Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lighting up an AR... with quality on a budget.

Now if most folks' budgets worked like the "goober"ment's budget does, spending more than we take in on a regular basis and leaving the bill for someone else would likely result in everyone owning a couple of Jacks. Of course, most of us have to make sure the income is more than the out-go and that is why I'm currently in the process of building a quality AR for training and self-defense on a budget.

Trying to balance quality and cost to build a basic, reliable, quality AR for training and self-defense is the goal of this project. With that in mind, I'm starting with adding things the rifle didn't have before I even consider replacing parts the rifle already has. I intend to post a complete review of the project when it's done, but for now I'm in search of the best mount for a tactical light on a Smith & Wesson M&P15 Sport with a standard A2 front sight and the standard round handguard.

I thought a light mount that would bolt-on to the A2 front sight would be a good way to go since there are a lot of quality options that are relatively inexpensive and installation can be done by just about anyone without any major modifications or gunsmithing. The first mount I tried was a KZ AR15/M16 Sight Tower Combo Mount from BoTach Tactical, which you can pick up for under forty bucks.

This light mount appears to be well made, had a terrific fit and finish, and even offered two quick-release mounts for quick-release sling-swivels... although I'm not sure I'd mount my sling that far forward on the rifle. This light mount attaches to the front post of the A2 sight and positions the your light directly over the barrel, but below the ling of sight for aiming with most tactical lights that have rail mounts built into them.

When I first mounted the KZ Combo Mount, it canted off to the left about five degrees which was due to the slightly uneven forging of the A2 front sight post. There really isn't an adjustment for this on the KZ Combo Mount so short of machining or filing the post on the A2 front sight, I cut a small shim from shim stock I had out in the barn, blued the shim stock, and basically shimmed the mount to the right so that it aligned with the barrel. The mount sits about three sixteenths of an inch above the barrel so there is airspace to keep the barrel heat down, but it is sitting directly over the barrel.

I mounted up a Steamlight TLR-1s weapon light... actually, a new 300 lumen version which you can find many places for under a buck and a quarter. This is the standard weapon light on most of our rifles and pistols, they've been through a lot of shooting in a variety of conditions and have proven reliable in both heat and cold, when firing nine-millimeters and five-five-sixes.  

I like the narrow profile of the light being directly over the barrel with this mount. The problem I had was that the light was mounted too far forward for me to operate without grasping the A2 front sight area of the barrel which gets pretty hot with use. Streamlight makes a replacement battery cover and remote switch, but that adds additional cost and potential reliability concerns depending upon how you route and mount the wire from the light to the remote switch.

The other mount I tried and that I currently have on the rifle is Midwest Industries MI Tactical Light Mount. This mount was under forty bucks and basically "sandwiches" the A2 front sight and clamps in place with a single machine bolt.  It has several slots to fit various light mounting configurations unlike the single slot of the KZ Combo Mount. The MI mount has two quick-release sling swivel attachment points.

The MI mount creates a wider profile at the front end of the rifle and even wider when you hang the weapon light off to one side. When installed, it appears to be rock-solid, aligns well with the barrel. and doesn't shift under use.

One this with this mount to consider, as my good friend Matt over at Jerking the Trigger points out, is that you can potentially activate the light switch when carrying your rifle in this configuration in a soft case. I currently have an Inforce WML Haley Strategic weapon light I've purchased to evaluate which has a "bale"that prevents the switch from being depressed in that situation, but at 200 lumens, it's not nearly as bright as this new 300 lumen Streamlight TLR-1s weapon light.

The position of the weapon like with the MI mount makes it very easy to operate with the thumb of your off-hand by pressing down for momentary lighting while keeping a firm grip on the front handguard. I'm going to spend some time with configuration and see how it works with both the Streamlight and the Inforce. I may still end up replacing the front handguard and mounting the weapon light there, but for now this was an easy bolt on solution.

So what ideas and solutions have you folks come up with... for... Lighting up an AR... with quality on a budget.


  1. I'm using a Magpul handguard with one of their rail sections, a CAA 1-inch light mount (about 30 bucks) and a NightStick Tac-300B. The light is only 180 lumens, but it goes for about 30-40 bucks and a compatible pressure switch is about 15-20 - it's the most cost-effective solution I've found.

  2. It seems really hard to choose the right tactical gear for me. Recently I have tried to choose a tactical flashlight. Many companies produce various LED tactical flashlights and sometimes we think what light is better or even the best. A month ago I purchased Armytek Predator 670 lumens and happy that this light met all my needs. The price is not high, about $110. It's good for this well made and multifunctional light. Variety of modes attracts me because I can choose any mode I need.
    P.S. Free worldwide shipping

  3. Some of us like the look and feel of the mil spec handguard. Good solutions.