Bro, Do You Even AR? Functional Mods that Won’t Break the Bank

It’s about that time of year now when you spent all of your money on other peoples’ presents but you might get some money for Christmas and spending your new money on cool things is very much preferable to paying off the credit card charges you made for the presents you bought on Black Friday. So in honor of procrastinating paying off your credit card and AR-ing like there’s no tomorrow, here is a list of things your rifle might need that don’t cost too much but add some great functionality (in no particular order):

1. Slick BCG

NP3 BCG.resize

There’s no doubt in my mind after using an NP3’d BCG for about a year now that it is worth every penny and then some. It will let your gun run smoother, dirtier, and longer, even without cleaning it regularly. It’s a fantastic mod that can be had from Robar for a little over $100, and I can’t recommend it enough. If I had to pick one thing to do to a bone-stock AR to increase reliability, this would be it. For more info, check Robar out:

And for more detailed thoughts on NP3’ing your BCG, check out our full review here. As we said in the writeup, it’s no surprise that Wilson Combat uses NP3 on every BCG they use in a build. It’s that good.

2. Bigger Mags or a Paint Job for the Ones You Have

Mags.1 resize

Our two favorites here are the PMAG 40 and the Surefire series of higher-capacity magazines. For the money, the PMAGs are excellent, but if you really want to hold 60 or 100 rounds (because why not, that’s why), our Surefire 60 has yet to give us a single hiccup and they are built to last through a lot of hard use as well. The Surefire 60 is also shorter than the PMAG 40, allowing a slightly more diverse array of shooting positions. At left, the Lancer L5 AWM, which is one of the best 30-rounders you can buy, for a size comparison. 30 rounds is great, but if you’re allowed to have 60, you might as well have more rounds in your “defend the ranch” gun.

If you really want something different out of your Christmas money this year, you could also try sending in some of the mags you already have for a custom Cerakote or Hydro-dip paint job. For the Multicam on my PMAG 40, I sent it to Carey Lewis at Hi Caliber Mfg. Carey offers a wide range of refinishing services for reasonable prices. For more info on Hi Caliber or for pricing on your individual project, check out their site at, or for a great portfolio of work try their Instagram at @hicalibermfg. You certainly wouldn’t have to stop at a mag, either: Carey’s photos show that he can finish your rifle or shotgun in whatever custom pattern you can think up.

3. More Comfortable Stock

B5 resize

The SOPMOD Enhanced, seen second from the left (above) is HP’s current favorite, closely followed by the extra-padded SCAR version on the far right. (Photo by kChanko, used with permission.)


Although Magpul puts out some great stuff, my favorite stock right now is the SOPMOD Enhanced from B5 Systems. It has two battery compartments, sealed with o-rings, that fit 123A sized lithium cells perfectly, a great-feeling cheek weld, ambi quick-detach sling swivel mount, and a nice rubber buttpad. For around $100 retail, it isn’t the cheapest thing on the list, but it may well be the last stock you ever buy…until you buy another one for your next AR build.

They’re available at a lot of online retailers for competitive prices, but for more information on the stock itself, check out the specs at

4. Purpose-propriate Trigger


Photo by Wilson Combat


There are a lot of fantastic options out there to get a crisp, clean trigger pull. Geissele is well regarded and puts out some excellent-quality pieces. But lately I’ve been running a Wilson Combat TTU-3G and it has not disappointed. It’s a 3.5-4# pull that has a crisp break and the most positive reset I’ve experienced. The TTU is also available in Single Stage, Two-Stage, and LE/MIL configurations offering 4, 4, and ~5-5.75# pulls, respectively. For precision shooting, the Two-Stage might be the best bet.

The WC TTU is a TRUE drop-in unit that has no adjustment screws and imparts no stress on your receiver’s pin holes. Further, in a move that should be expected of Wilson, they included a 1911-style half cock notch to ensure that the unit meets military drop-safe specs. Best of all, they’re still 20% off for Wilson’s Christmas sale, so you can get a great deal on one if you hurry!

5. Better Charging Handle


There’s really only one charging handle as far as this writeup is concerned: the BCM Gunfighter. Shown above is the Mod3. This thing is fantastic. This 7075 T6 aluminum handle is beefed up in critical areas and the latch design is perfect for getting your hands on it when you want to, regardless of which one you’re using. It’s also available in an ambi configuration, or for 7.62 AR’s for those of you who prefer the .308.

Check out the variety and pick the one that’s right for you at

6. Tools to Make Your Life Easier



Photo by Patriot Products AZ, LLC

For those of you who run an optic (which is probably almost everyone), this tool REALLY won’t break the bank, and it’ll work well for you regardless of which brand optic you prefer. It’s called the Combat Optic Tool, and it’s manufactured by Patriot Products out of Arizona. Coincidentally, Freddie Blish of ROBAR is the man behind it, and as a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the USMC, he knows his stuff.

The Combat Optic Tool features a way to install or adjust just about any optic or mount worth running on a hard-use or duty weapon, to include Aimpoint, Larue, Trijicon ACOG/RMR, Eotech, Elcan, or that dang beverage that hasn’t been upgraded to a screw-off cap yet.

The Combat Optic Tool is only about $15, and the Combat Optic Tool Optimized is about $21 from Robar, even with your favorite Robar finish to make sure it stays corrosion-free and ready to go. It’s also available from BCM, Larue, Tango Down, Battle Comp, and others. But I’d prefer to go straight to the source and buy it NP3’d from ROBAR (here).

7. Better Ammo

Win Match 223

Photo by Winchester

You don’t need this, but better ammo can make an astounding difference for a small amount of money if you’re trying to see what kind of groups your rifle is capable of shooting. Right now, Winchester Match or Federal Gold Medal Match, both in 69 grain, are two of the best rounds out there for precision rifle shooters. Although the Federal load is available with a 77 grain bullet as well, 69 grain projectiles seem to shoot to the highest degree of precision through a wider variety of rifles and barrel twist rates, which is a big part of the reason it’s my go-to weight for testing a new gun off the bench. It’s probably a big part of the reason Winchester only made their Match line in a 69 grain configuration for .223. Both of these rounds utilize a Sierra MatchKing BTHP bullet, which is widely respected as one of the best options out there for precision rifle shooting. The Winchester is loaded about 60 fps hotter and seems to carry a slightly higher retail at most big-box retailers, but what this one comes down to is which load your rifle likes more (and which one you can find on the shelf).


Wilson Upper Lower

Twinsies = style points.


It’s never too early to start on your next rifle, either. Let’s be honest: sometimes we all got a feva, and the only prescription is more AR. Post-Christmas sales are sure to offer some great deals on upper/lower sets like this one from Wilson Combat. The billet set was out of my price range this year, but the integral trigger guard was a nice compromise for my next build, and I’ve never had an AR that wasn’t black. Maybe this will convince politicians that by making it another color it is less likely to do something evil. Hey, it’s no less logical than some actual laws they’ve passed. I digress. Wilson is sold out but still taking backorders on certain styles of their receivers for about a 50% discount. Check it out here.

Like most lists, this one could go on forever. A lot of people will probably wonder why I didn’t include rails on the list, but they’re a lot more of a personal preference item and there are so many good ones out there from companies like Daniel Defense, Wilson Combat, and others that we figured you guys could figure that one out yourselves. Additionally, this writeup is more about functional modifications than anything else (yes, new camo paintjobs do make you invisible), and a rail isn’t absolutely necessary for adding accessories or getting better accuracy out of your rifle. For the money involved, some of the items on this list can improve accuracy in a much more noticeable way than simply free-floating your build. But if you want to do it, there are certainly a lot of great rails out there, and it does make a lot of things easier.

My opinion here is just that: one man’s opinion based on my time spent working in the industry and shooting these guns. Neither of those things is meant to be a substitute for solid training or the mindset that goes along with going into harm’s way. When it comes to that, there are plenty of other websites more qualified to opine than this one. I’m no operator— just a shooter— but my time in the industry taught me a lot about parts quality and what goes into a good rifle. So if you want to add a thing or two to yours, this list might be a good place to start. HP

Colt Driver

Photos by author unless otherwise noted.

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8 Thoughts on “Bro, Do You Even AR? Functional Mods that Won’t Break the Bank

  1. The Pontificator on December 24, 2014 at 7:57 pm said:

    My first build (a work in progress) will be sporting a BCM Gunfighter charging handle. For the one person out there who doesn’t understand why these are so popular, a mil-spec charging handle places a lot of stress on a roll pin that connects the latch to the charging handle chassis. Break the roll pin, break the charging handle (and essentially break the rifle). The BCM takes the stress off the roll pin and it’s designed so that when you pull the latch entire assembly goes straight back vs. putting stress to the side opposite the latch. For an Andrew Jackson more than a mil-spec handle I think it’s worth it.

    I am admittedly disappointed that you did not review some of Magpul’s new gear including the MOE SL series furniture and their new tools (armorer’s wrench and vise block). The MOE SL stuff is just too cool for school and yes, I want it on my current build.

    Been reading some reviews on concerning the Surefire magazines. Reports are that “60% of the time they work every time”. The new 40-round Pmags are flawless.

    • Handgun Planet on December 25, 2014 at 12:30 am said:

      I have looked at the MOE SL, and I am a big Magpul fan. However, I’m currently involved in a love affair with the B5 Enhanced SOPMOD and I think it does a lot of things better than the MOE series. The ACS or the STR would be higher on my list than the MOE SL, and I think either of those would also be more comparable to the SOPMOD. Having said that, I do agree that the SL is a big functional improvement over a standard collapsible stock, and I think it remains a good option for most builds. I also like the SL grip, but grips are even more personal preference than rails, which is the only reason I didn’t mention any of those.

      Re: Surefire mags, I can only report what I have experienced. And I have zero failures through either PMAG 40s or Surefire 60s. I’ve seen the YouTube videos from when the mags were first released of the nested follower hanging up and leaving rounds loose in the magazine body during 3 gun matches, but after speaking with Surefire at SHOT last year and using the mag myself, I trust it as much as any other machine.

      That’s to say that I expect it to fail eventually and I always have a spare. But I feel that way about any magazine. Nevertheless, for the moment it would appear that I’m a lucky member of the “60%” 🙂

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Handgun Planet on December 25, 2014 at 12:34 am said:

    Admittedly, I also forgot to include the Battle Arms Ambi safety, which is a must-have for lefties. I’ll have to write a sequel down the road!

  3. The Pontificator on December 25, 2014 at 7:26 am said:

    Re: NP3 on BCG…

    Which brand did you use? A plain old mil-spec phosphate one or something better?

    How does NP3 compare with “no oiling ever” metal treatments such as Anderson Manufacturing’s “RF-85” finish?

    • Handgun Planet on December 25, 2014 at 11:17 am said:

      The BCG I sent Robar was a plain jane phosphated one. Although I will say that regardless of whose name is stamped on the package, there are relatively few companies that actually machine their own bolts. Most bolts out there come from a surprisingly small handful of vendors.

      And I haven’t ever used RF-85, but the effect appears to be similar. Anderson states that RF-85 injects calcium into the metal. Ferritic nitrocarburizing diffuses nitrogen and carbon into the metal, so I wonder if it’s a similar process with calcium. Not sure how that works…

      NP3 is a duplex plating that has teflon deposits in the nickel matrix. So the effect either way is less friction. The benefit to NP3 that I can’t attest to with RF-85 is that as microscopic layers of nickel are rubbed off by friction, there is always a fresh coat of dry-lube from the teflon. That allows NP3 to be run dry more effectively than things like standard NiB, and it cleans up like a non-stick frying pan as well because of the teflon.

      I don’t know how far the RF-85 permeates the surface, and I’m not sure how easy it cleans up, but if you have any experience with it and think it might be worth doing a comparison down the road it might be interesting.

  4. The Pontificator on January 3, 2015 at 9:43 pm said:

    Good to know your BCG was garden-variety. Redundant to send them a nickel boron bolt!

    I did some more reading up on RF-85 and it appears that the benefit comes from using an RF-85 treated BCG in an upper receiver which is also RF-85 treated.

    That, and Anderson’s RF-85 stuff is expensive. Really expensive. Hey, you want an AR you can toss in the dishwasher? You’re going to pay for that privilege.

  5. The Pontificator on January 8, 2015 at 4:59 am said:

    DS Arms in IL sells an NP3 treated BCG (complete) for $110. That’s a big savings if one is needed a new BCG.