I have a couple quick questions before we dive into a conversation. Are you looking for something new, exciting, and challenging? Do you have a pistol, shotgun, and semi-auto rifle sitting in the safe or an interest in getting them? If you answered yes to these questions then you might want to take a look at 3-Gun Competition. It is an action packed shooting sport in which the competitors use all three platforms in a single event. Matches generally involve 5 or 6 stages (courses) where the competitor will move through and engage targets from a variety of shooting positions. Most stages utilize two or all three firearms and have designated targets for each. Competitors are timed under the watchful eye of a “RO” (Range Safety Officer) which is normally one or several of the competitors in the squad. Each stage provides a certain scenario for using one or more of the guns in a specific sequence. Each stage in each match will usually be different than any you’ve shot before.
Depending on where you are in the country, and which match you are shooting, targets come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. These include clay birds which can be thrown from a machine, sitting on a stand, or swinging from side to side on a swinger. Others include single projectile targets, cardboard silhouettes or steel targets. There are also “no-shoot” targets that should be avoided because they will add penalties to your overall score. Targets are placed in and around barriers, in natural terrain, and inside berms at distances ranging from 1-300 yards normally. There are a few clubs around the country which have the capability of setting rifle targets out at longer distances, however, 99% of what we shoot is under 300-yards. Be ready to shoot some precision shots.


Paper targets have scoring zones: A/B, C, and D. One hit in the A/B zone or two in any zone neutralize a paper target. Steel targets must fall, swing, flash or clang to be considered neutralized. A clay targets must be broken or chipped.

Getting started with equipment

Can off the store shelf equipment be used in 3-gun and what are good calibers to start with? The answer to the first part of this question is yes. The second part of this question is a 9mm, 40 S&W, or 45 semi-auto pistols, a semi-auto 223/5.56, and 12-gauge shotgun. A competitor will need a good belt, shot shell caddies, and magazines/mag pouches to help manage ammo while navigating through the different stages. Stages of fire typically require 10-20 rounds of pistol, 12-20 rounds of birdshot, and 12-28 rounds of rifle ammunition. No steel core ammo is allowed. You may even see some slug targets for your shotgun. Don’t worry too much about equipment rules for the first half dozen or so local matches. Costs in 3-gun can be tremendous, so keep it simple. The guys and gals at the range will help you understand equipment rules over time. Like drag racing, the sport of 3-gun has different divisions that are equipment based.

These are the basic divisions:
Limited Division: Pistol – iron sights; rifle – iron sights or 1x optic; shotgun –iron sights and 9 rounds at the start.
Scope Tactical Division: Pistol – iron sights; rifle – magnified scope; shotgun – iron sights, and 9 rounds at the start.
Open Division: Pistol – electronic sights and compensated barrel; rifle – magnified scope; shotgun – electronic sights, compensated barrel, tube or box fed magazines, and unlimited rounds; and ok to use bipods on rifle.

Going to a match and being prepared to compete is sometimes exhausting, nerve racking, and can even cause a sleepless night beforehand. My recommendation is to not worry too much. All the competitors have had these jitters. They fade quickly.
Here are some basic tips on what to focus on before you go. Understand that all of the matches are held on a “cold range” which means that all firearms must be unloaded until your turn comes to compete. I normally keep my long guns bagged in soft cases, my pistol in its own soft case and a range bag either in the back of the pickup or in a “3-Gun Kart.” That’s a fancy 3-gun term for a baby stroller.

At the range and before the shooters meeting, you will want to load your pistol and rifle magazines to capacity. This saves you time and your squad mate’s time when it is your turn to shoot. After the shooters meeting squads will divide up and move off to their respective stages where they will begin the match. Don’t be afraid to ask the Match Director to assign you with a seasoned 3-gunner so that person can teach you the ropes.

Basic Do’s and Don’ts

We have previously discussed a cold range and its requirement that all firearms are unloaded and bagged. After you make your way with the squad to your first stage, keep your guns bagged. Observe what is going on around you first and look for a bench that has been designated as a safe area. In safe areas the competitor is allowed to un-bag firearms and holsters them, take sight pictures, and work on equipment. No ammunition is allowed in a safe area. So, leave the loaded magazines and spare ammo behind.

At the beginning of each stage a briefing will occur. One of the squad mates will read off instructions which include a start position, boundaries of shooting areas, and what targets to shoot with each weapon system. Your goal is to safely navigate the course of fire engaging all targets, getting the maximum scoring points available, and doing so in the least amount of time. Yes my friend – this is drag racing with guns. You will see a lot of styles, equipment, and shooting capabilities. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to help guide you through the course of fire.

Under the direction of the RO, the squad will be given instructions on when or where to load their firearms. There is usually a table set aside for this purpose which helps in time management. Only under the supervision of the RO will the competitor be given instructions to load a firearm. This action usually takes place at the starting position when everyone has been cleared from the course of fire. The muzzle of the gun never breaks the imaginary 180 degree line! Allowing the muzzle of your gun to break the 180 degree plane (an imaginary plane based on a line straight down the middle of the range/stage and 90 warning from the RO if you get close to the 180. The sport has a great safety record and its part of your job to keep it that way.

You will hear the terms – “Shooter”, “On-Deck Shooter”, and “In-the-Hole Shooter.” This is the shooting order naming the current competitor, the next shooter and the third. If you are not one of these then help out by taping and resetting targets. You will gain respect and kudos from your squad mates if you lend a helping hand.

As the “In-the-Hole”, or number three, shooter you should be thinking about shooting positions that will allow you to engage all targets safely. Make sure that you have enough ammunition to get through the stage and shoot all the targets. Don’t panic. You’ve made it this far so hang in there. Take a couple of deep breathes and calm down. Concentrate on shooting the stage slowly and safely. Don’t take yourself too seriously and have some fun.

The “On-Deck” shooter should have ammo on their belt and be standing next to the long guns ready to carry them to the shooting line. When called, you can take your rifle and shotgun out the case, off of the 3-Gun Kart, or from the pre-position table. Don’t walk up to the line without first being directed to do so.


As the “Shooter” you will be asked to grab your long guns. It’s a good idea to have chamber flags in the chambers which lets everyone see that the chambers are unloaded. Once at the line you will hand one or both of your long guns off to the RO who will instruct you to load your pistol and make it ready, followed by the rifle and shotgun depend on the sequence of order. Make sure to keep the firearms pointed downrange and perform the loading sequence in an orderly fashion; followed by engaging the safeties. At the start position, ask the RO to coach you through the stage so that you engage all targets without leaving any behind. Being new to 3-Gun you will find that many, if not most; competitors are very warm and friendly. Coaching is allowed for new shooters, so take every advantage of this if you can. Once you have completed the course of fire you will be given directions to unload and show clear. After this routine you are allowed to do a happy dance!

Give it try and see if you like it. I will be honest and let you know that it’s addictive and very expensive. If you decided that you like it after the first match; do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions. Take your time and move into the equipment race slowly.
Have fun, stay safe, and keep them in the A-zone!
Sterling White

Take a look at the article on the chamber flag Plug’r, designed by Sterling White by following this link

  1. If it was not so expensive and/or restricted where I live, I might be able to try it. Bummer! Another gear-race that is unobtainable. For those few that can enjoy it, drive on.

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