD points are the best. I can’t remember what article I read it from, but a marksman/sniper wrote that you should have as many QD points on your rifle as you can, and carry an extra QD sling as well. I couldn’t agree more.
The ASAP QD replaces the carbine stock receiver end plate and gives a truly ambidextrous QD point on your rifle. I use this with the Magpul MS4 Dual QD Sling. It allows me to hang my rifle under my arm very comfortably without it dragging on the ground. For the typical range junkie, this probably isn’t a problem, but for anyone who as taken a tactical carbine class or done CQB with the military, this is a huge advantage. It is not always ideal to put your rifle down or just sling it over your back. It doesn’t allow for quick response to any kind of threat. This device gives you the ability to be hands off your rifle for a moment or two but still be able to quickly pick it right back up.
While I’ll never be a fan of having 8 lbs of gear hanging off my rifle, these simple mods are now immediate upgrades to any rifle I acquire going forward.