Budget 3-Gun Rifle Upgrades

Budget Multi-Gun Rifle with Palmetto State Armory Upper

The same day I fired the inaugural shots out of the first AR-15 that I built I also was also able to shoot a friend’s mid-length gas system AR.  I immediately knew that I had made a newbie mistake by going with the carbine-length system on my 14.5″ AR.  The mid-length had a softer recoil impulse and allowed for very quick follow-up shots.  After putting thousands of rounds downrange over nearly two years, and much of those rounds during competition, I finally decided to upgrade to a mid-length gas system upper receiver group.


Palmetto State Armory Mid-Length Upper

Palmetto State Armory Mid-Length Upper

Recently I caught one of the Daily Deals from Palmetto State Armory that had a great price on a stripped upper assembly. The upper is a 16” barrel with a mid-length gas system and has other desirable features such as being Cold Hammer Forged, chrome lined and M4 feed ramps. In addition, PSA’s barrels are supplied by FN so I know the quality will be there.

I have purchased items from Palmetto State Armory in the past, in fact my lower parts kit, receiver extension (buffer tube), spring and buffer came from them.  I have always found them to have decent prices for a decent product and would recommend doing business with them.


Mid-Length vs. Carbine Gas System Comparison

Mid-Length vs. Carbine Gas System Comparison

There are some key differences in the DS Arms upper receiver assembly I was using before and the new upper receiver assembly from Palmetto State Armory that you can see in the photo. The DS Arms upper is a 1:9 twist, 14.5” barrel with a pinned and welded BattleComp 2.0 flash hider (for an overall length of 16.5″) and a carbine length gas system. The PSA upper is a 1:7 twist, 16″ barrel with an A2 flash hider and a mid-length gas system. From the photo you can see the noticeable difference between the 7” carbine and the 9” mid-length gas system.


AimPoint Comp M2

AimPoint Comp M2

Swapped over my Aimpoint Comp M2.

Magpul MOE Handguard

Magpul MOE Handguard

Added a Magpul MOE Handguard. I dig the feel of the MOE Handguard and of course the rifle furniture has to match.

Miculek Compensator

Miculek Compensator

I changed out the stock A2 flash hider for the Jerry Miculek Compensator. The Miculek Comp drastically reduces muzzle rise allowing for super quick follow-up shots but trades all that for some pretty serious muzzle blast out the sides. People next to you on a traditional firing line will hate you.

Budget Multi-Gun Rifle with Palmetto State Armory Upper

Budget Multi-Gun Rifle with Palmetto State Armory Upper

I have not built the perfect Multi-Gun rifle by any means.  What I have built is a budget 3-Gun rifle that serves dual purpose as both a competition and defense rifle.  This rifle setup as it sits now should be good for many thousands of rounds and will hold up well for competitions until my skill has outpaced my gear and I build a proper, dedicated 3-Gun rifle.  Right now the largest improvement that I could make would be replacing the mil-spec trigger with a nice match trigger.  That will likely have to wait for the next build.


I was a little concerned about the accuracy of the 1:7 twist barrel with the 55 grain mil-spec ammo that I shoot but was rewarded with decent 1 MOA groups on my first outing.  Considering the tolerance stacking that occurs with a 4 MOA dot on the Aimpoint Comp M2, I was pleased with the groups and didn’t mess with it any further.  The first real test of my upgraded AR-15’s capabilities was at the long-range Multi-Gun Training Day that I host at my local range.  The rifle performed fine from prone and in any unconventional position that we shot out to 300 yards.  I have about 200 rounds on it now and am looking forward to getting a few thousand more downrange before I upgrade again.

If you’re looking to build a budget three gun AR-15 rifle I highly recommend checking out Palmetto State Armory’s uppers and adding some simple upgrades including a Miculek Compensator and Magpul MOE Handguard.

Guest Gear Review: Burris MTAC 1-4x Scope


Burris MTAC and P.E.P.R. Mount

Burris MTAC and P.E.P.R. Mount

This is a guest post by my good friend Herk.  He is a tactical shooter and dabbles in Multi-Gun competitions.  Herk and I have discussed different 1-4x carbine optics at length as we have both been looking to strengthen the effectiveness of our AR-15’s at distance.  Herk recently picked up a new optic and wrote a top-notch review which I have have posted here with his permission.  Enjoy!  -Dave

Well, I went and got the Burris MTAC 1-4x scope from Jensen’s in Loveland a few weeks back. I’ve taken it out shooting twice so far. I paid about $375 after taxes (IIRC). Here are my impressions in no particular order:

Fit and finish:
Insofar as I care about such things (which is not very much) it is well done. The finish is a matte black (anodizing?) with the markings done unobtrusively in a light gray. These colors match the Burris PEPR mount which I have mine mounted in perfectly.

Weight and size:
Length is about 11.5″ and weight added is about 1.5lbs, including the PEPR mount. Objective tube diameter is 1.18″ (LOTS of room between it and the handguard) and ocular bell diameter is 1.64″, both measured with calipers. The ocular bell accepts the size 16 Butler Creek ocular flip-open cover and the objective lens takes the size 03A flip open objective cover. I needed to look up the former but had the latter memorized; it would appear that 1-4x30mm scopes have gotten so popular that the Butler Creek objective lens covers for them are sold out everywhere. I managed to memorize the required size by asking around for it so much before finally finding one online for sale. The PEPR mount leaves plenty of room for my folded ARMS #71 back-up sight beneath the ocular bell, even with the Butler Creek cover installed.

The weight is noticible but somehow seems more “bearable” than the weight that my Eotech 553 added. After looking up the weight of the Eotech online, I found it to be about 3/4 of a pound. Either Eotech is padding this number or perhaps amount of benefit that I perceived myself to be getting for the weight I was adding was just a lot lower with the Eotech than with the Burris. Another possibility is that I was putting the Eotech as far forward as possible (thus making the overall balance of the rifle poorer) wheras I mounted the Burris a bit farther back.

Eye-relief and magnification:
I mounted my scope rather far back, with the ocular lens being roughly even with the gap between the lower reciever and the castle nut. The eye relief, according to the Burris website is 3.5-4″. I think that Burris is being rather coy about this figure: I am able to get my nose about an inch from the charging handle before the cursed black ring appears and I can open my Vltor EMOD stock all the way and get a cheek weld at the rear of the stock before the ring begins to return on 1x. The effect on eye-relief at 4x is to make the outer range of clarity a little closer (cheekweld at front of EMOD when fully open) but the inner range of clarity unaffected from what I can see.

I have tested this scope in such “jackass” positions as supine, rollover prone, urban prone, and “laying-on-my-back-with-my-head-facing-the-target-and-somehow-making-sighted-shots-at-it”…uh…prone. With the MTAC on 1x it is quite possible to get a decent sight picture but you must expect that dastardly little black ring to start appearing in such positions as supine. With the reticule illuminated the Bindon Aiming Concept can be employed to further simplify sighted fire from these awkward positions at closer ranges. Naturally, these positions are more difficult to shoot from at higher magnification levels but this is an issue that is integral to adding magnification into the equation in general, not something that the MTAC in specific can be blamed for.

Using the MTAC as a CQB optic on 1x seems to work quite well; since visual focus need not be shifted from the target to the front sight, it seems to be a little faster than irons for me in spite of my much greater experience with irons than with optics of any kind and the MTAC in particular. The “1x” mode is not truly 1x since there is a minute amount of magnification from the scope even at this level. These optics are often referred to as “1.1x” because of this but I don’t believe the difference is even 10% between the “1x” setting and the naked eye. The transition, to me, is very natural.

I would be a little out of my lane comparing the MTAC on 1x to RDS sights such as the Aimpoint or Eotech or similar since my experience with them is so miniscule. In the time that I owned an Eotech I found myself not bothering to turn it on and just looking through the Eotech to see my irons more often than not. I was unable to make friends with the Eotech: I have shot my carbine out to 500yds and made hits with the BUIS but I could rarely hit out to (much less past) 50m with the Eotech. I know others who have hit out to many hundreds of yards with their RDS sights of all types so I don’t blame the Eotech for my failings. That said, these problems didn’t seem to surface with irons so that’s what I continued to run until I bought the MTAC. One objective thing that could be said about the MTAC vs. RDS sights is that the MTAC reticle would still be present even if it’s battery were to die (the MTAC reticle depends on the battery only for illumination). This could be seen as an advantage for the MTAC vs. RDS options out there.

At 1x there is a definate “tube effect” from the MTAC as one might expect from an optic that is nearly a foot long. The front sight post is also clearly visible though not too distracting (if it does bother you then the plethora of folding front sights on the market could be the answer to this problem). The challenge for me is to keep both eyes open when using the MTAC on 1x. My mind keeps thinking “it’s a scope, close your left eye!”, a natural tendency that I have to fight. I’m sure that with practice I could make it quite natural to treat the 1x MTAC as a two-eyes-open optic.

Reticle and illumination:


The MTAC reticle is a large, bold circle which houses a series of four dots, strung vertically, and a trio of ‘T’-shaped bars that appear surrounding the top-most dot (which is centered in the large circle) on the dot’s two sides and directly above it. The Ts serve to draw the eye’s attention to the top/center dot for quicker in-close aiming and also for range estimation at greater distances. The bottom of the large circle has a circular “hole” in it at the bottom which forms a fifth dot in the string. The top/center dot is to be zeroed for POA/POI at 100yds/m. The dots are laid out to provide bullet drop compensation for the 5.56mm/.223 Remington FMJ ammo that is common on the commercial market and used by military and LE forces around the world. Trajectories for the M193 55gr FMJ and the M855 62gr FMJ are similar enough for this reticle to work interchangibly with both loadings. A helpful chart is printed in the small instruction booklet that is included with the scope for the minor differences in trajectory with other common loadings such as Hornady’s 45gr V-Max, Winchester’s 64gr PSP (used by USBP & ICE, IIRC), Mk262Mod1 77gr OTM, and even a chart for 7.62x51mm/.308 Winchester M80 147gr FMJ. The POI differences are close enough for this scope to get hits on man-sized targets with all of the above loadings with minimal work on the shooter’s part.

The reticle is zeroed with run-of-the-mill windage and elevation turrets located on the right side and top of the scope respectively. These are covered with screw-on caps which are featureless except for grooves milled into them for ease of gripping. One of the few issues I’ve had with this scope has been the caps. The threads are difficult to get started correctly and numerous tries were required before the threads would mate together and the cap could be installed. Not a huge deal since zeroing is the only time when this shortcoming Elevation & Windage Adjustmentwould surface. Adjustments are made in 1/2MOA clicks which are just right for this type of scope: precise “enough” to get on target but course enough to get the job done quickly and with minimal mental arithmetic. On top of the dials they are clearly marked “1 CLICK = 1/2MOA” along with bold arrows pointing counter-clockwise with the word “UP” or “RIGHT”, such as the case may be. “POINT OF IMPACT” is also marked in the center of the dial, in case you get confused about what it is you are trying to achieve. Around the circumference of the dials are hash marks for every 1/2 MOA, starting with “0” and going all the way up to “28” (only even numbers are marked but the odd numbers and 1/2 MOA intervals are not hard to keep track of). There is a white dot on the body of the scope, concealed by the turret cap when it is in place but facing the shooter when removed. The dot makes figuring out what number the scope is currently at an easy task.

The illumination turret is located on the left side of the scope and angled at an upward angle ever so slightly. Like the turret caps the illumination dial is grooved for ease of operation with wet, cold, or gloved fingers. There is a knurled inner portion of the illumination dial which serves as the removable cover for the battery compartment. The MTAC is powered by one CR2032 watch battery. These are cheap, reliable, and ubiquitous. I have not run my MTAC enough to weaken the battery so I don’t know how long it should last. I found an interwebs forum containing this post:

DTtuner wrote:
It’s not found anywhere, but a call to Burris revealed that the scope uses a CR2032 battery, and should provide a “Constant-On” battery life of 5000+ hours, with a shelf life of 5 years.
Also apparently has an auto-shutoff after 2 hours.
None of this can be found online for whatever reason. Hope it’s true.

5000 hours sounds great to me. I too “hope it’s true”. We shall see; in the mean time I’ll be buying one or two spare CR2032s and stashing them in the little compartment in my EMOD buttstock.

One feature of the MTAC’s illumination dial that I really liked and never before encountered is that there are twenty positions but only ten brightness settings. This is because every other position on the dial is an “off” position! One could simply get the reticle brightness where they like it and then turn the dial one ‘click’ in either direction to turn the scope off. By simply turning the dial one click in either direction you would either have the brightness just where you want it or, assuming that you turn the dial in the wrong direction, one brightness setting off from where you like it. The exception to this would be if your preferred setting was 1 and you mistakenly turned it to 10 (or vice versa). If I could be a little picky, I would say that I would have liked to see Burris include a stop in the illumination dial to prevent it from inadvertently being turned ‘too far’ in either direction. That said, there might be others out there who see the ability to turn brightness from the lowest setting to the highest (or, again, vice versa) as an asset so perhaps Burris did the right thing by designing the illumination dial without a stop. Also, this has yet to cause me a problem and other than this one theoretically beef, the illumination dial is very well thought out.

Illuminations settings, as stated above, run on a scale from 1-10, 10 being the brightest. Those used to RDS sights might find all of the MTAC’s brightness settings to be rather dim but the “tube effect” from the scope seems to provide ‘shade’ for the reticle and allows the dimmer settings to be of use even in bright sun. The lowest setting is of little use in a brightly-lit environment (nor is it needed) but is not blinding in total darkness either (tested in the dark indoors with no ambient light). The brightest setting in total darkenss just begins to wash out but then again, one is only two clicks away from the lowest setting from the brightest position so perhaps this isn’t a very big deal.

Regardless of illumination level, the reticle never “flares” on me when I shoot without my perscription lenses in. The same cannot be said about RDS sights. This is a personal issue that many others won’t be affected by but for those of us who wear glasses or contacts the lack of “flaring” is a very positive thing, especially if the MTAC is to be mounted on a “serious use” rifle.



How to Build a Budget Glock 17 Competition Pistol, Part 1 – Introduction

In this series I’ll show you step-by-step how to build a competitive budget polymer pistol for IDPA, USPSA/IPSC or club-level Practical Shooting matches.  You’ll see first hand how to tailor each modification to your specific needs and get the most out of your competition pistol.


Classic Steel

My first and second pistols were the 1911’s shown at left.  A Springfield 1911 GI and a Springfield 1911 Loaded Target.  I’ve always liked the classic look of the famous design brought to us by John Browning and you just cant beat the feel of a giant, steel, .45 ACP-slinger in your hands as you’re tossing rounds downrange.  I was a casual tactical-style shooter and was fine performing 2-3 times more magazine changes than my shooting pals because I enjoyed the pistols, the heritage and the mechanical “kerchunk!” each time it cycled.

Then in 2008 Barack Obama was elected President of The United States.

Almost overnight the supply of .45 ACP dried up from the local stores and online retailers. The prices skyrocketed from an “affordable” $0.29/round to an insane $0.49/round. This seriously put a damper on my pistol practice and I began looking at alternatives.


Budget Glock 17

Project Budget Competition Glock 17

My buddies had always teased me about shooting an antique at the range, always asking why I had so many malfunctions and why I had to reload so often. They all shot Glocks and one of them just happened to have a well-used Generation Two G17 for sale for the right price of $400. That price included a nice bonus of the original Tupperware-style box but unfortunately only one magazine. I tried it out at one of our range days and was impressed by how easy the 9mm round was to control and how well the lightweight, blocky pistol fit my hands and shot for me. I also liked that 9 mm Luger was slightly more available than .45 ACP and was about half the price. I went home that day with a new (to me) pistol.


Practical Pistol Match

Changing Focus to Competition

That was nearly four years ago and since then I have sold one 1911 and barely shot the other one. While my original focus had always been Self Defense and Tactical shooting, last fall I finally made it out to my first Three-Gun competition at my local range. I figured it would be good practice for the type of Tactical shooting I normally did and would be great to get more trigger time, especially trigger time under stress.  I was immediately hooked and have been to at least one multi-gun match each month ever since. This spring I also began competing in Practical Pistol matches at the local club. The club offers different Practical Pistol matches three nights a week and Summer 3-Gun matches every other Friday so I have been shooting practical matches 2-4 times each week all summer. Getting that much trigger time in a competition environment on my completely stock Glock 17 has given me the itch to start tweaking it a bit to better compete.


I have basically been growing a wish-list in the back of my mind of parts that I can modify, rework or replace to upgrade this gun without breaking the bank.  I’d like to improve the major systems enough to shave a few seconds off my course times here and there but I will keep the modifications basic to stay in the budget-spirit of the original reason behind its purchase.  So don’t expect any flames, compensators or red dot optics.

Another reason for the basic upgrades is that I intend to keep the pistol legal for Stock Service Pistol and Production classes in both IDPA and USPSA. While I have only shot one major USPSA match (Multi-Gun) and do not shoot any sanctioned matches on a regular basis, I would like to attend larger matches more often in the future and I would hate to be bumped into a race-gun class beyond my skills and abilities due to a modification I made to gain an edge in my local club matches.   Some research into the requirements of the respective Production classes was required to be sure that I fell within the rules.


I’ve cracked both the Brownell’s catalog and my piggy bank, filled up my online shopping cart and clicked “buy”. In later posts of the How to Build a Budget Glock 17 Competition Pistol series I’ll showcase each part I chose, explain what I hope to accomplish by installing or modifying them, detail the installation process and give a full range report.