Starting Out In Tactical Precision Rifle Shooting Part 2:
Maintenance and Shooting Equipment
By Ian Kenney
In the first part of this series I discussed selecting a new rifle, optic, and some of the basic accessories that would be necessary for a person to start shooting tactical precision rifles. In this article I’m going to talk about some of other gear that a shooter will probably need as they advance in their shooting as well as some of the equipment that often gets overlooked by new shooters. I’m going to discuss basic pieces of cleaning equipment a shooter should have, as well as some more advanced items for firearm’s maintenance. I’ll also delve into some of the shooting accessories that are available on the market that can aid the shooter, whether they are at the range or in the field.
Cleaning and Maintenance Equipment – The Basics
All tools have a purpose and I’d like to start out by explaining that the tools you choose to clean and maintain your rifle should be the best quality that you can afford. It is said that there are more rifles that are ruined by cleaning than there are by shooting and to some extent there is truth in that statement. By selecting cheap tools that are inappropriate for use with precision rifles a new shooter can quickly turn a brand new barrel into a brand new tomato stake. Additionally, cleaning after every range trip is also something that isn’t absolutely necessary and can lead to excessive wear and tear. I strongly urge new shooters to stay away from the “universal rifle cleaning kits” and some of the other cheap cleaning accessories that are sold at many of the big box sporting goods stores. If you are just getting started I recommend taking a look at the list below as a starting point for your cleaning and maintenance kit.
If you get nothing else, get these items…
Cleaning Cradle One Piece Cleaning Rod Bore Guide Brass Jag Cleaning Patches Solvents GI-type Toothbrush Q-tips Rags Torx and Allen Wrenches 1/2" Combination Wrench Now this is a very basic list of essentials but they are just that, essentials and with them a new shooter can do just about anything that needs to be accomplished to clean and maintain their rifle. Below I’m going to go through the items starting at the top of the list and working my down explaining their uses and what to look for when scanning all of the different brands.
One Piece Cleaning Rod
Torx and Allen Wrenches
1/2" Combination Wrench
Now this is a very basic list of essentials but they are just that, essentials and with them a new shooter can do just about anything that needs to be accomplished to clean and maintain their rifle. Below I’m going to go through the items starting at the top of the list and working my down explaining their uses and what to look for when scanning all of the different brands.
A cleaning cradle is sometimes overlooked as essential piece of equipment and although it isn’t absolutely necessary for cleaning it makes cleaning and maintenance so much easier. The cradle holds the rifle firmly in place so that the shooter can keep their hands free while performing cleaning and maintenance tasks. There really isn't any set criteria for what makes a cleaning cradle good or bad, that is pretty much up to the shooter’s wants and needs. However, I prefer a cradle that is somewhat adjustable and allows the muzzle to be dropped slightly lower than the action for cleaning or held more horizontal for other maintenance tasks. I’ve used a few different kinds of cleaning cradles but I highly recommend the Tipton Gun Vise and MTM Gunsmith’s Maintenance Center. Both of these products are made out of molded plastic with plenty of places to store bottles of solvents, extra brushes and jags, and other cleaning necessities to keep the workbench clean and organized.
The cleaning rod, bore guide, bore brush, and patch jag are all getting grouped into one discussion here since they pretty much work together to clean the rifle. Despite the large amount of cleaning supplies on the market, many of them simply aren’t well suited for use with precision rifles. When selecting a cleaning rod that is going to be used with a precision rifle I recommend a one piece coated or carbon fiber rod with a rotating handle. The one-piece design ensures that there are no joints to fail or scratch the rifling and the coating resists chemicals and further prevents damage to the bore. A bore guide is another item that every shooter should have for their rifles since it helps prevent the cleaning solvents from entering the action and aligns the cleaning rod with the bore. This ensures that the cleaning rod goes straight down the bore and minimizes flexing or bending, which could otherwise damage the cleaning rod. Bore guides come in many different flavors from simple molded plastic models to slightly more complex “universal” models that will fit in various actions. There are a lot of great options on the market, however I tend to favor the one-piece Delrin bore guides for their simplicity. To hold cleaning patches securely while pushing them through the barrel I also prefer to use Parker Hale-style brass jags instead of the Spear-type jags that seem to be more common. The Parker Hale-style jag works by wrapping the patch around the jag instead of puncturing the center of the patch like the Spear-type jags. I feel that the PH jag gets the patch a little tighter and is more consistent in spreading the solvent down the barrel, which speeds up the cleaning process. I don’t often use bore brushes to clean the bore but if I have to I prefer bronze/phosphor brushes over nylon bore brushes because I feel that they do a better job at removing stubborn fouling. Bore brushes can serve more than one purpose though and they can also double as a chamber brush. Simply use a short cleaning rod and wrap a cleaning patch around the brush, insert it into the chamber, and rotate it a few times to clean up the chamber and throat area. To use a bore brush as a chamber brush for rifles you’ll have to use a pistol caliber bore brush in many cases; for example using a .45 cal bore brush as a .308 Winchester chamber brush. In so far as cleaning patches go I’ve used all kinds from Hoppe’s to KleenBore and haven’t found an appreciable difference in how well they’ve cleaned the barrel. When buying cleaning patches though make sure they are correct for the caliber of rifle you will be cleaning to ensure it will work efficiently and won’t get stuck in the bore.
Parker Hale-style jag (left) and spear-tipped jag (right).
In addition to the plethora of cleaning accessories that are available there are a lot of cleaning solvents out on the market, some of which are really good and some not so much. A new shooter can easily get overwhelmed with the shear amount of solvents that are on the market, each one claiming to be the best. There are foaming bore cleaners, regular bore solvents, copper solvents, lubricants, and greases, enough to fill up an entire work bench shelf. Much of that isn’t really needed though to get the rifle clean, in fact a new shooter would do well to have only three solvents, a bore cleaner, a Cleaner/Lubricant/Protector, and a grease syringe. A shooter can also get a copper solvent if they so choose but I would recommend using it sparingly and never leave it in the barrel for extended periods of time. Most copper solvents contain ammonia, which can be harmful to the bore if left in for too long. Shooter’s Choice has an excellent line of products that will cover just about all of the shooters needs from solvents to grease. However, Hoppe’s, Remington, Birchwood Casey, and Break Free all make acceptable cleaning products so it may come down to what is available locally.
To wrap up the basic cleaning and maintenance kit for someone just getting into the sport rags, q-tips, GI-type toothbrushes, and some basic wrenches are a must. Rags and q-tips literally have 1001 uses from wiping down components, applying lubricants, and getting into hard to reach places such as the chamber area and bolt face. I personally like the q-tips that have a cotton/cardboard-like stem that allows me to bend it to get into hard to reach places like lug recesses. Toothbrushes also serve a hundred different uses when it comes to cleaning and maintenance and in my experience it’s best to stick with the old GI-type toothbrushes. The GI-type toothbrushes have a narrow body with nice, stiff bristles on both ends that can really get into tight spots to clean out dirt and grime. Try to avoid some of the aftermarket brushes sold at some big box stores, as they tend to be less effective at cleaning a rifle compared to the GI-type. The ones to avoid have wide heads and soft bristles that make it pretty much impossible to brush out upper receivers, bolt carrier groups, bolt raceways, and other areas with tight spaces. Some additional tools that I’d recommend for someone just starting out is a ½” combination wrench, a fold up SAE hex set, and a fold up Torx set. Those three tools alone should allow a shooter to perform basic maintenance tasks such as mounting scopes, checking for proper torque on rings and bases, and disassembling a rifle.
One thing that I did fail to mention that can be really handy, but not necessarily essential, is a small LED light that’s available most anywhere now. The LED light is great for a number of reasons from illuminating the inside of the chamber area to acting as a bore light and the uses don’t stop there. I prefer LED lights to more conventional lights because often the light is less intense and doesn’t really wash out what I’m trying to look at.
Cleaning and Maintenance Equipment – Beyond the Basics
The items that I discussed above make up the basic precision rifle maintenance and cleaning kit, however as a new shooter advances in the sport they may realize they need different or more advanced tools. Tools that will help them more accurately set the torque for their rifles, switch out triggers, and more efficiently work on their firearms. Like many things the necessity for one tool over another is purely personal preference and dependant upon the type of rifle. Some rifles simply don’t need the kinds of tools that are needed for another type so keep that in mind as I’m discussing some these “advanced” tools below.
A few things that should probably be first on the list when it comes to adding tools to the workbench are torque wrenches, a gunsmith’s screw driver set, and a hammer and punch set. These tools become quite useful if the shooter wants to do little projects like mount scopes, bed an action to a stock, or replace a factory trigger. The torque wrench allows the shooter to attach rings, bases, and torque actions screws with greater consistency that just using a hex key alone. When choosing a torque wrench that will be used for rifle components it’s important to choose one that is calibrated in in/lbs, NOT ft/lbs. Using a torque wrench calibrated in ft/lbs will cause damage to the rifle components and quite possible the rifle itself. There are several manufacturers that make torque wrenches suitable for use with rifle components, some of them are adjustable and some of them have fixed values. The two most common torque values used for precision tactical rifles is 65 in/lbs for action screws and ring cross bolts and 15 in/lbs for base and ring cap screws, so keep that in mind when selecting torque wrenches. A hammer and punch set is another useful addition to the workbench since it allows the shooter to completely break down a barreled action or lower receiver for a variety of tasks. There are a lot of options available with price ranges to fit just about any budget, however often all it takes is a short trip to the hardware store to fine some inexpensive and suitable options. A tack hammer and a small punch set with at least a 1/16”, 3/32”, and 1/8” punches will perform most of the necessary pin punching duties a shooter may encounter. When it comes to screwdriver sets there are a lot of them on the market with prices ranging from just under $20 to over $150 so finding one that fits a new shooter's budget shouldn’t be too hard. The gunsmith’s screwdriver sets come with multiple bits that will more than likely work on everything from trigger adjustment screws to ring caps.
This basis for this optics maintenance kit is the MG3-SRA Kit thatcomes from Borka Tools and inclues a torque driver that has settings from 15-72 in/lbs, which is plenty of range for just about all firearms accessories. Including items such as levels or a feeler gauge, lens pen, and extra wrenches means that just about all optics maintenance and mounting taken care of.
The above items fit neatly into this 7" X 3 5/8th" X 1 1/2" organizer box or a specially made TAB Gear tool roll that comes with all MG3-SRA Kits.
Hammer and punch set.
After the torque wrenches and punch sets the tools that are most often needed become a little more firearm specific. For the AR-type systems a good multipurpose armorer’s wrench and a strap wrench are highly recommended. These two items don’t take up much space but they pay for themselves in spades when a shooter wants to do some work on their own. A good armorer’s wrench can do just about anything from loosen castle and barrel nuts to taking off flash hiders. The strap wrench can have a number of uses but it works really well when installing free float tubes. If a new shooter plans to be working on the AR platform often it's also a good idea to get a quality vise and a good vise block made specifically for the AR platform. The vise block holds the upper and with some models the lower receiver, in place so that the shooter can work without worrying about damaging their upper receiver. In regards to the vise, a set of elastomer vise pads from Brownells can also be a major asset when working with other types of firearms also. For bolt-action rifles a bolt disassembly tool can be quite helpful when the time comes to remove the firing pin assembly, instead of relying on the field expedient shoestring method. Additionally, a trigger pull gauge can be extremely helpful if the shooter wants to adjust the factory trigger down to a lower, but still safe, level. The list of tools that can be purchased for rifle maintenance literally goes on and on but the shooter has to decide what they really need and what they can do without. Just remember that not everything listed above has to be purchased right away.
AR-15 Armorer's Wrench (bottom) and a heavy duty strap wrench (top). These tools can easily remove and replace free float tubes, barrel nuts, and other AR-15 related accessories.
Vise pads such as the ones above can safely and securely hold firearms and components for a multitude of tasks with little chance of damage.
Cleaning and Maintenance Equipment – Away From The Bench
As it happens in tactical precision rifle shooting, the rifles often get taken into some pretty nasty environments that would probably make some other gun owners cringe. That also means that sometimes it’s a good idea to take some form of cleaning and maintenance equipment into the field incase the improbable happens. A field cleaning kit can be anything from a few simple items to a comprehensive kit that can tackle most issues with several firearms. A while back I wrote an article that highlights a few different kinds of field maintenance kits that should help shooters decide what they need for field maintenance.
That article can be viewed HERE.
The cleaning and maintenance equipment that I discussed above is simply a starting point for a new shooter just getting into the sport. It is not an end all be all list and the shooter can determine what is and isn’t needed right away.
Shooting Accessories and Gear
Even after a new shooter has the basic equipment to get them started in shooting a tactical precision rifle the equipment requirements don’t end there. Additional pieces of equipment will become necessary to extract the most accuracy out of the total system and improve shooter efficiency. Much of this equipment will really begin to show its true value once the shooter moves from the square range and into the field or begins to compete in precision rifle matches. The equipment list for tactical precision rifle shooting can go on for miles, however below I’m going to discuss some of the things that I know have helped me over the years and I hope it can do the same for the new shooters too.
The number one item that should be at the top of the new shooter’s list of gear is a quality set of hearing protection, because going deaf is truly a PITA. Hearing protection can come in many forms from simple earplugs to earmuffs, so there is a solution to fit every budget. Earplugs are probably the cheapest, most simple, and effective method of hearing protection that a shooter can get. It’s easy to carry a handful of earplugs in a pocket or pack for when the need arises. Keep in mind that some earplugs can become uncomfortable if they are worn over an extended period of time and communication can be problematic, especially if trying to listen for commands or instructions. There are some earplugs though that solve some of the comfort and communication problems by allowing the shooter to hear normal conversations until shooting starts and it goes into earplug mode. This can be a good alternative to earmuffs if there is a concern over being able to properly attain a good cheek weld and sight picture. Earmuffs are another good option for a shooter who is looking for something that is comfortable and effective. Earmuffs come in an assortment of shapes, sizes, and prices to fit different budgets and they can be had has standard earmuffs or electronic earmuffs. The standard earmuff is simple, comfortable, and offers a good level of decibel reduction for most types of shooting. The electronic earmuffs are generally a bit more expensive, however they offer the additional convenience of being able to talk normally to other shooters until things go loud. If a new shooter decides to get a set of earmuffs to use with when shooting it’s important for them to select a model that is slim and low profile so that there will be little interference with the stock. Also, there may be times when it is necessary to double up the ear protection, meaning using a set of earplugs and a set of earmuffs over that. Some shooters double up all the time and some don’t however a shooter is responsible for the protection of their own hearing.
Howard Leight Impact Sport earmuffs (left), standard earplugs (center), and a set of safety glasses (right).
While I’m talking about shooting protection I should also mention eye protection and just like with hearing protection, eye protection is the responsibility of the shooter. Wearing eye protection will save the shooter’s eyes and eyesight from injury in the event of a catastrophic failure of the rifle, someone else’s rifle, or debris kicked up from muzzle blast. There are a lot of different eye protection options with glasses that have shaded lenses and clear lenses to suite a variety of situations. It’s important to note that a simple pair of sunglasses does not rate very high as acceptable eye protection since it will do almost nothing to prevent high velocity debris from entering the eye.
After obtaining a good rifle, a scope, and the other things that were described in Part 1, it would be prudent for the new shooter to get a quality data book to go along with all of it. While it may seem somewhat antiquated in today’s world of high tech ballistic programs, the data book can serve a vital function in helping the shooter understand their rifle. While the data book may seem complicated to the uninitiated, in truth it’s simply about filling in the blocks and trying to be as detailed as possible with the information you write down. The concept of the rifle data book is so that the shooter can log information about how certain weather conditions, shooting positions, and other factors affected accuracy at long range. This data is collected from range trips and after a period the shooter will begin to see trends that can be noted and used later during other range trips or in competition when met with similar conditions. In addition to making the ballistic data handy, a good data book will have additional pages for reticle holds, wind and range estimation, conversion sheets, barrel round count, and so on. All of that data essentially builds up to create a history of the rifle so that the shooter can help predict what it will do in the future.
Three variations of data books that are currently available. US Tactical Supply Modular Data Book (left), US Tactical Supply Sniper Data Book (center), and a Storm Tactical Data Book (right). Data books come in many sizes but the USTS Modular Data Book is just about right for packing in a ruck or vest for field use.
A constant companion to my data books and, in general, just a great all around tool is the Mildot Master, which a new shooter should seriously consider getting. This compact and lightweight tool can help a shooter learn range estimation skills using the graduated reticle in their scope. Even with the prevalence of laser rangefinders learning basic range estimation skills and the importance of breaking the reticle down to at least 0.1 mils can be vital. The Mildot Master can help to emphasize the importance of breaking the reticle down and show how small errors will stack up at longer ranges to provide a bad range call. The Mildot Master is also multifunctional since it can not only help with range estimation but it can also provide the angle of a shot in degrees for shots that are up or down hill. Once the shooter has determined the angle of the shot, all he or she has to do is flip the card back over and the Mildot Master will automatically compensate the distance. This tool’s small compact size and ease of use gives the shooter little reason not to have one, it also fits nicely in the back of a data book too.
In keeping with the “uses no batteries” back up theme I also highly recommend the Field Density Altitude Compensator. This little device comes from a company called Adaptive Consulting and Training Services LLC and it is essentially a handheld, manual ballistic calculator that has multiple ballistic solutions based on velocity and density altitude. The difference between this and others is that most of the data cards on the market use a standard set of conditions to provide the ballistic data, which become inaccurate if any of the conditions change. The FDAC overcomes this issue by using density altitude, which can provide the user with accurate ballistic data in just about any type of conditions. The density altitude figure can be obtained from one of the popular weather meters such as the Kestrel and Brunton ADC Pro or by using the simple DA calculator that is printed on every FDAC. The first FDAC cards were built around the .308 175 SMK, however new models have arrived for the military .300 WM and .338 LM cartridges that offer more features and data for ranges beyond 1000 yards. Even though these cards were made for specific bullets, Adaptive has created a compatibility matrix that will allow shooters using other bullets to effectively employ the FDAC. Soon however, Adaptive will be rolling out with custom made slides that are tuned to a shooter’s specific bullet and muzzle velocity. I’ve been using the FDAC for quite some time now and I’ve been very impressed by its accuracy in a variety of conditions, hot or cold, rain or shine. Just like the Mildot Master it compact, lightweight, and it fits perfectly into the back of a data book for easy access.
Perfect companions...the Adaptive Consulting FDAC and Mildot Master stowed perfectly in the back of the USTS Modular Data Book.
It seems that this next item is just a fore thought for many new shooters and it may be because they feel that it is something that’s only needed for reloading or it’s just too expensive. However, getting a chronograph is one the best moves a new shooter can make and I recommend getting a chronograph before many of the other purchases that have to be made. Even if the shooter doesn’t plan to reload their own ammunition, the chronograph can be an invaluable tool for those that are shooting factory ammunition. The chronograph can tell them what the velocity of their ammunition is out of their rifle, which will help give a much more accurate ballistic calculation versus simply guessing or going by the velocity on the box. This will not only save the shooter time, but also money, since they’ll be wasting fewer rounds trying to get on target at distance. There are some pretty good chronographs on the market and something the new shooter could keep in mind is that the cost of a good chronograph is about the same as the cost of a mediocre spotting scope. Even a simple $100 Shooting Chrony is infinitely better than nothing since it will still give you a pretty good idea of the muzzle velocity.
Now the perfect piece of gear to go with a chronograph is a good tripod, which can also serve multiple purposes from supporting a spotting scope to acting as a shooting rest. This multi-functionality is good for a shooter just getting into the sport because it will save space, time, and money in the long run. There are a lot of tripods on the market and I’d caution a shooter from going after the inexpensive ones that are sold at many of the big box stores and in some camera shops. These are often cheaply made and don’t really fair well when subjected to the recoil of a rifle or actual field use. These cheaper tripods are also somewhat limited in their adjustability, which hinders its ability to get low to the ground or adapt to sloping terrain. A good field tripod should at least allow the shooter to adjust the legs independently so that they can spread all the way out or incrementally to help adjust to different positions and terrain. As I briefly mentioned up above a good tripod can be turned into a sufficient shooting rest by simply adding a shooting cradle. Many of the tripods on the market also come with quick detach plates that allow for one attachment to be switched out with another in just a few seconds. This is a good feature to look for when searching for a tripod since one tripod can serve as a support for cameras, spotting scopes, chronographs, and rifles by just getting some extra QD plates. A good tripod to consider is one from Precision Rifle Solutions who offer high quality, versatile tripod and cradle combinations that are more than suitable for the field and shooting range.
A spotting scope can be an essential piece of equipment in order to observe the conditions down range when preparing for a shot and to see the results on target after the shot is made. Spotting scopes are available in a wide range of magnifications and price ranges, with some very good ones hitting the market at an affordable cost. Having a reticle in the spotter that matches the reticle in the scope is also a great feature that is becoming more widespread but again not absolutely necessary for long range shooting. When choosing a spotting scope don’t get to caught up in high magnification numbers since many times mirage will be so bad those higher magnification settings will be useless. Often a spotting scope with a 20-30X top end will be more than sufficient for most practical ranges when trying to spot trace and see bullet impacts on target. When it comes to spotting scopes and shooters that are just getting into long range shooting though I usually recommend that they at least go get a chronograph first before buying a spotting scope. The spotting scope can be a great observation tool, however with some training even a new shooter will able to check conditions down range and see their impacts on target.
The laser rangefinder and weather meter have become staples in range bags and packs for many tactical precision rifle shooters and while they aren’t essential to a new shooter, they can make life easier. The quality and reliability of these two products though are almost in direct relation to the amount of money you are willing to put up on the table. The more expensive options typically come with more features, better accuracy, and better durability, however that doesn’t mean a new shooter has to spend $400-$1,000 to get the best. A simple laser rangefinder and wind meter can be valuable tools for practicing range and wind estimation, which can is an excellent skill to have when the electronic options aren’t available. Even if the shooter starts out with a laser rangefinder that might not do over 400 yards, it can still be useful to check the math on targets within that range when using different methods of range estimation. By using small targets and learning how to break down the reticle the shooter can get very accurate estimates, which will only help the farther out they go. Likewise, using an inexpensive wind meter can do the same thing for a new shooter. Taking the wind meter out on breezy days will show the shooter how different things in the environment such as trees and tall grass respond to different wind velocities. That way, in the future, if the shooter doesn’t have the ability to use a wind meter they can still fall back on that experience to come up with a close estimate to better their chances for a first round hit.
Now, it is inevitable that through the course of shooting that a shooter will expend all of the ammunition that is contained within the rifle’s magazine, forcing them to reload. A shooter must have a way of storing, transporting, and accessing the extra ammunition efficiently, especially if he or she plans on competing in tactical competitions. There are a number of ways to accomplish this such as by having additional detachable magazines, folding ammo wallets, plastic ammunition boxes, and/or anyone of the half a dozen or so other products that are available. The best product to do the job will be up to the shooter and what situations they may find themselves in, as well as how fast they’ll have to access the ammunition and how much of it they’ll have to carry. For example my rifle is set up with a detachable box magazine and generally the most I’ll shoot in a day is about 100 rounds, sometimes more, but in terms of cost and storage having multiple magazines to carry those 100 rounds may not be feasible. Therefore I keep 30-40 rounds loaded in magazines for easy access and the remainder in plastic ammo slips like the ones Federal Ammunition uses in their boxes. If I’m simply going to the range then I’ll use a plastic 50 round ammo box since it neatly stores and protects my ammunition but it’s pretty bulky for field use in my opinion. Like with most things in this sport there is a product to fit nearly any need and situation so finding a solution to ammunition storage shouldn’t be an issue.
By this point, a new shooter has probably accumulated a lot of stuff like a rifle system, tripod, data book, rear bag, wind meter, extra magazines and an assortment of other items. It would probably be a good idea then to figure out some way to carry it all and luckily there are a lot of good options on the market. The first questions a shooter should though ask is how much will I really carry? And how far will I actually have to carry it? Even though there are a lot of products out there that will work, I highly recommend that a new shooter get a good quality pack to carry their stuff in. The pack is versatile, comfortable, and allows room for expansion as the shooter needs more gear for changing seasons or situations. Probably one of the best packs to get for this sort of thing comes from Eberlestock, who manufactures a wide range of packs that can not only carry all of the gear a shooter may need but also comfortably carry the rifle as well. These packs can get expensive, however they are one of the best solutions available if a new shooter plans to carry their rifle and gear for long distances. Assault packs, or similar style packs, are also a good option since they can comfortably carry a good amount of gear, easily enough for a day of shooting or multi-day shooting competition. These packs generally don’t have a way of carrying the rifle though so the shooter has to carry it by hand or slung over the shoulder, which can be uncomfortable after extended periods of time. As I said above these packs come in all shapes and sizes to fit a variety of individual criteria so it would be wise for the shooter to look at the specifications and pick one that is realistic to their needs. All too often I’ve seen people purchase a pack that was way too big for their needs because of a “better to have it and not need it” mentality, which usually just ends up with them carrying more weight than they should. In general a pack with about 2,500-3,000 cubic inches of capacity will carry just about anything a shooter will need for an outing at the range or a competition. Additionally many of the modern packs have MOLLE attachment points on the inside and outside to help with organizing important items such as hydration carriers, extra ammunition and/or magazines, laser rangefinders, and data books. The options are truly limitless when setting up a pack for field and/or competition and there's likely to be a pack to fit any budget.
Eberlestock Phantom pack in action. These packs carry the rifle centerline of the body but keep the rifle accessible in addition to easily carrying all of the necessary equipment.
The available methods for carrying the equipment necessary for a tactical precision rifle shooter go beyond the simple pack or rucksack. Depending on the situation a battle belt type of set up or vest may be a better option depending on how much the shooter has to carry or if the shooter has to move quickly from one place to the next. These situations are typically encountered at training events or competitions where the shooter is close to their vehicle or other support facilities where the heavier gear can be stored for later. Likewise the shooter can opt to combine methods such as using a belt kit to hold extra magazines or ammunition as well as other vital pieces of gear and carrying the rest in a small pack that can be set down when not needed. With the prevalence of MOLLE compatible gear at affordable prices it shouldn’t be hard for a shooter to configure gear that perfectly suites them and their needs.
Alright so a new shooter probably has most of the equipment they’ll need, mainly a good rifle, good ammo, a data book, and a willingness to learn about the art and science of tactical precision rifle shooting. That’s all well and good but it is important for them to remember that more often than not tactical precision rifle shooting takes place outside and in conditions that are normally less than ideal. Having some simple items like sunscreen, bug repellent, a good hat, and a method of hydrating can make the difference between having a good time and being completely miserable. There are many different ways of carrying water to hydrate from canteens and Nalgene bottles to water bladders with drinking tubes. Which one is best is up to the shooter, however it is a good idea to carry at least two quarts/liters of water in order to stay hydrated. Having a good set of rain gear can also be a great asset for not just staying dry but also breaking the wind if it’s chilly out. I recommend a two-piece set with a hooded jacket and pants but make sure they are large enough to fit over clothing. It’s also helpful to get rain pants that have zippers up the side so that they can be put on and taken off without removing footwear. Some of the other items that relate to shooter comfort such as hats, fleece jackets, etc. will be up the shooter’s personal preferences and tolerance to outside conditions. A good source for this gear is a local store that caters to backpackers and/or climbers since they have needs for lightweight, durable, and functional equipment.
Whether a shooter plans to just hit the range or go out into the field for some long range shooting I also recommend getting and carrying a first aid kit. Now I’m not just talking about a small first aid kit with a few different sizes of band-aids and some antiseptic ointment but also consider something that can handle traumatic blood loss, breathing issues, and other injuries. The kit that I carry on my gear includes a tourniquet, Oales bandage, Kerlix bandage, ACE wrap, CPR mask, duct tape, and Nitrile gloves. I don’t carry these items because I expect to encounter gunshot wounds at the range but because I understand that there is more than one way to encounter traumatic injuries where these items could be useful. There are a lot of good commercial first aid kits out there that can deal with a lot of different injuries but a home built kit that is tailored to individual needs is also an option. I encourage anyone looking to buy or build one to research them thoroughly and pick the one that best suits their needs and the potential environment they’ll be in. Additionally, get some first aid training to back it up because possession without knowledge will making owning a first aid kit useless beyond those “here’s a band-aid” situations. The Red Cross is an excellent source for this training and they have everything from basic CPR to Wilderness First Responder classes available depending on your area.
In The End
Everything that I have just talked about is here to only serve as a guide for shooters that are just getting into tactical precision rifle shooting. Some may have different preferences and ideas about what should take priority over other things and that is fine, however I strongly recommend considering the above pieces of equipment. Tactical precision rifle shooting is an awesome sport to get into and especially compete in, however it does require having a certain mindset and level of commitment to get the most enjoyment out of it. If a shooter is truly serious about getting into the sport and improving their skills then they are almost guaranteed to meet great people and have an even better time shooting long range.