When most people think of shooting shotguns they picture skeet, trap or sporting clay shooting, duck hunting, or perhaps even Joe Biden; most people also think of over/unders or other two-round capacity shotguns. It was not until I began competing in 3-Gun competitions that I was introduced to what I call “shotguns on steroids.”
3-Gun requires many rounds to be fired in each stage, so many, in fact, that you not only have the nine rounds in the extended tube magazine to start but you wear a belt with shotgun pouches holding up to 20 or more rounds. One particular national 3 Gun event is the MGM Ironman, where I have had as many as 45 rounds on me between rounds in the gun, on my belt and the gun’s side caddy, and I still needed a buddy to follow me with more rounds just in case. The shotgun needed for this is a semi-auto with an extended tube magazine and be able to handle rapid fire and the variety of calibers forced through it.
When this sport started out in the ‘70s the only shotgun that could accommodate this style of shooting was a law enforcement or military tactical shotgun with lots of upgrades. Tons of work was needed to customize it for competition. On a daily basis, not even aw enforcement professionals put this many rounds through their shotgun at a time. Only in the last five or so years have three popular brand firearm companies made 3-Gun competition specific shotguns you can buy and then use right out of the box, and there still tend to be necessary upgrades or tweaking. You will probably not find one of these kits in your average gun store but that is changing; I have seen a Remington or Mossberg setup at places like Cabela’s.
The shooting forums light up whenever anyone asks about the best shotgun for 3-Gun. Everyone has had good and bad experiences with every brand out there. Every brand still has needed some aftermarket adjustments. The division you compete in and the cost restrictions you may have will determine your choice of shotgun for this game. As the sport has progressed so have the shotguns.
When you change any firearm from a single feed to a semi-auto you automatically add fun factor. Sure you can squeeze off two rounds quickly at passing clay birds with your over/under, but how about squeezing off nine-plus rounds rapid fire at steel plates, stationary or flying clays and moving steel or paper targets? Sounds like a great time to me. Take your shotgun and add a gas-operated system, an eight to 10 round extended tube magazine, oversized bolt release buttons and charging handles and you have a competition gun. Or, how about a 20-round magazine fed semi-auto shotgun or super cool tools that help you load 10 rounds in two to three seconds? Add a red dot optic on top of all of these options and you are no longer playing with Grandpa’s duck hunter. Welcome to my world of shotgun fun.
3 Gun Shotgun Divisions
When you register for a 3-Gun match you have to choose a division to compete in. Depending on the match, there are several divisions to choose from, your division will determine the type of shotgun you use and the type of reloads you get to do.
The most popular division is Tactical Optics (Tac Ops). In Tac Ops the shotgun used is not allowed to have any optic, but extended magazine tubes allowing eight plus one rounds are common. The most common brands of shotguns used in Tac Ops are Benelli, FN USA and Mossberg. Reloads must be done by hand feeding one round at a time in the tube but as quickly as you can. Reload skills can make or break you in this sport. To be competitive reloads should be about one second per round, but to be in the winning class it should be much faster. I have seen eight rounds loaded in five seconds. The art of reloads alone is worth spectating. If you want easy and lightning speed reloads than Open Division may be for you.
The other shotgun option for Open Division is a magazine fed semi-auto shotgun. These get the cool factor award; you have a shotgun that looks like an AK. Pretty much the only brand you see at the matches is the Saiga 12. Magazine options are 12- or 20-round stick magazine, or even a 30-round drum. This is a huge advantage in a match for time. Again, this gun needs a lot of modifications to keep it running through a match. The down side to these is that magazines tend to jam and they are not quick to fix.
There is one drawback to both of these shotgun formats. Heat. In really hot weather the shells expand and become soft. The shells will not feed out of the magazines or the Tecloaders. Keeping the shells in a cooler between stages is key.
Popular Out of the Box 3-Gun Shotguns
Benelli M2 3-Gun
The Benelli brand is the shotgun I see most at matches. The 3G was introduced in 2012; it is a version of an M2 upgraded with bells and whistles for 3-Gun. Right out of the box this set up costs you about 2,500 dollars. One of the most expensive set ups, the 3-Gun upgrades will include things such as a beveled loading port, extended barrel, oversized charging handles, bolt release button, padded butt stock and more.
The most important upgrade, to me, for any shotgun is the filling in of the lifter or shell carrier. Most shotgun lifters have what I call a “devil fork.” When reloading your thumb catches on that spike and rips chunks away. Ask me how I know this.
Through personal experience I know the Benelli 3G performs very well right out of the box. There was no break in period or getting used to certain brands of shells. It ran any brand and weight of ammo through it.
Recently Benelli has discontinued importing the original 3G. It is my understanding the ATF has their reasons. If you see the current edition of the 3G they sell, it is with a shorter mag tube. But look no further! Taran Butler of Taran Tactical Innovations, a sponsored shooter of Benelli, has been upgrading their M1 and M2 shotguns for over ten years. They offer individual and complete package options. You get a complete overhaul with all of the bells & whistles. For around 1,400 dollars, on top of the purchase of the M1 or M2, and TTI will set you up with a championship worthy 3-Gun shotgun. The TTI Custom Benelli is by far the winningest tactical shotgun in the world. Find out more about the Benelli M2 3-Gun at www.benelliusa.com and more about Taran Tactical Innovations at tarantacticalinnovations.com.
FN SLP MK 1 Competition
The MK1 Competition is a modified 3-Gun version of the FN LE SLP MK1. I first found the prototype two years ago in the FN booth at Shot Show; two years later this gun only just was released and you cannot find them anywhere, and I do not think it is because they are so popular they have sold out.
I started with the SLP MK1 and had to do several things to it to get it running without any hiccups. I will say that since I did the upgrades I have not had a single problem and it has been shooting great no matter what ammo I stuff through it. At first it was very picky about brands and weight of shells. I had to have my gunsmith dremel the 3:00 section of the chamber. The rounds kept jamming at that spot. I sealed up the “devil fork” and all is well.
I look forward to trying out the new Competition. I especially hope to see that it has been worth the wait. MSRP is 1,450 dollars if you can find it. Find out more about the FN SLP MK1 at www.fnhusa.com.
Remington Versa Max Competition Tactical
With the help of members of its own shooting team and other 3-Gun competitors, Remington has made a great shotgun with a no-fuss gas system, soft recoil, huge loading port, and extensive adjustability for fit, and of course the feeding port is beveled out and the lifter has been cured of the dreaded fork on its tip.
Last year the length of the lifter was still a bit short which cause some thumbs to be trapped even though they had sealed it up, but Remington assured that would be fixed. One feature I love is the large circular carrier release; my FN SLP does not have this. MSRP on the Remington is about 1,699 dollars. Find out more about the Remington Versa Max Competition Tactical at www.remington.com.
Mossberg 930 JM Pro
JM stands for Jerry Miculek. Mossberg followed his lead on designing an out of the box competition ready shotgun, and a price point under 800 dollars you nearly have a winner. There are still complaints that the lifter fork has to be sealed. Do you sense my theme here about the lifter? I am not kidding when I say it will ruin your day if you do not take the extra step to do this. I can guarantee you that every 3-Gun shooter has or will fix this feature. Find out more about the Mossberg 930 JM Pro at www.mossberg.com.
Not an Out of the Box Shotgun
When you think of Russian guns you think of the AK47, not shotguns, but combine the look of the two and you have the Saiga 12 Shotgun; a very popular shotgun used in the Open Division of 3-Gun, but as is out of the box it is not worthy of showing up to the range. With some major upgrades, though, this gun can perform well.
Speaking of ARs, there is now a shotgun built on an AR platform. These are not seen in matches yet because the magazines built so far only hold five rounds. One such company makes the Akdal MKA. These are a cool idea and look good nonetheless, but I can see that like the Saiga, a lot of work would be needed to make this 3-Gun competition compatible.
By Anette Wachter. Originally published in the August 2014 issue of GunUp the Magazine.