Oh brother, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten to the range and realize I forgot to pack something vital. Unfortunately, I forgot some staples a couple of weeks ago. However, being the problem solver that I am, I used some handy 100mph tape I happened to have in my truck.
In any case, I wanted to write this quick entry so y’all don’t repeat the mistakes I’ve made over time.
Table of Contents
A ton of companies out there make different range bags of various sizes. Some bags have MOLLE attachments, some with 1000 external pockets, and others with several internal dividers. I wanted to get a bag that was big enough to fit everything I felt like I needed, which as you’ll see below is a lot of stuff. However, I didn’t want to carry a duffle bag and I certainly didn’t want to have to make multiple trips.
I originally bought the First Spear range bag, but it was too small for the purposes I had. I settled on the Kryptek range bag and got it for about $80 off Amazon. It has a side compartment that allows me to store seven pistol mags, another side pouch that I store my tools in, and a compartment on each end that I keep my spare parts and pasties in. The main compartment is spacious and has two length-wise pockets that are meant to store pistols. It even came with a thin, padded pistol case that fits perfectly in the pistol slots. The inner portion of the zip closure also has some elastic bands that I use for extra pistol mags and a CAT tourniquet.
Don’t count out the First Spear, Grey Ghost Gear, or Esstac range bags if you want something a little smaller and you can pare down the packing list a little bit. I actually like the Esstac version because you can put a 50 cal ammo can in it for rigidity and line the outside with MOLLE magazine pouches to save internal space. In the end, you’ve got to go with what you need.
So no kidding, there I was, fresh off the first stage of the day in a 3 gun match that I felt like I smoked. I locked and cleared, then rotated the throw lever on my Vortex Razor back to 1x…. when the entire optic rotated in my Geissele mount. Oh. Shit. I learned a lot about mounting optics in the several minutes after that with the help of some experienced buddies. We ended up using the built in level feature on an iPhone and some Fix It Sticks, which was good enough for me to get 2nd on the long range stage.
Fix It Sticks
That gave me a HUUGE appreciation for Fix It Sticks, and now I literally don’t go on a deployment, range trip, or match without them in my bag. They’re compact and lightweight, but allow for you to torque your scope rings or optic mounts to a precise inch-poundage with a handy torque limiter. Depending on the kit you get, they also come with a Phillips head, flat head, and a variety of star heads and Allen keys.
Speaking of Allen keys, I also make sure I ALWAYS have both a standard/imperial (or Merican) and a metric set. I’ve seen all tons of things come lose, from scope dials to muzzle devices. A good set of Allen keys will make sure you can at least finish your training or match and you’ll absolutely make some new friends at the range.
I’ve also found that having a good multi-tool will help for a wide variety of reasons. For that, I keep my Leatherman MUT. It’s got a punch, brass carbon scraper, and several screw driver tips for some emergency weapons maintenance in a compact package. The pliers have also come in handy to tighten some bolts at the range without having to find a range officer.
This next one is one of the most over-looked, under-appreciated tools you can take with you: a cleaning rod. I carry a US-government issue M4 cleaning rod that I can break down and stow in my range bag. During training or on deployments, I keep it broken down in the chest pocket on my plate carrier. Case head separations or general obstructions can be a huge pain and ruin your range trip, especially if you only brought a bore snake to swab your bore.
The shot time is pretty obvious, but man it helps out a lot. I’m to the point now that I have some specific drills that I want to do and they all require a shot time. I use the Competition Electronics Pocket Pro 2 and I love it. Even when I’m at the range solo I can just clip it on my belt or pocket, set the start to random, and go to work. Being able to check your split times can help hone your techniques to figure out which one is fastest while maintaining an acceptable level of accuracy. In a pinch, you can download an app on your phone that’ll actually work pretty well. That’s what I did before I forked over the dough for a stand-alone timer.
Tailor your Training
That brings me to maybe the most important tool you’ll bring with you: a plan. I try and make sure that whenever I have an opportunity to go to the range, I know exactly what I want to get out of it. Am I confirming my zero, using a chronograph to get some solid data for my ballistic app, or trying to trim down the time between target transitions? RE Factor Tactical makes a few great products for this, specifically The Essential Shooting Guide or the Dead Man’s Hand Shooting Deck. The guide really helps you develop your skills to a pretty proficient level and the shooting deck is a really fun way to culminate your range sessions to test those new skills, particularly with some buddies to compete against.
Speed loaders are a must for me now. I used to think they were for soft men with soft hands, until I shot for 8 hours a day during a two week long class. I had a serious case of Glock knuckle and having a Maglula Uplula pistol speed loader made it a lot easier on me and my fingers. After that course, the pistol speed loader became an indispensable part of my kit. My wife won’t load pistol mags without it either, so I had to get her one to keep with her EDC pistol when she has to travel, so I can keep mine in my range bag.
Rifle speed loaders aren’t as much of a necessity for me personally, but it also depends on if you’re loading from stripper clips or not. Check out either the Beta Mag loader or Viking 556SC for stripper clip options or Maglula for loose rounds.
Don’t forget to pack your staple gun! And staplers! The whole reason I felt compelled to write this article was because my staple gun was consistently left on my work bench at home. Spray adhesive is also a good option, but it takes up a lot of space and, trust me on this, it really sucks when the lid falls off and you spray glue all over your bag.
Note Taking Materials
Keep a small pocket-sized note book in your bag along with a few pens and Sharpies. Record your progress or muzzle velocities in your notebook so you can quickly reference what your bullet drops are at varying distances.
The markers will come in handy to mark your shots, take notes, or write the drills down for everyone to see if you’re shooting with a group.
In my youth, I’d just take 2 or 3 old ammo cans and make like 4 trips back and forth between the firing line and my truck. That’s for the birds. Now I have two G-Code bang boxes: one for 9mm and another for 5.56mm. The boxes have plastic bottoms and cordura tops that zip closed. I can fit about 250 rounds of 9mm in one and about 120 rounds of 5.56mm in the other. I wish I could fit more rifle rounds or they made a different size, but I remedy that by just jamming the mags full beforehand. Typically, the rifle ammo is just cheap blaster 55gr stuff. What I use for my Gucci ammo is a Magpul Medium DAKA pouch. Since I only shoot Mk262 77gr sparingly, it doesn’t require a large bag so the DAKA pouch is perfect for it.
In my range bag, I keep a variety of pistol magazines for my STI and Glock. If I’m going to the range, I’m almost always shooting either a STI Marauder, Glock 34, or Glock 19 Roland Special. So, I keep 4x 140mm, 1x 126mm, and 1x 170mm STI mags and 6x Glock 17 mags in my bag at all times. I have to keep them in there or I’ll absolutely forget them.
For rifles, I primarily shoot AR15 pattern so my range bag is stuffed with PMAGs of various types. I keep a 20 rounder for bench shooting, 3-4 30 rounders, a 40 rounder, and a D-60 for 3 gun practice.
To get the most out of your targets, you’ll definitely want to invest in some pasties. I only use brown and black, but that’s because I don’t care about using those colors in the rare and embarrassing moment when I slightly, maybe clip a non-threat in the form of a white IPSC cardboard target overlaid on a threat target.
The pasties can help you patch up the bullseye or keep track of your overall group for the day. You can color code your pasties to see how a particular string went for you or alternate with a buddy for comparison’s sake.
If you’re using your own target stands, a few extra fir strips in your vehicle will help keep your targets upright and with something to attach to.
Spare Parts & Miscellaneous
I keep a few extra parts, but I wouldn’t say these are necessarily essentials to your packing list. I keep some extra fiber optic rods and a lighter in a side pouch in the event that I need to swap out my fiber mid-match… which has also happened.
I primarily shoot a STI Marauder 2011 and I find it handy to have a bushing wrench for cleaning or maybe an extra firing pin spring (though in a pinch you can stretch out the old spring to get you through the rest of the day).
Whenever I’m taking a shotgun to the range, I always make sure I have several chokes and a choke wrench. 90% of the time, I shoot improved cylinder with my Remington Versamax but I switch to modified, skeet, and full from time to time depending on the target array.
Personally, I like to keep a couple of extra magazine pouches in a side pocket. I generally have two extra Blackhawk double-stack mag carriers that are great if I want to run a drill that requires a few extra pistol mags or if a buddy forgets (you know, since he didn’t read this sweet blog entry).
Range finders are handy tools for long range shooting or if you need to confirm your zero at a specific distance. The Sig Kilo series is great and is currently used by some of the best shooters out there, but Leupold, Bushnell, and Vortex make excellent products at reasonable prices for range finders. I’ve got a Sig Kilo 1400 BDX and it’s excellent, plus it’ll come in handy if I ever get around to a Sig BDX rifle scope. Whatever you do, get a rangefinder that will go a bit farther than you think you’ll need.
I know that you don’t really store your targets in your range bag, but when you head to the range you’ve got to shoot something right? Steel is great for distance and speed to give you that satisfying audible feedback. Paper is perfect for precision and fundamentals. You’ll see guys who can absolutely burn it down with steel targets, then have shot groups that look like 00 buckshot once they get into the shoothouse. On the flip side, if you spend all your time punching paper, you can get sucked into trying to be so accurate that you develop training scars and move too slow.
I like to use a variety of paper targets depending on what I want to get done. You can’t have enough cardboard IPSC targets, B8 bullseye, VTAC silhouettes, or RE Factor Tactical IQ targets. If you have RE Factor’s Essential Shooting Guide, you’ll also need the Essentials target to conduct several of the drills, but the drills are fun and challenging.