Time to Sign Up: Breaking Into 3-Gun

By Garrett Boop

If you’ve ever thought about getting into 3-Gun or some kind of action shooting, what are you waiting for?

I know what you’re waiting for, because I hear it all the time from guys: “my gear isn’t ready” or “I want to practice more before my first match.” There’s always a reason to delay. But let me tell you, it doesn’t matter how much you practice or how sporty your gear is.

The fact is, you will never be “ready” for your first match, which is exactly why there’s no point in putting it off. The only real practice for one match is another match, and we all have to start somewhere, sometime. I want you to make this the season you shoot your first match, and today I’m hoping to make that happen.

Learning Experience

My own obsession with 3-Gun was largely an accident. I went from uninterested and knowing almost nothing to teaching introduction to 3-Gun classes myself. So, I know what it’s like to be at the beginning of this process, and I’m here to help you along just like I was helped.

After my wife and I first moved to a new area, I was just looking for a local range to sight in my deer rifle. Several guys at work mentioned a range nearby with a 200-yard rifle berm. It was just what I needed, so I enrolled there as a new member.

It was during my orientation that one of the club officers asked if I had any interest in the shooting sports. Turns out they were holding an introduction to 3-Gun class with a few seats still open. Well, I had my beloved Benelli SBE II turkey shotgun, a Glock 19 and a soon-civilians-won’t-be-able-to-buy AR-15 in my safe. I figured, why not?

It turned out the club officer that had mentioned the class was also the local 3-Gun match director and an instructor for the course. By the end of that first class, I was already hooked. I asked him whether or not I should shoot the major match he was running the following month. “Absolutely! You’ll have a blast!”

He was right. I had an incredible time, I met a bunch of great people, I learned a ton and I became addicted to the great sport of 3-Gun in the process.

I said there’s nothing that can really prepare you for your first match, but taking a class is a great place to start. These classes can help you with the basics and set you on a path to being more prepared for your first match. A lot of clubs are beginning to offer introduction classes, so it’s worth seeing your local ranges offers one.

The Minnesota 3-Gun Group holds introduction and skill builder courses, and 3-Gun pros like Matt Koopikka and some of his fellow Michigan shooters also provide similar instructional opportunities. If you are in the Pennsylvania area, I offer Introduction to 3-Gun and action shooting fundamental classes at the Keystone Shooting Center in Pittsburgh, PA.

Whether you’re lucky enough to have access to an introduction courses or not, don’t let that become another excuse.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and even the biggest names in the sport had a first match of their own. As Dave Hartman, host of the 3Gun Show (another excellent source of 3-Gun and action shooting information) says, “unless you are a hot chick or you are on fire, no one is really paying attention.” Sure, you might set the world on fire, but even if you don’t, the information you learn in your first few matches will be invaluable.

Safety First

It’s easy to worry about shooting well at your first match, but that should not be your biggest priority. The biggest, most important thing to consider when shooting your first match is not winning, but the paramount importance of safety. Competition comes second to safety always.

Shooting guns can be dangerous without a high level of safety precaution. You probably have good gun handling when you’re taking your time at the range by yourself. Being nervous and adrenaline-charged in a new environment while shooting on the clock is very different.

I have found being “extra safe” goes a long way to make people, especially people who do not know you, feel safe around you. This taking your time and asking questions about range safety procedures rather than making assumptions.

Some of the key safety items to remember for every match:

  • “Eyes” and “Ears” – Always have both eye and hearing protection (and a spare set for good measure)
  • Respect a “Cold Range” – Load firearms only under a Range Officer's direction, and keep your concealed carry gun stowed safely off your person
  • Keep Safe Areas safe – At safe areas/tables, you can holster your pistol from your bag and work on your firearms, but no ammo is permitted
  • Use your chamber flags – These devices are placed in the action of your long guns to show they are clear and unloaded
  • Know and avoid DQ offenses – A shooter can be disqualified (DQ) or removed from a match for major violations to be avoided at all costs:
    • Accidentally discharging (AD) a firearm
    • Negligently discharging (ND) a firearm
    • 180° violation (pointing your firearm in an unsafe direction)
    • Dropping a gun
    • Contacting a trigger when not engaging a target

If you’re nervous about your first match, it’s likely because you’re worried about embarrassing yourself. But remember that no sluggish stage time or string of misses will embarrass you more than being careless about safety.


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