by Robert F. Kay
In the firearms realm, history and provenance don’t just mean a lot. They mean everything.
When someone buys a Colt or a Winchester, more times than not, they are buying into a legend/and or a mythology. That’s not a criticism–just a commentary on human nature.
My initial interest in this product came about when my colleague suggested that since I was writing a series about building an AR 15, I should also discuss the must-have accessories that go along with owning one. One such item is a storage bag, that one might take to the range or perhaps even further afield such as a hunting expedition.
When I first became acquainted with the Blackhawk line of products at this year’s Shot Show, I really had no idea of the story behind the company. All I could think of was “Blackwater”, the controversial security company hired to protect state department officials in Iraq, and “Blackhawk Down”, the Ridley Scott movie.
The more research I did, the more compelling the background story became. For serious consumers of tactical gear, Blackhawk’s history has come to mean a great deal.
It’s not only the genesis of a product line, it’s really the story of an ex-serviceman who became a very successful entrepreneur.
Blackhawk (which officially goes by the moniker BLACKHAWK!®) was founded by former Navy SEAL Mike Noell in 1993. Noell is no longer associated with the firm, but his story is the stuff of legends.
In 1990, he was short-roped down from a helicopter in Iraq. This particular exercise nearly cost him his life. It was also responsible for the birth of an entrepreneur. When he hit terra firma, one of the shoulder straps on his backpack, which was brimming with sixty pounds of equipment, busted and the ensuing loss of balance yanked him backwards.
It also landed him within inches of a “Bouncing Betty” mine. Had he hit it, the detonation would have killed him, and his entire team.
The upshot is, his government issue backpack was ill-manufactured. It wouldn’t have been the first time in the history of warfare that a man died because of shoddy equipment. Fortunately, in Noell’s case, it wasn’t his day to die.
He vowed that if he survived his tour, he’d build a better backpack.
Survive he did and after leaving the service, he founded Blackhawk. Like the fabled founders of Hewlett Packard and Apple Computers, he began building backpacks in his garage. His first customers were Navy SEALs.
After a few years, Blackhawk gained a reputation as a vendor of choice with the special ops community. As this become known among buyers of tactical gear, its stature rose among the rest of the armed services, law enforcement and sportsmen. Mike Noell could not have branded himself better if he had paid the highest priced public relations professional in New York.
Obviously the public figured, if it was good enough for a Navy SEAL, it should be good enough for anyone. Of course there was the coolness factor too. Having the “real thing” at your disposal is pretty compelling.
Some entrepreneurial ventures, if they succeed, are acquired by larger firms. I kind of doubt that when Noell started his business that he ever had an “exit strategy”. However in his case, the firm was purchased in 2010 by Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK), which provides specialized ammunition and equipment for the military, law enforcement, and outdoor recreational markets.
Seemed like a smart move for ATK. How could management not resist buying into the Noell story?
They have their corporate headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia and operate manufacturing facilities in Meridian, Idaho; Southport, North Carolina; and Manhattan, Montana. According to the information I was provided, their R&D team “ goes above and beyond the call of duty to ensure optimum performance in harsh tactical climates”. Furthermore a large selection are “field tested and battle proven.”
That’s a good place to start our review.
The official name of the product is the Long Gun Sniper Drag Bag and the Blackhawk website says that it is currently in use with the Special Forces. Originally I was interested in a bag just for an AR 15. This product is actually quite a bit larger—51 inches in length. It’s really more of a product designed for a sniper in the field. Thus it’s plenty good to transport your AR 15 (or really any rifle) to the range and all points beyond.
The main selling points are:
• Constructed of 1000 denier nylon
• Reinforced drag handle
• Internal pouch for cleaning rod
• Two interior utility pouches
• Loops for Ghillie attachment
• Interior weapon-securing straps
• Front/rear cargo pouches with internal straps
• #9 YKK® zippers with protective zipper covers
Rear Cargo Pouch: 9.5” X 12” X 2”
Front Cargo Pouch: 8.5” X 23” X 2”
Overall Length: 51”
Price is as low as $200 on Amazon
Upon opening the plastic covering you can’t help but think, the Drag Bag I was holding in my hands got it’s DNA directly from Mr. Noell. It was designed for an individual whose life might depend on the performance of the product. The proof is in the execution.
It screams “structural integrity”—which is what you need if you’re going to drag this thing through the brush. The fabric and the stitching are first rate. The zippers are sturdy—as is everything on this bag.
The pockets are well constructed and some have interior straps for holding optics or whatever other gear you want take with you. The interior of the fabric in the pouches are impregnated with some rubberized compound to keep it waterproof.
This is a piece of gear used by special ops and designed to be abused, and still work. (I did not drag it up to the top of Haleakala or though the rain forest above the Hamakua Coast to test it out).
I did however, load it up with a bunch of gear and, take it down to the range.
The first thing you notice, when loading it, is that the bag has a huge amount of room to store things. There’s a pouch for optics and room for a flashlight, cleaning kit, tools, ammo etc. I used the large outer pouch to strap in an AR 15 lower receiver that we are testing at the range. It may not have been designed for this purpose, but it worked fine.
It also has a pretty cool function built-in– padded shoulder straps and a waist strap. These are “hidden” on the backside and are accessible by unfolding a Velcro flap so that you can carry the bag on your back. After all, you don’t really want to drag this thing unless you need to. It’s a good thing to have and it’s fairly comfortable.
There’s also a longitudinal pocket for a cleaning rod that runs along the spine of the bag.
The main rifle pouch is well padded so that you’re gear will be well protected. I did hear of one individual who sent it overseas to his brother who was using it during his deployment and evidently it has worked out well.
There is also a security flap that snaps shut over the zipper that runs the length of the bag for additional protection. There is also a “nose cone” on the front of the bag to further protect the “payload” and keep brush from snagging when it’s being dragged through heavy brush. (They don’t call it a “drag bag” for nothing).
There are two carrying handles. One is the regular baggage handle that you’d use as if you were carrying a suitcase and another on the front side, just beneath the “cone” so that you can easily pick it up and pull it along the surface.
I really like this product. As I’ve tried to portray, there’s a great story behind Blackhawk.
The bag is durable and clearly for my purposes, over-engineered. On the other hand, I tend to abuse things so over-engineering is a good thing. It makes a very cool range bag and an even better sniper bag or, a bag for a hunter working in foul weather conditions.
If you don’t want to spend $200+ on a range bag, Blackhawk also has a “Sportster Tactical rifle case” that has had excellent reviews. It it retails for quite a bit less, so if you only need a bag to transport your gun to the range (and the coolness factor is not an issue) it might be a more practical option.
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