What to pack in your range bag is a question that takes some time and experience to sort out. And if you’re a first-timer, the local sporting goods store can overwhelm with trinkets and gizmos that you probably don’t need. After almost 20 years of sport shooting, here’s what I’ve found works.
I have not received any compensation for recommending any of these items; these are products that have simply worked well for me, and they will hopefully work well for you. The list starts with what I consider the most important essentials, with the end of the list being the “nice to haves” that can be purchased later.
- Eye protection: every shooter needs eye protection. They don’t have to be expensive. For those that wear prescription glasses the Action Package from Decot is tough to beat, especially if you have FSA money that you need to spend.
- Hearing protection: like your eyes, you only get one pair of ears. For many years I shot with a pair of inexpensive shooting earmuffs very similar to these, but Steve “Yeti” Fisher turned me on to these MSA Sordin muffs (with a neckband, so you can wear them with a hat).
- First aid kit: ask ten people and you’ll get ten different opinions on what to keep in a first aid kit. I carry the 5ive Star Gear First Aid Trauma Kit, but there are many other excellent kits to choose from (and you can always assemble your own). Make sure you’re realistic about the types of injuries you may be dealing with.
- Hand wipes and flushable wipes: most indoor ranges have a bathroom facility; many outdoor ranges don’t. Hand wipes are great for a quick lead dust clean-up after shooting, and flushable wipes come in handy for the obvious reason.
- Chamber flags: one of my pet peeves is people that don’t open the action on their guns when the range goes cold. Something that helps me spark up this conversation is to offer them a free chamber flag. Using these will keep you safe and earn you a nod from the seasoned veterans.
- UpLULA Speed Loader: Nobody ever thinks they’ll need this until they try it. It’s the one speed loader that you’ll use for everything from single stack 1911 magazines to double stack Sig and Glock magazines.
- Stapler gun, staples and targets: Most ranges I’ve been to charge $1 to $2 per target. Buy in bulk and you’ll spend about 15¢ per sheet. A staple gun (and staples) are essential for hanging targets (and they’ll stay up in the wind, unlike tape). And if you want to really make things easy on yourself, invest in a map tube to carry your targets in.
- Ammo cans: ammunition is heavy and it deserves to be in its own air tight, water tight container. I like the plastic ones because they’re light, but the metal military surplus cans have more street cred. Either way, put plenty of stickers on your ammo cans!
- Range bag: With much more than glasses and goggles, you’ll want somewhere to put everything. For years I used an old gym bag, but the Osage River Tactical Shooting Gun Range Bag keeps everything in my shooting kit organized and ready to go.
- Cleaning mat: they’re handy for cleaning, but they’re even handier at the range. I always keep one with me for a soft and protective surface to set my guns down on.
- Gun oil: most people put way too much lubricant in their guns. But too little can also be a problem (especially with guns like the 1911, where there’s a lot of metal-on-metal friction), so I keep a small bottle of oil in my bag, and I use it very sparingly.
- Binoculars: most outdoor ranges don’t have motorized target carriers, and any target more than about 10 yards away is going to be hard to see. You can spend as little or as much as you want on binoculars; I really like the now-discontinued Trijicon HD binoculars.
- Rangefinder: “How far is the target?” is a question that gets commonly asked. The Leupold RX-1300i is one of the many excellent rangefinders that will answer this question with remarkable accuracy.
- Trigger gauge: the Wheeler Digital Trigger Gauge does a fantastic job of measuring the trigger break on your gun.
- Shot timer: the Competition Electronics timers seem to be the ones used most often in competitions, and for good reason. They’re designed by shooters for shooters, they’re durable, and they do the job well.
- Chronograph: I only bring this out when I’m testing reloads. I use the old standby Oehler 35P, but I’m told that the LabRadar is the way of the future.
What I Don’t Carry
- Tools and cleaning supplies: I keep a 5″ length of 3/16″ aluminum rod around to knock the occasional squib out of a barrel, but other than that I don’t generally carry tools. The reason is simple: when I take a gun apart at the range I usually lose something. It’s usually a little spring that launches itself into low Earth orbit, and it’ll be the one that takes me weeks to replace.
- Food and beverages: only because lead dust isn’t a good thing to eat and drink. I leave my water bottle in the truck.
- Cross draw holsters: some ranges will allow these, but most won’t. The reason is simple: most people don’t draw from them properly and end up muzzle sweeping half the range.
- Tracer or incendiary ammunition: most ranges don’t like to have their targets and berms burned up.
- Camera: it has been my observation that many firearms enthusiasts and competitive shooters are enthusiastic about their privacy and don’t like to be photographed without being asked. It’s tempting to take a selfie at the range, but please be respectful of those around you who may not want to be featured in your instagram feed.
I’m sure others have found things that should be on this list; please contact me with your suggestions!