June 26, 2014
By Dusty Gibson
When the clock is ticking in the sport of 3-Gun, any occasion when you're not shooting or moving is wasted time.
These run-and-gun matches demand a substantial amount of equipment beyond the pistol, rifle and shotgun trio. Understanding how to choose specialized gear and deploy it properly will improve your times and make you a stronger competitor. While equipment alone won't make you a champion, the proper 3-Gun gear helps most shooters build confidence.
From trigger upgrades to appropriate footwear, this list of gear will make your 3-Gunning experience more enjoyable and give you an edge over the competition.
Practice like you compete with a shot timer to simulate realistic match conditions and keep track of your split times.
The Competition Electronics Pro Timer IV
includes two shot modes and three timer modes for both practice and match usage. Timer functions include instant, random, or setable delayed start, shot review and split time.
Practicing with the start buzzer is a great way to condition yourself with stress inoculation
, to prevent your body from tensing up and filling your bloodstream with adrenaline during competition.
I've never been to a shooting competition where a range safety briefing wasn't held before the match. Likewise, range safety officers (RSOs) always require eye and ear protection
and chamber flags.
Forget any piece of safety gear and be ready to do one of three things:
1. Go home (DQ)
2. Purchase it at the match
3. Borrow from a friend or fellow competitor
A good rule of thumb is to keep two sets of eye and ear protection and at least one chamber flag
for each firearm.
has completely innovated the aftermarket trigger world with their AR-15/AR-10 trigger systems. Their new single-stage, adjustable Hipertouch 24 3G
solves common fire control issues of excessive sear friction and low hammer fall energy.
This trigger has a consistenly smooth pull with a crisp break. From personal experience in several competitions, it's the fastest trigger I've ever handled. With the lightest springs installed, I repeatedly measured a 2.1-pound pull, and there's no doubt my rifle runs faster than I've experienced with other triggers. Pre-travel is essentially non-existent, while the reset is short and positive.
This trigger fits standard AR-15 or AR-10 pattern lower receivers using 0.154-inch diameter pins and all the parts are made from hardened carbon steel alloys.
With high round counts and extended mags comes the need for magazine loaders. Reloading pistol and rifle mags will make your fingers feel like you've been playing with Legos all day — unless you use magazine loaders. The pistol and rifle mag loaders from Maglula
fit most semiauto handgun and AR-15 magazines without overworking your fingers. They're also lightweight and fit into a range bag for easy access.
$34.99 (pistol), $26.99 (AR-15)
Ambidextrous Charging Handles
Standard mil-spec charging handles are trusted parts in many situations, but they're not ideal for 3-gun. The positioning of optics and back-up sight configurations on modern flat-top upper receivers seem to play well with ambidextrous charging handles.
Replacing the charging handle may seem inconsequential, but it's a small touch that really can make a big difference in the look, feel and operation of an AR-15. I tend to favor the Rainer Arms Raptor
because its latches are easy to grip on the fly and are held in place with substantially larger roll pins than G.I. models.
Competition Belt Rig
Running three guns in each course of fire requires a sturdy platform to carry the ammo needed to neutralize every target.
The Safariland ELS Competition Belt System
is similar in concept to the modular AR-15 handguards such as the Bravo Company KMR
. The Equipment Locking System (ELS) enables users to attach quick locking mounting plates at nearly any desired location on the belt. Users can then re-arrange their belt configuration on-demand by simply attaching magazine pouches, holsters and shotgun shell holders to the mounting plates.
The ELS belt systems are unique in that they can be re-configured between one stage and another. If one course of fire has an emphasis on pistol, then you might attach an extra pistol mag pouch. If the stage is shotgun heavy, add more shell carriers.
Belts range in price based on configuration, with the average 3-gun setup running about $200 and up. You'll be sure to need pistol and rifle mag pouches, shotgun shell carriers and a holster.
$200+ (depending on configuration)
The first time you engage steel with your 3-gun loadout shouldn't be during a match. Steel targets appear in almost every course of fire, ranging from plate racks to poppers to spinners. Expect to shoot at steel with all three guns, depending on the layout of the stage.
It's important to practice with reactive steel targets to understand which loads and shotgun chokes will neutralize different types of steel at various distances. Though it's difficult to predict exactly which combinations of guns and ammo will be get the job done for any one course of fire, practicing with steel will give you an understanding of your limitations.
For example, a 147-grain 9mm bullet may knock over a popper at 40 yards, while a 115-grain bullet might not. A Modified choke with #7 birdshot may not neutralize a target at 25 yards, while an Improved Modified choke with the same load gets the job done.
Targets from ShootSteel.com
are a great option for those who want a variety of quality target systems at a fair price. I'd suggest 3/8-inch AR500 reactive targets such as the AutoPopper
and Pepper Poppers
paired with a Clay Target Flipper
Varies — ($100+ per reactive target)
Neutralizing shotgun targets at varying distances is one of the easiest yet most demanding aspects of 3-gun competitions. Some stages include aerial and steel targets, requiring shooters to understand the capabilities of their scatterguns.
One of the best ways to adapt your shotgun from one stage to another is by changing choke tubes. It's advisable to have a set of chokes that enable shooters to control their spread patterns at different distances. Brownells and Carlson's choke tube
sets allow you to choose exactly how you want a shotgun to perform in various stages. The choke sets are available for several common shotguns and includes a lifetime warranty.
Whether you just can't hit the target or the stage requires a high round count, Firepower Base Pads from Taran Tactical Innovations
give you additional magazine capacity when every shot counts.
These replacement base pads are available for a variety of rifle and pistol magazines. Firepower pads add +5 capacity to your Gen 3 Magpul PMAGs and +5 to most pistol magazines without altering their reliability in competition. They also add a larger gripping surface for fast reloads and extra weight to drop free from the magazine well. Price:
$39.99 to $44.99 each (depending on magazine type)
Footwear seems to be one of those topics that's often overlooked but always seems to come up in conversation on the sidelines of matches.
Conditions are always changing. Whether the course of fire includes challenging obstacles or the weather turns for the worst, choosing footwear that performs in many environments is a difficult choice. Cross-country running shoes are great for dry conditions, but they don't hold up to weather and they lack the support needed for juking around obstacles. On the other side of the spectrum, most boots on the market will slow you down or trip you up.
The best all-around option I've found are lightweight boots with support around the ankles. Weighing just 19.2 ounces, Under Armour Speed Freak Chaos Boots
keep you light on your feet without sacrificing stability or traction in changing conditions.
Learn from your mistakes and catch every second of your 3-gun action with GoPro Hero3+
These cameras record impressive 1080p video quality at 60 frames per second, which is fast enough to capture mid-air shell casings and muzzle flashes. Hero3+ cameras are powerful video capturing tools that include remote control, WiFi and GoPro App capabilities.
A variety of mounting options give users the ability to capture video from different perspectives. My favorite mounting option is the head strap
, because the camera goes with you in every step of a 3-gun course. For other applications, picatinny rail mounts
are a versatile option for many firearms. Price:
$299 to $399 (camera); $19.99 (Head Strap); $29.95 (Rail Mount)
Low Mass Bolt Carrier
has been a trusted name in the 3-gun game for nearly two decades.
JP's Polished Stainless Steel Low Mass Bolt Carrier (LMOS)
is like a woman with the perfect combination of brains and beauty. This 416 stainless steel carrier weighs about 30% less than a standard bolt carrier and backs its dazzling looks with race gun performance.
The lower reciprocating mass of the LMOS results in reduced perceived recoil and smoother cycling. It's hard to believe the LMOS could significantly improve the function of a rifle until you test it out. Pairing the LMOS with an adjustable gas block and JP's Silent Captured Spring
system allows users to manually tune an AR-15 for optimum cycling with various ammunition.
Shotgun Shell Loaders
Under normal circumstances, loading shells into a shotgun's magazine tube is non-ergonomic and sometimes painful. Carbon Arms Shotgun Shell Loading Systems
help counteract the awkward nature of shotgun loading.
They also give you the advantage of grabbing and loading two shells at once to reduce your loading times. Most TWinS systems are compatible with popular belt rigs, including the Safariland ELS.
It's important to understand how the variations in 3-gun course design can affect your ammo choices. Having different bullet weights on hand (especially with pistols) will keep you in the game when neutralizing steel targets is the objective.
Rifle ammo should be capable of engaging targets between 10 and 400 yards. Unless the conditions become windy, you can usually get by with 55-grain bullets. I prefer to use Hornady Steel Match 55-grain .223
as an all-purpose round for 3-gun shooting. Folks are often turned off by steel cases, but Hornady loads theirs with premium bullets and propellants and I've experienced excellent reliability through several competitions. Since many matches don't allow time for picking up brass, you won't be missing those steel cases after the match anyways.
The majority of people who shoot 3-gun are using 9x19mm pistols for several reasons. Primarily, the 9mm cartridge is reasonably affordable, accurate and has controllable recoil for fast follow-up shots. The major drawback for using 9mm in 3-gun is that it may not be powerful enough to neutralize steel targets when distances stretch to 20 yards or farther — and for that you need to consider using heavier bullets. Keep a variety of bullet weights from 115- to 147-grain on hand and consider using American Eagle
115- and 124-grain FMJ or Hornady 147-grain XTP
Birdshot is most commonly required for shotgun stages and I suggest using a #7 or #8 1-1/8-ounce target load for the majority of targets. Federal
bulk packs will get the job done. It's also a good idea to have a couple boxes of 00 Buckshot such as Hornady Superformance
and a couple boxes of Remington
1-ounce slugs on hand for heavy steel matches.
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