A Patrol Rifle Primer


The patrol rifle and its capability is tied to department policy and budget. In some cases, the rifles are tied to an officer’s personal budget.

BLS records show that the median annual wage for police and sheriff’s patrol officers was $61,050 in May of 2017. This means that 50 percent of all officers made more than this amount and the other half made less. The top 10 percent of earners made more than $105,230 and the bottom 10 percent earned less than $35,780. https://work.chron.com/police-officers-starting-salary-6740.html

The patrol rifle. Department budgets. Department policy. Personal budget. Kids. Family. Mortgage. Insurance. Car payments. Private school. Food.

Unfortunately, the reality is that a dept. budget is not the only limiting factor on officer equipment. Many of his or her personal, and/or family needs will come before a big ticket item like a rifle.

Most officers are on a Palmetto State Armory budget, and not a Geissele or Daniel Defense budget.

Therefore this article will look at things from the perspective of a budgetary sliding scale. Base rifle (as issued, if applicable) with upgrades and data points to direct officers to a solid foundation for a reliable, budget friendly piece of equipment.

As Issued:

Many departments will require an officer to supply their own rifle which meets guideline and policy criteria, or will issue a basic carbine. Those officers which are issued a carbine may be dissapointed to find that the dept. prohibits customization, or perhaps severely limits changes an individual officer can make to the carbine. Let’s examine a typical, bare bones patrol rifle.


The typical patrol rifle is likely a 16 inch carbine with a collaspable stock. Carbines like these are offered by every major manufacturer and the components are similar from company to company. This is simply bare bones with nothing more, nothing less.

If an officer is limited by dept policy in accepting the carbine as is, there is little that can be done to cover the deficincies of such a basic package. My goal is to educate you so that you will be enformed enough to present an argument in favor to some modest upgrades which will address the deficiencies of the standard issue rifle.

The standard-issue iron-sighted carbine has several issues that should be addressed. The use of soft armor makes effective control of the carbine difficult under most normal conditions. With IIIa soft armor, the officer is unable to mount the rifle securely into the shoulder pocket below the clavicle and medial to the deltoid. The thickness of II and IIIa removes this secure location for pocketing of the rifles stock.

The nylon to plastic surface is slick and does not create enough friction to ensure a good mount of the carbine. The stock and rifleman can be at odds as it slips easily off the shoulder… Throw awkward and often hasty shooting positons into the mix and what is awkward can lead to potential missed targets and poor rifle control and recoil management.

The solution to this problem is relatively simple. If the patrol rifle cannot be “modified” past the stock components, then we can look to the market for solutions. There are a variety of rubber butt pads available for the standard M4 style collapsable stock. Limbsaver is among the numerous companies making rubber recoil pads for the M4 stock, and prices are quite reasonable. At the time of this writing, prices range from $10-$32 for various styles and brands. Since this leaves no permanent modification to the issued rifle, I beleive a reasonable argument can be made to support such a purchase. The difference in support and control of a rubber butt pad v.s. plastic on nylon armor is night and day.

A rubber butplate makes a world of difference in carbine control over soft armor.

If you are fortunate enough to convince the dept. to upgrade the stock itself, then numerous aftermarket stocks are available with rubber butt-plates integrated into the design, as well as storage for batteries and other small items. This could cost upwards of $40-100 for reputable, established brands and components. Magpul is the often-cited go-to for affordable and well-built stock upgrades.

Iron Sights

The issued department carbine may be equipped with only iron sights. While every officer should be proficient in iron sight usage, many departments fail to educate officers on marksmanship and iron sight fundamentals.

The first point of discussion should be the rear sight and its functions. Most rifles will be equipped with a large and small aperture rear sight. The function of the large aperture, as originally designed, is to give the rifleman a 0-200 meter ghost ring that is fast on target, and usable in low light. The ghost ring emphasizes speed on target over slower, more precise rifle fire.

The small peep sight is built to enhance rifleman precision for longer range engagements, and consequently raises the zero by 2 Minutes of angle on a USGI carry handle. By the nature of the peep sight, it enhances the shooter’s depth of field. The officer can focus on the front sight, and the target will be slightly fuzzy… If you take the same front sight focus with the large aperture deployed, your target will be *very* fuzzy. The eye cannot focus on multiple planes at once. The small peep helps the officer focus on the front sight and improves target fidelity over the large aperture for enhanced precision.

The biggest downside, aside from their complexity in relation to modern sights… is adverse lighting conditions. Iron sights are a poor choice in low light conditions. Without contrasting colors, the eye has a difficult time resolving the front sight and aligning it with a target in a darkened environment. Simple upgrades to the front sight mitigate this issue easily. Manufacturers such as Blitzkrieg Components and XS sights produce a variety of front sight replacements that offer bold, high contrast sight pictures. These front sights add contrast to the black on black sight picture of an officer aiming into a dark environment. In addition, they are also offered with glow elements which aid in outdoor to indoor transitions. From a bright sunny day to a dark interior, the human eye takes several minutes to reach a fully dark-adapted state, with older officers taking longer than younger officers. Having a bright, battery-free, high contrast reference point from a bright exterior to a dim interior will assist officers with sight and target alignment.

Black on white contrast will aid in sight and target alignment. It’s no red dot, but irons are quite durable and inexpensive.


Lights have never been more brighter for the dollar. Officers can find several models of duty weapon ready lights ranging from $60- $220 dollars. The challenge is to mount them to a rifle when the department is reluctant to upgrade carbines with modular rail systems. There are several products on the market that allow officers to mount lights to rifles without changing the basic configuration of the carbine. Kerm-Lock, Impact Weapon Components, and GG&G offer solutions that are cost-effective and make no permanent modifications to the basic rifle.


The Kerm-Lock is an ingenious system composed of black delrin, a cam action, and polyurethane doughnuts that trap the device to the hand-guard. This allows the officer to quickly remove and replace a weapon light as needed. Since it also does not modify the weapon in any way, shape, or form, it can be removed easily to allow the carbine to fit into storage racks or the various vehicle mounts without issue.

Behind a white hot light, irons offer deep black contrast against an illuminated target

The Impact Weapon Components Mount-and-Slot is another product which does not modify the handguards, but is not field removable once in place. The GG&G Slic-Thing, likewise, places a picatinny rail and sling mount on the weapon which is installed into the front sight base. It is not removable in the field. The various mounting solutions range in price from $39-$69 dollars at the time of this writing.

Red Dot Sights

The red dot has been around since the 1980s, and with nearly 30 years of advancement, it has become more affordable, reliable, and robust. Dot sights are offered in red, green, and even “gold” for color blind officers. If your fortunate enough that your department allows personal rifles or upgrades to issued patrol rifles, then one of the first additions will likely be a red dot sight.

I have found, on average, the red dot sight to be a durable.. and simple device. I have drop tested, thrown, drowned, and beat up on Aimpoint, DI-Optical, Primary Arms, Holoson, Atibal, Trijicon, and numerous other RDS sights. None have broken.

Products such as the Aimpoint Pro, Sig Sauer Romeo Series, EOtech, and Trijicon all produce red dot sights that can meet a variety of dept. and individual officer budgets. The officer should do his or her research and check with their department for brands approved for patrol rifle use, but in general I have been very happy with the cost to performance ratio of even “middle of the road” red dot sights. Of course, buy the best you can afford.

While red-dots are now a common sighting system, it needs to be said they are not perfect. The industry has rapidly developed numerous models of mini red dot sights to meet the growing demand of pistol slide mounting. These open emitter sights are lightweight, have a small footprint, and offer a wide field of view… they are a good fit for a lightweight patrol rifle. Under the wrong circumstances, water or debris can occlude or deform the dot. A single blade of dead grass has blown into the author’s red dot while shooting recreationally, and it completely obscured the dot until cleared. While this is a rare occurrence, it can occur. I find I am happier with closed emitters, but they are not without their own issues:

Shoot and run in the rain. This is where you will meet very challenging sight conditions for the corrective lense wearer. Fog on your glasses, rain drops on all three lenses. Low fidelity sight picture.

For officers wearing corrective lenses, it must be said that rain and temperature will deteriorate your vision through the optic. Having shot in downpour conditions with corrective lenses, it must be noted that you have three lenses between you and the target… each collects water droplets and deteriorates your ability to obtain a clear sight picture. I found it easier to use magnified optics for rainy conditions as the focal point reduces the water droplets to mere shadows. If you seek additional reading on this subject, please see Optics in Adverse Conditions at TNR.

Battery Free mini dots are past their prime. Dim, and unusable from indoors to outdoors, and also unusable with a bright weapon light. Avoid.

Battery-free, fiber optic dot sights are another style of optic to avoid. These optics have trouble with reticle brightness when shooting from a dark area to a brightly lit area… In addition, the activation of a weapon light easily washes them out making the reticle faint and hard to find. These optics should be considered obsolete as they are unable to function well in adverse lighting situations.

Variable Optics

Variable optics have grown in popularity and there are many manufacturers vying for your dollar in this highly competitive market. Again, dept. approval should be sought for brands… However with the diversity in product and reticle type, how can dept’s guide officers towards a solid, useable product?

Its important to look at the variable optic from an officers viewpoint. Is the optic robust? Does the reticle allow solid shooting in adverse lighting conditions? The author has had the opportunity to handle and review optics from $1400 down to $299. There is tremendous variance in these product lines. Sticking to known brands such as Trijicon, Burris, Vortex, Steiner, etc. is a wise choice, but it can be challenging to find a reticle system that meets the need of a patrol officer.

Light, Contrast, and Electronics: A Fine Balance

Typically, a modern variable will attempt to provide an officer with a do-all, close range, mid-range optic. Reticle illumination is a tool that can provide officers contrast when shooting into dark environments… and if the battery dies they still have a usable black reticle. Or do they? The move to minimalist reticle designs has been driven by consumers wanting a clear, uncluttered sight picture. When the battery illumination is functional, these optics attempt to function as a red dot by the use of an illuminated horseshoe or chevron reticle. When the illumination fails it renders the reticle hard to find and difficult to see in challenging lighting conditions. When choosing a variable, the reticle design should be bold and treated as a failsafe to a dead battery or dead illumination.

Consider all possible lighting conditions. A German #4 is extremely useful in all lighting conditions, and offers an officer a aiming reference for indoors to outdoors, indoors with weapon light, and if illuminated, in low light.

Furthermore, how “eye-catching” will the reticle be when used in conjunction with a bright weapon light? Again a minimalist reticle can be a problem in a variety of lighting scenarios. Consider the following:

An officer has illumination of an optic to level 4/10 in a dim environment. A higher setting causes the optic to bloom in dark conditions and is too bright. A threat appears and the officer activates his/her weapon light. The weapon light immediately washes out the illuminated reticle. Does the reticle design offer more points of reference for the officer without relying on illumination? (Hint: German #4 is easy to use in this scenario)

An officer leaves his optic on in the vehicle, and unbeknownst to him/her, the battery is dead. The rifle is deployed and he/she now has a tiny, minimalist reticle with no “red dot”. Is the reticle still fast on target? Does it offer the officer additional reference points for aiming at a threat? (Hint: A German #4 does)

While not a variable, the ACOG in this example has certain elements present in a German #4 in that it has large, high contrast bars at 3, 6, and 9. An optic with a minimalist reticle may be difficult to acquire rapidly in challenging lighting conditions.
If your illumination fails… you need to rely on a bold, eye catching reticle. This one is not those things… lets fix it.
This is the same reticle with horizontal crossbars badly overlaid. Which would be easier to use in a challenging light environment?

So while the variable optics are a de-facto do all optic, many of the reticle designs are wanting and are a poor choice in adverse lighting conditions. Carefully consider the environments in which the weapon may be deployed, and think of the optic holistically. A variable has to be robust, intuitive and should work well even if the battery is dead.

Would this reticle be a good choice if the battery was DOA?

Wrapping Up:

With the AR15 market full of back-orders, and delays… it may not be consumer choice but rather the availability of components that are the driving factor in equipping a patrol rifle. Wise decisions must be made to maximize the flexibility of the gear in various scenarios an officer may encounter. A basic, solid carbine can be had form several manufacturers, but equipping the carbine with accessories can be daunting due to the available options and information overload. Careful thought into the impact of upgrades must be made to ensure a carbine is a flexible tool under any conditions. There is a fine balance of officer/department budget, and upgrades which enhance the capability of the carbine and officer.

Special Thanks to Officer Chris H of Breach Bang Clear for oversight and his input. Thanks to LooseRounds for tolerating me all these years, and please visit www.thenewrifleman.com and stop by and say hi!

Lothaen out!


  1. Not just for LE. We all have to put positive subject/target identification, sight and rifle stability at the top of our priorities if we want to avoid all kinds of needless misery. It all seems perfectly easy when our heart rate is at 70bpm.

  2. Here is a LPVO that solves (IMO) the author’s criticisms of low-powered, variable, lighted scopes….Trijicon’s timeless TR-24 with chevron.

    ‘Nuff said.

  3. Regular patrolmen are lucky to get more than basic instructions. All the hype with lasers, flash lights ,etc is nonsense. Want to be a navy seal join up. Same with flash lights on pistols a accident waiting to happen . I carried a wheel gun and did not feel under armed along with a shotgun.
    Discretion is the better part of valor, if you need backup wait MTC


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