Many folks constantly need help deciding whether to pack everything from the workshop minus the lathe and mill or run bare bones and chance getting caught without the right tools for the job. Never having what you need after driving an hour or more to the range is a miserable situation many of us know all too well. Rest assured; there is a compromise between packing spare batteries for your spare electronic muffs and forgetting to bring essentials like ammunition and targets.
With an overwhelming plethora of gadgets and doodads being constantly peddled everywhere you turn, the chance of a person new to the market being overwhelmed is exponential. Some "tools" are nothing more than overhyped garbage that will leave you stranded. While usually holding a higher price tag, buying from reputable brands will often save you a headache. Too often, I have learned the hard lesson of "buy once, cry once" while trying to save a few dollars. If you are like me and have to drive a minimum of an hour to go and shoot, the added peace of mind that your tools will work every time you need them is well worth the extra coin.
Below I have compiled a list of what I bring to the range at a minimum. For some of the premium options, I have also listed a budget-friendly option that won't break the bank.
RANGE BAG MUST-HAVES
- Ammunition - We have all done it; Don't forget your ammunition.
- Cleaning Cloth - Consider a cloth for any optics you might be using, as well as for yourself and your firearm if need be.
- Eye Protection - Having your safety in mind is a must. Quality eye protection is comfortable and unobtrusive. If wearing muffs, look for a design that has thin arms not to impede the seal of the muff and offer better comfort.
- First Aid - There are a lot of people more intelligent than I who can give you advice on this. Find a reputable instructor and take a class. Knowledge is power. Know how to use the tools at your disposal, as simply packing first aid isn't enough.
- Gun Cleaner and Lube - A clean and lubed gun is a happy gun. For most, a simple CLP will work great for your range bag.
- Hearing Protection - Whether you choose plugs or muffs, a quality set of hearing protection will make your range trip much more enjoyable. If going for the muff option, look at ones with gel-padded ear cups - you will thank me later.
- A Notebook - If you are serious about shooting, you must document your range trips. Electronics can fail, and it is always a great idea to have a redundant form of tracking the performance of your firearm and the shooter.
- Range Rod - Used for removing squib loads and other obstructions from the barrel. Nothing ruins a range trip more than having a barrel obstruction three rounds into your shoot and having nothing to solve your problem. An inexpensive alternative is a hardwood dowel of appropriate size from your local hardware store.
- Spare Batteries - Do you know what doesn't work well with a dead battery? - Red dot sights. If you have electronic muffs, a Kestrel, a chronograph, or any illuminated optic, spare batteries are a must.
- A Quality Stapler and Staples - While I have seen everything from tape and chewing gum to bobby pins and string used to try and attach targets to the backer, staples work every time. Alternatives that have worked well depending on the target backer design are push pins and spring-loaded clamps.
- Targets - This one is self-explanatory. You can find a ton of free options online to print at home. Printing on cardstock makes for a more durable option.
- A Quality Tool Kit - This is where I see the most diversity. I personally run The Works kit and find it offers a great all-around solution to my needs that is very compact and adds no noticeable bulk or weight to my range bag. Fix It Sticks are fantastic.
If you want to build your own, a quality kit should include, at a minimum:
- A driver or T-handle
- A healthy assortment of bits
- Non-marring punches
- Dental type picks
- Needle nose pliers or a Leatherman
- Wet Wipes - Whether you want to clean up before lunch or the outhouse is out of toilet paper, throwing a small pack of baby wipes in your bag is cheap insurance so that you won't feel dirty on your drive home.
RANGE BAG NICE-TO-HAVES
- Barrel Cooler - Extremely helpful to increase your productive time at the range on those hot days and extended strings of fire.
- Bolt Disassembly Tool - This can save the day if you ever have a blown primer and grit gets inside the bolt. While every bolt is different, and some are a toolless disassembly, being familiar with how to disassemble your bolt and what tools you need is a good idea.
Pro Tip: If you have a Remington 700-style bolt, you can use a piece of string or paracord and a dime to take down your bolt for cleaning. There are a few great examples on YouTube.
- Chronograph - I keep a Magnetospeed Sporter in my range bag. It is a very compact and accurate option that is great when I need to confirm my velocity.
- Flashlight - Unless you shoot at night, I only pack this to check chambers and barrels for cleanliness and obstructions. Fix It Sticks makes a tiny but bright light that fits nicely inside my tool kit.
- Foam Earplugs - While hearing protection is already under the must-haves, I sometimes need to double up on hearing protection when running muffs and shooting larger cartridges. This is especially true when shooting beside someone who is shooting a large cartridge with a muzzle brake.
- A Level - If having to mount/remount a scope, having a level and even a plumb bob is very handy.
- Rear Bag/Shooting Rests - When shooting a rifle, a rear bag and some kind of front rest are essential to a stable shooting position. There is plenty of options and combinations. While experimenting with what is suitable for you is ultimately the only way to answer this personal dilemma, you can go right with a bipod and rear bag. A sock filled with rice makes an acceptable rear bag if you are on a tight budget.
- Shooting Mat - If shooting prone, this makes everything more comfortable. Being comfortable means more productive shooting. Avoid black mats, as the heat makes them impossible to lay on in the summer.
- Spotting Scope - As amazing as today's rifle scopes are, the addition of a spotting scope to your range kit can make target hit identification that much easier.
- Torque Limiting Tools - This can be in the form of a screwdriver like the Wheeler Fat Wrench or something like the Fix It Sticks Torque Limiters. I have used both with great success, and I consider them necessary when working on any firearm or optic.
- Tripod - One of the most versatile pieces of kit I never leave home without. In addition to being great to shoot off of, it offers a secure platform to hold and service or clean your rifle. When not in use with my shooting system, I will set it up with my spotting scope for better target monitoring.
Nothing in life is absolute, including this list above. This is what I have found works for me and helps new and seasoned shooters. Do your research and find what works for your situation and budget. If you are out at the range or competition and see someone using something that piques your interest, ask them about it. More often than not, most people will have zero issues letting you look at and even try out their products.
GUIDES FROM MDT
- Expert Gear Guide for Precision Rifle Competition
- Beginners Gear Guide for Precision Rifle Competition
- Hunting In Inclement Weather
- Tips for Cold Weather Shooting
- Tips For A Successful Antelope Hunt
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Justin Foster grew up in rural British Columbia and developed a love for firearms at a young age. Justin started shooting ELR recreationally in 2019, eventually leading to his newfound passion, F-Class. Justin is an avid F-Class shooter and shoots in the F-TR division. Justin is a full-time writer and photographer and spends his free time with his wife and dog. He can be reached on Instagram @lead.rain