How can I squeeze the most out of my trips to the range?
We all want to be better shooters, right? So, what can we do to maximize our range time? The first step is to buy some ammo.
Now, you could just stop there. Guns, ammo, ear and eye protection….you don’t really need anything else except something to shoot at if you want to work on becoming a better shooter.
But what if you want to step your game up a little bit? What if you want to give yourself every advantage at your next competition or in a defensive situation?
Well, you’re in the right place.
I’ve put together a list of gear that I personally use to maximize my time on the range, and my time at home doing things like dryfire practice.
This gear is some of the best of the best equipment out there right now, and you’ll be well-served by picking up any (or all, if you have the budget) of it. That being said, I’m also going to go into why I chose all of this gear, and why I use it.
Hopefully, even if you don’t pick up any of this gear, my logic for choosing it will help you decide on some training tools that fit your individual needs.
Let’s get to it.
Essential Range Gear
Let’s start with gear you take to the range.
Get Faster with a Shot Timer
How Shot Timers Improve Training
If your goal is to sharpen your self-defense or competition skills you need a shot timer, like this one from Competition Electronics.
A shot timer is going to be one of the most valuable training devices you can acquire. A shot timer is designed to time how fast you can shoot, and the time between shots.
They are universally used for action shooting sports like IPSC, IDPA, and USPSA to score matches, and are invaluable for training for these matches. More importantly (to me anyway) is your ability to use them for self-defense training.
They can measure how fast you can draw and place an accurate round on target, how fast you can reload and fire, and how fast you can transition between targets.
Most, including the suggested Pocket Pro 2, have a setting that also adds stress and keeps shooters thinking and reacting. This particular setting sounds the ‘Go’ alarm at a randomized time. The time scale is usually 3 to 10 seconds.
At any time the alarm could sound telling the shooter to draw and fire. This adds anticipation, stress, and fear to the shooter. This stress is only a fraction of the same stress you’d feel in a gunfight, but overall, it’s better than nothing.
Besides being a quick draw timer, Shot timers also gives you the ability to time self-defense based drills. Drills like the El Presidente are time-based pass or fails. This allows you to also track your progress if you are willing to keep a journal on your training capabilities. And if you’re more of a “gamer” or competition shooter, you can track your times and compete with your peers.
Best Shot Timer
The Pocket Pro 2 ($124.00) wins my recommendation.
First and foremost it has a solid reputation, and is used by pro shooters like Todd Jarrett. It’s also not priced absurdly high.
(I swear some companies who produce shot timers seem to think they are made of gold.)
The Pocket Pro 2 runs on a single 9-volt battery and has an automatic power down feature if left alone for 10 minutes. It’s got a loud 105 dB buzzer that cuts through ear pro well.
The Pocket Pro 2 has an instant and random start buzzer and of course, you can review par and split times easily. It’s a very simple system that is easy to use and provides you with the features you need.
Alternatively, there are cell phone apps available. However, I’ve had some very frustrating experiences with these things. There’s nothing like doing an entire drill and seeing that your app didn’t pick up anything.
Run Malfunction Drills with Dummy Ammo
Dummy ammunition is an invaluable piece of gear to have on and off the range. Good dummy ammunition is designed and built to the actual specs of live ammunition. Dummy Ammo is great for everything from the very basic training techniques to advanced defensive drills.
How Dummy Ammo Improves your Training
Since we are focusing on gear for the range, we will discuss how dummy rounds can be used on live ranges instead of as dry-fire tools. Dummy rounds are great for training your way through both simple and complicated malfunctions..
And if you say your gun has never had a malfunction, I’d say you don’t shoot it enough, but that’s just me.
Setting up a simple malfunction is easy, load your mag with a dummy round mixed in with live ammunition. Once the dummy round finds its way into your chamber the gun will go click. See how fast you can clear it and get back to shooting.
Setting up a complicated malfunction is more deliberate. You can simulate a double feed, or a failure to eject by placing the round in the chamber, or between the slide and barrel. These drills are some of the most important to master due to how long it can take to fix.
I think it is understood my suggestion for dummy ammo is always going to be A-Zoom Snap Caps. In my experience, they are the best made, and most well-known source of dummy ammo. They are anodized aluminum and are tough as nails. Snap Caps are made in about every common (and some uncommon) calibers for rifles pistols and shotguns.
They also do a decent job of replicating the actual weight of ammunition. They load, eject and function almost identically to regular ammo, minus the bang of course. They’re also very reasonably priced.
Get Some Robot Ears
Good hearing protection is more than just a means to keep your hearing preserved and tinnitus at bay. I consider electronic hearing protection to be good hearing protection and anything else to be casual hearing protection. Electronic hearing protection is necessary range gear when it comes to training.
How it Improves Training
First off, good hearing protection, especially at an indoor range, is going to allow you to focus on what you are doing, and what you are training to do. At Shot Show 2017 I attended an indoor event where we were shooting 458 SOCOM, 12 Gauge, and 308 caliber rifles indoors.
It was brutal, jaw flinching pain when using the provided ear protection. A friend and I promptly retreated to his vehicle and retrieved our electronic hearing protection. As a spoiled private range owner, this isn’t a problem I have very often.
However, it would suck to deal with that at an indoor range. How could you even focus? The benefit of electronic hearing pro over good standard hearing protection is you retain situational awareness while remaining protected.
If you ever take a firearms class I wouldn’t advise showing up with anything other than electronic hearing protection. You won’t be able to hear instructions, and you are paying to hear instructions. The entire class may need to slow down because of you.
Larry Vickers of Vickers Tactical says it best, “if you use a smartphone, you have no excuse to not have electronic hearing protection –- period.”
Here are two options that I own, use, and appreciate.
Walker’s Razor Slim Ear Muffs
The Walker’s Razor Slim ear muffs were the first set of electronic ears I ever purchased. They’ve served me quite well over the years and are real soldiers. I’ve worn them in the rain and in the sunshine. They provide excellent sound reduction and are quite comfortable to wear.
They even have an output option that I can run to my cell phone and listen to music if I choose to. They fold up conveniently, and cost like 30 bucks, and they are worth every cent.
Etymotic Gunsport PRO
The Etymotic Gunsport PRO earplugs are a more expensive design but are also much smaller and more convenient. I will say as a Floridian ear muffs get awfully hot and awfully sweaty in the Spring, and Summer, and also a good amount of the supposed Fall and Winter. Earplugs tend to be more comfortable overall.
Especially for people like me that have big heads. The Gunsport PRO earplugs block up to 15dB from entering the system and the protection is instantaneous. They are comfortable and customizable with a variety of different ear plug options as well.
They can be set for zero amplification, or they can amplify normal sounds up to 5 times, while still blocking sounds that are louder than hearing-safe levels. The Etymotic Gunsport PRO are far from cheap but are well made, easy to use, and comfortable.
None of those fit your style or budget? Here’s our complete list of the best Electronic Ear Protection Muffs.
Get Comfortable and Stable
When it comes to working on that long and medium range precision you’ll need to stress stability and the fundamentals. This is where shooting mats and shooting bags come into play. Both can be vital in getting those long-range hits in.
How It Improves Training
A shooting mat allows you to set up a solid prone position at the range, without having to worry about bugs, uncomfortable rocks, or other annoying and painful hindrances. You can conform your body to the perfect position while remaining comfortable. The last thing you really want to worry about is poor body positioning when trying to reach the 1,000-yard club.
A shooting bag will help you stabilize your weapon regardless of the terrain. Since a sand filled shooting bag conforms to its environment its the perfect choice for rough terrain. It’s also an effective choice to rest the stock on your rifle on as an improvised monopod.
The combination of these devices will make long range shooting in the prone position comfortable, and stable. This allows you to focus on the most important thing, hitting your target.
Shooting mats don’t have to be fancy. They just need to be wide enough, long enough, and thick enough to accommodate a shooter. The Vism shooting mat from NC Star does all of this. It also rolls up for easy storage, and is priced at under 50 dollars.
Sandbags are like shooting mats, they don’t need to be fancy. The Deadshot combo gives you a front and rear sandbag rest that is designed for shooting. They’re made from 600 denier polyester and will last for years.
Shoot Far, See Far
Keeping with the long-range shooting theme a good spotting scope is a wonderful tool to have. Heck, it’s great to have if you are shooting pistols at 25 to 50 yards. Spotting scopes allow you to scout downrange and take a peep at your target…without walking all way down there, or waiting for the target to make its way down to you if you’re at a fancy shmancy indoor range.
How it Improves Training
Spotting scopes are more powerful than a scope and with the right targets will allow you to measure how big your group is, how far you are from the bull’s eye, and hopefully, help zero your optic.
A spotting scope will allow you to easily inspect your target without having to wait for a ceasefire.
This will save you time, reduce the number of rounds needed to zero, and most importantly make shooting further easier. Spotting scopes are like any other piece of glass, it’s best not to go cheap with it if you are a serious shooter.
Suggested Spotting Scope
Leupold, a classic American company, that produces some awesome optics and products. The Leupold Ventana Spotting Scope is a mid-range spotting scope that’s variable from 15 to 45 power and features a 60mm objective lens. It comes with a tripod, and hard case, so you’re ready to roll out of the box.
The Ventana Spotting Scope can also be used with a digital camera for those awesome Instagram opportunities. Or I guess to track progress or something like that. Leupold also has an amazing warranty, so your investment is well protected.
If you are a little more casual about shooting you can likely purchase a cheaper model and be fine, but if you’re serious, the Ventana is a solid contender.
Find Targets That Match Your Goal
It’s easy to get wrapped up when it comes time to hit the range. One of the simplest and most affordable means to improve your range training is choosing the right target. Your target should match your training objective.
Just Learning to Shoot
This one is really easy. If you are a new shooter, and looking to learn a thing or two on the range the best target you can use is a blank piece of paper. A simple 8.5 x 11-inch piece of printer paper is all you need. As an instructor, this is one of the most important things I’ve ever learned with new shooters.
I see so many shooters hit the range and immediately get discouraged because they can’t hit the Bull’s eye. They get so wrapped up around the bull’s eye instead of focusing on the fundamentals they try to Kentucky windage their shots into the target.
A blank piece of paper allows shooters to focus on the basics, without getting tunnel-vision on the Bull’s eye.
These are some of my favorite targets for defensive training, be it with a rifle, pistol, or shotgun. This is an updated version of the classic B 27 silhouette. It encompasses the full body of an attacker, with the T zone, vital chest area, and pelvic area outlined.
These targets build an instinctual habit to aim where it counts. This translates into building effective shot placement habits. These targets are perfect for self-defense training and give a realistic experience.
Long Range Rifle
We included a spotting scope because seeing your target at a few hundred yards is nearly impossible. A spotting scope makes it possible to see your shots, but these targets make it easy. Combined with a spotting scope these Splatterburst Targets make it very simple to see where you are shooting.
When struck they show your gunshot as a very bright yellow hole . The target is quite large, being 12 x 18 inches and it’s divided into a series of squares. Each small square is an inch wide and an inch tall. This makes dialing in scope corrections easy and allows you to make a half decent estimation of your group sizes.
Plus, as a target with multiple bull’s eyes, you won’t have to wait for a ceasefire to go check your target. If you are shooting at several hundred yards you don’t have to constantly walk downrange to swap targets.
Going Low Tech
Sometimes simply raising your gun at a static target gets boring. Even with laser targets at home or a shot timer on the range. Now you have access to several dozen possible training exercises. Yes…it’s just cards…but I’m already seeing improvements.
Going High Tech
From lasers to virtual reality…there’s been a lot of progress in training tools. Here’s one that doesn’t break the bank but manages to still give some awesome feedback:
The MantisX ($150) attaches to the front rail of your pistol/rifle and sends data to your phone through Bluetooth.
I’ve had some time behind it (full review coming soon), and it does give some great feedback in terms of where my shot would have gone…and also how to correct it.
Much better than simply looking at how much the front sight moves.
This gear is all aimed at helping you become a better shooter. The most important thing to remember is that while this gear will help you, ammunition and range time is the biggest key to success. At the end of the day if your goal is to be a better shooter it’s more important to buy ammo and range time than any other gear.
I like learning, and hopefully, you like sharing. Tell us in the comments below what gear do you think helps make you a better shooter?