I’ve been shooting for quite a few years, although I really don’t consider myself a competitive shooter. As with anything else that one does repetitively, I’ve noticed a few things – particularly things about my fellow shooters.
Key among those things is that few shooters ever modify their guns, especially their handguns. Most will stick with the way they came out of the factory. Those who do modify their guns tend to go for cosmetic modifications, rather than anything functional. The one exception to this is serious competitive shooters, who go to great lengths to make their guns as accurate and easy to shoot as possible.
But, for the most part, competitive shooting isn’t the same as shooting to defend yourself. This means that most competitive pistols aren’t really useful as defensive weapons — with the exception of one category: pistols that are used in tactical shooting competition.
Tactical shooting is different from other forms of competitive shooting in that it is built around creating realistic scenarios where you would be expected to use a pistol in self-defense or the defense of others. As such, many of the modifications that would help a tactical shooter also will help anyone who needs to use their pistol in a defensive role.
Even though I’m not a competitive shooter, I’ve learned that it’s worthwhile taking a page from their book and customizing my guns. In fact, I’ve customized all the guns that I use regularly, including my daily carry gun. These customizations aren’t cosmetic, but functional, and each of them make it easier for me to use my guns if I ever draw one in a live-fire situation.
The first and most important thing to consider modifying on your gun is the trigger. Most pistol triggers are set for a five- to six-pound pull. That’s okay, but there’s a reason why competitive pistols have light trigger pulls. That’s because a lighter trigger is less likely to cause you to jerk or pull your gun off target.
Not all guns give you the capability of changing out the trigger or of lightening the trigger pull. But if you can, it’s well worth it. Glock has a replacement bar, which drops the trigger pull down to 3.5 pounds. That’s enough to make quite a difference. On a 1911, you can change the trigger pull by adjusting the mainspring. Some other pistols, like the Springfield XD and XDS series. have replacement springs to lighten the trigger pull.
Trigger control is the single most important part of accurate shooting — even more so than sight picture. Aftermarket triggers not only adjust the trigger pull, but are usually of finer quality fit and finish. This lowers friction, which reduces the chance of the trigger sticking while pulling it.
Your two other main controls on any semi-automatic pistol are the slide lock and the magazine lock. Typically, these are designed to be as non-obtrusive as possible so that they don’t hang up when drawing the pistol. But those minimalist designs also may be harder to find and operate when you need to do a quick magazine change.
Extended slide and magazine release controls can speed up your mag changes, shaving as much as a second off your time. That second is critical in competition, but it’s even more critical in the only competition that really counts — when someone is shooting at you.
Speaking of easing magazine changes, adding a flared magazine well also can speed your mag changes. There are several manufacturers who supply these, in both polymer and aluminum. They help eliminate any fumbling that can happen while trying to find the mag well with your magazine.
The only other real control that most pistols have is the safety. Once again, this can be worth changing out to make the gun easier to use. A larger safety control lever will make it easier to find the safety and operate it when you’re drawing your gun out to use it. If you happen to be left-handed or have someone in your family who is, you also might want to consider an ambidextrous safety lever.
One of the most customizable areas of any firearm is the sights. The plain iron sights that come on most handguns are fine for short-range shooting in the daylight. The ones with white dots on them are a bit better. But neither will do you much good in a low-light situation. For that, you need something else. Besides, iron sights become harder to use the farther you’re trying to shoot.
While most defensive shooting is done at a range of five yards or less, there is a small percentage that happens at about 50 feet. Shooting with iron sights at that range is difficult at best. Doing so if you don’t have perfect vision is even worse.
Tritium Night Sights
Pretty much every handgun I own, with the exception of ones that don’t have removable sights or are only used on the shooting range, has tritium sights installed. Tritium is a radioactive gas which glows in the dark. So, instead of just having three white dots painted on the sights, you end up with three white dots that will glow in the dark.
Granted, this really isn’t much help in total darkness, when you can’t see our target. But it’s ideal at twilight, when you might be able to see your target, but really can’t see your sights. This makes the addition of tritium sights a lifesaver in some cases.
The reflex sight or red dot sight was originally developed for military use. Rather than having to align two sights with the target, it allows you to align one thing — a dot projected on a small, transparent screen — with the target. This saves considerable time in getting on target.
While originally designed for use on rifles, smaller reflex sights now exist for use on pistols, as well. They provide the same advantage that they do for rifles. However, they are not good in low light. So, if you install this type of sight, you might want to have another gun available to you with tritium sights on it.
Most firearms instructors will advise you not to use a laser sight. If you become dependent on one and then the battery dies, you’re stuck without any sights. So, if you’re going to install one, practice with your metal sights, too.
The other problem with a laser sight is that it can give your position away to the bad guys, just like a flashlight can. The red or green laser light coming out of the front of your gun is visible for a longer distance than it is usable for.
Nevertheless, I use laser sights for one important reason. My eyes aren’t all that good. Unless I have my computer glasses on, I can’t see the all-important front sight clearly. A laser sight allows me to keep my focus downrange, which I can see just fine, with my normal glasses.
If you’re going to buy a laser sight, only buy one that is triggered by gripping the gun. This is accomplished by a push-button switch, which is located where you will be gripping the gun. So, your normal grip turns the sight on. There are only a couple of brands that do this. The rest require you taking the time to turn them on, which might be time that you don’t have.
4. Tactical light
The last thing you might consider is a tactical light. You’ve probably seen this in movies, where the cops have a tactical light mounted to a short rail under the barrel. Not all guns have this rail, but for those that do, having the light readily available is convenient.
There’s just one problem with a gun-mounted tactical light. That is, your light will be on all the time, which means that it will be advertising your location to the bad guys. Tactical instructors say the way to use a tactical light is to flash it on briefly and immediately change position. Then you can act on what you saw. Moving is necessary, in case the bad guys shoot at you. With the light back off, they won’t see you move.
I have a couple of pistols with mounted tactical lights, but I prefer the idea of using a hand-held tactical light, so that I can flash it on and off, as needed. This gives me the light I need, without making me a target.
What would you add to our list? How have you customized your pistol? Share your tips in the section below: