I often see students looking with curiosity at my range bag as I carry it up to the range bench and sometimes even sneaking peeks inside. I remember doing that: wanting to know what was so important to bring that my shooting mentors would dedicate an entire bag to this end. And of course at this time I’d load up my arms at my car with the box my handgun came in, loop my ear protection around my arm, eye protection in my back pocket, ammo and whatever else cradled in my arms for the long walk from car to range hoping I wouldn’t drop any of it.
Heck, no way I was going to spend what the shooting stores were asking for one of those purpose built bags. It was also a mental step into being “one of those guys” I wasn’t yet quite ready to take. So for years, and I mean THIRTY of them I got by with a bright yellow women’s sports bag my ex used to use for my thirtysomething year old son’s diaper bag! At first it wasn’t bad, but within a few years I could no longer zip it closed, and not long after that I’d have to strategically load it so I could get what I needed on that range trip to the range. Sounds familiar?
And during those 30 odd years I’ve spent who knows how much money on ammo, new guns, and many other things. You see, it became a matter of pride. Not only was that old diaper bag “good enough” but I’d told myself for so long that I didn’t need more that I’d come to believe it. But last Christmas one of my sons got his brother a range bag for Christmas. I t was his diaper bag, which is why I suppose he didn’t get me one. Instead I got a nice fleece jacket that my wife put somewhere I can’t find despite several targeted searches not much less in intensity than the search for Malaysian Flight MH370. And so far with the same results.
So it was with all of that in mind that for the first time ever I started looking at range bags in earnest. The first thing I did was go to my workbench and dump that old diaper bag inside out. I wanted to see what was in there, what I must put in my future new bag and what I wouldn’t. This was fun, odd bits and pieces from three decades I’d long forgotten about were in there. and no, I won’t even mention what they were. So I carefully set aside the “must carry” items and set them aside, and then used even more care to dispose of “old memories” no longer needed.
Next I sat down at the computer and brought up Amazon where I looked and looked, wrote down some bag model numbers, and then got in the car for the 40 mile drive from Champaign to Ray O’Herron Co Inc in Danville where they have on display most of the bags I was looking at. Am I the only one who nicknames the Ray’s “The Cop Shop” and recognizes the smell and feel of the place in the same way you would a Christmas Tree lot or even a Public Library? You walk in and the familiar sights and smells greet you and you feel like a kid in a candy store as you head from one section to the next checking out all the great “stuff” you’ve managed to live without all these years.
I found myself at the range and equipment bag section and started my inspection. You see, the bright yellow diaper bag was free. Actually I rescued it from the garbage. But these range bags were from fifty to several hundred dollars. Why? A close look revealed reinforced bottoms, forms for the sides so the bag would stay open even when empty, thoughtfully designed interior spaces, heavy duty zippers and straps, and exterior pockets. Enough exterior pockets to hold all my important things. I quickly surmised that if I owned one of these bags I’d be able to quickly get to all the things I needed without emptying out the single main compartment of a diaper bag on the range table each and every time.
The proper size is vital. The bigger it is, the more stuff you’ll just have to have in it. And that means it gets heavier and heavier. What I really need at this point in my life is for a bag ‘just’ big enough to hold the items I absolutely must have at ‘most’ range sessions. No more and no less. So back to the work bench where I carefully laid out the fifteen things I must have in my bag.
1. Noise Cancelling hearing protection and spare batteries. 1 set, one extra set of quality hearing protection for a friend or someone special who you want to have a good time. And then ten small cardboard packets of form fitting foam hearing protection “just to be nice” for those who forget. (MAIN COMPARTMENT)
2. One set of quality eye protection with interchangeable color lenses so no matter if I’m shooting indoors, outdoors, dusk, or bright light I’m covered. And my old set for that special friend who couldn’t remember to bring their own. ;o) (FRONT POCKET)
3. Stapler and a full box of extra staples. Target stick on patches/dots and road construction yellow paint pencils. Roll of blue masking tape. Small ball of nylon string. No matter the range, we’ve gotta hang our targets. (SIDE POCKETS)
4. Shooting gloves. (MAIN COMPARTMENT)
5. Small 1.5 ounce bottle of MILTEC gun oil with metal applicator and an old toothbrush. Probably 90% of malfunctioning guns (that other people bring) on ranges can be made to shoot again by oiling and/or cleaning. These two things (oil and old toothbrush) are all you need to do a field expedient cleaning. (INSIDE FRONT POCKET)
6. Three purpose built screwdrivers for adjusting sights. These three 1-3 inch screwdrivers can adjust every sight I’ve ever come across with the exception of sights that require allen wrenches so I also bring every allen wrench that came with any of my sights, holsters, mounts, etc. You never know when you’ll need to tighten one to get the gun going. (INSIDE REAR POCKET)
7. Universal Sight Tool. Some enterprising guy on ebay made such a tool that works just well enough on all sights I’ve used it on for $25.. in comparison to gun/model specific tools that cost north of $100 each and there would be too many to carry. (FRONT POCKET)
8. Packet of 25 Shoot NC targets. Most ranges have targets available and when they do I use those. And I almost always have a box of B27’s I use in classes in my trunk. These are for those times nothing else is available and you want to supplement the old soda cans from the backseat of your car. No more, remember weight is important and you’ll never use more than 25 in one sitting. (REAR MAIN COMPARTMENT)
9. Small baby blanket, two clean auto type oil rags and two small thin hand towels for wiping sweat on a hot day.. I could get rid of the diaper bag but not the 33 year old matching blanket. These are great for sitting your stuff on the range bench/table to keep small stuff from rolling off, it soaks up oil/solvents, and can rolled up and used as a gun rest. (ON TOP OF MAIN COMPARTMENT CONTENTS)
10. Gun Shot Wound Trauma Medical Kit (REAR MAIN COMPARTMENT)
11. 100-300 lumen flashlight with 10 year lithium batteries. (FRONT POCKET)
12. Small tablet and pen to log range work and problems. (SIDE POCKET)
13. Business cards. You never know when you’ll meet your next student. (FRONT POCKET)
14. Shot timer. Crucial for meaningful practice once you reach a certain level. (SIDE POCKET)
15. Hanguns/magazines/ammo/leather of the day. (FRONT MAIN COMPARTMENT)
I wanted a bag just big enough and plenty strong enough to carry all off the above items. Without guns and ammo these items are under 10 pounds. A good bag of the right size to hold it all is about 3-4 pounds, while guns and ammo can easily meet or exceed the weight of everything combined. So not too big, but plenty strong.
I settled on a Hatch D1. Hatch has been making police gear for a long time and when I saw their products that familiarity played a part in my decision. But when I saw the kydex form plates for the bag to hold it’s shape, strong military grade zippers, strong cordura nylon, double strength bottom/sides/tops, pleated pockets, and many other signs of quality I was sold.
The Hatch D1 measures 25 inches long, 10 inches wide, and 12 inches high. A nice compact size, but plenty big enough for my needs and fully loaded with a max of 2-3 handguns and say 200 rounds of center-fire ammo (more than that and I’ll have a separate gun and ammo hardcase) it will weigh no more than 25-30 pounds, an easy enough load for casual strolling around gun ranges and club houses without your back stooping and breaking out in a sweat.
And the price is right two. At Ray O’Herron’s it was roughly $58 and maybe $10 cheaper on Amazon Prime.. but the price difference was reasonable enough to support my local store where I can see and touch things in person. I love Amazon and if the price difference was much more than it was I might have ordered from them. But it wasn’t, like most products at Ray O’Herron’s it was well priced, thoughtfully displayed, and more critically stocked for immediate purchase.
A few hours later I was back at the workbench loading up my “range stuff” and was delighted to see there was room for more than I actually needed, but not so much it would significantly change the weight factor. I think I’ll add a ballcap for sunny days, a couple 6 ounce water bottles, and my new toy, a mini air-horn. I think air-horns are great for calling emergency cease fires when everyone there is wearing hearing protection.
I hope you’ve found this to be of some use. Nothing here is so vital it can’t be substituted other than the first aid kit, so make this your own. Find a good bag, even a diaper bag will do, thoughtfully arrange your gear, and pack in such a way you know where things are. If you need more or different you’ll soon realize it.
Until next time..