When you get ready to go to the range for some shooting, it's handy to have a "range bag" prepared that has all the things you'll need for a successful outing.  Here are some favorite items that I keep in my bag:

  • Range Bag:  Obviously, you need a handy bag to put everything in.  It's nice to have a dedicated bag for this, because over time it will get oil, gun powder residue, dirt, etc. on it.  Get something sturdy, that is large enough to hold your supplies, but not overly-large and bulky.  It should have strong handles, and I find that having the space divided into a minimal number of pockets/compartments is more flexible.
  • First Aid Kit:  I don't trust my life to a kid making minimum wage to have, or know how to use, the first aid kit at an indoor range.  At an outdoor range, or in the field, there is no first aid kit.  I always bring my own.  Make sure it contains supplies to deal with serious injuries - don't waste your time with a $5.99 kit of BandAids and alcohol pads.  The TraumaPak, by Adventure Medical Kits, is a good candidate.
  • Staple Gun with Extra Staples:  Having your own staple gun means that you will always be able to get targets put up, on cardboard or wood backers.  You don't need a large, heavy duty one, because you're just trying to get paper to stay put.  A nice choice, due to it's quality, low cost, and small size, is the Arrow JT27 Manual Light Duty Stapler.
  • Masking Tape:  When staples are inappropriate, masking tape does an excellent job of sticking targets to backers.
  • Foam Ear Plugs:  Even if you normally use over-the-ear hearing protection, keep some foam ear plugs in your bag.  They take up little space, and will save the day when you, or a buddy, forgets their hearing protection.
  • Knee Pads:  Not only will a set of knee pads save you the pain of kneeling on a rock or spent shell casing, but will also keep your pants clean and dry.
  • Plastic Bags:  Keep some shopping bags, or small garbage bags around.  You can use these for picking up trash or brass, or just carrying extra gear.
  • Moving Blanket(s):  A moving blanket works as a shooting mat, place for gear or spectators to sit, or you can lay it out to catch ejected brass.  They are cheap, and basically disposable, should one get dirty or damaged.  Get the type that has a slick, woven, synthetic fabric, instead of the matted, non-woven variant, because it collects less debris, pine needles, etc.  Harbor Freight's 72" x 80" Camouflage Utility Blankets fit the bill nicely, for a good price.

Can you leave your magazines loaded with cartridges, for long periods of time, without ill effects?  Yes, you can.

A magazine wouldn't be a very useful tool if it didn't do it's job well.  The job of a magazine is to stand ready with a supply of ammunition, waiting for the moment the gun calls for it.

In the military, as well as while concealed carrying as a civilian, I have personally owned magazines that were constantly loaded for years.  The only time they went unloaded was when I used them, and then they were promptly reloaded minutes later.  I have yet to have a magazine that developed what I would classify as a spring related problem.

My solitary experience doesn't exactly qualify as statistically significant, and there are lots of people out there that will tell stories of bad magazine performance.

Modern metallurgy and engineering produces great results.  Springs are stronger and longer lasting than ever.  Firearms engineers understand the demands placed on the guns they design, especially in the defensive shooting industry, and they take great care to ensure their creations will meet or exceed those requirements.  With this said, seriously consider purchasing only factory magazines for your firearm, instead of "budget" magazines from other 3rd parties, if your life may depend on the reliability your ammunition feeding source.

So load those magazines up, and keep them loaded and ready.  Take them shooting with you, use them, reload them, and rotate them.  Get to know your equipment, and have confidence in it.

There are a number of different styles of firearms.  Some are practical, some are fancy, and some have evolved from a specific or special use.  The titles I give these "categories" are entirely my own, because I haven't heard any formally accepted ones.  While I've illustrated the groupings with pictures of rifles, they apply equally to pistols.  Let's take a look at what's out there.

  • Antiques:  Guns have been around for a long time - hundreds of years.  The US government doesn't even consider guns made before 1889 to be "firearms", that laws apply to.
  • Fancy / Ornamental:  There was a time when a person's gun said something about them, maybe they way a stylish watch may make a statement today.  A prominent person might carry a gun with a distinctive ornamentation.  There are also many "collector's" firearms that may be similarly adorned, to commemorate certain organizations or historical events.  While some of these guns may be completely functional, others may be realistically unintended for actual use - owners may be reluctant to use them either way, for fear of damaging them.
  • Modern Utility:  Many guns of the last century, including military arms, have been designed for hard-working daily use, and were reasonably priced.  These guns will use characteristically modern cartridges, and may have sophisticated and precise mechanisms.  Without any unnecessary frills, but possessing all the features to serve their purpose well, these guns will continue to give their owners shooting enjoyment for decades or centuries.
  • Modern Tactical / Combat:  In the past handful of decades, the advances in modern combat techniques have led to a range of evolutions in firearm design and features.  Many of these guns have a characteristically "military" look, desired by many shooters.  Regardless of the aesthetics, they include many great features to increase the shooter's accuracy, allow the mounting of optics and accessories, and adapt to a variety of uses.
  • Hunting:  Guns made for hunting tend to have a unique and identifiable style, due to their special use and the distinct hunting culture of their users.  While sometimes this manifests very obviously in the form of illustrations of popular wild game, or the application of ultra-realistic camouflage patterns, it's often more subtle too.
  • Target / Competition:  Firearms designed for highly accurate target shooting, or competition, typically include many overt features designed to aid the shooter.  The rules of competitive shooting, such as the stance you must use or gear you can have, breed an array of unusual changes.  Some of these include thick / heavy barrels, elaborate peep sights, weights added for balance and stability, muzzle devices to compensate for recoil and muzzle climb, and flashy team colors.

I enjoy being a firearms instructor, and helping people become safer, more knowledgeable, firearms users.  I was fortunate growing up to have been taught good firearms handling skills, and during my time in the Army, it became of unequaled importance.  After I got out of the military, I came to realize that the majority of people, even long-time shooting enthusiasts, are not very safe with guns.  Sadly, the worst offender, and teacher, is Hollywood.

Most of today's popular TV shows and movies have firearms featured prominently.  Police dramas, military action stories, alien invasions, rogue nuclear submarines, and vigilante superheroes, all interact with guns regularly.  The problem is that they are all too often doing it wrong.  And for many Americans, who have no other familiarization with guns, they learn these bad habits over time.

I enjoy this entertainment as much, or more, than other people.  However, I really don't like how poorly the actors handle their firearms.  In scene after scene, they maintain almost no muzzle awareness, constantly pointing their guns at one another idly.  In many instances, they even corner suspects from opposite sides of the room, effectively getting ready to shoot at each other!

Falling Skies is a fun show, and I like watching it.  I wish they would hire someone to instill some proper firearms etiquette.  I'm not trying to pick on them, but they are a top-offender, and it's almost hard to find pictures of the show that aren't illustrating exactly what I'm talking about.  My wife is probably tired of me yelling at the TV when the show is on!

As responsible firearms owners, we owe it ourselves to get proper training, and understand how to use guns as safely as possible.  We also owe it to others to point out poor firearms behavior when we see it, and make the correction.  I suspect that many of the people that work in Hollywood are not firearms enthusiasts (probably likely the opposite), so maybe it's understandable that they don't know that what they are doing is wrong.  The real irony is that they are probably the single largest contributor to the tragic accidents of well intentioned, but habitually "mis-trained", people.

The best thing television and movie producers could do for the gun safety of America is to start insisting that their actors portray the correct, proper, and safe firearms handling skills.

How long can you store ammo before it's no longer safe to shoot?  The short answer is decades (maybe even centuries).

Many companies are in the business of selling surplus military ammo, that dates back to WWII, or older.  This ammo is still considered acceptable to shoot my many, and it's sold at near-premium prices.

Let's look at the main components of a cartridge, how long each will last, and what it's biggest enemies are.

  1. Casing:  Most commonly made of brass, which is used in other fields specifically for its corrosion-resistant properties, such as marine/boat fittings.  While the brass will take some abuse, if it has begun to become noticeably corroded, dispose of that cartridge safely (other uncorroded cartridges are likely still ok).  Steel-cased ammunition will degrade much more quickly, because steel obviously rusts much easier.  Stored correctly, in a cool, dry place, the ammo's case should last centuries.
  2. Powder:  You might be thinking, "Won't the powder degrade over, become more volatile, and cause an explosion?"  This is unlikely.  The powder was designed to be as explosively efficient as possible (e.g. powerful), so they generally only lower in capabilities over time.  This can have the effect of causing a "squib load", or a bullet that doesn't make it out of the barrel when fired - if you unknowingly fire a second bullet into the obstructed barrel, you're likely to catastrophically destroy the gun, and injure yourself or others.  Powder is very susceptible to moisture, and most military surplus ammo has a sealant applied to the case mouth and primer pocket, so old commercial cartridges may degrade more quickly.  Modern powders should last for centuries if handled appropriately.
  3. Primer:  Like powder, the primer will last for decades, maybe centuries.  They are vulnerable to moisture, but in assembled ammo will outlast their owners.
  4. Bullet:  As long as the bullet isn't obviously corroded, it essentially lasts indefinitely.