AR 15 Mods: 12 AR 15 upgrades you can do yourself

AR 15 mods
December 18, 2020  
Categories: Guns

AR 15 mods: let’s talk about the DIY kind. Rifle upgrades are a Good Thing, and we should all be looking to make one…but you can’t always afford the higher-end stuff (especially with what ammo costs these days!). So today, we’re not talking about high-dollar parts and accessories. Today we’ll discuss some of the best AR 15 upgrades we can think of for folks on a budget.

AR 15 Mods

AR15 Upgrades on a budget

1. Mark your Magazines. We’re starting out with something that isn’t actually a rifle mod but is as easy as it is important. Mark your name x2, magazine number x2, and loaded to XX number of rounds (x2). Yep, it seems like something stupid if you don’t do it, and it seems stupid simple to those that do but MARK YOUR MAGS. This way, you know YOUR mags are YOUR mags. No arguments. My name is right there.

And when one goes Tango Uniform, you can confirm it’s the mag and flatten it.

And when you get in a shooting, and the investigation happens, they know it’s your mag, can account for all your mags, and can account for your rounds. Otherwise, they keep hunting the two rounds you didn’t load for a long time.

Cost: a silver sharpie marker, $3.00.

2. Mark your sight settings. When you get a perfect zero, mark your damned settings. People like to dick with knobs, adjustments, etc. And as much as we all say “No one touches my rifle because I never leave it unattended,” you may have to set it down in the office to take a leak, someone may borrow your patrol vehicle, it may get picked up off the rack at the range by someone who “mistakes” it for his, or you may just bump it. Who knows? But you can look and verify it’s where you left it and fix it if it ain’t. Why risk it? I use, you guessed it, a silver Sharpie marker.

AR 15 mods

AR 15 mods


3. The “Askins H” Front Sight. Col. Charles Askins was a gunfighter back in the day, and he used to tie a white bandanna around the muzzle of his shotgun so he had a poor man’s night sight. I use a silver Sharpie marker to paint an H on the front sight tower. In lower light, you can roughly line it up using the top of the H as goalposts. Line him up, then activate your light. You know the rest. It also helps with the old recoil-had-me-looking-at-the-wing-instead-of-the-front-sight problem. It’s a common problem for new shooters and easily fixed with a silver Sharpie. You can thank my friend, the incomparable Ed Head of Gunsite, Down Range TV, and retired Border Patrol Agent, for helping me figure this out.

Askins H Front Sight

The Askins H. may be the simplest AR upgrade in this whole lineup. Take a white or silver marker to the wings of an AR15’s front sight post that has an orange or other brightly colored front sight pin. This was inspired by a story of Col. Charles Askins as told by Ed, Head of Gunsite. Col. Askins used to tie a white bandana around the muzzle of his shotgun when out on night patrol. If a problem arose, he would simply center the white bandana on the target and let ‘er fly.

Cost: silver sharpie marker for $2.50, or free since you already have the marker.

4. The Paracord Buttstock Sling Loop. This is so simple it hurts. Pull two screws, loop paracord around the screws with the knot in the storage compartment, and screw the butt plate back down. Now mount your sling. Now the sling fits off the side as opposed to the bottom of the butt, and it hangs right.

My old A2 has this upgrade with an M60 sling. It works well as a two-point. I’ve set up SEVERAL state troopers and officers who were limited to agency-issued milsurp A1 or A2 M16s. Those guys LOVE it. Some of the best bang for the buck right here.

DIY AR 15 mods

Cost: ten inches of paracord, $0.25

5. Chalk your serial number. This simple fix is something I like, it looks good, and your agency armorer and the qualifying instructor will appreciate it. When it comes time to account for fifty or so rifles for the yearly inventory or your one, two, three, or four qualifications, those writing down the serial numbers will be done with you faster than everyone else.

All it takes is some paper towels, rubbing alcohol, Goo-Be-Gone, and the same silver Sharpie marker. Clean it, mark it, and remove the excess. Let it dry, and repeat.

Cost: Silver sharpie marker you already have, Goo-Be-Gone or another solvent, and rubbing alcohol, about $3.00.

6. Shoot thru muzzle caps. So you track the guy ten miles deep in the woods, and halfway there, you trip, and your muzzle goes point down in the mud. Is it safe to shoot? Are you sure? Did you bring a rod to clear it? You just hauled this 9lb chunk of steel and several pounds of loaded mags into the woods after an armed suspect, only to wind up armed with just your pistol. Simple fix: put a shoot-through muzzle cap on it. If you go muzzle down, the barrel stays clear. If you have to shoot through it, Nike up and just do it. Stay with the black ones because tipping your lethal weapon with orange is, to me at least, STUPID.

Cost: I just bought 100 of them off eBay for $35 shipped, so $0.35

7. ERGO GRIP Gapper. If you do any serious training with a carbine, you’ll get that super annoying blister on top of your “bird finger” middle knuckle. Yeah, I know you want to get the Magpul this and that, and trust me, I love Magpul (you guys are my spirit animal), but we’re talking super cheap and easy fixes. The Gapper works so well you’ll never understand how it’s not OEM.

Cost: $2.50

8. Secure your damned sling. This was mentioned in the comments to My Patrol Rifle and Me. I pull mine rearward, wrap it over the butt and fold back once before securing it with a good rubber band. I do the same on my shotguns. You can run the rifle with it secured like this, it’s quick to deploy, and it cures the annoying sling flop. As one reader noted, it also makes for a safer exit from a patrol car as the sling can’t hang up. My normal carry is overhead in a rack, and I let the sling hang there, as a personal preference, but when I drive another vehicle or my personal vehicle, even at the house in the safe or with the home defense AR, the sling is rubber-banded away. I tend to use brightly colored rubber bands for visibility.

Cost: a rubber band, so maybe a penny?

9. Mark the top round of each mag. You ever wonder if a mag from your bag is topped off? You should NEVER EVER go out with less than topped-off mags. Yeah, you could buy windowed mags, or you can just count the proper number (30, 28, 20, 18) into a container, then count them again as you load them. Two good counts and you are GTG. Now use a black marker to mark the top round.

Make sure to mark the back of the round too. Now when you look at the top of a mag, you can confirm it is full and GTG. And never ever rechamber a round after it has been chambered once. It may not go bang when you need it to. This time you use a black sharpie marker!

Cost: $1.50

10. Black out your rear sight aperture using a black sharpie. It just cleans it up a little and makes nicks and wear less reflective.

Cost: free because you have a black sharpie marker.

11. Color your front sight. I use a bottle of glow-in-the-dark fingernail polish in orange, but you can also use model paint or a neon painter’s pen. Once you are zeroed, degrease the front sight using rubbing alcohol and carefully paint a layer on it. Once it’s dry, go back and repeat until you have a bright orange front sight.

At night it doesn’t do much unless you charge it with a flashlight, but daytime, along with the Askins H, it makes an OUTSTANDING sight picture!

AR 15 mods

Cost: about $1.50 for a bottle of fingernail polish or $4.00 for a paint pen


12. Mark your work number or your name on your buttstock, especially if you have an issued rifle. You take 25 guys with identical rifles, run them through the range on qualifications, and someone is going to pick up the wrong rifle. Which makes for a hell of a mess to sort out in a post-shooting investigation.

Make it easy.

Put your name or work number on it. I use a silver Sharpie (surprise, right?). And it comes off, or you can mark over it with a black marker.

AR builds, rifle upgrades, and inexpensive ways to improve your patrol rifle, truck gun, or other blaster.

Cost: $FREE

So there are a few of my cheap and easy tricks. What are yours?

Further Readin’: 


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Tactical gear for tactical kids…

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Jake Bush

Jake Bush

About the Author

Jake is a LEO down Georgia-Florida way. Jake describes himself thusly: I’m a small town deputy sheriff. I’m not special forces, I’m not SWAT, I’m not metro with LAPD or a homicide detective with the NYPD. I’m basically a problem solver. Everyday I handle calls from the mundane car in the roadway, to the worst calls for service, and everything in between. What I write will be from this perspective because I have no other. I hope something I write helps you.” Jake has been a night-shifter for years, and a cop for over a decade and a half. Despite an uncanny resemblance to Peter Griffin (especially when he’s in his uniform shirt), we really like him. In fact, we count ourselves lucky to have him aboard.


  1. A.J. Unkefer

    4. The Paracord Buttstock Sling Loop. — I’m having trouble picturing what you described in the article for this one. Have any other photos of this set-up?

  2. Clarence Cochran

    This little tip isn’t a high cost one, as the gadget’s under $15. I was forever losing the rubber covers for my red dot (a Vortex Venom). Finally, I got tired of ordering and buying replacements, so I bought a Surefire Retractable Flashlight Lanyard. Punched a hole in the cover to attach the lanyard’s ring, so when the cover’s removed, it retracts back to the offside of the rifle butt where I attached the lanyard’s body. Since I’ve added this mod nearly 4 years ago, I’ve not lost another cover.

  3. KR

    On the topic of marking your irons, highly recommend documenting the “mechanical zero” on the stock or somewhere easily accessible (maybe written in one of those fancy silver or black sharpies you already have). While marking the sights once they are zeroed is a great idea, the sight adjustments can make multiple revolutions and come back to the same mark, thus, looking like it is “on target” while actually being three feet high. I always recommend to anyone that shares a squad or rifle to sight in the irons first. Then tighten the front sight all the way to the base while counting the number of revolutions required, say its seven. Do the same on the rear sight, choose your windage, left or right, and adjust all the way to stop, once again counting the revolutions/ticks/etc, say thats 11. Then when some pipe hitting knuckle dragging partner of yours fiddle fu##s with your sights on a boring traffic detail you have a sure fire way to know that the sights are zeroed to you, and it only takes a minute. Adjust the front sight to the base and the rear sight to (whichever you choose) the stopping point and back them both out the prerequisite number of clicks/revolutions/etc (depending on your sight). Then you know that the sight is set to you. Try it on the range, it works. Just two pennies from another beat cop. Awesome article, keep em coming!

    • Core

      We always used a casing or knife to mark the zero on the rear permanently. Any armorer with experience should be the only individuals to disassemble the rear sight aperture so its less likely to get adjusted a full revolution from zero. Colt marks commercial carbines from the factory with a tool. Two clicks below for A2 and four clicks below A3 rear sights below mechanical zero is where armorers begin true zero to 300 meters. Mechanical zero is line to line and drop the elevation 2/4 clicks respectively. Once established you can use a small file or other tool to etch it in.


    I am a DISABLED USMC VETERAN, above knee amputee, I use a safari sling to keep my rifle in front of me when hunting, I learned many years ago to use a RUBBER on the end of the barrel. especially on the shotgun, it also keeps mud etc out of the barrel. fortunately I have never put the muzzle in the dirt/mud, but when it’s raining or snowing, it keeps the moisture out of the barrel.

  5. rachel frampton

    My dad has been wanting to improve his pistol’s feature, which is why he’s currently looking for some articles that may help him with the DIY upgrades. Since I’m not an expert in this, I never knew that the grip gapper can avoid the shooter from obtaining a blister. It’s also interesting to learn that the Askins H may help activate the gun’s light.

    • Thomas C


      This stuff is insane. Honestly, if I hit the dots with my 350 lumen Streamlight for 2 sec- LITERALLY, it gets a wicked glow. This really is super bright. I’ve put this on the F and R sights of both my Ruger SR9c and LC9s Pro, as well as my AR front sight posts. I bought Green and Orange so there’s contrast between F and R sights. FWIW I put the orange on the fronts.

  6. E.T. Wall

    Just found this article. Excellent practical tips for this regular guy on a shoestring budget. Definitely applying these to my AK.

    Especially the tip about marking mags, the good ones always seem to go missing after a range trip with friends…

  7. Mark

    “JS”…the Askins H is on the FRONT sight. Then it’s ‘coolness’ bud

  8. Moose

    Link to the product is not an endorsement of the seller, but used as a demonstration of the product. Never did business with them vendor, they may be good, they may suck. On a quick google search of pics they had a good photo

  9. Moose

    Definitely trying the H and painted sign post! I too have used a silver sharpie for years to mark my mags with my initials for years. I say it’s a must do, you never know how your your co-workers take care of their gear – don’t chance it. I’ve had many of the years joke at my expense about how I have 2 pistol mags on my belt, 2 on my vest, two in a paddle holder on the driver’s side door storage bin and 2 in my gear bag.

    Likewise, my gear back has a cheap but effective military surplus Mag bandoleer in my bag. They often say ‘why do you have so many mags all over the place? Are you going to battle in Fallujah?’ I simply say I hope I never get into a gunfight, and if I do, I don’t know where it will take place. I’m not going to roll the dice and say ‘man I wish I had that 38th round but my extra mags are in my desk/locker at work, footlocker at home etc’

    Know the environments you work in. If I’m in a gunfight in a traffic stop, I’ll probably be near the driver’s side of my car. Need another mag? Oh, there 2 right in front of me in the door. Active shooter? My go-back has 6 M4 mags, my vest with rifle plates, helmet, Gas Mask (in case we deploy CS) etc. When it’s go time I can grab the gear, don what I need and be ready to respond in about a minute.

    Complacency, poor preparedness and lack of situational awareness kills. It can kill you, your partners and innocent victims.

    For those interested, here’s a link with pics of the bandoleer. If you look around you can get Them for as low as $5.

  10. JS

    Some good stuff. I have been shooting ARs for a long time and had never seen the “H” trick for the rear sight. Coolness.

    Great post.

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