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A Complete Guide to 3 Gun Competition Shooting

A Complete Guide to 3 Gun Competition Shooting

With its practical-yet-dynamic approach to firearm use, 3-gun matches have become one of the fastest-growing recreational shooting competitions. If you’re new to the sport, there’s plenty to learn, from match rules to essential gear to beginner tips and beyond. Use this guide as an introduction to one of the toughest, most exciting tests of marksmanship: a 3-gun shooting competition.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What is 3 Gun Shooting?

How to Find 3 Gun Matches?

3 Gun Course Layouts

Essential Gear

Helpful Tips for Beginners

Frequently Asked Questions

What is 3 Gun Shooting?

A 3-gun shooting competition is one of the fastest growing activities in shooting sports thanks to its fast-paced and highly competitive nature. Participants move through a course that’s designed to test their skills in three major gun categories: modern sporting rifle (MSR), shotgun and pistol.

Shooters must engage a number of targets in a variety of self-defense or combat-related scenarios, while transitioning between the designated firearms in a sequenced fashion. Targets may include anything from paper silhouettes to clay pigeons to knock-over plates and other steel targets, with shooting distances reaching up to 500 yards. Whichever competitor strikes the most targets accurately while avoiding the most penalties and finishes the course quickest, is crowned the winner.

Sioux River Sportsmen’s Club, Canton, SD

3 Gun Competition Rules

There are a number of official shooting competitions throughout the United States every year that are hosted under the two largest multi-gun sanctioning bodies in the country: United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) and 3-Gun Nation (3GN).

In addition, local ranges may host their own unsanctioned 3-gun competitions. These will most likely closely abide by the rules laid out by the International Multi-Gun Association (IMGA) or the United Multigun League (UML).

Regardless, each multi-gun organization supplies rules for various match styles and course layouts. Find an in-depth explanation of 3-gun shooting rules here.

3 Gun Divisions

Today’s 3-gun competitions are broken out into several divisions. Each includes their own unique set of rules, regulations and ranking structure, so no matter what you’re looking for, there is likely a competition that will appeal to your style.

Open Division: Competitors are free to use almost any legal modification, and can customize firearms specifically for the course. Most guns in this division aren’t considered “practical”, and are strictly designed for special competitions like 3-gun.

Tactical Optics Division: This division allows an AR-15, semi-auto high quality pistol, and semi-automatic shotgun with an extended magazine tube.

Heavy Metal Division: Shooters need a .308-caliber or larger rifle, 12-gauge pump-action shotgun and ACP-caliber .45 pistol with single-stack magazines. Only iron sights are allowed in this class – no optics.

How to Find 3 Gun Matches

As they become more and more popular, 3-gun competitions continue to pop up all over the country. The first place to find 3-gun matches is through your local shooting range. If they don’t host their own, they can point you in the right direction.

Most clubs that are part of an action shooting organization, like the USPSA or 3-Gun Nation, for example, offer some form of monthly, quarterly, semi-annual or annual 3-gun competition. For a huge list of matches throughout the world, take a look at the 3GN events page, where you can filter events by date, country, state and zip code.

Three Gun Course Layouts

How a 3-gun course is laid out is ultimately up to the event director, however there are some specific elements competitors can expect to go up against. First, the shooter assembles at the starting line, and takes-off at the sound of the starting horn. The course resembles a practical shooting situation, with the competitor managing obstacles, targets and no-shoot targets along the course. The shooter makes their way through a series of stages where they transition between shotgun, rifle and handgun targets as dictated by the station they’re at.

Essential Gear

Getting started with 3-gun shooting requires some essential gear, the most important of which are your three firearms and their associated equipment.

3 Gun Shotguns

First, you’ll need a chamber flag for all three guns, which is a brightly colored piece of plastic used to show that your gun is fully unloaded when you’re moving through the course. Second, make sure to have at least one or two shotgun chokes and a wrench to improve accuracy and shot spread. Finally, you’ll need a way to load and store shells. Most beginners stick with a duo-load or quad-load method, where you insert shells that are lined up together either in a belt- or chest-mounted system.

Shotgun with Salvo 12

3 Gun Rifles

For your rifle, you’ll likely need a sling so you can carry it or have it on your back during certain course stages. Next, you’ll need to figure out a way to decrease reloading time.

There are several ways to do this, the first being to simply carry extra magazines on your body. However, you could also purchase a magazine coupler which allows you to clamp two magazines together for more efficient ammo feeds. Or, add more capacity to your magazines. For example, consider purchasing larger magazines, extended base pads or extensions to cut down on the number of reloads.

3 Gun Pistols

The first things you’ll need to acquire are a trusty pistol holster (a pistol fall can mean disqualification in many events) and a magazine holster. In some matches, you may be forced to start with an unloaded pistol, so a belt should be able to carry two to three clips. And, like rifles, you can purchase larger magazines, extended base pads or magazine extensions to reduce reload time.

3 Gun Accessories

There’s plenty of other equipment you can obtain in order to improve your overall performance, like:

  • Belt attachments: Inner/outer belt systems are a good place to start, allowing you to attach and detach gear via velcro, rather than threading it through your belt loops.
  • Case or cart: If the match allows, you may be transporting your gear through the course in a case or cart. Carts are slightly more convenient, allowing you to push gear around, but can be more pricey.
  • Protective equipment: Make sure to bring your safety glasses, ear protection and other equipment like knee and elbow pads.

Helpful Tips for Beginners

If you’re itching to sign up for your first 3-gun match, keep the following beginner tips in mind.

Sharpen Your Aim

There’s nothing more important than practice, and a consistent routine will help sharpen your 3-gun skills. Use this website in order to find a shooting range near you.

Understand Costs Associated with 3-Gun

If you’re into recreational shooting, you know that firearms and related equipment can come with a hefty price tag — and this type of competition requires three guns. Also consider entry fees and travel expenses that might accompany match participation.

Attend a Match

Before signing up for a match, consider participating as a spectator first. This will help you better understand how to prepare and what to expect from a 3-gun competition.

Network With Other 3-Gun Enthusiasts

Whether at a match, your local range or even on a social media platform, there are 3-gun enthusiasts all over the place that will be excited to provide guidance and lend expertise.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I find 3-gun matches?

The best place to find matches are via the 3GN website and USPSA website, or your local range.

Which guns are used in a 3-gun competition?

A stock shotgun, pistol and modern sporting rifle is all you need to get started with 3-gun matches — specific event rules will dictate allowed models, calibers, modifications, etc., so be sure to pay close attention when you register.

How much does it cost to get involved in 3-gun shooting?

For all three firearms, you’ll need about $1,000 as a starting point for your basic firearms, and additional funds for ammo as well as any accessories you might want.

You’re Ready to Head to the Range!

If you want to become an expert marksman, challenge yourself, and try out a fun new contest, 3-gun competitions are a surefire way to sharpen your shooting skills.

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We’re the only silencer reseller on the ATF advisory board, and have simplified the process involved in purchasing Class 3 firearm suppressors. We quickly obtain inventory and expedite interactions with the ATF so you can spend less time waiting around and more time sharpening your shooting skills.

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