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Getting Started in 3-Gun Part 1: Equipment

By 5 August 2009 One Comment

kelly_neal-2If there is one industry that Barrack Obama has stimulated it’s the firearms industry. Firearms sales have increased up to 30% since Obama took office. The demand for AR15’s has out-stripped inventory, leading to backorders and long lead times. Has the threat of restrictions scared you into buying an AR15? Well don’t just buy an AR and stick it in the gun safe. Get out and enjoy your new AR, try 3-Gun Competition.

All you need is your pistol, a shotgun and your new AR and you’re ready to dive into the world of 3-Gun shooting. There is good news and bad news. The good news is that 3-Gun is one of the most fun, diverse and challenging Action Shooting Sports out there. The bad news is that 3-Gun is one of the most fun, diverse and challenging Action Shooting Sports out there.

The Action Shooting Sport of 3-Gun is a sport that requires some dedication. Three gun competition will present the shooter with rifle targets from 1 yard to 200 or even 500 yards distant. Pistol stages are as challenging as any of the stages at an IPSC World Shoot; shotgun challenges range from pure speed shoots on steel targets, to thrown clays ala sporting clays or shooting slugs at long range. Often these challenges occur on the very same stage!

This three part series is designed as an introduction to help get the new 3-Gunner up and running. It is a collaboration between myself, Kurt Miller, Robbie Johnson, Trapr Swanson, and Daniel Horner, all of whom are successful 3-Gun shooters. We will attempt to provide some guidance for dealing with equipment selection, scoring systems, and technique.

In Part one of the series we will discuss equipment options and selection. In Part two we will discuss the various scoring systems currently in use today, and in Part three we will give some advise on what and how to prepare for 3-Gun competition.

Part 1 the Equipment:

Part 2 | Part 3

The Division in which you chose to compete will have an impact on the specific gun and equipment choices that you make. Whether you compete in Open, Tactical Scope, Tactical Iron, or Heavy Metal, the most important factors regarding equipment are that the shooter’s guns are reliable and hold a zero. A moderately accurate but reliable gun will beat a finicky but super accurate gun every time.

This article will focus on the most popular 3-Gun division, Tactical Optics which allows the use of a single Optical scope on the rifle, but require the pistol and shotgun use iron sights.


AR15s rule the roost when it comes to 3-Gun shooting. That is not to say that other platforms cannot be competitive. I shot my way to 2nd place at a USPSA 3-Gun Nationals with a major power factor DSA FAL. So if you have another rifle, don’t fret, just get out and shoot!

There are a great many debates about barrel length, compensator, trigger type and scope selection. Most of these issues are largely irrelevant. What is most important is that your rifle is reliable, holds zero and is moderately accurate (and 99% of ARs are).

While there are many scope options for the Tactical rifle, they fall into three basic categories: Red Dot sights, Fixed Power sights (best epitomized by Trijicon’s ACOG series), and Low Power Variable scopes.

Red Dot sights are great inside of 50 yards but can be difficult to use past 100 yards, especially if targets are obscured or hard to see because they provide no magnification. Various magnifiers are now available to provide magnification of red dot sights.

ACOGs are a fixed magnification, 3.5 or 4x power, and are great for intermediate and long range targets but can be difficult to use up-close or while moving due to the fixed magnification. Many competitors will mount iron sights alongside a fixed magnification scope for use on the close targets.

While sights from any of these categories will work, the low powered variable scope is most popular as they offer the best of both worlds. The shooter can easily switch magnification power, even during the course of fire, depending on target presentation and personal preference. The variable power scopes often range between 1 (or 1.5X) – 4X (or even 5 or 6X) allowing little or no magnification at close range and high magnification at long range.

Ideally your rifle should have one of the excellent trigger kits that are now available from several manufacturers or gunsmiths such as JP Enterprises or Accuracy Speaks. The rifle should also have a hand guard that free floats the barrel, and possibly a good compensator. Get several good 30 round magazines (and maybe a 40 rounder), a couple of good magazine pouches and you’re ready to compete.


Any reliable shotgun will work. Benelli, Winchester, Fabrique Nationale, Browning, and Remington shotguns have all won their share of matches. You primarily need an extended magazine tube (8 + 1 typically), a good set of sights (I recommend the XS Express rear sight – the only product that I am specifically recommending in this article) and interchangeable chokes. I have seen many shooters suffer when their cylinder-bore shotgun failed to take down some reluctant steel targets.

Both shot shells and slugs are used in most 3-Gun matches. Quality low-recoil slugs are popular but you must make sure you tune your semi-auto shotgun to cycle reliably when using low-recoil slugs.

In the Tactical Optic division your shotgun is limited in the modifications that you are allowed to make. Internal function work is allowed but external modification usually limit tube extensions to 8 or 9 rounds depending on the equipment rules of a specific match. Speed loaders are not allowed which makes manual reloading skills a determining factor. The two most important items that you are allowed to use are an extended carrier release and shell holders mounted on the shotgun.


The Scoring System in use at a match can have a significant impact on pistol selection. Power factors are not recognized under any system other than USPSA/IPSC Multi-gun, making a 9X19 mm (or Minor power factor .38 Super) pistol the favored cartridge for non-USPSA matches. The 9X19 mm pistols offer low recoil and high magazine capacity.

Under USPSA/IPSC scoring, shooting minor power factor can be crippling. Comstock scoring favors Major power factor scoring requiring .40 S&W in Limited or Tactical divisions and major power factor 38 Super or some variant in Open division to be competitive at the national level. As of this time, minor power factor rifles, AR15s shooting .223, have not been overtaken by major power factor rifles.

Your choice of holster and belt system may vary from your normal pistol match equipment. A 3-Gun stage often specifies the use of multiple firearms which will require that you are able to carry spare magazines or ammo carriers for each firearm. It’s not unusual to see thigh holsters to get the pistol out of the way so that additional ammo can be carried for multiple firearms on the belt.

The physical demands of moving with a holstered pistol through a stage also requires a holster with a sufficient retention system to prevent a dropped pistol during the stage. The same consideration is needed for retention of magazines and ammo.

Now that we have hopefully whet your appetite for 3-Gun get that AR out of the gun safe and go shoot. In Part 2 we will discuss the various scoring systems in use throughout the 3-Gun/Multi-gun competition world.

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One Comment »

  • Jadeslade said:

    Great article by one of the top 3Gun shooters.I look forward to more insight and advice from K. Neal.