BY CHAD ADAMS – Taking the first steps toward the sport of 3-gun can be extremely
daunting for the new shooter—or even a veteran pistol competitor looking to make the
jump into this exciting sport. There is seemingly so much gear one has to manage, and it
leaves many wondering where in the world to start.
However it’s really not so bad. And the best part, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have enough
of the items yourself, as you and your buddies can cobble all your collective gear together
to get you through it. There’s plenty of time to pick up more, and better, gear later.
The most important thing to consider is simply joining 3GN and getting out there and
shooting! So follow our basic gear list, get some friends together, and find a 3GN Club
Having all you need for 3-gun can best be organized if you break it down into three
segments: guns/ammo, belt/holster, and transport.
Guns & Ammo
No, not the magazine, though it is a good one! Obviously you’re going to need all three
firearm platforms to compete in 3-gun. If you play this game long enough, you’ll buy
and sell several as you find the firearm platforms that work best for you. But to get
started, it’s really quite amazing how basic gear can work quite well. Don’t
worry about divisions, if you have a Heavy division pistol and Tactical Optics division
shotgun. The event folks will figure all that noise out. Just get three guns together and
start sending some rounds downrange!
AR-15-style rifles dominate the sport of 3-gun. Any basic model or configuration
will do to get you started, whether it’s an iron sighted M4, a heavy-barreled varminter, or
an 18-inch barreled flattop sporter marketed for 3-gun. Just grab what you have and get
out there! Ruger Mini-14s, Springfield M1As—basically any semi-automatic rifle in .223
caliber or larger is plenty adequate to get you 3-gunning. If running an AR-15 or similar
rifle, two 30-round magazines should suffice. If running a .30-calbier rifle with
smaller-capacity magazines, more is needed.
For pistols, most folks begin with a polymer-framed 9 mm, which is an extremely wide
ranging category in today’s pistol market, meaning you can find one relatively cheap if
you look hard enough. Glocks, Sprinfield XDs, S&W M&Ps, and FNH USA’s FNS 9
are all great examples of pistols that can get you going. Single-stack 1911s in .45 caliber
are fine too, as are their 2011 cousins that hold more rounds chambered in .38 Super, .40
S&W or 9 mm. Three high-capacity magazines are a must for playing this game, while
most competitors will ultimately keep five or more magazines on-hand for matches. If
running a single-stack .45, four or five magazines is a better minimum to follow.
Shotguns are even easier—if you have a 12-gauge pump or semi-auto shotgun you are
ready. Magazine capacity is much more important than method of operation for new
shooters, meaning it doesn’t matter if you’re running a pump against folks with semi-autos.
Rather than gun up to a semi-auto, you can invest in turning a five-round tube into an eight
with accessory tubes or extensions, which will make shooting much more enjoyable, as
learning to load a shotgun competitively is one of the more difficult beginner hurdles.
I pack my ammo as I pack my guns, just because, well, one really isn’t much good without
the other. A basic list would include: 12-gauge, 7 ½ birdshot for most targets, while many
matches will require buckshot and/or slugs; most folks run a 9 mm pistol, with 115- or
127-grain FMJs; rifle, 55-grain .223 FMJs are standard (some competitors use heavier
bullets for long-range rifle work). You don’t need specialty ammunition to start, though
the best ammo you can afford is always a good thing.
When first starting out, don’t over think your ammunition selections. Standard duty and
martial-type firearms often do especially well with fully loaded factory ammunition, meaning
the ammo is loaded to standard pressures and velocities. Yes you will see other shooters
rocking handloads that seemingly don’t inflict any muzzle rise whatsoever. And yes you
will be jealous. But full factory loads will reliably cycle your guns, which is much more
important when getting started in 3-gun.
Belt & Holster
Secondary only to guns and ammo, the belt and holster are the next most important items
new shooters must consider. A pistol holster is mandatory, and there are numerous on the
market. The two most important points for finding a holster are retention and trigger guard
coverage. By rule, all holsters must completely cover the trigger guard for safety. As for
retention, 3-gun can be a physically demanding sport. If a pistol comes out of the holster
while negotiating a stage, not only is it dangerous, but it’s almost always an event disqualification.
So a solid retention system holster is a good choice.
The only real requirement for a belt is that it be sturdy enough to hold a lot of weight, with a
fully loaded pistol, shotgun caddies and several magazines riding on it. There is a multitude
of options available, with a basic range/instructor-style belt being completely adequate. Much
more convenient are the competition belt systems with inner and outer belts that make
changing up gear much easier. Uncle Mike’s, Safariland and Double Alpha all have great
belt system solutions.
In organizing your gear, included in the belt category are the accessories you wear on it—pistol
magazine carriers, shotgun shell caddies and rifle magazine carriers. Polymer pistol magazine
holders don’t need be expensive or fancy. Many pistols come with one or two straight from
the factory, and accessory systems are available from many online sources. You should at a
minimum be able to carry two magazines on your belt for most matches—at major outlaw
matches you will need more. But a third and fourth magazine can always come out of the
pocket until you get completely geared up.
A minimum of at least one rifle mag holder is a good plan. Stages can start with an empty rifle,
forcing you to load off the belt, and you will see stages that have you burning some serious
rifle rounds, both close up and at long range. You can certainly load a rifle mag out of the
back pocket initially, but eventually you will want a rifle mag on the belt as well.
Bring Your Baggage
Most folks use two basic kinds of bags on the range, one long enough to transport both long
guns, as well as a range bag or backpack to carry everything else one might need. Voodoo
Tactical makes great 3-gun bags, where you can fit both long guns, a pistol, and pretty much
all your gear as well.
A secondary range bag or backpack will enable you to comfortably carry all your ammo,
extra gear like spare magazines, basic tools, extra chokes, etc. No matter what types of bags
you use, be sure to pack hearing and eye protection, and bring extras as both are mandatory
for all parts of the range—even if you aren’t shooting!
OK, we’ve covered the basics, but you’re going to want some non-shooting items in your
range bag as well. Food, water and protection from the elements are listed here as creature
comforts, but they’re really just as important as that new AR and some .223. Without them,
it can sure drain the fun away from a great day on the range.
Sustenance – Water is a must! All other things are secondary; a day on the range is often
long, and hydration is paramount. Food is always good, and savvy vets not only pack a lunch,
but an assortment of snacks as well—power bars, trail mix, and jerky are range staples.
Protection – Sun block, rain gear and cold weather gear, depending on the season, are a
must for any range bag. A hand towel is a pretty good bonus item as well. Most days on the
range are fully exposed to the elements, so be ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at you.
Depending on the range and the match, a cart to transport your stockpile of guns, ammo and
gear is a welcome addition. At most major matches camp chairs get thrown in the truck as
well. Just don’t be sitting when you should be resetting steel with you squad!
Ultimately, the best piece of advice for taking your first steps toward shooting match are simply
this—get out and shoot! No one cares what kinds of gun and gear you have, your local match
director and veteran shooters can help make it work. We say it all the time, but the sport of
3-gun is extremely welcoming, and you’ll be amazed at how far folks will go to get you into the
Check out our listing of classes to take a basic 3-gun training class from one of our instructors.
For more information on how to compete, sign up here and find a 3-Gun Nation Club near you!