Getting Started in 3-Gun Competition Shooting

Pistol, rifle, and shotgun for 3-gun competition.

Action shooting sports like 3-Gun seem to grow in popularity every year, and with movies like the new John Wick 3 putting an emphasis on this kind of “aim fast, shoot fast” type of practical/tactical shooting, more people than ever are wondering how to get into the sport.

If you’re looking to become one of the thousands of people that get into this sport every single year, you’re in the right place.

I’ve been doing this kind of thing for almost five years now, and I’ve gotten to work with and learn from some of the best shooters around (including Taran Butler, the guy training John Wick himself in that clip up there) and I’ve been truly blessed to be able to pass on some of what I’ve learned to new shooters as well.

Which brings us to our topic today. We’re going to go over everything you need to know to get started with 3-Gun shooting, from the rules, to the gear, to the skills you’ll need to practice to improve fast and stay competitive.

Let’s get started.

Quick Refresher: What is 3-Gun?

3-Gun is a fast-growing practical shooting sport in the same vein as IDPA-style shooting and challenges a competitor’s speed and accuracy with pistols, rifles, and shotguns, sometimes all in the same course of fire. This necessitates some strategic planning, as well as a strong facility with reloading all three of these types of firearms and transitioning between them smoothly and efficiently.

Matches are broken up into divisions so you’ll be competing against similarly-equipped shooters rather than say, bringing your basic gear to try and top the scores of pro shooters with five thousand dollars in gear.

Your options are:

  • Limited
  • Tactical
  • Heavy Metal
  • Open
  • Outlaw Open

There are equipment differences to each, with Limited being the most restrictive and the best for starting out in as this is where most of the newbies congregate, and Tactical being the most popular. Open and Outlaw Open are where the big dogs run, so you’ll almost definitely want some matches under your belt before you try those divisions. Finally, Heavy Metal is for larger caliber weapons and require a 7.62×51 or larger caliber rifle, .45 ACP or larger caliber pistol, and a 12-gauge pump-action or breech-loading shotgun.

Check the specific rulings for each before attending your first match to make sure you’re in compliance, and you’ll be good to go! And if you really want to shoot, chances are there will be someone at a match that’ll let you borrow guns and gear if you need them.

Step One: Go to a Match!

Shooting with Ear Protection


I’m a strong proponent of learning by doing, and failing that, learning by watching.

The best way to get started with 3-Gun is to just go to a match! Don’t worry about shooting for this one, just load up a cooler and a camp chair and head out to watch. This will give you the opportunity to see how a match is run, and get an idea of how things really work.

In addition to being a great way to kill an afternoon, you’ll find no shortage of people willing to answer questions about their gear or how the matches work. You can even talk to match organizers when they have a bit of downtime and see what they recommend bringing for your first time out. I’ve never once met anyone at one of these events that was unwilling to answer respectful questions.

To find a match near you, check with your local shooting clubs or with the 3-Gun Nation events page to find larger matches. The match listings will tell you what you need to know as a spectator about safety and when to be where so you aren’t in the way. You can also find matches through other shooting sport associations like IDPA. In general, look for 3-Gun or multi-gun matches and find the one closest to you.

Finally, if you can’t go to a match, try watching one online! The video below by the NSSF does a great job of showcasing how stages work, but there’s no way to replace actually going and watching a match.

Step Two: Learn the Rules!

I recommend reading these 3-Gun Nation rules before attending your first match as a spectator but you DEFINITELY need to know all these rules before attending. Most competitions use some variation of these rules, but be sure to read any association or club-specific rules before competing. These rules exist to keep the competitions safe and fair for everyone so you need to respect them.

Step Three: Gear Up!

A handgun shown at a gun range

The gear-intense nature of 3-Gun can seem daunting at first, but you really don’t need that much stuff, at least when you’re starting out.

The three big expenses are the pistol, rifle and shotgun. For a budget setup, you can get a basic for around $1,000 for all three, but if you’re buying all new gear anyway, I recommend getting a Mossberg 500/590, Remington 870, or (my preferred option) a Stoeger M3k for your shotgun, building an AR yourself, or at least assembling a lower and slapping a completed upper on it, and then something like a Ruger SR9 or other similar mid-range, double-stack pistol.

Beyond that, you’ll need chamber flags for all three guns, eye and ear protection, a holster for your pistol that will keep it secure while running and moving around ( I use a Safariland ALS), a pouch to carry shotgun shells in, and ammo for your three firearms. That’s all that’s REALLY required, but you’ll also probably want cases for your long guns, as well as a way to carry mags for your pistol and rifle in something other than your pants pockets.

I strongly recommend something like a Safariland or Bladetech belt rig for this type of stuff as that will help you as you grow and develop as a shooter, but a cheapo chest rig will work too. You’ll want at LEAST four mags for both your pistol and rifle as well.  

You can check out 3-Gun Nation’s Gear 101 article for more information!

Parting Shots

3-Gun is an exciting sport, and there’s never been a better time to get involved. Many manufacturers are supporting the hobby with good, entry-level and budget-friendly firearms and other pieces of gear, and the community of shooters that make up most 3-Gun matches are friendly and welcoming.

What do you think about 3-Gun shooting? Interested in trying it out? Let us hear from you!

Getting started in 3 gun competition shooting


One comment

  1. I like this

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