Your Guide to 3-Gun Competitive Shooting

Posted by Team Springfield

Dec 19, 2014 9:00:00 AM

Competitive shooting has grown as a sport. Once, these competitions only involved shooting at stationary targets at your own pace. Today, there are a wide variety of competitive shooting events involving speed, timing, movement and agility, making competitive shooting more exciting than ever. The competitive shooting world is also one of the most accessible sports for beginners. With the right instruction and dedication, anybody can shoot. There are so many different events within the world of competitive shooting it can be difficult for beginners to pick one to focus on. While everyone has their own preferences and styles, 3-gun competitions are becoming the preferred choice for many.

What Are 3-Gun Competitions?

Three-gun competitions are named from their basic structure: competitors use three different firearms through the course of the event. These firearms include a modern sporting rifle, a pistol and a shotgun. Three-gun competitions are highly variable and adaptable, part of what makes them so exciting and popular. Competitors move through different stages to shoot a variety of targets at highly variable distances. They are typically required to switch between firearms during each stage. The winner is the shooter who hits the targets (while avoiding no-shoot targets) the quickest.

Be aware that competing in a 3-gun event can be very expensive, as it requires a lot of specialized equipment. Not only will you need the three guns (a rifle, shotgun and pistol) but also a host of required support equipment: holsters, belts, magazine pouches, extra magazines for each type gun, and several different types of ammunition. The ability to move all the equipment and accessories around safely can be a daunting endeavor. It is not really for the beginner, but as you gain confidence and experience, 3-gun events can be quite rewarding. They provide a great deal of enjoyment, but are hard and very involved physically and mentally. Expect to spend several thousand dollars to get started in 3-gun competitions. 

Three-Gun Competition Divisions

Competitors are divided into several divisions of 3-gun competitions based on their equipment. This helps keep the competitions fair. Each division has different equipment specifications, rules and events. Also, the various organizations that run these matches do not have the same rules or divisions. Following is a very brief overview of some of the divisions and rules. These are not exact. 

  • Limited. In general, limited division competitors are limited on the capacity of rounds to be loaded in shotgun and handgun, not permitted optical sights on either of those guns and the type and number of sights on the rifle. One unmagnified optic for the rifle is generally permitted 
  • Tactical. The tactical division is the most popular. The primary difference between the two is the ability to use a magnified optic on the rifle. Participants in a tactical division competition tend to be highly competitive and experienced, making this division particularly challenging.
  • Heavy metal. The heavy metal or HeMan division has larger minimum caliber and power requirements than the previous divisions. Specifically, a 12-gauge pump shotgun, rifles larger than 7.62x51, and handguns .45ACP or larger must be used. In many events, iron sights are permitted on the rifle and shotgun only. 
  • Open. The open division has fewer rules, and fewer banned firearms. A benefit of choosing this division, is that speed-loaders are permitted for use on shotguns throughout the competition. A maximum length of 171.25mm is required for handgun magazines, which is 30mm more than what the limited division allows.
  • Outlaw open. The outlaw open division has almost no banned equipment; as long as it's safe, contestants can do pretty much anything. Entering this competition is both exciting and daunting, as fellow competitors have the same benefit of using any firearm and support equipment, provided it’s safe to fire.
  • Trooper. The trooper division is a response to a practice in other divisions of using wagons or carts to carry equipment between stages. In the trooper division, competitors can't carry more than they can fit on their person. This includes food and water, and makes this division more challenging than others.

Three-gun competitions are growing in popularity. There are many leagues across the United States. If you're interested in 3-gun competitions, they're some of the most exciting shooting contests around.

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Topics: Competitive Shooting


Springfield Armory® recommends you seek qualified and competent training from a certified instructor prior to handling any firearm and be sure to read your owner’s manual.  These articles are considered to be suggestions and not recommendations from Springfield Armory®.