Camouflage Your AR-15

FINLet’s face it: your AR-15 (or other black rifle) has a very pronounced silhouette. You may have noticed that a big, black rifle sticks out like a pair of dog balls, especially when its owner is decked out in ACUs.  Silhouette, as a military concept, is any shape that’s discernible by its outline.  Paper targets with human-sized silhouettes are a perfect example.  Our eyes are trained spot these outlines; it’s part of our visual perception.  So the purpose of camouflage is to break up a silhouette by blending a shape’s edges with its surroundings.  One thing we can do to remedy the silhouette is to paint our battle rifles.  (I would even suggest this for hunters and their hunting rifles.)  Some may try to replicate digital or ATACS camouflage and that’s alright as long as you blend the outline of your weapon with natural colors of the environment.  Here’s how I painted mine without any high tech gadgetry or expensive stencils.

If your AR-15 is a luxury item, safe queen or collector’s item, then by all means leave it black.  If your AR-15 is a tool that you expect to utilize in defense of your home, community, state, or Constitution, then please consider following these simple steps to reduce your visual profile.  Before we begin, this project took me approximately 3 hours to complete, including drying time, for two AR-15s and seven PMAGs.  (As a side note, I haven’t camouflaged my optics yet.  Those will take more time and a higher attention to detail.)

Ingredients.

I started off at my local hardware store and purchased the following:
Blue Nitrile Disposable Gloves (10 PK)…2.48
Scotch Blue 1.41″ Edgelock Painter’s Tape…3.93
Natural Sea Sponge…8.97
Rustoleum Spray Paint, Earth Brown…4.98
Rustoleum Spray Paint, Dark Forest Green…4.98
Rustoleum Spray Paint, Khaki…4.98
Grand Total…$30.32 (before tax)

I also used two plastic containers and a handful of cotton balls from the house.  You’ll definitely need these.

Depending on your locale and the colors natural to your environment, consider using different shades.  I prefer the three color (khaki, green, brown) camouflage for where I live.  If I lived in the Florida swamps, I might consider using black instead of khaki.  Just observe your surroundings and make changes to this recipe as necessary.  Before we get to Step One, just remember safety first.  I won’t bore you with OSHA standards.

Magazines.

S1Start out by taping your magazines.  I inserted one to get a good idea of exactly where it sat, and, using painter’s tape, I covered everything that would fit inside the magazine well.  My magazines tend to fit pretty tightly as it is, so I didn’t want to create any problems when inserting them into the magazine well.  Any additional friction could cause even minute problems when inserting a full or dropping an empty magazine, and those are problems we just don’t want.  If you use PMAGS with windows, be sure to cover those windows up.  Just cut thin strips roughly the size of those windows and apply them.  Lastly, don’t forget to cover up the top of the magazine where the follower is visible.  If you can see it, it will get paint on it.  (As a side note, be sure to clean and dry your magazines if they are dirty, prior to painting.)  I recommend wearing gloves when painting so the paint doesn’t get on your hands.  Spray paint sticks to things, including your hands, and it’s huge pain to clean off.

S2Finally, we can begin to spray paint.  From 12-18 inches between the magazine and the spray can, begin spray painting a khaki base and ensure an even coating.  If you hold the can too close, you’ll start pooling paint and cause it to run.  Don’t forget to paint both the sides and bottoms of your magazines.

Drying times will vary based on temperature and humidity.  I waited approximately 15 minutes before I flipped them over to paint the other side.  However long you wait, just make sure the paint is dry.  Typically, if the paint is shiny, it’s still wet.  Once you’ve applied a base coat to both sides and allowed time to dry, break out the natural sea sponge.

I tore my sponge into two pieces.  The great thing about using sea sponge is that it’s naturally porous; and ripping it in half will cause parts to jut in and out which gives us a great texture for camouflage.  Using a plastic cup or container, I took out the green spray paint and started to fill the container.  The spray paint will pool inside the container, and you’ll use this wet paint to dip the sponge.

S3Once you have paint on the sponge, test it on some cardboard to make sure that the pattern is good.  I don’t recommend a solid coating, and little breaks in the design is best.  Remember, randomness and unpredictability in the pattern is what we’re going for.  Start by blotting the sponge from top to bottom, and dip the sponge into the paint again as needed.  Find a blotting pattern that you like (top to bottom, left to right, checkered, etc.) or experiment with something different.  Your best practices from camouflaging your magazines will come in handy when you paint your battle rifle.

S4Allow time to dry, then flip and repeat.  Once the green paint is applied, do the same for brown.  I used a smaller sponge area for the brown paint.  You should try to cover up the most open areas of khaki but also apply brown in some places over the green.  Remember to produce random patterns.  If you mess up or don’t like the pattern, you can start all over with another base coat of khaki.  Just be sure to get it right prior painting your rifle.

Rifle painting.

S5I can understand some hesitation in painting your prized AR-15 or other battle rifle.  I love my AR-15s like family because I understand their importance to my future safety and survival.  Each looks different, weighs different, and has a different feel in my hands.  Your rifles are no different; each is its own beautiful masterpiece.  The bottom line, however, is that you wear camouflage while hunting or training to break up your silhouette, and your rifle – a tool – deserves the same tactical advantage.  If you allow your rifle to remain black and expect to use it while wearing camouflage, you’re setting yourself up for potential failure.  Black simply stands out against camouflage.  Keep in mind that this isn’t an art contest.  As soon as I had finished painting these two ARs, I thought I had made a horrendous mistake.  But after letting them sit and dry overnight, I came back in the morning with a new appreciation.

S6I began by removing the bolt carrier.  To be on the safe side, and regardless of how tightly your upper and lower receivers fit against each other, I recommend putting cotton balls in the top of the magazine and chamber, all the way back to the grip.  Use those cotton balls to seal any gap between the receivers and prevent paint from getting inside the weapon.  Additionally, you’ll want to put part of a cotton ball where your flash suppressor and the end of the barrel meet.

You can leave your optics on, if you’d like. I removed mine because they are going to require a little more TLC. Either way, be sure to tape up any glass on them, even if you have plastic covers on your scope or CCO.  I taped up my MAGPUL MOE grips because I like the texture they have and because my hand will be covering them.  I taped up my trigger for the same reasons.  If your trigger is shiny metal, you could use a different kind of paint to black it out.  I also taped over my serial numbers.  Finally, I taped up the rear aperture on my flip sites.  Then the fun began.

S7Just like we did with the magazines, begin by spraying a khaki base coat on your weapon.  Be sure to paint the top and bottom of the weapon as well, along with all those nooks and crannies.  I extended my butt stock all the way back so as to not leave a large black spot.  Be sure to leave a light coat over the buffer spring tube so you’ll be able to extend and collapse the butt stock as necessary and without trouble.  A light coat did not gunk up my fire selector switch, bolt lock release, or magazine drop; light being the operative word.  After that coat dries, flip it over and do the other side.

S9Just like we did with our magazines, use the sea sponge to start blotting green paint in random schemes across the weapon.  Don’t forget to blot parts on top and bottom as well, along with flip up sights or scope/CCO.  Once both sides are done and dry, add some brown in the same fashion.  I let them sit over night to dry.  I also didn’t add any heat source to cure the paint.  (The brown was a little dark when first applied but lightened in color once it dried.)

Range day.

I took them to the range the next day and was approached by a few people asking how I did the camouflage pattern.  (Welcome to the blog.)  One even thought that I had purchased it like that.  After the congratulations, I was a little concerned with the heat causing paint chipping, especially on the barrel.  After unloading a few magazines and warming things up, I inspected and found no chipping.  The only ‘issue’ I observed was a little blackening of paint on the flash suppressor, which really is a non-issue.  I’ll post a six month update or note when the paint starts to crack or chip, which ever comes first.

 

47 Comments

  1. WhiskeyT says:

    Looks sweet! Similar effect to digital, but without the painstaking process of cutting out/making all the stencils. I haven’t taken the plunge yet, but I’ve stocked up on the necessary materials. My plan is to bust out the Rustoleum when SHTF. Until then, my tools will most likely keep their factory finish (wife would snap if I spray painted my expensive tools).

    • Partisan says:

      Thank you, Whiskey! Dude, no joke; before I bought the sea sponges I was seriously dreading having to cut out all the stencils for the digital camo. Luckily my tools belong to ME – I don’t have a wife to answer to, but I feel for your pain. One thing I did notice is that some frat boys who were looking at my ARs definitely went to the Sabre, which is still black. Didn’t give two you-know-whats about my camo’d DMR. Lesson learned and theory proven!

    • Grey Knight says:

      haha, ditto!

  2. SierraMike says:

    Looks good, I wonder what kind of effect you would get from different applicant mediums. It might be worth looking into doing different patterns and colors. I will be doing this soon. I’m gonna start with my turkey gun and see how it turns out. If it turns out then I will do at least one AR with mags and maybe do a field knife, tomahawk, etc. Thanks for the info.

    • Partisan says:

      SierraMike, thank you for reading. I was thinking about possibly trying a desert tiger stripe more like the UK battle uniforms at first or about how I could replicate ATACS, which I think it a better camouflage pattern. If you try something else, send me photos and I’ll post them for others to see.

  3. Battlepuppy says:

    Possible to use high temp paint on the barrel? I think the regular rustoleum will start to burn off in sustained fire. Nasty stuff.

    Looks good though man.

    • Partisan says:

      The barrel has started to slightly lose paint on the barrel and flash suppressor but it doesn’t look bad. It’s not noticeable beyond two feet away from the weapon and doesn’t do anything to disturb the camouflage. The high temp paint would have been a good idea, though. Thank you for reading.

  4. Mike D. says:

    The cost of Duracoat and my fear of screwing up kept me from trying this on an AK rebuild. Won’t cleaning solvents take the Rustoleum right off the metal? I thought that was the benefit of using special-purpose paints like Duracoat?

    • Partisan says:

      Yes, cleaning solvents or brake cleaner will remove the spray paint if you mess up. So far, I haven’t seen CLP remove any of the spray paint. This tutorial was just to show how cheaply and easily you can apply camouflage paint to your battle rifle.

  5. walt willis says:

    Great idea if you want to minimize yourself in the back country.

    Where may I obtain a poncho that can block passive infrared detection?

    It would help to keep the weapon under wraps while on the move.

    Got some NIR BDU’s but when I tested it with the fire departments IR camera it failed the test.

    Check out my report on the web under “the story of walt willis” to see what I beleive will happen soon.

    walt

  6. SierraMike says:

    Walt,
    I have heard of IR reducing ponchos when I was in the military called DYFLON that claimed to reduce the IR signature of a person by 80%. I am not sure if it is available on the civilian market though as it is still rather new.
    Partisan,
    ATACS would be an excellent scheme, but might be a little more time consuming to pull off. It would definitely be worth it though if you get it right. As far as using high temp paint, I would use it on an AR but probably wouldn’t be necessary on a shotgun or bolt action. By the time the barrel would start peeling and flaking from the heat it would be necessary to touch up the entire gun anyway. We used regular Rustoleum on our Remington 700′s and it usually required to be touched up after a couple of months, but they had hard use not likely to civilian use except for SHTF situations. As far as solvents taking off the paint, we used Frog Lube for the exterior cleaning and CLP for cleaning the bolt, barrel and other internal areas and had no problems. I still use Frog Lube on the exterior and even some internal areas that have metal to metal contact (such as the slide on my handguns) for all of my personal guns. I love the stuff.
    Although I normally would not use this method of camouflaging on my safe queens I like this because it can be done rather quickly and with materials that most of us already have in our garages. If shit ever does hit the fan I will be doing as many guns as I have paint for.

  7. MachineGunPreacher says:

    I’ve experimented with a different type of base coat. I’ve noticed in many hunting camo patterns the back ground is a blurry version of the foreground. I’ve in the past have done a “sloppy” camo pattern by just using the spray cans creating a “blurry background” or base layer. I came back with negative stencils like grass, leaves, ferns on top to give some sharper edges. using a dry sponge would be a good way to create more sharp edges by removing some of the fresh paint. either way a good base layer of blurry background will make your camo job look way better and give it depth when trying to blend in.

  8. aproudinfidel says:

    Thanks for the article. I used a very similar technique on my rifle and mags with great results. I plan to to do my other long guns and shotguns in a similar fashion. Keep up the good work.

    • Partisan says:

      Great to know and glad to know that you’re already on the ball. Thank you for reading!

      • CuDa says:

        IF buying fresh paint check out the plastic paints offered by Krylon and Rustoleum,they are better at bonding to the stocks and mags in in many cases will be semi permanent. I have had great luck in using them in my work, another option I use is sealing the work ( where thickness isn’t a issue) with gloss or flat polyurethane giving a far more durable job.

  9. Gary says:

    The poncho that defeats IR was sold by SAAB Barracuda called the CUFFS and SOTAC.
    http://www.saabgroup.com/en/Land/Force_Protection/Signature_management/Personal_Camouflage/Suits_Uniforms/Poncho_Personal_camouflage/

    Some units recieved these in issue. They surface from time to time on the surplus market.

  10. SierraMike says:

    Gary,
    Yeah, I totally forgot about the SOTACS suit. We tried it out about 8 or 9 years ago. I don’t know what came of it but most guys really liked it. The Army never did pick it up, probably because of cost. I would like to find one to buy but I did a search and came up empty.

    • Partisan says:

      SierraMike, I also tried to find a place to purchase these. It looks like it’s probably only through contracts available to Mil/LE. I’ll keep searching and will share if I find anything. Would you please let us know if you find a place that sells them?

      • SierraMike says:

        Partisan,
        Will do. I am generally out of the loop since my retirement but I do get to some auctions and I keep in touch with old friends, so you never know. The Sotacs suit would be a particularly good item to have on hand. Maybe our European friends could get better access to some surplus suits? I think that Germany and Sweden issued these in quantity.

        • CuDa says:

          Does anyone know if reflective Mylar been tested for any IF signatures? IF it can reflect back our body heat it ( theoretically) reflect our signature as well

  11. SierraMike says:

    Partisan,
    FYI, I am going to be painting a bolt action I am building hopefully done by mid summer. I will take pics for you to check out when I’m finished. I’m not sure what scheme yet. Won’t be ACU, but maybe ATACS but I have got to figure out how to get it right first. If anyone has any ideas please post, I am open to any new ideas. This rifle is not for the safe but for the field so it doesn’t necessarily need to look pretty as long as it disappears. I’ve got a cover that I made that matches my ghillie suit but I still want it to have working camo sans the cover. Thanks y’all.

  12. Paraclete says:

    When one does arts and crafts, one should talk to an expert.
    A wipe down of liquid prep, (De glosser), will properly clean
    the surface. It removes all grime and hand oils.
    Don’t get it on plastic or rubber parts.
    It’s very HOT. (Volatile) But works Great cleaning.
    Next, an application of a “REAL” bonding primer, (Cover Stain),
    would be the wise primer choice. It does work…and comes in a spray.
    You must let it cure to ensure proper bonding.
    Usually over night is best.
    I’ve used it for twenty-nine years…it’s like gold to me.
    Then apply your top coats. Dusting each coat (lightly spraying)
    Don’t get in a hurry.
    I’ve applied this method to my ATV years ago,(woodland),
    and it holds up really well. Over the RED factory color.
    Hopefully, you’ll get the same results on your firearms.
    If they’re properly cleaned first…and you use the right primer.
    The green tape is a better choice.

    • walt willis says:

      IR FLIR will have trouble with a camo cloth more than just paint.

    • Paraclete says:

      Don’t use the de glosser on “SOFT” plastic.
      But the hand guards, and such, is fine.

    • Samuel Culper III says:

      Paraclete – I should have consulted you before I wrote this article! After 2000 rounds, I see no chipping or wearing of the paint except for two places: one being where my cheek goes on the buttstock and the other is the blackening of the paint on the flash suppressor. Seems like there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

      • Paraclete says:

        That sounds fine…for the range.
        The real test is going to be combat.

        • SierraMike says:

          When in Afghanistan and Iraq we used plain old Rustoleum on most all of our rifles. They were far from pretty but it did the job. We didn’t do any fancy treatment prior to painting other than wiping the oils off with a light degreaser. Other than a touch up periodically they held up well under very demanding conditions. I’m not suggesting that anyone should do this with a safe queen, but it would work well with your shtf gun. If one has the time and wants to spend the $ to do it right then by all means clean it properly, prime it and get the right paint. But as Samuel said, there is more than one way to skin a cat.

          • Samuel Culper III says:

            SM, be sure to pre-prime your 5.56 rounds with de-glosser. And also coat your firing pin with a “REAL” bonding primer.

          • SierraMike says:

            @Samuel Culper III
            LOL, yeah I’ll get right on that.

    • CuDa says:

      following the GSA links it is rustoleum camo paint they approve for Army use

  13. gunplumber says:

    I spend my days making other people’s guns museum pretty. Mine look like the above.

    Same technique, except I also add high contrast dots like the chocolate chip desert. My extensive study of animal camo, and the presumably short life of animals with “bad” camo, has led me to incorporate these counter-intuitive off white spots. They do more for breaking up the outline then anything else. They disrupt. The colors blend. Need both.

    http://www.arizonaresponsesystems.com/wp/camo/camoarsrpk74-05.jpg

    • Samuel Culper III says:

      Interesting. Looks good, especially in AZ. My surroundings aren’t conducive to high contrast white spots. Thank you for sharing!

      • gunplumber says:

        All environments are conducive to high contrast spots. It is what DISRUPTS the outline.

        http://www.arizonaresponsesystems.com/wp/camo/camoflounder.jpg

        • Samuel Culper III says:

          I’m not arguing with you. If high contrast white spots were great in woodland, then the Army and Marine Corps would have them. Not even the Brits use high contrast white spots in their desert uniforms.

          • gunplumber says:

            The US did with the chocolate chip desert. Belgium woodland pattern currently contains white. Multicam isn’t white, but it is high contrast. Realtree uses both black and white. Perhaps you should examine more patterns. Iraqui chocolate ship has more white than the US version. Before declaring “if it was good, the Army would do it”, consider the absolute disaster of the ACU – which made US soldiers visible from miles away, day or night. Egyptian and Italian desert also use white.

          • walt says:

            Camo is 10 times beter then no camo, and No movement is 10 times better then movement. Now if you see the other person first and are a good shot they may never get to see who had the best camo! Hope that helps!

          • Samuel Culper III says:

            Tracking. I wore ACU and multi-cam in AF/IZ. How about this: you do you.

        • Samuel Culper III says:

          Just curious: what is your extensive study of bad camo?

          • walt willis says:

            Layers of Mylar and Nomex covered with an over cover of a ghillie rag material is what I use.

          • gunplumber says:

            Huh? Mother nature is a bitch. An animal with bad camo is breakfast. Ergo, any animals surviving a million years of evolution must be displaying “good” camo. I study animal camo and look for cross-specie principles in the camo pattern. One recurring feature is the high contrast spots.

          • walt says:

            Of all the winners and losers in Nam, only the winners can give you the strait up dope on what it takes to still be here! You should be more worried about getting your field craft skills up to speed and fine a good small pariscope and learn how to dig spider holes and learn to be patient. I would like to see all of you still here after the dust settles.

  14. ChuckB says:

    Nice job. I’ve been practicing on helmets, tripods and other equipment. So far using leaves and other plants to screen my painting. I noticed that you didn’t paint your acog or eotech and it got me thinking that I treat my high end stuff like it’s something more than a tool too.

    I need to get over that and just do it, and paint the scopes while I’m at it.

    • walt says:

      I did such a great camo job on my dirt bike that when I stop to take a leak I turned around and could not find where I parked the damn bike and had to walk home…

  15. Frederick Kaludis says:

    I have used stand-off stencil made from cardboard held away from the object being camo’d. Also handy wipes these can be mounted in a light weight frame like used for embroidery and holes torn in the material because of the low cost a lot of trial and error can be done for little cost.

  16. Guy Spotts says:

    I tried this on a Savage 12 Ga I got from stepfather looks real good. I have noticed on some other tutorials some people are using satin or Semigloss, then applying a flat clear coat. I did scale modeling years ago, and can speak from experience, this is not effective at producing a flat finish. Clear flat is such a thin fine seal coat that it will not alter the glossiness of a paint.

  17. jd says:

    BE WARNED

    Some if not most paints WILL show like the full moon under night vision!

    Test your camo job under quality NOD’s

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