The Truth About the AR-15 Carry Handle

by Tommy Grant

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The AR-15 carry handle has long been a subject of controversy. Is it a sight platform, a carry handle, or both? The original ArmaLite M16 design elevated the sights as a result of the charging handle that stuck out the top of the upper receiver.

But that carry handle design stuck, even after the charging handle was relocated to the back of the receiver where it is now. And if you have an A1 or A2 style rifle and want to attach an ACOG or other magnified optic, there are carry handle scope mounts for that.

So no, it doesn’t seem like the AR carry handle was originally designed as a carry handle, but it sure made for a near-perfect one.

That changed when flat-top rifles became the new standard. Flat-top rifles spurred the creation of detachable rail mount carry handles for those who still want their sights mounted high.

The detachable version mounts to the rifle’s mil-spec Picatinny rail via two thumb nuts. But there’s one problem with most of these “carry handles”…most of them aren’t very good for actually carrying your rifle. That’s because they generally have a lower profile than the original handles and don’t allow enough space to really get your fingers in there. I doubt that was an accident.

If you really want to use your detachable handle to carry your rifle, buy one like this.

Even if you have a detachable version that works as an actual carry handle, its status and usefulness depends on who you talk to. Looking at it solely as a mount for rear iron sights, the “carry handle” is pretty great. It’s very solid, so good luck breaking it. More importantly, it provides a great sight picture.

Full disclosure: during my military career, I only shot red dot sights on my M4s. CCO in basic and EOTechs after that. That makes me a target-focused shooter.

Near the end of my service, I acquired a detachable carry handle sight for an AR I had just built for a 3-gun match. I was worried that I would be a lot slower with the irons, but was pleasantly surprised by how well they worked for me.

Even though I was focused on the target and the sights were fuzzy shapes in my peripherals, the large wings on the sides of the rear sight made it easy to line them up and get accurate hits quickly. The dual aperture design helped with this too.

While the large peep makes it easier to pick up the front sight, the small peep refines the sight picture.  It also flipped a switch in my head so I would use the sights as intended and get good hits at range.

All that being said, a carrying handle attachment takes up a lot of rail space. If you have no interest in putting anything other than fixed sights on your AR, a carry handle is a great option. Otherwise, there are better alternatives.

There are plenty of high quality flip-up iron sights on the market that feature similar sight pictures and don’t take up your rail space. There are also compact fixed sights, like these, that have the same sight picture.

Unless you have a specific reason for needing the carry handle design, it’s just not as practical for most rifle owners these days. It may be a cool thing to have, but I can’t say I’d pay a lot of money for it.

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