By: Tom Claycomb

I needed/wanted to get a new varmint hunting rifle for the 2021/2022 varmint season. The last decade, I’ve used my old AR, and it is fine, but it has a bull barrel and is super heavy to lug around.

So, from March until now, I’ve been trying to decide which rifle I ought to get. There are a million options out there, but I finally decided that the ANDERSON MFG. AM-15, M-LOK, 5.56 NATO, 16″ RIFLE LENGTH FOREARM rifle would best suit my needs.

I chose to go with Anderson Mfg. because they have a good name for themselves, they offer an economical rifle for the quality, and I sure wasn’t disappointed after shooting it. I had barely started tricking it out and got a ¾-inch group with factory Nosler ammo. And that’s with scope mounts that the front end attaches to the handguard. Later on, I’ll grab an extended cantilever mount, and it will be more stable.

The Bowden Tactical AR-chitect Direct Mount MLOK Angled Foregrip really helped improve my grip.

I had to fly to South Dakota for a deal and took my new Anderson 5.56 with me. I knew from the first shooting that I could get better than a ¾-inch group. But it was cold and windy in South Dakota, and all that I could get on the second shooting was a 1 1/8-inch group, which still isn’t a bad group for a factory rifle with factory ammo. When I get home, I’m going to clean it good and get an extended cantilever mount and see what I can get.

I titled this article “Tricking out an Anderson Mfg. 5.56.” I think I almost should have titled it, “Personalizing an Anderson Mfg. 5.56,” because that’s what we really do, isn’t it? There are literally hundreds of aftermarket AR parts on the market, aren’t there? They are designed to meet hundreds of different needs. What works for you may not be what I’m looking for. I’m not a competitive shooter. I’m not a long-range shooter. I’m a hunter. So, I wanted to personalize this rifle to be a good varmint hunting rifle. Therefore, the parts I installed help me reach that end.

The first thing I did was to install a Bowden Tactical Parametric trigger. There was nothing wrong with the Anderson Mfg. trigger, but I wanted one a pound or two lighter, so I installed a Bowden Mfg. Parametric trigger. Bowden Mfg. advertises their triggers to have a pull of 3.5-4.0 lbs. On my trigger scale, it pulled a little heavier, but it is still fine for me. I’ve got buddies who like 1-pound triggers, but for me when I’m hunting and running and gunning, that’s just too light. It’s fine for shooting off a bench or while hunting out of a blind, but I don’t like one that light for the kind of hunting that I do.

The next thing I did was to put on a Bowden Mfg. AR-chitect Direct Mount MLOK Angled Foregrip. This really stabilized my grip on the handguard. I used to rodeo a lot and had a few wrecks that slightly messed up my left arm. When I was in the 11th or 12th grade, a bull threw me and bruised the bones in the elbow. Then at a college rodeo when I rodeoed at Texas A&M Univ., after the whistle had blown, I got thrown under a super rank horse. He kept stomping me, and I couldn’t get out from under him. He broke my left hand in half in two places. That was in May.

Then the day after Christmas I had a horse run into the fence at the Kowbell in Mansfield, Texas. Somewhere in the wreck, by the time I hit the ground, my elbow was popped out of joint. I get by fine, but it won’t bend down the last 2-3 inches like my right arm will. So, with that said, I really like the stabilization that the Bowden Mfg. AR-chitect Direct Mount MLOK Angled Foregrip gives me. Even if you didn’t rodeo, I think that you’re going to like one.

The Bowden Tactical muzzle break.

For a scope, I put on a Riton Optics 4-16×44 Primal 1 scope and used Riton medium rings. For close-up varmint hunting, you could justify using a 3-9x, but too many times when calling, a coyote hangs up at 200 yards. For those times, you’ll want more magnification, so I went with the 4-16x. It has a throw lever, so you can adjust your magnification easily. I like this feature. I favor a Duplex cross hair, but for you long range shooters I think you’ll like these cross hairs. It also has an adjustable parallax, which is a must have to me.

For the heck of it, I put on a Bowden Tactical Muzzle Brake. I won’t leave it on for hunting, but for you competition shooters, I think you’ll like it. It’s loud for me, because I don’t wear ear protection when hunting, but you could easily put up an argument and tell me that you can get faster follow-up shots when using one since you can get faster target acquisition. For shooting whistle pigs and prairie dogs, you might also want to use one to allow you to see the results of your shot better.

And lastly, for this project, I used Nosler ammo, since I’ve had good results with Nosler in the past. For this project, I tested 40 GR. BTLF, 55 GR. BTV and 69 GR. HPBT, and as I figured, the 55 gr. obtained the best groups. I know you reloaders are going to crucify me, but with good factory ammo like Nosler, I just don’t think it is as important to reload to get good groups anymore.

Plus, I work a ton of hours, so I don’t have a lot of free time. As I am typing this article, it is 10:30 on a Saturday night. At this moment, I have five articles that are due soon, I’ve been out of state for two weeks, and don’t fly home for another week. I have to get prepared for seminars at the Dallas Safari Club Conv. & Expo and the Safari Club International Conv. and the SHOT Show and a duck hunt with Knives of Alaska, all in January. But with that said, I get super good groups with factory ammo, as long as it is from a reliable company like Nosler.

So, if you want to trick out a varmint rifle, start with a good rifle like one from Anderson Mfg., try out the above items, and you should be a happy camper.

Tom Claycomb III is a product tester for outdoor manufacturers, hunter, and outdoor writer, writing from Idaho.