Experts share advice on how to prepare your facility and your staff
3-Gun might seem self-explanatory as a shooting sport, but there’s a lot more to it than just showing up at a range with a shotgun, a rifle and a pistol. A 3-Gun competitor will not only shoot all three guns, but he or she also will make numerous transitions among the guns during stages. Often requiring defensive or even combative techniques, the sport can get physical and always is mentally challenging.
It’s also a challenge for a range to prepare and run a 3-Gun match. Here are some tips for how to take on this monumental task and succeed, but first let’s elaborate a bit on the 3-Gun experience.
Competitors will shoot 3 very different firearms during a 3-Gun match. These firearms include a modern sporting rifle – usually a rifle built on an AR-platform – a pistol and a shotgun. These competitors typically will run through four or five courses, set in realistic shooting scenarios, and get scored on time and hits. Targets must be hit in vital areas, just as in other competitive sports.
“In less than two minutes, you’ve shot more than 20 rounds of 9mm, a dozen 12-gauge shot shells and at least 20 rounds of .223 Rem. through the rifle. You can breathe now,” stated a Crimson Trace press release that accurately described the sport of 3-Gun. The sport is fast-paced, and it demands attention to details from not only the competitors, but also host ranges.
Taran Butler shoots on Team Benelli. One of the nation’s top competition shooters, Butler said he likes to see a variety of stages at matches, but not when they’re overwhelmingly complicated. Sure, he and a handful of other pro shooters can manage the stages, but he’s thinking of how to grow the sport, not discourage first-time competitors at their first matches.
“It needs to be difficult, but more of a shooting competition than a mind-melt,” said Butler.
He said 500-yard distances can be daunting for new competitors in the sport.
He understands the costs involved with equipment and advised new 3-Gun competitors to look at what the top 3-Gun shooters are using. Getting a modern sporting rifle (MSR) built the right way for the competition is important, as well.
Dianna Liedorrf is a police officer in Tulsa, Okla., who shoots for FNH. Liedorrf competes in national 3-Gun matches, and she is ranked in the top five for women shooters in this sport.
“3-Gun is the epitome of competitive shooting for me,” Liedorrf said. “There are so many aspects to manage; the shotgun and rifle have a short and long game, and pistol portions are difficult. Just the logistics of getting to a match and lugging your stuff around when you get there is a challenge.”
When Liedorrf arrives at a match, she looks for water and shade. She said the average shooter might walk a course of fire at least five times while trying to get a plan in place. Then, the shooter will walk it on average seven more times, resetting it for the next shooter in the group.
“A handful of matches may have volunteer groups come help reset stages,” she said. “That is the biggest amenity!”
She prefers natural terrain to shooting bays.
“I have a soft spot for Rockcastle. It’s has a beautiful setting and it has a great story and great hosts. The Nobles go over-the-top to make shooters feel welcome, and it has a special aura about it. Where else can you shoot in a cave?”
The NRA Whittington Center in Raton, N.M., ranks No. 2 on her favorite 3-Gun range list. “It’s beautiful and provides endless opportunities to set courses of fire.”
Joe Harris, match director at Creekside Firing Range in Taylorsville, Ga., loves to promote 3-Gun at his range. He considers it a small range and believes this is where most people will get their start in 3-Gun. “Make them feel as welcome as possible. They must not feel intimidated, because first impressions can last a long time,” advised Harris.
Harris also believes it’s important to have seasoned competitors be part of the team that welcomes new shooters to a monthly match.
“Make sure the match director or other designated people with the club seek out a new shooter and talk about what’s going to happen and answer any questions,” continued Harris.
He invites new shooters to come out the day before the match, help set up the stages and then shoot the match for free. Club members also loan equipment and even their guns to new shooters. Participating in the sport of 3-Gun requires a large expenditure, and often, new shooters aren’t sure they want to spend the time and money right away.
During the match, if a new shooter has problems with the course, Harris hopes his range officers will let the participant go to the end of the line and try it again.
“Don’t treat your new shooters like this is a big, national match,” recommended Harris.
Harris said it’s up to children’s parents to decide when the youngsters may start competing. It really depends on a youth’s shooting skills. Harris ought to know, as his 18-year-old daughter, Katie, competes at the national level for Benelli in 3-Gun. Katie Harris started shooting when she was 5, but didn’t start competing until she was 13. By that time, the star competitive shooter had set up hundreds of matches and worked behind the scenes, watching and learning. Today, she helps new shooters at 3-Gun matches.
“If you’ve got a range and you want 3-Gun, you’re 90 percent there,” said Andy Horner, match director of Blue Ridge Mountain 3-Gun (BRM3G).
His matches have a national reputation for being very physical and technical – featuring 10-inch targets at 400 yards.
“If a range wants to bring in 3-Gun competition, it’s best if the person who is going to run the 3-Gun matches competes in a couple of national matches first,” Horner said. “They should see how they are set up, and get hands-on experience with the set-up.”
He also suggests volunteering as a range officer at matches to learn the distinct differences between running 3-Gun and running other styles of competition.
“Being a range officer at a 3-Gun match is much more complicated, because of the guns and the fact that they are abandoned in the course,” Horner said. He is referring to the fact that one firearm must be put down safely, or “abandoned,” before another one is picked up and loaded.
He then listed some basics for getting started:
- Pick a set of rules. Design the match around those rules. The rules chosen should reflect the kind of match you want to run. The predominant rule set in 3-Gun is the “Outlaw” International Multi-Gun Association-based rules used by most matches. Also in use are United States Practical Shooting Association Multigun and 3-Gun Nation rules.
- Keep it simple. Make sure that rules are consistent and simple. Make the first few matches fairly simple, with maybe just two guns at a time per stage.
- Get the mechanics down and always keep extra targets and tools on hand.
- Find experienced range officers to run the range. There’s a huge difference between 3-Gun and other types of competitive shooting.
- Have your shooters pre-load their shotgun in a safe place before coming to the line, under the watchful eyes of the range officers.
- Have a script for your range officers and run the match by that script. Include rules such as how to abandon guns: Is having the safety on okay, or does the gun have to be completely empty?
Horner said a pistol range can host a 3-Gun match, but it will have to be creative. As long as you have a 50-yard bay with an appropriate berm, you can have the match. You must design the match around the rifle. Some bays and berms will not handle higher caliber ammunition or shots from these types of rifles. He also recommended getting creative with Pygmy poppers and metal targets that have auto-reset capabilities, cutting down on set-up time.
Another option for ranges that want to host a 3-Gun match is to hire a qualified 3-Gun match director to run the competition. Horner said as long as you give the consultant the responsibility and authority to run the match on your range, it should work. Of course, check out the consultant’s references beforehand. Attend a match run by the match director.
Charles Sole knows 3-Gun. As director of the newly formed 3-Gun Nation (3GN) Club Series, he brings experience from almost a decade of planning and promoting 3-Gun matches in and out of his home state of North Carolina. Sole, along with Tennille Gibson-Chidester, led the endeavor to form a league for 3-Gun competition shooters that compares to classification systems of the United States Practical Shooting Association and International Defensive Pistol Association.
“Any match director of a 3-Gun competition should have the mindset that it’s entertainment, and really no different than a golf course,” Sole explained. “Sometimes, match directors don’t realize this and don’t accommodate their 3-Gun shooters.”
Started this year, the 3-Gun Nation Club Series became available to ranges that want to offer 3-Gun matches.
“We can get them over the initial bump, Sole said.”
3-Gun Nation offers tips and techniques for how to run a 3-Gun match at its website. Considered part of NRA Sports and presented by Remington, 3-Gun Nation National Club Series has more than 60 clubs participating at the time of this writing, including clubs in Canada, South Africa and Europe.
You can learn more about 3-Gun shooting at the website of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. To get a look at actual 3-Gun competition and hear more about the sport, view this NSSF video.