I’m sorry, but this title just doesn’t seem right. When the AR-15, with its 5.56 x 45 NATO cartridge (.223 Remington), was introduced, one of its big selling points was the mild recoil. At the time, few shooters could complain, and most would use the term “tame” anytime someone would bring up the subject.
However, over the years, the rifle has changed, as well as the demands of shooters. The standard rifle in use today is lighter and shorter than those first ARs, and we now expect rapid follow-up shots to practically go into one ragged hole. At the same time, we are also chambering the rifle in more powerful cartridges, ranging from the 7.62 x 40WT up to, and beyond, the .458 SOCOM.
In my case, it was my first experience with a 16-inch barreled, .308 Winchester AR-10 that finally made me look for a little relief from what I would describe as overly stout recoil.
Fortunately, the AR is the most modular rifle ever made, and the average shooter in his own home can make changes to improve any problem. But before I started modifications, I had to make a few decisions.
“ … it was my first experience with a 16-inch-barreled, .308 Winchester AR-10 that finally made me look for a little relief …”
First, remember Newton’s Third Law of physics. A basic rendition would be: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” We cannot really reduce the recoil without reducing the power of the cartridge, but we can reduce the “felt recoil” being transmitted back to the shooter.
Second, you want to decide to what extent you are willing to alter your rifle, and the amount you are willing to spend to tame the kick heading your way. When I was looking for relief with my AR-10, I had already decided I wanted to keep the 16-inch barrel, and my natural instinct was to spend as little as possible.
If you have the same aims, here are three alterations I made that greatly improved the felt recoil on my rifle, and each one of them can be done in five minutes or less. To make the situation a little better, each modification is independent from the next. You can try one before going on to the next.
Muzzle Brake & Compensators
One of the easiest methods of reducing recoil is the use of various muzzle brakes and compensators, but I’m saving that topic for another day. There are just too many to consider without further testing. Because many increase the back blast outside of the rifle, and increase the noise level, this topic is better served by its own review.
1 BUFFER & SPRING
Let’s start by taking a look at the rather simple gas-operating system of the AR.
A small port in the barrel allows gas to be vented through the gas block and gas tube. This gas travels to the bolt and bolt carrier, forcing it to move rearward while ejecting the empty case. The bolt carrier group then pushes the recoil buffer to the rear as it compresses the recoil spring. As the gas dissipates, the spring begins to overpower the system, pushing the buffer and bolt-carrier group forward to chamber a new round and lock into battery. The rifle is then ready to be fired again.
Knowing that it takes more force to move a heavier object, it makes sense that, given the same amount of gas, a heavier recoil buffer will travel slower. This extends the time needed for the system to operate, and the felt recoil will not be as sharp of a blow to your shoulder.
A lot of companies make heavier buffers than is standard, but the guys on the forum suggested I contact the guru of recoil, Clint Butler at Slash’s Heavy Buffers. Clint was quick to reply to my email, and he gave me two suggestions. One was for a carbine collapsible receiver extension, and the second was for a rifle-length tube. Since the rifle length offered greater reduction in felt recoil, I jumped at it and didn’t mind having to change to an affixed stock. Yes, the carbine size may have been fine, but I’m a pansy and like to be comfortable while I shoot.
The AR10R-XH buffer and spring just slip into place down the tube. This is the easiest of replacements to make. The heavier buffer and stronger spring worked like a charm, and my rifle still maintained its 100-percent reliability.
2 THE STOCK
After changing out my receiver extension, a new stock was in order. The basic AR-15 stock has not been designed with recoil in mind. Most stocks have flat, hard butt plates. I chose to take a lesson from decades before and added a soft rubber butt pad. This was achieved by replacing the USGI-style collapsible stock with an ACE Skeleton (ARFX) fixed stock with a half-inch thick rubber butt pad. If you want a little more, the butt pad is also available in a one-inch version. The soft rubber, alone, does wonders for the felt recoil.
If you choose this option, you will need to use a rifle-length receiver extension (buffer tube), as well as the corresponding spring and buffer. Since I had already made that change, it mattered little in my situation. An added bonus was the closed-cell foam that slips over the receiver extension to provide a very comfortable cheek weld.
3 ADJUSTABLE GAS BLOCK
One suggestion offered on the forum was the use of an adjustable gas block. The ability to control the amount of gas being vented off into the operating system allows you to control the speed of the bolt, bolt carrier and recoil buffer. Understand that when we mention slowing things down, we are still talking about speeds that are only a fraction of a second.
When I asked for a suggestion of which manufacturer to use, nine out of 10 guys came back with a simple response: “SLR.” A few seconds on Google sent me to SLR Rifleworks and its Sentry 7 Titanium Adjustable Gas Block. It only takes a few minutes to change out a gas block, and this model has 15 settings, from fully closed to wide open.
Once installed, you should be able to head to the range and adjust the setting screw until you get the perfect balance of gas vented through your rifle while maintaining 100-percent reliability.
After taking these three simple steps to control the felt recoil of my AR-10, the trips to the range have been much more comfortable. An AR-10 will never feel the same as an AR-15 in 5.56 NATO, but no one should ever expect it to.
I was working on a .308 Winchester AR-10, but these methods will work on either an AR-10 or AR-15, in any caliber. Remember, the more you control the recoil, the easier it is to control the rifle.
Please allow me a moment to thank the participants of the AR Variants forum found on AR15.com. If you ever want an honest opinion on a product, just get on this forum and ask.
There are always people that have tried it before and are willing to help you out. It is nice to get feedback from those who have put these products to the test before you spend your hard-earned dollars.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the September-October 2016 print issue of World of Firepower Magazine.