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).
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.
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.
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.