A well-packed range bag avoids early-ending shooting sessions.
By Phil Massaro
I liken my range bag to my wife’s purse. I find myself looking through my range bag, at a menagerie of items, unable to find the one simple thing I'm looking for. And much like my wife’s purse, that item is usually right in front of my eyes.
Organization is certainly not my strong suit. But I do know that if there’s an item that’s needed at the range, odds are that it is in my range bag, somewhere.
The bag itself can take on many guises, from a commercially produced bag (my own is made by Hoppe’s) to a backpack with many pouches and pockets. I even know guys who use doctor’s bags, bowling bags, and other oddball choices. See, it’s not the bag that counts, but what’s inside.
The tool or item needed and not in the bag is that item that ends the range session prematurely—and when this happens, that item will be firmly planted in the bag before leaving the house next time. Let’s take a look at the contents of a well-packed range bag that avoids those early-ending sessions.
Protecting your eyes and ears is imperative, a must.
As a guy who deals with tinnitus on a daily basis (the result of a deadly combination of playing in loud rock bands and exposure to gunfire), I can tell you that you really want to protect your ears. There are many different forms of ear protection, including the simple foam wads, earmuffs, and earmuffs with microphones in them that cancel sound at a certain decibel level to fancy in-ear designs that can Bluetooth-interface with your phone. Depending on the level of noise you’re generating and the conditions under which you’re shooting, you may find yourself wanting one or more types. For example, firing a centerfire rifle with a muzzle brake, an add-on notorious for creating significant noise levels, I have usually used foam plugs under my muffs.
The constant ringing in my ears and the difficulty in hearing people in a crowded restaurant or other place with significant background noise are a constant reminder of how the younger me should’ve taken better care of his ears. If I sound like I'm a bit preachy, I am, because it can easily be prevented. I like the new Champion Vanquish amplified earmuffs and the Grizzly Ears in-ear amplified plugs. The former gives excellent sound cancellation. The latter isn’t far behind, but allows proper cheek placement on the rifle stock without the muff interfering.
Eye protection is just as important, especially if you are one of many shooters on a firing line. Ejected brass, debris flying from a muzzle brake, etc., can all result in eye injury. Though rare, in your own gun, defective ammunition, a barrel obstruction, and mechanical breakdown can cause a dangerous situation in which a firearm can send shards of metal back toward your face.
All that said, I pack numerous shooting glasses and earmuffs in my bag. Not only does that help me to adjust to whatever conditions I’m going to encounter on the range, I can come to the rescue of someone else who’s forgotten to pack their own range bag properly.
A good selection of tools in your range bag will help put things back in order when they go awry. Screwdrivers, both standard and Phillips head in various sizes, and sets of Allen wrenches and Torx-head wrenches come in very handy for adjusting scope bases, rings, and iron sights. Modern scopes require tiny little 0.050-inch Allen keys to adjust the zero-stop turrets (I keep a couple of these on hand), and many scope ring screws use the T-15 Torx head, so a couple extra wrenches on hand can save your range time from being a waste.
I’ve started packing a Fix-It Sticks package of tools in my range bag. These modular kits include necessary bits and even a couple of torque wrenches for securing bases and rings to the proper torque. There are several different kits available; I like the minimalist kit in the pouch, as it takes up very little room in the bag and I can fix nearly any problem short of catastrophe at the bench. For the MSR crowd, where specialized tools are often required, having the tools necessary to both adjust and disassemble the firearm makes perfect sense.
I keep an assortment of lens cloths and wipes, some gun oil, solvent, and a rag or two for wiping things down. The sweat of your hands can rust a firearm quickly, and a quick wipe-down of your gun at the range helps ward off rust. I also like to bring the appropriate-sized Bore Snake for giving the bore a light cleaning before I head home for a complete field strip and cleaning.
In addition to the Bore Snake, I keep a surplus military cleaning rod that breaks down into five sections in my bag. I can use it to clean pistols and most rifle barrels. A handful of patches and a small selection of brass brushes can help detect and clear an obstruction in the barrel, and a small flashlight helps to inspect the breech and bore.
I am mainly a rifle shooter, so in my bag there is a three-legged front rest, a sandbag rear rest and both a shoulder pad and shooting glove, as I am often testing the accuracy of the rifle (rather than just practicing) and want to have the rifle rock steady. I can also modify these tools for pistol shooting, should I want to test accuracy from the bench.
A binocular in my bag is a must. With one I can help evaluate point of impact without using a riflescope—and without having to go downrange and retrieve my target. I also keep a variety of targets, push pins, tape (a roll of duct tape is always useful) a marker, and pen and paper for recording accuracy results and/or velocities. Some plastic bags to house spent brass are useful, and I often toss a rangefinder in the bag for setting up targets at varying distances.
Finally, a small first-aid kit can be a welcome addition. Even something as simple as an assortment of band aids and other bandages can keep things under control and you on the range to finish your session.
As you can see, a range bag doesn’t have to be a complicated affair. It just needs to cover the necessities and ward off the everyday mishaps that have you packing up your gear and heading home to fix things. Think about what you use every time you head to the range, think about the tools that easily remedy common things gone wrong and stuff them in your bowling bag, hiking backpack or multi-compartment “formal” range bag. With those things in hand—plus your gun and a cache of ammo—your time on the range will be well spent.
About the Author: Phil Massaro is a freelance author and editor-in-chief of Gun Digest Annual. He is happiest hunting the wildest places left on earth.