We started our journey into competition shooting with single gun disciplines, e.g. Steel Challenge, USPSA, but this time we’ll look at a discipline with more guns: 3 guns to be exact!
The Journey Into Competitive Shooting
Ep. 1 Getting Started
Ep. 2 Steel Challenge
Ep. 3 USPSA Pistol
Ep. 4 Shotgun
Ep. 5 3 Gun
Ep. 6 High-Power Rifle
Ep. 7 Cowboy Action
Ep. 8 Shotgun II
Ep. 9 IDPA
Ep. 10 Bulls Eye Pistol
Ep. 11 Smallbore Rifle
3 Gun is one of the youngest action shooting disciplines, and part of the simple math in this discipline is that 1+1+1 = 3. Three times the guns, three times the fun — and three times the ammo, gear, and techniques!
3 Gun takes the mental agility needed to compete with a single gun, and adds 2 more guns to the mix. It can seem intimidating the first several matches, all the tiny pieces to remember (staging three guns, ready conditions for three guns, stage plan, target arrays, etc.). Even a simple stage without much movement becomes complex when another gun is added.
But this complexity is part of what makes these competitions interesting, challenging and fun. It’s also what gives you a real sense of accomplishment when you finish one. Most of the principles of stage planning, firearms handling, and range commands are similar to that we covered in the article on USPSA, and the suggestion to watch a match before you enter a match holds true for 3 Gun as well.
3 Gun events vary widely. From small, local matches to regional and large national events, there are match formats for everyone! A few weekends ago, there was a great spectator match, the Hornady Zombies in the Heartland match in NE, complete with costume contests, and target arrays that give the viewer something fun to look at. Contrast that to matches with paper targets, or a mix of paper, steel, and clay birds, and the variations are endless! The only creative limits on 3 Gun are the match director and stage designer and sometimes the facility.
How do I start?
Second, find your guns and gear. Almost any semi-auto pistol will work in most matches under the Tac Ops category. If you own an AR, you will just need to have a few extra mags, a decent optic (1-4 or 1-6). As for your shotgun, it only needs a tube extension if you just want to test the waters.
Third, gather a plan and train with dry firing. The biggest hurdle in 3 Gun is the mental gymnastics you do transitioning from one gun to another, and from one array or style of shooting to another. The best way to prepare for this is to learn how to shoot one gun, put it on safe and abandon it in a safe position, then grab the next and repeat. I can work with my pistol and dry fire in my living room: practice draw, dry fire, put my pistol safely in a “dump bin,” (a laundry basket) grab my shotgun, mount it, taking it off safe, transitioning between targets, put it on safe, set it in a “dump barrel”(my couch), and then grab my rifle from a staging table (arm of couch), and dry fire that. The manipulations are the things that cause people the most awkwardness and those are skills you can work through without ammo, and without the need for a range. You practice picking up each firearm and mounting the gun until it becomes second nature. The same with abandoning them. ***As always, no ammo near your dry fire area.***
Certain matches are always the same time of year, and following a thread on Enos Forums or the event page on Facebook will often help you find out what to bring and plan for. Often times, the shooting is just one piece of an event. For example, Starlight 3 Gun has sponsor village, concert, amazing food!
Note for beginners, spectators are encouraged at Starlight. And this year an even bigger concert is in the works. This is one match I would go to, even if I wasn’t shooting because last year we had a concert playing while we shot our match, and the black lights and shoot off were so much fun. A shooting night-owl’s dream!
Where do you start?
Where you begin shooting 3 Gun depends on why you want to shoot it. If you just want to get better acquainted with your 3 guns, a local match is a great starting point. But 3 Gun is gear and ammo intensive, and if you’re going to do it, you might as well dive in and go to a big match.
Pick one that is friendly to new shooters, such as the Samson 3 Man Team Match, which encourages coaching, and so does the Armalite 3 Man Team Match at Topton Fish and Game in PA. One of the benefits to a team match is that it gives you both feedback and a chance to work on your team-building skills. Take the Cerino family: they shoot the 3-man team match and while husband and wife team Michelle and Chris instruct all year, Michelle says the 3 man team match is “the only time we have all been able to shoot together. It was fun working off each other’s strengths and weakness while making a plan for each stage.”
If you don’t have a wife who’s on board with a team event, do not panic, I heard that coaching would be allowed at the Vortex Shooter’s Source 3 Gun. And Generation III gun match allows coaching for juniors and is a fundraising match that is part of GEN III’s work to help juniors compete in the sport of 3 Gun.
Many 3 Gun matches adopt some sort of fundraising effort. Blue Ridge Mountain 3 Gun has traditionally raised money and held an auction for Task Force Dagger Foundation. FN’s 3 Gun match has had One Team One Fight host a side match several years. And part of the success of these efforts are match directors that work all year to create an event that not only makes their customers (the shooters) happy, but historically brings the competitors together over a shared love for the sport and widely held American values: family, country, and freedom.
Which match to pick?
I try to pick a match that is both something I want to shoot and where the focus of the match is something I support. Gen III, Blue Ridge, FN 3 Gun Championship, Task Force Dagger used to have a match and that was one of THE BEST matches ever, as it was extremely physically challenging.
One of the best things about 3 Gun is the variety. There are matches with physicality, yet a need for precision shooting or to follow stage rules precisely. These things level the playing field and challenge shooters who rely on a single skill set to become better at everything. A GM pistol shooter might be shocked to go to Blue ridge and see a >50 yd pistol shot on paper. A sporting clay shooter might be challenged engaging shotgun targets sideways through a narrow port, or using a full choke on heavy steel.
All of these variations push a competitor out of their comfort zone with the goal of improving their decision making — helping them to think better on their feet — and shooting ability under the pressure of a timer. And yes it’s fun. Okay, so it’s actually a lot of fun, but if you have to sell your wife or husband on the idea, then tell them about the ways it makes you better at thinking on your feet.
Some of my favorite matches:
Blue Ridge Mountain 3 Gun, one of the principles that match director Andy Horner drives home to the competitors is that accuracy is a skill worth having! There will be pistol shots out to 80 yards, head shots and no-shoots, arrays of targets that require you to aim.
Something I would call an “over-arching theme” in Andy Horner’s match is that, “Hanging two rounds on the edge of the paper should not have the same value as center of mass hits.” For those who know how to shoot both fast and accurately, this thinking is a change from match directors whose focus is just to make scoring move faster. Yet Blue Ridge has had stages where we’ve scored and reset utilizing golf carts because the old railroad bed we ran down while shooting the stage covered 175+ yards, and we shot and reset or pasted rifle paper, shotgun steel, and pistol paper. Andy is so well-versed in running a match that you can find video of him preparing areas for October already this May!
Andy proves year after year that a match can be intense, challenging, and make you work physically and mentally — and still run on time! Often the course of fire is reset by the time the shooter finishes and the RO simply has to walk over to grab the next shooter and start the timer again. The effort put into making all that happen makes this match one that I’m happy to spend resources on!
Another great match well worth your time, ammo, and gas money is Rocky Mountain 3 Gun. Denise and JJ Johnson’s “goal on each stage is to take the shooter out of their comfort zone…to highlight the dynamic, multi-tasking nature of 3-Gun.” According to Denise, “The natural terrain of the Whittington Center allows us to shoot in one of the most beautiful places on earth. The challenges of shooting in the mountains is magical and tests all your 3-Gun skills…not just speed, but thinking, planning and working to your strengths.“ If you go to this match, you need to bring your strength and your lungs, but it’s definitely worth it.
Generation III Gun is a great match in Lake of the Ozarks, MO. The match allows coaching for juniors and is a fundraising match that is part of GEN III’s work to help juniors compete in the sport of 3 Gun, as I mentioned earlier. Chad Francis is a no-nonsense match director and he works all year to create a match that keeps you on your toes and the variety is part of what makes this a fun match. From challenging positions to thought-intensive stage rules, you have to think and shoot, which is sometimes more difficult than it looks.
Resurgence 3 Gun. This is a match new this year, so I can’t say I’ve shot it, but I can say that I want to! The match sponsor is JP Enterprises and John Paul and the match staff is working to bring back some of the style of the SOF matches (that’s Soldier of Fortune for you Millennials). 3 Gun has a very martial history; beyond being practical shooting or action shooting, it grew from military and law enforcement testing themselves and their gear and skills. Just like when we talked about USPSA growing from those working in conjunction with military and LEO, we see the same crossover in terms of training with 3 Gun. Many high-level shooters are often current military and LEO, and they not only shoot 3 Gun, but train others. Resurgence will feature semi-blind stages and part of the goal is to get back to the roots of 3 Gun; to put competitors back into the mindset of thinking on their feet versus the overly-rehearsed, “made for TV” style of match. So expect some throwback to real 3 Gun, back before it was flashy to when it was about military and LEO putting real-world skills to the test. Except for this one you don’t have to be Military or LEO, but I’d sign up before it’s full!
Why not just shoot USPSA? It’s so much less work!
Why shoot 3 Gun? Why not just keep it simple and stick with one gun? Well, I’ll use a quote my husband loves, “Specialization is for insects.” Human beings have the capacity to do much more than one thing. We can multi-task, some better than others, but we are capable of much more than we give ourselves credit for.
Competing with 3 guns give you a chance to stretch your mind, to push yourself beyond a single task. It gives you an opportunity to confuse and challenge yourself, exponentially. For people whose profession might call them to function under stress, multi-task, and retain high levels of awareness and focus, 3 Gun is an awesome training tool! Sure, it’s not for everyone, neither is quilting.
More things that I have to say about 3 Gun
3 Gun is so custom that there are events for women only! Babes with Bullets 3 Gun Challenge, Lady 3 Gun, A Girl and A Gun Multigun Fall Festival. Guys, this is how you get your wife shooting. You take her to one of these and be a helpful husband all weekend, just one weekend of you helping her shoot, and you’ll be able to buy a lot more guns without hiding them!
Not quite 3 Gun, but a nationwide competition involving multiple guns that you should be following so you can watch the story unfold: American Marksman
Don’t leave without a list!
Lena Miculek’s Gear List for 3 Gun
About the author: Becky Yackley has been shooting competitively since she began as a teenager with service rifle and smallbore. She’s lived near the typical Marine Corps bases and spent 10 years near DC while her husband was active duty, but has settled into Wisconsin and shooting 3 Gun, USPSA, and Bianchi pistol with her three boys and husband. An avid runner and outdoorswoman, she shoots guns and photos, and sometimes her mouth…which her friends often remind her keeps them “alert” at late hours on road trips. Never known for being quiet, she’s bringing her brand of humor our way this year in hopes of sharing her love for shooting sports with our readers.