When 250 3-gun shooters gathered at the U.S. Shooting Academy north of Tulsa earlier this month for the 3-Gun Nation Nationals, I found myself among the bunch—not because I am a pro or even a top-level shooter, but rather because the match was only 20 miles from my home and I wanted to see what shooting a major 3-gun match was really like.
Having shot a grand total of about 10 matches over the past two years, I’m no rank beginner to 3-gun, the fastest growing shooting sport in the nation. To some it seems an odd sport to take up later in life (I’m 53), as most competitors are in their 20s, 30s and early 40s. Yet that’s one of the great things about this shooting discipline—no matter your age or shooting ability, if you can safely shoot a rifle, shotgun and pistol under the pressure of a timer, you can, indeed, have a blast.If you like to shoot a lot—and a lot with all three types of firearm—you’ll love 3-gun.
Pulling up to the event sign-in, I found the same open, hospitable attitude that I have at just about every 3-gun match I’ve attended. Amateurs rubbed elbows with pros, all happy to be participating in a top-notch match with fine competition. Later many would shoot together on the same stages—those who would likely rank near the bottom shooting and resetting stages right alongside Top-10 competitors. I found that to be true on my squad. While a couple of squad mates and myself were ranked in the Marksman category from earlier qualifier scores, we enjoyed shooting with Lanny and Tracy Barnes, twin Olympic biathletes who can definitely shoot well without skies and with more than just a .22 rifle!
I also found the eight stages, spread over two days, to be a good mix of difficult and no-so-difficult—technical stages that take a while intermixed with burn-em-down fast ones, where you better keep moving and squeezing that trigger.
If you’ve never been to a 3-gun match, a little explanation might be appropriate here. Stages typically include a variety of targets, many that can be addressed with whichever gun you choose. Of course, there are some steel targets that must be shot with a rifle, some steel targets that must be shot with a pistol, clay targets that are shotgun only, and paper targets that can be shot with pistol, rifle or even shotgun slug. If you like to shoot a lot—and a lot with all three types of firearm—you’ll love 3-gun.
What makes the sport even more interesting than the variety and number of targets available is the fact that many competitors choose to shoot stages quite differently. One participant might shoot an entire stage with only rifle and pistol, while another might use only shotgun and pistol, and yet another might use all three guns to address targets on that stage. Likewise, one competitor might choose to move left and shoot his rifle first on a stage, whereas another might move right and start with his pistol.
Take Stage 6, for example, which was my squad’s first stage on Day 2. Start position was in the start box, with pistol loaded and holstered, shotgun loaded and staged downrange and rifle loaded and held at port arms. On the start signal, the shooter moves right about 10 feet, drops to prone position and shoots 3 steel poppers at about 40 yards through a small opening that can only be addressed in the prone position. The competitor then moves left and, before crossing a fault line, addresses a rifle plate rack at about 60 yards. The shooter then dumps the rifle, addresses 10 or 12 paper targets on both sides on the move with either pistol or shotgun slug, shoots two clays with shotgun bird shot followed by one steel plate at about 40 yards with a shotgun slug, then must clean a rotating plate rack with shotgun bird shot. The number of women and youth participating—even in the 3GN Nationals—was quite impressive, as was the females-only prize table that attracted more female shooters.
That wasn’t a particularly challenging stage—certainly not as difficult as some—but it was devastating for me. After my rifle ran perfectly the previous day, it chose this stage to poop out on me, light striking the primer the several times I tried to shoot, racked the action, and again tried to shoot the steel targets (a good cleaning of the bolt carrier group afterward fixed it for the rest of the day). I finally dumped the rifle and finished strong with pistol and shotgun, but the penalties I took on the rifle steel—not only failure to neutralize, but failure to address—numbered in minutes instead of mere seconds and basically wrecked my match.
To say that I “rocked” 3GN Nationals would definitely be a misuse of the word, although if you saw me walking around you would have thought I shot better than I did. It was a fun, well-run, challenging match, and I left each day with a smile on my face. Certainly there’s something to be said for that.
The competition at the upper level, of course, was quite intense, with pros battling down to the wire. First place winners included Rick Birdsall in the Factory division, Greg Jordan in Tactical and Jerry Miculek in Open. Ashley Rheuark took High Lady honors, and Brian Nelson was the top Junior shooter.
And here’s one fact you won’t hear in the so-called “mainstream” media. Competitors at the match fired, mostly on the run, some 150,000 rounds of rifle, pistol and shotgun ammo—mostly from “black guns” considered inherently evil by media and anti-gunners. In all that running and gunning, nobody was shot (accidentally or intentionally), no banks were robbed, no women were attacked at gunpoint, no Wild West shootouts broke out between competitors. Simply put, a good, fun, safe time was had by all. For those who know so little as to believe that every gun shot results in a murder, these statistics must be absolutely shocking.
As mentioned before, 3-gun is, in fact, the fastest growing shooting sport in the nation, and not just for men. The number of women and youth participating—even in the 3GN Nationals—was quite impressive, as was the females-only prize table that attracted more female shooters.
While just one of several organizations that sponsors and promotes 3-gun competitions, 3-Gun Nation has come a long way since debuting on the Versus network back in 2010.
“The original idea was to grow and promote the sport with our TV show, which we did,” said Chad Adams, 3-Gun Nation vice president. “But over time we saw that the sport needed so much more: a sanctioning body, a universal rule set, better match presentation, fair and consistent application of philosophies and rules. So we hired some of the best minds in the game and developed a rule book, the Club Series, the Regional Series, and now 3GN Nationals. The response to all of the programs and growth has just been phenomenal.” Simply put, a good, fun, safe time was had by all.
The organization’s popular pro shoot-off format has given professional shooters an outstanding venue for competing at the top level for good money, including the $50,000 grand prize from Leupold Optics and NRA Sports. This year, 3-Gun Nation also launched a Regional Series, with these major matches drawing participants from beginners to professionals, all held at outstanding ranges across the country.
“More than 1,000 unique 3GN members participated in 3GN Regional Championship matches this year, and I think that says a lot about what we’ve created and where 3GN is positioned, driving the most exciting shooting sport around,” Adams said. “Next season we’ve got some new venues coming online, so I’m pretty confident the 2016 3GN Regional Series is going to be the toughest ticket in all of 3-gun next year.”
One might think that with a Pro Series, Regional Series, Club Series and now the 3-Gun Nation Nationals, Adams and his associates might be satisfied with what they have accomplished. But one would be wrong in that assumption.
“You are going to see even more shooting disciplines developed under the 3GN banner, including single-gun disciplines such as rifle and shotgun, with points series and rule books and sponsors to drive interest,” Adams said. “Rimfire, possibly sporting clays down the road—in time, if there’s a gun game you can play, we want it to fall under the 3GN umbrella, creating a one-stop shop for clubs and ranges across the country to promote and participate in the shooting sports.
“And we want to continue and increase the great working relationship we have with NRA to do this. We value our partnership with NRA and NRA Sports greatly, and I think working together we can grow the shooting sports to unprecedented levels.”