August 14, 2014
By Mike Schoby
If you haven't at least heard about 3-gun shooting matches by now, you must be hiding under a rock. But for the uninformed, 3-gun competitions are one of the most exciting shooting sports to hit the stage in a long time. Essentially melding gun handling skills, accuracy and speed into one package, 3-gun utilizes a wide variety of skills with three firearms: rifle, pistol and shotgun. While it really is easy to get started in 3-gun competition, there are some must-have accessories that make the experience much more enjoyable, as well as seriously improve your overall performance in 3 gun competitions.
Belt It Out
The first purchase you need to make is a belt system. A unique trait among 3-gun competitions is no two stages are set up exactly alike. One stage may favor handguns, another may place a heavy emphasis on shotguns, while another may having you shooting steel plates at long range with a rifle, so setting up the 'perfect ' belt system is nearly impossible. It needs to be dynamic and flexible between stages.
Due to its ease of configuration, the Safariland ELS (Equipment Locking System) is nearly an ideal 3-gun rig. It can be modified with holsters, mag holders and shotshell carriers in any place or configuration. As the situation dictates, you can adapt the ELS to fit any stage. If shooting a heavy shotgun stage, you can drop the pistol mags and add some shotshell carriers in under a minute. If you don't need many shotshell carriers for the next stage, reverse the lineup and you are back in action.
A Quick Reload
Attend any 3-gun match and you will quickly see what separates the pros from the amateurs in the shotgun stages: quick, flawless reloads. Utilizing a weak hand reload, it can be done extremely fast, provided you have the right shotshell carrier. While there are many manufacturers producing them, some are substantially better than others. The AP Custom unit
defined the label 'substantially better ' and set the standard. What makes them so good? They are CNC machined out of billets of aluminum, then hard anodized to mil-spec standards with 303 hi-yield stainless retention springs. AP carriers come standard with a Tec Lock attachment system, but are also drilled to accept the Safariland ELS attachments. The units are available in the 4x4 model which stacks two banks of four shotshells — effectively doubling ammo while not increasing space on a belt, the 3x3 (two banks of three shells) and a standard single four-shell carrier.
Holsters are nearly as personal as selecting a handgun. Fit, material and style are all individual. Most 3-gun competitors are using open-top, molded KYDEX holsters from one of several manufacturers. We have tested Galco
and found them both nearly ideal. Both have tension adjustment screws and draw equally smooth.
Shooters that like to use what they carry on a daily basis may want to look at the Serpa holster from Blackhawk!. It features a finger-activated push-button retention device. While initially harder to draw quickly than a non-retention type holster, 3-gun provides the necessary practice to get really fast with this type of holster, which will make you a much more confident user in the field.
A range cart is a great idea for 3-gun. You can do without one, but your back won't be pleased and you also won't shoot your best lugging tons of gear from stage to stage. Essentially, these three-wheeled carts utilize large tires for rough terrain and have the ability to securely carry all your ammo, spare mags, guns and even a cooler. You can adapt your wife's jogging stroller and strap some gun racks on it, but a better idea is to buy the Gun Buggy from Do All Outdoors
and have your wife strap the baby in it when you're not at a match. It is better built, and besides, the money can then come out of the baby budget instead of your shooting fund.
Let There Be Sound
During a 3-gun match, there is a lot to listen to. From safety briefings to stage descriptions to start commands, having the ability to hear as well as protect your hearing is a big plus. Amplified hearing protectors are a great choice and have been the preferred choice for over a decade, but the downside is they are often costly. Enter the Champion electronic muffs
. I recently tested a set and loved them. They worked as promised, run off AAA batteries — not some weird and costly hearing aid battery — and best of all, they cost less than $40.
White Knuckle Relief
A 3-gun match is no place to have a trigger that feels like it is full of gravel and you have to white knuckle it to get it to go off, so one of the best investments early on is to improve the triggers of your guns with aftermarket tuned triggers designed for competition. Depending on what make of gun you shoot, the aftermarket manufacturers vary, but I have had great luck with Apex for a Smith & Wesson M&P Pro Series
, and Timney for the AR-15
. For your shotgun, you are pretty much out of luck unless you send it to a qualified 'smith to hone it down a bit. For all aftermarket triggers for about any model of firearm, check out Brownells
Ammo. Tons and tons of ammo.
Last but most definitely not least, you're going to need lots of ammo. Unlike other shooting sports where a box or two will get you through a match, a box wont even get you started in a 3-gun match. All matches vary, but expect to fire well over 150 rounds of handgun ammo, 100 rounds of shotgun shells and at least 100 rounds of rifle ammo per match. This is why this sport is so much fun: lots of trigger time. In addition to large ammo requirements for the match itself, you will find that practice makes perfect, and to get anywhere close to good — let alone perfect — you're going to have to practice a lot. Start buying ammo by the case and pick a brand that is not only accurate, but economical. Over the last few months, I have gone through several thousand rounds of Black Hills
and Federal pistol and rifle ammo
. Both are relatively inexpensive, but are accurate and reliable — exactly what is required to win a 3-gun match.
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