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For the Love of Competition Competition

How to Get Started in 3 Gun

by Iain Harrison   |  September 29th, 2011 15
Loading a Benelli on the move

Photo Credit Cerino Training Group

Given the hornet’s nest I stirred up with my first post, it seems that a little info on how to get started in 3 gun might be in order.

First off, don’t worry too much about the gear. Spending a ton of money to get into the game, only to discover a few months later that you want to head in another direction is a surefire way to alienate your significant other.  Trust me, you don’t want to do this, as you’ll need their support. Go shoot what you have, even if it’s not ideal; you’ll learn much more about what works and what doesn’t by shooting in a match than you ever will by reading blogs like this.

See all those guys with the fancy jerseys that look like a Brownells catalog threw up on them?

They all started in the same place you did, and they have long memories, so don’t sweat it. So long as you’re a safe, competent gun handler you’ll be made very welcome.

The sport is divided according to equipment. Let’s take each of the divisions in turn and look at what you need to compete, bearing in mind the paragraph above. I’ll assume your range bag has eye and ear protection in it, a cleaning kit, ammo and spare mags.

Tac Optics
This is by far the most popular division and the barriers to entry are perhaps lower than any other. You’ll need a semi-auto rifle with detachable magazines, a semi auto shotgun that will preferably hold eight rounds in the magazine and a semi auto handgun of 9mm caliber or greater.  A secure holster and means of carrying spare ammo complete the rig. And that’s it.

You don’t need anything fancy (but trust me, once you’re bitten by the bug, it can get expensive). A vanilla AR15 with a low power variable scope is a good place to start, though if you have any of the current piston-driven carbines such as a SCAR or ACR you’re in good shape as well. I’ve shot with guys who’ve run Mini 14s, so if you have one, bring it. Add an extended mag tube to the Remington 1100 lurking in the back of the safe and you have the shotgun component covered, though if you’d rather run your trusty pump gun until you figure out which semi you’d prefer, that’s cool too.

Most guys run 9 mm handguns as the capacity advantage over a .40 or .45 is significant, but whatever you choose, your holster is as important as the piece it contains. Bump a loaded pistol out of your holster in the middle of a stage and you’ll be going home early, so invest in something that holds it securely. I have a fondness for Bladetech gear as they’re located in my neck of the woods and offer great value, but there are plenty of others. If, after shooting a match you decide that you’d like to progress a little further, then the first thing you’re going to want to buy are shotgun shell caddies, as loading from a pocket or bandolier sucks.

Here’s my list of guns suitable for getting started in Tac Optics division. It’s by no means exhaustive and I welcome additions and comments from current competitors, though if you recommend the first rig a newbie picks up consists of a JP CTR-02 with Leupy Mk8, Salient Benelli and Benny Hill tuned STI, prepare for hilarity.

Rifle: Pretty much any flat top AR15 – your choices are many. Doesn’t matter if it’s a carbine or rifle, just shoot the damned thing.

Optics: Too much for one post, fill your boots with knowledge here.

Shotgun: FNH SLP, Mossberg 930, Benelli M1 or M2, Winchester SX2 or 3, Remington Versamax

Handgun: Glock 17, 34, Springfield XD, XDm, S&W M&P, STI Edge, Para Ordnance p18, CZ SP01

Any of the above combos keep you in the sport for several years before you get anywhere near your performance ceiling.  Buy used wherever possible, but not from a 3-gunner, as most people never fire enough rounds to wear out a gun. Three-gunners do. Here’s a taste of what it all looks like in the end via 3-Gun Nation and Team Benelli:

Whatever equipment you select, remember that the item that has by far the biggest effect on your scores, is the one behind the trigger. Rather than go further into the library of tips and tactics, I found a complete guide to what you’ll need, courtesy of my friends over at 3 Gun Nation.

Questions or comments?

  • Jim Morris

    Well Done!

    ""So long as you’re a safe, competent gun handler you’ll be made very welcome.""

    I tell people this all the time!

  • Mark Cronenwett

    Bring what you have and have fun. I have found that in the sport of 3 gun, more than any other shooting sport I have been in, you will be lent gear you don't have if you ask. I have seen guys show up with ammo and a pistol, and borrowed the rifle and shotgun for the match. I have seen 2 guys show up that want to try it out, both had pistols, one had the rifle, the other the shotgun. I shared a shotgun with a youth stock with someone's wife so my son could shoot.

    I won't say it is competitive, but I did see on person running an SKS for a match :D

  • Bob Bump

    Looks great, Thanks Ian. I shoot IDPA and have been watching 3 gun nation. Looks like lots of fun.

  • Gene

    Dittos Bob…just started shooting this year with the local IDPA crews around here. When I get myself a rifle and a shotgun I may have to give it a go.

  • Chris Fowler

    Iain, you are a credit to the shooting sports. Thank you for these well-written intro-to-three gun articles. I enjoyed watching you on Top Shot, and look forward to more of your writing.

  • ZQ

    Great article. Thanks Ian! I love to watch the 3 gunners do their thing, enough to want to give it ago myself. But I'm hesitant to show up with my trusty series 70 1911 .45 and an AK. To all you seasoned 3 gunners, would this be an acceptable rig just to go out and have some fun?

    Thanks Guys

  • Croge

    Hey…I want in, where can I subscribe to your (or other similar) blog??? How about how to find matches as a topic.

    Looks like a hoot!

  • Jim Griffiths

    In regards to "getting started," I would like to know more about logistics such as:

    – How do you get all of your gear around from stage-to-stage without having to immediately invest in a $400 baby stroller?

    – What types of ammo (especially shotgun) do you need to bring (and how much of it)?

    – What belt rig is necessary to start (i.e. pistol holster, pistol mag holder – how many?, rifle mag holder – how many?, etc.).

  • David Weller


    In regards to “getting started,” I would like to know more about logistics such as:

    – How do you get all of your gear around from stage-to-stage without having to immediately invest in a $400 baby stroller?

    Actually, you can find "Gun strollers" for about $120 at Cabelas or online, but don't neglect the awesome power of rifle/gun sleeves coupled with a cheap, military duffel bag! :-)

    – What types of ammo (especially shotgun) do you need to bring (and how much of it)?

    It varies from match to match and state to state. You will likely need some slugs for a slug stage, and regular shotshells, but the quantity, shot size, and slug count will vary. Match directors will definitely give you a few days notice (AT LEAST!) so that you can come prepared.

    – What belt rig is necessary to start (i.e. pistol holster, pistol mag holder – how many?, rifle mag holder – how many?, etc.).

    I've seen guys, including myself, that just have pistol carriers on their leather belts and they stuff rifle mags in their pants (5.11 "cargo" style pants are great for this). Again, you don't have to be a gear freak. All that stuff is about high-speed whiz-bang. Focus on learning the mechanics of moving through stages and operating the weapons in a timed environment. THEN assess how you can improve your times by adding gear. That's the key thing. Honestly, I know several VERY good shooters that run with their standard "inside the waist" holster and a pocketful of magazines.

  • JD

    Is there a listing of clubs, by state and city, that participate in 3-gun matches? I know Michigan has a club, and Arizona, but what about, say, Tennessee or Kentucky?

  • Chris

    Great stuff Iain. The video of all our friends laying waste to target after target is sure to peak anyones interest! I'll se you next at the FNH USA 3 gun Championships! Big C

  • Rob

    WOW!! they are flying!!! Looks like alot of fun.I would like to start on somthing like this.I am way at the bottom tactically speaking ,(Bolt rifle,moss 500 and a revolver) so FUN is definatly the watch word!!

  • Joseph


  • BJ

    I own a modified Remington 870 Wingmaster pump. It has the original 26-inch barrel, a 10-round magazine extension, extended safety and pistol-grip 6-position stock Is it legal?

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