Packing For The Range

Posted by Kevin Estela on Jan 19th 2023

As a 15 year old kid, I loved going to the range. I had my Ruger 10/22, a Simmons 4x32 scope, a $15 brick (yes, it was only $15) of 500 rounds of Remington Yellowjacket ammo and a stack of manila paper “Official NRA Targets”. I’d throw my eye and ear protection in my backpack and leave home with the ultimate goal of plinking through all 500 rounds. Sometimes, I’d find perfect conditions waiting for me with no one else to my left and right and slightly overcast skies overhead. Other times, I’d plop down at a bench only to find swarms of bees nesting in the overhead structure or the backers at the range heavily shot through and insufficient to affix my targets to. Over the years, my love for good range time hasn’t escaped me and if anything, it has grown stronger. One of the reasons why I find the time spent at a shooting port or on a rifle deck is that I’ve learned to pack what I need for success. You can say my hasty packing of eyes and ears in my school backpack has been swapped with a well-appointed Pelican case. If you’ve been wondering how to set up your range bag, keep reading. 

Eye Protection

You only get one set of eyes and the world looks half as good if you injure one. Eye protection is absolutely essential when going to the range and good eye pro is worth the investment over cheap disposable sets. Good eye protection will likely come with multiple interchangeable lenses for different light conditions. Good eye pro won’t fog up on you as it probably has been treated with some technology to prevent this. Good eye pro is comfortable, works with your ear protection, and fits your face correctly with a wraparound lens. It is tempting to wear ballistic sunglasses as they fit like true sunglasses but eye protection will give you more of an advantage with larger “windows” to look through. I would definitely recommend throwing in a few sets of spare disposable safety glasses just in case you lose or damage your primary or if you just need to lend a friend a pair. 

Ear Protection

Gunfire is loud. Close proximity to gunfire without hearing protection will (not might) lead to hearing loss. I still have my first set of earpro from my teenage years. It was a set of green Remington earmuffs from K-Mart and they still work fine. However, since my early days of learning how to shoot, ear protection has improved. Simple “foamies” have been replaced by custom-molded ear plugs. My basic Remington muffs are now electronic ear pro that lets me hear range commands from instructors as well as casual conversation from shooting buddies. Sometimes, it will make sense to wear both earplugs AND earmuffs if you are shooting-high powered rifle unsuppressed. If you end up with electronic ear pro, make sure you pack extra batteries since without power, your fancy earmuffs will be as effective as my first pair of green remmy’s. 

Pad, Pens, and Markers

If you just want to turn money into noise, you probably don’t need to record how you’re shooting. If you want to approach marksmanship and shooting skills more professionally, bring some tools to mark your notebook and targets. If you have a rifle you trust your life to, you should have a log book. If you encounter any issues with your gear or any strange range events, you may want to document them until you can fix them. Can’t tell you how many times over my younger years when I didn’t maintain my plinker only to go to the range and find out a screw was missing or a battery was dead. Also, if you get in the habit of carrying a few sharpie markers, you can use them for marking those screws holding the accessories on your firearms to know if they are walking out or holding strong. Those markers can also be used to circle or line through the holes in your target to separate the previous string from your current. If you happen to show up to the range without any paper targets, you can always make your own right on the backer by tracing the bottle cap of your water bottle or the bottom of your water bottle with a sharpie. 

Food and Drink

If you believe in the break-in process for a precision rifle barrel, you’re going to end up at the range for the better part of your day. If you end up getting a money position on the firing line at a public range, you might not want to leave and give it away. Spend enough time cooking on a rifle deck in the summer heat and you’re going to want plenty of fluids to keep your head from getting foggy, eyes sore, and body too warm. For these reasons, pack some food for your trip to the range. If possible, pack food that doesn’t require you to make contact with your skin. Keep in mind, you should always wash your hands with cold water before touching any food after loading mags and handling ammunition to reduce your exposure to lead. Drink mixes go straight from packet to water bottle. Granola bars get unwrapped and there’s no contact either. Steer clear of hand foods like chips, nuts, and other “reach in the bag” foods if you want to be really careful. By the way, never use your hat to collect spent brass. Lead residue can build up inside over time and when you sweat, you make it easier for the lead to get into your system. Keep a spare baseball cap in your range bag but don’t use it for picking up brass. 

First-Aid and Trauma Kit

Accidents happen and it is best to plan for the worst and hope for the best. It’s highly recommended you carry your own trauma kit instead of relying on the kit at the range that probably won’t be there. Make sure you know how to use a tourniquet as well as other tools to treat gunshots. Pack some basic first-aid items too. There are plenty of times when I’ve cut myself on staples from targets or had splinters from wooden target uprights get in my hands. I’ve also had ridiculous sunburn, blisters, and cuts to my fingers from sharp corners of my firearms. Some tweezers, finger bandages, moleskin, and basic meds like Tylenol will go a long way. 

Binoculars or Spotting Scope

Even at the pistol range, it helps to be able to see the 25 yard targets without having to leave the firing line. If you are at a public range, you may be required to wait until there is a call for a “cease fire” before you clear out, move forward of the firing line, and walk to check your targets. A decent set of binoculars, even a small monocular, can be used if you need or want to more frequently check your target by traveling with your eyes.]

Stapler, Packing Tape, Twine, and Thumbtacks

No range bag is complete without some tools to put up your paper targets. A good staple gun will punch through multiple layers of targets, a cardboard backer, and into the wood holding everything up. For other times or when you run out of staples, you may want to use thumbtacks. Clear packaging tape works really well for putting paper on paper and dressing up your targets with “refill” sized targets. If you are of the school of patching your targets, you can purchase brown, white, and black masking tape. Just realize after a while a buildup of tape can become a subconscious point of aim if you don’t know to focus on your front sight. Twine is also useful if you want to make hanging targets to suspend from the backers. At the SIG Academy, a common target used is a hanging price tag that is shot at 100 yards with a precision scoped rifle. You can use a strip of duct tape and make a larger target for closer distances for use with a pistol. 

Bug Spray and Sunblock

The environment can be a real distraction to a good day of shooting. You may have noticed I said the perfect day in my opening remarks was slightly overcast. With a few clouds in the sky, you get plenty of light but not the same pounding rays of sun that will turn you into a lobster. A small can of spray-on sunblock or a little tube of the cream will keep you happy when you sit in your vehicle or lay in your bed at the end of the day. Additionally, you may want to get some zinc oxide if you are in really desert summertime conditions. As for bugs, they can distract you and mosquitoes aren’t pleasant companions. Bug spray will protect you from the things that fly and if you spend any time prone in the grass, it will keep the ticks off you. Before you head to the range, think about treating your clothes in permethrin for an added layer of protection.

What About Cleaning and Repair?

Tools and Cleaning Supplies are also carried to the range but ideally, they should only be needed after you spend time getting in your training. I have a small Wilderness Tactical duffle bags for that stuff and the contents of that kit will be reserved for a future blog. That said, I still like having some basics with me in my range bag like extra weapons lubricant and a multi-tool. You should have some basic adjustment tools for fine screws and maybe a few lens wipes for dusty conditions. Other than that, you can leave most of your tools and cleaning supplies on the tailgate of your truck. 

What you carry in your range bag will vary over time but there are some basic items you want to have with you to keep you in the mood to train. You will find the little things go a long way and perhaps you’ll have a “I should have thought of that” moment that will alter what you carry. God knows, since I was that little kid I mentioned in the beginning of this blog, I’ve had plenty.