The trials and tribulations (and triumphs) of rifle upgrades


In the run-up to the Presidential inauguration next week, a number of friends asked me (as others did earlier last year) to work with them to bring their personal defense rifles “up to speed”, fully in order to protect against possible unrest, riots, etc.  I’m not a firearm dealer or gunsmith, so I don’t take guns in and keep them while repairing them – that would mean I’d have to get a gunsmith’s Federal Firearm License.  Instead, I work with them to diagnose what’s wrong and/or what’s needed, they and I order the parts, and then we get together and I show them how to install them.  It’s simple and legal.

I’ve been doing a fair amount of that over the past few weeks.  It’s been rendered far more difficult because everyone and his brother appear to be buying any and every part available, to fix up their own rifles and/or build more, in case the next Administration tries to make it more difficult to do so.  That means some critical parts (e.g. enhanced triggers, quality barrels, etc.) have been sold out most places we’ve looked, and stay that way every time we check.  However, the vendors are getting more supplies in – it’s just that they sell out within minutes of being posted on their Web sites.  The only way to “get yours” is to check their sites daily, sometimes multiple times daily, and pounce on something when it appears.

That happened to me yesterday – twice, in fact.  I needed several of a particular part, which is extraordinarily hard to find at present.  I logged into the Web site of one vendor to find that they had stock of it, after weeks of having none.  I instantly ordered what I needed, and the transaction appeared to go through:  but then the display changed at once to “out of stock”.  Puzzled, I got hold of a support person at the vendor.  She confirmed that they’d gotten just a few of that part, and listed them only a few minutes before.  They’d all been sold within 5 minutes, and I’d scooped the last available examples.  I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.  I guess a lot of other people were doing the same thing as I, visiting the Web site frequently in the hope of finding what we need.  I got lucky this time.  Color me happy!

I also dropped into my local firearms dealer, on the off-chance that he might have received new stock.  Sure enough, he had – a bolt carrier group from a particularly well reputed manufacturer, one that I buy preferentially whenever they’re available.  He quoted me a price that’s higher than what one would normally pay for it, but still less than it’s being sold for by some online vendors (when they have stock, which isn’t often these days).  I didn’t hesitate, and walked out with it in my hot little hands.  One of my friends is going to be very happy to get it – his is rather worn, and there’s a crack developing in the metal.

My stock of spare parts is getting very depleted through all this.  I daresay that by next week, I’ll be down to one or none of most parts;  but given the timeline of events, I’ll accept that in the interests of getting this done before the 20th, and resupply as and when I can.  Who knows what might happen after that date?

If you own an AR-15 and intend to practice with it a lot, I strongly suggest that you keep in stock at least the following spare parts for it, in case of future need.  (Frankly, if you shoot a lot, have a second rifle on standby as well!)  I’m going to link to particular vendors and manufacturers here for simplicity, but remember you can find equivalents from many other suppliers – you’re not limited to what I mention here.  These are just examples.

  • At minimum, a spare bolt;  if possible, a complete bolt carrier group.  Have one for every different cartridge you shoot – I keep 5.56x45mm and 7.62x39mm bolts in stock, plus a single bolt carrier that can accommodate either of them.  Also, I highly recommend keeping a spare bolt repair kit for each bolt, including a spare firing pin.
  • A spare buffer spring.
  • At minimum, a field repair kit;  if possible, a full lower parts kit, to replace any plunger, pin or spring that may be damaged or go missing during disassembly.
  • A spare gas block, gas tube and gas tube roll pin that will fit your barrel’s gas system.
  • If you use an electronic sight (e.g. a red dot sight), consider keeping a spare unit in reserve, in case something happens to your primary sight.  This doesn’t have to be as good as the primary unit;  you can save money on the backup.  For example, I know one shooter whose primary sight is an Aimpoint Micro H-2, costing over $800 at current prices.  His backup sight is a Bushnell TRS-25, similar in size and function, but costing less than $100.  (For less affluent shooters like myself, we’ll use the TRS-25 or equivalent as a primary sight, thank you very much!)  Also, keep sufficient spare batteries on hand for everything on your weapon (sights, lights, etc.) that may need them.
  • The necessary tools, lubricants and cleaning agents to use all of the above, plus an understanding of how to do so.  If you’ve never built an AR-15 yourself, a good book(s) about it is essential (for the most comprehensive treatment, I highly recommend Patrick Sweeney’s 4-book series), plus watching some of the instructional videos on YouTube.  I recommend those from Midway USA and Brownells for conciseness and accuracy.

SurvivalBlog offers advice on “investing” in firearms and components as early as possible, before the new administration can impose more restrictions on us (scroll down at the link to “Some Suggestions”).  I can only endorse their recommendations.  I’m doing what off-paper, face-to-face deals I can in my area, as part of my own preparations.  Prepare before the emergency, not during or after it!

Happy shooting!



  1. Don't forget to have batteries on hand for anything else you regularly need them for.
    In particular, critical items like flashlights, hearing aids, communications or security, etc.

    Peter, What do you think the likelihood of shortages due to unrest is in the next couple of months? If you think it is significant, can you suggest some items to have on hand in case they occur?

    1. Primers. Large and small, rifle and pistol. Even if you don't yet reload, without these, you can't start.
      Know someone with machining skills and/or have a small lathe, drill press, and milling machine.
      Medecine, water, and food like stuff for 3 to 6 months.
      A clear eye on the end goal of surviving this mess and rebuilding our nation.
      Good luck.
      John in Indy

  2. You are correct, ANY spare parts are in short supply right now… And I don't see that improving anytime soon, nor is the ammo shortage. Sigh…

  3. @Jonathan H: I think there will indeed be shortages, but they'll vary across the country. What may be in short supply in one area may be abundant in another. I don't think it's possible to put your finger on one thing (except guns and ammo!) and say it'll be short everywhere. You'll have to look at how the past year has been in your part of the country, and stock up on things that ran short.

  4. Agreed on the books by Patrick Sweeney add his tool column in the Gun Digest magazine. To that I would add all the books by Zediker. Many but not all of Sweeney's books are poorly edited and proofed. Zediker's books reflect an indulgent approach to language and need a close reading and rereading but go beyond Sweeney's books. It's no reflection on Sweeney to say his audience is mass market and Zediker goes beyond to a more informed and interested market. Worth a look even if the intention and interest is a simple build.

  5. I'll agree, spare parts for guns is critical and while an AR may get "some increased use" don't forget parts for your daily carry.

    Beyond that, I suspect we'll see disruptions in availability of things we take for granted in other areas, such as vehicle belts, hoses, filters, wiper blades, tires, etc., appliances, rugged clothing, spare eyeglasses, boots, and so on. If anything you regularly use is marginal, or even just becoming worn, now would be a good time to take care of that or procure a spare (actually, late 2019-to-mid-2020 would have been better, but….).

  6. Funny I was checking my rifles yesterday and one of the EOTechs did not come on. I thought it must be a battery issue but when I took the batteries out, a rubber washer came out with them. Fixed the issue short time by swapping the spare EOTech and LaRue Tactical mount. I take it to the range and re-zero this week.


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