You’ve done your research. You found exactly the gun to suit your needs. You went to Fudd’s Gun Locker or wherever you decided to buy your new defensive tool from and did your background check, picked out some ammo, and now there is a cold lump of metal and probably plastic (since most guns nowadays have some plastic parts on them) sitting in it’s case in your closet. If you’re smart, you’ve at least flipped through the manual to get an idea how it breaks down for cleaning so you can maintain it. Maybe you’ve LARP’d around the house pretending to be a Navy SEAL like you’ve seen in the movies. Now you’re watching Commando and browsing the internet looking for upgrades for your new toy to make it “tacticool” for when you go hit the range.
We all make modifications to our weapons on some level or another. We love making things our own. Modifying the things we buy to make them suit our needs a little better is done by lots of people from all different walks of life. The firearms community is no exception to this. There is a huge aftermarket for lots of different makes and models of firearms. Regardless of what you decided to buy for yourself, there is a pretty high likelihood you will be able to find at least one or two upgrades available for it. For the sake of this article We’re going to focus on some of the most common weapons people buy: The AR15 rifle and Glock pistol. I’m going to keep this pretty basic and most of this information can be applied to just about any rifle or handgun, so don’t feel like it doesn’t apply if you decided to get an AK-47 or a Sig P320.
There are some things I always change straight away when I buy a new Glock. I’ve had a few over the years and every single one has had the same shortcomings from the factory. Glock factory sights are garbage and the trigger is absolutely atrocious. The same can be said for a lot of guns. Sights seem to be getting better and better, but a lot of factory triggers still leave quite a bit to be desired. Most pistols have some sort of option out there to enhance the trigger. It may be a drop in trigger unit or it may be a spring pack, or it could just be a new trigger shoe or shoe and bar that offers improved geometry for a better overall trigger feel. I like the triggers on my guns to be smooth and consistent. If I can remove any sort of slop, excessive pull, mushy reset, or any other factors that impact how it feels to depress the trigger or reset the action upon release of the trigger, I will do so. As for the sights, I just don’t like Glock factory sight alignment. I don’t know if its just me or if it sucks for everyone else too and they just get used to it, but I hate the Glock factory sights. I always swap out for night sights if they are available for my pistols. I like to have a simple, traditional 3-dot sight picture. Honestly, aside from magazines, thats all you really need in a defensive pistol. Don’t get all wrapped up in bling pins and threaded barrels and red dot sights. It’s a pistol. If you want to go crazy with the latest and greatest tungsten guide rod and titanium striker and you want to trick out your gun so it looks like you picked it up off the set of John Wick 3, more power to you. That stuff is available because people use it and like it. If this is your first gun though, go shoot it first. You may find you don’t really need or want all of that. (By the way, if you DO want the gun from John Wick 3, you can arrange to have all that work done by the same guy who did it for the movies HERE. That price is to have the work done to your gun though,. You’re not buying a pistol, you’re buying services for your pistol.) If you plan to carry your pistol, you’ll need a holster (and more than likely a CCW). If you want a light, go for it, just remember, they add bulk and weight and can limit your holster options.
The rifle is where you can really go off into the weeds and get lost in the world of custom modifications. Optics, sights, handguards, lights, lasers, triggers, stocks, slings… there is a lot of shit out there for rifles. I’ll go through this as simply and logically as I can so that you can build up along a sensible train of thought. Again, we are talking AR-15, but the bulk of this will apply to most modern rifles.
The AR has two major factors going for it that really set it apart from anything else: ergonomics and modularity. Very few rifles nowadays come equipped with the 2-piece plastic handguard that was traditionally equipped from the factory in the early days of this platform. For the sake of this article we will assume the firearm in question has a modular system like a picatinny rail, M-Lok, or Keymod handguard. The majority of rifles found for sale through a quick google search have some version of one of those systems already equipped.
Setting up an AR really boils down to the needs of the end user. Some things have a universal value or appeal while others are quite specific. The on thing I feel any AR user can benefit from is a flashlight (again, this goes for any sporting rifle to include the AK, TAVOR, Galil, etc). If you are going to use the rifle as a home defense system, adding a light can be invaluable as you will likely find yourself calling upon the rifle to serve its purpose when there is little to no light. This actually serves a couple purposes. Yes, it can help you see coming down stairs in the dark, but it also can be a defensive tool. You wake up in the middle of the night to a sound, you grab your rifle. Since you just woke up, your eyes are adapted to the dark. You manage to make your way down the hall to find someone forcing their way through the front door. From the landing you hit them with blinding white light from your tactical light. Their night vision is now sufficiently fucked. You may be able to come down on them with nonlethal force at that point and not have to fire a single shot. If need be though, you now have the advantage of shooting from behind that blinding white light. You can positively identify your target and engage with accuracy. A weapon light is one of the only “across the board” accessories I can advocate for. Whether it’s a pistol, shotgun, or rifle, a weapon light serves the same purpose and gives the same advantage.
Back tot he topic of rifle specifics, a good optic is always a worthwhile investment. As with any sort of optic, you get what you pay for. Skimping on your optic budget will skimp on optic performance. That $50 red dot you can pick up at the local sporting goods store is going to give you $50 performance. The only optic I’ve seen take a beating and still perform that cost less than $100 was the Primary Arms Compact Red Dot. It is as basic as a red dot can be, uses industry standard mounts, and it’s affordable. If you really want to cut down your budget by getting a low cost optic, that seems to be the best option. I prefer Eotech for my rifles, but I had an Aimpoint on my service rifle for a long time and it was a good optic. There are lots of options out there for low power variable optics as well. The Trijicon ACOG takes some practice to get used to, and for close range in a home defense scenario they are not the most practical choice. I would say stick with either a low power variable with an illuminated reticle or a red dot sight. Something to keep in mind if you prefer the AK or a rifle that doesn’t have a close eye relief as a standard feature, you may need a special mount or you may not be able to use something with a specific eye box like a LPVO.
Lasers are cool. Movies have used weapon lasers for a long time because of the cool visual effect. But they work both ways. You can see where you’re aiming, but the bad guy can see where you’re aiming from. Lasers can be useful, but really the best application for them is as a night vision accessory when they are operating in the infrared spectrum. That isn’t to say they aren’t useful as a backup for if you got to handle a break in like I mentioned earlier and the battery in your optic has gone out. If you have a green laser zeroed to your rifle and you’re already using a white light, there really is no harm in using an aiming laser. This shouldn’t be the first thing you run out and buy to slap on your rifle though.
Ergonomics on a rifle are important. There are all kinds of stock and grip options out there for the AR and now there are a few for the AK as well. Make your rifle fit you the way you want it to. Change the angle of your grip to make manipulating it more comfortable. Get a wider or narrower stock to help you get the cheek weld you want. Maybe your rail gets a little hot under sustained fire so you’ll want a drop grip or rail panels. Try things out and see what you can find that works for you. There is no one right answer out there.
Something to keep in mind with all of these things is weight. Anything you add to your rifle is added weight which will in turn slow down the speed at which you can handle, maneuver, and manipulate your weapon. Don’t add a bunch of gee whiz tacticool shit you don’t need just to have a bunch of “look at me” cool guy shit on your rifle for range day. Keep It Stupid Simple. A home invader isn’t gonna care how sweet your gear is. It needs to be functional for you and serve a practical purpose. Otherwise it’s just useless dead weight.
As a side note, I’d like to mention the sling. People seem to put a lot of focus on the sling. Again, keep it simple. I use a convertible sling that I primarily use as a single point. I can drop it in transitions and it hangs by my side while I utilize my sidearm. If I need it on my back, I can transition to a 2-point and put it on my back. I rarely put my rifle on my back though. It’s functional FOR ME. That really is the key point there. Some guys prefer a 2 point because they can manipulate it however they need and there isn’t a lot that goes into it. Some guys say you shouldn’t have to manipulate your sling at all. How it is when you put it on should serve its purpose no matter how you manipulate it. That’s why I set mine up the way I have. Since I rarely sling it on my back, it goes over my gear and stays there. The QD connection makes it convenient for in and out of vehicles because I just disconnect it and then reconnect it when I get out. Far less effort than slinging and unslinging the rifle every time I make that transition. Make it work for you, keep it simple, and train with it.
All of this really comes down to that last point: TRAIN. Unless you practice your weapon manipulation skills, put rounds down range, do dry fire ready ups in your mom’s basement, none of this is really going to matter. You can have all the cool guy kit and gear you want, but unless you practice with it, it’s just a bunch of crap you don’t need. We used to say that amateurs practice until they get it right, professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong. Get training and practice your skills.
Until next time, stay safe. Stay alert, stay alive.