The essential accessories, from a defensive shooting instructor.
By Eve Flanigan
Tens of thousands of people became new owners of a modern sporting rifle (MSR), most often an AR-15, in 2020. Most, especially those of carbine length, were purchased with personal and home defense in mind, while certainly some are for recreation. Hopefully all these new owners are finding their new rifles enjoyable to shoot, regardless of their reasons for buying them.
A new semi-auto rifle is fun, but it can and should also be functional. Accuracy should be easy to achieve. To benefit the fun, functional and accuracy factors, countless accessories exist for the AR and AK platforms. Some of these add-ons are functional, while others are novelties. Here, we’ll take a look at what one defensive shooting instructor, myself, believes are essential add-ons for the MSR carbine.
Your new carbine may have come with iron sights. If so, sight them in! Home-defense rifle users often choose something short of the traditional 100-yard zero; 25 or 50 yards (or meters, if you prefer) are common. For those shorter distances, a good upgrade is a front sight with a tritium insert, which glows in the dark.
A red-dot optic is a great accompaniment to iron sights and it makes aiming much faster. When the light is powered on, aiming is accomplished by simply viewing the dot through the lens and placing it on the target. Just like iron sights, a red-dot must be properly zeroed for accurate and responsible shot placement.
Pay attention to any mounting system provided with or required by the red-dot of your choice, to be sure it’s a fit for your rifle. Not all Picatinny rails are made to the same specs. For most home-defense setups, a slightly imperfect rail/mount match isn’t a problem, but if you want to stretch your rifle’s utility out to longer-range targets for fun or hunting, you’ll need a rock-solid base.
If your carbine is going to share home-defense and hunting roles often, a well-chosen riflescope can work for both. Select a 1-4X or 1-6X magnification range; keeping the 1x (no magnification) setting on the dial for home use. The same optic can zoom in on small to medium-sized game when needed.
Get training in both the technical aspects of establishing zero for your chosen sights, as well as their application. Firing a carbine at close ranges or in tight spaces presents some minor challenges that are easily overcome but can cause big problems if not understood in advance.
“Be sure of your target and what’s around it” is a tenet of firearm safety. Visual identification of every target is critical. Since most violent crime happens at night, it’s logical to have a light on your MSR carbine.
Mounting a light on some traditional AKM, SKS, or A2-style AR rifles can present a challenge in terms of having a place to put it. The gun industry has risen to the task of providing upgrades or complete rifles that offer nearly unlimited mounting space. A few extra dollars to procure or set up a rifle with generous rail room for adding attachments is well worth the cost.
Most light manufacturers have likewise answered the call for better accessories. Many provide mounting hardware that’s compatible with the two most common handguard attachment systems, M-Lok or Keymod.
Choose a light of sufficient brightness for your typical area of use. Ranchers with expansive fields to patrol require a brighter light, for instance, than a homeowner whose house walls are typically light in color. The light must be bright enough to identify whether a potential threat is armed. Any brighter and temporary self-blinding can occur.
Power switch location is important, too. Mount your light on the fore-end in such a manner that turning it on or off while holding the firearm on target is comfortable, regardless whether the stock is collapsed or at full extension. Some users prefer thumb-activated switches. Others prefer to squeeze the power controls with their fingertips. Finding what works for you and getting proficient at using these tools should be accomplished with time experimenting on the range.
Finally, the battery that powers a tactical long-gun light should be easy to change, as well as a type you can readily procure. There are many choices, each with assets and drawbacks.
A well-fitted sling enhances control of your rifle both while aiming and when simply carrying the firearm. It adds portability and can allow you to use one hand for another task while keeping the rifle balanced. If hiking or a long shooting session are the order of the day, a sling distributes the weight of the gun over the user’s body, preventing and alleviating fatigue.
Either a one- or two-point sling can be a good choice. A one-point sling is often the easiest to attach without the addition of new hardware. With the head and support-side shoulder through the sling, the rifle is made easier to carry across the user’s chest or, with careful practice, can support the rifle across the back for short periods of time. The downside to a one-point sling is that the methods of carry with it are limited, neck strain can occur with all-day use and taking your hands off the sling renders the rifle a pendulum that can be painful to kneecaps and invite muzzle safety violations without careful use.
A two-point sling may require the purchase of hardware to create a place to attach it in the carbine’s front. With that done, though, a modern two-point tactical sling offers a number of advantages. They allow the rifle to be slung over either a shoulder, the neck, or both, across the chest with muzzle down, or behind the back with the muzzle either up or down for transport. With a quick threading of the support hand and wrist through the sling, and with the sling at correct length, it offers additional stability for aiming.
Today’s tactical slings have come a long way from the battle slings of yore. It’s a worthy investment for long days on the range or afield. Several companies offer outstanding slings that can be tightened or loosened with intuitive ease. This means easy transitioning from carry to any shooting position, including those in which the sling acts as a stabilizing brace. Some can even convert between one- and two-point styles, and there are designs that have bungee inserts or padding to make carrying the rifle for hours easier.
The defensive carbine should carry as little bulk as possible, for both fatigue prevention and ease of navigating in tight spaces. The accessories here add little in the weight department, generally, but have much to offer in their benefits. Train and find what works for you and your lifestyle, and you’ll count yourself as being a level up in your rifle skills.