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Savvy Survivalist How-To
New for January 2002. Every week we will bring you an article with tips you can use to square away your gear and be better prepared for any eventuality.
First up, an article on how to camo your guns. It amazes me how long it took the shooting public to get a clue as to the uses of spray paint and gun camouflage. Several manufacturers now offer custom camouflage finishes on guns that range from exotic Teflon to painted stocks. The method covered in this article will give you results better than just about any commercial gun camo. Camo on weapons has been a trade secret of snipers for at least fifty years and has come and gone in popularity with military circles. It has had an ebb and flow of popularity among hunters, but those hunters who rely on stealth often consider camouflaged firearms a necessity. That said, fewer than 1% of guns sold on the open market have any sort of camouflage finish. Not only is there a tactical stealth advantage to the camouflage, but in today's legal climate, it can be very important to make your weapons difficult to identify.
The use of conventional paints to camouflage firearms became popular among Rhodesian soldiers and mercenaries who fought in Africa in the 1970's. Since then, specialized paints have been developed specifically for camouflage. Probably the hands down best paints on the market for this are the the Krylon Camouflage Paint System. The paints go on even and glare free and are available about a dozen colors. Those colors, in addition to conventional red and gray primer, give you plenty of choices. The paint is durable and also helps to prevent rust.
The other most useful camouflaging material is burlap. This is the traditional material used in sniper's ghillie suits but is falling out of fashion because it is very flammable. Burlap is commonly used in grain sacks, sand bags and around nurseries. Some surplus dealers can get burlap strip material in rolls that have been dyed camouflage colors for use in constructing ghillie suits. If you can find the rolls of burlap then fine, but if not, conventional tan or brown burlap is easy to paint or dye to the desired colors.
Attaching burlap to your weapons can be a challenge. First, you must do it in a way that it does not hinder any function of the weapon. Semi-auto rifles are a real challenge for this and in the case of rifles like the AR15. You will find that it is best to not put burlap around the action of the rifle. The most important outline on the weapon to break up is also the easiest one to treat with burlap. That is the barrel and front handguard area. Affixing the burlap is an aspect of the art of camouflaging. One very durable way to do this is with plastic zip ties like. They are commonly available at auto parts stores and are cheap enough to be semi-disposable. A more traditional way to attach the burlap is the military "90mph" greed duct tape. Both the tape and the zip ties have a glossy sheen to them so you should give them a shot of the flat camo paint when you are done putting the package together.
To the left, we see three guns in different stages of camo. The rifle at top has most of the camo it will need. The rifle in the center is a semi-automatic and derives camo mostly from the spray paint as burlap around the action would hinder access to the controls or disassembly of the gun. Care was taken to keep burlap away from the flash hider by putting an extra zip tie an inch behind the flash hider to hold the burlap on to the barrel. Holes were cut to give access to the front sight and sling swivel. Several tight zip ties are used to keep the burlap secure to the barrel and handguards. This can sometimes be a problem with rapid fire and barrel overheating, but the gun has a fluted barrel designed for faster cooling.
The Mossberg pump shotgun has been prepped for painting and will probably get very little, if any, burlap because burlap is likely to interfere with the action wherever it would be attached. Even on the neutral gray concrete background, you can see how the camouflage treated guns are harder to pick the details on. In a wooded environment, the difference between black guns and camouflaged guns is even more dramatic.
Start by looking at the environment that you are likely to be operating in. Don't feel obligated to go with a conventional camo pattern if it does not match your environment. Take a few pictures of your area and look at them to see what colors are common. Compare that to the colors on your field gear and clothes to chose colors that will work for you in that area. The guns shown above have been set up for use in and around the northwest coastal areas of North America. The base color is Olive Drab green and two colors of brown were added after that, but I found the lighter brown to be the most useful. Khaki is a part of the conventional woodland scheme, but I decided against it because it added too much contrast in the pattern. Some lighter colors were achieved through the use of the burlap.
Lots of camo patterns involve as many as seven different colors but I have found the old fashion designer's rule applies well to the spray paint and burlap themes: Anything over three colors will probably be tacky. The only way you will be able to really have a useful mix of more than three colors of paint will be to use masking patterns in order to compensate for over spray of colors you are spraying after the base color.
Start by masking off any parts that might be sensitive to the paint, especially scope lenses and sights. If your gun has colored markings for the safety or selector, it might be a good idea to mask that area off too. try not to introduce paint into the action of the gun, so either mask off the ejection port area or remove the bolt and put some paper towels in the action to keep the spray out. Prepping the AR 15 is easy: you close the dust cover. Clean the remaining areas with alcohol on a paper towel to make sure the gun is dry and clean of oil or leftover solvents. I found that the paint goes on best when the gun is warm and the paint can is relatively cool. Drying the paint too fast can sometimes give you glossy spots, so keep it out of the sun until the sheen from the wet paint has gone away, once that happens, you can put it out in the sun to speed up curing. In really hot or humid environments the paint will have problem sticking, and then all of a sudden glob up and start running. If you encounter this, back off, and use light coats while you let it dry between coats. The base color is the most important, but it is not necessary to completely cover the gun with it. Remember if you get a bad spot, you will have a chance to cover it up with one of the other colors. Give sufficient time between colors for the paint to dry. It does not have to completely dry, but at least let it dry enough for the sheen to go away. The more time you take on this, the better off you will probably be.
Once the gun has been painted and the paint has dried, you are ready for the burlap. It is macho to use your survival knife for cutting and trimming the burlap, but scissors are more practical. First, put test strips of burlap over the gun to and check function. You will find that there are parts you dare not put the burlap on or near because it will cause problems. Most of the time, you can burlap the gun from muzzle to breech, but not much behind that. It usually does not hurt to go with a few layers or strips in different colors, but if your burlap is all one color, it is easy to spray it in a pattern just as you had sprayed the weapons.
Start applying burlap right behind muzzle an work your way back. You can temporarily hold the burlap on parts with the duct tape until you get the pattern sorted out. It is a matter of trial, error and tweaking on the burlap pattern as you match and trim pieces to go on the gun. Once you have what you think will be the final pattern, go around the gun removing the tape and attaching the zip ties wherever you can without sacrificing comfort or interfering with any function of the gun. You have to make it so that the burlap does not flap around or come loose enough to snag on anything. Clip the excess tails off the zip ties and paint them. Note that the zip ties can have some sharp edges when you clip them and you will need to do a little more trimming to make them comfortable. In some cases, you can use a lighter to melt some of the sharp edges down, but it can also light the burlap on fire so be careful.
Once you have the camo applied to the gun, re-check function and handling to make sure that nothing in the camo interferes with using the gun. The burlap treatment not only makes the weapon harder to see, but muffles the noises made when the gun is knocked around, thus making for a much more stealthy package. If everything goes right, you now have a tactical advantage that few people ever put much energy into.