Getting Into Competitive Shooting, Part V
December 7th, 2019
6 minute read
Editor’s Note: This is part five of a five-part series on getting into competitive shooting. You can check out the other entries here:
- Part I: What Types Do You Like?
- Part II: Finding Where To Shoot
- Part III: See the Sports in Action
- Part IV: Gear Up & Learn the Rules
If you’ve been keeping up with my article series, thanks for following along. After all your time and hard work, it’s finally time to shoot your first match! You know what match you are going to shoot and the requirements to shoot it. You’ve also taken the match introductory course and/or a private lesson. It’s now time to 1.) register for the match and 2.) pack up your gear for the big day!
Many matches require pre-registration, while some matches allow competitors to just show up. With the research you’ve done, you know exactly what to do for your event, so just do it already!
Your shooter’s kit will contain quite a few things, but since this is your first time going to compete at a match, you might not want to weigh yourself down with a ton of excess stuff. There may be some items you will want to bring along and leave in the car as backup, but depending on the format of the match (and assuming you have to lug your gear from station to station), having an over-abundance of gear isn’t necessarily helpful. The last thing you want is to get hung up on the firing line still trying to sort your stuff.
List It or Leave It
It’s always a good idea to make a list and then “stage” your items in a common area so you can double check that you have everything prior to “go time.” Here are my suggestions to make sure you are prepared for your first match:
- Bags & Cases
You need a way to carry your gear onto the range and between stages. Most ranges won’t let you show up with a pistol on your hip or a rifle slung on your back. You will want to have bags/cases of some sort to carry your equipment and get your pistol to the safety area to holster, and/or to get your long gun to the firing line/staging area. Shooting bags, duffels, backpacks will all do the job — heck, even a milk crate works for storage! You are going to be accumulating a lot of stuff, so you might as well make it easier by organizing with bags/cases.
- Gun(s) for the Match
I know it sounds obvious…but on more than one occasion I have taken a trip to the range, just to unload my gear and discover that I left my gun in the safe at home. It’s frustrating and annoying when it happens. I am quite sure though that I’m not the only member of the “forgot my gun” club. However, don’t become a member on your first day — be sure to grab your gun! Also, make certain it’s unloaded and in a case or bag for transporting.
- Safety Equipment
Ear and eye protection are required at all shooting events. Besides, it would be stupid not to protect yourself, even if it weren’t mandatory. Keep both items in your shooting bag so you always have them!
- Magazines, Magazines, Magazines
See above “forgot my gear” story. Forgetting magazines will stop your fun just as quickly as forgetting your gun! For firearms with separate magazines, they are (obviously) a vital part of the game. Having a few more magazines than what you think you need is never a bad idea either. And if you load all of your mags in your down time (at home), that’s one less thing to worry about at the start of the match. You may not use all of the loaded mags, but they are easy to unload if you don’t.
- Gun & Ammo Rig
Keep your “rig” together. Your belt, holster, and mag pouches (for a pistol match) probably fit in your shooting bag. If you’ve got a sling and rifle/shotgun mag pouches (for a multi-gun event), they can probably be stowed in your rifle case. Your chest rig or double-belt Safariland ELS holster rig won’t fit in most bags though, but it does carry easily as it’s already configured. Regardless, make sure you have the entire rig before you walk out the door. Oh, and don’t forget your ammo!
- Protective Clothing
Many shooting sports involve physicality. They might have you running through washes or brush, going prone (lying down) and getting into and out of props. The match directors will go out of their way to keep you safe, but the terrain may be rough at a lot of ranges. So, it’s a good idea to wear full-coverage shoes/boots with aggressive traction and sturdy, protective clothing (long pants/long sleeves/more-durable fabrics). Always bring a hat and have a pair of work gloves just in case you have to reset some gnarly steel targets or have an AR handguard that is really hot! A jacket or rain gear in the car is always smart to have.
If you didn’t have to pay online when registering, make sure you have cash money to pay for the match at the range. A lot of gun clubs don’t have credit card processing abilities, so you may need cool, hard cash.
Useful Gear Checklist
- Firearm Cleaning Supplies
While you might not want to completely break down your gun at the shooting range, it never hurts to have some basic cleaning gear. What if your gun malfunctions because it just needs a little oil? What if you drop a magazine into sand or mud, or go prone and your barrel digs into the dirt? Put a few basic supplies in your bag, i.e., brushes, patches, rod, punch, rag, Hoppe’s cleaner & Lucas Oil.
- Spare Parts
You don’t need a full rebuild on hand, but many firearms have certain parts that are more prone to failure. Having an extra firing pin for your AR bolt weighs nothing, takes little space, and might just save the day. Fiber-optic rods have been known to disappear during a course of fire, too.
Make sure you pack the tools required to break down your firearm (for cleaning/repair) and to work on your gear. Holsters and mag pouches commonly need to be adjusted/tightened with an Allen wrench or screwdriver.
- Lens Kit
At minimum, lens spray and a clean lens cloth — both are really important for keeping your shooting glasses clean.
Batteries always seem to fail at the most inopportune time. Keep back-up batteries for your ear muffs, scopes, timer, etc. You’ll thank me for this one later…
- Basic First Aid
I’m not talking about gunshot wound dressings and tourniquets (though if you know how to use ’em, you probably already carry that stuff in your bag). Some disinfecting wipes, antibiotic ointment, band-aids, gauze, and tape are a good start. If you bust a knuckle on a prop or snag some skin on a target stand, you will be much happier for the rest of the match with a clean and bandaged cut. Ask me how I know…
- Food and Water
You might not be going to a full-day match, but the stages can run behind schedule and you might have to postpone getting pizza for a few hours! Nothing will ruin your day like being hungry or thirsty while you wait to shoot. Throw some jerky, a power bar, an apple, and a water bottle in your bag just in case. And if you share your jerky, the other shooters will like you more, and then give you more free advice.
- Notebook and Pen
In case you realize you are missing an item or want to make a note to change something on your firearm or gear, you’ll want to write it down. Eventually, a range log is a great idea, too.
- Hand Sanitizer
A lot of ranges are in the middle of nowhere, and have facilities that leave something to be desired. Do yourself and everyone else a favor and bring a bottle of hand sanitizer. You’re welcome.
As you attend more events, there are going to be other match-specific items you may need (binoculars, a folding chair, a caddy to tow your gear, etc), but the above lists should be a good start to cover your bases for almost any match.
Not being prepared for a match will make for a long, frustrating, and ultimately un-fun day. Having your gear in order and being prepared for a curveball or two will keep you collected and increase the chances that you will have a blast. Enough talking already — you have the knowledge, training and gear to hit the range, so good luck at your first competition.
And because you’ve prepared, I predict you’ll successfully finish the match, and that you’ll immediately be looking forward to the next event, and the one after that, and the one after that…