The three gun shooting discipline was brought to the attention of the general public in grand Hollywood style by Keanu Reeves character John Wick but the slick use of shotgun, rifle and pistol isn’t just an action film gimmick it’s a real shooting discipline;
Table of Contents
- What is 3-Gun?
- Classes and Divisions
- Choosing Your Best 3 Gun Scope on the Market
- The History of Practical Shooting
- Iron Sights
- The Verdict
What is 3-Gun?
3-gun shooting isn’t your standard static paper punching, it’s action packed, fast paced and the perfect shooting discipline for the 21st Century. It certainly couldn’t be described as boring and the fast paced action is even being used to influence military training with the Marine action shooting team being formed in 2005 and performing well in the 3 gun world championships and justifying their firearms training techniques with excellent competition performances.
Ultimately the name sums it up though. 3-gun shooting involves three guns; pistol, rifle and shotgun. The courses of fire are timed and targets range from paper to steel and even clay pigeons, there may also be ‘no-shoot’ targets to keep you on your toes and you could rack up penalty points for shooting them.
To add even more challenge to the discipline the courses of fire are effectively random and you are unlikely to ever shoot to courses which are alike. The design of a course of fire is entirely at the discretion of the course builder and might involve targets from just a few meters to six or eight hundred meters.
As well as shooting with three difference weapons at a variety of ranges, you will be shooting from dynamic positions potentially from behind cover, supported, standing, prone or on the run.
The IPSC administers the oldest of the multi-gun competitions but these are all shot without having to transition to different firearms, part of the fascination with the modern three gun discipline is the need to transition to different firearms and replicate combat scenarios.
One of the reasons that there are so many different practical shooting organisation and in particular for the formation of the IDPA was growing dissatisfaction with the IPSC and the need to use specialist equipment to stay competitive, to combat this the USPSA runs competitions in a range of divisions imposing limits on equipment and modifications to equipment to ensure a level playing field and the enjoyment of competitors who may want to compete with more traditional equipment.
3-gun shooting is not a simple, single discipline. Within the scope of 3-gun shooting there are difference classes and divisions, just as most shooting disciplines have a range of rule books so does 3-gun, remember as the layout of any single competition and the course of fire is determined by the course designer and will be unique the rules and equipment specifications for each division may also be unique to a specific competition.
Classes and Divisions
This division places limits on the equipment used and is often the most popular for beginners or hobbyists who may not have the budget or the experience to invest in more equipment.
Typical limitations might include capacity restrictions for pistol or shotgun magazines, the prohibition of optic sights on shotguns or handguns and a limit magnified optics on the rifle.
These limitations may be unique to a course of fire but will allow everyone to compete at the same level without having to break the bank for specialist equipment to be competitive.
The tactical division will mimic the requirements of the average self-defense scenario. There may be very few differences between the limited division and tactical but you will often be permitted a magnified optic on your rifle.
It’s in the name isn’t it; heavy metal is for larger calibres so generally a minimum calibre of 7.62×51mm (.308 Winchester) or larger for the rifle, you may also be restricted to iron sights only.
Shotguns will need to be a minimum of a 12-gauge and you may be limited to a pump action instead of a semi-auto. Your handgun will need to be chambered for .45 ACP or larger with no optic and a limited magazine capacity.
The open division is for the very competitive shooters who might have spent considerable money on modifying and enhancing their weapons. Without equipment restrictions shotguns for example could be modified to have long magazine extension tubes that hold more rounds, and optics were also allowed.
Unrestricted options for optics and modifications to rifles and handguns were all allowed and really the only limit to your modifications is your budget.
Choosing Your Best 3 Gun Scope on the Market
Because of the range of targets you might encounter in a three gun competition and the variety of ranges you need to shoot at you need to choose a scope for the rifle you will use wisely.
Remember you might have to shoot targets from just a few yards to several hundred and you won’t necessarily know beforehand what those ranges will be so you will need to choose something versatile and that can be used accurately and quickly at different ranges.
Also bear in mind that your choice of scope might be limited by the division you enter; for example in some cases you might not be allowed to use an optic with any magnification. For that reason as well as the fact that on some occasions sights such as a simple red dot or reflex sight might be the best choice for fast close range shooting you may find yourself using a sight which isn’t strictly speaking a scope but there will be options here that will fit your needs whatever type of targets you are shooting.
1 Vortex Optics 3X Prism Scope
The Vortex Spitfire is a compact scope with fairly low magnification and a reticle designed specifically for the 5.56x45mm cartridge, probably the most popular rifle cartridge for practical rifle shooting including in three gun disciplines.
The purpose designed reticle makes allowing for the necessary holdover at ranges up to 500 meters very easy and fast, and when speed counts in a three gun competition you will be grateful of this feature. The illuminated reticle makes target acquisition fast and can be adjusted depending on the light conditions.
At a little under $400 this scope represents excellent value for money and an optic in the 1-4x magnification range which is a perfect middle ground for close to mid-range shooting.
2 Sightmark Wolverine FSR Reflex Sight
The lightweight construction of the Sightmark Wolverine makes it an excellent choice for three gun competitions, it was designed specifically for the ar-15 platform and offers only 1x magnification.
This means that it will qualify for use in limited disciplines where magnified optics might be prohibited. At well under $300 it’s a great choice for the budget conscious.
This fully enclosed reflex sight is also more robust than many other reflex sights and you might be thankful for this durability as you race around the three gun course at top speed.
3 BARSKA 1-4X28 IR Scope
I have used Barska products for almost a decade now and have always been very happy with them. They are light weight, strong and reliable.
This 1-4x scope offers adjustable magnification suitable for slighter longer range shots without being so powerful that it makes high speed close range shooting difficult. The illuminated reticle helps with fast target acquisition and can be adjusted from red to green for a clear sight picture in any light conditions. Additionally the 28mm objective lens isn’t so wide that using the scope will obscure the rest of the course of fire.
This style of scope will require a separate scope mount unlike some of the other styles you will see here which have an integral mount. Barska provide a suitable mount along with the scope.
4 Burris 300217 Prism Sight
A strong offering from Burris in the same vein as the Vortex Spitfire. With plenty of picatinny rails for additional accessories if the division you are entering allows them and if you think they will help.
Do be aware with this model and many others with reticles specifically designed for a certain calibre that you must use the appropriate optic for the calibre. This model is suitable for the 5.56x45 cartridge in 55gr M193 and 62gr M855 NATO loads and the 7.62x51 mm NATO in 147 and 168 gr.
Many of the other reticles available in other scopes here are the same so you will need to ensure you choose something that matches the calibre of your rifle and the load you are using.
5 Trijicon ACOG 4x32
Because three gun competitions ultimately replicate combat style practical shooting you can’t shop for scopes for three gun competitions without at least considering a Trijicon ACOG, they have become a staple sighting option on military rifles and are very robust and battle proven.
This particular model not only gives you a 4x32 optic with adjustable illuminated reticle, and several reticle options, but also comes with an attached reflex sight mounted on top of the scope. This gives you the option to use the scope for precise shooting and the reflex sight for closer range targets.
The Trijicon is not a low price item though and this model retails at round the $1000 mark but it is true quality and very, very robust. Certainly more robust than most other options. Durability is something you really do have to consider for your tactical rifle and while you may not subject your competition rifle to the same rigours and it might undergo in military or law enforcement use it still needs to be as tough as possible.
6 Burris Fastfire III
Some classes of three gun shooting allow you to use optics on your shotgun and pistol as well as your rifle and if you feel this might be an advantage the Burris fastfire is something you could consider for each of your weapons. Suitable for use on a pistol shotgun or rifle for close range shooting this is truly a versatile option.
As you purchase your kit and start to practice and prepare to compete in three gun competitions it might be worth considering where the discipline of 3 gun competition shooting and other practical shooting disciplines originate.
The History of Practical Shooting
Modern practical shooting only really started in the 1950’s with a few key influencers: John ‘Jeff’ Copper a former US Marine and the founder of the American Pistol Institute, possibly one of the most influential people in modern American practical shooting and firearms training.
Ray Chapman, another former Marine, police officer and gold medal winner in the first International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) Handgun World Shoot in 1975, and silver medallist in 1976.
Thell Reed, an exhibition shooter who had earned his reputation as a teenager competing in Jeff Cooper’s ‘Leatherslaps’ western style shooting competitions and was well known as having the fastest draw of all is peers, he later trained actors in the use of firearms and consulted on movie productions.
Elden Carl, John Plahn and Jack Weaver, a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff and originator of the ‘Weaver’ shooting stance. Before the weaver stance became popular most hand gun shooting was done with one hand and at the time it was so innovative and effective that it became a major feature of competitions and would later become the official shooting stance taught to the FBI.
Five of the most famous shooters from the beginning of practical shooting in California during the late Fifties. Left to right: Ray Chapman, Elden Carl, Thell Reed, Jeff Cooper and Jack Weaver. (The sixth "Combat Master", John Plahn, is missing from the picture)
The importance of a good stance in shooting can’t be underestimated and it’s thanks to these early pioneers of practical shooting that we have many of the techniques that we now take for granted.
The weaver stance is still popular but you will see that most people competing in three-gun competitions use an isosceles stance now to combat some the weaknesses of the Weaver grip; the isometric tension placed on the gun with one locked arm and one slightly bent supporting it in the weaver stance can have a tendency to allow the gun to pull towards the bent arm under recoil whereas the isosceles grip does not have this problem.
The isosceles stance is so named because from above the arms and body form an isosceles triangle with the arms locked rather than bent and the supporting hand wrapped around the dominant hand.
Not only do we have a lot to thanks these early pioneers of competitive practical shooting for in terms of the techniques and equipment we now use but they were so proficient that they became known as ‘the combat masters’ not only because the style of shooting they were modelling and promoting was largely aimed at practical and self-defence purposes but because their experience and skills meant that they between them they would almost always take the top six places in any competition.
Some of the earliest practical shooting competitions were western style quick draw competitions known as leather slap and were heavily influenced by the American public’s fascination with TV and film westerns.
More practical shooting followed closely on the footsteps of the leather slaps and included modern techniques, the Bear Valley Gunslingers, a shooting club based at Big Bear Lake in California, were influential in the modernising of these competitions.
By 1976 the term practical shooting had been coined and a group of enthusiasts from all over the world met and formed the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC). Other organisations followed; the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) in 1984 and the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) in 1996.
Since the three gun competitions became a part of the practical shooting scene during the 1980’s similar divisions have existed for those competitions and practical shooting has just grown in popularity ever since. The popularity of target sports in general and particularly this style of tactical shooting is growing and is even enjoying a resurgence in the UK where legislation bans most pistols and semi-automatic centrefire rifles, instead of standard centrefire calibre AR’s the UK based competitions are shot with semi-automatic .22lr AR’s and pistol’s, again chambered in .22lr, which must have an overall length of 24 inches, it makes it a little difference from the 3-gun competition scene in the USA but is a great way for people to compete in shooting in the UK which has some of the strictest gun laws in the world.
When considering the history of the three gun discipline it’s worth thinking about some of the older fashioned equipment used by competitors in the past and also remembering that certain classes of competition might prohibit the use of optics for certain weapons. While an ‘open’ competition might see people using reflex sights on pistol and shotgun and a larger scope on their rifle other classes might restricts you to iron sights for all three.
Many weapons nowadays don’t come with iron sights as standard due to the popularity of optical sights and moderators making the fitting of iron sights unnecessary and sometimes inconvenient.
However choosing a weapon with iron sights or being able to fit some aftermarket ones might be necessary if you want to compete in classes that do not allow optics or just to practice a more traditional form of shooting.
I strongly believe that everyone should learn to shoot with iron sights before graduating on to optics and am always a little concerned if I head out with a rifle that doesn’t have iron sights about what might happen if I break the scope, with no iron sights that would be the end of a days shooting at least if there are iron sights on my rifle I can still enjoy a day’s shooting or hunting without having to quit to fit a new optic.
These Magpul iron sights will fit to any picatinny rail and can be folded down or flipped up for use and provide a rugged alternative to optics where they might not be allowed.
With so many open and optic sights on the market you may find that you spend as much time choosing your kit as you do shooting but remember three gun shooting is meant to be fun and with any of these best 3 gun scope you’ll have a great time on the range. Enjoy it!!