Upgrading a vintage Colt HBar to a semi-Designated Marksman
by Scott Smith
This past Summer one of my fellow GIs sent me an email regarding his old Colt HBar. He wanted to upgrade it to a semi-Designated Marksman Rifle like the military is using. The criteria for this rifle were simple, all work could be done at home and all the improvements were readily available to the public.
Since this HBar was older, over a decade and then some, it has a fixed carry handle and not the current removable one. This would pose some issues, but I knew we could overcome them.
I made a few phone calls and sent a few emails to procure upgrades to convert this old warrior into a new troop. The makeover would include an adjustable rear stock, railed forearm, new iron sights, and modern optics. This all would have been a snap but one major requirement was that all the parts could be installed by the end user.
The parts chosen for this upgrade were from XS Sights (2401 Ludelle, Dept. GWK, Fort Worth, TX 76105; phone: 817-536-0136; online: xssights.com), Daniel Defense (235 Oracal Pkwy., Dept. GWK, Black Creek, GA 31308; phone: 866-554-4867: online danieldefense.com), Command Arms Accessories (780 Haunted Ln., Dept. GWK, Bensalem, PA 19020; phone: 267-803-1518; online: commandarms.com), and optics from BSA Optics (3911 SW 47th Ave., Suite 914, Dept. GWK, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33314; phone: 954-581-2144: online: bsaoptics.com). What these accessories do is give you better iron sights for any lighting conditions, a rail system on which to mount lights or bi-pods, and the new butt stock that tailors the fit when using iron or telescopic sights.
The first requirement for this rifle was to maintain its accuracy, so a free floated rail system was needed. Since I don’t have all the equipment to remove the front sight, one was needed that was user installable. The Daniel Defense Omega Rail was the solution. The Omega is a two-piece rail that secures under the slip ring using hex screws, and the two halves screw together. From start to finish it took about 20 minutes to install the Omega. The rail is solid and, even when really laying on the rifle, once the bipod was attached the barrel free floated. By the way, the rails come with rail Ladders to protect the rail and enhance the feel of the forearm.
With the Omega installed we moved to installing the Command Arms Sharp Shooting Stock (SSS). This stock is adjustable for length and rise of the comb to accommodate use of iron or telescopic sights. The SSS comes as a complete system with buffer tube, spring, stock and buffer. You will need an AR wrench and vise to remove the lock nut on the stock; I purchased mine from Brownells.
Following the instructions included with the SSS you should be able to install the stock in under an hour. Before putting the stock onto the tube, I suggest rubbing some weapon’s grease or petroleum jelly on it, otherwise it is a bear to adjust. Once we lubed the rail the stock moved freely to accommodate iron sights or optics mounted in the carry handle.
Since this is a multi-use AR, the owner, who is middle aged like me, wanted sights he could see. XS Sights 24/7 sights with CSAT rear were installed. This gives you a sight that works for precise shooting and the “notch” in the CSAT rear allows you fast, accurate target acquisition for ranges out to 50 yards. You will need a pin punch or in my case I used a trim finishing nail to drive the friction pin out of the rear sight adjustment handle. Be careful not to lose this pin when you drive it out. I think removing/installing the front sight was the most time-consuming part of the operation. Those fine threads take forever to screw in and unscrew.
The last and easiest part of the operation was installing optics. BSA’s STS 4X32 was the optic of choice. This scope comes complete with rings, base and carry handle mount, and gives you plenty of adjustment for carry handle use.
The STS has twist to open/close caps, easy-adjust push/pull locking turrets, and the “Ranger Reticle.” The “Ranger Reticle” gives you ranging/bullet drop compensation all in one.
BSA’s STS 4X32 fit and worked well on this HBar. At the range the refitted DSM/HBar retained its tack-driving capability but with a 21st century twist. The choice of the STS and the XS Sights CSAT gives the owner quality optics and fast, easily acquired sights for accuracy or fast and furious shooting.
While we were working on upgrading the HBar, our intrepid editor asked me about the accessories for ARs. I came across loads of them while giving the HBar a facelift. My, answer to Joe was “No sweat.”
As with enhancing the Colt, all the accessories for this piece had to be user installable. The parts also had to improve the operation and function of your AR; as you see fit. Before you go rummaging through Brownells (200 South Front St., Dept. GWK, Montezuma, IA 50171; phone: 800-741-0015; online: brownells.com), Midway USA (5875 West Van Horn Tavern Rd., Dept. GWK, Columbia, MO 65203; phone: 800-243-3220; online: midwayusa.com), Bravo Company (PO Box 341, Dept. GWK, Hartland, WI 53029; phone: 877-272-8626; online: bravocompanyusa.com), etc.; define what the AR is for. I say that because you can have every cool-guy doodad on your AR and it will weigh a ton and serve its basic function.
Since most of us are enhancing our AR on a budget, it was also important that the parts could be purchased one piece at a time. The various manufacturers’ parts needed to function together since most of us will not buy all the parts from XYZ Company. I haven’t seen any issues with mixing parts, except for butt stocks; you need to know if you have a Mil Spec or commercial. These items are different sized, as are the recoil buffers if you have a fixed stock or collapsible stock.
With the mind-boggling number of parts on the market; we looked at magazines, pistol grips, stock assemblies, other front sights, charging handles, vertical grips, rails and rail covers. These are items you can install at home and will make an AR “your” rifle/carbine. You will find that these parts make your AR more user friendly and increase the usefulness of it.
First on the list is a pair of charging handles. If you shoot three-gun or any action-type competition, it is possible to miss the standard AR charging handle. Bravo Company and Precision Reflex Inc. (PRI719 Streine Dr., Dept. GWK, New Bremen, OH 45869; phone: 419-629-2603; online: pri-mounts.com), offer solid charging handles with virtually indestructible catches. The catch is also large enough that they are hard to miss and are not so overly large as to get caught on gear and such. I liked the feel and sturdiness of these charging handles enough that I will keep them on my ARs.
The second item that must work for your AR is the magazine. There are many magazines on the market; all claim to be “GI” or its equivalent. Don’t be fooled by that claim, I have seen cheap knock offs that are just that. You will find numerous “veteran” magazines on the market. I am a fan of them and have several twenty 20-rounders that are well traveled USAF Reserve; and I have replaced the magazine springs to ensure they function.
When it comes to quality magazines, I would use the following: Brownells, Magpul (PO Box 17697, Dept. GWK, Longmont, CO 80308; phone: 303-828-3460; online: magpul.com), Tapco (PO Box 2408, Dept. GWK, Kennesaw, GA 30156; phone: 800-554-1445; online: tapco.com), Tango Down (1588 Arrow Hwy., Unit F, Dept. GWK, La Verne, CA 91750; phone: 909-392-4757; online: tangodown.com), PRI, and Lancer Systems (7566 Morris Ct., Ste 300, Dept. GWK, Allentown, PA 18106; phone: 610-973-2600; online: lancer-systems.com). These magazines have all proven themselves in competition, on the streets and in various combat zones.
In my personal ARs I have prefer 20-round magazines. They work well when shooting prone, be it from a bi-pod or supported. I do like 30-round magazines for the extra rounds, but I do down load them to twenty eight rounds to ensure they are reliable and feed properly.
I know this from personal use and experience as well as hearing directly from several friends who are using these magazines in Iraq and Afghanistan. All have functioned and continue to function reliably. You will find that they serve your needs, too.
Next on the list of parts I find most useful are new grips. The A2 finger groove style grip seems to not fit anyone, but it looks cool, I think? It seems the most popular grips are from Ergo (PO Box 1459, Dept. GWK, Moriarty, NM 87035; phone: 877-281-3783; online: ergogrips.com), Tapco, Magpul, Stark (55 S. Commercial St., Dept. GWK, Manchester, NH 03101; phone: 603-55-772; online: starkequipment.com), and CAA. Several of the AR manufactures are now offering these grips as options or standard equipment on their new rifles.
Of the listed grips, Stark is the most unique. Not only is the trigger guard part of the grip but the grip is flared to facilitate a more secure shooting grip. Stark also offers grips that have a quick connect point for a swivel or a loop to attach a one-point sling. Both of these new options work well and do not interfere with your shooting grip.
Please note when you are changing pistol grips to use caution not to lose the detent and spring which retain the selector switch. These items are on the right side of the grip.
Over the years I have used all of the grips listed. They are all comfortable to use, easily installed, and will survive all but the harshest of cleaning chemicals. Mine have all had various cleaners that are firearms specific on them and have yet to melt. I don’t suggest you get carburetor or brake cleaner (yes I know folks who clean firearms with these) on them.
Since we are talking about comfort, let’s talk stocks. These can be user installed but will require a couple of tools, especially if you are replacing a fixed stock or need to change the buffer tube from commercial to mil spec or vice versa. First you need a solid vice, and an AR15 wrench; you have to break the nut that secures the recoil spring, buffer, and buffer tube. If you haven’t removed your buffer assembly or stock, I suggest you ask for guidance. A website such as AR15.com can help. So can those you know who are AR addicts; it will just save you hassles.
That said adjustable stocks are fairly easy to install and allow you to adjust the fit to you. I have used stocks from Magpul, Vltor (3735 N Romero Rd, Dept. GWK, Tucson, AZ 85705; phone: 520-408-1944; online: Vltor.com), CAA, and various factory stocks. The other manufacturer whom I have not used, but know many folks who have, is LMT (1305 11th St. W, Dept. GWK; Milan, IL 61264; phone: 309-787-7151; online: lewismachine.net). These four manufacturers make stocks that are in use by civilians, law enforcement and military units around the world.
What I like about these stocks is they all offer one or more versions of their stocks with a rubber “recoil” pad. I know ARs have such wicked recoil; but I prefer them because the polymer recoil pads don’t slip like the various hard “GI” style adjustable stocks. The pads also will endure whatever you can dish out to them.
You will also find that several of these stocks offer cheek risers or are fully adjustable to match your choice of optics. While you may not need to change your eye/cheek height for a red dot, iron sights, or a moderate magnification scope such as a 1-6X with a 40mm objective lens, when you move up to a scope with a 52mm or 56mm objective you will need to make changes.
Another item that will change the feel and function of your AR is the forearm. Do you prefer a standard stock, a railed version, one that is a combination of these? Do you just need to fit a piece of rail to mount a bi-pod, light, or vertical grip? Once you decide what your specific wants are, you can find various forearms to fit your needs.
I have used Daniel Defense, GG&G (3602 E. 42nd Stravenue, Dept. GWK, Tucson, AZ 85713; phone: 800-380-2540; online: gggaz.com), CAA, Tapco as well as those that are OEM for various AR manufactures. When it comes to reducing the weight of your AR’s rail system; CAA and Tapco offer polymer forearms. While some folks may not think that these may not be as tough as an aluminum railed forearm; I have found them more than capable of surviving USA Training Center or three gun matches.
Another option to reduce the weight of the forearm is PRI’s numerous carbon fiber models. While I have not had one installed on my ARs I do know folks who have. They tell me these forearms are virtually indestructible and the weight reduction is noticeable.
Daniel Defense is one of the few operations manufacturing a free floated rail system that does not require you to remove the front sight/gas block. The Omega installs quickly and easily; it is a two piece rail that secures to the slip ring;. The Omega rail is solid and will support a bi-pod without affecting the accuracy of the firearm.
I have used GG&G’s and CAA aluminum rail systems on various M4s and have been impressed with them. They are both truly rock solid and install easily on any AR style rifle/carbine. Please check out the rails on the various companies’ websites; there are more options available than I could cover in a general round-up.
If you have a railed forearm, there are two things you will want to consider. First is a vertical grip. I was late to the party on using one of these and have found them to be a useful addition. I have found when you mount the vertical grip as far forward on the rail as possible, you have a solid mount on the weapon and you have virtually “0” muzzle rise. There are numerous options for vertical grips on the market. CAA, Tapco, Daniel Defense, and Mako Group (1 Lenox Ave., Dept. GWK, Farmingdale, NY 11735; phone: 631-880-3396; online: makosecurity.com) are but a few of the offerings available.
Some of the vertical grips are multi-purpose. Tapco offers a bi-pod that attaches to the bottom of their standard or short grip. Mako’s T-pod is a vertical grip and bi-pod in one with fully adjustable legs. I have used both bi-pods and am pleased with the feel and stability. The Tapco’s Intrafuse grip/bi-pod combination is lightweight and you can use the grip without the bi-pod. The T-pod is a rock solid bi-pod and will enhance your weapons accuracy.
If you are looking for a vertical grip that offers more than a solid grip, check out Crimson Trace’s (9780 SW Freeman Dr., Dept. GWK, Wilsonville, OR 97070; phone: 800-442-2406; online: crimsontrace.com) Modular Vertical Foregrip (MVF) 515. This vertical grip incorporates a 200 lumen LED light and precise laser for aiming and illumination. The MVF515 is a brand new grip and from what I can see it is user friendly and the light/laser combination increases the operational capability of an AR. You will find the MVF515 is a useful addition to your AR, especially if used for duty or personal protection.
An old standby of vertical grips is Surefire’s (18300 Mount Baldy Circle, Dept. GWK, Fountain Valley, CA 92708; phone: 800-828-8809; online: surefire.com) M900A. I have used the M900A for many moons on my M4. This vertical gives you a light with an output of 225 lumens to light up a target out to 75 yards. It is a durable unit and has survived the harshest elements you can dish out to a weapon/light system.
The other item I strongly suggest you use with a railed forearm is a rail cover. Some folks may think that this is a waste of money and weight. I disagree because the covers protect your rails from getting dinged and they protect your hands from the sharp edges of the rails.
You can find rail covers that look like a ladder and snap flush with the rails with the legs of the ladder protecting the rails. These are the smallest and least intrusive rail covers. You will find Ergo Grips/Falcon Industries makes these in a number of colors and they work great.
The more common covers are those that “round” the hand guard. These too snap onto the rail, but they look like a shield and come in a variety of sizes. If you are looking for shield style grips you will find them from Ergo Grips, Brownells, Magpul and Tango Down, to name a few.
One area that I felt needed help on the AR was sights. As my eyes have umshall we say maturedit is harder to focus on that little black GI post.
Fortunately there are several options to increase the visibility of the front sight. There are fiber optic sights from Truglo (PO Box 1612, Dept. GWK, McKinney, TX 75070; phone: 972-774-0300; online: truglo.com) and Hi Viz (1941 Heath Parkway, Ste. #1, Dept. GWK, Fort Collins, CO 80524; phone: 970-407-0426; online: hivizsights.com), and XS Sights offers a sight with XS’ 24/7 Dot or a white 24/7 bar.
For close range CQB/three-gun shooting I would add an XS CSAT rear sight to any of the above front sights. This gives you an accurate and fast sight combination for ranges from contact distance to 300 plus.
What the Truglo, Hi Viz and XS sights all do is give you a front sight that doesn’t blur out and is visible in various light conditions. The GI black post is not, especially on a dark background.
The other sight option is a red dot. This part of the market has grown exponentially over the last decade. Sights are now far more rugged and user friendly than they were years ago, thanks to the demand for them. Red dots sights are now designed to co-witness with your iron sights and there are numerous mounts to allow you to quickly put one on/off of your rifle.
Look at any photo from the sandbox and you will see the troops using sights from Aimpoint (14103 Mariah Court, Dept. GWK, Chantilly, VA 20151; phone: 703-263-9795; online: Aimpoint.com), EoTech (1201 E. Ellsworth, Dept. GWK, Ann Arbor, MI 48108; phone: 734-741-8868; online: eotech-inc.com), Trijicon (PO Box 930059, Dept. GWK, Wixom, MI 48393; phone: 800-338-0563; online: Trijicon.com), Burris (331 East 8th St., Dept. GWK, Greeley, CO 80631; phone: 970-356-1670; online: burrisoptics.com), Insight Technologies (9 Akira Way, Dept. GWK, Londonderry, NH 03053; phone: 877-744-4802; online: insighttechgear.com) and even popular sights from companies known for their hunting sights such as Bushnell (9200 Cody, Dept. GWK, Overland Park, KS 66214; phone: 800-423-3537; online: bushnell.com) and Konus (14201 SE Petrovitsky Rd., Suite A3-327, Dept. GWK, Renton, WA 98058; phone: 206-774-8880; online: konusscopes.com). Red dot sights from these companies are virtually indestructible, fast and accurate. They will all serve you well. To mount any optic I suggest using a quality mount from A.R.M.S. (230 W. Center St., Dept. GWK, W. Bridgewater, MA 02379; phone: 508-584-7816; online: armsmounts.com), GG&G or LaRue Tactical (850 County Rd. 177, Dept. GWK, Leander, TX 78641; phone: 512-259-1585; online: laruetactical.com). These mounts allow you to remove the optic and not lose “0”; they are worth the money.
The last two items for your AR make it easier to carry and to place your firearm. First up is a sling. You may think a sling is a sling; that is just not so. There are many of them on the market but I have found a few to be standouts. THE Mamba from Spec Ops Brand (PO Box 475, Dept. GWK, Monahans, TX 79756; phone: 432-943-4888; online: specopsbrand.com) has been my choice of three-point slings since it hit the market years ago. It is versatile enough to fit weapons from shotguns to tactical rifles and it does it well.
Next is The Wilderness’ (1608 W. Hatcher Rd., Dept. GWK, Phoenix, AZ 85021; phone: 602-242-4945; online: thewilderness.com) Giles Sling. This sling was designed by Giles Stock, a retired Phoenix PD officer and Gunsite Instructor as well as being someone whose advise I trust. This sling was one of the first, if not the first, “tactical” three-point slings. I have found it too, to be an excellent way to pack your AR.
One of the most versatile slings on the market is Tapco’s Sling System. As the name implies it is a system offering you a number of ways to carry your weapon, single point, two point, and standard shoulder sling or attach the single point to a harness. This system was appreciated by folks who looked at it from the local PD; specifically for its versatility.
Once you have a sling you need to be able to attach it to the firearm. I know there are sling attachments on the front sight and most collapsible stocks have a cutout, but I am not a fan of them. Using them the weapon tends to cant out when using a three point sling; which is what I prefer.
To facilitate installing a sling I use swivel mounts from Midwest Industries (828 Philip Dr., Ste 2, Dept. GWK, Waukesha, WI 53186; phone: 262-896-6780; online: midwestindustriesinc.com). I have been using their rail mounts and buffer tube end plate adapters. These allow your sling to pivot and the weapon will lie flat; virtually straight up and down when using a three-point sling.
The swivel attachment accept quick-detach swivels unless they are designed for a single point sling; there will just be loops. I have tried my damnedest and I have yet to pull a quick detach swivel out of its socket so fear not; they stay put once installed.
The Stark Industries Grips with single-point attachment and quick release socket work well with the rail swivels too. So these new grips will give you this mounting option as well.
As you can see there is a multitude of accessories for your AR-style rifle/carbine. This article just scratches the surface. You can find magazine well grips, magazine cinches, drop-in triggers, ambidextrous safeties and magazine releasespretty much anything your heart desires. There are even a vast number of finishes you can apply at home to give your AR a truly custom look as well as feel with all the accessories you have added. One word of advice is that you choose carefully what you add to your six and a half pound rifle; it could end up weighing as much as a heavy-barreled varmint rifle.
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