By Clint Weisgerber
We’ve all been there. Maybe you’ve been socking away a few bucks every week for a new toy and suddenly the unforseen happens. The wife gets fired. Your kid needs new hockey equipment. Whatever. You begrudgingly dip into your stash o’ cash as the dreams of you busting rounds at the range with the new hotness evaporate before your tear-filled eyes. This recently happened to me, but I found quite a lot of solace in making some changes to — or modding as I like to call it (because yes, I’m that guy apparently) — your existing equipment. It may not be as fun as shooting new stuff, but it scratches that new gun itch. So here are three suggestions for modifications that won’t break your newly depleted bank account, but still give you some good times at the range . . .
I don’t like to start modifying anything about a weapon until I’ve got a few hundred rounds through it. Sometimes, it takes a little while to learn the intricacies of new weapon and identify any shortcomings. However, if you’ve reached the point where you feel as though you’re overcompensating for one of those deficiencies even after you’re proficient with the weapon, it might be time to look at an upgrade.
Lighter triggers are almost always desirable for a variety of reasons, so look into springs of different weights, drop-in trigger kits for rifles, or even just how-to videos on YouTube on polishing trigger pack surfaces with a Dremel or sandpaper. If you have trouble accessing your magazine release as quickly or reliably as you’d like, see if longer or larger replacements are available for your weapon. Want an immediate upgrade in your pistol accuracy? Drop-in match grade barrels aren’t cheap, but they’re a lot less than buying a new gun.
In short — or TL;DR as I’ve been known to say — internal mods are going to get you the biggest changes in how your weapon functions and will likely scratch your new gun itch the best. They’re also the most expensive changes and you need to ensure you know what you’re doing in there before you start, so be careful.
You might not think that simply adding something to the rail on your AR could scratch your new gun itch, but there are a few options here that I think could work. With rifles, how about a different stock? Many of us roll the bog standard collapsible AR stock. Would you like something a little lighter or without all the bulk? Switching over to a minimalist stock significantly changes the look and feel of your weapon.
Do you have a long free-floating rail setup? Drop that vertical grip you’ve been using for ages and pick up an angled foregrip for $20 or $30, then give the Costa “C-clamp” grip a try. Who knows? You may really dig it!
Wish that your readying and/or reloading was slicker? Good upgraded AR charging handles can be had for less than $50. Battery release levers are around half that, and if you can take the weight, a Redi-Mag mounted mag holder seems like it’d be a great option to have for really fast reloads.
If you’re not happy with the way your rifle recoils, pick up a new muzzle brake or compensator. TTAG even did two separate articles on these devices and I can tell you first hand, even the cheaper ones make a big difference!
Pistols don’t have quite as much modification potential as rifles, but there’s still a lot to choose from, especially if you shoot a popular brand and model. Spend a few bucks and upgrade your sights, add in a metal guide rod, or replace your grips.
Not being an operator, law enforcement, or military serviceman, I tend to stay away from the really high dollar external stuff like Aimpoints and Surefires. I have nothing against anyone who uses them, but I’d rather spend my money on a new bolt carrier group than a bright flashlight I can put through hell. That shouldn’t hold you back from looking at optics and flashlights though. You may laugh, but I unashamedly rock a $50 TruGlo reflex sight on my AR and managed to shoot a 5-shot group at 50 yards with it that a quarter could have touched, if not covered during a rifle class I took last weekend. But if a light is on your list, Amazon is full of decent, holder-compatible, very bright LED flashlights that run more like $30-$50 than $100+.
External mods typically won’t make as big an impact on your weapon like an internal change likely will, and therefore may not scratch that new gun itch quite as well. But a few changes in the right spots can certainly help take away the sting of being denied a new gun.
I talked about grips and stocks in the external mods section, but you’ll notice I didn’t include the word “furniture.” Yes, furniture can make a difference in how your weapon shoots, but let’s be honest- furniture is mainly about looks, and that’s OK! Changing up the way your weapon looks with some cosmetic mods is another way you can make an old weapon fun and exciting again.
You’ve probably seen the videos on YouTube about doing paint fills on your weapon’s engravings. It’s cheap, easy, and gives a good result. Nail polish is the most commonly referred to “paint” in these videos, but I like using enamel model paint as it’s less gloopy and holds up better (and because I have a lot of it lying around from when I used to have time to paint models). Stop by your local hobby shop and pick up a bottle of Testors enamel model paint in the color you dig, a bottle of thinner (make sure it’s for enamel and not acrylic…lots of model paints are acrylic), and a small brush or two and you’re in business.
As mentioned before, changing the furniture is a great way to update a weapon, but if you want to get radical, try painting the furniture a different color. Or even the entire rifle! If you’ve got the dough, Duracoat sells aerosol cans, and if you don’t have the dough, just get some decent enamel spray paint and paint away.
Barrels will get hot enough to burn off regular spray paint (and clear coat for that matter), but furniture, receivers, handguards, and the like typically don’t. Try grill paint or engine paint if you need to paint your barrel for better results. Seal up your work of art with several layers of clear coat and you’ll be good to go in no time. Just remember, multiple thin coats rather than fewer thick coats for paint of any kind, regardless of how you apply it.
If you want to add some kind of design or pattern to your weapon or furniture, pick up some masking tape in different widths or some stencils. That same hobby store where you bought your Testors paint probably has masking tape for models. You can get pretty intricate with that stuff as it’s made to paint pinstripes on model cars and planes.
Cosmetic mods obviously have the least amount of actual impact on your weapon’s operation, but if you come up with something that looks really awesome and want to show it off to your range buddies, that new gun itch gets scratched to an extent. And hey, if you do something really radical, you’ve basically created something one-of-a-kind and that definitely feels cool! So don’t discount a simple paint fill in an unusual color or making your basic black polymer pistol two-tone with a little spray paint.
If the idea of spray painting a gun is totally disgusting to you, check for powder coaters or electroplaters in your area. It’ll cost a little more than a couple of $5 cans at Home Depot, but the finish will be awesome, more durable, and prices can be surprisingly reasonable. For the best prices, stay away from places that specialize in firearms specifically and look for machine shops that offer powdercoating as an add-on service.
So there you go…even if you can’t afford a new gun, there’s several ways that you can change the game with some of your older stuff to make it new and fun again!