The Basics of 3-Gun

Kalani Laker (left) and Daniel Horner go head-to-head in a 3-Gun Nation Shoot-off.
Kalani Laker (left) and Daniel Horner go head-to-head in a 3-Gun Nation Shoot-off.

 

Getting into Multi-Gun Competition can be daunting. There are more terms and nomenclature used in 3-Gun than almost any other shooting sport. What do they mean: “TacOps”, “Heavy Metal” or any other of dozens of things involved the sport? Well, by the end of this article, you should have a good understanding of the basics of equipment divisions.

Got Glock? This model 34 is a great choice for TacOps and Tac Irons.
Got Glock? This model 34 is a great choice for TacOps and Tac Irons.

 

Equipment Divisions

One thing to remember about 3-Gun is that since there is no national governing body that controls the rules, each match has its own set that it goes by. Most of them have become pretty well standardized over the past several years, but it’s always important to understand the rules of the match you are heading to that weekend. Just recently, a top-level competitor was disqualified at the end of the match when it was discovered his equipment was illegal for his division at that particular match (at which, his score would have earned him the national title).

Tactical Optics/Tactical/ Tactical Scope

Call it what you will, Tactical Optics Division (or TacOps) is by far the most popular division. It always has the most shooters, the highest number of Pro’s and the best prizes of any other. Rules are pretty straightforward and I’d be willing to bet quite a few people has suitable guns already waiting in their safe.

Rifle:

Probably about 99.99% of competitors use an AR-15 pattern rifle, chambered for .223 or 5.56 in TacOps. They are simple, plentiful, accurate and with a little bit of mechanical aptitude and basic tools, very easy to modify to your liking. TacOps allows for the use of a single optical sight on your rifle. Most people choose a low-power variable, such as the Vortex Razor HD 1-6x. This allows you the advantages of a red-dot up close, while being able to dial up the magnification for long range. Most matches will also allow the use of a red-dot or flip-over magnifier combo, provided that the magnifier doesn’t contain a reticule by itself. Compensators are allowed, but generally limited to a 1-inch diameter and 3-inch in length. Rifle gear to leave at home? Bi-pods and drum magazines are almost universally prohibited in this division.

Shotgun:

The vast majority of competitors use a semi-auto, 12 gauge that holds at least 8, but up to 12 shells in the tube. Benelli M2, Mossberg 930 and FN SLP are all popular choices and mostly have barrels in the 21-24” range. Most matches will let you start with 8-9 rounds in the gun and then load to full capacity after the start signal if you like, though some matches do limit you to 8 rounds in the tube.

Generally, birdshot is the name of the game, and you should look for #7 ½ shot at around 1250 FPS. Always check the match website to see if you need to bring slugs, buckshot or both. Be prepared though, some matches call for slug shots out to 125 yards, so it’s best to have some kind of low-profile Express style sights buried into your vent-rib.

Keeping the shotgun loaded up is always the hardest part, but TacOps does not allow for the use of box magazine shotguns (like the Saiga or AKA M1919), or speed sticks from Tecloader. Belt caddies or a “Load 2” system from a company like Carbon Arms are the way to go for TacOps.

Pistol:

Anybody have a striker fired, polymer-framed 9mm sitting in their safe? Thought so. That style of pistol is by far the most popular for TacOps. Easy to use, affordable and easy to work on are the reasons why. Grab a few extra mags, a 140MM magazine extension so you can run 22 to 23 rounds like the big boys and you’re ready to go. Since there isn’t a power factor requirement for this division at any match (at least that I’m aware of), shooting .40 or .45 will simply put you at a disadvantage in both recoil and round count.

Limited/Tactical Irons

Probably the most basic division there is. A place where a lot of people start, and then come back to for the challenge.

Caspian’s Bruce Piatt rounds a barricade with his pistol.
Caspian’s Bruce Piatt rounds a barricade with his pistol.

 

Rifle:

Rules at most matches allow for the use of standard iron sights or a non-magnifying optic such as an Aimpoint T-1 Micro and other red-dots on your rifle. Hitting targets past 300 yards with no magnification is a huge challenge, and that’s why some shooters will come back to shooting this division after trying some others. Having shot Tac Irons for a season myself, I can say that there is definitely a sense of satisfaction coming off of the long range stage with all your hits.

Shotgun:

Same as TacOps.

Pistol:

Same as TacOps.

Open:

“I have a dream!” Well, I think that’s what they said when the equipment that now falls into Open division. If you can drag it up to the line, you can pretty much use it.

Kelly Raglin competes in Open Division to take advantage of dual optics on his rifle.
Kelly Raglin competes in Open Division to take advantage of dual optics on his rifle.

 

Rifle:

All those pesky rules for optics and things in TacOps? Gone. Shooters can use both a variable power scope with a red-dot on an angle mount, bi-pods, drum magazines and a muzzle break that makes the Barrett 50 Delta design look cheesy.

Shotgun:

Optics are now also allowed on the shotgun, and most people stick with a red-dot. Also gone are the capacity limits and prohibition against magazine fed guns and speed loaders. I’ve seen a 16-round straight tube, a 28-round XRAIL and 20-round drum magazine Saiga all on the rack ready-to-go depending on the user’s choice. Tube-fed guns are still the popular choice, but as the reliability of the magazine-fed guns increases, so does the number of shooters using them.

Pistol:

Probably one of the biggest differences in Open is the pistol. Instead of being limited to iron sights and 140mm long magazines, you can now use red-dot sights and longer magazines, as well as recoil compensators.

Definitely not for the faint of heart (or wallet), Open is the fastest and most advanced division there is.

Heavy Tactical/Heavy Metal Optics

Now we come to the divisions that have the most rule differences as you move across the country. The Heavy divisions are the place to be if you like big bullets!

Rifle:

.308 Win is pretty much the minimum caliber you may fire for Heavy Tactical. Other than that, the rules are generally pretty similar to TacOps when it comes to optics and other equipment. Most matches will limit you to 20 rounds in the magazine, which allows platforms like the SCAR-H, M1A and FAL to stay on even footing with the AR platform.

Shotgun:

Be sure to check the match rules! Some venues let you stick with the same semi-auto as TacOps, others might limit you to an 8-shot pump action gun.

Pistol:

Same with the shotgun. Sometimes you can shoot your double-stack 9mm, other times you might have to use a single-stack .45, still others might require a minimum power factor of 165 like USPSA.

Scott McGregor of FMG Publications competed in TacOps at the 2012 Texas Multigun. (Notice the offset iron sights.)
Scott McGregor of FMG Publications competed in TacOps at the 2012 Texas Multigun. (Notice the offset iron sights.)

 

He Man/ Heavy Metal

 A division with rules all to itself! This is really where you have to read each rulebook carefully to determine what is legal where and what is expected of you.

Rifle:

Again, you’ll need a rifle in .308, though now you’re limited to iron sights only, with very few matches allowing a red-dot or similar optic.

Shotgun:

Get ready to pump it up! You’ll definitely need a solid 12 gauge pump shotgun to shoot He Man.

Pistol:

1911’s are an extremely popular choice for He Man, since you are almost always restricted to an 8-10 shot 45 pistol.

Hopefully now you have a good idea what sort of guns you need to get started in your division of choice, whether it be full-on race gear for Open, or the classic choices in Heavy Metal. Until next time, Train To Triumph!

By BJ Norris. Originally published in the June 2013 issue of GunUp the Magazine.

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