So you bought a rifle, optic and ammunition. Unfortunately, there is still a few more things youll need to be successful. I will tell you, there is far more items out there than you’ll ever need. There are endless packs, shooting bags, weather/ballistics tools, tripods and etc… How can you possibly be competitive without all of this stuff?! Some of the latest doo-dads will make life easier on you during stages but one thing that will pay dividends is the “F” word…FUNDAMENTALS! Without solid fundamentals, all the gear in the world won’t do you any good. Remember, gear is meant to make this easier, not do the work for you.
There are some things in precision rifle matches that are mandatory in my opinion, (aside from safety items).
- Rifle and ammo capable of 1 MOA or better throughout an entire course of fire
- Small rear bag
- Notebook and Pen
- DOPE and/or ballistics solver
My loadout is comprised of things that I routinely use to be successful at matches. I don’t like to carry any unnecessary items. When starting out, keep everything as simple as possible. "Beware the man who only has one gun. He probably knows how to use it!" This mantra should be applied to every item in your shooting kit. I can give you a lesson learned the hard way, the next hot piece of gear, caliber or rifle will not put rounds on target unless you are well acquainted with it. Too often I see shooters show up at matches with a new game changing piece of gear. Switching calibers, rifles, scopes and etc, can cause a lot of headaches during matches. There’s something to be said for consistency, and that is…“impact!”.
Let's Talk About Electronics
Technology is wonderful, but pen, paper and memory don’t need batteries. With that said, there are 2 items that I never leave without. My Kestrel 5700AB and my load data and dope notebooks. I wish I relied on paper data more, but the truth is, the all-in-one wonder machine gives me all of the data I could possibly want in a matter of seconds. This data can be sourced in other ways but there is a definite price for convenience.
One word about ballistics software, they are only as good as the data you provide them. If you are not doing the proper calibrations and inputting CORRECT data, you might as well be shooting blind. The number one rule to live by is, “only confirmed data is good data”. Spare batteries, ALWAYS!
Backups, What to Bring?
I have seen several shooters approach this different ways, from the absurd to the non-existent. I recall one match where mid-stage a shooter identified that he had a failed extractor claw on his custom action. In about 5 minutes time he had a new claw and spring swapped out with a small set of tools and parts he kept in his pack. I have even seen shooters bring entire bolt assemblies as spares and even one situation where one shooter lent out a spare AI bolt to another shooter who left theirs at home. More often than not, maintenance leads to lost items and when traveling these small items can be very hard to source. Definitely carry a wider array of parts if shooting something not commonly found.
I carry parts that I have identified as commonly broken or easily lost:
- Spare trigger assembly
- Action screws
- Bolt stop and hardware
- Firing pin/spring assembly
- Random fasteners for rails/rings/mounts
Definitely plan for the worst case scenario. What do you need to quickly remedy case head separation? Most of the time this can be fixed with a cheap (or free) Glock 9mm nylon cleaning brush and handle. These come in all Glock firearms and have saved many shooters from that piece of brass that was reloaded one too many times.
Waterproofing, Does it Matter?
I can’t advise this enough, WATERPROOF EVERYTHING! Keep all items in ziplock bags and bring spares. Countless times I’ve had to shoot in inclement weather, the match must go on! With that said, many people take weather for granted and are ill prepared for that freak rain shower that soaks all of your gear. Make sure to keep a few Rite In The Rain notebooks handy just for this in case you need to transcribe data during wet conditions. I've taped RITR pages to my rifles before just so I had data cards that wouldn’t run.
To Clean, Or Not To Clean?
Once my rifle is zeroed and has a few rounds down the barrel, I do not clean it during the span of a match. There are many differing opinions on but I prescribe to the old “if it ain't broke, don’t fix it” mantra. With that said, I do pack a small cleaning kit for that worst case scenario, including a stuck case.
- Collapsible cleaning rod
- Caliber specific jag and brass bore brush
- Hoppe's #9 in a dropper bottle
- Synthetic gun oil (NOT grease)
- Bore patches (caliber appropriate)
- Nylon Toothbrush style brush
- Q-Tips, 20ct
- Multitool and bits
All of this fits in a small nylon pouch and goes neatly in my pack. I also stay away from bore snakes, I've seen these dirty contraptions do more harm than good and would advise against their use in your super-match-ultra -premium barrel you spent a rent check on.
Extra Optics, A Necessity?
Toting around binoculars and/or spotting scope can be cumbersome but are incredibly helpful for helping spot impacts for other shooters and seeing what the conditions are during a course of fire. If you plan on utilizing a tripod for shooting positions, optics are a no brainer. If not, I still recommend bringing a small set of binoculars. Range finders are incredibly useful for double checking target ranges and are sometimes mandatory for field matches.
Shooting Bags, Which Ones?
A small rear bag is a necessity; all of the others are pure preference. If I could only take one bag to a match it would be the Reasor Precision/Armageddon Gear Gamechager bag. This bag seems to have it all covered and it has yet to let me down. Large pillow bags are also very useful but require some practice to properly utilize them.
Bag It All Up!
Selecting a pack is more difficult than it should be, keep it simple. If you are looking for a product specifically tailored for match use, I would suggest the Eberlestock gunslinger 2 pack or similar. Many Hunting backpacks are setup to suit both roles quite well. A well setup pack can serve as an excellent aid to awkward shooting positions; make sure to work it into training sessions!
What About My Rifle?
As you progress and shoot more matches, you will refine and upgrade your rifle setup. The best rifle to shoot at a match is the one you already own and have experience with. Upgrading your rifle from its stock form will have a positive impact on performance. One of the best upgrades for your rifle is switching out the factory stock to a chassis system. Chassis systems are precisely engineered and manufactured to fit your rifle perfectly. There are many benefits to a chassis system including a precise bedding surface, ergonomics and customization.