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Three gun competition: winning this game means proficiency with rifle, pistol, & shotgun.

After years of modest growth, three-gun (rifle, shotgun, handgun) competition has become the hottest action shooting sport. When the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) was formed in 1976, its initial emphasis was on handgun competition. There was discussion about practical rifle and shotgun but not much progress. Committees were formed. the practical role of the rifle and shotgun debated. Actually there was a lot more talking than shooting.

There were a few major matches, notably the annual three-gun competition hosted by Soldier of Fortune magazine. Some clubs promoted three-gun enthusiastically, but with these few exceptions, three-gun took a while to catch on at the club level.

The first three-gun match I shot was in 1981. I used a Sako .222, a Mossberg 500 shotgun with a slug barrel, and a stock Colt Gold Cup .45 ACR The problems our club encountered were typical. Our facilities weren't big enough for rifle competition. We had disputes about power floors for major and minor categories, debates about how to score buckshot of various sizes on paper targets.

The biggest obstacle to growth was cost. Through the '80s and early '90s it seemed you had to build a new handgun every year as compensators evolved, new cartridges caught on, high-cap frames and optical sights were introduced (back then there was no such thing as Limited or Production divisions). Maintaining a competitive handgun and keeping it fed was expensive enough without adding two more guns.

By the mid '90s Open class handgun development stabilized, while Limited and Production divisions were introduced. Shooters had the novel experience of actually having money available in the gun budget. Cowboy action competitors were shooting three-gun matches and clearly having a good time.

Incidentally "three-gun" has come to mean matches where just one firearm type is used during a single stage. In "multi-gun" matches shooters may use two or three types in a single stage. The United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) which regulates IPSC competition in the U.S. promotes both types of matches.

Where 10 years ago you had to do some looking to find a three-gun match, today they are everywhere. An outstanding example is the annual DPMS Tri-Gun match, at St. Cloud, Minnesota near the manufacturing facility where DPMS makes high quality AR-type rifles.

The match is also sponsored by Brownells, distributors of gun parts and gunsmithing accessories. The match in August 2004 attracted more than 150 shooters including such superstars as Mike Voigt, Jerry Miculek, Matt Burkett, Jim Clark Jr., Tony Holmes, and Bruce Piatt.

The DPMS match recognizes four equipment divisions. In Open, pretty much anything goes--compensators, optical sights, bipods and shotgun speedloaders. Limited division is for iron sights only, no bipods or shotgun speedloaders. The DPMS match also recognizes a division called Tactical Limited, which permits optical sights on rifles only.

Finally, the "He-Man" (or "Heavy Metal") division requires competitors to use .308-caliber rifles, manually operated 12-gauge shotguns, and .45 ACP handguns and no optical sights.


Handgun action shooting has a long, well-established history. Briefly, you'll need a safe, serviceable pistol or revolver, caliber 9mm Luger or larger, along with a secure holster, spare magazines or speedloaders. Eye and ear protection, of course, is mandatory in all shooting events.


Semiautomatic shotguns are universal in Open, Limited, and Tactical Limited divisions. A big advantage over slide actions is reduced recoil as gas-operated designs soak up a big chunk of recoil.

Remington 1100 and 11-87 shotguns are very popular; logically enough, as the 1100 has proven itself for more than 40 years, with parts and accessories such readily available.

Remington offers the 1100 Competition Master designed to be competition-ready out of the box. Its features include synthetic stock and forearm, extended eight-round magazine, oversized bolt handle, redesigned carrier and release for faster loading, and fiber-optic front sight.

I bought a CM over a year ago and like it very much. It has proven to be reliable, accurate, with amazingly soft recoil (partly due to the remarkable R3 recoil pad). Initially it shot nice groups with rifled slugs, but centered about a foot to the right. I had a Remington service center check it out. When it came back a few weeks later it was shooting right to point of aim.

Benelli shotguns with their extremely fast cycling time and high quality construction are likewise popular. Browning Gold shotguns have a clever speed-loading feature. If the gun is shot empty, with bolt locked back, there's no need to drop a round in the chamber and release the bolt. Simply feed a round into the magazine and it is fed and locked into the chamber. Accessories for the Browning are a bit sparse at present, but a properly set up Gold would be highly competitive.

Winchester catalogs two models of the SX2 shotgun designed for practical shooting, the Mk I and Mk II. I've yet to shoot this model but those I've handled seem very well made and their owners speak highly of them.

Remington may dominate semiauto divisions, but it owns the manually operated division. I've yet to see a slide-action shotgun other than the Remington 870 in practical competition. Decades of hard use in patrol cars has long since uncovered any weaknesses and Remington has been diligent about making improvements where needed. Other slide actions such as the Mossberg 500 and Winchester 1300 should be competitive, but as of now this is "Remington Country."

Incidentally the best deal in custom gunsmithing is the "Remington Steal," offered for the 870 by Wilson/Scattergun Technologies. Pick up an 870 at a gun show; it should be mechanically sound and rust-free, but don't worry if the stock has been gnawed by two generations of bird dogs.

For less than $200 Scattergun Technologies will replace any worn action parts, convert to 3-inch chamber, fit a synthetic stock and forearm, fit the current safety and anti-jam shell feed, replace the magazine spring and follower, Parkerize external metal and anodize the trigger group. At additional cost they can fit a Trak-Lock II ghost ring rear sight or apply their proprietary Armor-Tuff finish.


AR-15 rifles and clones dominate rifle competition. Though the .223 Rein. cartridge is scored minor while .308 Win. is considered major, both score the same with center hits. Most shooters feel the light recoil of the .223 makes it easier to shoot accurately and fast.

Any accurate, reliable .223 or .308 rifle capable of accepting high-capacity magazines, with good sights and a decent trigger, can be competitive. Attend a few matches and you'll see models such as the FN FAL, HK 91 and 93, Armalite, Stoner and M1A.

A properly set up AR, though, is accurate, reliable and durable with parts, accessories and magazines readily available. Competition among manufacturers is tough. DPMS rifles are extremely popular and quality is second to none.

Rifles from JP Enterprises are popular among practical shooters. Several of my club members shoot JP rifles and couldn't be happier with them. Another friend swears by his Wilson UT-15 carbine. It's best to avoid extremes of barrel length or weight. A heavy rifle is slow to maneuver on a speed stage, and ultra lightweight hard to settle down for long-range shots.

Due to range limitations, the longest shots at the Tri-Gun match were 200 yards. Some matches have considerably longer shots and may have "manually operated rifle" divisions for precision bolt-action rifles.

Competition is a good excuse to get your guns working and keep your eye sharp. Many of you have the gear right now to start and, with the elimination of the high-capacity magazine ban, if you don't have the gear, you can get it now.
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Author:Anderson, Dave
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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