Dress Your Firearm for Success
If you’ve recently purchased a firearm and some ammo to feed it, you may think you’re good to go. That is until you roll out to the range and notice that the shooter to your right has a very cool red-dot optic while you’re firing away using open iron sights. Or the shooter to your left has a compensator on the end of their barrel that seems to eliminate muzzle rise as they send round after round from follow-up shots through the same hole in the center of their target.
Suddenly, your barebones rifle seems a bit…well, bare, and you start to wonder, Do I need to accessorize my firearm? Will adding accessories take my gun to the next level?
If you’re asking yourself these questions, then you’re entering the next stage of firearm ownership: accessorizing. The good news is that it’s fun to do and could take your firearm from ordinary to extraordinary. The bad news is that it can be addictive, expensive, and it’s easy to go overboard.
So, here’s some friendly advice to help you get the most out of your accessorizing journey.
IDENTIFY THE INTENDED USE OF THE FIREARM YOU’RE ACCESSORIZING
Hopefully, this is something you already did before you purchased your firearm, but if you didn’t, understand that what you put on your gun should be strongly influenced by what your intended use for that gun is. Will you be using that firearm primarily for…
- Home defense?
- Recreational shooting?
A firearm’s intended purpose plays the largest role in determining which accessories to add to it. For example, if you purchased a tactical shotgun for home defense, it makes no sense to mount a heavy, high-magnification scope to it because it’s used in close quarters. Adding a sling or a light would make much more sense.
Likewise, a red-dot optic may be fine for shooting at paper targets up to 100 yards away, but if you bought a long-range bolt gun with hopes of taking down a trophy elk, then you’re going to want to invest in a high-quality, high-magnification riflescope.
LESS TRULY CAN BE MORE
Once you’ve identified the primary purpose of your firearm and are ready to start accessorizing, it’s a prudent move to start slow, especially if you’re not sure which accessories you need or want. Your firearm is a fully functioning gun right out of the box, so unless an accessory contributes to its functionality, it’s probably better not to add it.
For example, if you purchase an AR-15-style rifle you intend to use primarily for home defense, you wouldn’t want to add a bipod to its forend, which may help steady the rifle for longer-distance shots but would only weigh down the front end for close-quarter use. It contributes nothing to the firearm’s performance for its intended use.
Everything you put on a firearm adds weight and added weight makes it less maneuverable and more of a burden to carry for extended periods of time or over great distances. Weight may not be as much of a consideration for a firearm you mainly intend to carry down a hallway to investigate strange noises in your home, but it is with, say, a hunting rifle you’ll be carrying over rugged terrain for mile after mile in search of a trophy animal.
Try not to turn your firearm into a “Franken-rifle,” with every inch of it loaded down with bells and whistles you’ll rarely, if ever, use. The reality is that very few people on this planet need that many accessories to accomplish their mission. And those who might are likely hardcore professionals who recognize that, in the field, less truly can be more.
EMPHASIZE QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
Purchase accessories that are made right and built to last, not less-expensive products made by lesser manufacturers that cut corners. You may save a little money in the short term but, if you need to replace an inferior accessory not backed by the manufacturer, any savings will be short-lived. You also do not want a cheaply made accessory failing just when you need it most, defeating the whole purpose of having it on your firearm.
Equally as bad is an accessory that never worked right in the first place, such as an out-of-spec rail that won’t accept in-spec lights or optics. Rather than stock up on inexpensive, cheaply made accessories, invest in quality accessories manufactured by companies with outstanding reputations, like Daniel Defense.
Be sure to check the manufacturer’s warranty on any accessories before you purchase them. If the maker doesn’t stand behind their product, why should you believe in it if they don’t? Depending on the accessory’s purpose, it literally could be a matter of life or death if that product fails to perform reliably when you need it most.
ACCESSORIES YOU MAY WANT TO CONSIDER
There’s no road map to accessorizing your firearm the “right” way, but there are general categories you will want to consider. Let’s start with the one category that will serve as an attachment base for many of the other accessories you may choose to add—a rail.
The three main rail systems to choose from are Picatinny, KeyMod, and M-LOK. The primary difference between the three is the type of attachment system they use, as well as their construction and weight.
Picatinny is the oldest and most battle-proven of the three systems and has traditionally been used by the military and law enforcement, so most all accessories come in a version that attaches to Picatinny rails. KeyMod and M-LOK are newer attachment systems, with M-LOK being the newest of the three.
Picatinny is the heaviest of the three systems and, because of its sharp angles and edges, can be the least comfortable to hold. Comfort is a consideration because, on many rifles, the rail is part of the forend, or is the forend, so a shooter’s support hand will typically be in contact with it. A glove or foregrip can aid with comfort, but if you don’t want to use either of those, know that a Picatinny forend could be harder on your hands.
KeyMod and M-LOK are typically lighter than Picatinny rails because they are more skeletonized and feature cutaways as part of their attachment systems, which simply results in less metal making up the rail. These two types of rails frequently also feature a Picatinny section or two, or you have the option of adding sections of Picatinny that attach via KeyMod or M-LOK.
All three systems offer sturdy attachment, and many accessory manufacturers offer models compatible with each. Over the past few years, KeyMod seems to be a bit on the decline, but many shooters prefer it and still use it, so KeyMod rails and accessories are still readily available.
No matter which type of rail you select, make sure it is in-spec. If you purchase a cut-rate, cheap knock-off that’s out of spec, there’s a good chance the in-spec accessories you buy won’t attach properly.
Most all firearms come standard with iron sights, but chances are you’re going to want to upgrade to a more-advanced optic to increase its accuracy and range. The type of optic you choose will, again, depend on the intended purpose of the firearm. With a rifle, a red-dot optic, which, like it sounds, places a red dot on your target, is typically effective out to 100 yards or so. For ranges beyond that, you’re going to want to use a riflescope with magnification capability.
Selecting an optic is an entirely separate article; just suffice it to say that you want a well-built optic constructed of high-quality components and glass from a reputable manufacturer. After that, a lot of it comes down to personal preferences, such as which type of reticle it uses, magnification, light sensitivity, field of vision, and how much you want to spend.
SLING & SLING MOUNTS
A sling not only makes a firearm easier to carry, it can also assist in maneuvering the gun and even steading it for a shot. There are three basic styles of slings: single-point, two-point, and three-point. Depending on your firearm, it may already have sling attachments, or you may have to purchase them separately and attach them to the gun.
A light on a rifle, pistol, or shotgun used for home defense offers several advantages:
- It allows you to see the layout of your surroundings,
- It lets you properly identify your target and helps prevent accidental shootings,
- It can temporarily blind an aggressor, providing a tactical advantage, and
- It could overwhelm an aggressor and cause them to surrender without the need to escalate force.
There are hundreds of mounted lights available for hundreds of firearm models from a slew of manufacturers. In choosing a light, you’re going to want it to be ergonomic and easy to operate without significantly altering your grip on the gun. You’re also going to want it to be bright enough to do the job and robust enough to endure recoil from the firearm.
If you choose to mount a light to your gun, be sure that you train with the light attached. A light is going to affect the weight, balance, and maneuverability of a firearm so, if you plan on deploying it with a light, make sure the light is attached when you practice maneuvers or work on your marksmanship with that gun.
HOLSTERS & CASES
If your firearm is a handgun, you’re going to want a good holster for it. If you plan on using it for concealed carry, you’ll want a special inside-the-pants concealed holster. A good holster should be ergonomic, sturdy, comfortable, and hold the handgun securely.
For transporting your gun, a good case will protect your investment and, if it locks, can be a good way to secure your gun and keep it safe when not in use.
Furniture refers to the gun’s stock. If you’re looking to make your firearm fit you better, or to reduce weight, switching out its buttstock and/or forend with furniture that fits your frame better than what the firearm came with may be a good move. The more the gun is an extension of you, the better you’ll shoot with it.
A foregrip mounted to the front of your rifle can make a gun more maneuverable and controllable and also protect your hand from heat or a jagged rail that could make short work of a soft, fleshy hand.
BINOCULARS OR SPOTTING SCOPE
When sending rounds long distances, you’re going to need to know where they’re hitting to dial in your rifle. A quality pair of binoculars or good spotting scope can be worth its weight in gold to help with this task. If hunting is your thing, binoculars can also help you find prey you might not otherwise see with the naked eye. This is the one accessory that won’t add any weight to your gun, but you will still have to carry it.
There are three types of muzzle device that can be attached to the end of a firearm’s barrel: a muzzle brake, a compensator, and a flash hider. A muzzle brake significantly reduces recoil, but it also helps minimize muzzle rise. A compensator primarily reduces muzzle rise, but it also helps reduce recoil. A flash hider reduces a firearm’s flash signature.
All three could help you shoot better. If you’re not anticipating a recoil punch, and the muzzle is rising less, that obviously makes it easier to concentrate and put shots on target. If you’re firing at night, not being hindered by a blinding flash also aids with accuracy. A flash hider also offers a tactical advantage in that it helps disguise a shooters location.
GO FOR IT!
You don’t have to spend a fortune to accessorize your firearm and take it to the next level. And you don’t need to add everything all at once.
Buy one or two accessories, try them out, and see how you like them. Maybe that’s all you’ll need. Then, as your needs or interests change—or your firearm collection expands—go a little further or try something new. Ask your friends what they’re using, do some research online or in forums, maybe even ask the guy at the range how he likes what he’s using. Go slow and have some fun with it.
There’s no right or wrong answer. Just what’s right for you and your needs.