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3 Gun Competitions

Competition Shooting
a photo of a female shooting guns at 3 gun competition

Guest Writer: Kenzie Fitzpatrick

Getting started with 3 gun competitions can be a slow process, but don’t let that stop you from joining in on the fun. Finding where to sign up, deciding what to bring, and learning the rules are common questions. Many beginners pack everything and the kitchen sink for their first 3 gun match. But you don’t need to buy everything right away to have a good time. The more gear you can borrow and try before buying, the better.

In this blog, I’ll go over some of the divisions, rules, and what you absolutely need to get started at a 3 gun competition. I’ll also discuss what you should expect as a participant in the competition along with the range commands you’ll be given. This guide will have you ready to walk into your first 3 gun competition prepared and confident. 

There are different organizations that put on 3 gun competitions. Clubs typically use a specific rule set to run and score competitions. These three are the main organizations 3 gun competitions use to govern a competition. 

3 Gun Competition Organizations

3 Gun Nation

The 3 Gun Nation (3GN) is one governing body of 3 gun competitions that has a rule set for clubs associated with them. 3GN has clubs around the world with a set of club requirements, memberships for their shooters, and a classification system for shooters. 

United Multi-Gun League

The United Multi-Gun League (UML) is another organization that has a rule set for competitions, has leagues, memberships, and qualifications for shooters. 

USPSA MultiGun

USPSA is mainly geared toward pistol and now pistol caliber carbine shooters, but they also created a rule set for multigun competitions

3 Gun Competition Divisions

a photo of Kenzie shooting a shotgun at a revolving target

Try them all! Find the 3 Gun Competition division that works best for your personal shooting style.

There are many division options for 3 gun competitions and typically one match won’t include them all. You can usually find each division’s rules online but we recommend you triple check the competition division rules for whichever competition you choose to go. Each competition specifically defines what set of rules they are using.

Tactical Optics

This is generally the most common division shooters sign up for. The pistol in this division has to use iron sights, be chambered in 9mm or larger, but the magazines can be up to 140mm so shooters use extended base pads a lot in this division. Extended base pads go on the bottom of pistol magazines to add more rounds to the magazine capacity.

The shotgun has to be a tube-fed shotgun 20 gauge or larger. You can only use iron or fiber optic sights in this division. Rules allow only 9 rounds before the start signal. They prohibit speedloaders along with bipods or bags.

Your rifle for this division can be .223 Rem or larger. AR-15 platform rifles are the most common. The tactical optics division allows for one magnified optic which shooters typically put on the rifle. The rifle can have offset iron sights. This can help on stages with near and far targets. Rules allow compensators so long as they are not larger than 1 inch in diameter and 3 inches long. Most competitions don’t allow bipods and bags in this division.

Tactical Irons

This division is almost the exact same as Tactical Optics. The big difference? You can use a red dot on your rifle. Think of it as the red dot friendly division for optic shooters.


This division typically has no limitations on accessories for any of the 3 firearms. You can use bags and bipods with your rifle. Suppressors are good to go, you can load any length of pistol magazines, and you can use shotgun speed loaders with no limitations on capacity at the start of the signal.

Heavy Optics or Irons

This division varies based upon what rule set the 3 gun competition is going by. Typically, you are to use a .308 or 7.62 rifle with one magnified optic on the rifle or iron sights depending upon which division it is.

Pistol Shooter? Some competitions require you shoot 9mm to .45 for the pistol caliber or mandate you fire only .45. Some competitions may also limit the pistol magazine capacity to 10 rounds so a single stack pistol shooter can be competitive in this division.

Lastly, the shotgun could be required to be a pump-action or semi-automatic, but at least a 12 gauge has to be used.

3 Gun Guide: What You Need to Get Started

a photo of a female 3 gun competition shooter with 12 gauge shotgun

Selecting your loadout for 3 Gun means trying out equipment to see what best suits your needs on the range.

Choosing Your Guns

•PistolThe pistol is probably the easiest gun to “make ready” for a 3 gun competition. Depending on which division you choose to shoot in at a specific competition, you rarely need more than three magazines for the pistol you choose to shoot with. A stock pistol out of the box is all you need to get started in 3 gun competitions. If you choose a pistol with an external safety, practice enabling and disabling it because it is required to use if you have one.

•RifleA stock rifle and optic (division dependent) will get you up and running in 3 gun competitions. The most important investment with a rifle is getting a good scope mount that will not loosen or lose zero when the rifle gets thrown into dump barrels. I highly recommend Warne Scope Mounts or Vortex mounts as they have performed flawlessly in many matches with all types of conditions. I have dismounted my optics regularly and they always return zero after getting remounted.

•ShotgunThe shotgun is one of the more difficult guns to get competition ready. One of the benefits to shooting 3 gun competitions is that stages are not designed for targets to be shot at by one specific gun only. Most steel targets can be shot at by shotgun and pistol. So even if your shotgun is not competition ready, you can always engage the majority of targets with your pistol. A stock shotgun won’t be competitive to shoot with, but it’s exactly what I used for my first 3 gun competition.

Gunsmithing is almost a necessity for competing in 3 gun competitions with a shotgun. An extension tube should be added on to your shotgun to allow for more shotgun rounds to be fired before loading. The loading port area needs to be widened by a professional to allow for easier loading. Depending on which shotgun you use, a new follower may be useful, cutting the spring down in the tube can be helpful, and replacing parts such as the trigger, bolt release, and safety would be things to consider down the road.

Choosing Your Belt & Holster 

a photo of a walther ppq pistol in a holster with magazine extension

It’s important that you choose a quality made gun belt and holster for participating in 3 Gun Competition.

•Belt – In my first 3 gun competition, I wore nothing more than a leather belt. 511 makes excellent sturdy belts to attach holsters and magazine pouches to. I got started with the CR Speed competition belt that has an inner belt and outer belt that velcro together. Shooting Connection makes a similar belt system.

If you are more serious about shooting 3 gun competitions regularly, Safariland and Weber Tactical both make competition belts with easy attachable and detachable gear mounts so you can move things around on your belt without taking your belt off.

•Holster – Invest in a quality holster. Your guns are your most important and typically most expensive 3 gun items. I highly recommend using a hooded holster for your pistol so that it does not fall out during a course of fire. One of the most important considerations when purchasing a holster for your pistol is choosing the type of hanger you want to use. When drawing your pistol from your holster, your hand should naturally grab the gun and bring it up without having to reach low or high for it. Some folks use drop hangers while others want the butt of the gun higher than the belt. 

Choosing Your 3 Gun Accessories

•Magazine Pouches – Magazine pouches are important for both rifle and pistol. Most 3 gun competitions involve running and occasionally, obstacles. As mentioned before, three pistol magazines will get you started. So, you’ll want three pistol magazine pouches for your belt. Invest in quality and durable magazine pouches that allow you to tighten or loosen them to the exact degree you want. I do recommend single magazine pouches over double so if you move things around your belt, there are no spacing issues and you can set each magazine to the angle you want to grab it from. 

It’s just as important to invest in durable rifle magazine pouches. I run 32 and 40 round magazines in my pouches during competition and make sure they don’t flop out while running. Some competitors run one single rifle magazine pouch in the front or back middle angled horizontally for easy grabbing while others run two vertically on their weak hand side. 

•Shotgun Caddies – Shotgun caddies are the easiest way to quickly load a shotgun. You can set them up to load two rounds at a time (double load) or four rounds at a time (quad loads). In my first 3 gun competition, I threw all my shells in a skeet and trap shell bag that I attached to my belt and loaded one at a time. If possible, try as many shotgun caddies as possible from fellow shooters before buying. My two favorite caddies after trying every cheap and expensive one on the market are the Invictus Practical and Safariland caddies. Taccom is also coming out with new ones soon! 

•Rifle/Shotgun Flags – Every long gun should have a barrel indicator that shows your firearm is clear and empty. Buy extra as it’s very easy to lose them at a competition.

Hauling Your Gear

•Cart/Large Gun Bag – It’s very rare that a 3 gun competition allows for competitors to drive up to each bay a stage is on. So, investing in a cart or a long bag to carry your three firearms is almost a necessity. A sports wagon is very easy to put long guns in as well as an ammo can and range bag.

Another option is to have one long bag that all three guns will fit in. You can carry it slung over your shoulder with an ammo can in hand. Or fill a bag with the magazines and ammo needed for each stage. A third option is to buy a gun cart made specifically for 3 gun competitions. These custom carts include attachments for long guns and accesories.

The last option is to create your own cart out of a baby stroller and add clamps to the sides to hold the long guns. Don’t laugh, you can find cheap strollers at thrift stores. They make a very stable platform for rolling your long guns and gear around safely. 

Prepping For a 3 Gun Competition

a photo of a ar15 rifle 9mm pistol and 12 gauge shotgun on a table outdoors

Always be sure to prep your gear before a match. A gear malfunction could lead to you being DQ’d during competition.

Match Registration

Most 3 gun competitions will use Practiscore to register and see final scores from a competition. It’s free to create an account. Use the Match tab to search for the name of the competition. Click on it to view the match information. The register tab should automatically be up to fill in your information including the divisions available to register for.

Categories of: Lady, Junior (17 and younger), Senior (over 55), Super Senior (over 65), Law Enforcement, and Military (Active, Guard, or Reserve) could potentially be on the same registration page. If you qualify for one of these categories, your scores will be comparable in the final results to the others who registered for these categories. 

Other competitions like 3 Gun Nation matches will have the registration on their website for matches. 

Squadding (Build Your Team)

Squadding means choosing which shooters to shoot the match with. After you pay for the match on Practiscore, they typically unlock squadding immediately. Occasionally the match director has to approve you to squad. If you are waiting to squad, Practiscore will send an email once you’re approved. You can then go back into the platform and choose a squad. Once you select a squad, be sure to scroll to the bottom and click on “select squad” for it to go through. You should see your name on the squad you chose as the final confirmation. 

Matches that do not use Practiscore may have their own squadding platform. Organizations like (3GN) may have shooters squad up at the match. 

Gear Checklist/Prepping

Before any competition, but especially 3 gun competitions, spend some time prepping your gear. Clean your guns and make sure you’ve oiled them properly prior to the match. I Loctite screws on all mag pouches, pistol holster, shotgun caddies, and anything else that I don’t want to move. Odds are good you’re going to drop pistol magazines a lot in 3 gun competitions. You’ll probably clean them a lot more often than rifle magazines.

If you run any type of fiber optic sights, triple check them before the match and after each stage at the match. I always carry extra fiber to matches. The sights can easily snap when you throw them into dump barrels and buckets.

A dump barrel can be anything from a large trash can for long guns to a 1-gallon bucket for a pistol. Dump barrels wreak havoc on guns and gears. It’s common for front sights to fall off or loosen. Of course, fiber optics can crack. It’s very easy to hit front sights on the edge of the barrel or on the bottom.

If you deposit a rifle with a magazine, or an open shotgun with a magazine in a barrel, make sure everything makes it into the dump barrel. If the magazines hang out over the edge of the barrel, the weight can sometimes cause the barrel to fall over. You could be given a DQ for a dropped gun if the dump barrel falls. Rifle slings are also easily caught up on dump barrels. 

Learning Range Commands

a photo of a female 3 gun competition competitor with a 12 gauge shotgun

It’s easy to learn the range commands for 3 Gun once you know the order ROs present them on the range.

Most 3 gun competitions use the same or similar range commands. These are the ones you most likely will receive at the match:

  1. Make Ready – Once the Range Officer (RO) gives this command, that’s your signal to prepare and position all your firearms. The stage brief will tell you how your firearms are to start. You might start fully loaded, empty chamber, or completely unloaded. This is your time to load your firearms. Place them how you want them on the stage, and get into your start position. 
  2. Are You Ready? – Once you are in your start position, the RO will typically give you a few seconds to settle into position and then will ask this question. Unless you give an answer of “No” or “Not Ready”, the RO will assume any nonresponse means you are ready. 
  3. Standby – This command will follow the previous. It indicates that the start buzzer of the timer is about to go off. 
  4. Stop – If you hear this while you are shooting a stage, you must cease firing. Stop moving, and wait to hear any instructions from the RO. They can give this command for a number of reasons. When an RO hears a squib, they give this command. If the RO spots any part of the stage not reset from the last shooter, they’ll give this command. They might also command “stop” if they see some other interference or safety concerns. 
  5. If You are Finished, Unload and Show Clear (If Clear, Hammer Down, Holster) – Once you finish shooting, the RO gives this command. Unload whichever firearm is in your possession. Show a clear chamber to the RO with your muzzle pointed downrange. You should remove all magazines from your firearms. If you’re using a tube shotgun, empty the tube. Make sure you flag shotguns and rifles. For pistols, the RO will ask for the hammer to be down and pistol holstered. After showing a clear chamber, you’ll move your slide forward. Pull the trigger pointing downrange to prove nothing is in the chamber, and holster the pistol. If there is an external safety, especially on single action pistols, you should engage it before holstering. 
  6. Range is Clear – The RO announces this command once all shooters cleared their firearms. Scoring and resetting targets will commence after this. 

Is Shooter Ready?

As you use your guns and gear in 3 gun competitions, they will wear out. Be sure to lube, do proper maintenance, and more to keep everything in operational condition. There’s nothing more disappointing than equipment failure during a match. Practice makes perfect. You’ll want to put in the work on the range with your gear before attending your first match. Be sure to share what you’ve learned with new and veteran 3 gun shooters! There’s a lot to be learned and a lot of fun to be had competing in 3 gun competitions.

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