What if I told you that you could get 15, 20, or even 45 percent better accuracy from your existing AR-type rifle? You can. Read on.

The key concept here is getting the best possible accuracy from the rifle you already have. While you can certainly improve accuracy by replacing major components like the barrel, that kind of defeats the whole point of working with the rifle you have. Here, we’ll focus on less invasive upgrades.

There are a number of accessories available to shooters that can help improve accuracy. For example, on the AR platform, you can upgrade your front handguard to a free-floated design. Removing pressure points on the barrel will certainly help with shot-to-shot consistency (accuracy). Installing a free-floating handguard take a little bit of tool work, but can be well worthwhile in the long run.

Furniture aside, there’s another upgrade you can make that will positively impact the accuracy of your rifle. I’m talking about a trigger upgrade. AR factory triggers can be notoriously bad. Some are heavy, irregular, and feel like you’re trying to create sidewalk art with a broken piece of brick. The weird thing about trigger upgrades is that a new trigger doesn’t do anything to make your rifle mechanically more accurate—it doesn’t affect the bore, it doesn’t come into direct contact with the cartridges, and it doesn’t stabilize your shooting position. However, it does enable you to get the maximum possible accuracy out of your rifle.

The author likes the Timney AR-15 Competition Trigger as the whole assembly is self-contained and pre-tested.
The author likes the Timney AR-15 Competition Trigger as the whole assembly is self-contained and pre-tested.

Accurate shooting is a carefully-choreographed pas de deux between shooter and rifle. If you put your rifle in a vise and shoot, it will perform to a certain level of consistency from shot to shot. However, there is no shooting without a shooter. No matter how carefully you rest your gun, obtain your sight picture, and control your breathing, breaking a shot always requires physical force from you to press the trigger. This motion requires enough force to release the sear, drop the hammer and finally ignite the cartridge. Considering that standard AR triggers can require five to eight pounds of pressure to release, and that most rifles weigh six to eight pounds, there’s a great chance that the act of pressing the trigger will exert some unwanted movement on the gun. The more irregular and grittier the trigger, the more risk of moving just a gnat’s hair from your perfect point of aim. Even the tiniest movement of a gun can affect group size downrange.

Recently, I did an experiment to quantify the effect of a trigger upgrade. To make a long story short, I shot a number of five-shot groups with standard triggers on two different rifles—a Daniel Defense DDM4v5 chambered in 300 BLK and a Rock River Arms LAR in 6.8mm Remington SPC. While still at the range, I removed the factory triggers and installed Timney AR-15 Competition triggers with three-pound pull weights. I re-shot the groups and compared average group sizes. Doing advanced math with a number of groups from two rifles, I observed between 15 and 40 percent improvements in 100-yard group size. To put those improvements in real terms, averages improved as follows:

  • 300 BLK Sierra MatchKing 125-grain: 1.69 inches before, 0.970 inches after
  • 300 BLK Sierra MatchKing 135-grain: 1.37 inches before, 1.007 inches after
  • 6.8mm Remingt on SPC Sierra MatchKing 115-grain: 1.75 inches before, 1.47 inches after

Same shooter, same conditions, same ammo, same rifles—the only difference was the trigger.

Fortunately, replacing your trigger with a self-contained assembly like the Timney is a piece of cake. During my test, I did it on two different rifles on a range bench in the middle of the woods. Here’s how you do it.

First, you need to decide on a trigger replacement. Last week, I wrote about a factory tour of the Timney Triggers plant. I’m partial to Timney because their replacement trigger assembly is a complete unit—not a set of parts that you have to configure. Each trigger group has been assembled, adjusted, and tested before you ever see it. It’s a drop-in unit that replaces the trigger, hammer, and sear (and springs) of your existing AR trigger group. The following text will describe how to install a drop-in unit like Timney’s AR-15 Competition unit.

First, ensure your firearm is unloaded.

You’ll want to completely separate the upper and lower receivers, mainly because it’s easier to work on with the upper completely out of the way.

On the lower receiver, punch out the two pins that hold the trigger group components in place. This allows the three components of your factory-installed trigger group to be removed. Save them just in case you want to relive the experience of a crappy trigger at some future date.

Next, you’ll need to remove the pistol grip. The top right of the pistol grip holds the safety detent pin spring, so you need to take it off in order to release pressure on the safety detent pin to remove the safety. Be careful when removing the grip so you don’t lose the detent pin spring.

When you remove the grip, be sure not to lose the safety detent pin spring, shown here.
When you remove the grip, be sure not to lose the safety detent pin spring, shown here.

Once the detent spring is out, you’ll be able to remove the safety. You need to get the safety out of the way so the new trigger assembly will fit into the receiver.

Drop the new trigger group assembly into place. Once it’s fully seated, you’ll be able to reinsert the safety. Now you can reattach the pistol grip, taking care to make sure the safety detent pin and spring are in the correct place.

This is why it's called a "drop in" replacement option.
This is why it’s called a “drop in” replacement option.

Now you can replace the two trigger group pins. By design, these will be loose in the Timney housing, so either hold them or tape them in place so you can complete the next step without the pins falling through.

Use the included Allen wrench to tight the two base screws in the trigger assembly housing. This applies pressure to the interior of the receiver so the trigger group pins are under tension. Two tiny set screws are included with the Timney trigger, along with an equally-tiny Allen wrench. Put those in place over the screws you just tightened to hold them in place.

Tighten two set screws to "jam" the trigger group assembly into place, creating pressure against the trigger group pins.
Tighten two set screws to “jam” the trigger group assembly into place, creating pressure against the trigger group pins.

Replace your upper receiver and test the function with your (still!) unloaded gun.

A couple of closing thoughts: be careful about the replacement trigger you choose. You want to match the purpose of the trigger to the anticipated use of your rifle. If you’re a target shooter, feel free to get a light trigger! If you intend to use your rifle for home defense, you might want to get a higher-weight replacement trigger to minimize the chance of negligent discharges while under stress. Luckily there are tons of aftermarket trigger options available, and you’ll likely be able to find one that meets your needs.

Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon.

Images by Tom McHale

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13 thoughts on “AR-15 Hacks: How to Maximize Your Rifle’s Accuracy Potential

  1. I was expecting an article outlining a variety of accurizing tips, tricks and methods for AR-15’s. Instead I saw:

    – A brush-off to the concept of rebarreling, claiming that it “defeats the purpose”. Not sure what that even means.
    – A passing mention about free float handguards. Do these “defeat the purpose” as well?
    – A long sales pitch for Timney Triggers, installation instructions, test results, etc etc.

    First, I’ll mention that a Timney trigger is as pricey as many of the match grade barrels out there. Next I’ll say that most decent armorers & smiths can do a trigger job on the stock trigger for a LOT cheaper than buying a Timney. If I had my druthers (and for about the same money), I’d go for the re-barrel and do a quick trigger job. There are a bunch of other cheap hacks and tips out there, some as simple as Loc-Tite applied in key places, and some super cheap (50 cent) products that make a difference (Accu-Wedge).

    Finally, making/buying quality ammunition makes all the difference in the world… perhaps MORE difference than all the other “accurizing” tips combined. You can make an “off-the-shelf” bargain basement AR put rounds through the same hole all day long (shooting hand-crafted ammunition). I’ve also watched a $3,000 super-accurized, match grade AR spray shotgun patterns into targets (shooting crummy surplus ammo).

    1. Couldn’t agree more on the benefits of rebarreling and free floated for ends, but as the article states in the beginning, the point of this one is “getting the best possible accuracy from the rifle you already have” meaning we’re not talking about major surgery like barrel swaps etc. So, as it says, “defeats the purpose simply refers to working with the major components you already got. Putting in a decent trigger is one very easy thing to do – no tools, no gunsmiths, etc etc. You can do it at the shooting bench if you like.

      Most people don’t realize exactly how much difference a new trigger can make, so that’s all this article is addressing. No more, no less.

      With limits on size and number of words, we can’t address all the things you can do, and how to do them, in a single article.

      1. I would consider free-floating a barrel to be easier and less “invasive” in many cases than a new trigger system even…and probably more beneficial.

        You’re actually increasing the accuracy potential of the rifle, rather than just using an equipment solution to a shooter problem. I’ve shot 1/2 MOA groups with a normal trigger on a free-floated system…with a little practice it can be done. But I can’t say the reverse is so easy. If you want to do both, sure. But if you’re gonna take the “which one should I do” path (which this article seems to be kinda implying is its intent)…float the barrel first EVERY TIME, then work on catching your accuracy up to your rifle’s accuracy.

      1. This has nothing to do with my reading comprehension. It has EVERYTHING to do with the fact that the whole article reads like an ‘infomercial’ for Timney.

        I Googled “Tom McHale Timney” and there was a whole slew of articles from him similarly touting Timney triggers. Makes me wonder whether Timney pays him by the article, or if he’s in for a percentage cut of sales.

      2. Hey folks, just wanted to make a public service announcement. Remember, Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Common Core Math! Because weird things can happen, like “a whole slew of articles from him similarly touting Timney triggers” really means three. This one, one about a factory tour last week, and another random one.

        Alas, I’ve been exposed… Yes, I’ve made over $18.5 million so far this year shilling for Timney in these three articles. But now that the gig is up, I guess I have to find another job. Perhaps professional twerking? Anyone got contacts in that industry?

        But seriously, the reason I mentioned Timney in “the whole slew” of three articles in my life is because I’ve actually been there, toured the plant, met the people and seen first hand the level of quality and attention to detail those folks put in their products. If sharing that actual experience with others is a fault, consider me guilty. I’d probably be better off just skimming headlines and ranting on the internet though.

  2. A couple points, you didn’t have to read the article. You also are not required to do what it says. I’ll agree the title is misleading, I was expecting it to point out multiple things you could do to improve the firearm and it’s really only suggesting one option and implying all others are not worth your time. With that said, I’m not sure what gunsmiths are doing your work, but more power to them. They apparently are giving away their work. I charge roughly $60-75 to do trigger work and that’s pretty much as low as I go. As for re-barreling an AR I can’t even buy a barrel worth replacing the original wholesale for what the Timney costs. And that doesn’t factor in my labor for installing the barrel. I certainly wouldn’t replace the barrel without doing trigger work.
    I’m not saying the article wonderfully represents all the options. I’m also not saying the Timney trigger is the way to go and all other ideas should be ignored. But frankly, if you’re a duct tape and WD40 kinda person you can get a Timney into a gun and not make yourself have an unsafe gun. There are plenty of “gunsmiths” out there that can’t do a safe trigger job. There are also plenty of people out there that don’t have a gunsmith they trust to work on their gun. This is a viable option and the author’s description of the product is very accurate. It’s a modular unit that works 95+% of the time as a simple drop in. However it will not, nor did the author try to claim, make your $600 DMPS shoot like a $2000+ custom AR. I wish the title was worded differently, but it was fairly written and didn’t make false claims which is far more than you can say about most internet articles.

  3. Timney? Really? The worst Geissele I own is better than the best Timney AR trigger I own, and I own a few.
    The Geissele triggers are tough as nails, combat proven and with a far better feel.

  4. In about one hour you can do a pretty good trigger job on your own with a fine stone, some semi chrome polish and a few hand tools. Of course some mechanical aptitude might be required. Tightening the upper and lower helps some but to really make a difference a good barrel is an absolute necessity. I hate the pitiful groups I get from AR’s compared to my bolt actions. My Remington 700 and Ruger M77 shoots groups under 1 inch out of the box. To get an AR to shoot really decent groups you’re going to spend some money. That means doing a lot of work on your AR or paying $2,000.00 for one that is ready to race. Such it up and peel off the bills.

    1. I think you are mistaken about the AR platform. It seems to me that they are incredibly accurate, particularly for a semi-automatic platform. I am not denying the inherent accuracy of a locked-bolt design, but there is a reason that the military fields very few bolt-action rifles (even for designated marksmen and snipers) these days. The accuracy gained by using a bolt action rifle is not enough to justify the rate of fire and practical accuracy of a modern semi-auto rifle. Even cheaper AR-15s are able to shoot MOA groups which quality surplus military ammo. That is enough to exceed the accuracy of the average cheap bolt gun. To buy a bolt gun that REALLY has a huge accuracy difference, you would be spending well over $1500-2000.

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