Images via Anette Wachter

What is 3 Gun? Some Seriously Heart-Pumping Shooting, That's What

The doctor called and said you need more excitement in your life. He has prescribed 3 Gun.

It is a combination of coordination, planning, speed and multiple shooting skills. It will keep you young for a long time. This is coming from a gal who shoots long range prone bulls-eye. Don't get me wrong, I love my discipline of long range target shooting. But it is slooooowwww. I love to mix things up with the fast and exciting sport of 3 Gun.

If you are not familiar yet with 3 Gun, or Multi-Gun competition, I hope to describe well what it is about. First, some background and context: there are two organizations that sanction 3 Gun, and one is the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA), the same group that handles Action Pistol and 3 Gun Nation, which offers a series of tournaments.

There is the Outlaw 3 Gun category, which was popular because they did not have to follow all of the regulations that USPSA had.

The organization has recently changed their 3 Gun rules to be, shall we say, more fun like the Outlaw rules. There are no changes in safety rules, only in competition categories and scoring.

The NRA would like to be an umbrella organization but has yet to get approval to approach the 3 Gun community.  It is a fast growing sport, and I believe the NRA would greatly benefit from getting involved. So what is all of the fuss about?

The number one reason this game is such a "blast" is because it involves three guns, all different firearms in operation and execution: a pistol, shotgun and a rifle.

There are several categories that determine the type and caliber of each firearm. Every match has its own set of category rules and may differ than what I am describing, but this will give you an idea.

The basic and most popular is Tactical. Tactical allows any type of pistol with iron sights, usually in 9 or 40cal. Shotguns are semi-auto 8 plus 1 tube and manual feed. Rifles are allowed an optic and are mostly .223.

The Open category allows optics on all three firearms, magazine fed shotguns and rifles can have bi-pods.

A challenging yet fun category is Heavy Metal. The pistol is 45 cal, the shotgun has to be a pump action and the rifle chambered in 308. This category is normally the least represented, which means you have a great chance to win something. Plus, you have to admit it is a bit bad ass.


One positive attribute leads to a negative one, cost. A major drawback to this competing style is, well, you need three guns.

Purchasing three guns can add up, especially when you see all of the amazing equipment out there. It is easy to go a little crazy with gear.

Then there is the ammunition, multiplied by three! The number of participants dropped dramatically this last year when the gun industry supply shortage hit us. Some of the bigger matches ask you to bring hundreds of rounds of pistol, shotgun and rifle ammo. If you are in the Heavy Metal category, you were dropping serious money on ammunition!

Along with the guns and ammo, you also need a sturdy race belt and several holsters for each set of cartridges. There is a bit of a geekfest about the angle, shape and size of holsters amongst competitors. The shotgun holsters are most creative.

The best can take a shot, load eight rounds and take another shot in under six seconds.

In the Tactical category, you must load the shotgun tube manually. This skill can make or break your game. There are a plethora of Youtube videos out there on the best ways to load and how to load quickly. The best can take a shot, load eight rounds and take another shot in under six seconds.

To practice this you need dummy shells and a lot of time in your living room. The problem is that you get very good at speed loading standing still in your living room. It is when you get out to a match that all of your hard training goes out the door. Add nerves to having to load on the move and in various positions. It is not easy. Many times my fingers tighten up and I am dropping shells as I am running up a hill towards the next targets.

Speaking of targets, this is where the real fun is. No matter how many matches you participate in, you will never see the same stage twice. Stages are basically obstacle courses of targets.

Every range facility is different and every evil match designer has a different style. The numerous different positions you're asked to shoot from promote fantastic real-life training.

This game only works at ranges that have bays built in. The bays are a large U-shape to be able to shoot to the side as well as straight ahead. Some lucky ranges will have long bays or hillsides to allow for long range shots out to 400 yards or so.

Targets consist of IPSC paper in large or small sizes, and they're often moving and swinging as well. There will be a large variety of steel targets that, depending on the distance, can be shot at by all three guns. There are strict rules that no steel tipped ammo or slugs are allowed on steel.


The creativity comes from the props that you have to shoot under, over, through or around. Not to mention the fact that many props are moving platforms. There will be doors you have to blow through, tunnels to crawl through, you name it. All in the name of good, creative 3-gun shooting.

The most memorable match I have done was the MGM Targets Ironman in Parma, Indiana. Like the name says, it is the extreme 3 Gun competition.

There were three 12-hour days of 1000s of rounds of shooting in the dustiest conditions. They dug a dark underground cave. I had to carry a 90-pound dummy. I had to slide down a slide after shooting from up high.

There were different stages with several (not just one) of the polish plate racks and double spinners. Evil I tell you!

I came out bloody and sore at the end. But we did get to shoot from a zip line. That made all of the scrapes and bruises worth it.

Just what the doctor ordered.

You should definitely consider 3 gun, especially if you're a new shooter who wants to find out how to shoot better in a variety of disciplines. If you pay attention to what you're learning each 3 gun match, you'll be blown away at the improvement level.