There’s no denying that going to the range can be fun. Whether you just purchased your first firearm, you’ve been going to the range for years, or even if you’ve never held a gun and simply wanted to get a feel for it, going to the range is something people of all ages, comfort and skill levels can enjoy responsibly.
Ranges vary in size, type and rules/protocols. Overall, the three most common recreational shooting experiences will take place in one of three environments. The first of these is the publicly accessible indoor shooting range. Opposite the indoor ranges (you guessed it) are outdoor ranges. This is not to be mistaken with our third environment, which is public or private swaths of land that you have access to. Outdoor ranges are privately run, sometimes member-based and are usually more flexible than most indoor ranges in regards to firearm type and caliber allowance.
As mentioned above, our third common environment is any public or private land that you have access to, where you can legally and safely shoot your privately-owned firearms. Even if you’re shooting on private and public land, you’ll still want to take note of most of the items mentioned in this article.
We’ll do our best to separate the items between indoor and outdoor ranges, but you may find many of the items overlap each other. With that in mind, let’s dive into everything you should bring in your range bag to maximize your training, fun and safety while shooting.
The Three Things You Should Always Have
Regardless if you’re going to an indoor range, outdoor range or public land area to do some plinking, there are a few very important things you should bring with you no matter what.
A Positive State of Mind
There’s a reason why the FAA discourages people from flying aircraft while going through something stressful, or while frustrated and upset with something in their personal lives. The same should always hold true when it comes to discharging a firearm.
Firearms are tools that can prove fatal if mishandled (or if properly handled for that matter) and should be treated with such respect. The best tool you’ll have on any given range day is your sound mind, so the best thing for everyone is to be clear-headed and in a positive mindset when you, albeit by yourself or with others, partake in a day of shooting.
While it may seem like a fun time to be on public or private land shooting with a group of friends while enjoying an ‘adult beverage’ or ‘recreational substance,’ it’s strongly urged that you refrain from becoming inebriated until after your day of shooting is over. Mind-altering substances and firearms do not go together well, and while we don’t want to be the damper on a fun time, the truth is that the safest thing for everybody is to wait until after you’re done handling your firearms before you consume anything that would hinder your ability to safely handle your firearm(s).
Responsible or Controllable Friends and Family
I should preface this by saying that when I mention controllable, I’m mainly referring to younger shooters who need to be under adult supervision, although we all have those friends/family. Shooting with responsible individuals will make for a fun day, and not one filled with stress and headaches. Even if you, your friends or loved ones are novices, you still need to be able to understand basic safety instructions and act accordingly to safely enjoy a day at the range.
If nobody in your group has been to a range and one or more of you has never handled a firearm, the best first step is to do your research. Not only can you call or look up the range rules and regulations, but you can find hundreds, if not thousands, of videos online that go over range safety, rules and protocols. This will ease your mind when you walk in the door if you’re a newcomer.
Shooting on open land requires just as much diligence as shooting at a private range. Make sure children are always accounted for and never cross the firing line. For those who are shooting with friends or groups, everybody should keep everybody else accountable and maintain a safe environment. What I mean by this is if somebody is carelessly walking in an area they shouldn’t be, everybody is responsible for that person’s safety and should call a cease fire immediately.
Remember... Safe shooting is fun shooting.
Training Aids and Feedback Devices
I’m throwing this one in here because it’s a good idea to have if you’re trying to increase your accuracy with your firearm, which you should always be actively working on. It just so happens at Mantis, we make an amazing array of devices that can help you increase your accuracy and improve your recoil management on handguns, rifles, pistols and even your bow. You can read more about our products by clicking here.
No matter which type of training aid you use, it’s a great way to maximize your investment at the range by receiving feedback and making adjustments.
What to Bring to Public Indoor or Outdoor Ranges
Keep in mind, while there are tons of similarities between ranges, each has their own set of rules, protocols and inventory available. Some ranges rent dozens of different handguns and reload their own ammunition, oftentimes requiring rented guns to only use their in house ammunition. Others simply give you a table and a lane and you’re left to supply everything else.
I’ll clarify this with the following list of items, and remember that many will overlap between indoor and outdoor ranges. Also, some items will be optional or recommended, not necessarily of high importance.
So, let’s go over what you should bring to an indoor or outdoor shooting range:
Eyes and Ears
Yes, you should bring these human features, but that’s not what this term references when it comes to shooting ranges. You’ll likely be asked by an employee or range master if you have “eyes and ears,” and what he or she is referring to is eye and ear protection.
Indoor ranges are substantially louder than outdoor ranges. Being in an enclosed area will contain the sound and reverberation, making it more damaging on the ears than being in an outdoor setting, where the sound will continue to travel over the landscape.
You should consider wearing both ear buds and over-ear protection to increase effectiveness. When you’re outdoors, you really only need to choose one or the other, but you can still use both if you prefer.
Eye protection indoors and outdoors can vary depending on lighting conditions. Oftentimes, you can buy a set of ballistic glasses with different colored lenses to use in different environments. You may find yourself using only clear lenses indoors and only tinted lenses outdoors.
First Aid Kit
There’s a strong likelihood that you’ll be within a few steps of a range safety officer and first aid kit when visiting an established shooting range. But, if you’re shooting in an area outside of a designated range, it’s a great idea to keep a decent first aid kit with you while shooting. And no, we don’t mean a small pack with bandaids and a few wipes, you’ll want to get something a bit more equipped and geared toward trauma if you’re shooting away from readily available medical assistance.
To be honest, even if you’re at a designated range with a safety officer and first aid kit, it’s never a bad idea to bring your own, especially if you’re familiar with its contents and how to use them.
Firearm(s) and Ammo (Yes, really)
It may seem obvious for firearm owners, but don’t forget your firearms and ammunition. I’ve seen multiple people arrive at a range and literally forget their firearms. Plus, you never know how much ammunition ranges are offering at any given time, and many are restricted when market conditions fluctuate and demand increases for both range time and ammo purchases.
Bringing your own gun and ammo isn’t required if you’re new and/or wanting to try renting one from a range that offers rentals and sells ammunition. It’s actually a great idea to find a local range that offers rentals before you purchase your first handgun. This will allow you to get a good feel for what feels comfortable shooting before you shell out the money for your own firearm.
Holster (If Allowed)
If you’re someone who carries, or is planning on carrying, a gun for self-defense, there’s a strong chance that you’ll find yourself owning holsters. When it comes to defending yourself in any given situation, being comfortable, quick and efficient with your holster draw is imperative. However, some ranges do not allow for holstered weapons to be drawn and re-holstered for training purposes, so check beforehand if the range you’re visiting allows you to do holster work.
If the range or area where you’re planning on shooting allows for holster draws, then bring your holster(s). Familiarize yourself with different holster positions and angles until you find one that’s not only comfortable to wear, but effective enough to defend yourself quickly if you ever need to.
Pen or Pencil and Notepad
You may or may not need or want to bring something to write with and some paper. It really depends on if you’d like to keep track of your progress while shooting, especially if you’re shooting rifles and shotguns. Keeping notes on conditions and things you’re noticing in your form can aid you later on if you’re trying to improve on your problem areas with accuracy.
Most people enjoy days of shooting without ever writing a single thing down, but if you’re serious about becoming the most efficient shooter possible, then you may want to add this to your bag. With Mantis Laser Academy, you can view a history of your shooting and track your progress over time.
Most, if not all, ranges will offer targets for sale. However, most will also allow you to bring your own. This is another thing you’ll want to check beforehand. Many ranges will restrict the type of paper targets you can bring so that they only show a silhouette of a person rather than targets that show recognizable people. If you’re on an outdoor range, then clay pigeons, spinners or other recreational targets may be sold or allowed.
Bringing your own targets can prove cost effective if you print them on your own or buy them from a big box retailer, but don’t fret if you forget or decide not to bring them. One cost efficient tip to remember is bringing duct tape with you so you can tape up previous shots, and continue using a single paper target through more rounds than you otherwise would.
Identification or Guardian
This goes almost without saying, but don’t forget your ID. If you’re a minor without an identification card of some sort, then make sure whoever is bringing you to the range has theirs. The last thing you want to do is have everything ready to go and then not have your ID ready. All ranges have different requirements, but it’s a pretty safe bet to carry your ID with you for a day of shooting.
I’ve had plenty of range days where I didn’t bring a speed loader, and every single time I’m loading up my magazines I find myself regretting my decision. Don’t be like me… bring a speed loader. Not only will it cut down on time standing there loading round after round in your magazines, but your fingers will also thank you. Not to mention the final round or two, which are much more stubborn and difficult to push down than the first few.
For those unfamiliar with a speed loader, it’s a small device that depresses the plate in your gun’s magazine, allowing you to easily load rounds with less effort than by hand alone. Speed loaders are inexpensive and very basic in their design, just make sure you get one that fits your firearm. Some speed loaders are firearm model specific, while others are universal.
This is an item that is completely optional, but definitely useful when you’re loading dozens (possibly hundreds) of rounds into magazines during your day.
Cleaning Kit - Lubricant, Wipes, Rod, Flashlight
You’re probably not taking your gun to the range with the intention of field stripping and lubricating it because this should be done beforehand. Just in case you need to clear a jam, lubricate your gun or troubleshoot a malfunction, having the necessary tools to do so comes in handy.
You don’t need to bring an entire firearm cleaning kit, but having lubricant, disposable wipes, a rod and a flashlight to aid you in handling on-range occurrences is a useful and minimal set of items to bring along.
We touched on training aids in the beginning of this article, but I wanted to mention snap caps on their own. This is another completely optional, yet inexpensive and compact tool to bring along with you for your range day. Snap caps come in nearly any caliber and are used to simulate a misfire safely.
Snap caps are the same size and shape as real ammunition, but don’t contain a projectile or propellant like gunpowder does. When your firing pin releases and strikes a snap cap, nothing happens to the round in the chamber. A great, practical exercise consists of loading a snap cap into a magazine with live ammunition to practice clearing and recharging your weapon when nothing happens after your trigger pull.
As an honorable mention, snap caps are also useful when you want to show how a firearm’s action functions, as well as being helpful for becoming familiar with your trigger break. As a safety precaution, both of these honorable mentions should only be done with an unloaded firearm where the snap caps are the only items in the chamber and magazine.
What To Bring For Public AND Private Land Shooting
Right off the bat, all the items listed so far should be included in your range bag when you’re planning to shoot on public or private land, where it’s legal and there’s no designated range. However, being that things are quite different when it comes to shooting in these conditions, here’s a quick list of recommendations to consider adding to your range bag.
Knowledge of the Rules and Regulations of Where You’re Shooting
The last thing you want to do is get caught doing something you shouldn’t be doing when it comes to target shooting. So always know the rules and regulations of an area where you’re planning on shooting. Everywhere is different, but many public land authorities have either designated shooting areas or rules on discharging a firearm in other areas. If you’re in the United States, checking with a local ranger station or Bureau of Land Management field office is a great starting point.
It’s always a good idea to carry a fire extinguisher when you’re on a parcel of land and using firearms, especially if you’re in a high fire danger area. In general, you should be very cautious about discharging a firearm when dangerous fire conditions exist, but having a decent fire extinguisher in general is a smart idea.
Tourniquet, Bleed Control Kit
I touched on bringing a first aid kit to a range, but it’s even more important to bring a trauma-specific first aid kit when you’re shooting somewhere on your own or with a group and you may be further away from help.
A tourniquet and a bleed control kit, such as a ‘stop the bleed’ kit or even a set of sucking chest wound bandages are a great addition to your range bag if you know you’ll be in a more rural shooting environment. Hopefully you won’t need it, but it’s good to have in case something happens.
The good thing about public or private land shooting is you have far more flexibility with which targets you use. Again, check the local rules and regulations about what you can and cannot shoot, but you definitely have more freedom with getting targets with a bit more entertainment value when you’re shooting on open land.
Snacks, Water, Sunscreen and Maybe Bug Repellent
Don’t be unprepared for enjoying a few hours (if not an entire day) of shooting with friends. If you’re making the trek to some open area to shoot, you’ll probably make a day out of it. You should make sure that you and your friends or family are as comfortable as possible. Bring snacks, stay hydrated and don’t forget to bring sunscreen and shade so you can avoid prolonged exposure to the sun. Depending on where you’re shooting, you may want to bring bug repellent as well.
Pop-up Canopy, Table and Chairs
Going with our previous statement on being comfortable, having a good setup could go a long way when it comes to enjoying your day of plinking. A pop-up canopy, a table and some chairs makes for a great area for people to lounge between rounds, or even to be used as a staging or shooting area.
If you’re on public land, please pick up all your trash and casings. Packing more out than you came in with is a great way for people to continue using public land for the enjoyment of shooting for generations to come. Every small part helps keep the recreational shooting reputation alive and well, so being considerate of your trash helps that cause.
Depending on what your plan and location will be, here are a few other things you’ll want to consider having:
Full tank of gas
Possible second vehicle
Cell phone charger and battery pack
GPS device or satellite phone
A return plan with somebody back home
Hopefully we didn’t miss anything, but this is a great starting point or reminder for any shooter who’s planning a fun day at the range. Always remember that safe shooting is fun shooting and for those of you who want to take their shooting skills to the next level, Mantis X has all the tools you need to train with your personal firearms nearly anywhere, at home and on the range. You can compare our product models by clicking here.
Safe shooting everyone!