Photograph by Betsy Holt with Heavens to Betsy Design
Depending on where you’re at, you may be thinking about getting into 3 gun competitions or you may have already figured out some of these things for yourself. What I’ve learned is that you can’t be cheap in 3gun as it’s one of the most rigorous shooting competitions out there. Just last weekend I found myself climbing over an A-frame, jumping out of a VW Bug, crawling through a Cooper tunnel, shooting out of a moving vehicle, and more. From ammunition to shotgun chokes, this a high-level overview of tips I’ve learned the hard way competing in major 3 gun competitions.
1. Choose the Right Ammo
The ammunition you choose to run in a competition should be different than what you use for practice and concealed carry. Always test it out in your guns before showing up to a major competition with new ammo and always bring way more than what is needed.
Rifle Ammunition: For starters, most matches will not allow for green-tipped ammunition to be used so be sure to check your competition rules before purchasing. Spinner targets and any long-range shots are a lot easier with 77 grain over 55 grain, for example. Always plan to bring some heavier weighted bullets especially if you don’t know the stage plans before you go.
Pistol Ammunition: Your pistol ammunition is very specific to your gun. Major and minor power factor may also play a role in your ammunition if the match you are going to is using these categories. Aside from specifics, 3 gun competitions can call for far shots that may also need a heavier weighted bullet. Light loads, especially on Texas stars and spinner targets, are not going to do you any favors.
Shotgun Ammunition: Most 3 gun competitions will have a mix of shotgun ammunition needed. This can include birdshot, slug shot, and occasionally, buckshot. In competition, you do want to look at the velocity of the birdshot you purchase. Higher loads are helpful on stages with knockdowns, spinners, Texas stars, and other reactive targets. For birdshot, I use 7.5 shot 1 ⅛ oz with a muzzle velocity of 1200 ft/sec. The slugs I use are the Federal 12 Gauge Tactical Hydra-Shok HP Rifled Slug.
2. Test Your Gear
Local, monthly matches are the best place to test gear before a major match. The hard way is going to a major and having everything break on you. Find a trustworthy source who has been competitively shooting for a long time and ask them the best gear to purchase.
While I have a CR Speed rig that will be helpful for me in USPSA, the best belt system I’ve seen for 3 gun matches is the Safariland EPS. The reason for this is it’s completely interchangeable and just about everyone uses this set up. When you have a shotgun only stage, you can easily slide off all the gear you don’t want on and slide on all your shotgun caddies, for example. The reason this belt system is so popular is sharing gear is now easier than ever without having to take your outer belt off or slide gear on or off.
I have been through the wringer on shotgun caddies. Instead of buying 10 caddies cheaply built, spend the money on two or three higher-end caddies. Determine if you will be dual or quad loading before purchasing your caddies to match your loading style. Your shells shouldn’t fall out if the caddy gets bumped up against something. Make sure your rounds are tightly secured while also not making them impossible to pull off. I am switching to Invictus Practical which is well worth the investment.
Pro tip: If your slugs are the same color as your birdshot rounds, use a sharpie to color on them and do your best to separate your slugs on your caddies/chest rig so you don’t pull the wrong ones.
My last match was less than a week ago and I had not one, but two holsters fall apart on me made by the same company. I remember looking down and wondering why my pistol was moving forward and backward. Both screws on either side of the drop set hanger were gone and my pistol could do a 360 in the holster. Then looking at the back of the drop set hanger, one of the four screws was missing as well. All of this to say, ask a million questions, check out people’s gear, do your research, and test products if you can before you buy.
I am switching to a hooded holster for 3 gun and other multi-gun competitions as I’ve seen firearms fall out of holsters left and right. It is worth the investment over a DQ at a match.
If you’re going to do 3 gun right, invest the money into quality gear. I went the cheap route waiting for my custom mag pouches to arrive and every single stage start at my last match, my spare rifle mag went flying. When I finally took a look at my rifle mag pouch, I found a screw missing and a screw backing gone as well. Mag pouches need to be tightened to a degree of keeping your mag in, but also allowing for the mag to come out when you go to grab it. Mag pouches should also come up to an appropriate length on your magazines.
Bring Backup Gear
Luckily for me, I finally figured this out. While everyone and anyone around you will probably share gear with you, there’s nothing like having your own stuff and knowing how to use it. When I purchase an item, I typically buy double or more if I need it. It’s very easy to switch out and know exactly how it functions.
3. Other Items of Use
Chokes play an important part in 3 gun competitions. They are very easy to switch out for certain stages. Most stages are doable with a light mod, but with tighter Texas star plates, for example, can be shot easier with a mod choke. Depending on what you’re shooting and how often, learning about the different shotgun chokes can help you understand the spread of your shots and what’s necessary to neutralize targets.
I cannot stress this enough. Bring Allen wrench Hex key sets, screwdrivers, Loctite, and any other tools your guns or gear uses. This includes batteries for optics, belt keepers, guide rods, and event duct tape.
Ever had a shotgun follower get stuck in the middle of a match? Well, I have! Every match I travel to, I bring a bore snake for all the guns I’m using, CLP, Remington cleaning wipes, and oil. While you don’t need to pack your entire cleaning kit, these few items will come handy in a pinch.