A stock is a stock is a stock, right? Well, no. One factor that makes the AR-type rifle so attractive is that the term “AR” or “Modern Sporting Rifle” really doesn’t define a specific gun but rather a platform on which rifles can be designed and configured. Everything is customizable: caliber, barrel length and type, trigger, stock, handguard, sighting options, and muzzle devices. You get the idea. When it comes time to choose the right buttstock for your AR rifle, the first step is to narrow down the functional type. For example, you can choose a fixed stock, a collapsible stock, an adjustable stock, or maybe a minimalist design that emphasizes lightweight and low profile. Let’s take a quick look at some of the best options available. Be sure to get the right size buttstock for your rifle’s buffer tube. Diameter AR buffer tubes come in two sizes: commercial or mil-spec. If you’re not sure which you have, break out the calipers. Commercial buffer tubes have a diameter of 1.168″while mil-spec tubes are slightly smaller with a diameter of 1.148″. That difference doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enough to keep the two from being interchangeable. Length Additionally, be sure to consider the length of your receiver extension (buffer) tube when choosing a stock. There are two lengths: rifle and carbine. Originally, back in the M16 days, the idea was for the rifle to have a fairly long length of pull (receiver tube and stock length) to support a bladed stance. As body armor and shooting tactics evolved, the carbine stock was phased in to support a “front forward” position where body armor would be most effective. The rifle-length tubes are generally round while the adjustable carbine tube have a ridge with the different locking positions. One more thing. Since the receiver extension tube also houses the buffer and spring, you need to match that too. There are rifle-length and carbine-length buffer and spring sets. As long as you match all four components, stock, tube, buffer, and spring, you should be good to go.
If there is a de facto standard (there’s not), it might be the Magpul MOE Carbine collapsible stock. It’s a simple, solid, and affordable option that goes a long way towards upgrading that 100% plastic contraption that comes standard on so many ARs.
The Magpul MOE is a simple triangle with a hollow center. The top is well rounded and serves as a good cheek-weld point. Inside the triangular frame is a lever that releases or locks the stock in various length-of-pull positions. It relies on its location in the interior of the stock to prevent inadvertent unlocking.
There’s a rubber butt pad which helps glue the stock to your shoulder, which is also handy for more mundane administrative things like resting the rifle against a wall when not in use (it won’t slide on a smooth floor or concrete and fall). The upgrade is easy and takes seconds with no tools required, just unlock the release latch and slide it on your existing buffer tube.
One of my favorite buttstocks is the VLTOR IMOD Improved Modular Stock. Like the Magpul, it has a rubber butt pad for grip and traction, however, it adds an angled section at the bottom of the butt plate area to prevent hangups and to facilitate smooth and consistent placement on the shoulder.
The cheek rest is significantly larger and broader than other designs thanks to the dual, water-resistant battery compartments on both sides that help form the top contour of the stock. Those compartments fit commonly used CR123 or AA batteries but are equally valuable for critical spare parts like firing pins, extractors, and emergency beef jerky snacks.
There is a standard sling loop, but also an ambidextrous quick sling connect swivel socket.
While we’re talking about VLTOR, we ought to mention the fixed, non-adjustable ARM version for rifles. It’s flexible in that it will mount to a standard mil-spec carbine receiver extension tube or a rifle-length tube.
The ARM looks like a stretched-out VLTOR IMOD as it has similar storage compartments on both sides of the stock comb that create a wide and stable cheek rest. It also has the top sling loop and sling swivel socket.
This fixed stock is, in the company’s words, a “clubfoot style” meaning that the butt pad is short and compact vertically. It’s also not rubber, so be careful where you set it down.
When testing a new CMMG Banshee rifle recently, I ran across what I think is the best AR-type pistol brace on the market. It’s not technically a stock, but as a brace designed to help you shoot better, it serves a similar purpose, so we’ll mention it here.
From Gear Head Works, the Tailhook MOD 2 Pistol brace looks like a compact short-barrel rifle stock, but it’s really a pistol brace.
One side of the stock butt plate unlocks and folds down into a horizontal position. The idea is that this section rests under your shooting side forearm making a support shelf. It’s surprisingly stable given that there are no clumsy straps to configure and tighten, like with a SIG Brace.
If you have the necessary NFA tax stamp and use the Tailhook MOD 2 instead as a SBR stock, the brace provides a great cheek rest to help stabilize an AR pistol. They’re in high demand and hard to get, but well worth it if you can find one.
If you have built or plan to build a precision AR-platform rifle, you might consider a fixed adjustable stock.
Wait a tic, that sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it? Not really. The “fixed” part means that it doesn’t collapse and expand like a traditional carbine stock, so it’s more stable for carefully aimed, long-distance shots. The “adjustable” descriptor indicates that you can make fine adjustments to customize the length of pull and comb height to your specific body shape and size, optic choice, and shooting position.
The PRS features adjustment wheels that raise the comb area and move the butt pad forward and back. These adjustments don’t change the actual cheek weld surface, so that remains consistent.
The Gen 3 version fixes a minor personal gripe.
Earlier models had a plastic cover on the bottom of the stock that housed a monopod attachment point. The problem was that cover had a tendency to slide off and get lost when shooting off a rear sandbag. The new one provides M-LOK slots in that position so you can still mount a monopod if you like.
Thordsen Customs AR-15 FRS-15 Butt Stock Kit
Thordsen Customs AR-15 FRS-15 Butt Stock Kit Thordsen Customs
If you live in a 2A rights-challenged state, we haven’t neglected you here. Because pistol grips apparently make bullets more powerful and dangerous, some locales have outlawed those features in conjunction with other features found on AR-platform rifles.
Thordsen Customs, located in one of those states (we’ll give you a hint, it rhymes with “Balifornia”), makes a stock kit that offers shooters the ability to build an AR-type rifle without the traditional pistol grip. It looks a little unusual, but provides a workable solution that allows the AR to function as originally designed with its original buffer tube and all.
You have to like the appearance of this minimalist design from Mission First Tactical. In these modern days of strong and light materials, who’s to say that a full-frame butt stock is required? All that’s really needed is a cheek weld surface around the buffer tube and something to mount to your shoulder. That’s exactly what the Battlelink does.
It looks like the letter “L” because the company has chosen to eliminate every bit of material that’s not strictly required. That achieves a very lightweight stock coming in at just six ounces. (Once you build an AR, you’ll discover they can get really heavy, really fast, and every saved ounce is a plus.)
The Battlelink has both vertical and horizontal sling loops as well as a quick disconnect sling swivel attachment point. The butt pad is rubberized to provide a good grip on the shoulder.
This past year Brownells introduced their Retro line of AR rifles. Paying homage to early designs, the new models replicate the classic rifles of the 60s and 70s.
If you want to tweak your own rifle in retro fashion, you can also buy Brownells Retro components like the Retro AR-15 Buttstock. It’s modeled after the M16A1 rifle.
The fixed stock has a classic sling attachment on the bottom, and you can order them in black, olive drab, or even brown depending on which specific rifle variant you’re trying to recreate. They’re also a proven and reliable option if you live in a state that doesn’t allow adjustable stocks, like New Jersey.