Dec 212011

When on a ‘tactical’ type range there are extra items and accessories to make your training experience easier and more convenient

We wrote an earlier article about what gear to bring with you to a traditional fixed or ‘square’ range.  By this we mean a range where there is a fixed firing line that you shoot from, and each shooter has their own lane with a single target somewhere down that lane.

There are also tactical type ranges, which can vary from ranges where you can safely shoot in all directions, to ranges that are semi-square ranges, but where there isn’t a fixed firing line as such.

When you’re on some type of tactical range, you’re not quite so limited in terms of the types of training you’re doing, and so you will probably need some extra gear to help you in your activities.  For sure, you’ll want all the same gear as for the square range (so be sure to read through that list), plus possibly – hopefully and happily – some other items too.


Most square ranges do not allow for presenting your pistol (ie drawing it) from a holster.

But, depending on the Range Master and the course of fire you’re undertaking, you’ll often be allowed – and sometimes necessarily required – to present from a holster when on a tactical range.

Although the general rule is ‘train with what you’ll use in real life’ that is not always possible when it comes to holsters.  When training for rapid and safe presentation from a holster, you need to have a holster that is first and foremost totally safe, and then secondly, one you can rapidly draw from.

Just like the most dangerous part of a flight is the take-off and landing, so too is the most dangerous part of gun handling when you draw it from the holster and when you subsequently re-holster it, so it is essential that you use the safest possible holster for training, particularly when on a range with other people around you.

Many of the holsters we use when carrying concealed are very poor choices for range work, and many of them may violate the essential gun rule of never pointing a gun at something you’re not willing to destroy – either while the gun is in the holster (eg a horizontally carried gun in a shoulder holster that is all the time pointing at people behind you) or while drawing the gun from the holster and pointing it at a target in front of you.

For that reason, most of the time when training you’ll want to have a standard, outside the waist/belt holster that is in close to a completely vertical straight up and down alignment, on your strong/firing side.

This holster should be one that retains its shape while the gun is out of it, so as to make it safer and easier when reholstering.  You should be able to reholster your pistol conveniently, with only one hand, and without needing to look at the holster during the process – this requires the holster to hold its shape for when the gun is returned to it.

Holsters are generally made out of leather, Kydex (a type of plastic) or nylon.  We recommend you don’t use nylon holsters – they are cheap, but not very good and may not hold the pistol firmly and/or may not hold their shape for reholstering.

Leather can be excellent, but generally our recommendation, for a range/training holster, is for a Kydex holster, specially designed and moulded to fit the gun you’ll be carrying in it.  The Kydex holsters allow for rapid removal of the pistol from the holster (important when you’re racing against the clock), and hold their shape making reholstering easy.

Blade Tech is an excellent manufacturer of Kydex holsters and we recommend their products.

If you should get a Blackhawk holster, please note that we do not allow their SERPA holsters in any of our training classes.

Although the SERPA holster in theory can and should be safe and reliable, in practice there are multiple cases of people negligently discharging their firearms as a result of the SERPA retention device design and the person not using the 100% correct method of releasing and drawing their pistol (see this Youtube video for a demonstration of what can go wrong).

Magazine Pouch(es)

Another thing that you probably can not practice on a square range, but which you probably can and will practice on a tactical range, is reloading your pistol – both tactical and emergency type reloads.

You’ll want to have a magazine pouch/holder on your belt so you can rapidly retrieve a magazine for these drills.  While you could get away with a pouch/holder that just holds one magazine, most people use double magazine holders so they can have two spare magazines on their belt.

If you have a 1911 type pistol with only 7 or 8 round magazines, you might even have a quad magazine holder (or two doubles) on your belt.

Just like holsters, you have a choice of material for magazine holders – nylon, leather and Kydex.

We generally like Kydex magazine holders, and are careful to make sure that the friction fit/tension is adjusted so as to hold the magazine firmly in place but not to ‘grab’ it and slow us down when we’re racing against the clock for a fast reload.

Depending on the training scenario, there can be times when you find yourself desperately needing more loaded magazines; you can never have too many loaded magazines, both in training and in real life too.

Extra Magazines

Talking about which, you’ll want to be sure you have plenty of magazines for your gun.  Three is a bare minimum, and four or more is better (we’ve been known to have five or more, even when shooting a double-stack gun with 17 round magazines.  The more magazines you have, the easier it will be working through range drills that require you to be shooting lots of rounds in short periods of time.

If you’ll be doing malfunction type drills, you might want to keep an empty magazine with you too so you don’t have to empty out the magazine you’ve just carefully fully loaded – Murphy’s Law is such that when you’re on a range and need a full magazine, they are all empty, but when you need an empty magazine, it is invariably just seconds after you’ve finished reloading them all.

When you’re buying spare magazines for your guns, get the absolute best that money can buy.  This is usually ‘name brand’ original equipment magazines for most guns, and in the case of all the 1911 clones out there, it is Wilson Combat – typically either their model 47D or 500 (both being eight round rather than seven round magazines).

Loose Ammo Carrier

On a tactical range, your gear is probably behind you somewhere.  You may need to reload magazines from time to time during the course of fire, and so you’ll want to have some ammo (and a speedloader) with you to use for reloading.

Sure, you can just fill your pockets with ammo, but if you’re firing .45 rounds, that will quickly get heavy and you’ll not have many rounds with you.

Some type of ammo pouch – usually made out of nylon – that you can attach to your belt will give you a convenient way of carrying more ammo with you while on the firing line, and will save your pockets in the process.

The same as applies to loaded magazines, you can never have too much ammunition with you; whether training or in real life.


So you’ve got a holster and gun on one hip, and a bunch of spare magazines on the other hip – maybe four pounds or more of equipment – and even more if you have an ammo pouch too.  You’ll want a sturdy strong belt to hold all this; one that doesn’t have too much ‘give’ or play or flex in it (when you are rapidly drawing your pistol, the first step of this is to explosively ram your open hand onto your pistol – a strong belt is essential for this step).

Don’t choose a fabric or braided nylon belt.  You either want a good thick piece of leather, or else one of the ‘instructor’ type belts that have some type of solid plastic sheeting in the middle of them to make them very firm.  The belt should be at least 1.5″ wide, but probably not wider than 1.75″.

We like the Uncle Mike’s Reinforced Instructor belts, but there are lots of other good belt options too.

Knee Pads

You should check to see if your training course will have you doing any kneeling.  Most indoor ranges have unforgivingly hard (and usually very cold) concrete floors, and outdoor ranges have who knows what on the ground; in both cases there may be some unexpected casings lying around as well which can really hurt if you crash a knee into one.

Many people find knee pads to be a great comfort if doing tactical kneeling type activities.

Other Things Too?

Whenever you’re on a range training, always have a look at what other people have with them.  Maybe you’ll discover some great new piece of gear that will make your own training easier and more convenient.

Be sure to let us know if you have suggestions for additional items to add to these two check lists.

Dec 212011

This article gives you a helpful list of what to wear and bring with you when visiting a typical gun range for shooting practice

We have prepared two lists for you to refer to when going to a range for some shooting practice.  The list that follows, on this page, is if you’re going to a regular ‘square’ range – that is, a range with each shooter having a separate lane with a fixed firing position at one end and a target in front of it.

The second list is a gear checklist for going to a ‘tactical’ range, where there is a more flexible approach to firing positions and activities, and where you might be doing some more extending/demanding type practice.

Baseball style cap

The ‘bill’ in the front of this style of cap will provide some protection against ejected casings flying in your face, and possibly getting caught between your safety glasses and your eyes – a very nasty experience indeed.

Remember that you’re sometimes having to protect not just against your own brass as it flies out of your gun, but also protecting against the brass of the shooter next to you too, so don’t tell yourself ‘there’s no way my gun would eject brass in my face’ because maybe the problem is not with your ejected brass, but from someone else’s brass instead.

High necked shirt

This will help reduce the possibility of ejected casings falling down the front of your shirt or blouse – a particularly unpleasant experience for ladies, but not very nice for men either.

Closed shoes

Sandals with socks would also be acceptable, but you don’t want to have open sandal type shoes and nothing between your feet and shoes – again to protect you against hot brass falling onto your feet and possibly getting trapped between your foot and shoe.

Eye protection

Shooter safety glasses are essential and required on every range we’ve ever visited in the last some years (they used to be optional but now seem to be mandatory).

Most ranges will rent or even loan you safety glasses for free, but we generally recommend you buy your own.  Rental and loaner safety glasses are often scratched and slightly dirty, and while you could argue this adds a useful element of adversity to your training, it is better that you can have a choice of when and if your vision is less than perfect rather than be forced to accept it all the time.

Shooting glasses are available in an amazing rainbow of color choices.  For indoor shooting, most of the time, simply choose clear glasses.  For outdoor shooting in bright light, we recommend polarized glasses.  We don’t think any of the fancy orange and other colors really make any difference at all to your shooting ability.

Make sure the safety glasses have side protection so they wrap around the front of your face.

Hearing Protection

Please see our separate article on how to choose the best hearing protection for your time on the range.

Most ranges will rent or even loan you hearing protection for free.  Typically this will be a set of ear muffs with passive sound blocking, and only an average sound block rating.

We recommend you consider buying your own electronic hearing protection, particularly if you’re going to be shooting as part of a group or needing to clearly hear an instructor.  Some training schools now insist on all students using electronic hearing for that very reason.


Well, so this might seem obvious, but one not quite so obvious thing is to always bring more ammo than you think you’ll need.

The worst that can happen is that some of your ammo gets a free ride to and back from the range.  But maybe while you’re attending your class you get a chance to do a couple of bonus courses of fire, or if you’re just casually plinking, maybe you get into a ‘groove’ and want to keep going more than you planned to.

Just because you have extra ammo in your range bag, you shouldn’t feel compelled to shoot it, but there’s nothing sadder than running out of ammo and either missing out on a valuable ‘bonus’ training opportunity, or having to cut short an enjoyable self paced session, and/or needing to buy some possibly over-priced ammo from the range while you’ve got thousands of bargain priced rounds at home lying around unused.

Speed Loader

Any time you’re going to be loading magazines, you should use a Speed Loader to save yourself the difficulty and hassle of trying to thumb in and squeeze down rounds unaided.

It isn’t quite so bad if you’re loading a low capacity single stack magazine, but if you’re trying to get every last round into your 17 round magazine repeatedly over a day where you’ll be firing several hundred rounds of ammo, you’re going to find the added benefit and leverage of a speed loader invaluable.

There are a couple of different styles of speed loader.  The simplest and smallest are ones that fit over the top of a magazine and you press down on them.  These are simple and easy and great to keep in your pocket.  Sometimes they are included for free when you buy a new gun – Glock and Springfield XD guns usually come with one of these.  The Adco Super Thumb reloaders are available for a wide range of caliber/magazine combinations.

There are also more complicated ones with levers going out to the side which greatly reduce the amount of force you need to apply, but they are bigger and bulkier and can require a bit more dexterity and practice to be able to use them.  However, the time spent in becoming proficient with a speed loader device is definitely time well spent.

HKS and Lula are two good brands of these types of speed loaders.  They come in different configurations for different calibers and magazine times.

Targets and Pasters

If you’re simply going to a regular range to do some regular plinking and practice, you’ll need some sort of targets to shoot at.

The range will of course be happy to sell you targets, ranging from small black and white generic bullseye targets up to huge full color posters of zombies and animals and all sorts of other things.  You can find yourself paying anything from a quarter per target up to $5 each for some of the really fancy targets.

Much of the time, all you really need is a thick nibbed Sharpie type black felt pen marker and a handful of sheets of regular 8.5″ x 11″ copy/printing paper.  Draw some cross-hairs or circles on the sheets of paper to give you some aiming points, and that’s all you need.

If your aim isn’t quite so good, get legal size paper – 8.5″ x 14″, or even double size 11″ x 17″ paper, so you don’t run the risk of having shots go high and hit the target carrier.  Ranges really don’t like that, and will probably charge you for any damage that results.

On the other hand, if you do buy one of the very expensive fancy targets, you’ll probably want it to last as long as possible.  One way to do this is of course to miss the target every time you shoot at it!

But if your shots are landing more or less where they should, you can tape up the holes between courses of fire, using anything from masking tape and up from there.

If it is a photo image color target, you might want to use some clear adhesive plastic squares to stick over the holes and to smooth the paper back together.  But if it is just a regular black and white target, bring a sheet each of black and white round sticky labels and press the stickers over the holes.  Labels that are either 3/4″ or 1″ in diameter are probably about right; depending on the caliber of rounds you are shooting.

This will massively extend the life of your multi-dollar target, at a cost of only pennies for the sticky labels.


You don’t need to be a walking spare parts warehouse, but think of the equipment you are taking with you and think ahead to what might break or need replacing.

Be sure to have spare batteries for your electronic hearing protectors, for example.  If there is anything else which might sometimes give problems, make sure you can address those challenges.

If you’re going to an outdoor range, consider packing both a set of clear and a set of Polaroid wrap-around shooting/safety glasses.

We generally have a multi-tipped screwdriver and a pair of pliers in our range bags, sometimes extra tools as well, and always one of the tiny but powerful little LED lights.

Extra Equipment for Tactical Ranges

Be sure to read our second article, listing extra equipment to bring with you when visiting a tactical range, too.

Dec 182011

The Pro Ears Tac Gold ear muffs – probably the ultimate best hearing protectors money can buy

It should go without saying that you nearly always should use hearing protection whenever you are shooting, because the shooting sounds are sufficiently loud as to otherwise damage your hearing permanently.  The only exception to this would be to once or twice experience what it sounds like to shoot your defensive weapons with no hearing protection, because that is probably what you’ll experience in real life, and you don’t want the sudden extra loudness of a real life shooting unsettle you.

Of course, in a real life defensive shooting, your adrenalin levels will be so high that you’ll have a very distorted hearing experience anyway, but nonetheless, we suggest you have some experience of hearing shooting without hearing protection – both at a moderate distance from yourself so you know what shots sound like in real life (very different to in the movies where the sounds have been artificially enriched and enhanced to sound ‘better’, ‘bigger’, and more ‘powerful’) and when shooting yourself.

We don’t know of any ranges, anywhere, that do not insist on all people present wearing hearing protection.

There are two main types of hearing protection – ear plug type and ear muff type.  Both types can offer similar degrees of hearing protection.

Ear Plug Style Hearing Protection

Ear plugs are small, light, and convenient, and also don’t get in the way if you are shooting a rifle or shotgun.  But many people don’t like the sensation of stuffing things in their ears, and such people prefer ear muffs rather than ear plugs.

Ear plugs can be as simple as two little pieces of high density foam in a cylinder shape.  You roll each piece between your fingers to get it to compress, then stick it in your ear.  After a minute or two the foam expands back to tightly fit in your ear canal, creating a potentially very effective sound block.

Other ear plugs are more ergonomically designed and are more like hearing aids.

A pair of ear plugs are sometimes joined by a cord between them, so they can hang loosely around your neck when you are not using them.

Ear plugs range in price from as low as a dime a pair for two sticks of single use/throwaway foam, up to $50 or more for a pair that you would reuse many times, and even more if they have electronics inside them to control what sounds pass through and which sounds don’t.

Ear Muff Style Hearing Protection

Ear muffs are bigger, bulkier, heavier, and usually more expensive than ear plugs.  Larger sized ones can also be a problem when shooting rifles or shotguns, interfering with your ability to line up your head, shoulder, and rifle/shotgun correctly.

But for people who don’t like sticking things in their ears, they are the only obvious alternative.  And if you’re not planning on doing much rifle/shotgun shooting, there’s not a lot of downside to choosing them.

Passive or Electronic

In addition to the two styles of hearing protection, there are also two different types of hearing protection.

The least expensive and simplest types are standard ‘passive’ devices that simply block/reduce all the sounds that would otherwise reach your ear (although note that it is common for any sort of hearing protection to offer differing levels of noise blocking at different frequencies).

With these types of noise blockers, quiet sounds become too quiet to hear, normal sounds become quiet, and loud/very loud sounds also get reduced in volume down to more acceptable levels.

The other type of hearing protection uses electronic noise control devices.  Think of them as a regular pair of (eg) ear muffs, that now have a microphone on the outside of each ear cup, and a clever amplifier inside, connecting them to a tiny speaker in each cup.  The clever amplifier will amplify very quiet, quiet, and normal sounds, so as to make them about the same sound as you would be hearing if you didn’t have the ear muffs on at all, but when the amplifier detects a loud or very loud sound, it instantly and briefly switches off, so that sound doesn’t pass through at all and the full passive blocking ability of the ear muff then protects you.

This means you can hear your instructor, your friends, and other people around you reasonably normally, but when the shooting starts, those loud noises are automatically filtered out and reduced in volume.

Most of these units have volume controls on them, with the result that it can sometimes be possible to not just hear quiet sounds at the same volume as if you didn’t have ear muffs on at all, but in some cases, you can even hear the quieter sounds magnified and louder than without hearing protection on at all.

Most of the units are stereophonic – ie, each ear cup has its own independent microphone, amplifier and speaker.  This gives you a sense of directionality in your hearing, but the directionality, which working reasonably well in a left/right sense, does not seem to work so well in a front/back sense.  There are complicated reasons why this is so, and rather than explain them, we suggest you simply accept that the headphones will give you good side to side spatial location of sound, but not good front/back location.  This is not a problem on a range, but if you’re

Clearly, these are much more useful and beneficial than hearing protectors that simply reduce all sounds across the board, whether they are originally loud or soft, and whether you want them blocked or not.  It could even be said they are safer, and some training schools are now insisting that all their students use electronic hearing protectors.

On the other hand, they are also very much more expensive than passive hearing protectors (good ones will cost over $100, compared to $25 – $40 for good passive hearing protectors) so not everyone will choose to make such an investment.  If you can afford/justify this type of cost, you should.

Sound Blocking Rating

Any type of hearing protection has a rating in dB that describes how much sound they block.  Unfortunately, there are several different types of rating, and the rating only applies to sounds at certain frequencies, not to sounds at all frequencies, so the rating numbers are more of a guide than an actual exact consistent type of measurement.

There is a standard rating formula defined by the EPA – the ‘Noise Reduction Rating’.  This dB measurement usually understates the potential noise reduction, because it builds in an allowance for incorrect usage on the part of the user.

There are also European measurements – APV (assumed protection value) and SNR (Single number rating).  The APV is one standard deviation lower than the mean attenuation at any given frequency, so it too is a bit of a worst case number.  The SNR is a bit like the NRR, although not calculated exactly the same way.

This all gets very confusing very quickly (and if you’re not confused yet, there are lots of other acronyms to consider such as SPL, A and C weighting factors, and so on.

So, to make it simple, it is safe to say that always, the larger the number, the better if measured on the same scale, but you need to be aware that if you are comparing two makes and models of hearing protection with different measuring scales, there might be effectively the same amount of hearing protection even if one has a rating one or two dB greater than the other.

You should insist on any type of hearing protection being rated at least 20 dB and ideally the very best hearing protection goes over 30 dB.

We have seen ear plugs ranging from as little as 18 dB to as much as 32 dB in noise reduction, and ear muffs ranging up as far as 33 dB.  Probably with a bit of research you can find even ‘better’ sound blocking devices, or alternatively, if you are noise averse, there’s another very easy strategy.

Double Plugging

Some people simply want to give themselves the best noise protection possible.  Other people plain find it uncomfortable to be surrounded by the sounds of gunfire, even with moderate levels of hearing protection.

And some people find they are flinching when they are pulling the trigger, anticipating the loud explosion that will immediately follow.

In any of these cases, or just simply ‘because you want to’, it might make sense to consider what is sometimes termed ‘double plugging’.  This is simply the situation where you have both ear plugs and ear muffs simultaneously.  Doing so can make a huge reduction in noise levels, way below any degree of loudness that would encourage flinching or discomfort.

The only downside to double plugging is that unless they are both electronic type hearing protectors that filter out loud noises while still passing through quieter ones, you’ll be so insulated from the sounds around you that you’ll find it very difficult to hear other people or range instructors and range safety officers.  This can be both inconvenient and also potentially dangerous, and at the very least, it means you’ll probably be taking on and off your ear muff layer on a regular basis – again, an inconvenience.

We often recommend that first time shooters should experience their first few rounds of shooting while double plugged, so as to have the most mild and positive introductory experience possible.  Once you’ve built up some confidence, then you can ‘progress’ to a single layer of hearing protection.

Indoor Ranges are Noisier than Outdoor Ranges

Indoor ranges are generally much noisier than outdoor ranges.  This is because they are enclosed spaces, trapping the sound and directing it back to you, rather than the open outdoors where most of the sound can travel away from you and not be reflected back.  This effect is aggravated further because they usually have hard surfaces that reflect rather than absorb the sound, whereas outdoors, any surfaces tend to be soft and diffuse or absorb the sound rather than send it back to you.

So good hearing protection is even more important on an indoor range than an outdoor range.  You’ll want to choose hearing protection with higher noise blocking ratings for an indoor range to get the same effect as you would with less efficient noise blocking outdoors.

Carefully Choose Your Neighbors on the Range

Here’s a handy tip.  When you’re visiting a range, sometimes you’ll be assigned a lane number by the range staff, and sometimes you can pick and choose any empty lane.

In either case, try to avoid being next to a shooter with a high-powered gun, so as to avoid the unpleasant side effects of his muzzle blast and shooting sounds.  If the range staff assign you a lane, ask for a lane next to a low/medium powered shooter if possible, and/or for a lane at one end or the other, so you only have fellow shooters on one side rather than on both sides.

If you’re free to choose a lane yourself, look for someone who doesn’t have an obviously large-caliber gun.  Also look for shooters with guns that have longer barrels – typically there is less muzzle blast and sound from longer barreled guns than from shorter barreled ones.

Oh – what goes around, comes around.  If you have a hand cannon yourself, you should be considerate and go next to an apparently experienced shooter with a full caliber pistol, rather than next to a mother and daughter struggling to come to terms with a .22 LR target pistol!


Ear Plugs

Hearos Ear Plugs – A reasonably priced and very effective ear plug product

Etymotic ER20 Etyplug Ear Plugs – Expensive ear plugs and they stick out a bit, and they provide insufficient noise blocking by themselves, but if you can fit them inside ear muffs, they would be well suited for ‘double plugging’ because they evenly attenuate noise across the entire spectrum.  They come in both large and standard sizes.

Peltor 97079 Combat Arms Earplugs –  These too would work well for double-plugging because they have a non-electronic type of selective sound blocking.  Probably a better choice than the Etymotic earplugs.

Ear Muffs

Peltor 97010 Ultimate-10 Hearing Protector – With an excellent  30 dB NRR, and a price of about $20, these are excellent performers at a great price, albeit with passive only sound blocking.

Howard Leight R-01526 Impact Sport Electronic Earmuff –  A good midrange set of electronic ear muffs

Peltor MT15H7F SV Tactical Pro Hearing Protector – An excellent set of electronic ear muffs

Pro Ears Pro Mag Gold Electronic Hearing Protection & Amplification Ear Muffs – Truly the ‘gold standard’ – the ultimate in hearing protection, albeit at a very high price.  Note they include an ‘on light’ which makes them dangerous if you are sneaking around your house in the dark trying to avoid an intruder.  Highly recommended.

Dec 132011

Choose an item from this article to delight the shooter in your life this Christmas

You probably don’t need much advice on what to buy yourself.  This is an article you might find useful to print out and leave lying around somewhere where the people in your life who will probably soon be wondering what to buy you for Christmas might find it.  It might even help to draw rings about the better ideas, and add smiley faces and stars.

So what sort of gifts are appropriate for someone who owns firearms?  The good news is there are a lot of things you can give to a gun owner, ranging in price from as little as $10 to as much as, well, the sky’s the limit.  Best of all, many of these items are ‘universal’ – that is, the firearms owner in your life will appreciate and use the gift, no matter what his personal tastes and preferences may be.

Here are some suggestions :


So what does anyone who owns guns always need more of?  Ammo!  The good news with choosing ammo is that most of the time, we are just plinking the stuff at a range.  So go buy a few boxes of the cheapest range ammo you can find.

Note that for hunting and self-defense ammo, the different variations within a caliber are more important and better not guessed at, but for simple plinking fun, just about anything should work and would be sure to be appreciated.

Ammo Cases

Ammunition usually comes in thin cardboard boxes; sometimes with each round nicely packed in some type of ‘egg carton’ type frame holder, and sometimes bulk, packed loose.

Many shooters like to transfer their ammo to plastic storage cases like you can see on this site and also on Amazon in all sorts of different sizes and capacities.  Some people like to color code the boxes for different types of ammo, others like to have clear ones so it is easy to see what is inside.


Most shooters would like to have another magazine or two for each of their guns.  We generally have anywhere from a minimum of four up to a maximum of – well, let’s just say, a lot more than four.  We know people with twenty or more, for each of their guns.  We’re not saying you really truly need that many, but we are saying you can probably safely buy another magazine or two for any of the guns a shooter owns.

Generally, you should buy name brand magazines for guns – ie, magazines made by the same company that made the gun.  You get what you pay for with magazines, and it is a bad idea to buy cheap magazines, because they have an increased change of causing jams.

The one exception to the concept of always buying name brand magazines is with 1911 .45 semi-auto pistols.  These wonderful guns can be quite fussy as to the magazines they use, and shooters pretty much unanimously agree that the absolute ‘gold standard’ for 1911 magazines are those made by Wilson Combat.  We use the eight round Elite Tactical magazines ourselves.

Magazine Pouches

Everyone should have a magazine pouch/holder – something that fits on your belt to hold a couple of magazines.  This is essential when practicing malfunctions and reloads, and useful for general range work and plinking.  Generally we have been very happy with these holders made out of Kydex (eg made by Blade Tech), and prefer those to leather or loose nylon pouches.

You’d probably want a different way to carry spare magazines for concealed carry purposes, but for regular range work, the Blade Tech or similar double mag pouches are excellent.

Range Bag

Here’s another thought.  If your shooter doesn’t already have a range bag for his pistols or just general ‘stuff’ (for a rifle/shotgun shooter), that could make a useful gift.  You’d want to choose something that is large enough to hold a pistol or two, hearing protection (think bulky headphones), eye protection (glasses in a protective case), half a dozen magazines, a similar number of boxes of ammunition, maybe some additional clothing, spare parts, and/or who knows what else.

A range bag typically has several different internal compartments so you can separate things from each other and have a bit of layout and organization in the bag.

We’ve been very happy with bags something like this Uncle Mike’s Deluxe Range Bag .

One thought is to buy a regular/generic travel duffel bag (or a camera bag) instead of a range bag.  The price will probably be the same, or possibly even a bit lower, and your shooter will get a bag that looks more nondescript and anonymous, rather than one which shouts out ‘Hey, I’ve got a gun in here’.

Cleaning Gear

An unavoidable part of shooting (unless you have Glocks, of course – Glocks are renowned for not needing much care or cleaning) is cleaning the guns afterwards.  There are three products that we swear by.  In the order of application to a dirty gun, they are :

Hoppes No. 9 solvent is our favorite bore cleaner.

Gun Scrubber is our favorite ‘dissolves anything’ cleaner and makes light work of getting in all the ‘hard to get at’ but important places in a gun where guck and gunk accumulates (don’t ask what the difference between guck and gunk is!).  We’ve no idea what sort of noxious poisonous cancer-causing solvents they might have in their product, but the more the merrier, we say!  All we know for sure is that it smells very strong and makes the dirtiest of guns magically clean with the least amount of hassle and effort.  Best used outside with plenty of fresh air!

Break Free is our favorite lubricant/gun oil.  It is available both in a CLP formulation and an LP formulation.  The CLP product stands for ‘Clean, Lubricate and Protect’; the LP stands for ‘Lubricant/Preservative’.  Because we’ve used the Hoppes No.9 and the Gun Scrubber, we feel we only need the LP rather than the CLP product, but see below for a situation where the CLP product might be a better choice.

These three liquids can be used together with a traditional gun cleaning kit – a combination of rods, push/pull handle, hooks, brushes, patches, fluids, and various other things (we use nails to help us get into far away places and also toothbrushes too).  Or, if you prefer, there’s a much simpler approach these days, too.

All In One Cleaning Approach

Gun cleaning usually involves a lot of time, a lot of materials and chemicals, and a lot of hassle.  But if you get a Bore Snake, one single product takes the place of all the other components of barrel/bore cleaning.  Sure, the rest of the internal parts of the gun aren’t cleaned by a Bore Snake, but the barrel surely is.  Note that Bore Snakes come in different sizes to match with different caliber guns and barrels.

A Bore Snake and CLP is a great way to quickly clean your gun; perhaps between days of shooting if you’re on a multiple day shooting course (but if you’re doing that, be like us and whether you need to or not, give your whole gun a lavish amount of cleaning and care before your last day and any qualification shoots/competitions you might have).

Electronic Hearing Protectors

An interesting technology that is becoming more commonplace and more affordable are electronic hearing protectors.  These look like normal ‘headphone’ type ear muff things that fit around a shooter’s ears, but they have a clever extra function.

For sure, like normal hearing protectors, they block out sound.  But they also have microphones on the outside of them and speakers on the inside, and a clever electronic amplifier that amplifies quiet noises but not loud noises.  This means that you can end up hearing more or less normally what is going around about you, but when loud noises (ie gun shots) occur, the amplifier switches off and those are blocked.

This makes it easy to carry on reasonably normal conversations on the range, and to hear what your instructor is telling you, without having problems when the shooting starts.

These can now be found for as little as $25 at Walmart (but – warning – neither of the two pairs we’ve bought at Walmart have worked reliably).

You want to look for a pair that has the highest possible noise rating (NRR) – look for something greater than perhaps 22dB, and ideally better than 24dB.


Okay, so your shooter probably has plenty of belts for his trousers already.  But a shooting belt is different in two respects – it has an internal stiffener so the belt stays rigid rather than flexing and sagging, and it is designed to be able to hold a weight of gear – it is easy to end up with five or more pounds of gear on a shooter’s belt.

The strength of the belt is both in its material and also in its buckle mechanism – obviously the belt as a whole is only as strong as its weakest component, so you want a belt that is very strong in all respects, not just one which is selectively strong.

If a shooter is doing fast draw/timed competition shooting, he needs a very stable strong belt to provide a good platform for his holster from which he can powerfully plunge his hand down onto the gun and then draw it up and out of the holster.

An ‘instructor belt’ such as this from Uncle Mike’s is an excellent choice of belt.

Tactical Light

There have been enormous improvements in flashlights over the last decade or two.  Do you remember back to the ‘bad old days’ where flashlights were enormously big and similarly heavy – the Maglite series of flashlights made out of metal, with anywhere from three to seven or more huge D-cell batteries inside them?

These monsters weren’t even all that bright, and they chewed through batteries at an impressive rate.

These days, any decent flashlight will use LEDs rather than ‘old-fashioned’ lightbulbs.  Ignore regular light bulbs, ignore halogen bulbs, ignore Xenon or any other type of bulb, and only choose an LED type flash light.  There are several reasons for this – the LED uses as little as one tenth as much power to create the same amount of light as old fashioned bulbs, while being much more robust and having a huge long life (tens of thousands of hours).  They are also very small, allowing for good results from small reflectors.

Most flashlights these days have their power measured in lumens.  The more lumens you can get, the better, and don’t settle for anything less than 100.  We also recommend you get a flashlight that is powered by regular (ie available everywhere and inexpensive) AA or AAA batteries rather than one which requires some sort of special battery that is more expensive and hard to find.

A flashlight that has both high and low power settings is also very good – most of the time we use the low power setting on our lights, and that is all we need, and we get wonderfully long battery life.  But if we have a situation where we need extreme light, then it is great to have the extra power on hand.

We have been delighted with just about every light we’ve purchased.  We always have tiny Fenix lights in our pockets – they are lightweight and bright and versatile.  But for situations where only the best will do, we use Streamlight brand lights and you should too.


Well, of course, there’s one other thing to consider buying for the shooter in your life – another gun.  We shooters can never have too many of those.

But if you’re going to buy a gun as a gift, you’ll want to be sure you’re choosing exactly the make and model that your recipient wants.  There are lots of different options that can make it hard to get the right one – this is probably something you should consult with your shooter before choosing.

Which brings us to the other important consideration :

What Not to Buy

Don’t buy your shooter a new holster, unless you know for sure exactly what he wants.

Most shooters (ourselves most definitely included) have a ‘holster drawer’ – whether it be a real drawer or not, it is a resting ground for way too many (and often way too expensive) holsters that we’ve bought and ended up not liking.  This is particularly so of concealed carry type holsters.

So perhaps best not to buy a holster.

A similarly difficult thing to buy is clothing, which is a shame because it is something we almost always need more of.  Most shooters can always do with more ‘tactical’ or concealment gear – shirts, trousers and jackets, but trying to get the right mix of size, style, color and function is tremendously difficult.

For More Inspiration

Here are the results of a survey of hunters and shooters who were asked ‘What hunting or target shooting gear are you most hoping to receive this holiday season?’.

Whatever you choose, have a very Merry Christmas, and a very safe wonderful New Year.

Dec 062011

More guns were sold on Black Friday this year than on any other day since records started being kept

Usually we think of Black Friday shopping excesses in terms of deep discounts at Walmart, Best-Buy, and other similar stores.

Few of us would think of Black Friday as being a special day to shop at one’s local gun store, and our own informal checking revealed little or nothing in the way of Black Friday special deals at local gun stores in Washington.

But, special deals or not, the day after Thanksgiving this year (called ‘Black Friday’ because traditionally it represents the point in the year where retailers have finally covered their year’s expenses, shifting from the ‘red’ into the ‘black’) probably saw a huge increase in gun sales, with the number of FBI/NICS background checks called in by gun dealers on behalf of customers intending to buy guns soaring 32% above the previous busiest single day since records began.

This year saw 129,166 NICS checks on Black Friday.  The previous busiest day, since the NICS system was instituted in November 1998, was Black Friday of 2008, with the last two months of 2008 being two of the three busiest months of all time (perhaps due to the outcome of the 2008 elections earlier in November).

It is unclear exactly how many gun sales are represented by the NICS checks.  On the one hand, the FBI only counts each call in to its center, and sometimes (if a customer is buying more than one gun at the same time) a single call can represent more than one gun sold.  On the other hand, sometimes NICS checks are required for ‘administrative’ purposes such as perhaps part of a state’s check when issuing a concealed weapon permit, or a gun being transferred between two people, through an official dealer, and as such it is not so much a new gun sale as it is a swap in ownership between one person and another.

A leading industry group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, generally adjusts the NICS numbers considerably down to arrive at what it estimates to be net new gun sales numbers.  But treat the raw NICS numbers any way you wish, and the fact remains clear that Black Friday this year probably saw more new guns sold than any other day since records started being kept.

NICS checks for the entire month of November closed 16.5% up on the same month in 2010, meaning that already, for the first eleven months of 2011, more NICS checks (and therefore, presumably more gun sales) have occurred than in all of 2010.  This will make 2011 the ninth year in a row in which more checks/guns sold occurred than in the previous year.  With an estimated total checks for 2011 somewhere greater than 16 million, this is nearly twice as many checks as was the case in 2002, the base year from which each following year has seen an increase.

Gun supporters suggest that this steady growth in firearms sold and owned, and the massive increase in states allowing concealed carry, is a major factor in explaining the similar significant drops in violent crime statistics.  Violent crime dropped a massive 5.5% in 2010, 5.3% in 2009, and lesser amounts in almost every previous year, even though our population as a whole continues to steadily increase.  In the period 1993 – 2010, violent crime has almost halved.

Here are the FBI’s month by month statistics on NICS calls.