Accessories: In Depth

Firearms have always needed support gear. Centuries before man-made polymers were a thing, humans turned to natural materials to get gunpowder where it needed to be. For instance, early guns were primed and charged from powder horns (actual carved out horns), and the first bandoliers were strands of little leather flasks containing premeasured charges of gunpowder. Later in history, haversacks for paper cartridges, slings for transport, and bayonets for fighting hand-to-hand would all be found wherever muskets were. 

Firearms were personalized and customized way back then, too–whether this meant the fine engravings or metalwork of a talented gunsmith, or something a little more…earthy (like carving one’s initials into the stock). After brass cartridges began to take hold in the 1800s, belt holsters (and later, lanyards) for revolvers became quite common. Even primitive rifle scopes were showing up, and by this time, bandoliers had taken their current form, where individual cartridges were tucked tightly into leather loops.

As the 20th century dawned and repeating rifles started to show up, detachable magazines helped to feed these comparatively hungry guns. With all the extra shooting, it was important to keep these firearms clean–even though smokeless powder had tamed some of the fouling issues. Some military rifles of the early 1900s even came with cleaning kits that fit neatly into recesses in the butt stock. This was also the era that gave us Ballistol and Hoppes no. 9–famous cleaning products that are still around! In the US, the post war years saw the arrival of military surplus gear like ammo cans, helmets, tents, and fatigues. Hunters needed apparel, too–and scopes! Scopes were finally starting to be worth a damn after WWII. By the 80s and 90s, plastic magazines, cheaper rifle and pistol cases, and much better scopes were hitting the market. 

The firearms accessories market really began to flourish in the last twenty-odd years. In this time, the AR-15 platform alone has been responsible for catapulting accessory sales to new heights among the shooting public in the US. Upper receiver rails, lower parts kits, stocks, muzzle devices, and triggers are just a few of the AR components that are easily swapped or upgraded. In many cases, this has shifted work away from expensive gunsmiths and over to everyday people having fun with a garage-based hobby. In terms of technology, there’s now a variety of modern sighting systems that are useful without being unreasonably expensive: holographic, fixed magnification prism, and red-dot sights, as well as other fixed and variable magnification optics are available to suit most budgets. Holster tech, weapon lights, and range gear have also seen a big boost in this time, and devices to utilize all of them are now being produced by a cottage industry here in the US thanks to 3D printing. In fact, the domestic firearms accessory market is a great place to find small businesses worth supporting (just avoid the stuff from China). Sometimes you won’t have a choice, due to ITAR (regulations on importing defense products), but “buy American” is never a bad bet here!   

Types of Accessories

Today’s firearm accessories range in price from sub-$20 to potentially a whole lot more $$ than the guns they complement. While it may take some experimentation to discover which products are worth the cash and which aren’t, the truth is: these are fun experiments to run! Also, many modern guns are highly modular, so adding and removing accessories isn’t destructive like it may have been in the past.   


  • Red Dot and Holographic Sights - These compact electronic optics project a dot or reticle onto a window. 
  • Prism Sights - These are compact scopes that use reflective prisms to magnify rather than traditional lenses.
  • Fixed and Variable Power Scopes - Traditional rifle and pistol scopes, may be a fixed value (3x) or variable (1-6x, 6-24x, etc.)
  • Magnifiers - Most common to the AR-15 platform and other firearms with picatinny rail . These mount behind red dot or holographic sights to add magnification. Usually a relatively low value, like 3x, 4x, or 6x.
  • Manufacturing facilities around the world, particularly those in Asia, have helped prices come down on many optics–especially at the lower end of the market. The old rule of “you have to spend at least as much on glass as you did on your gun” doesn’t really apply any more. 

AR-15 / Modular Firearm

  • Lower parts - BCGs (bolt-carrier groups), triggers, charging handles, safety selectors, bolt catches, springs, pins, buffers (weights), buffer tubes, receiver extensions and more.
  • Upper receivers and components - Barrels, handguards, gas tubes, gas blocks, muzzle devices, or, all of the above!
  • Bipods / Tripods - While more common to precision rifles, these add stability to your shooting position for longer shots.
  • Stocks - AR-15 stocks are very simple to swap and easily add both functionality and character to your rifle
  • Picatinny Rail Accessories - There’s a pic rail mount for anything and everything you could possibly imagine.


  • Pistol and rifle mags are essential items. If you shoot enough, you quickly learn that these are consumable items: they will all wear out with use, eventually. 
  • A rule of thumb is to get a minimum of 3 or 4 mags per firearm, but more if you can. Magpul and other polymer mag manufacturers have made this a less expensive proposition.


  • A common upgrade for a precision target rifle and a .22LR alike, chassis make it possible to completely transform the appearance and functionality of a barreled firearm action.  


  • Weapon mounted lights are available for pistols, rifles, and shotguns. Many consider a strong light a must-have for a home-defense gun.
  • Admin lights can be used in conjunction with a firearm, or by themselves (maybe to look for your gun in the dark).


  • A good sling is a great way to carry your long gun AND a tool for stabilizing it when you shoot. 
  • Slings are available with 1, 2 and 3 attachment points. Most consider the 2-point sling to be the most useful.


  • Reactive, splatter, and other paper-based targets help make target shooting more interesting and/or challenging.
  • Targets aren’t just paper or aluminum cans any more. AR500 plates are affordable and 10x as fun to shoot. Make sure you get extra hardware to hang or mount them, since you’ll 100% be destroying whatever you use.


  • A good holster can be critically important when carrying open or concealed. It pays to do some research here.
  • Some holsters provide “positive retention” which helps lock the firearm in place. This is common with LE-style holsters.


  • You should be cleaning your guns after every shooting session. 
  • If you shoot any corrosive ammo (old or imported surplus), you definitely need to be cleaning your guns after every shooting session!
  • If you live in a humid climate, you’ll need to incorporate some rust protection, too. Usually this is a light coating of oil over any exposed metal surfaces.

Why Do I Need Accessories? 

The following is a list of accessories laid out according to use case: 

Target / Competition

  • Optics, magazines, rifle and pistol cases, range bags and backpacks, shooting bags and shooting rests, AR500 targets, paper targets, chronographs, slings. 


  • Outdoor apparel, rangefinders, animal calls, tree stands, blinds


  • Solvents, oils and lubes, cleaning rods, brushes, gun rests, gunsmithing tools (screwdrivers, torque wrenches), ammo cans  

Concealed Carry

  • Kydex and leather holsters, spare mag carriers, gun belts

Home Defense

  • Pistol and rifle lights (weapon mounted), admin lights (standard flashlights), quick-access vaults and gun safes

Firearm Builds / Mods

  • BCGs (bolt-carrier groups), bolts, triggers, charging handles, safety selectors, bolt catches, springs, pins, buffers (weights), buffer tubes, grips, stocks, receiver extensions, barrels, handguards, gas tubes, gas blocks, muzzle devices, or, all of the above!
  • AR-15s and other modern firearms are easier than ever to modify, upgrade, or assemble from parts. 
  • For most firearms, the receiver and action are serialized, which means they must be transferred through an FFL. Other components–basically whatever isn’t the receiver–can easily be shipped to your door.

Accessories: Brands

A lot of today’s accessories are constructed from polymers and lightweight, resilient, and cost-effective to manufacture. Plastics and polymers are not recent arrivals to the gun scene, either. Firearms have incorporated plastic components for decades now–since the 60s at the very least. Surprisingly, though, neither Glock nor Magpul invented the polymer magazine, even though they’re some of the biggest names in the business now. In fact, what many folks call “bakelite” mags were feeding Soviet AKs and RPKs long before Glock began manufacturing pistols in the 80s, and Magpuls were introduced around 2000. 

For optics, Vortex , Trijicon , and EoTech are all solid choices. All three of these companies have supplied or currently supply gear to the US military, while Vortex is known more for their consumer line and excellent value-for-money products. Holosun gets an honorable mention here as well: many people consider their electronic sights nearly on par with the top manufacturers. 

For AR parts and accessories, Aero Precision , BCM (Bravo Company Manufacturing), Geissele , ADM , Midwest Industries , and countless other American companies all make top notch gear.

Streamlight and Surefire dominate the weapon-mounted light market. Both companies make gear–including admin and helmet-mounted lights–that are trusted by LE around the country as well as the US military.   

Accessories: Frequently Asked Questions

Absolutely! At the bare minimum, you should own a cleaning kit, cleaning and lubrication products, a container to store and/or secure ammunition, a sighting system (for rifles: either iron sights, red dot, or scope), and a way to secure the firearm (when mandated by law and especially if children are present).

Tactical / AR-15 - Red Dot or Holographic Sight
Hunting Rifle - 3-9x40mm Rifle Scope
Hunting Pistol - Red Dot Sight or Fixed Low Power Scope (2x)
Carry Pistol - Compact Red Dot Sight

They do have differences, but mostly just in their performance during very cold or very hot weather. If you’re going to be in an extreme climate, this might be an important detail.

CLP-type products are a one-step solution (Clean-Lubricate-Protect) that works well for many folks.
Break-Free and LucasOil both make high performance CLPs. 

A few hundred lumens should be plenty of light to see your surroundings within a home. 
If you’re looking for a far brighter light, ask yourself: do you want a pistol, rifle, or shotgun pointed at whatever your light is pointing at?

If so, 1000 lumens is a solid choice. If not, getting a high-power admin light might be a better solution here.