Personalize Your Arsenal

In the past I've looked at relatively quick and easy ways that you can modify specific weapons to serve you better under given conditions. In looking back I realized that what I've done is address many small issues rather than give an acceptable overview of what may benefit you in the overall performance of your weapons. So, to address that, in this week's review we're going to look at modifications you can make (no armorer or gunsmith required) to your rifles, shotguns and pistols that will ultimately benefit you. The modifications suggested may not be applicable to everyone, but, in general, are suitable for most operational environments.

Let's start out with rifles, talk about shotguns some and then move to handguns to finish up...

The two rifles shown are perfect examples of good fighting rifles. The top is a Rock River Arms CAR-4 in .223. The modifications that have been made to it are:

  • addition of the quad-rail forend allowing placement of multiple Picatinny attached accessories
  • removal of the "carry handle" to expose the flat top of the receiver
  • mounting of a LaRue rear sight that locks on with the turn of a lever
  • addition of a SureFire M900A vertical grip light system

The collapsible stock came on the weapon but has since been replaced by a DuoStock. Also adjustable for length, the DuoStock allows for different carry positions while keeping the weapon "mounted." The DuoStock can be kept in your shoulder pocket which allows you to bring the weapon up online faster.

The second rifle is an ArmaLite AR-10 in .308. On the flat top of the receiver is an EOTech holoscope or reflex sight. The entire weapon, along with the EOTech, has been treated with a custom finish created by DuraCoat. The digital woodland camo finish was applied by R-Squared Custom Gun Finishing in St. Mary's County, Maryland. Note that just in front of the forend are two Picatinny rail sections--one on top of the barrel and one below. I highly recommend placing a fold-down front sight and a fold-down rear sight on any weapon equipped with an electro-optic system (the EOTech in this case). That way, if the batteries die in your optics, you can pop up the sights and still stay in the fight.

I'm sure you've noticed that the Rock River .223 has a light while the AR-10 doesn't. The Rock River gun was modified for fighting in closer conditions such as inside schools, office buildings, residential structures, etc. The AR-10 was modified specifically for an open field service and has since become the primary urban sniper rifle for a Colorado-based deputy. Given that intended use, having a collapsible stock on the AR-10 wouldn't be necessary, but the addition of a bipod would be.

Both these rifles are prime examples of how weapons can be modified to serve a specific purpose. None of the modifications listed require any gunsmithing. Only the application of the DuraCoat custom gun finish required any special skills, and those still aren't gunsmith-specific.

So, how about shotguns?

There are probably more after-market accessories available for shotguns than any other weapon out there, with the possible exception of the Ruger 10/22. My Remington 870 was modified with the pistol grip stock, a SureFire 918FA forend, a six shot "side saddle" holder, and an OD Green DuraCoat finish. Yes, I'm a fan of DuraCoat as you'll see again further down. This shotgun has been in service with me since the late 1980s. It's typically stoked with PolyShok IRP ammo and I usually keep a couple of different types of ammo in that side saddle holder. Depending on what circumstance/operation I'm going into, I might add slugs, 00 Buck, 4-shot, or various less-lethal rounds. I hate to mix less-lethal with lethal and don't recommend it--but circumstances sometimes place us in odd situations.

What modifications are appropriate for your shotgun? That ultimately depends on your intended use. A home protection shotgun doesn't need that full-length stock and pistol grip; it probably just needs the pistol grip. It probably doesn't need the side saddle shot shell holder, but perhaps the integrated light on the forend is a good idea. A sling might also be a good idea because eventually you'll have to put it down--and you can't. A sling for police or military use is also a good idea, although I recommend either single-point or three-point slings for such. The average homeowner can get away with a two-point sling with no issues.

The shotgun's key to versatility, however, is the wide array of ammo types that are out there. To determine what type of ammo you should be loading you need to know that intended use and the ENVIRONMENT surrounding that intended use. Indeed, if it's for home defense you want a round that will be devastating to the bad guy without penetrating multiple layers of sheet rock. If you KNOW you might have to shoot through walls at bad guys or at bad guys wearing armor, then perhaps a supply of slug rounds is right for you. KNOW YOUR PURPOSE and build your weapon accordingly.

Which brings me to handguns... my favorite.

With handguns, depending on the manufacturer, there is a limited amount you can do. Certainly, if the weapon has an integrated Picatinny rail, you can add on lights and lasers. Actually, even without a Picatinny mounting system, you can add in lasers. Crimson Trace and LaserMax both make units that can be installed by the user. However, unless you can articulate a reason why you NEED a laser aiming system, I don't recommend them. You need to practice with them and understand all the dynamics of using a light. Don't forget: a laser is just another type of light, and you have to manipulate it accordingly.

Taking rail mounted accessories out of the picture, the easiest things you can change on your pistols are:

  • finish
  • grips
  • sights
  • magazine base plates

The Government Model 1911 .45ACP shown is my favorite carry gun when the weight isn't a concern. It's a Springfield-Armory 1911 and was delivered with their OD Green Armory Kote finish, ambidextrous safety, front and rear slide serrations, and low profile sights. I've since changed or added the following:

  • the sights have been switched out for XS Sights 24/7 Standard Dot sights. I don't do precision work with this weapon and I like how fast I can acquire the front sight on the XS Standard Dots.
  • I added the adhesive front strap finger grips available from Tac-Grip. This self-applied sandpaper-like accessory adds a great deal of perceived security to my grip under wet/sweaty conditions.
  • I ordered and added a set of custom grip slabs from The emblem is my company logo and the grips are aluminum. I know, for sure and certain, I'm the only guy in the world (so far) with a set of grips like this on my 1911.
  • I put rubber bumpers on the base plate of my stainless steel mags, but left my two blue mags bumperless. When I carry the weapon I realized that, if I had a bumper on the magazine, it rubbed on the seat in my Jeep and either damaged the seat cover or pulled the bumper loose from the base plate. Answer? I carry it with a flat blued magazine.

But that's a 1911. They can be modified ad infinitum. They've been around so long that aftermarket was nearly invented just for them. But how about something more basic? How about a Glock?

With a simpler weapon like the Glocks, there isn't necessarily as much you can do. Sights can be easily changed. Adhesive grips--like those from Tac-Grip--can be applied. DuraCoat finishes can be applied and will adhere to the polymer frame as well as the metal slide. Magazine base plates can be changed. Oh, wait--there's just as much you can do to make this weapon "your own."

The second generation Glock Model 19 shown to the right has had the slide DuraCoated OD Green, XS Sights 24/7 Standard Dot Night Sights installed and sports a +2 floorplate on the magazine for a total capacity of 18 rounds of 9mm in the weapon. This particular pistol has been "part of the family" since the mid-'90s and is one of my favorite carry guns. Off duty, if I can't carry a spare magazine for whatever reason, I end up strapping on this mid-size Glock. Again, it's not meant for precision work but instead for finding that front sight FAST and engaging a bad guy target.

This second photo (right) shows a Tac-Grip applique on my son's second generation Glock Model 22 in .40S&W. For him, the application of this friction increasing material and the installation of the XS Sights 24/7 Standards was all he wanted to do. He has three 15-round magazines for it and an additional 10-rounder (holdover from the Clinton gun ban years). On his first outing with the new grips and sights he increased the accuracy of his shot placement while decreasing the time he used to place them. Anytime your accuracy is increased while your shooting time is reduced, I view that as a good thing.

So, just as I said earlier: what you decide to do to modify your weapon depends entirely on two things:

  1. What YOU want to do to the weapon and
  2. What YOU want to do with the weapon.

What is the environment you expect to shoot in? How much accuracy of shot placement do you demand? Will it be a combat or a competition weapon? Do you want it to be a distinctive color? Or sport a distinctive pattern? All of this is possible without hiring a gunsmith. But figure it out first and then do it a piece at a time. In the end, you'll have a weapon that everyone can recognize as yours... and you'll be happy with that.

Stay Safe!!