Tactical Lights & Mounts For AR-15 Rifles
By Nate Bardole
Brownells.com – -(AmmoLand.com)- After some careful consideration you have decided it time to buy a tactical light for your AR. Whether or not you have a legitimate reason for one, or just want one to illuminate your way to the bathroom at 3:00 am, you have a dizzying array of options to choose from. With so many on the market nowadays, it’s often difficult to make a decision, so I’ll attempt to sort out the various options into an understandable format.
To start with, I’ll break down the tactical light products into two separate segments: Mounts and Lights. Mounts will cover the rail that is attached to the rifle and will include products that you can install with a screwdriver through free float tubes and require barrel nut removal. The lights will of course cover everything from the basic flashlight to the dedicated weapon lights.
The mount segment can be broken down into four separate mounting systems: Free float tubes, standard hand guard mounts, clamp-on mounts and gas blocks.
If you’re on a budget, have the standard issue mil round A2 handguard and don’t feel the need to change, the standard hand guard mounts would be the route to go. These mounts attach to either the top or bottom handguard through the existing vent holes. They are available from Falcon, Advanced Armament, Streamlight and Midwest Industries. They come in aluminum and plastic, and also in various lengths so you can increase the flexibility and usefulness of your rifle depending on your personal preferences.
First Samco has an A2 style replacement handguard for carbines that have the mounting rails built in, both top and bottom. These look like the original A2 handguard until you remove the cover to expose the rail. If two rails aren’t going to give you enough room to mount your accessories, First Samco also has replacement hand guards with 4-rails for both the carbine and rifle.
The clamp-on mounts attach to either the front sight or the barrel in front of the front sight. These are generally a bit more expensive that the standard mounts, but allow you to have full use of the handguard with out worrying about hitting your hand on the mount.
The mounts that clamp onto the barrel are available from Side Armor and YHM. These mounts will give you 3 mounting rails so you can attach a host of other accessories. The only drawback to these is they add weight forward and can be rather large. These mounts are specific to barrel diameter so you will need to measure your barrel diameter in front of the front sight housing.
Laser Devices, Midwest Industries, and Wilson Combat offer mounts that clamp onto the Mil-Spec front sight housing. These mounts sandwich the front sight housing above the bore line and will provide a mounting surface on both sides of the front sight. With a rail on each side, it will allow you to mount a light on one side and another accessory or sling mount on the other side.
Hahn Precision offers a neat mount that clamps onto the front of the sight housing on top of the barrel and extends forward. This keeps it out of the way maintaining a fairly streamlined look. The Hahn mount also has the ability to accept additional rails if you want to ad more accessories.
If you want your light and mount in one unit, Surefire has a light that comes with a mount that clamps on to the front sight housing. This light has the pressure switch that can be mounted to the hand guard for easy activation. Built like a tank, this setup is typical of Surefire products and provides the best beam on the market.
If you don’t mind a little extra work, the free float multi-rail handguard will give you the most ‘bang for your buck’. Not only do you get rails to mount your light and other accessories too, but you’ll also have the extra benefit of improved accuracy provided by a free float tube. Installation of these tubes requires removal of the flash hider, gas block, gas tube, hand guards, and barrel nut. You can find free float rail tubes in the Brownells catalog and are available from DPMS, Daniel Defense, FA Enterprises, and Yankee Hill Machine and you can choose between carbine and rifle styles.
The DPMS and Daniel Defense both have 4 fixed, full-length rails. If you want to cut down on weight, the Daniel Defense tubes are probably the lightest tubes you’ll find anywhere on the market. These tubes also extend past the front sight, just in case you need more room to mount more accessories.
For even more flexibility from your tube, check out the FA Enterprise and Yankee Hill Machine tubes, which allow the rails to be removed if they’re not in use. FA Enterprise has 4 full-length rails that can be removed individually to accommodate your accessories. Yankee Hill Machine goes a step further by providing a ‘blank’ tube that can be fitted with rails of various lengths. This allows you to put the rails where you want and need them.
Another option is to replace the front sight gas block with a multi-rail gas blocks that are available from DPMS, Vulcan Arms, Fulton Armory, and Yankee Hill Machine. Rather than being pinned onto the barrel, these gas blocks are locked in place with setscrews, or they can be clamped onto the barrel.
To install the DPMS, Fulton Armory and Vulcan Gas Blocks, the first thing you’ll need to do is remove the flash hider and then the front sight. DPMS and Vulcan blocks are anodized aluminum and have 4 rails for mounting multiple accessories. The Fulton Armory block is also a 4 rail, but is manufactured from steel. Yankee Hill’s Machine gas block is an innovative design that doesn’t require removal of the flash hider. This is a steel, 2-rail block that clamps onto the barrel and is a real time saver if you have a ‘post ban’ rifle with a muzzle brake pinned on.
Now, let’s talk about the lights.
If you’re sticking to your budget, check out the First Samco flashlight adapter. With these, the flashlight is clamped into the adapter and then can be easily slid onto the rail. A simple push of a button is all that is needed for the mount to be installed or removed.
If you own either a Surefire flashlight with a diameter of 1.06” or a Streamlight Scorpion light, First Samco has 2 adapters that will accept them. If you already have a favorite light, the Surefire adapter will also accept other lights with a diameters of 1.06” and the Scorpion will accept flashlights with a diameter of .96”.
If you like the idea of using your own light, you can use a standard Weaver scope ring to attach your light. Just make sure to measure the body of the light before ordering rings, so you know for sure you’ll get what you need.
A popular option is the Streamlight M series of tactical lights. These are generally seen on pistols, but can be used on rifles as well. Because they were designed for pistols, these lights are exceptionally lightweight and compact. Streamlight offers the M-3 and M-6 lights. Both of these lights have a high-tech polymer housing that attaches to Glock pistols and most tactical rails and have a built in ambidextrous switch that allows either constant or momentary use. If you have thought about adding a laser to your rifle, the M-6 light is what you need. It not only provides illumination, but also has a built-in visible laser. If you don’t find the built-in switch convenient, Streamlight also offers remote switches for the M series light.
Laser Devices also offers a light/laser combination that will attach directly to tactical rails. This is a rugged unit that should handle any situation you can throw at it. Like the Streamlight, the Laser Devices switches are ambidextrous and allow for light, laser or a combination of both. They also carry a conventional-looking light that can be attached to your rail with a 1” scope ring and has the option of either a wire pressure pad switch, or a push button on/off/momentary.
Last but not least in the tactical light market, are the lights manufactured by Surefire that have gotten a lot of publicity in movies, on TV news coverage of the war in Iraq and just about any time a SWAT team has been called out. The two main weapon lights from Surefire are the MU-951SU light and the Rail Mounted Vertical Grip Weapon Light.
The MU-951SU lights are the more flexible of the two Surefire options and is the base for their weapons light system. What this means is, it has the ability to be upgraded with different switches and larger bulbs for more light output. These have a built-in mount that will attach to any Picatinny accessory rail and are activated by a remote pressure switch, with your choice of 5”, 6” or 8” wires. If you don’t like the pressure switch, Surefire has others switches that can be interchanged pretty easily.
One of the neatest Surefire lights I’ve come across is the Rail Mounted Vertical Grip Weapon Light. This combines a vertical forend grip with a high intensity Surefire light. This light slides onto Picatinny accessory rails and is held in place with either thumbscrews or an A.R.M.S. clamp. To keep things streamlined and snag free, pressure switches are built into the vertical grip so there are no wires to get in the way. Surefire has also added something new and different to this product, navigation lights. If you want to see where you are going but don’t necessarily want to let the world know where you are, you can activate the two LED navigation lights by pressing a small pressure switch with your thumb.
No matter what mounting system and light you choose, you will increase the flexibility of your rifle and allow you to better identify your target, whether it’s a skunk rifling the garbage can or a burglar after the family silver.
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