By Roy HIll & Lawrence Hansen
Shooting can be like Sumi-e, the Japanese art of ink painting. When done well, both look effortless, and the results can be almost magical. What looks simple and easy is very complicated, and costs hours spent refining and perfecting fundamental techniques – loading the brush with ink and finding the perfect angle and pressure in Sumi-e, sight alignment, trigger press, breath control, and follow-through in shooting.
Artists and skilled shooters both know mastering fundamental skills is what really matters. But selecting the proper tools greatly improves chances for success – the correct brush with just the right amount of water and ink in Sumi-e, or the right trigger paired with the right scope in rifle shooting.
The trigger is the command switch on an AR-15, instantly transmitting the shooter’s decision to fire to the rifle. Brownells-sponsored professional 3-gun shooter Janna Reeves puts it this way: “When it comes to accuracy, a precision trigger is a huge asset. A trigger with a smooth pull with a clean break and reset is invaluable when a shooter demands the highest level of accuracy from their firearm.” With so much riding on the trigger, it’s no wonder so many companies strive to make the perfect AR-15 trigger.
AR-15 triggers fall into a few main categories. Simple military-style triggers are commonly found on complete rifles or in lower parts kits. Sometimes heavy to pull, they are robust and reliable. Some, like the ALG Defense ACT Enhanced Trigger, are “better-thanmil- spec” and have hand-polished engagement surfaces and other refinements for better performance without sacrificing robust reliability.
Beyond enhanced original-style triggers, the AR-15 trigger world gets more complicated. One way to understand all these triggers is to break down the two main types of pulls available.
Single-Stage triggers have little to no built-in movement before the break. Simply apply pressure with your finger, and the shot breaks when you reach the amount of required force. Typically these triggers, like the Geissele B-GRF Rapid Fire, have pull weights much less than mil-spec original triggers (a choice of 3.2 or 4 lbs. for the B-GRF), though not always. The ALG ACT Trigger has a pull of approximately 6 lbs., slightly heavier than the military standard, but it is a smoother, more consistent pull with a more precise let-off to give the shooter better “feel” and control.
Two-Stage triggers have two distinct phases in the pull sequence. The first stage is the finger moving the trigger back some until you hit what feels like a like “stop” or wall in the pull. This stop is the start of the second stage. Apply more pressure to the trigger at this point and it will break. The initial take-up stage helps the shooter feel exactly where the break is, a great benefit in precision target shooting.
An example of a two-stage trigger is the AR Gold Trigger, which also offers another benefit - it’s a self-contained drop-in module. The standard AR-15 trigger is not unusually complex - ease of repair and maintenance were factored into the design - but there are a number of small parts to wrangle. With the AR Gold, you simply push out two pins, remove the factory trigger, insert the module, and secure it with the same pins. No small fiddly bits and pieces to align.
Different kinds of triggers work better for different kinds of shooting. Great characteristics for long-range precision shooting might not work so well when blazing through a 3-gun stage. Identify the kind of shooting you plan to do before choosing a trigger.
Quick Tip: How to measure Trigger Pull
Scoping It Out
Non-magnified, battery-powered red dots are frequently mounted on AR- 15s. A lighted dot projected inside the optic serves as the aiming point. Red dots have some advantages. One is unlimited eye relief – if you can see the dot on the target, you’re likely to get a hit, even if your cheek isn’t placed perfectly on the stock - or on the stock at all.
Red dots also allow shooting with both eyes open, which is very helpful for getting fast hits on close targets.
Usually unmagnified or offering very low magnification, red dots are particularly handy for short-range targeting or dynamic situations like combat or competition where you have to address a whole bunch of targets fast.
Traditional scopes have built-in magnification, very useful when shooting beyond across-the-room distances. Scopes require a more stable, consistent head position and cheekweld on the stock to keep your eye within the shorter eye-relief zone. Just like triggers, there are different types of scopes, and choosing the best one really depends on the type of shooting you intend to do.
Scopes can be fixed power, or variable. Fixed power scopes are rugged and simple. They can be low power, like the 4x32 Trijicon ACOG designed specifically for AR-15s, or high power like the Sightron 10x.
Variable-power scopes are just that – you can easily change the magnification power. The variable scopes you see commonly mounted on ARs come in two flavors. At the lower end of the magnification spectrum are scopes like the Vortex Strike Eagle 1-6x24 that do not magnify at their lowest setting and can function like red dots - until you need to reach out to a more distant target. Then just rotate the adjustment ring to get a closer view of your target. You get the advantages of a red dot and a traditional a magnified scope in one package mounted on your rifle.
The Strike Eagle scope has another desirable feature often found on scopes designed specifically for the AR-15: its reticle is ballistic drop compensated (BDC) for 5.56 NATO ammo. Zero your rifle at 50 yards, and the Strike Eagle will give you very good accuracy from 20-200 yards with standard mil-spec ammo. With a modest price tag for such good glass, the Strike Eagle is an excellent scope for 3-gun competitors.
AR-15s are increasingly showing up on hunting fields. If that’s the intended purpose of yours, the SIG Sauer 1-5x20 Whiskey5 is designed for short- to medium-range shooting, with a wide field of view (FOV) to help you get the crosshairs on a critter fast. You can adjust the versatile illuminated Hellfire™ CirclePlex reticle between multiple brightness settings, including two for use with night vision gear.
Speaking of illuminated reticles, Vortex ups the ante on its 1-6x24 Razor HD Gen II by letting you choose one of 11 reticle brightness settings. This scope is also particularly forgiving with eye relief, so the position of your head is less critical than on many scopes, even at the higher magnification levels.
Low-magnification does not mean low-end or low-quality! For that carte blanche AR build, Swarowski offers its hunting-optimized Z6i 1-6x24, with a broad 127.5 ft. FOV at 100 yards to help with picking up your quarry. Swaro is, of course, famous for the remarkable clarity of its glass - important when you're trying to distinguish your animal from the surrounding vegetation. The Z6i's Illuminated reticle can also be switched off to work like a traditional, black-crosshairs scope. Also cool is the “Swarolight” feature - as you move the rifle into the horizontal position for taking a shot, the reticle automatically turns on. Then when you get up and hold the rifle verticaore,
See More Farther
So much for low-magnification scopes. At a certain point, you rediscover why somebody invented the riflescope in the first place: to see targets that are way far away. Vortex offers a step up in magnification power on its Viper PST 2.5-10x32, a fine choice if you’re a member of the local Prairie Dog Population Control Squad. This scope lets you adjust windage and elevation in fine ¼ MOA increments, and a front focal plane (FFP) reticle that's handy for quickly switching from one target to another. As you zoom the magnification, the scale of the reticle stays in proportion to the zoomed image.
The AR is not a huge rifle, so even when you want to reach toward far edge of its range, you don’t want a scope that dwarfs the gun. Nightforce calls its 2.5-10x42 NXS Compact the “biggest, baddest little scope on the market,” which is hard to disagree with. It gives you very the precise illuminated MOAR™ reticle, plus excellent performance in low light due to the larger (but not cumbersome) diameter of the objective bell.
Keep in mind that it’s possible to get scopes with upper end magnification much higher than 10x, but on the AR platform this tends to be for unique, special-purpose rifles.
Putting It All Together
Buying brushes, an ink stick and grinding stone, and the finest rice paper won’t make you a Sumi-e artist. The same goes for triggers and scopes on your AR-15. You can drop a lot of money on upgrades on your rifle, but if you don’t improve your shooting skills, it won’t make any difference. The real pay-off comes when mastery of shooting fundamentals meets great, high-quality tools. Then, unbelievable, seemingly effortless things begin to happen. It becomes PFM - pure freakin' magic.
P42 Iron Sights