In the late 50’s to mid 60’s when the AR-15 was being developed and the M-16 and M-16A1 were in their infancy, very little was available for the weapon other than maybe a waffle pattern stamped magazine and a paracord sling. If you were American SOF in the 70’s, maybe you had access to a GAU/XM-177 carbines with their two position collapsible stock and Singlepoint Occluded Gun Sights… maybe.
Fast forward to 2018 and we’re living in the golden age of the AR, at least as far as parts development and availability go. (Gun rights… ehh… it’s good but could get better.) It can be hard to find the right takedown pins for your rifle, let alone something as important as a stock. The “old school” fixed stocks of yesteryear have largely fallen out of style, and now are more an uncommon sight. Even the old mil-spec collapsible stock from GI carbines aren’t nearly as common as they were ten… even five years ago! That’s not to say that either is useless but there have been evolutions of the design that generally improve on one or several of the following:
- Ergonomics – fit of the weapon to the shooter. Adjustable length of pull helps accommodate shooters of various sizes, and allows for minor adjustments when wearing armor, heavy clothing, etc.
- Durability – the ability of the stock to withstand damage and hard use. Specifically here the plastics/polymers used in stock construction as well as latch design have all improved.
- Usability – enhancements that increase the stocks performance at doing it’s job: stabilizing the rifle and providing a third point of contact and reference point. This includes: battery compartments, enhanced cheek weld, or even the shape/construction of the buttpad itself.
So after we’ve decided what stock fits our needs best based on our “mission priorities” (tacti-cool alert), we need to know how to best actually use them. Well… you put it on the end of your rifle that faces you and put it in the pocket of your shoulder before firing.
Just kidding. It’s that simple in execution but sometimes even that simple task when done incorrectly or inefficiently puts a performance impingement on our shooting ability. That is to say: if you don’t know how to properly fit or use a collapsible stock, you might not be shooting to the best of your ability.
As a general rule of thumb, I find it best to actually have the stock extended as much as possible without making my support arm over extended or uncomfortable in the typical standing, kneeling, and prone positions. By having the stock longer relative to the end of the receiver, it allows for better head position and doesn’t force your face down and neck forward to get a good sight picture. This lowers fatigue and gives better field of view when using red dot optics. Additionally, this more upright position allows for more natural body mechanics that allow you to actually “drive” the gun faster between targets and into presentation than a compressed stock weld. The additional length also adds for stability when using a two point sling, both when actually firing the weapon as well as slinging it over the back.
As you can see from the above photo, my normal stock length is nearly the same as an A2 stock. The middle carbine is set up just one position in from maximum length to give me proper eye relief behind the Steiner P4Xi for use without any body armor. That’s how I’d most likely employ and shoot the gun. The Daniel Defense M4A1 is set two positions in from maximum extension, because it’s usually fired with at least soft armor on to replicate my patrol rifle (it’s my training gun – nearly identical in every regard to my Mk18 SBR).
I also like to add a witness mark with a silver Sharpie to the buffer tube so I know exactly where I usually run my stock under whatever “normal conditions” that weapon is designed to perform in. For example, I know that if I’m wearing hard armor, I go one click in from the mark, or if I don’t have any armor I’ll extend one position out. But I can always come “home” to my witness mark when I’m all done.
It’s sort of related, and it bears mentioning: the old “nose to charging handle” (NTC) that still shows up in the shooting community was a development when teaching iron sight marksmanship to the military. The NTC position created a consistent index point for the shooter so that they would maintain a proper and consistent eye position relative to the rear sight aperture when using peep irons. This isn’t really a factor when using modern, near parallax free optics. This is the head position/stock weld now that compromises speed, vision, and honestly: creates neck pain after awhile. This position was part of what made a fully collapsed stock common place for the past decade or two.
For me, I like to run my stock out as long as I can, depending on what I’m wearing and the need for consistent cheek weld in relation to eye relief. If you need to get as compact as possible, it’s doable, but just recognize it might not be the best for magnified optics and may hinder your rifle’s stability. It might also just be uncomfortable in the long run. But you do you, and remember: situation dictates your equipment needs.
Side note: I like B5 Bravo stocks on anything that requires cheek weld (magnified optics) and Bravo Company Gunfighter Mod 0 stocks on non-magnified optics. I find that the slimmer profile of the Mod 0 allows my head to be more upright behind the red dot and allows for a closer stock weld in the shoulder pocket.