Must-Have Handgun Upgrades

We certainly do love to customize our guns, don’t we? Some folks will take a stock gun and add so many aftermarket parts that the original firearm is scarcely recognizable from what it morphs into. Do some people go a little overboard? In my opinion, sure. But then again, they’re not my guns, so my opinion doesn’t matter. Gun ownership is a personal relationship, and I would never want to tell someone how to love their partner. Today, we’ll look at some handgun upgrades that can enhance our experience.

One thing that users need to decide upon is what use the handgun will see. Is it intended for defense, competition, hunting, etc.? The purpose will likely dictate what modifications users want to make to the given handgun.

Personally, I don’t do internal modifications to my defensive handguns. I keep them factory stock for reliability and legal reasons.

Iron Sights

One of the first things many people yearn for on their handguns is upgrading from the factory sights. Decades ago, this was a real issue, as handgun sights from the factory used to be pretty basic. The fancier ones had dots, which helped in the aiming process. Many factory sights were just plain, black sights that disappeared on a dark target background.

These days, gun manufacturers seem to be listening because they’re shipping handguns from the factory that have some excellent sights installed. Some even include tritium night sights as a standard practice.

A few, however (Glock, I’m looking at you here), insist on shipping sights that should really be upgraded. Glock’s polymer sights are the first thing that most of us think about when wanting to replace factory sights. Most people opt for steel replacements because the polymer sights just aren’t that durable. However, the Glock 19X sights are excellent because they are steel and have a three-dot tritium system. If they can do that with the 19X, why don’t they do it with the rest of their pistols? I’m not anti-Glock, as I’ve been a fan for years, but they do need to embrace the fact that their customers like steel sights.

Amerigo Glock night sights.
Aftermarket sights such as these Ameriglo Classic 3-Dot night sights are a good investment. They’re a great upgrade from the factory Glock sights. [Photo: Jim Davis]
There are many aftermarket sights on the market to choose from. One particular brand that I have experience with is Ameriglo. I had a set of Ameriglo Classic 3-Dot Sights installed on my Glock 43X. The particular sights I chose have a green front dot and two yellow rear dots. They also have other colors available on their various sights. I’m completely happy with these sights – they’re durable and glow well in low-light conditions. As this is written, they retail for $74.99 and are well worth it.

Of course, there are night sights from a bunch of other companies, including Trijicon, Night Fision, Truglo, and others. Regardless of which handgun you have, they’ll have sights for it.

Optics

The variety of optics available for handguns these days is mind-blowing. At first, red dot sights (RDS) were only available for rifles, but in the past few years, the handgun RDS market has exploded, with many shooters taking advantage of these new sights. It seems to be the hottest trend right now for handguns.

Shield Sights SMSc RDS on a Hellcat Pro.
This Springfield Hellcat Pro wears a Shield Sights SMSc red dot sight. Shooters are flocking in droves to the RDS these days. [Photo: Jim Davis]
Shield Sights makes some great red dot sights. In fact, I have a Shield SMSc mounted on my Springfield Armory Hellcat Pro. It has held up great and gives amazing performance, especially in low-light conditions. As I write this, it’s available for $239.99, which is a very good price.

Of course, there are other manufacturers out there as well, including Holosun, Sig Sauer, Vortex, and others. The nice thing is that most of them co-witness with the pistol’s iron sights, so if the RDS is not operating, you still have a sight picture.

Lasers

There’s no shortage of lasers with which to aim our pistols. Crimson Trace offers not only lasers but also RDS and other options. They offer laser grips for revolvers, including the S&W J-Frame, Glock pistols, Taurus pistols/revolvers, and others.

These Crimson Trace laser grips make this Smith & Wesson 642 in .38 Special a more efficient handgun. [Photo: Jim Davis]
I had one on my S&W 642, and it took the guesswork out of where the revolver was going to hit. The button that was integrated into the grip made it very fast to operate, and the laser dot was easy to see in low-light scenarios.

Other brands include Streamlight, Nightstick, Viridian, and Lasermax, among others. Chances are, there’s one for your gun!

Lights

With the inclusion of rail systems on the vast majority of defensive pistols these days, it’s so easy to mount a light on them. Fortunately, most manufacturers have settled on a universal rail system that allows most lights to fit on most pistols. This isn’t 100%, but it’s pretty good overall. Full-sized duty pistols have enough real estate on their rail to accept most lights. The smaller pistols intended for concealed carry sometimes have more limitations.

Surefire XSC weapon light on a Hellcat.
Surefire’s XSC weapon light upgrades the Hellcat’s capabilities in low light. If you can’t identify the threat, you can’t legally shoot it. [Photo: Jim Davis]
An example is Surefire’s XSC Micro Compact Handgun Light. It will fit Springfield’s Hellcat, Hellcat Pro, Sig P365 and P365XL, and Glock 43X and 48 models that are equipped with rails. Another model, the Surefire XCS-B, features a built-in light and laser. The great thing about both of these units is that they are rechargeable, so you’ll never have to go through batteries. They’re effective out to 90 meters and weigh a whopping 1.7 ounces, making them tiny and light.

Other great light makers are Streamlight, Holosun, Nightstick, and a few others. Certainly, there’s no shortage of quality lights out there to choose from.

And considering most defensive shootings occur during low-light hours, having a light at our disposal is a serious asset. Never forget that we cannot, in good faith, fire on a target until we identify an actual threat. When these factors are taken into account, a light seems even more necessary.

Triggers

Some folks insist on installing aftermarket triggers on their pistols. For competition or range guns, have at it. Whatever blows your hair back is cool. Sometimes the trigger pull is lightened and/or smoothed, allowing shooters to be able to shoot faster and/or more accurately.

For defensive or duty guns, I’m not an advocate of replacement triggers. I believe the factory versions are likely safer, and if you find yourself in court, a lawyer could have a field day attacking an aftermarket trigger. “So, Mr. Defendant, do you mean to tell me that the original trigger wouldn’t allow you to shoot my client quickly enough, so you installed a lighter trigger so you could put more holes in my client?”

If you desire to install one, aftermarket triggers are available for pretty much any modern firearm you own.

Magazines/Speedloaders

Upgrading magazines is one of the easiest, fastest ways to upgrade our handguns. Aside from simply having spare mags, most pistols have magazines available that are higher capacity than the standard ones that come with them. A few platforms that immediately spring to mind are the Springfield Hellcat series and Sig’s P365 series, along with various Glock models. The possibilities are extensive in that the micro-compact versions of these pistols will accept the full-sized mags of their bigger brothers. It’s all about flexibility.

Hellcat magazines.
The Hellcat 15-round magazine on the right is an upgrade from the 13-round mag (left) that comes with the pistol. [Photo: Jim Davis]
And let’s not forget about the revolvers. Speed loaders and speed strips are available for our wheel guns!

Speed loader for a .38 snubby.
Wheel guns need love, too! Speed loaders and speed strips are performance enhancers for revolvers. [Photo: Jim Davis]

In Summary

One nice thing about most of the upgrades mentioned here is that they don’t permanently alter the handgun. Most can easily be detached quickly should the user decide to return the pistol to its original state. It takes mere moments to pop off a light or laser, and an RDS can be removed without much trouble.

Truly, I’ve only scratched the surface as far as upgrades go. Hopefully, this will give readers a starting point and whet their appetite for handgun add-ons. We all love to personalize our guns, to set them up exactly how we like. And with the availability of add-ons these days, there’s no reason why we can’t. Have fun with it, but be mindful.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities. He is a dedicated Christian and attributes any skills that he has to the glory of God.

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