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Getting Started in 3-GunWords by Becky Yackley
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Everyone seems to have a favorite shooting discipline, something that speaks to them, but there is one discipline that everyone should try – 3 gun. Why? Because 3 gun teaches you not just shooting and marksmanship skills, but life skills, and critical thinking skills. Participating in 3 gun also teaches you about managing multiple tasks at the same time, under pressure and with people watching – the sort of thing that can cause even the most steady adult to get the jitters in “real life.”
How do you get started shooting 3 gun? First, you need to find a match. There are match listings on Enos Forums under multigun announcements. You can also find matches on Facebook, under 3 Gun Information and Events, or 3 Gun Major Match Announcements. But how do you know which you want to shoot?
Consider your skill level—are you a novice shooter, just a plinker and do you want to learn more? Then you should look into club matches and smaller events or league matches where you will be welcomed and usually introduced to the sport by local shooters, and have a chance to learn without sinking lots of money into travel and match fees. Most clubs that hold a monthly 3-gun match are welcoming, especially if you’re willing to come help with set-up. That will not only help you know what’s going on, but enable you to meet other shooters in your area. And match directors are always looking for new help to set up matches – good help needs reinvigorating energy, and seeing newcomers is a rewarding part of running events. So, call your local club and ask to shoot and see what help they need. You don’t have to know much to haul walls and roll barrels into position, but you’ll learn a lot.
If your skill level is anchored in experience, maybe you shoot USPSA or IDPA, still check out a local match or two to get your gear tested and practice skills, like transitioning into positions from one gun to another. After you’ve got your gear set, then head to a bigger match, and look for one that sounds like something that plays to your skill set. There are so many matches across the country that you will find one that fits; from long range and accuracy focused, to bay-style stages, there’s a lot of variety. I’ll list several of my favorites below, and what is unique about each.
Gear You’ll Need
Not surprisingly, 3 Gun requires three guns – rifle, pistol, shotgun. You will also need a good belt, mag holders, and a retention holster. I’ll break down gear by firearm:
For your pistol, start with what you have. A Glock 34 or 17, M &P, FN, etc. You don’t need a big investment, and you want to become better with guns you own, so shoot something you use. I shot a Glock 34 for 4 years and it is still my go-to gun, so the 4 years working in matches with it, I consider as the best training I could get for being familiar and safe with my pistol. You’ll want mags that hold 20 or more rounds for the most common category – Tac Ops (short for “tactical optics”, this is your basic AR with an optic, a pistol with iron sights, and shotgun with iron sights). I bring 5 mags to a match, but 4 will do. I have mag extensions that allow me to hold 22 rounds in each mag. Uncle Mike’s are good mag holders to start with, because you can use them for many types/brands of magazine. So, if you’re not sure what you are going to run yet, they are great.
For your rifle, an AR with a rail or fore-end that is long enough to allow you to mount barricades, a stock you like, QD mounts for a sling are often useful, and an optic that you know. You’ll want several mags for your AR; I carry several 30-round mags, a 40, a mag with an extension that can hold 48, and a 20-round mag for shooting off rooftops, inclines, or awkward positions.
Your optic can be as basic as a 1-4X. We used Burris MTACs for 3 years, but companies like Weaver and Simmons have some great entry-level 3 gun optics. What’s important is knowing the reticle and how to use it. A sling is also required in some matches, so a basic 2-point, nylon sling is what you want. For a rifle mag holder, we use either a Kydey or Blade Tech. A double rifle pouch is very useful, and in big matches, I use one generally on at least two stages.
A semi-auto shotgun, or a pump, preferably one with a tube that can hold at least 10 rounds will be needed. So, you might need to add an extension, but there are lots to choose from, like RCI-XRAIL, Nordic, or Carbon Arms. You’ll want to have the loading port opened up so you can load 2 or load 4 easier. People call loading 4 “quad-loading”, and the really important gear for shotgun are your shell holders. Uncle Mike’s shell-holders,-slides-ammo makes some great holders for quad loading, as does Blackhawk.
But what’s most important is learning to use them and working with them. The other gear you need is a set of shotgun chokes. Bare bones I would get a cylinder, improved cylinder, light mod, and mod. Some shooters say they only use IC. I prefer having a cylinder for clays where I move fast, and at least light mod for long shots, especially on heavy steel that must be knocked down.
The shotgun is one part of your 3-gun kit that is going to get you the most advice and probably from people claiming gun X is the best or gun Y is better because…the biggest piece of advice I can give you is find a gun you like and like to shoot. Have the loading port worked on by a reputable shop, and work with it. Work with dummy rounds to learn how to load, and work familiarizing yourself with picking it up, and starting from empty and what the different manipulations are to get it loaded and a shell in the chamber.
You can even shoot a pump gun in 3 gun, and there are a couple guys that do this very well (Bryan Ray and Brian Vaught who shoot for Samson). So, you don’t need to get a $1500 gun right off the bat, you can use something else. Take that old hunting shotgun and have the loading port opened and put a longer tube on and work with it. Better yet, go to a match and ask shooters about their guns, check them out and see what you want before you start. That’s a big part of 3 gun – communicating and learning what you need to do and what you want from your gear. It’s a really great part of the community of shooters though – to a fault, they’re almost too helpful. You might have a gun go down, and 5 people offer you theirs to finish the match. That doesn’t happen with some disciplines and people’s expensive guns. I think it’s because 3 gun is about being capable, and everyone in the sport wants to see others be not only capable, but enjoy doing it. They all want to be there and want to help you be there. Sure, there are a few drama queens who want their squad or clique just so, but most shooters want to know you and want you to shoot.
What you do.
Most 3 gun matches have 4-9 stages. A local or club match would be the shorter ones, and a big match usually 8 or 9. You’ll need to check for a round count ahead of time, make sure you have pistol ammo, shotgun ammo (birdshot and slugs or buckshot, if required), and rifle ammo (both for close targets and some long-range ammo, if needed).
Most matches are half-day or on-off format. Either you shoot half a day, and go from stage to stage and keep shooting as soon as the squad ahead of you finishes, or you shoot a stage, have an off time-slot, then shoot another stage, etc. There are pros and cons to both, but a half-day format is great because you can keep shooting. When you get to the range, there is usually a safety brief the morning the match starts, then you go to your first stage. A good plan it to try to be at your stage ½ hour to 15 minutes early.
Most big matches will start stage briefs 10 or more minutes before the shooting is supposed to begin, so don’t be late! When you finish your stage, ready your gear for the next before you drive or walk away, and thank the Range Officers (ROs) for their help.
When you’re done with your stages, local matches will generally ask you to tear down the bay/stage you end on. Don’t be the guy who bails. Help out and you’ll be the new guy everyone welcomes back. At big matches, there is usually an awards or prize table, once all the scores are in. This is a great time to check out gear and guns from vendors, as well as meet other shooters.
Before you head to a match
Zero your optic and chrono your ammo. If you don’t chrono, at least shoot at distance to learn your holds, If you are able to chrono, you can print the drop tables and figure out your holds, even if you cannot practice at long range. All you need is your zero, chrono, and you can find tables online that will help you calculate your holds, like handloads.com/calc. If that’s a lot to do the math on, then going to a ballistics app like Strelok or Shooter will be helpful.
Go watch a match first. Knowing where you are going and what you are doing is important, Not only will you have a better experience and less stress the day of the match, the people running the match will appreciate knowing who the new folks are and that they have already met you and know you’re trying to participate safely will help everyone have a great experience.
If you’re going to a popular range, just search through YouTube for videos from shooters at that range or event. It will help you understand what you are doing and know what to expect. It’s honestly one of the best things you can do to prep yourself. You will also learn about range commands, the 180 and other safety principles by watching videos. Pay attention to what the shooters do as they finish shooting: show the RO clear and go muzzle up before they turn from the stage. 3 Gun has a very strict set of rules, and while some aspects of 3 gun are run with more personal responsibility than say, USPSA, they adhere to a 180 rule and every shooter is safety-conscious, so being a new shooter, they will be watching you. Help them welcome new shooters and show up knowing the rules and what’s expected.
3 Gun often gathers criticism for not having enough uniformity in rule sets, but it’s one of the aspects of it that appeals to many – that some matches only require two hits on paper while some penalize you for hits outside of the A-zone, some matches require you to knock down steel, some have slugs, others don’t…in the end, it allows you to pick a match that plays to your strengths. But the universal rules that 3 gun adheres to are safety rules; things like the 180 – don’t break it, and you never load a firearm until an RO tells you to do so. 3 Gun shooters are a hard-working group of people, and their matches often run off their own sweat-equity, so they expect you to show up and be informed and pitch in. Do that, and you’ll meet great people who are valuable resources!
Lastly, join forums or groups and scope out Facebook for info on matches and what to expect at them. This will help you get a feel for what matches you want to go to.
My favorite matches, and mind you, I love running, long range and difficulty:
- Blue Ridge Mountain 3 Gun – lots of physicality and running, long range, and far pistol shots, scored paper targets.
- Rocky Mountain 3 Gun – lots of physicality and running, long range, and far pistol shots.
- Missouri 3 Gun – 9 stages in one day, and all vary. This is a newer match and a lot of fun, put on by shooters, for shooters.
- Babes with Bullets 3 Gun – for new and experienced shooters, mostly bays, but really fun. Run and put on my the Miculeks.
- FN 3 Gun Championship – mix of bays and terrain stages, historically great long range stages
- Rockcastle Pro Am – mix of bays and terrain. This one you come to for the people, to see friends and have a good time. This year there is a cornhole/bean bag tournament to benefit
- Generation III Gun and 2 A Heritage (both 501c3s supporting junior shooters)
- Surefire Multigun Championship – awesome stages put on by Pete Rensing and he designs great stages, mix of bays and long range. Another match designed and run by shooters, for shooters.