Gear chasers. We all have a friend like that. The friend who is always chasing the latest and greatest piece of gear. Some whizbag new gadget that will help you to shoot faster. Miss less. Shave seconds off your time. While there is gear that can help you to go faster, what do you really need in a competition rifle?
In competition reliability and accuracy are paramount. You need to have both. No exceptions. What good is an extremely accurate rifle if you have malfunctions? And what good is a reliable rifle if your groups at 50 yards look like a pattern of buckshot? Once you've found a reliable and accurate rifle then it's time to play around with the components.
Muzzle breaks/compensators - There are so many compensators on the market it will make your head spin. It seems like a new desgign will come out every few months. While some compensators work better than others, pretty much every one will be better than a stock flash hider. Find one that has good reviews and is in your budget.
"In competition reliability and accuracy are paramount. You need to have both. No exceptions."
Gas block - Having an adjustable gas block allows you to tune your gas system to your load. Too much gas and your rifle will have more recoil and may cause bolt over-ride malfunctions. Too little gas and you may short stroke the bolt and won't get another round to feed from your magazine. Finding the sweet spot isn't that difficult. Turn your gas down as much as you can while making sure on the last shot the bolt will still lock back. That is as far down as you'd want to go. Keep in mind that this is all specific to the ammo you are using. If you tune it for a hotter load and then switch to something softer you may run into issues. Be sure to test new ammo before a competition.
Handguard - There are almost as many different handguards as there are muzzle breaks. Find a length that you like and look for features that will help you in competition. Having a flat bottom makes it easier when shooting from a barricade that you can rest your handguard on. Some type of quick detach, M-lok, or Picatinny rail makes adding slings, bipods, lights, lasers, etc easy.
Grip - This is not a one size fits all scenario. Shooters come in all shapes and sizes. From smaller junior shooters to the bigger guys with huge hands. Find one that feels comfortable and fits your hand.
Trigger - Single stage or 2 stage? That depends on your preference. There are a lot of great AR triggers out there. If you are unsure what certain triggers feel like then ask other shooters what they run. Most shooters are more than happy to let you handle their rifle and play with the trigger. Find one that you like and look for the best price.
Stocks - There are many good choices out there. Some are very simple and inexpensive and others are more elaborate and cost more. You can spend as little as $50 for one that will work extremely well. You can also spend several hundred dollars on ones that are fully adjustable and will work great too. It will depend on your budget what you go with.
Barrel length - This depends greatly on the type of match that you're shooting. For shorter bay style matches I prefer a 14.5" or 16". For more long range matches you'll probably want a 18" or 20". Since barrels are not cheap and are a pain to switch out, you'll want to figure out what matches you shoot the most and plan accordingly.
What do I shoot? - I like to keep things simple. I shoot a 16" Black Rain Ordnance Spec 15. I have mine equipped with a 12" SLM handguard, adjustable gas block, Magpul Miad grip, and ACS-L stock. Everything else is factory Black Rain Ordnance. Including their competition drop in trigger and hexagonal muzzle break. I love this set up. It is very accurate and reliable. I've got it dialed in for my .223 reloads and it shoots extremely flat. I've shot this rifle at local and major matches around the country. It really is a do it all rifle. I've never felt outgunned by other competitors with their rifles. I know mine will do it's job and do it very well.
Josh Wakamatsu is a professional 3-Gun Competitor Sponsored By Black Rain Ordnance Inc., Kenzies Optics, X-Treme Bullets, Salient Arms International, Shootsteel.com and others.