What is 3-Gun? - An Intro for Beginners

What is 3-Gun? - An Intro for Beginners

Posted by Alice Jones Webb on Jul 8th 2020

3-Gun is one of the fastest-growing shooting sports in the United States. If you’re new to the world of shooting, you may have heard the term “3-Gun” and are wondering what all the fuss is about. If you aren’t familiar with the sport, we’re here to walk you through the basics of the fast-paced, action-packed world of 3-Gun competition.

What is 3-Gun?

The name “3-Gun” should probably give it away. 3-Gun competitors use three different firearms (a rifle, shotgun, and pistol) to complete a set of shooting courses. The courses are divided into stages, with shooters engaging targets at varying distances (1 yard to 600 yards) while moving around and through obstacles. Obstacles may include barrels, walls, and windows. Junk cars also make appearances on 3-Gun courses. These obstacles often cause 3-Gun courses to resemble junkyards, construction sites, or apocalyptic cities.

3-Gun targets may be clay pigeons, cardboard silhouettes, or steel targets. Courses include static targets, as well as targets that pop up, spin, or swing, making accurate shooting a challenge. The course is designed to simulate combat or self-defense situations. Some courses even include zombies.

3-Gun is basically an obstacle course with firearms. The shooter who hits the most targets in the least amount of time wins.

What You Need

Getting started in 3-Gun can be a bit intimidating, especially for new shooters. However, if you’re a shooter with some experience under your belt, you probably already have most of the equipment you need to get started.

Here is the basic equipment you'll need to run a 3-Gun course.

● Rifle - Most 3-Gun competitors run the course with a modern sporting rifle chambered in .223/5.56. AR-15 platform weapons really shine on the 3-Gun course.

● Shotgun - Any pump or semi-automatic shotgun of 20-gauge or larger will work. For serious competition, you will want a model with an extended magazine tube and interchangeable choke tubes. In most matches, you’ll be shooting both slugs and shotshells.

● Pistol - 3-Gun shooters typically use 9mm semi-autos. While you can use a revolver, a semi-auto will give you a major advantage. You will need to reload your handgun during competition, and swapping magazines is a lot faster than loading a revolver.

● A Quality Holster - You’ll need a good holster that completely covers the trigger guard. Drop a firearm on the course, and you’ll be immediately disqualified, so choose your holster wisely.

● Safety Equipment - Eye and ear pro are mandatory on the course.

● Extra Ammo and Magazines - You’ll need loaded magazines for both your rifle and pistol, plus extra shotshells for your shotgun. You’ll also need a way to carry them that allows quick and easy access. Many shooters choose to carry spare shotshells in a bandolier to keep them readily available.

Picking the Right Class

3-Gun competitions are broken down into classes and divisions. Classes and divisions are designed to separate shooters by age, gender, and equipment in an effort to help level the playing field.


3-Gun divisions are similar to the divisions in most other shooting sports. Men will typically compete against men, while women compete in their own separate division. Age may also play into how the competition is divided. Some 3-Gun events may feature special divisions for junior or senior shooters.


The specific classes offered at each 3-Gun event will vary depending on sponsors and the course director. However, here is a general breakdown of the classes you can expect to find. The names may differ, but the limitations and requirements are fairly consistent.

Factory - The Factory Class is perfect for beginners. Shooters can use one unmagnified optic on their rifle (red dot sights are perfect). Optics are not permitted on pistols or shotguns. This class may also have limitations on magazine capacity.

Tactical - The most popular 3-Gun class, this one also has the toughest competition. The Tactical class allows you to use one magnified optic on your rifle.

Unlimited (or Open) - In this class, shooters can use any legal modification to customize their weapons for competition. Unlimited allows shooters to use multiple optics and extended magazine tubes.

Heavy Metal - This exclusive class is designed for heavy hitters and features larger calibers. Minimum requirements are typically .308 caliber rifles or larger, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45 ACP pistols or larger. Optics are usually prohibited in the Heavy Metal class.

Preparing for Your First Shoot

If running your shooting skills through a fast-paced 3-Gun course strikes your fancy, you aren’t alone. However, before you jump in with both feet, it’s a good idea to watch a match or two. If you can’t find a match in your area, you can watch 3-Gun Nation (the series previously ran on the Sportsman’s Channel, but you can still watch episodes on YouTube) to get an idea of what 3-Gun is all about. Although the series focuses on the pros, it also spotlights amateurs in all stages of competition.

3-Gun competition will test the limits of your shooting ability. To prepare for your first event, you will want practice more than static shooting. Practice moving and shooting. You should also get some experience engaging moving targets with all three of your weapons. Since missed targets will negatively affect your score, focus on smooth shooting rather than speed. A slow, clean pace will score better than one that is fast and sloppy.

Also, practice reloading your shotgun. While a magazine swap for your pistol or rifle is a relatively basic skill, reloading a shotgun can be tricky, especially under pressure. Sometimes winners in 3-Gun are determined by who can reload the fastest.

Summing It Up

3-Gun is a great way to make friends and hone your shooting skills at the same time. Fortunately for newbies, 3-Gunners are a friendly sort and most are more than willing to answer questions. Matches focus on fun as much as competition, so egos are generally kept in check to ensure everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience.