June 11, 2013
This year I'm celebrating my 20th year of competitive shooting. I learned quickly that going to a shooting match was different than just heading to the local range to practice — many matches were out of town — if not out of state — and if you didn't have it with you, you shouldn't count on one of the other competitors to loan you something. Heck, they want to beat you, so even if they do have a full set of Allen wrenches in their bag, they might not admit it. Heading to a nearby range, you can throw whatever you might need into the back of your truck. Competitive shooters, however, live and die, win and lose, based on the contents of their bags.
The first range bag I ever bought was the biggest on the market at the time, because I figured if I got anything smaller, I'd end up regretting it. It was sold by Wilson Combat, and veteran competitive shooter Bill Wilson knew a few things about range bags. Wilson doesn't sell that bag anymore, but it was large enough to hold four handguns, 1,000 rounds of ammo, a cleaning kit, spare gun parts, whatever other assorted gun tools you could think of, 20 magazines and it still had room left over for your empty cases. You know what else it was when I loaded it up? HEAVY.
I lugged that bag around for years, even to local matches, before I stopped and asked myself, "Why am I lugging all this stuff around?" At that point, I started paring down the contents of my range bag to the items I really needed, and the stuff I couldn't do without. Now my range bag is a much more minimalist affair, but I still have everything I need. Here's a short list of stuff you absolutely need to have in your bag to make sure your range time puts a smile on your face.
Mesh Bottom Brass Bag
A lot of people these days either reload or save their brass for a buddy who does. Whether you plan to shoot 10 rounds or 200, dumping those spent, possibly dirty cases into the bottom of your range bag will make the inside of your bag a complete mess. Many companies make mesh bottom brass bags designed to be tied onto the outside of your range bags. For years I thought they were an affectation, and then the bottom of my bag started to look like a dry riverbed. Mesh bags designed to go into washing machines work well, but if you're looking for something a little nicer, check out Ceddaa.com
and IShot, Inc.
Allen Wrenches and Screwdrivers
You know you're going to need to loosen a scope or tighten a magazine pouch, if not this trip then the next. If you don't, somebody else will. You can be a hero by having the tools to get the job done. Neither of these tools take up a lot of room, but they are indispensible. Just make sure whoever you loan them to at the firing line gives them back. At $159.99, The Leatherman MUT
is a great all-purpose tool for any range bag.
Otis B.O.N.E. Tool
The B.O.N.E Tool
comes included with Otis' MS/AR Cleaning System
, but it is such a nifty tool Otis sells it separately. Anyone who owns a modern sporting rifle ought to have one of these handy little tools. This one piece of metal has been specifically designed to scrape carbon and fouling from the firing pin, bolt, and bolt carrier of an AR-15; not bad for a $25 part.
Some cleaning kits are larger than the range bag I currently use. If you want to bring along a full-size, clean-any-size-gun-ever-made cleaning kit, that's fine, but you don't need it. Having a small, compact cleaning kit such as an Otis
— with a toothbrush, bore brush, small bottle of lube and patches — will be very handy when your rifle or pistol doesn't want to run and you need to clean it on the spot.
Brownells Weapon-Specific Field Packs
For those of you wanting to upgrade the type or number of repair tools you're bringing to the range, Brownells is now offering field maintenance packs
which contain everything you could possibly need to service a specific type of firearm. They are just the right size to fit into larger range bags. Brownells offers versions designed for Glocks, S&W M&Ps, tactical shotguns, AR-15s, 1911s, Ruger Mini-14s, Remington 700s and the Beretta 92/M9. They are not cheap, but you get what you pay for.
Real Avid Gun Tool
These weapon-dedicated multi-tools have become hugely popular, and for good reason. They collect all the tools you'll need to work on a firearm and pack them into one convenient package. Real Avid
is also offering specialized versions — such as the Ruger Gun Tool, packed with the tools you'll need to disassemble/clean any Ruger firearm. You can find them just about everywhere online, with various versions selling for between $17 to $30.
Squib Rod for Pistols
Rifle cleaning kits with fixed or segmented rods tend to take up a lot of space. If you're only shooting a pistol and don't have a sturdy cleaning rod with you, then you ought to have a sturdy squib rod
in your kit. I've lost count of the number of bullets I've seen stuck in pistol barrels, and the only way to get them out is with a squib rod. A hammer to bang on the end of the rod is nice, but again, this takes up some room in your bag, and banging the end of the rod on the shooting bench works almost as well.
Spare Set of Earplugs
Whether you forget your favorite electronic earmuffs or bring a friend/family member to the range, always having a few cheap foam earplugs at the bottom of your range bag is a darn good idea.
For the last two years or more I have exclusively been using the Surefire Sonic Defenders
. I find them superior to standard foam plugs; rubber doesn't really wear out, and after one too many shooting matches in 100 plus degree weather, I don't wear earmuffs anymore. I just got a set of the new EP7 plugs
, which are tipped with foam instead of rubber. They actually work even better at reducing noise, but the foam will wear out quicker than the rubber. The small price of $19.99 will have your friends thanking you when they don't have to scream in your ear to carry on a conversation.
Towel or Gun Rag
Small patches work great for swabbing out your bore, but you may need to do some serious cleaning. Bring a terrycloth towel or an old T-shirt to hog out that grimy receiver, or wipe down the pistol you accidentally dropped in the mud. Been there, done that. If you don't want to sacrifice a T-shirt to carbon and fouling, Webril Handi Pads
are strong, absorbent and reusable.
Back in the day, serious range bags designed by people who knew their business were hard to come by. These days, finding a quality range bag is easy and you have your choice of size and style. If you want a bag big enough to hold anything you might need — yet small enough to actually lift when full — check out either the Blackhawk Enhanced Pro Shooters Bag
or the Brownells Signature Series Shooting Bag
The Blackhawk bag is a no-nonsense range tool with a tactical look to it, while the larger Brownells bag is one of the best.
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