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Rifle Painting: Blending In

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Learn about camo rifle painting so it, as well as you, can blend in no matter where you are with this easy do-it-yourself project.

There is nothing that visually stands out more than a rifle. It can be a modern urban environment, a dusty village in Iraq, or the middle of dense bush and the first thing that will grab someone’s eye will be the shape of a rifle. Rifle painting is one solution.

Camouflaging your equipment can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Here are three techniques for custom rifle painting.


You can be wearing great camouflage and blend into your environment, but a black weapon attracts attention like a clown at a funeral. Notice how the solid green pants stand out; stick to the idea that camouflage does its best to replicate nature’s random patterns.

“Sponging,” using a rough sponge to blot on color, is one of the easiest techniques to use when painting your gun. Most people who have painted the inside of a home are familiar with this interior decorating standard.

The first step is to tape off any areas that you don’t want to be painted or damaged, such as the lens and dials on optics, and iron sights. Make sure you cover other areas that are critical to its operations, such as the muzzle crown or bolt.

After donning a pair of gloves, I degrease the weapon to ensure there isn’t any oil present. Depending on the weapon, you may need to prep the surface by lightly scuffing the parts. If you have wood stocks — especially anything with a slick clear finish — you may need to take extra time and sand it. Once you’ve prepared the surface, degrease again.

Spray a base coat using at least two colors, and blend one into the other to create the “blurring” effect. Then, taking a coarse painting sponge (available at any major hardware store or craft shop), sponge the next color onto the areas where the base colors meet.

I cut the sponge into different sizes and shapes and constantly rotate the shapes so I don’t end up with a repetitive pattern. To apply the paint to the sponge, just spray it until it’s good and moist, then sponge until it’s dry. Then repeat.

Once this is done, I’ll sometimes use a fourth color and sponge on the highlights using a lighter color, or create shadowed areas using a darker paint.

The finished products are pictured here. The AR was painted using the sponging technique and the shotgun was camouflaged for urban environments using the masking technique. Several of the different techniques were used on the bolt rifle.


“Stenciling” is about as easy as the sponging method. The prepping process is the same.

Again, start by laying down a base coat using at least two colors. Once it’s dry, use a stencil to add more defined patterns.

Stencils can either be positive — such as a section of fake plastic plant — or negative, created by cutting patterns from cardstock to create a silhouette or a negative stencil.

Attach the stencil to the rifle by the stencil to conform to the weapon’s shape, and tape it to the rifle. It doesn’t have to be perfectly formed to fit the rifle; anywhere the stencil is not touching will create a blurry area to provide a sense of depth.

With the stencil attached, spray the next color, being careful not to spray too heavily (once you remove the stencil, there’s usually too much contrast). Then move the stencil to a different location or attach another stencil and repeat the process.

Using different colors or stencil shapes will create a more random pattern. This technique works really well for field environments where you’re trying to reproduce the chaos found in nature. Let your wild side guide you.

This is the sponging technique pictured in stages. The AR is taped to protect the barrel, receiver and the light’s lens. The stock, handguards, light, and grip have been sprayed with the base colors, blending them together. The handguard, light, and grip have already been sponged.


“Masking” is a little more complicated and time-consuming, but also produces some of the best results.

Use masking tape to create shapes as you layer on your paint. I recommend starting with your darkest color and working your way to the lightest. You can always blend colors for depth.

Begin with your base color. Cut out masking tape to cover the areas that you want to remain that color. Any areas left uncovered will be painted over, so advance planning is necessary — especially if you’re trying to reproduce or match an existing camo pattern.

Once you have the areas masked off, apply the next color. Let it dry. Mask off the areas you want to remain that color and spray again. After completing all the masks and colors, remove the tape to reveal the finished product.

The cool thing about these techniques is that you can combine them to obtain a variety of results. Consider the environment in which you’re most likely to use your weapon and use colors and shapes that match that area. When in doubt, use lighter colors rather than darker.

For practice, use wood 2x4s until you have your technique squared away. If you run a paint application on your weapon you don’t like, you can always scuff it up and paint it over again. If you’re a little squeamish about painting your weapon, just paint the “furniture” (stocks, grips, and handguards), leaving the receiver and barrel plain.

Think about the practical “field” applications of camouflage: Don’t stand out and draw attention. For the sniper, this means blending into the environment for a successful mission. For a hunter, it can be the difference between putting meat in the freezer and just spending a nice day in the field.

Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in north Alabama, and author of The Book of Two Guns. McKee can be reached at

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