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Adding an Optic to your AR 15

Our veteran writer spent five years in the United States Marine Corps. During that entire experience, he was issued a rifle. Even though he was a machine gunner, he, like all Marines, was expected to be a competent rifleman. In that 5 years, he spent precisely 3 months without an optic on his rifle (instead using simple iron sights), and that was boot camp. The world has moved on from simple iron sights, and in moving on we’ve accepted optics as a generally standard-issue item for modern black rifles. The AR 15 is endlessly adaptable when it comes to optics — more so than any other rifle on the market. With this in mind, let’s look at adding one to your own AR 15 rifle or pistol build. And of course, we’ll explain why our AR 15 uppers are best for accuracy with an optic.

The Optics-Ready AR 15 Upper

Slapping an optic on an AR 15 is basically expected these days, and why not? All the uppers we sell are flat top uppers with a Picatinny rail designed to make tossing an optic on your gun so much easier. The real question is, what optic do you purchase? 

This little guide should give you an idea of what fits where and why. With such a wide variety of AR 15 uppers available you can expect to find an even wider variety of optics, all clamoring for your hard-earned dollars. 

The Home Defense Rifle (or Pistol)

As far as shooting a weapon indoors goes, the inside of your home is not very big. You likely wouldn’t be taking shots beyond 15 yards in the event of a home invasion, and most of our AR pistol uppers are built for this type of shooting. Each features a 7″-, 8.5″-, or 10″-barrel that’s shrouded by a free-float handguard. They’re super-compact yet accurate as Hell. For this range, we don’t need to consider any kind of magnification. What works best here is a red dot optic. 

5.56 (8.5" Barrel & 7" Keymod Handguard) AR Pistol Upper

Red dot optics are the simplest sights you can put on your black rifle. As the name implies, they offer nothing more than a little red dot as your aiming point. They’re effective in close quarters combat. They make first-round shots accurate and transitioning from target to target very simple. They’re perfect at night because of their illuminated nature. Parallax error is also reduced, so you can maintain a less rigid sight picture and still hit your target.

Red dots range from miniature to standard. We like the miniatures for AR pistols because they’re just so small and light. Our veteran writer’s particular favorite is the Meopta Meosight 3. On full-sized carbines, a solid contender would be anything from Aimpoint, or if you’re on a budget, we recommend looking at the Vortex Sparc 2. 

Hunting and Competition

When we dive into the hunting and competition world we can start looking at magnified optics. With hunting, you really never know what range an animal is going to present itself. In this case, you want to prepare for everything. We personally prefer a 1- to 6-power optic for hunting. This provide both close range speed and long range precision. A 3- to 9-power may be handier for those out west hunting over long, open plains. 

For competition use, it’s impossible to deny that the 1- to 4- and 1- to 6-magnification ranges rule the land. In action shooting sports like 3-gun, your targets can be anywhere from 10 to 150 yards away. In these situations, you’ll need both close- and long-range potential, and you want to be able to dial in, see the target, and hit it quickly. Those 1- to 4- and 1- to 6-optics are being built by some very reputable companies for just this purpose. The Leupold VX6 is a popular option and it’s priced quite affordably. 

Long Range Shooting

If you’re ready to take advantage of the accuracy potential the black rifle offers and you’re building a special purpose rifle (or you simply want to shoot a little further than 300 yards) then you need to focus on an upper that provides superior accuracy, usually outfitted with a stainless barrel. Our 16″, 416R stainless barreled upper is one of the most accuare you’ll find. That also means investing in a long-range optic. Pun intended. A long-range optic isn’t necessarily defined by its magnification range, but by the features it offers for dialing in and adjusting. 

For example, if you’re looking to pair an optic with one of our 18-inch barrel uppers, you likely want an optic with a mil dot reticle and a wide range of up-down and left-right adjustment. This adjustment range will allow you to compensate for bullet drop and windage. A good magnification range is also a critical feature, but you should probably top out at around 12x. The AR 15’s effective up to about 600 yards when shooting .223 or 5.56, so a 20x scope isn’t necessary — just more costly. 

223 WYLDE (18" Barrel & 15" M-Lok Handguard) AR 15 Rifle Upper Assembly

A personal favorite our veteran writer is the Leupold Mark AR Mod 1, in 3x to 9x. This scope is built specifically for the AR platform’s ballistic coefficients, and it’s designed to give you a crystal-clear sight picture thanks to some nice glass. It also comes outfitted for long-range shooting, making it a versatile optic for bigger rifles, too.

Scoped Out

Once you’ve chosen the purpose your AR 15 is going to serve, it’s best to go with an AR 15 upper that’s set up for an optic and accuracy. We’re talking about a quality flat top M4 upper with a free-floating handguard that won’t mess up your shot groups. In the long run investing in a quality upper like ours is cheaper and it makes your weapon more versatile. Tossing an optic on your rifle is going to give you an advantage in nearly every aspect of shooting. The best part? You can still rock iron sights. Our back-up sights fold down to a low profile, allowing nearly any optic to be mounted without obstruction.

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