Practical Prep: Range Tips


For many preppers, static square ranges are the only opportunity to put rounds through the barrel. They do have some limitations, and they can be pricey, but we can make a few tweaks here and there to both cut costs and make our time on them more effective.

Basic Supplies

Depending on firearm, shooting purpose, and range, what we need to carry changes a little. If we have a dedicated range bag (can be a lunchbox, laptop bag, backpack, whatever), a lot of the supplies can just live there.

Most of us will want something to fasten targets. Staples work on wood and cardboard. Tape covers all. Duct tape is excellent, but unless we’re using it to hang a chunk of cardboard on poles, we can go cheaper.

If the range has overhead lines, we may want to bring string, binder clips, or clothespins even if it’s supposed to already have them ($1 packs; don’t break the bank). For most indoor ranges and ranges that provide stands that go in pipes or holes, those fasteners are less of an issue.

(You still want the tape/stapler.)

Many shooters carry some patches and swabs, a little oil, and whatever tool they need to adjust sights.

If there’s not already a multi-tool in the house, snag a pair of needle-nosed pliers and a fairly sturdy but fairly small screwdriver. They end up doing oh so many things.

Most ranges require eyes and ears. Some have very specific requirements about side panels and visible hearing protection. Most are flexible. 

I have very inexpensive binoculars or Redhead scopes in my bags. They’re sufficient for spotting targets at my distances. If you’re shooting 100-yards+ on the regular, you’ll probably want better, but unless you really are going to be engaging at 200-500+ yards, don’t break the bank.

Other common adds include a ball cap, bandanna and-or hand wipes, tissue (ladies, dudes with ladies: tissue), a boo-boo level first aid kit (tissue or patches + duct tape = Band-Aids), and bug repellent.

Some carry tape measures. If you’re working on a zero without square-grid paper or going for super accuracy, go for it (or a schoolkid’s ruler).

Water is a biggie, although it’s sometimes restricted at indoor ranges.

Stash Stigmas

Class or training, private club to low-cost public, ranges seem to bring out the need to compete. That’s bad enough when it’s skills or hardware on display, but for heaven’s sake, do not feel the need to buy “good” targets.

Or to buy targets, period.

(Unless the range requires you to buy their overpriced paper and cardboard. We do have to follow the rules.)

There are too many freebie options and mods using what would otherwise be trash/recycling, to include salvaged skinny kitchen/bath shelves, election signs, DVD racks, dilapidated tomato cages, and kiddie wiffleball/t-ball stands.

If we do have to buy, buy lower-cost alternates – copy paper, paper plates, hanging plant/light hooks, folding stepstools, garden stakes we can duct tape into tripods if we don’t have soft soil or post holes waiting for us and then string line between or tape cardboard to, etc.

*Some ranges have restrictions about shooting at the ground, and want your bullets to impact the vertical berms. That means we either sit, or find a way to elevate targets.

The more we can save on targets, the more budget we retain for training and prepping other areas.

That goes for everything else on the range.

The next stall down isn’t going to clear pests from our garden, put venison in our freezer, or roll out of bed for our creak in the night. So don’t sweat them, whether it’s platform, ammo, or fancy gear, tight groups, or speed. We’re there to shoot, not compare.

*By all means ask if they have something you’re looking for, stuff or skill (but be mindful if it’s a pay-per-minute range or lunchtime).

Work Fundamentals At Home

Long before you get to the range, you should already be quickly gaining proper grip, familiar with trigger, snapping into the front sight, and quickly acquiring good sight alignment and picture. Carry your lifesaver to TV time, or lock yourself in the bathroom to aim in at the fine print on your ID if you can’t beg or bribe some “me” time otherwise.

That means you’ll probably want some…

Snap Caps

I like snap caps, but any kind of dummy/dud that protects from over travel by the firing pin is fine. They cost less than a box of ammo and provide thousands of trigger pulls, trigger pulls you can make anywhere, anytime.

If you don’t get snap caps, still work on drawing/presentation, grip, reloads, and sight picture.

Practice Like You Play

As often as possible, wear what you will be when using that gun (boxers and nighties are always exceptions; battle rattle is conditional), and go to an outdoor range in all kinds of weather – cold, wet, windy, blazing hot, early or late on bright days with sun in your eyes, nighttime, as close to sunset/sunrise as they’ll let you shoot.

Dry fire and dummy guns are always options, but seeing the tangible proof of what conditions can do to patterns can be highly educational.

Practice like you play also applies to shooting positions.

Use tables and rests to check the zero and test ammo, then get off them. Every fundamental can be practiced at home. Whether it’s hunting using position or rests of opportunity, or defensive and combat tactics, do it for real. And…

Get Rounds Downrange

Again, cover fundamentals in spare minutes at home. If you’re practicing just for hunting, take all the time you need (and practice paused/interrupted and terminated trigger pulls). If you’re practicing for a gunfight, ride the recoil, put the front sight back on the target, and pull the trigger again as fast as possible.

*As fast as possible includes blade-on-target sighting and proper trigger pull.

You don’t need bulls-eyes. You need a pattern mostly the size of a human head or a dessert plate.

If you can blast 3-7 shots at contact distances with your contact platform in a few seconds, then take a couple seconds for a shot that lands in a playing card, soup can, or even a 20-oz. bottle, that is really and truly all you need.   

*Again, hunting is an exception; ultimately aim for golf ball/light bulb accuracy.

If your pattern is bigger than that, absolutely, slow down until it is – unless you’re shooting pistol past 25-30 yards or rifle past 100-200 yards, in which case a K-5 ring or double stack of paper plates or notebook/copy paper is good enough. 

If you can get it tighter without sacrificing speed, great.

One shot, one kill slow fire is for scoped-rifle snipers. Most of Special Ops are landing multiple shots. Plan on it taking more to drop your target, too.

If you only ever practice slow shots, your range habits are going to do you a disservice one of two unfortunate ways if you ever actually need that gun.

Also practice multiple, random-count shots, not only either emptying the gun or using a Mozambique 2-1 or 3-1, 666-Devil, or similar. (They can be handy, but should not be the only.) A shooting partner or even having random timers set for 3-5 to 15-20 seconds tell you a target is down and out can help make practice less unpredictable.  

Take A Lap

In most potential scenarios for firearm use, some alert is going to send us darting – for a gun, for a more appropriate gun, or straight for The Bad Thing if we’re carrying; for cover; for loved ones.

If we’re practicing for combat or a bugout-contact situation, we’re even more likely to be exerting energy and darting around before and during a firefight.

Adrenaline alone – be it hunting, combat, or defensive situations – can send hearts pounding and hands shaking.

So simulate that.

Stressing and then taking a shot can also be worked on at home with snap caps (or air-soft guns, with some target prep), however, like weather, the bullet holes can be informative in ways dry fire isn’t.

Some ranges, it’s more than possible to do eight-count bodybuilders to simulate stress.

When we don’t want to attract the attention or are paying by the quarter-hour, instead, hold your breath while you hang and send the target, load mags, and sweep brass – repeatedly and as long as possible. Take your shots while you’re still trying to get your breath back.    

Mime What You Can’t Do

Range by range, we face varied restrictions on movement of all sorts. Some take a dim view on popping up and down, even. Even with at-home dry fire, eventually we do need to get the barrel dirty.

We can reduce motions to work inside a very small box for leaning, crouching, and footwork.

Holster limitations are among the most common. If a restrictive range is your only opportunity for live-fire first-shot drills, fake it by holding the barrel with the off hand (like the NRA side-by-side pistol pass) and mime the presentation steps, then drop the off hand once you have your shooting grip.

*Psst…practice that switch at home, unloaded, before trying it at the range.

Save the upper level shots – like from the hip or sternum/chin, or extending a fend-off hand while shooting from the ribs – but most ranges are fine for practicing one-handed pistol shots holding your range bag to simulate a child’s hand or leash, or the various flashlight stances.

Make The Square Range Pay Off

If we go just to blast now and then, that’s fine. But it’s hobby shooting, not training.

If it’s training, get the most out of that time.

Save money where possible, so it can be applied to other preps or more practice and training. Work fundamentals and movements at home. Don’t let hobbyists’ shooting standards or gear influence your practice. Find workarounds that are inside the rules if available ranges have tight restrictions.

Hunting or fighting, make range shots as similar to real-world scenarios as possible. It’ll pay off if you ever really need that gun.

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  1. Good write up as usual.
    The first para in the “Practice Like You Play” section is excellent advise. When I started prepping/training I was living on the family farm while building my current place. I made a drill of stepping outside the moment I woke with a long gun and a pistol – one round in each. I had a target at 15 yards for the handgun, and another at 100 yd for the rifle.
    The results after a few weeks were very illuminating. Weather didn’t matter that much unless it was horizontal rain in my face, but the amount of decent sleep I had gotten did. Most of the time I was 8-ring or better, but if I was tired or other wise stressed my patterns drifted: pistol always went left and low out to the 2 or 3 ring. The rifle went vertical to 1 – 2 ring.
    Why? Dunnoh. But it was an indicator of what my body was doing under those conditions.

    I have also found that the snap-caps with a pin triggered laser, and the matching targets are wonderful for non-boom practice. Fairly pricey, so I limited it to my carry caliber, but with a few of the reactive targets scattered around the garage or even in odd corners out doors it’s excellent practice.

  2. Cruella,
    Great habit – and, really nice setup. I know they’re expensive, and haven’t pulled the trigger on that setup for myself, but as with a lot of the live-fire alternatives, in the long run it’s less expensive than the amount of ammo we’d need, and for a lot of people, the alternatives allow them to do training and maintenance the usual square ranges won’t.

    Have to say, I have always been surprised by how much light itself slows me down, and usually not the light I’m expecting. I knew that in the last years I’d become more sensitive to that gray everywhere winter “brightness” (it’s not bright-bright, but that smudge FEELS bright to me) but lining up iron sights in misting pinkish-smear at sunrise and that not-up but not-dark-yet sunset period always took me an extra beat. Maybe from the dark shadows, but I am never 100% comfortable I’m actually left-right aligned and find myself double checking no matter what kinds of sights I’m running once I’m past 3-7 yards on pistol, 25-30 yards on rifle in those conditions.
    Tried finding a lamp/flashlight/bulbs even in combo to simulate it indoors or under a pavilion, and just can’t get it to screw with my brain the same way that super touchable close dawn feels, or especially and really noticeably with my pacing that one type of sunset.
    (Love being normal.)
    R. Ann

  3. R.Ann, Those twilight illumination levels are weird to do anything in that requires accurate discrimination of close and distant objects simultaneously. I’m finding as I get older the “dynamic range” of my vision under marginal lighting conditions decreases significantly. From my reading it’s due to increasing reliance upon the “rods” light receptors in the retina which have much poorer image resolution vs the “cones” used for daylight color vision. There’s also the aging phenomena of our eyes becoming less capable of maintaining focus on the weapons sights and the more distant target simultaneously.
    All these bio caused issues on top of all colors more muted, or even grey scale makes for uncertainty. I really need to resume my morning ritual again to see what’s changed…
    So it’s practice and practice. I’ve also found that adding tritium or so-called fiber optic front/rear sights helps quite a bit.

    The laser practice gadgets i picked up are all from LaserLyte: a .380, and 9mm laser snap caps, and the smaller (cheaper) targets work fine for me. Amazon has the caps for about $90 each, and the small can targets are $70 for two.

  4. cruella,
    Glad it’s not just me who’s always had a problem and have that problem increasing.
    Thanks for the heads up on the laser-caps and targets – not too shabby, and really, not too much. I like that they’re versatile between platforms, versus a cert pistol/rifle.
    I went with some airsoft options that weigh and function like our reals for us as trainers, and have about dialed in the rubber-cap and solid-rubber rounds that shoot like our primaries in the self-defense and property defense ranges for home tgt practice with less noise and more options for safe range setups.

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