Outfitting a Savage MSR Recon AR15 as a Home Defense Rifle
An AR makes for a great defensive firearm, but these simple accessories make it just about perfect.
Lately I’ve had the pleasure of testing one of Savage Arms’ newer carbines, the MSR Recon. This AR15 comes with some great features. But outfitting it, or any long gun, for home defense entails strong consideration of accessories, which can make or break a gunfight.
We’re using the Recon as an example, but the components named here could go on most any long gun outfitted to accept them. Though it’s tempting to trick out an AR with any of the dozens of gadgets, the KISS principle is a good one. Excess bulk on the rifle can slow the time it takes to get it into action.
Along with choosing add-ons for your own carbine or home defense shotgun, your interface with them must be functional. The coolest gear is but a joke if it interferes with manipulating or firing the gun.
A Good Sling
The humble sling is probably the most underrated but necessary add-on. What is a “good” sling as far as I’m concerned? One that can be lengthened quickly for dropping into prone or other shooting positions, or for doffing and handing off to someone else, but otherwise stays in a tighter carry position. A two-point sling allows you to maintain control of the rifle as it lays across your chest, but also allows for the use of your hands for other tasks without the rifle becoming a pendulum, banging on your kneecaps and furniture if you must let go of it.
For this trial, I checked out the Blackhawk Multi-Point Tactical Sling. It’s made of slick-textured nylon that doesn’t chafe necks, and is padded around the neck also. This sling has a new interpretation of the increasingly popular and sensible quick-adjust theme in slings; with a plastic loop that’s easy to hook a thumb into for a quick change to a longer or shorter sling. It’s a gross-motor design, something I love in tactical gear as even on tough training days I haven’t needed to fumble with it when fatigued, it just works.
I can go from my jogging carry, with the rifle vertical and snugged against the center of my chest, to a standing or kneeling firing position seamlessly, this intuitive design adds no delay to deploying the rifle. Going prone, I find it easier to duck one shoulder out so the sling is only around my neck, but that is true of most all slings.
Those who like a one-point sling shouldn’t rule this one out, because it does both one- and two-point duty. It’s quick to move the flush cup from the forend into the sliding loop on the sling and voila! It’s a one-point. The downside with a one-point setup, though, is that the rifle becomes a pendulum unless you keep at least one hand on it. A two-point is a bit more forgiving. Especially for short folk like myself, it’s nice not to have the muzzle banging on kneecaps.
I’ve found the Blackhawk sling tough and completely functional for tactical training and feel it offers good advantages on a home defense gun. For long-distance carry, I’d prefer the elasticized version of the same sling. There are a couple options for the strap ends. I chose plain, which necessitated the purchase of sling swivel cups and loops, for which the Blackhawk stock offers a socket. I also purchased a rail attachment for the front end, to which another flush cup and loop are attached. In other words, I set it up exactly as I wanted, free of the limiting hardware included with some slings.
Though I’ve had to tape up what would otherwise be flapping loose ends, I am able to shorten the webbing sufficiently to fit my five-feet,-five-inch frame. Not every brand of sling can be made small enough to fit me, but this is one that can.
A Trustworthy Red Dot Optic
Iron sights can be near impossible to align in dimly lit conditions. Much more efficient and easy is a sturdy red dot optic, properly zeroed for indoors or close quarters use. Mounted on the Recon is a Bushnell TRS-26, a 2018 release from the optics company that has a lot of user-friendly features.
Mounting the TRS-26 on the Recon’s rail was easy, as it comes with an integral rail mount. Two crossbar screws attach to the rail with whatever eye relief the user is comfortable—leaving room, hopefully, for the rear BUIS behind the optic.
Bushnell claims a long battery life on this one, but if you forget to turn most electronic optics off and the rifle sits in the safe for three weeks, it’s quite possible there’ll be no dot to be found when the rifle’s picked up again. No worries if you’ve kept the BUIS in place and have them correctly zeroed—the TRS-26’s high-profile mount offers a perfect lower third-of-lens co-witness with the irons.
It should go without saying, but knowing your chosen zero for both the iron and red dot sights is essential to taking responsible shots that will land on target. Along with knowing how that zero distance translates to point of impact in what’s likely to be the very short—21 feet or less—distance inside your home or office, it’s important to know mechanical hold-overs for very close distances, in the event you must make a precision shot. The distance between the aligned BUIS or red dot and the bore is about 2.25 inches with the Recon as described here—a distance that could mean life or death in a hostage situation.
A Gun-Mounted Light
Most violent crime happens after dark. The need for positively identifying a threat as such is indisputable. So a good light is a real need. In this test, a borrowed Inforce light was used, the predecessor to the company’s WMLx Gen 2. As with the sling attachment, a separately purchased section of rail was attached to the left side of the Recon’s M-Lok to accommodate this thumb-operated light.
In this writer’s opinion, a pressure switch is a necessary feature of any weapon-mounted light, and this one has it. A pressure switch goes by several names in the light market; suffice to say what’s meant by this term as used here is the light will come on with pressure from a digit, in this case my thumb, and it’ll go off as soon as pressure is released. There’s no “click on” or “click off” function, or if there is, it’s just an option with the pressure on/of function being the first and easiest to perform.
The rule of shooting for self- or other-protection in the dark is to use as much light as necessary, but as little as possible so you don’t unduly attract the attacker’s attention or ruin your own ability to navigate in the dark when lights are off.
The Inforce isn’t a sponsored product in this setup. It is nevertheless one I praise for its simplicity of structure and operation. There’s no cord to get tangled on things, no double-sided Velcro switch to get dusty or linty and fall off at the worst possible moment. Its flip-up guard easily protects it from unintentional activation in storage. The KISS principle is strong with this one.
More isn’t always better when choosing brightness of a tactical light. I’ve seen this 800-lumen Inforce light up a target 100 yards away with sufficient light for shooting. While that’s great for coyote hunting or protection of large outdoor properties, it can be blinding indoors or even outside if surrounded by glass or light-colored walls. Choose lumen rating according to your planned area of engagement—keeping in mind that this is, according to some industry experts, a frequently exaggerated feature as it’s fairly inconvenient to test.
Magazines—Maybe Not What You Want to Hear
As a resident of a more or less free jurisdiction, I’m a fan and owner of a healthy collection of 30-round magazines. Without at least one functional, loaded magazine, your long gun is just a heavy stick. Keep at least one loaded mag at the ready. By all means keep the hands of unauthorized adults and youth off your guns and ammo. When and where possible, keeping your home defense gun at the ready with the magazine seated and bolt forward on an empty chamber is the shortest distance between safety and readiness.
Much as I love those standard-capacity magazines, I find room to compromise here, for ease of getting the gun out of its hiding place an into action, in the house or in the car. A 20-round magazine, arranged as described above, makes manipulation of the gun easier and provides a supply of ammo that’s likely to leave you with spare rounds in all but the direst of civilian encounters. A 20-round mag fits nicely into the molded storage pockets inside car doors or consoles, so carry an extra just in case.
For fast and easy loading, don’t top off that extra mag. Keeping it one or two rounds short of full capacity makes for faster, more reliable reloads as the mag won’t resist seating as it tends to when stuffed full.
Foregrips are among the most popular accessories for tactical long guns, especially AR-platform rifles. For home and property defense, they can a hindrance to getting the gun out of a tight or littered storage space, and can interfere with getting into the unconventional shooting positions the real world can demand. Foregrips that flip up and down, or telescope, can waste precious seconds as they invite the operator to fiddle around—the opposite of the KISS principle.
In a defensive carbine class with instructor Rob Pincus, the application of a very low profile wedge, mounted to the rail or M-Lok in lieu of a traditional vertical, one was discussed. Though I’ve not personally used this add-on, it makes sense to employ this tactile index point for your support hand, especially if it helps you be in position to operate the light.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
In this shooter’s book, reliability is the most important consideration for a firearm meant for self-protection or hunting. The Savage MSR Recon is a winner in that category. As of this writing, it’s cycled at least 450 rounds of different brands and grain weights without a hiccup, including the first 60 rounds being fired out of the box with no oil added.
The gear mentioned here is, with the exception of the minimalist wedge foregrip, is stuff I use on my own vehicle and home defense guns and in the case of the sling, have literally covered over 100 boot-miles of ground with. I share these product ideas with you because they work.
The most ideal setup only works as well as the operator behind it. Hitting a target is easy. Manipulating gear, especially in stressful conditions like a home invasion or carjacking, only comes with practice. Spend time with your gear. Wear and handle it as much as possible, even and especially at home, to become comfortable manipulating it around everyday objects. Masterful handling of your own gun and gear is a life-saving skill, far more important than the equipment itself, and overcomes disadvantages of many sub-optimal setups.