Custom Camo For Long Distance Shooters

For years, operators in organizations such as Britain’s SAS (Special…

For years, operators in organizations such as Britain’s SAS (Special Air Service), Special Forces and Naval Special Warfare have recognized the value of having their weapons blend into the terrain. Recent studies have noted that the color black is seldom found in nature, even at night. Shapes that don’t belong in an environment unconsciously catch the eye as an oddity. Combine the two and a well-camouflaged operator with an angular, black weapon is not very stealthy is he? However, the process to make a weapon that is unrecognizable in light brush is not difficult or expensive. On the other hand, taking a can of Krylon to an expensive rifle or carbine is something that not every department, Sergeant or Chief would take kindly to. So, if you do not hold the pink slip to the weapon that you think could use a second coat, I heartily recommend that in this case, permission may be easier to obtain than forgiveness.

2the-refinished-stock-after-painting-with-desert-camo-colorHow to get started? Pick the terrain you operate in and examine the colors. There are usually more colors than just browns and greens. A lot of reds and yellows are almost always present but blended well. This is key: Blending. Avoid straight lines and texturize the surface making for a hard-to-spot weapon. Texturizing can be simulated using mesh of different sizes or by using a textured surface preparation. American Accent Stone Creations by Rustoleum, found in the spray paint department, can be used to provide texture for the furniture of a firearm, and when painted it gives a roughened finish. The application wears well and makes for a readily paintable surface. The texture color comes in desert camo, light sand and black right out of the can. Tape off the areas that you want to spare, apply the coating, wait until it dries overnight, remove the tape and then paint to match the environment in which you’ll be operating. Reapplication of camo paint is something you’d do anyway for a different season, area, or mission, and this stuff repaints well, as layers of paint add to the coating protection.

The surface needs to be cleaned and prepped before painting. Oil and cleaning solvents will not allow the paint to adhere, so a good metal-cleaning product that leaves no residue is an excellent choice. Items to be painted can be coated with a film of Bulldog Adhesion Promoter. It is labeled for preparing “all automotive surfaces” but holds paint on items that don’t take spray paint well, such as aluminum magazines.

Make mistakes on something cheap or just re-spray if you are not initially satisfied. Experiment and practice to find out how much paint to apply, when to start and stop the spray before and after the surface is covered and how to use the stencils for the right pattern. The usual method of stenciling involves masking tape over certain gun areas. For our purpose, the preferred method is holding the stencil slightly above the surface. This ensures a “feathering” of the spray and a blended change of colors (remember no straight lines). However some bits should be taped over, such as windage and elevation knobs for sights, optics, and just about anything that might have its effectiveness reduced by paint or over-spray.

6-como-patterns-like-this-desert-lizard-from-tony-razo-areSimple Stencils
Stencils are not necessarily complex or hard to make, and there are as many opinions on the best ones as there are artists that craft them. Tony Razo and Whit Engel spray through mesh bags for a snake-like texture. Ian Bivens uses laundry bags in various meshes in addition to plastic gutter screening, cardboard cutouts, and latch-hook rug forms for the smallest squares. My good friend and S.W.A.T. sniper Dave Agata uses a variety of cloth mesh patterns as well as hand-cut cardboard to really make a three-dimensional effect. SEAL team members use local vegetation whether it be leaves, stalks, grass or ferns held against the surface to interrupt the spray, leaving a very natural look to the firearm. The magazine is part of the package so a cleverly colored rifle with a grey GI mag hanging below kind of defeats the purpose. Make sure to paint spares to give you the ability to reload or change out mags.

Paint selection is an individual preference, but flat paint that absorbs light is much better than gloss. I use mostly Krylon Ultra-Flat off-the-shelf enamel in nutmeg, hunter green, brown, almond, flat black, and flat white. Operators realize that their weapons like the M4 and SAW heat up to 350-400 degrees F so make sure your paint is designed for that kind of heat.

Non-Intrusive Options
For shooters that would like to blend their weapons with local colors but have issues with painting weapons because they might want to resell them later, have zero talent for painting, or have been told “no” when they asked, there are several alternatives available. A very flexible and reusable weapons wrap is the McNett Camo Form. Essentially the same kind of material that is used in self sticking Ace bandages, this wrap comes in a variety of camo colors that include Woodland, Desert, and Army or Marine Digital. It stretches to conform to any object, without affecting functional controls. The wrap quiets clanking gear, helps prevent scratches, reduces glare and protects from dirt and debris. Each roll is 2 inches wide and 4 yards long so one roll would definitely cover one weapon and maybe two. Just wrapping the weapon with camo fabric works well too, and sometimes that is just the only choice. Strips of burlap tied around the barrel are another field expedient that has been successfully used by shooters. Once again, keep in mind that some parts of the rifle like the barrel heat 27-lance-cpl-jordan-baab-a-scout-sniper-with-scout-sniperup to a couple of hundred degrees with just a few shots, so if you plan to engage in sustained fire, ensure your coverings won’t smoke, melt or ignite.

A form of camouflage that is seldom considered is masking thermal or IR (Infrared) signatures generated from operators and equipment. Thus far, the United States has supremacy in this area, especially against the low-tech enemies we are currently facing, but that could and probably will change over time. Being aware of how to protect yourself is time well spent. The capability of FLIR (forward looking infrared) is well known and can pick out unprotected humans. Not only does a sniper give away his location with every shot by noise and blast, but with the heat signature as well. SpecOps snipers know to relocate after every shot for that reason. After firing 10 rounds, a Barrett .50 has a barrel that heats up to 170-175 degrees F and it can be viewed on thermal imagery equipment. As a camouflage, a thermal blanket or a foam sleeve wrapped around the barrel and compensator after a shot at night might be a good idea to ensure that as concealment, the night is still our friend.

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  • Andre’ M. Dall’au

    Good luck in painting up your weapons as I know that the first time holding a fifteen hundred dollar rifle in one hand and hitting the button on a $4.75 can of paint in the other is a tough call. My thanks to my good bud Ian and others who contributed their ordnance artistry and helped others to increase their tactical edge with Krylon and a laundry bag!

  • Elementfrvr

    Excellent article, it makes me less afraid to paint my rifles.

  • Great information.Thought provoking as well- It’s about time some of my babies got a new coat of livery. I’m intrigued with the whole idea of thermal camo. I want to see active cooling systems in the near future, so a sniper could just stay put, or be much safer in re-locating. Again, great article!.