Rifle Upgrades: 12 ways to do it cheap and easy

Rifle upgrades are a Good Thing, and we should all be looking to make one…but we’re not talking about high dollar parts for your AR-15 build. Today we’re talking about some simple fixes you can do with stuff lying around the house.

JTT: Cheap and Easy, the Way We Like It (AR15 Upgrades and Fixes)

Jake Bush

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

1. 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

2. Mark your Magazines. 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, $2.50

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 goal posts. 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.

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.

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

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 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 other solvent, and rubbing alcohol, about $3.00.

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


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

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10. Black out your rear sight aperture using a black sharpie. It just cleans it up a little and makes nicks or 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. 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 builds, rifle upgrades, and inexpensive ways to improve your patrol rifle, truck gun, or other blaster.

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 make 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. 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?

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Jake Bush

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.

Jake Bush has 12 posts and counting. See all posts by Jake Bush

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