Congratulations - you just purchased a new rifle, mounted a brand-new $2,000 Nightforce optic and picked up a thousand rounds of ammunition you found on sale at Bass Pro. You're ready to go to the range, right?
Whether you're a competitive shooter who spends every waking hour away from their kids at the local range or just a newcomer to the hobby of firearms ownership, there are some essential items you'll need to ensure you don't end your range day with more holes in your body than you started with. Here are 12 Range Day Essentials we put together based on our decades of combined experience shooting both competitively and recreationally:
1. Ballistic Eyewear
There's nothing quite like the feeling of a tiny piece of copper jacket hitting your forehead to remind you why you need quality ballistic eyewear at the range, whether you're shooting steel or paper. However, that's not the only reason to wear it. In bright conditions, such as on a sunny day or when training in the snow, a tinted lens will help prevent your eyes from fatiguing and drying out, keeping you on the range for longer. Wearing eyewear also means you'll be training like you fight; on a two-way range or when patrolling out in the bush, eye protection is a necessity against both fragmentation and errant tree branches. Getting used to the feeling of eyewear as well as familiarizing yourself with methods for dealing with fogging and condensation while on the range will help you be more effective overrall.
2. Electronic Hearing Protection
When we were shooting competitively, the biggest visual indicator that the new guys were learning was when they finally showed up to practice with MSAs or Peltors rather than foam earplugs. Compared to traditional hearing protection, electronic hearing protection offers several key advantages, chief among them being increased situational awareness and the ability to communicate in noisy environments. There's nothing like being inside a kill house trying to pass up info to your team leader while buddy on the GPMG next to you is going to town to make you wish you hadn't been so stingy with your money. The over-ear style (particularly with the gel ear cups and flat top bands, as pictured above) can also be worn comfortably for long periods of time, even when overtop eyewear and/or under your helmet. If you're worried about relying on complex electronics, don't worry; they will still function like traditional earmuffs if the batteries die, though most use AAs or AAAs (both NiCad and rechargeable) so resupplying shouldn't be much of an issue. Many also offer ways to connect to a music source via AUX cable or Bluetooth. Finally, since you're not inserting porous objects into your ears with your filthy carbon-covered hands, they're also much more hygienic.
Sometimes your stoppage drills aren't enough to remedy a severe malfunction and a set of pliers is the difference between being able to continue on with your training vs having to pack up and head home. Many multi-tools (such as the Gerber MP600 DET EOD) offer specialized functions for those of you handling C4 on a regular basis. Also, in our experience, no one ever seems to have a multi-tool when you need one...so bring your own.
4. MagRipper® .223/5.56 magazine speedloader
Whether you're plinking away at 500m or doing force-on-force training with simunition in a kill house, you're going to need to refill your magazines at some point. A speedloader (specifically, our MagRipper®) lets you cut down your loading time to a matter of seconds and therefore maximize the training time on your weapon system. Unfortunately, you can't spend all day on the range, so making sure every second counts can be the life-or-death difference outside of the context of training. The MagRipper® is also versatile; it has an unloading tool to help you unload your magazines if you don't get to shoot them off, as well as a takedown pin punch so you can crack open your rifle without needing to reach for your multi-tool. It works with clipped AND loose rounds, as well as with any style of ammunition (live, tracer, simunition, blank, dummy, etc.) We also engineered it with extreme chemical, weather and wear resistance so your body will break before the MagRipper® does. For more info, check out our Tech Specs page.
5. Stripper clips (.223/5.56)
For those of you not lucky enough to have your ammo come pre-packaged on stripper clips (such as military and some police ammunition), stripper clips can provide you with many advantages for a fraction of the cost of traditional alternatives. First and foremost, when used in conjunction with a speed loader (such as our MagRipper®) you can load your magazines in a matter of seconds. This allows you to both buy AND carry fewer magazines on the range, meaning you can save hundreds of dollars while still retaining if not exceeding the training tempo that carrying many loaded magazines affords you. For those of us shooting competitively, being able to refill our magazines quickly between matches gives us time for other critical items, such as stretching, practicing our drills, hydrating/eating, or studying the course of fire for the next match. Our polymer stripper clips hold 10 rounds, which means packing your required ammo for the day is also much easier since you don't need to count individual rounds. They also pack nicely and don't take up as much of a footprint in your range bag or backpack as a traditional box.
6. Cleaning kit
Sometimes you need more than a multi-tool to rectify a stoppage, especially if you've just lodged 10 or 11 simunition rounds inside your rifle barrel in which case good luck rectifying that issue without cleaning rods. In addition to dealing with malfunctions, having a cleaning kit with you on the range allows you to perform at least SOME degree of cleaning after you've finished shooting for the day, even if that's just in the form of a quick wipe down of your gas-effected parts and a pull through your bore with an oily patch. Some carbon residues (particularly from cheap surplus ammunition) are corrosive and can lead to pitting and rust over time if not addressed quickly. A well-equipped cleaning kit should have following items AT A MINIMUM:
Cleaning rods with brass jag, bore brush and chamber brush attachments at a minimum
CLP (or cleaner and lubricant/protectant of choice)
Nylon brush (or toothbrush)
When it comes to actuating a trigger, you're only as good as your hands. Unfortunately, your fingers are sensitive and often the first thing to get chewed up in cold and/or wet environments. Handling a 7 lb piece of metal with moving parts also doesn't help. As long as they keep your hands warm, dry, and protected from injury, any type of glove is better than nothing. Just keep in mind that many commercial, non-tactical gloves meant for cold weather are made from materials like fleece and polyester that don't hold up too well against metal edges and abrasive surfaces so it's best to stick with ones that have reinforced areas where you'll be handling your weapon system.
8. IFAK (individual first aid kit)
Even on a range, it's always a good idea to be prepared for the worst. Your options here are unlimited, but at a minimum it's a good idea to carry a tourniquet (our preference is the SOFTT), a field dressing and some bandages or super glue for minor scrapes and cuts. A disinfectant spray/gel or some alcohol wipes also always come in handy, if only to deal with an unexpected trip to the bathroom when your coffee runs through you. Jokes aside, we spend thousands on IR lasers and NVGs we'll likely never need, so investing a few bucks into some life-saving medical supplies is a no-brainer.
9. Body armour
We've already mentioned training like you fight, and that is particularly applicable here. I remember the first time I shot with military-issued plates (most definitely not shooters-cut) and I couldn't believe how much it effected my shooting dynamics. Getting used to this change as well as the extra weight is crucial. This will also force you to rethink your pouch/kit positioning and ensure that everything that needs to be easily accessible still is. Whether you're wearing soft armour, plates, or both, you also get the added benefit of some protection in case anything decides to bounce back at you, especially if you're shooting steel.
10. LRF (laser rangefinder)
If you're doing any kind of precision shooting, accurately calibrating and setting your sights can be the difference between hitting the target or the burm behind it. Even when shooting on proper ranges, I like to double-check the range markers with my LRF to ensure I'm dialing in my sights properly. On more than one occasion I've measured a 5-10% error in the range marker, which may not be too noticeable at short distances but will be magnified over several hundred meters. When shooting in the bush, a LRF drastically increases the probability of first-round hits `and provides you with the ability to practice judging distance, a skill which comes in handy on a day-to-day basis.
In addition to communicating the emotion of sadness to other humans, tears serve the primary function of providing clear vision by washing away foreign matter in the eye. When you're dehydrated, your body produces fewer tears, leading to dry eyes, eye strain, and vision problems. In addition to not being able to clearly see your target, you also won't be able to hit it, since mild dehydration also causes problems with blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature regulation. If you want to shoot well, you need to stay hydrated. If you don't like the taste of water, try using electrolyte tablets or sugar-free drink mixes. Keep in mind that anything with alcohol or caffeine in it will actually exacerbate the problem, but depending on the alcohol content you might not care.
12. Brass bag
You go to the range to increase your lethality...not your assholery. A good rule of thumb is to always leave the range better than you found it, whether that means using a brass bag to clean up more brass that you created or by tidying the area up a bit with a broom. Some clubs have strict rules related to range cleanup, so always familiarize yourself with their rules and ensure you follow them, ESPECIALLY if you're a guest at the range.
This concludes our list of 12 Range Day Essentials. There are many more items which we could've included, but we wanted to keep it poignant. Send us a message with your suggestions and maybe we'll include them in Part 2...