Today, the fast paced and competitive sport of 3-gun is as popular as ever. This article will take a quick dive into the sport and talk about why that is and look at some of the ways competing in 3-gun matches helps you be a safer, more efficient, and all-around better shooter.

For those that aren’t aware, 3-gun is a competition where shooters use three separate types of guns; a semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun, and a semi-automatic pistol. These matches are fast-paced and exciting, but not everyone stops to think about the practical shooting skills that they teach.

Since 3-gun matches aren’t governed by a single set of rigid rules, variations exist, and are only limited by the imagination, resources, and ability of a target range to set up a course. Generally though, 3-gun matches have a few well established divisions; open, tactical, and heavy metal.

Open divisions are where a lot of the more established shooters compete, and where pretty much anything legal goes. Highly customized pistols with hair triggers, extended barrels, and fancy optics are the norm. Shotguns have extended magazine tubes, oversized cocking knobs, and rifles have modifications making them impractical for anything but competition shooting.

The tactical division is where most shooters start. The gear requirements here are fairly easy for most people to meet. Usually only one optic is allowed on a gun, sometimes limited to the rifle.

The heavy metal division isn’t just for Metallica fans. It is open to calibers of .308 and above for rifles, .45 ACP or larger for handguns, and 12-gauge for shotguns. In this division, most competitions only allow iron sights, to keep things more interesting.

On the most general level, 3-gun competitions keep you up to speed and familiar with three different classes of weapon. You have to be able to rapidly transition between pistol, rifle, and shotgun, know the strengths and weaknesses of each class of weapon, and be familiar with manipulating, loading, and accurately shooting each. This flexibility gives you a proficiency many shooters don’t have, because they tend to pigeonhole themselves to only their carry gun, or one particular rifle they enjoy shooting the most.

Competing in 3-gun is also stressful. You’re on the clock, being watched by an audience, on a potentially unfamiliar course, dealing with targets that can be 1 yard, 50 yards or more away, and competing against others. This is stressful for any shooter, and that stress can be good. You will learn how to manipulate your weapons under stress, commit reloading and aiming actions to memory, and learn to tune out the background noise. Combat shooting skills like this will help you if you are ever faced with a real-world situation where you have to engage a target. That focus and discipline will become second nature, and that advantage can mean the difference between life and death.

Competing in, observing, and being around 3-gun matches also exposes you to people who are extremely well versed in the sport, as well as shooting techniques in general. Usually they’re more than happy to share their knowledge. It also gives you a direct link to experienced shooters with tips to share, gear that works and doesn’t work, as well as help in being the best shooter you can be. That level of knowledge is priceless, and often they’re willing to share it with you just by being present and asking questions!

Since 3-gun matches are organized events, safety is extremely important, and any decent 3-gun match will stringently adhere to safety rules. Most matches will disqualify you from the match for doing things like dropping a loaded firearm, going prone with a loaded, chambered pistol with the safety off, or having a negligent discharge. While these may seem like fundamental gun safety skills, it’s easy to make a mistake during the stress and excitement of a 3-gun match. Shooting in, and practicing for matches will help you discipline yourself to practice good gun safety no matter how stressful the situation may become. You will also become proficient with engaging and disengaging the safety on your weapons under combat conditions, something that will become muscle memory after a time. Safety will become second nature, and really, you can never be too safe with firearms.

When you’re competing in a 3-gun match, you’re going to try different kinds of magazines, magazine pouches, and other tactical gear. This is to keep your ammo and kit easy to reach. Running a few 3-gun matches will teach you what works and what doesn’t. Does that new pouch give you the easy access to your mags that you’d hoped for? Is your new holster working out for you? Being part of 3-gun matches will allow you to try new ways of securing your gear. You’ll likely be on the lookout for new accessories that work better and constantly refining what works and doesn’t work for you in the real world.

3-gun matches also help you learn to switch quickly between targets at different ranges. You’re not just shooting at targets at a known distance. One second your target might be close, then you might need to engage a distant target over 50 yards away. This is an incredibly useful real-world skill, because a real-world shooting situation isn’t going to be neat targets sitting at known ranges. It’s going to be surprises popping up when and where you least expect.

The different divisions of 3-gun shooting will also teach unique skills to make you a better shooter. The open division will let you experiment with hair triggers, compensators, and all sorts of toys to customize your gun. This is where you can hone the skills you learned in your initial matches. The heavy metal division helps to acclimate you to acquiring targets quickly using iron sights, as well as dealing with the heavier recoil of the larger calibers needed to compete in this division. These skills will help you if you are an avid hunter, looking to get quick shots off at long range or fleeting targets. The tactical division will teach you trigger discipline, and the fundamentals of combat shooting positions, and familiarize you with manipulating your guns quickly, efficiently, and safely.

There’s a reason 3-gun matches are so popular. They’re incredibly fun, bring friends together, and teach practical, real world shooting techniques. In short, they’re the perfect blend of fun and practical knowledge that will bring out the best, safest, and most sportsmanlike shooter in you!