Range bags for shooting are extremely helpful in transporting the essentials to and from the range, as well as keeping things organized and protected. We’ve gone over our favorite range bags in a separate article, so be sure to check that out. In this article, we’re going to go over the items you should keep in your range bag, including some optional things you may not have considered. Let’s get started!
Firearms, ammunition, and magazines/speedloaders
Well, duh, you might be thinking to yourself. If you’re going to the shooting range, it’s a pretty good idea to take your firearms and ammunition. However, you’d be surprised how many times we and our fellow shooters have arrived at the range without a particular gun, ammo for a gun, or magazines for a gun we intended to shoot. Before each trip, make a checklist of each gun you plan on using and double-check you have the firearm, magazines, and enough ammo for that gun. If you’re shooting a USPSA-type match, we usually bring at least double the rounds required to complete the match, if not triple. It’s not good to run out of ammo. Also, we’d advise that you bring a backup gun that fits your competition holster in case your primary firearm suffers an irreparable parts breakage or other failure.
Handgun shooters often transport their firearms to and from the range within a range bag, while rifle and shotgun shooters will typically carry their firearms in separate padded cases. The better range bags will either come with or allow the storage of separate, padded handgun pouches to keep your handguns organized and protected from scratches. Always keep each handgun in its own pouch or padded bag within your main range bag.
Revolver shooters who use speedloaders will want to keep a good supply of speedloaders or moon clips in their range bag.
Image courtesy of: Lucky Gunner
Should I keep ammo in my range bag or carry it separately?
This is an issue of personal preference, as well as being influenced by the volume of shooting you plan to do. If you’re the kind of shooter who enjoys shooting 20 rounds from a bench rest over the course of a couple hours, taking your time between each group, and maximizing your accuracy, you will probably be fine carrying a few boxes of ammunition in your range bag.
However, if you shoot several hundred rounds (or more) of pistol or rifle ammunition during your range session or during a match, you might want to carry a separate metal or polymer ammo can so your range bag doesn’t become unmanageably heavy when loaded down with all that ammunition. However, if you are training with a rifle and don’t need space in your range bag for handguns, you can easily fit a couple of dozen loaded rifle magazines in your range bag, so you don’t have to worry about loading them while at the range.
Quality eye and ear protection
This is a must for any trip to the range. Make sure your selected eye protection meets ANSI Z87.1 or higher for safety standards. Don’t assume your prescription eyeglasses provide sufficient protection from ballistic impacts and splashback.
Don’t take even one shot without proper hearing protection in place. Even one unprotected shot from many powerful firearms can cause permanent hearing loss. Electronic hearing muffs are awesome to have, allowing you to hear range commands clearly and carry on conversations while automatically limiting all dangerous noise levels. Our favorite budget electronic muffs are Howard Leight Impact Sports, which are often on sale for around $40. Well worth it.
If you choose to use traditional foam or rubber earplugs, be sure to read the directions and follow them closely. Most people don’t roll foam plugs small enough or insert them deep enough to function as designed. We always throw a few pairs of foam plugs in our range bag to hand out to others or in case our earmuffs break for some reason. We always bring spare eye protection as well.
First aid kit (and training)
In our view, everyone on a gun range should carry a tourniquet and know how to use it. We’ve been on the range when someone put a bullet through their leg when holstering in an unsafe manner, and a tourniquet came in really handy until the air-med helicopter arrived.
If you carry a tourniquet (and you should), pack some dressing shears with it so you can cut through clothing safely and expose the bleed. Also, you should take a first-aid class that teaches the proper use of tourniquets. You may also want to include a trauma kit for penetrating wounds of the chest. Be sure you know what you’re doing in that case.
However, even if you don’t want to carry or learn how to use a tourniquet for some reason, you should still carry a basic first-aid kit. Small cuts and abrasions are common during practical shooting matches, and some antiseptic ointment or wipes and a stock of adhesive bandages can make a big difference in your enjoyment of the day. Plus, you can supply any other shooters who may suffer minor injuries while at the range. Also, include a good pair of tweezers (for wood or metal splinters).
Targets, target backers, and stapler
Depending on what range you’re visiting, you may or may not need to provide your own target hangers or stands. If you have to supply target stands, they probably aren’t going to fit inside your range bag. However, paper targets, pasties, and a staple gun or tape will. Be sure your range allows the use of staples to hang targets; some don’t. In those cases, spring clips or tape will be necessary to hang paper targets.
Competition belt, holster, and magazine pouches
If you’re shooting a handgun or multigun match, you’ll want to make sure you bring your competition belt rig, which usually consists of a dedicated shooting belt, holster, and magazine pouches. We always bring a backup holster in case one breaks (it does happen).
Squib rod and cleaning rod
A squib is the term for a round that fails to fully ignite and often results in a bullet lodged in your barrel. This is a dangerous condition that, if another round is fired behind it, may result in severe injury to the shooter or bystanders. A squib rod is a section of (usually) brass of appropriate diameter and length to be used to drive a stuck bullet out of your handgun barrel. We always carry one when attending handgun matches, and it’s come in handy several times to help shooters using low-quality ammunition.
Video: How Dangerous Is A Squib?
Even if you don’t clean your rifle at the range, you should carry a cleaning rod (more conveniently in sections) long enough to knock out a stuck case from the chamber if the rim gets ripped off or the case otherwise sticks. This can save your range trip from getting shut down early by this malfunction.
Cleaning kit, mat, solvent, and lubrication
Some people like to clean their guns at the range before they come home. Others prefer to wait until they’re at home to lay out a cleaning mat and get out the cleaning rods. Whatever your preference, it’s a good idea to keep a basic cleaning kit in your range bag, as well as solvent and a good gun oil. Many times, the application of a quality oil can get your (or someone else’s) gun back up and running at the range.
Tools and accessories
Some of these tools and accessories may be considered optional depending on the type of shooting you’re doing or your preferences. However, in the right circumstances, they may be indispensable.
Depending on what type of range shooting you want to do, you might want to pack an acoustic shot timer. This device can improve your shooting in multiple ways, but its basic function is to record exactly how much time it takes for you to complete a shot or multiple shots. You can measure split times (times between each shot), set par times for drills, set random start signals for you to react to, and much more. For defensive, dynamic, or practical shooting, a shot timer is an absolute must for effective training at the range.
Another excellent reason for using a shot timer during range training is that it introduces a small amount of stress, which is a good thing. As you time yourself doing pretty much any task, you’ll note that it’s more stressful than doing that activity without a timer running. For a speed-based competition like practical shooting, any competitor will tell you that when the beep of the timer goes off, any mental plans you had for shooting that particular stage can often go right out the window. You can get rattled and forget your strategy. Using a timer regularly during range practice inoculates you to be able to handle stress better when it counts.
Firearm-specific tools and spare parts
Many firearms require fairly unique tools for maintenance and repair. If your handgun’s grip panel comes loose during a match or range session, and you don’t have the appropriate grip screw bit, it can shut down your day. (This is one reason long-time shooters like Hilton Yam of 10-8 Performance always swap out any fancy Torx or hex-head grip screws with good ol’ slotted-head screws. You can use a coin to tighten your grip screws if you don’t have anything else.) If your firearm doesn’t require specific Torx bits, a good set of hollow-ground screwdrivers, a set of metric and standard allen/hex keys, a few punches, a small hammer, and a multi-tool can get you out of most jams.
Spare parts are another area where people disagree, but if you are at a range and have a single rifle, it’s not a bad idea to carry a spare bolt (for an AR-15) or firing pin or extractor. Whatever part you think might break and take your rifle out of action, consider carrying a spare in your range bag.
Extra fiber-optic rods and a lighter
If you use fiber-optic rods in your firearm’s sights, it’s a good idea to carry spares. They’re easy to replace at the range if needed. Use a lighter to melt/expand one end, thread the non-expanded end through the sight so the excess is out the front, and touch that end with the lighter to secure it in place. Easy-peasy.
There are still people who consider magazine-loading-assist devices to be unnecessary or even a sign of weakness, but we wager most of them haven’t used the UpLULA or other products from Maglula. They make loading magazines a breeze, saving time and wear on your thumbs. Loading the last couple of rounds into super-stiff handgun magazines is no longer a chore, and loading or unloading rifle magazines using one of Maglula’s tools is actually fun.
Binoculars (for outdoor matches)
If you’re shooting an outdoor match, you should assist your squad in spotting hits on longer-range targets. A good pair of binoculars with image stabilization can make this a lot easier.
If you’re sighting in a rifle or shooting for groups from the bench, you can use binoculars to examine your own impacts on 25, 50, or 100-yard targets and make any needed adjustments, so you don’t have to wait for a cease-fire and walk down to inspect your groups. You could bring a spotting scope for this, but many people find binoculars more convenient to use.
If you’re shooting a PRS-type competition, a quality rangefinder is going to be essential. You need to know exactly how far your targets are, and the difference between 450 yards and 490 yards might make the difference between a win and a loss. Rangefinders also come in handy for multi-gun or 3-gun competitions, where you can range the farther targets for your squad members or yourself so you know what you’re up against. You may also want to bring a Kestrel or other weather/wind-measuring tool.
Spare batteries (if needed)
If you are shooting firearms with electronic sights, such as long range scopes with illuminated reticles or red dot optics, be sure to bring spare batteries for them. Your rangefinder and shot timer (and possibly your binoculars) will also need batteries.
Notebook and pen
It’s a common axiom that only measured and tracked goals can be achieved. If you’re trying to improve your draw speed or split times or transitions, you need to record your progress so you can see where you’ve improved and note areas that need work. A write-in-the-rain notebook is preferred in case of inclement weather.
There are some personal items that you should consider including in your range bag, particularly for outdoor gun ranges.
Sunscreen, hat, lip balm
On an outdoor range in the sun, you’ll definitely want to wear a hat and sunscreen. A hat helps you see your targets better, keeps the sun off your skin and out of your eyes, and the brim can prevent hot brass from bouncing behind your eye protection or down your neck (ouch). Sunscreen has obvious benefits and can prevent you from getting a nasty burn while you’re focusing on shooting. Quality chapstick with SPF can prevent uncomfortable chapping or burning of your lips.
Heat-resistant shooting gloves
Depending on what type of shooting you're doing, you may not need these, but if you shoot black-colored rifles in the sun (especially suppressed rifles), they can get painfully hot pretty quickly. Some protective gloves can prevent burns and unsafe situations (like dropping a hot firearm). A spare set of leather gloves is also really nice to have when you’re helping clean up sharp/dirty steel targets or splintered wood target stands after the match.
Water and snacks
If you’re going to be at the range for more than a couple of hours, you may want to bring water and packaged snacks like granola bars or trail mix (be sure to wash your hands before eating or drinking anything during/after the shooting activity to prevent lead contamination). Staying hydrated is vitally important whenever you’re outdoors in warmer weather.
Wet wipes/baby wipes
Being able to clean your hands and face after getting sweaty, dusty, dirty, sticky, or muddy feels like a luxury. A pack of baby wipes always goes in our range bag. Wipes also help remove lead contaminants from your hands and arms before touching your cell phone, keys, or car after you shoot (especially before you eat or drink). D-Wipes are a good option.
If you shoot in an area with lots of annoying insects flying around, a can of bug spray can be a godsend. Make sure you read the instructions and keep the spray away from firearms and sunglasses, as some types of insect repellent can harm polymer, wood, or metal finishes.
KEEP YOUR GUNS SECURE IN A LIBERTY SAFE OR HANDGUN VAULT
Remember, a range bag, even if you lock the zippers, can usually just be picked up and stolen. Never store your guns in your range bag long-term. When you’re done with your range day, and you’ve cleaned and lubed your guns, be sure to keep your firearms secure in the best gun safe or handgun vault you can afford until your next trip to the range.