Less is more – Accessories on your Fighting Rifle
By Uli Gebhard, Suarez International Staff Instructor
Getting ready for my next rifle class I looked at various forums and noticed how many posts revolve around the accessories for a rifle. Some people seem to wait for a new invention so that they can bolt something else to the last open section Picatinny rail.
Seriously, what kind of equipment does a combat rifle really need? I’m thinking a general fighting rifle that would be suitable to defend you and your family in case of a major disaster or uprising. A situation where you have to project force have to be swift with your actions and most likely highly mobile.
Solid Iron Sights
With a modular rifle such as an AR, the first part of the equipment would have to be solid iron sights. Emphasis here is on iron… chances are that this rifle will see an impact or five while in use and the sights need to be solid enough to hold zero if the situation arises to dish out a couple of decisive blows with the muzzle into a non-shootable bad guy. With a modular rifle, this means metal rails to mount the sighting system on and metal sights on them. Take your time to zero the rifle. Once the irons are dialed in, they will always provide you with a reliable aiming tool.
This is a solid and rugged setup that will provide good use in case the piece of equipment we look at next fails to work.
Optical Sight System
For fast and accurate shots, the rifle should have a red dot sight. There’s a wide variety of those on the market and rule of thumb is that you get what you pay for. Vortex and similar companies make fairly inexpensive mini red-dots. I’ve seen a fairly new Vortex fail in one of my classes. This was even before we ran drills where students sling the rifle swiftly and deploy the pistol. Whatever sight you choose, put it through its paces. At Suarez International, we made outstandingly positive experiences with Aimpoint H-1 and Trijicon RMR sights. They are not cheap – I never said any of these parts would be. They are solid and proven. I’ve seen AK’s tipping over on top these sights and the red dots continued to work. Quality has its price and personally, I consider it money well invested. A good red dot sight needs to be rugged and provide a clear target image as well as a flawless and crisp target dot. Aimpoint and Trijicon will additionally provide long battery lives.
The reason I stick primarily to these miniature sights is that they keep weight and bulk down while working just as well as larger models. Other options for optical sights are high-quality low-magnification units as the ACOG and similar. The 3X magnification allows for more accurate shots at intermediate and longer distances, while they are still fast enough for close quarters.
I mentioned transition to pistol earlier. I believe we all have seen videos on youtube where shooters let their AR drop into their uber-cool single point sling, and while sweeping it to the back draw their sidearm. Did you notice that none of these videos show the shooters running in a full sprint with their rifle slung or doing any form of vertical displacement? I used to run one of those slings on my AR and ended up banging the muzzle into the deck when I dropped to one knee or had the barrel smack my legs as I was moving fast. Not good!
Aside from the aspect of moving with the slung long gun, the rifle is tethered to your body at all times. If you get into a shuffle at contact distance, you will find that you provided a nice big lever for your opponent. A former SWAT officer gave us an account of one of his smaller statured team-mates being the first one through the door with his MP-5 on a single-point sling. Problem was the bad guy on the other side of the door had a significant weight and height advantage over that SWAT officer and managed to get a grip on said MP-5. That he used as a handle to leverage him around in a fierce hand-to-hand scuffle. You may ask “why did he not simply shoot the guy with his sidearm?” Try this in force-on-force: have another student or instructor yank you around violently while you try accessing your pistol… good luck!
I believe my preference for a simple two-point sling is beginning to come into focus: your rifle is not tethered to you and if an opponent manages to get a grip on it, he has no leverage on you. Let him grip it and get monkey-trapped with it: by the time he has the rifle halfway turned around, he will be looking down the barrel of your pistol, just in time to see the muzzle flash.
A rifle that is not tethered to your body has the additional benefit that it will not hinder ambidestrous use. Wether you explode off the X to your support side or have to a change shoulders as you approach cover. This all is swift and easy if one can move the rifle freely.
So, we’ve got a quality rifle with a solid and reliable sighting system – optical as well as backup. That’s a good start. Where do we go from here? We need to keep the beast fed. Keep in mind that this rifle is intended to work under the most adverse conditions. Magazine-induced failures are not an option and that means quality magazines. Again, you get what you pay for. For an AR I’d look at something in the class of TSD mags, for AK’s at US Palm. Saiga, Mini-14 you’re most likely best off with factory mags.
How many magazines do we need? To log around with your rifle I would suggest at least five – one in the rifle and four in your support gear. Test those mags, make sure they perform and then set them aside. Keep them pristine so you know that they will work if you have to resort to fighting with your rifle.
For training, have at least the same amount of mags in your rangebag. Ten mags are a good baseline number – add a couple of spares just in case.
Aftermarket Pistol Grip
The two most common rifle platforms are the AR and the AK. In their most basic configurations, they usually come with the “standard issue” pistol grips, which are rather skinny and not overly ergonomic. An aftermarket grip that is actually designed to work with your hand will enhance the handling of the rifle significantly. Swap that combloc AK grip for something like a US Palm grip and compare how the rifle handles when you run reloads or any other operations where you hold the rifle on the pistol grip.
Solid Shoulder Stock
Similar to the pistol grip, solid shoulder stocks can improve the overall handling of the rifle. For both, collapsible or folding-style units, they must have a solid locking mechanism in the shooting position. If you try taking a precise shot at a longer distance and you feel the shoulder piece rattling on its bearing surface you will likely experience slight distractions – not good! A quality shoulder stock will provide a solid support.
One other aspect that you may want to factor in is the potential abuse that the stock will see if the rifle is used as an impact weapon against non-shootable bad guys. Most techniques will inadvertently involve strokes with the butt of the rifle to persuade e.g. an unarmed opponent that getting in your way was a really bad idea. The shoulder stock needs to hold up to that without folding in this use and while continuing to work as shoulder support when the rifle goes back into its main fighting business.
Chances are that you will have to use your rifle to fight under low-light conditions. A flashlight will be a useful tool to identify targets, to navigate your way and to communicate with your teammates. But how much flashlight do you really need? Let’s look at the context and intended use of the rifle again. This is a weapon intended to be used in a very dynamic fashion, including the possible use as an impact tool - consequently the light needs a solid means of mounting to the rifle.
Modern tactical lights feature light outputs of 80 Lumens and up. With advances in technology, this number is steadily increasing. Even with 80-100 Lumens you will be well-equipped to work in typical combat distances.
Obvious as it should be: the light needs to be just as reliable and rugged as the rifle itself. Whichever system goes on the weapon needs to be rigorously tested to make sure that it will withstand recoil and also the potential impact – let it be from a rifle tipping over and landing on it or from being the first point of contact when the rifle is used as an impact weapon.
Lastly, the switch system needs to be intuitive and rugged. Ambidextrous operation of the light is a must and that has to come natural to the operator in high-stress situations. The switch needs to work when the operator is down to caveman-style dexterity and it needs to hold up being used under these conditions.
Iron sights, Mini Red-Dot, Flashlight and reliable magazines. A solid fighting rifle will not look exotic or overloaded.
But what about the beloved bolt-on accessories? Where does a bipod, foregrip or laser fit into this?
Well, take a combat rifle course that involves a lot movement while carrying and manipulating your weapon all day long. I’ve seen a good number of students taking “stuff” off their rifles halfway through a two-day course to lighten the load. You will rarely use a bipod or a laser, especially in dynamic situation, whether they be in a class or in a real-life defensive situation. You will, however feel the weight slowing you down in just a few hours of continuously running your rifle.
If you build your rifle up to be an efficient fighting tool, you will likely end up with a weapon that does not look like much, but that will literally leave the tactical Jones’s with their over-accessorized 25-lb have-it-all fighting sticks gasping for air at the morning break of the combat rifle course that they are taking with you.
Uli Gebhard is Suarez International Staff instructor in California
To train with Uli Gebhard click here