February 09, 2024
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For me, a range trip is all about being as efficient as I can because it’s part of my job to test guns and gear. That’s not the case for most people, especially those who are shooting just for recreation, but I do often see folks who are trying to get a rifle sighted in for a hunt—sometimes in a real time crunch—and they’re tearing their hair out because their range session is going nowhere fast.
Believe me, I’ve been there. While my system isn’t perfect and is always evolving, here’s my “bag dump”—the gear I consider essential to a successful range trip.
This is so crucial. Over the years I’ve seen dozens of guys sitting at the bench waiting for a cease-fire to be called because they need to check their targets or vainly trying to spot their shots through binoculars.
Don’t skimp. If you typically zero at 200 yards, buy a scope capable of spotting bullet holes in your target at 200 yards. That means sufficient power and quality glass. My Nikon, bought when the company was still in the hunting business, tops out at 30X, and it easily resolves bullet holes at 200.
Getting steady and comfortable allows you to focus more on breaking good shots, and I’ve watched fellow shooters struggling with various setups that were unsuitable for what they were trying to do or were so obviously thrown together (think piles of jackets) they couldn’t possibly get steady.
My preference is for a front and rear rest setup—as opposed to the one-piece rests, single long bags or bipods. I’ve been using a Caldwell Fire Control, a big, heavy rest with locking elevation, for many years. It’s still available, as are other similar models that will provide the stability and the ability to get a good natural point of aim through elevation adjustment.
For a rear bag, I prefer a bunny ear, and I’ve yet to find a better one than the good ol’ Protektor, made in beautiful Galeton, Pennsylvania. They’re solidly constructed, and I’ve yet to wear one out. Today, thanks to the long-range explosion, there are countless rear bags from which to choose. And they’re not so expensive you can’t go through a couple until you find one that’s just right.
Keeping a gear bag packed with necessities is important because one of the worst things that can happen is to get to the range and discover you failed to bring something. I’ve been using the same Cabela’s gear bag for more three decades now, and although it’s no longer offered, it has a few characteristics that I think are worth looking for in a bag.
One, it’s got a hard bottom. I put a lot of weight in this bag, and I think that added support has helped keep it in the game for so long. Ditto for the shoulder strap’s metal clips and attachment rings, and the heavy-duty stitching throughout.
There are tons of range bags out there, and my advice is to pay as much attention as you can to the construction quality. If you can put your hands on it before buying, all the better.
I actually have two gear bags. The big one has rear bags, bipod, eyes and ears (and spares of both), wind meter, pens for marking targets and the like. The other one is just as important. It’s a Full Forge Storm, and it houses stapler, staples and various tools I will need on every trip—or might need. Having this separate tool bag has been a game-changer.
So often it’s necessary to tighten or outright fix things, and while you can’t anticipate every need, there are two tool kits I’ve found useful for the vast majority of tasks.
One is the Birchwood Casey Weekender. It has just enough Torx, Allen, slotted screw and Phillips screw bits to cover the bases. These bits fit in the handle of a small gunsmith hammer with brass and plastic anvils. All this, along with a few punches, comes in a small plastic case, which goes in the Full Forge bag.
Keeping it company is a nifty Warne folder with a wide variety of Allens and Torx heads. It’s magic on scope rings and bases.
One last handy piece of gear. The BarrelCool is a little battery-powered fan that pushes air down the bore to cool barrels faster than just letting them sit. Rifle accuracy tends to degrade as barrels heat up, and especially if you’re zeroing or testing hunting ammo and want to gauge how a gun will perform for that first shot in the field, a cool barrel is crucial. The BarrelCool saves a lot of waiting time.