Essential Spares For Your Guns, by Pickled Prepper Pete

Don’t worry, I’m not here to recommend one gun or caliber over another, to tell you how many rounds you should store, or to insist that you have a minimum number of magazines. I do, however, want to ask if you are prepared for problems that can turn your 17-round wonder gun into a one-shot blunder or your ultra-accurate rifle into an expensive club.

I’m talking about your ability to fix your guns when something goes wrong, from a small thing such as a weak spring, a broken firing pin, a lost pin, or a damaged gas tube, to a bent op rod or a broken stock.

Here are a few problems that I’ve experienced, or seen while shooting at the range or at a competition:

  • One of the hooks on the trigger spring in my Glock failed, rendering it a single shot. That’s an example of a $1 part stopping a $450 gun.
  • I’ve blown the extractor out of a gun by using reloads that were loaded too heavily.
  • I’ve seen the screws holding optics shear off, throwing the optic off the slide during recoil.
  • I’ve seen magazine feed lips fail, resulting in all the rounds ejecting out the top of a magazine after a shooter rammed it home during a slide-lock reload. I’ve also seen the base plates fail, resulting in all the ammo dumping onto the ground.
  • I’ve seen magazine floor plates break when the shooter dropped the magazine on a hard surface during a reload over a hard surface.
  • I’ve seen numerous ARs fail for all sorts of stupid, mostly user-preventable reasons, including inadequate lubrication.
  • And I’ve had friends call me for help because they lost a tiny part or damaged a spring while working on their AR15-style weapon.

If problems like these can happen under good conditions, then you can expect bigger problems when the SHTF and you need to rely on our guns for more than just fun. (Constant carry, in all weather.) Even if you have a back-up gun, then you need to be prepared to address common failures so your primary weapon can go back into service.

When I buy a new gun, I often buy a dozen or more magazines, plus key replacement parts. Brownells is my number one choice for spare or replacement parts, but there are many other sources out there. Whenever possible, I try to buy parts from recognizable brands rather than no-name parts that may be made in China. I have parts from EGW, MagPul, DPMS, CMMG, Barnes Precision, Wilson Combat, SIG, and others. (FYI, I have no financial or other interest in any of the brands of companies mentioned in this article.)

Platforms and Parts

Like most serious survivalists, I “standardized” on several platforms: Glocks, ARs, and 10-22s. All of these guns tend to be reliable. And they also have a wealth of aftermarket and replacement parts available. Note that one set of replacement parts can likely keep several guns up and running.

I stock spare parts for all the aforementioned, plus the 1911, in individual ammo cans. One of my close friends has Remington 870 parts and M&P parts. Together, we cover about 80 percent of my armory. If a Winchester shotgun, a Remington 700, or other weapon fails in some unexpected way, then we’ll just make do with our standard weapons.

Glocks

I am a Glock aficionado and frequently carry a Model 23. But I will be the first one to admit Glocks are neither perfect nor failure-proof. In addition to the trigger spring mentioned above, Glocks use some small polymer parts, like the firing pin spacer sleeve and spring cups, which can degrade over time or get lost during a detail stripping. My advice is to buy spares for these parts, plus the firing pin and spring. There are so many companies out there selling full parts kits for 80 percent Glock builds, so you could consider that option instead of, or in addition to, buying individual parts.

Glock parts almost always drop in and are easy to replace, requiring little or no special tools or gunsmithing skill. As long as you are dealing with firearms from the same family, parts that fit in one Glock model will often fit in the related models.

Glock is of course not alone in this modularity, but you may find some brands are easier to find parts for than others. I recommend you look into this before you invest in a gun only to find that spare parts are available only to gunsmiths or through limited distribution channels.

AR Platforms

With the AR platform, there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to available parts and accessories. I find springs and pins are key parts to stock. This is because I think more people tinker with their ARs than any other gun, and they lose small parts during disassembly or damage springs during reassembly. So watch some videos now while there is Internet access to learn how to keep those parts from shooting across the room or getting mangled during reassembly.

As you can see in the photo at the top of this article, I store two extra bolt carrier groups (BCGs). Swapping one in can sometimes address a problem in the field, assuming your gun is a mil-spec weapon. When you are back at your base of operations and things are quiet, you can take a look at the BCG you replaced and diagnose (and hopefully repair) the problem. Just because I stock BCGs doesn’t mean I don’t stock bolt parts as well. I stock two bolt kits with gas rings, tiny springs, the extractor pivot pin, an extractor, and more. In fact, an extra extractor is worth keeping on hand for any critical guns as they often chip or wear down with use. A gun that doesn’t extract the empty brass is good for only one shot.

The challenge for major AR repairs is that you might need some specialized tools. An AR wrench is a good starting place and can often be had for less than $25. These allow you to do many common tasks, such as remove the buffer tube, change the barrel, or swap out the flash hider. Other tools are more specialized and more expensive. I recommend getting an AR armorer’s kit only if you want to build your own ARs on stripped receivers. But if you build a couple, then you should learn enough during the process to competently fix most common issues.

Model 1911 Pistols

As we move from modern polymer-framed pistols to the 110-year-old  Colt Model 1911 design, we move from modularity and drop-in parts to parts that may require hand-fitting using a file or a stone. While you can and should stock 1911 parts like extractors, firing pins, and springs, some parts must be hand-fitted to function correctly. If you own only one 1911, then that’s easy; fit them to the gun now, while there is time. But if you own multiple 1911s, then you either need a set of replacement parts fitted to each gun, or you will need to fit them on an as-needed basis. Because a 1911 is not my EDC, I have opted for the latter approach.

Working on a 1911 will not only teach you a great deal about how guns function but also impart lessons in patience and possibly humility.

Save Parts When You Upgrade

Many people upgrade their guns, especially ARs, by replacing standard parts with after-market parts. My advice is to keep every part that you remove, including the screws. If they give you an Allen wrench keep that, too, because no one has ever said: “Darn, I have too many Allen wrenches,” while the opposite is not true.

For example, several years ago, I removed a quad rail from an AR upper and replaced it with a slender handguard that had a rail only on the top. I kept the quad rail, just in case. While unlikely, it is certainly possible that during hard use something could happen to the new aluminum handguard, denting or damaging it. Should that happen, I could use the old one as a replacement.

I have also replaced AR pistol grips, installed night sights on pistols, upgraded shotgun bolt-release buttons, installed enlarged magazine releases, changed followers, installed a lighter trigger, and swapped out buttstocks. In each case, the old part went into a big box of “spare” gun parts, because who knows when these might prove useful? And best of all, these are “free” repair parts because you paid for them when you bought the gun.

Don’t Forget Batteries

If you mount a red dot, a scope with an illuminated reticle, a flashlight, laser, or another electronic device on your weapon, then keep plenty of spare batteries on hand. I often keep a CR2025 battery in the pistol grip compartment of my AR, and more than one weapon’s buttstock compartment will accommodate AA or CR123 batteries.

Where possible, buy lithium batteries for your mission-critical mounted electronics. They provide a longer shelf-life, they do not corrode like alkaline batteries, they perform better in the cold, and they offer longer run times than the standard batteries they replace. This is a no-lose decision that will only cost a dollar or two but could save your pricey optic.

Preventative Maintenance

Let’s assume that you clean and lube your gun occasionally. But do you check your safeties to be sure they are functioning, inspect the ammo in your magazine or check to make sure nothing has rusted? If you carry regularly, I recommend that you shoot your carry ammo a couple times a year and blow the lint out of your gun and holster at least once a month. These easy steps will go a long way to preventing failures.

If you shoot thousands of rounds, then you need to do some more serious preventative maintenance. This is akin to changing the spark plugs in your car. Yes, it will probably keep running if you don’t, but it will run better and smoother if you do. So research your particular model and see what you need to replace and when. At the very least, you may need to install a new recoil spring every 5,000 to 10,000 rounds. My advice is to replace any small plastic, rubber, or elastomer parts, like those in the Glock, at the same time to minimize the chance of failure while in use. Also, inspect the extractor, check the safeties to ensure they function, and if you always use the same two or three magazines while the others sit empty at home, then consider replacing those magazine springs as well.

Must-Have Spare Parts

If you want to ensure your guns are as well prepared as you are, here are a few things I consider must-haves for most semi-autos:

  • Spring kits – these should include all the small, easily broken or lost springs
  • Pin Kits – it should include all the pins
    (Be sure that these kits include the firing pin and springs; you may need to buy these separately.)
  • Recoil spring
  • Magazine springs
  • Extractor
Useful Tools
  • A set of hollow-ground screwdrivers
  • A set of Allen wrenches
  • A set of punches, including some brass punches
  • An AR15 wrench
  • Loctite thread locker. (JWR Adds: The green and blue types, NOT the permanent clear type!)
  • A good pair of flip-down magnifying glasses

Many preppers are having difficulty finding ammo these days. I recommend that you spend this month’s ammo budget on spare parts. All the ammo in the world won’t do you any good if your gun is broken and you have neither the parts nor the knowledge to fix it.




29 Comments

  1. As JWR has said time and time again “one is none, two is one”. I follow this rule with all of my firearms, optics, and spare parts. It has also helped me with my prepping. Take care my friends.. we have just entered the “rocky road”.

  2. Good advice and something I teach/preach all the time. The number of weapons that “go down” at matches, hunts and even just the flat range can be staggering. We have approximately 50-60 shooters show for a match and it’s never uncommon for 1-2 to “go down” or consistently malfunction for one reason or another. How many years do you not hear one of your hunting buddies tell you “man my rifle XYZd on me” or someone in your camp has to borrow something. How many times have you been to the range only to find you, someone your with or someone else on the line has got issues.
    I can’t tell you how many AR/AK owners have less than 6 magazines. I know 3 owners right now with 2 each. One of them can’t even fill both mags with ammo much less fix anything.
    Some of my Military brethren are the worst. They have all the coolios they carried but nothing to go with it. Guys the green machine logistics train doesn’t make personal stops.

    1. I have full backup guns for my primary Glocks and ARs, and have kept the factory parts when upgrading, as the author recommends. I loaded up a ton of ammo during the “Trump Slump” years between 2017-2019 when it was plentiful and prices were low (so glad now that I did). My current focus is on stocking an adequate inventory of replacement parts, so that I’m good to go when our absurd California “precursor parts” laws (AB-879, AB-2382, etc.) go into effect and we’ll have to undergo background checks just to buy a barrel or trigger group.

      I backed up the truck during last year’s “Freedom Week” and bought dozens of standard cap mags.

      As for guns bonking at the worst times just when you need them, I’ve had that happen during three separate training courses (both handgun and shotgun). Fortunately, I brought my backup guns just in case, so I was able to complete the courses in each instance. Two is one, one is none, indeed…

  3. Shoot, there’s enough people out there buying guns with no idea of the maintenance, let alone cleaning of them to keep anyone interested busy quite a while.
    Besides the fact that owning one and knowing how to use one because they watched some action movie may turn into a horror flick.

    Great write up and appropriately timed. In a disposable society ~ maintenance is a foreign concept to most. And with everyones hero being a movie star or YouTube sensation ~ they naturally have “people” they can call for such lowly tasks.

  4. Excellent advice…I have shot handgun competition for a while…it is very interesting to see what works and what doesn’t. Until you have a gun and setup to handle a couple of extra magazines, and are able to run them successfully thru a typical match, you don’t know if your setup will actually work when needed. It is far too common for people to buy a handgun, put a box or two of ammo thru it and call it good without ever really using it enough to work the kinks out of the equipment not to mention the shooter. Not a popular observation…but it is my experience most issues I saw were with 1911 platforms which mirrors my own experience with two colts and a Kimber, none of which will operate without an occassional malfunction. YMMV

  5. In recent years I have subscribed to the ‘two is one and one is none’. That philosphy sometime pushes decision making toward cheaper firearms. Personal experience indicates that buying quality is the way to go right out of the gate.

    Also, consider parts availability from manufacturers. Some outfits like Ruger, for example, require that you send your firearm in for even the very small issues or adjustments.

    Speaking of reliability, a quality backup is a necessity for what might be headed our way.

  6. This is a very helpful article. Compiling a list of items that are prone to break on certain common pistols, rifles and shotguns would make for one outstanding List for the preppers out there. I think if any readers of this blog who have small arms repair knowledge would probably be in a hero in our minds.

  7. Great article. I’ve always taken the attitude that two is one and one is none. With that attitude, I have NO spare parts!

    This article has changed my approach. I’ll be getting spare parts for all my firearms.

    My gun manufacturing friends tell me it will be a year or more before we hit a new normal.

    THANK YOU very much.

  8. I’ve harped on AR maintenance here before, but even the AK’s and SKS’s have failure points. Get at least a spare firing pin and set of trigger springs for the these rifles. Firing pins can already be worn, and at some point become worn out resulting in light primer strikes. I just ran into another Norinco Com Block variant rifle that has a firing pin that is too short, and it is almost a NIB example. Got it cheap. Why? The factory fresh firing pin is bad. IMHO, they knowingly sold a bad horse. It would not reliably shoot the ammo that was in the mag that came with the rifle. Easy one dollar fix for me. Trigger spring retaining clips can break or become lost. Tapco G2 replacement triggers for the AK are good triggers.

    What the article recommends is something most do not care to bother with, but even if you cannot fix your rifle, some one else can. And spare parts for your rifle can also be used to fix some one else’s rifle. Arm thy neighbor, they just might have your ‘6’.

  9. For the Glock Pistol, I recommend the following:

    Glock Firing/Striker pin spring, several [10 pack]

    Glock Trigger spring, several [10 pack]

    Glock 03374 Disassembly Takedown Tool for Pin Punch

    Complete GLOCK Disassembly Reassembly DVD Lenny Magill

    Ten mags, they do wear out over time/use… You don’t want to be paying $200 for one, if you can even get it…

    The Complete Glock Reference Guide. Lone Wolf [don’t have one yet, but it has been recommended]

    Glocks were designed to be carried in Condition 3, empty chamber, trigger pulled, loaded mag.

    The old Glock Tupperware boxes wouldn’t let you store it unless it was at least Condition 3.

    Here in America, the first thing we do is set to Condition 1, loaded chamber, for years and decades,

    This is hard on the trigger [broken] and firing pin [lite primer strike] springs, which should be replaced every couple of years.

    I once paid a gun shop over $100 to replace a broken spring, having to leave it for a week, and it being logged in.

    After getting the DVD and the tool, I can do all of that myself, saving on repair/maintenance costs and bureaucratic tracking/entanglements [OpSec].

    If you have a 45ACP or 10MM, you might want to get the extra power firing pin springs.

    1. The advantage of milling/assembling your own Glock (such as Polymer80) or AR (various blank suppliers) from 80% receivers is that you quickly learn the innards and mechanisms of your guns. The first time I built a P80 Glock, it took me hours and it was all new to me. By the time I built my fourth (and beyond, when advising friends with theirs), I had learned how to troubleshoot, fit-and-finish, and intuitively know the “feel” of a properly working gun. Similar learning curve with the ARs.

      I highly recommend building a P80, AR, or 1911 from an 80%. Or two. Or more. You will find that in the end you’ll know more about your guns than 99% of all gun owners.

      Also…I strongly recommend that you download YouTube videos showing full disassembly/reassembly of each model gun you own. I’m very glad I started doing this a couple of years ago, as YT has begun removing such videos and is ramping up their anti-gun efforts. Some vids are permanently gone, but I have them in my archives.

      Speaking of disappearing videos, I recently noticed that President George Bush’s 2002 SOTU Address (his first after 9/11) has been removed from YT, possibly because he spoke against “Radical Islam” and spooked the censors. I archived that speech as well, for my future grandchildren.

    2. “Glocks were designed to be carried in Condition 3, empty chamber, trigger pulled, loaded mag.”

      Not true. Glock developed the original “Tupperware” cases to allow the firearms to be stored with the firing pin spring in the relaxed state. Additionally the hole was so the cases could be stored over a long rod allowing them to be secured in place. Even if you got the case open you could not steal the firearm.

      Glocks were designed like every other striker fired modern pistol to be carried with a round loaded in the chamber. Other wise Glock would not have spent so much effort on the “safe action” campaign.

  10. Nice article would highly recommend a min of springs, detent pins and several firing pins. I had a friend ( Veteran ) buy a new DPMS AR-15 ( mil-spec 5.56 ) several yrs ago and brought it to my farm to try it out. Out of several major brands of ammo which did NOT work I checked the firing pin with a mic and found it 0.35 thousands shorter than my spares replaced it and it works fine now. He even shot some of the ammo that didnt work on the first try. He has since purchased 5 + extra pins and other parts from Anderson and Palmetto for back-up. He is NOW a firm believer in having EXTRA parts too for all of his weapons.

  11. Good article, Pete. You just reminded me of what was not on my list. I’ll be ordering parts soon. Thanks.
    I’ve been putting my firing pins to sleep and rotating magazines to save springs my entire life. At times, as a Law Enforcement Officer, I even rotated weapons, as qualifications would allow.

  12. Don’t forget to label everything you store as backup spares. More importantly, when you upgrade or replace a part, save the original as the author suggests BUT more importantly put it in a bag and label that part too! I have been guilty of neglecting to do that and then, years later, pulling out the parts box and wondering, “Now what does this pin go to?”

  13. for glocks, if some of you live near other, all of you pitch in, draw straws and winner goes to a glock armorer class…armorers pay a hell of lot less for glock parts then buying them from some gun guy…he’s selling you a $5 spring you can get for a $1 as an armorer…

  14. Regarding the keeping the replaced parts. You may purchase a firearm that unknowingly will increase in valve if left in its original configuration. AR15 Colt SP-1s come to mind and are fast becoming collector items bringing top dollar.

    1. I almost fainted when I saw what my SP1 is worth! ($2000!) Also some are getting to the curios and relics age.

      That’s why I took home every handguard set I had to replace in the military. They went directly on my SP1 to replace my factory parts. While they were unserviceable for military use, they still have enough life in them for civilian use. Plus it gives me the ability to camo paint the spares. Many in the family prefer the old beavertails on their AR’s.

      For the 10 AR’s I keep in the bunker, I keep 20 sets of parts as a minimum. Other easily lost parts, I keep 50-100 each. You loose a lot of those little detent pins! (thin coat hanger can be used to fab more)

      Another thing to pick up is copies of military maintenance manuals or factory armorer’s manuals. Pick up at least 2 each, and vacuum pack 1 for safe storage.

  15. Great Article, and timely.

    Cpt. Nemo and Anon. both mentioned them briefly but I must emphasize the importance of quality assembly / disassembly manuals (aka ‘exploded diagrams).

    What are you going to do if your Mdl. 94 Winchester breaks a firing pin? You do own a .30-.30 Winchester don’t you?
    Ever completely disassemble a Mdl.94? ‘it ain’t easy’ til you’ve done it a half-dozen times…
    What about removing a firing pin out of a Rem. 700 or an old M1903 Springfield left to you by your Grandpa, that’s was sporterized back in 1962 and is now so gummed up with old hardened grease that it won’t fire? (or accidentally discharges = bad, very bad)

    What are the torc specs for your AR barrel?

    There are dozen’s of manuals out there… NRA (multiple volumes), Gun Digest (all 5 volumes), Shooter’s Bible (2 volumes+) just to name three. Brownell’s has several ‘detailed’ gunsmithing books and guides. Any one of these should be mandatory item(s) in your ‘survival’ gun library (I have probably 20+ different volumes from various authors and publishers, but several are for custom work, beyond basic repairs)

    Get you reference books before you need them, we may not always have the interwebnet.regulatedbytechgiants.net

    1. Wow. I feel like you’re talking directly to ME. I have a pre-’64 .30-30 Model 94, and I performed a full takedown and restoration of one of the first Model 94s (serial number confirms mfd in 1901) that has been in my family for four generations since new. That one was a real doozy to disassemble. One thing I recommend to anyone doing such a project…I took various close-up photos along the length of the entire gun, printed them off a life size, taped them all to a large piece of cardboard, and then applied each screw, spring, and small part to its corresponding photo with Scotch tape, right where it would be on the gun itself. Helped tremendously when reassembly!

      My late Grandpa served in WWII, obtained some Springfield 1903A3s, and sporterized one that I had to also clean up upon inheriting it. Turned out to be a great hunting gun with the scope, but a shame that the original furniture was discarded and the receiver tapped. I suppose it didn’t matter back in the ’60s when so many were available at the time and everyone was doing

      1. Back in the 50’s & 60’s, you could get a surplus M1903 for probably around $15 (YES! Really!), from the Dept. of Civilian Marksmanship (DCM) now known as the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), both were/are run and regulated through the DoD. (I believe)
        (I once shot a 1911 at a range that the ‘old timer’ got, THROUGH THE MAIL from the back pages of Argosy magazine for $19 in 1961, There were M1 Carbines for $15-$20, .30-40 Krags for around $10 and many, many more treats), but those days are LONG gone…

        Most of the ‘greatest generation’ like my Gramps (and every one else’s) probably bought their ‘sporterized’ deer rifles (1903’s) from the local gun or hardware stores for, I’m guessing… $35, I mean after all… there was lots of work involved in sporterizing a rifle… I can see a clerk saying…’For Pete’s sake, why are you complaining about $35? if you want to save $20, buy the rifle through the mail and do it yourself!’…lol

        and P.S. Marlin 30-30 Lever Action’s do not require a full disassembly to replace a (common) broken firing pin, I’ve worked on plenty of both (Henry’s also) but I still have a pre-64 Winchester (1951 if I remember) as my ‘saddle gun’. (nothing wrong with any of the others though…) also, .30-30 (along with .30-06) is still, to this day by far, the cheapest ammo out there at around $16+- a box (each) and it’s still on the shelves at the store(s), however they both may be a little more scarce since Hunting season is opening up all over the country this month (depending on your local)

        Good luck!

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