While reminiscing with Chip Montgomery, a local 3-Gun shooter sponsored by Trijicon, about how 15 or 20 years ago when 3-Gun was a sport very few people had even heard of, I pointed out that J.P. rifles were the only dedicated competition rifles on the scene. At the time, every other AR on the market stuck very closely to the military M16A2 or CAR (later the M4) pattern, and there weren’t that many brands to choose from.
Back in the day, when it came to factory rifles, you could be guaranteed a Colt would run, but it would be a clunky Mil-Spec piece with a horrible trigger. Even if you wanted to make it better, there weren’t many aftermarket manufacturers and accessories to turn it into something suitable for competition.
A J.P. Enterprises’ rifle, on the other hand, would run great, but they looked nothing like the military rifles and were far from inexpensive. And that was nearly it. There weren’t a whole lot of options in-between those two extremes, especially rifles that could be guaranteed to be reliable.
Things have changed drastically.
J.P.’s rifles still maintain a huge influence in 3-Gun, but I wasn’t sure exactly how many competitors were actually using them or really which rifles were the most popular among avid and accomplished competitors. So, I reached out to all the competition shooters I know, in person and on Facebook, and asked them what rifle(s) they were actually using at matches. The answers were very interesting.
THE SURVEY SAYS
First, I wasn’t surprised at all by this, but J.P.’s name came up quite a bit. They are still considered the gold standard, even after all these years. The only problem? They still cost a lot of money — more than most shooters are able or willing to spend. Still, if there is one brand that is the most popular among competition shooters, it’s J.P.
Taran Butler runs Taran Tactical Innovations (TTI), which puts out custom competition pistols, rifles and shotguns. I own one of their TR-1 Ultimate competition rifles. However, my survey returns indicated TTI’s tricked-out Benelli shotguns were garnering more of a following on the 3-Gun circuit than TTI’s rifles.
The respondents also told me the most popular factory 3-Gun rifle (initially) among shooters was the Armalite M-15 3-Gun edition because of its balance of features and price. But as the price went up and more options hit the market, people started moving away from Armalite.
TODAY'S TOP CHOICES
About a year and a half ago, I tested the Ruger AR-556 Multi-Purpose Rifle (MPR). This rifle has an 18-inch barrel freefloating inside an aluminum handguard and tipped with a multi-port brake. It also features Ruger’s Elite 452 two-stage match trigger.
The MPR is meant to be great for any type of shooting – including competition. The factory muzzlebrake nearly eliminates muzzle rise, and the trigger is great. The rifle is an amazing value for $900. I thought that this would make a great competition rifle out of the box, and I’ve heard the same thing from several competitors. If you are a shooter new to the game and are looking to buy your first rifle, I’d recommend the Ruger MPR.
The newest “best purpose-built” 3-Gun rifle for the money seems to be the Caracal Versus, with its 18-inch Proof Research carbon-fiber-wrapped barrel and Geissele Super 3-Gun trigger, among other features, for around $1,800.
If you look at the specs for the Caracal, it seems to be competing directly against the Savage MSR 15 Competition, which also has an 18-inch Proof Research carbon-fiber barrel and a match trigger, but it also adds more features, including an oversized magwell and a side charging handle. Those extra features over the Caracal Versus add extra cost, so the Savage rings up for $2,875.
Ten or so years ago, I remember testing the DPMS 3G1 competition rifle, and it seemed a solid rifle for a good price. Since nobody I talked to mentioned DPMS, I checked and found that while they offer the 3G1 in .308, they no longer sell a 5.56 version.
Daniel Defense is huge on the tactical side of things, but few are running their rifles in competition. Their “tactical” rifles are costlier than the Caracal Versus while offering none of the upgrades that competition shooters want and need, such as a better-than-GI-grade trigger pull.
Other companies making dedicated competition rifles popular with shooters include: Stag Arms, Seekins Precision, Adams Arms, Barnes Precision, F-1 Firearms, Rise Armament, Iron City Rifle Works, Radian, Sun Devil Manufacturing, Gibbz Arms, Cobalt Kinetics, Rock River Arms, DoubleStar, Black Rain Ordnance, and American Defense Manufacturing.
However, I kept hearing the same thing over and over from everybody. I think Mo Shaw in my Facebook feed said it best: “The most popular rifle hands down is the Frankenrifle, built with the user’s selection of custom parts that they desire.”
Both Montgomery and Matt Koopikka (another Trijicon-sponsored 3-Gun shooter) estimated that a staggering 70 percent of the rifles they see at matches around the country are home built. Because it is possible to assemble an AR-15 using nothing but hand tools, I completely understand the urge to build a rifle from the bare receiver.
Building your own isn’t always cheaper, but it is a way of creating a custom rifle that is unique in the world. Being able to hold a rifle in your hands and say, “I built this” is a great feeling. Plus, the rifle is built exactly to your specs.
When it comes to preferred parts, you’ll see a lot of the same names over and over: Aero Precision receivers, Stretch 16 barrels, Geissele and HiperFire triggers, Nordic Components, Odin Works, J.P. and Magpul accessories.
So, the answer to the question, “Which rifle dominates in 3-Gun competition?” Well, it doesn’t have a single answer, or even a simple answer. That’s actually not a bad thing — it just means that your choices today have never been greater, whether you want to buy a complete competition rifle or build one up from scratch.