Everyone has that one friend in their life. The friend who is always there when you need them. The one you’re always getting into trouble with when you have a night out. For me, that friend was Tom Dodge.

Instant Friendship

I met Tom at a gun range through some mutual friends. It was my first time shooting clays, and I borrowed his shotgun. I outshot him with his own gun, and I think that’s what got us talking.I was about to start teaching CPL classes, and Tom wanted to help. The rest is history.

We eventually put 787 people through our CPL class and gained a reputation for running one of the best courses in the area.

My passion for teaching and firearms and Tom’s background as a U.S. Navy veteran, law enforcement officer and fireman made for the perfect pairing.

The Diagnosis

Tom was diagnosed with ocular melanoma in 2008. After treatment, he was cancer free for five years until a spot was discovered on his liver in 2016. Tom handled the news like he did everything in life—with a big smile and some jokes. Tom was known for his sense of humor; he was actually a standup comedian on the side. He began treatment for his liver cancer, but it didn’t go very well. Unfortunately, Tom passed away on June 9, 2017, at the age of 39. He was survived by his daughters, Eliza and Raylin.

For me, losing my best friend was devastating. I stopped running CPL classes for almost a year. I had a hard time even going to the range because I would just think of all the great times Tom and I had while shooting and teaching. That’s when I decided to put together a custom AR-15 build in Tom Dodge’s honor.

You see, the AR-15 was one of Tom’s favorite platforms, and I thought it would be very fitting to build a custom rifle in his honor. So, I went to Motor City Gun Works in Keego Harbor, Michigan, and told the owner, Heath Williams, about Tom’s story. Being a veteran himself and obviously a gun guy, Williams was more than happy to help design the gun and have his staff get to work on it. At that moment, the Tommy Gun was born—a rifle as awesome as the guy it was named after.

Custom AR-15 Build

The Tommy Gun started with a Motor City Gun Works upper receiver and a Sharps Bros. Hellbreaker lower. The Hellbreaker had the exact look I was going for—aggressive and mean.

We also decided on a 16-inch, .223 Wylde, stainless steel Premium Series SPR barrel from Ballistic Advantage set up for a mid-length gas system. The barrel is capped with a SilencerCo ASR muzzle brake to keep recoil down to a minimum, and Motor City Gun Works installed its own adjustable gas block and a Melonited gas tube along with its smooth and reliable bolt carrier group.

Of course, I also needed something to hold onto when shooting. We installed a 12-inch Midwest Industries KeyMod handguard because it works well and looks great.

The lower was fitted with a Magpul STR stock because it’s easy to adjust yet locks up solidly. The recoil pad is also comfortable for most shooters.

Other Goodies

For the grip, we went with one of Magpul’s MOE+ units. I personally like the feel of the MOE+ grip. It fits my hands very well, isn’t sticky and cleans up easily. Magpul MBUS sights were also installed on the upper. And because Motor City Gun Works wanted to create a competition-grade rifle, they installed a Hiperfire EDT Sharp Shooter trigger, which has an incredible reset and a nice, smooth pull.

To top it all off, Alex from Motor City Gun Works laid out the best custom Cerakote job I have ever seen. The gray, green and black camo pattern, combined with the highlighted Hellbreaker face, came together perfectly. Tom would have loved the rifle’s excellent blend of aesthetics and toughness.

To finish off the look, I had a custom-engraved dust cover made to honor Tom with the phrases “Tommy Gun” on the outside and “Dodge This” on the inside. All together, this rifle honors Tom with its looks, ergonomics and functionality.

First Shots

I fired my first shots through the rifle on what would have been Tom’s 40th birthday out in the woods with some friends. And I couldn’t believe how smoothly and flawlessly the rifle functioned.

Dumping 30 rounds through the rifle as fast as I could with just the Magpul MBUS flip-up sights, all of my shots were on an 8-inch paper plate at around 70 yards, proving just how well this system functioned. There was hardly any recoil or muzzle rise, but I added a Seekins Precision K20 KeyMod angled foregrip up front for a better hold.

Sight Beyond Sight

My friends and I wanted to really see what the Tommy Gun could do, so I mounted an EOTech EXPS2 on top as well as an EOTech G33.STS magnifier. The EXPS2 offers both-eyes-open shooting and provides an incredible targeting experience.

I choose this sight because of its easy-to-adjust side buttons, quick-detach lever and EOTech’s reputation for making tough optics. The EXPS2 is powered by a lithium CR123 battery, and paired with the G33.STS magnifier, I could quickly switch from 1X to 3X magnification in a fraction of a second thanks to the magnifier’s flip mount.

At 75 yards, it took me eight shots to zero the EXPS2, and it ended up being the perfect choice for the Tommy Gun.

AR-15 Build Range Results

After zeroing in, we decided to give the entire package a workout. For the Tommy Gun’s test, I picked eight .223 and 5.56mm factory loads and one reload from A-1 Premium, Aguila, Federal Premium, Hornady, HSM, Sig Sauer and Wilson Combat with bullets ranging in weight from 52 to 80 grains.

Overall, the Tommy Gun averaged 2-inch five-shot groups from a standing unsupported position at 100 yards with the magnifier. I achieved these results with everything I put through the gun. I saw very little difference between various weights, and the rifle ate everything I could throw at it.

Again, using the magnifier, I ran the same tests from a semi-supported position at the same distance. I say “semi-supported” because I utilized the front of a four-wheeler and my 5.11 Tactical range bag. Not the most stable support, but it did eliminate some movement, and I was still able to achieve an average group size of 1.53 inches with pretty much anything I fed it.

Boom Time With Our AR-15 Build

Then it was time to have some good old-fashioned AR-15 fun to really honor Tom on his birthday—because, you know, burning through about 1,000 rounds of ammunition in the woods wasn’t enough.

Sonic Boom stepped in for this part of the evaluation by providing us with some half-pound exploring targets, which we used to help split some firewood for that night. Then we decided to see how high we could blow a plastic 55-gallon drum with a 2-pound Sonic Boom target. We were back about 200 yards, and I was posted up on the four-wheeler for some support.

“This is for you, Tom.” I pulled the trigger and missed. I thought, “Okay, Tom, now that you managed to get everyone laughing at me like you did best, let’s see how high this damn barrel will go.”

The second shot resulted in a massive blast that sent the barrel hurling straight up into the air about 150 feet. It also folded the barrel in half. Pretty impressive, but Tom would have wanted that barrel in pieces. So we loaded it with 2 more pounds of Sonic Boom. One shot right to the center of the target and another epic explosion resulted in total destruction of the barrel and one of the best smoke rings I have ever seen.

In the end, we had created the perfect AR-15 build and tested it in such a way to honor a great U.S. Navy veteran and my best friend, Tom Dodge, on his birthday. All told, the gun came to about $1,700 while the EOTech setup had an MSRP of $1,135.

For more information:

Custom AR-15 Build Specs

  • Caliber: .223 Wylde
  • Barrel: 16 inches
  • OA Length: 33-36.5 inches
  • Weight: 7 pounds (empty)
  • Stock: Magpul STR
  • Sights: Magpul MBUS
  • Action: Direct impingement semi-auto
  • Finish: Custom Cerakote
  • Capacity: 30+1
  • MSRP: $1,700

This article is from “Black Guns” 2019. To order a copy, visit

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