The Basics of 3-Gun Shooting Competitions

Officially, shooting sports in America date back to the creation of the National Rifle Association shortly after the Civil War. Unofficially, shooting sports have likely been around since the invention of the first firearm. Afterall, what could be more fun than hanging out with friends, trying to see who can ping more tin cans or hit the bullseye? The answer: professionally-organized shooting competitions.

Today, all sorts of organizations host competitive shooting events. These include everyone from the NRA to colleges to 4-H and the Boy Scouts of America. Since 1896, competitive shooting events have even been included in the Olympics.

Typically, a formally organized shoot has numerous events you can enter. One of the more entertaining, rapidly growing, and best-suited for most beginners is 3-Gun. The sport allows competitors to put their marksmanship skills to the test in a fast-paced, dynamic environment. The competition is timed, so speed and accuracy are both important.

3-Gun Gear

As the name suggests, 3-Gun requires the use of three types of firearms — a rifle, handgun, and shotgun. Most gunowners already have a couple of these at least. What is considered a basic arsenal will vary according to the individual. While some have back-up guns, others might only have two of the three for the first competition. (Many avid competitors will let you borrow one of theirs if you’re new to the sport.) Typically, you’ll have a .223 semi-automatic rifle (one especially designed for speed and accuracy is best), a pump or semi-automatic 12-gauge shotgun, and a 9mm pistol. While there’s a lot of other gear, like shooter belts, that can help you along the way, first you’ll need your guns.

Course Configuration

3-Gun courses are set up to be entertaining for participants and spectators. They typically include a variety of targets and obstacles. Shooters walk — or run (since the events are timed) — through the course, avoiding the obstacles and utilizing walls, barrels, and other items to their advantage. Scoring combines timing with accuracy. 

3-Gun Divisions

There are typically three divisions of 3-Gun: Factory, Practical, and Unlimited. Most beginners start with the Factory division, probably because the required gear is basically out-of-the-box.

The Factory division allows modification of the interior of the guns, but pistols and shotguns cannot be equipped with optics. Furthermore, the pistol’s magazine can accommodate no more than 15 rounds. Shotgun tubes, in contrast, are limited to only eight rounds. Rifles may be equipped both with iron sights and a red dot, non-magnified, optic.

If magnified optics are your thing, you might like Practical division more, as rifle optics can be magnified. Optics are still banned for shotguns, but there are no limitations on the ammo tube. While you can only start the course with 9 rounds, you can add as many as your tube accommodates once you are underway. Pistol qualifications are practically the same as in the Factory division.

The Unlimited division could also be called the anything-goes division. Optics — magnified or not — can be used on all three firearms. The only capacity limitation is that pistols have magazines no longer than 170 mm.

Whether you choose to enter the Factory Practica, or the Unlimited division, 3-Gun competitions are incredibly rewarding. It gets you outside and moving and, while you are enjoying the fresh air, you are mentally and physically stimulated. It doesn’t matter whether you come in first or last, 3-Gun will be an activity you’ll want to do again and again. If you have any questions about equipment, ammunition, or upcoming events, please contact us. We’ll be happy to answer your questions!

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