Bob Owens

The saddest truth in politics is that people get the leaders they deserve

Thoughts on AR-15 modifications for slung marksmanship

Written By: Bob - Apr• 03•12

If you happened to catch the blog entry last week or my PJ Media article of several days ago, you’re aware of the fact that I spent a weekend with some the fine folks of the Revolutionary War Veterans Association (RWVA), attending an Appleseed event. I cannot encourage you enough to attend one in your area.

Many of the shooters at Appleseed events bring along a “liberty training rifle,”  which is basically a .22 semi-automatic rifle with military style sights and a sling and several spare magazines. Considering that the bulk of the shooting is done at 25 yards, a .22 is a great choice. I shot Saturday with a Marlin Model 60 rigged in “liberty” trim, but noticed that my 41-year-old eyes were having a heck of a time with the iron sights.

I vowed to come back Sunday with a rifle equipped with low-power glass, and see if that helped. While I had several guns in the safe to choose from, I ended up going with the latest iteration of my Templar Custom MCWS, “Gretchen.”

Bob with Templar Custom rifle, "Gretchen."

When I first picked Gretchen up from Bob Reynolds at Templar Custom, she sported a 18″ 6.5 Grendel barrel as shown in the photo above. I then asked him to turn me a second 18″ barrel in 223 Wylde, to which he added some custom modifications, including a prototype M4 feed ramp variation.

I added a 1-4×24 Leatherwood CMR on 30mm UTG rings the morning of the second day of Appleseed, and drove to the RWVA home range in Ramsuer, counting on being able to zero it at the 25 yard line, which would give me a 300-yard zero once it was dialed in. Once we had it dialed in (I had an instructor with better shooting mechanics help me zero it, since rests were a no-no), my accuracy increased greatly. Seeing your target clearly actually helps!

From there, instructors decided that I should drop my nylon hasty sling for a cotton military loop sling. Once that was in place and adjusted properly I was really able to dial in my shots, earned my rifleman patch, and became the only shooter of the weekend to clear my redcoat target.

Getting my rifleman patch, while holding my qualifying AQT target.

It was an awe-inspiring demonstration of how modern technology and decades old technique could turn an average shooter into a deadly accurate rifleman.

But even though the scope and rifle performed magnificently–it shot sub-MOA–it wasn’t and isn’t the “perfect” kind of rifle for the kind of shooting I was doing. Of course, it wasn’t designed to be. From the ground up, the Templar Custom MCWS is designed as a precision weapon for designated marksmen in special operations units. In typical use, it will be fired from a bipod from an overwatch position at distance, or hanging from a single point sling at closer ranges. It is an operator’s weapon, and simply wasn’t designed with the ergonomics of a range queen.

You might wonder what ergonomics I’m talking about, and so I’ll try to explain it the best I can.

When you use a loop sling, you’re connecting a loop of material around your upper arm above your bicep, and connecting the other end to the front sling swivel of your rifle. When adjusted properly, the tension between your sling and rifle will pull the weapon toward your body,  creating a very tight fit between the butt of the rifle and the “pocket” of your shoulder (note: the “pocket” moves, or may not even really be a pocket,depending on the position you are using). When “looped in” you don’t even need your firing hand to touch the weapon, and can get into position and on target just using the rigid triangle created by the rifle, sling, and body.

When you’re “looped in,” your lead hand (left hand for a right-handed shooter) is effectively locked in the sling. Pulling your hand out of the sling is going to destroy your hold on target, or “natural point of aim”  (NPOA).

If you’re familiar with the controls of the common AR-15 rifle, you’re aware of the fact that the bolt release is on the left-hand side of the weapon, and the charging handle of the firearm is on the top of the weapon, necessitating  you to shift position and lose your NPOA when you need to use these controls. As changing magazines is a vital part of the time AQT course of fire, you can lose valuable seconds–and devastating points off your score–as you try to use these controls and get back to your NPOA and back on the target.

As a result of the “AQT grind” on the afternoon of the second day and several botched attempted AQTs as a result of the manipulation problems, I managed to find a way to improvise an awkward method of reaching  over the top of the rifle with my shooting hand to release the bolt on mag changes and resume my course of fire, and finally earned my rifleman patch. I couldn’t help but wonder, however, how much nicer it might be to have some modifications done to the upper and lower receiver to make it more amenable to the specialized kind of target shooting I’m engaging in, where my left hand is part of the rifle’s support system, and not something with which to manipulate controls.

The first mod I’d like a loop-sling equipped target AR is the removal of the traditional charging handle, to be replaced by a beefy bolt handle attached to the right side of the bolt, which also necessitates a channel to be opened up in the upper receiver for the bolt to travel.  Such a mod means not having to break your cheekweld when charging the weapon, allowing the shooter to remain eyes on target.

The second is the addition of a right-side bolt release. It would be great to be able to keep your check weld and use the index finger to release the bolt and chamber a round while your hand is still on the grip and eyes are on the target.

These are NOT minor modifications, are irreversible. Still, they are performance enhancing for the kind of rifle marksmanship we’re using at Appleseed.

The third and final modification I’d like to see to my current rig is a simple replacement of the UTG rings I was using with a cantilever mount that would thrust the CMR optic forward enough to get proper and repeatable eye relief. I tend towards a “nose to the charging handle” position on the stock, and wasn’t getting enough natural eye relief with the rings I was using. I was having to artificially pull my neck back, and that means you can’t be consistent or comfortable.

How do I know all these modifications will work?

After qualifying at the 25-range, I sauntered up to the 500-yard known-distance range, where my RWVA instructor had a pair of his long-range precision rifles on display. They sported the cantilevel mounts, side-charging handles mounted directly to the bolts, and the right-side bolt releases, which actually caught me by surprise when I spotted for him using his second rifle and was keeping my finger above the triggerguard, eliciting a startled curse from me and a laugh from him when the bolt suddenly left forward on an empty chamber.

Once locked in behind the rifle, he never had to move his left hand or head to manipulate the controls on the rifle. When you combined the specialization of those rifles with the high skill level of that shooter, you had a combination that had the ability to hit one-inch spinning steel targets at 500 yards–a golf-ball-sized target at more than a half-mile–and never had to take his eye off the target to change magazines.

I would imagine that if there was a AR rifle built from the ground up with these variations, at a price on par with the tried-and-true AR architecture, it would  stand a chance of drawing a significant market share for those interested doing the bulk of their shooting at the range. I have to think I not remotely close to being the first person who has made these observations after trying to shoot the AR platform, and I wonder why more companies haven’t come out with these improvements on a production gun.

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  1. louielouie says:

    i’ve been waiting for you to post on a firearm so my off topic question won’t be so far off topic.
    why are most of the the handguns manufactured in liberal/unionized states?

  2. My solution to the “bolt release” problem was never to let the bolt lock to the rear in the first place.

    I was shooting a 10/22 all day on Saturday, which lacks a last round hold open feature. That means that on strings of fire that had 2 rounds/change mag/8 rounds, I would actually only fire a single round before I swapped mags. That meant I didn’t have to manipulate the bolt under time contstraints.

    I suggest you do the same with your AR. On Sunday, used Bob’s personal AR, so I did that myself. No fooling with the locked open bolt. If it’s important, you can always add a Magpul BAD or similar device to allow you to close the bolt with your firing finger.