Packing Up For Your First Match By: Travis Pike


So you want to compete? Sweet! It’s a ton of fun and one of the best ways to turn your hard-earned ammo into noise. When it comes time to gear up for the shoot, remembering the basics is pretty easy. I don’t need to tell you to bring a gun, magazines, and mag pouches, right? Do you need more than that? Likely so, and with that in mind, I wanted to talk about how proper planning prevents piss-poor performance. Today we are covering what you should bring, beyond the basics, to your competition shoot.

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A Bag (Duh)

Oh, good Lord, bring a range bag. Don’t try to be a cargo pants commando trying to get all their crap in two overstuffed pockets. I wouldn’t get a tiny one, either. I’ve been using the Blackhawk Sportster Deluxe for going on seven or eight years now, and it’s been the perfect size for my endeavors.

Blackhawk sportster deluxe range bag
Get a good range bag to carry all your gear.

A good medium-sized bag will get it done. There are tons and tons of options, from the tote style I prefer to some rather nice backpack-style packs that allow you to carry whatever you need, wherever you need. A properly organized and packed range bag will be your best friend.

Eyes and Ears (Duh)

Of course, we need some basic safety gear. If not, you won’t even be allowed to compete. Having eyes and ear protection you like and enjoy is better than winging it. In terms of eye protection, I bring my favored Gatorz glasses, but I also always make sure I have a set of clear lenses. Sometimes it’s overcast, or one area is in heavy shade, and with that in mind, I like having the clear lenses on standby.

Walker's Razor Freedom Slim Electronic Hearing Protection - four pair
Spring for the electronic ear protection. It’s a must-have.

While you can get away with those cheap squishies, I really think you should bring a set of electronic hearing protection. Electronic ears are invaluable at a live range. You can hear the loud beep and any emergency commands much easier. If you are close to committing a procedural, you might get saved by a buddy warning you off the line. Electronic ears make life much easier and are nearly a necessity.

Spare Mags

I know you know to bring magazines as part of your range loadout. You might have three or four on your belt, and that’s likely more than enough to power through your match with some reloading while you wait for your run. Have those mags, but don’t pretend to bring a few spares just in case. They can sit in your range bag in case a magazine decides right then and there to tap out on you. Having two spare mags can save your butt if one decides it doesn’t want to work that day.

I had to break out the spares when the match was hosted on a Florida sandhill. Every time I dropped a mag, it would ingest a healthy dose of sugar sand, and to prevent one who saw constant abuse from failing, I swapped early and cleaned it later.

A Mag Loader

After my first match, I knew I needed a mag loader. Part of me knew before, but I thought, how bad could it be? Well, it was pretty dang bad. My thumbs were sore for a few days after. I promptly grabbed an ETS Cam Loader to speed up reloads and to spare my thumbs. Honestly, a mag loader not only makes life easier but makes you quite popular with your squad. It can be handy to pass around and keep the match moving.

Maglula AK-47 Galil mag loader and unloader
A mag loader will save your thumbs for more important things, like Age of Empires 2.

A Chamber Flag

I got saved on my first PCC match because I didn’t bring a chamber flag. Luckily, someone set me up properly with one and saved my butt. Ever since then, I have always carried a few in my bag. A few for me and a few for other shooters who might be high and dry.

A Cleaning Kit

Yep, while you might not expect to clean your gun in the middle of a match, it can be handy to have a cleaning kit. The tools included with most cleaning kits can be handy individually. Maybe you need to punch a bore or add some lubrication? Maybe you need an AP brush to free some dust and dirt to prevent malfunctions. Who knows what you might run into, but it’s smart to have a cleaning kit on hand to tackle any issues you might have.

Otix professional rifle cleaning kit
A cleaning kit, even a basic one can be a lifesaver.

A Multitool

Oh boy, having just a set of needle nose pliers can be super handy. A multitool packing a dozen tools can get you out of most situations. I’ve seen range flags get stuck and jam up a rifle and need to be removed in bits and pieces. I’ve seen zip ties need cutting, and sections of wire need snipping. Once, a steel target’s nut was loose, and a set of pliers got it nice and tight once more. A multitool can be a match saver.

Real Avid Gun Tool Max
A multitool is always handy and when it comes to guns and shooting competitions weird stuff happens.

A First Aid Kit

Excrement happens, and it’s good to have toilet paper when it does. Any match organization worth its weight will have a med kit, a safety vehicle, and a medical plan. Still, it can be quite valuable, lifesaving even, to bring your own medical kit to have on hand. bringing your own kit and having it on hand can be quite valuable. I keep something simple with enough parts and pieces to patch up a gunshot wound. Some Quikclot gauze, a CAT Gen7 Tourniquet, an H bandage, a chest seal, and of course, some gloves and a CPR mask.

IFAK medical kit
A medical kit can be a literal life saver.

Some Basic Extras

I have this small bag in my range bag called my Oh Sh!T bag. It’s a sleeve with a zipper, and inside I keep a wide variety of things that just might be needed. This includes the entirely predictable spare batteries for my eye pro and my red dot. I also bring enough extras for others, just in case.

I also bring my own shot timer. I’ve never needed it, but if the match coordinator was down one, I figure it’d be handy to have. I also keep an extra set of clear lens eye pro and some cheaper eye pro. These are extra for me or for others. I also keep my sunscreen and bug repellant in my kit because both can be silent killers. Also, some migraine meds, just in case.

Stay Hydrated

Oh, and don’t forget some water and maybe a snack. Staying hydrated will make you a much better shooter and help you focus on the task ahead.

GunMag Warehouse coozie
Make sure you bring some water. If not you might feel a bit under the weather. Use a coozie to keep it chilled longer.

Matches vary, and you might need more or less than what I’m suggesting, but this provides you with a good base to build on. Hopefully, your first shoot goes phenomenally, and you join some form of sport shooting league.