JTT: If You Ever Wondered How To Paint a Rifle, Read This

Why might you want to paint your rifle? There are a few reasons. Many rifles are black or dark-colored, which is a major target indicator. If you believe your rifle might be used for “social purposes,” then earth tones might be for you. Breaking up the outline would be a very positive thing.

Aside from that, if you live in a warm/hot climate, rifles get very hot in the sun. Adding some lighter colors will help prevent your rifle from becoming a scorcher. This applies not only to the range but also when you are out hunting.

Ruger American Predator with Aervoe Coyote Brown base coat.
The rifle, a Ruger American Predator, with the base coat on.

Sometimes, we just like a change, and painting a rifle can simply look neat. People add all sorts of “bling” to their rifles to make them personalized and to look neat. Adding some colors can really personalize our firearms.

There are certain circumstances where I would not advocate painting a firearm, and that is if it is issued by an agency. Be sure to ask first, because some agencies would not take kindly to your customizing their equipment!

Also, if you plan on reselling or trading in your firearm, it might not be the best idea to paint it.

How To Paint A Rifle

Pick Out The Paint

What materials will be needed (aside from a firearm)? I chose a few different paints, including Aervoe brand Coyote Brown, which is a pretty durable paint. I used this choice as my base coat because Coyote blends well in most of the environments that I’d use my gear in. This paint isn’t cheap; when I finally found some on Amazon, it was around $20 for one can! But friends recommended it so highly that I had to try it. I wanted a durable, functional base coat.

The balance of paint that I used was Krylon, which is not as durable, but it’s cheap and available. I chose Olive Drab and Sand.

The three main paints that I used. The base coat was in Aervoe Coyote Brown, which is an all-around versatile color.
The three main paints that I used. The base coat was in Aervoe Coyote Brown, which is an all-around versatile color.

To get used to how the paint cans function, I painted a few AK and AR magazines, which gave me some valuable practice to get the hang of things. I recommend playing around a bit on some items that are not expensive to get some practice, it will pay dividends in the long run.

Netting or Stencils Can Be Used to Create Patterns

You can also include some netting for variety. Lay the netting over the area to be painted, and when you spray, it will give you a sort of “grid” pattern to further break up the outline of the weapon. Remember throughout this project that you are in charge! If something does not turn out the way you like, then you can always repaint it, so relax and have some fun with the project.

Netting can be laid over the stock in preparation for paint.
Netting can be laid over the stock in preparation for paint.
How to paint a rifle - use netting to get a grid pattern.
You can see the grid pattern that the netting leaves.

If desired, you can use cardboard or a manila folder to cut some stencils of camouflage patterns into. You can hold these near the rifle and spray them to give a camo pattern to the surface of your rifle. I did not opt for this route, but some friends have reported favorable results with this method.

Painting a Rifle, Step by Step

1. Make Sure It’s Clean!

The first thing I did was wipe the rifle down with rubbing alcohol to make sure the surfaces were clean and free of oils and solvents. This only took a minute, no need to overdo it.

Letting the rifle sit in the warm sun for about 15 or so minutes will help because the surfaces will heat up, helping the paint to dry more quickly. It’s not necessary to heat it up enough to fry an egg on the surfaces.

2. Tape It Off

After that, I taped up everything that I didn’t want to be painted, including the lenses of the scope and the adjustment ring, the bolt, the safety catch, and the trigger area, along with the muzzle of the rifle. Pretty much everything else gets painted.

tape off portions you don't want to be painted.
After the rifle is cleaned, tape all portions that should not be painted. I used mostly masking tape.

3. Apply the Base Coat

Personally, I just gave everything a base coat of Coyote, making sure to hold the paint can about a foot away from the rifle so as to gradually lay on several coats of paint. Be careful not to hold the can too closely because the paint will load up and run quickly.

Once the base coat is all set, I recommend letting it dry. Allowing the paint to cure for a few days helps a lot. Handling it too quickly will mar the fresh paint (ask me how I know).

Ruger American Predator with Aervoe Coyote Brown rifle paint.
Another shot of the base coat. I had overlaid a piece of netting on top, but then decided to spray over that, opting for a solid finish. Remember, you can redo it if you don’t like the results!

4. Use More Color to Add Patterns

The next order of business is adding splotches or streaks of color to that base plate. You can also use that netting to lay over the base color for the grid pattern, which can give neat looking results. Again, if you don’t like it, just hit it again with the rattle can and it’s instantly redone. For my splotches, I chose to go mostly with the OD green.

I tried to balance the brown and green on my rifle to best match the most conditions that I’d use the rifle in for my area.

painted barrel stripes to break up the outline.
Here’s a close up of how I painted the barrel stripes just enough to break up the outline.

If you finish up and decide that the color of your rifle turned out a bit too light, you can darken the color by very lightly spraying the affected parts from about 18 inches away with a darker color such as OD Green. Be cautious because it can get too dark very quickly; you’re just dusting the overall finish! Conversely, you can lighten up the colors in the same manner. I can’t stress enough that you need to be subtle because it can quickly get away from you and over-darken or over-lighten.

How to paint a rifle - image of finished job.
The finished job on the lawn.

The main goal is to break up the outline, and prettiness is not the goal. Depending on your skills and creativity, though, results can be pretty impressive. As I said before, if it doesn’t turn out how you’d like, you can always paint over it.

rifle camouflaged in cornfield after rifle paint is applied
A shadowy portion of the cornfield really makes the rifle blend!
The rifle really blends with local vegetation.
The rifle really blends with local vegetation.

camouflaged with vegetation.

There Are Other Ways to Paint a Rifle, Too.

There are other, more durable treatments that can be used for your rifles (and other firearms), such as Cerakote or Duracoat, but these require special measures such as baking the finish on, which entails stripping down the firearms and jumping through all sorts of hoops. The purpose of using simple rattle cans is in keeping with my simple, easy approach that is also economical and quite practical to do at home.

Well, there you have it. If you decide to forge ahead with the project, take your time and plan it out. The results can be very rewarding.

 

Read More: Just the Tip: Painting Your Optics

Jim Davis: read more of his articles.

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Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities.


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One thought on “JTT: If You Ever Wondered How To Paint a Rifle, Read This

  • June 22, 2020 at 3:55 pm
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    Put down the rattle can and step away from the firearm!!!

    Paint is absolutely one of the worst things you can spray on a firearm for a finish!
    Other than the obvious that most rattle can finishes cannot withstand solvents let alone high temps, the biggest concern is with what we call tolerance build-up. Simply put, most spray paints will apply at 1-5mil thick. When you apply multiple coats via multiple colors this can stack up quickly & cause all sorts of functional concerns. A proper firearm finish is typically under 1mil total.

    There is a MUCH better way…
    We have been teaching folks for years how to apply mission specific camo….first use a REAL finish such as Cerakote or KG Gunkote as your solid base. Totally disassemble the action from the stock (or chassis). Items such as scopes or plastics should use an ambient cure product as most cannot withstand the heat necessary to properly cure thermal finishes. A properly applied base finish of white/tan/gray should be around 1mil thick! Then cure & reassemble…Now as described in the article, use netting, etc to create your pattern and lightly DUST with a rattle can to create the pattern & mix of colors desired, ensuring that the bolt, action, bore, lenses, controls, etc are properly masked. Allow to dry thoroughly, we recommend at least 72 hrs!

    The subsequent finish will be sufficient for any mission task at hand and afterwards may be returned to its solid appearance by simply taking a can or Carb or brake cleaner to strip off the rattle can finish. Again, use care around lenses & plastics, but this results in MUCH less gunk which will accumulate into actions from attempting to clean a straight rattle can finish.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen plenty of functional rattle can finishes in use in the field where the proper equipment simply wasn’t available but if you’re thinking about this approach on a multi-thousand dollar platform, then spend a bit more time, and yes…just a bit more money and do it right! I’m one of the few appliers of firearm finishes that recommends people give it a try themselves. The material costs to put a proper base coat on a rifle can be as low as $25-50 and decent results can be achieved by a hobbyist with a cheap Harbor Freight airbrush. In the end it provides a much more durable permanent finish which protects the firearm and also allows much easier cleaning.

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