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‘Tis the Season: Upgrade Your AR-15

With the holiday season already kickstarted, let’s not forget about sprucing up your AR-15. Whether you’re upgrading to an item that you’ve been eyeing for a long time, or need a place to start when it comes to customizing your new AR-15, here’s a list of some things that I think are important to have on your rifle:


A forward-mounted light can be crucial when needing to see at night. Positive identification is key to understanding your surroundings and taking in all the important information around you when put in a high-stress scenario. You can start simply with a tailcap activated light that mounts into your handguard or rail system. I’ve personally mounted SureFire X300 pistol lights on my SBRs just to keep things compact and lightweight. Streamlight and SureFire seem the way to go as they have many mounting options and activation systems due to their popularity in the aftermarket scene.


Yes, you can still use those iron sights to shoot. Many wars were fought with iron sights. As a Marine Infantryman back in 2004, I was too new to rate the glorious ACOG and was handed my M16 with iron sights and trained with that right up until deployment. But why would you still shoot with iron sights as your primary aiming system? With the options you have out there with many models being battle-tested for decades now, not going with a reliable red dot at the least could lead you to a disadvantage in a self-defense scenario. When it comes to the protection of my family and myself, I want as many advantages as possible. The good news is that you have many options to choose from. A red dot for 100 yards and in is a simple guide to follow. Or you might need an LPVO or more depending on your surroundings and where you live. High quality and value can both be found in today’s optics.


Using your rifle will take both hands, but what about when you’re not actively engaging? That’s where the sling can play a role in helping you conduct tasks when not aiming down sights. Slings can be easily overlooked. Look for something with easy adjustability. This will help when moving the rifle from front to back and on and off. Next, I would look towards comfort with padding and hardware that isn’t too bulky or with sharp corners. Lastly, would be mounting options. Are you using a sling swivel or snap hook or maybe a QD button? Customize to your preference. I forgot to mention, this could be a great place to add a little style to your all-black gear and snag a sling in that camo you always wanted to try.

Ammo & Magazines

I like to think of these two as one. When it comes to ammo you have two types you should consider: range and self-defense rounds. Range rounds get you through your training sessions in a more affordable way. Your self-defense rounds are what you use for protection from bad people. Conduct your zero with your specialty ammo, as that’s what will save your life, and know your holds when training with range ammo. When it comes to magazines, get a good amount to have on hand of only reputable brands like Magpul or metal DURAMAG magazines to start with. Test each one with both types of ammo to make sure everything cycles properly. Also, consider your magazines as consumables and look to eventually replace them depending on how often you’re using them.

Battle/Gun Belt with Attachments

Just like a sling, the gun belt system will hold many things comfortably that you may need like spare magazines, your medical system, and maybe even a sidearm. I prefer a two-belt system with a rigid outer belt to hold the weight and a comfortable inner belt woven through my belt loops. Yes, in a home scenario, you probably aren’t going to try to put your battle belt on, but for training purposes, it provides an efficient and mechanical way to train with your weapon system.

You now have your AR-15 configured the way you like it. In addition to the gear, let’s talk about what you can do with it to achieve your goal of being a defender of your home and community.


Yes, the basic indoor gun range is better than nothing, but the truth is that you’ve got to look outside of the normal gun range to get the most out of your gear and find a reputable training course. You might have to travel a little and maybe use a vacation day to attend the course, but the training could be priceless.

AJ Manglona

Sgt, USMC (Ret.)

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