With record gun sales continuing in May after a banner March and April, recent figures indicate that about 40 percent of the gun purchases made during the COVID-19 pandemic have been made by first-time gun owners.
A little math shows that with about 9.8 million guns sold during those three months, there are now nearly 3.9 million new gun owners among our ranks. And with the AR-15 being the most popular rifle type in the United States, it’s likely that there are at least 1 million new AR owners.
For those new to this versatile platform, here are three easy upgrades that can quickly make your AR even more accurate than it already is.
Poor, heavy, MILSPEC-style standard triggers with lots of take-up and overtravel plague many budget ARs often chosen by first-time buyers. Replacing a poor trigger with a great one can make an AR-15 seem like it’s not even the same gun. Sure, it’s going to cost you a few bucks, but what price can you put on accuracy?
While upgrade trigger kits are available and can take your trigger from bad to excellent, the easiest solution is a drop-in trigger assembly. These are sold by a number of different companies, and most can be installed by anyone with a few tools, a little bit of common sense and the ability to follow instructions.
I’m particularly fond of the triggers sold by Rise Armament out of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Rise’s budget trigger, the Rave 140, is as good or better than most companies’ top-of-the-line offerings and retails for $139.
On many budget ARs bought by first-time buyers, the handguard has multiple points where pressure is exerted on the barrel. While that might not sound important to those new to shooting, it can interfere with ideal barrel harmonics and negatively impact accuracy.
The answer is a free-float handguard, which reduces these pressure points, allowing the barrel/ammo combo to reach its maximum accuracy potential. Many free-float handguards are longer than the ones coming on the gun originally, yielding a better grip on the front end and more places to mount lights, lasers and other accessories.
Installing a free-float handguard is a little more complicated than replacing a trigger, so new gun owners are probably going to want to let a gunsmith handle this. But the increased accuracy will be well worth the cost.
Most budget ARs come with either iron sights or no sights at all, just a top rail. Of course, those without sights are going to need some kind of optic. Addition of even a moderate quality red-dot sight to the rifle will likely make as much difference in accuracy as anything mentioned earlier.
Red-dot sights are unmagnified, so aren’t made for shooting accurately at very long distances. But for fun at the range and those planning to use their AR as a home-defense weapon, the red-dot is an incredible addition that can be added at a fairly low cost.
A properly zeroed red-dot sight will provide the shooter with a consistent point of aim (a red dot) that is easy to put on target, easy to master and can be used with both eyes open. And while you can spend several hundred dollars on one, many companies offer good-quality red-dots for under $200.
Freelance writer and editor Mark Chesnut is the owner/editorial director at Red Setter Communications LLC. An avid hunter, shooter and political observer, he has been covering Second Amendment issues and politics on a near-daily basis for the past 20 years.