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3-Gun Information

Getting started with 3-gun competition

Practical shooting is a sport in which competitors are required to combine accuracy, speed, and power to successfully complete may different types of shooting problems. 3-Gun competitors solve these problems with three different types of weapons. Competitors use semi automatic rifles, shotguns (typically 12 gauge or 20 gauge), and semi-automatic centerfire handguns in larger calibers (9mm and up), and shoot full power loads. Handguns are carried in belt holsters, and accompanied by spare magazines or speedloaders in pouches also attached to the belt.

Unlike bullseye, skeet, or hunter's pistol, 3-Gun practical shooting matches are different every time, requiring competitors to be diverse in their training. On any given stage, a shooter may be required to shoot targets at distances varying from 2 yards to 300 yards, or further. Sometimes the targets are paper, sometimes they are steel.  Some shotgun targets are engaged with small shot loads, others with slugs. Often "no-shoot" targets which incur a penalty when hit, are placed near normal "shoot" targets. Realistic props are used to simulate a scenario that the shooter must complete.

Practical shooting competition is what you want to make of it. Some competitors emphasize the practical aspect, using their normal "carry" gun to develop their self-defense skills and test their equipment in realistic situations. Other competitors emphasize the game element of the competition, using equipment they acknowledge lacks practical use, but which improves their ability to generate high scores and low times. Each competitor must decide how they want to approach the match.

Competitors also approach their matches with different attitudes. For some, the match is part monthly practice, part social occasion. They enjoy the challenge, the fun and social aspects of the sport, and don't take things too seriously. At the other end are the athletes, the serious competitors.

The following are the firearms used in 3-Gun competition and normally seen at Linea de Fuego 3-Gun matches. Finally, suggestions for the minimum equipment that a new competitor coming to his/her first LdF 3-Gun match should bring. All firearms must be safe and serviceable, as determined by the Range Officers. They are subject to inspection at any time and will be withdrawn from the match if deemed unsafe.


For the rifle stages of a 3-Gun match, the competitor must use a center fire rifle. From a practical point of view, the rifle should be a semi-automatic weapon that uses a detachable magazine, preferably with magazines having a capacity of at least 10 rounds. We have had an occasional entrant who used a rifle that requires stripper clips (as do many SKS imports), but the reload times put them at a significant disadvantage. The most common rifles seen at matches include:

  • AR-15 (in its many configurations, but mainly in .223)
  • Ruger Mini-14 (in .223)
  • M1 Carbine (in .30 carbine)
  • SKS, AK-47 (in 7.62x39)
  • Marlin CAMP-9 Carbine (in 9mm)
  • M1A .308 Caliber
  • AR10-DPMS .308 Caliber Variants

Far and away, the AR-15 is the rifle of choice at our matches. There is a split of opinion as to whether it is better to use the lightweight model, making it easier to move from shooting position to shooting position, or the heavier full-sized models, which have less recoil and reduce the target reacquisition time.

Some competitors use some sort of optical site. One problem with using too much magnification at the shorter ranges is that the field of view becomes so narrow that it is easy to lose ones place in large arrays of closely placed targets.

Some competitors mount a zoom scope on the top for long range targets and hang a red-dot off the side for the short range field courses. Another common modification is to replace the standard muzzle brake with an effective compensator. This appears to better dampen the recoil and improve the target reacquisition times. Some competitors are effectively double tapping (on fully exposed targets) out to 40 yards.

Some competitors are beginning to attach magazine holders, such as the unit called REDIMAG (from Boonie Packer Products) as seen in the Dillon Blue Press.  This places the spare magazine right next to the one being used, making the time necessary to reload quicker because the second magazine doesn't have to move as far (so the users of this device say).  Another alternative is a bracket that clips two magazines together.  The disadvantage of these devices is that, at least initially, you have to carry weight of two full magazines and that makes the rifle a little harder (and probably slower) to handle, especially for a smaller competitor.



3-Gun Match

For the shotgun stages of a 3-Gun match, the competitor must use a common shotgun. 12 gauge and 20 gauge are the most common and 20 gauge is the smallest allowed.

Most competitors use a semi-automatic or pump action shotgun. A good shotgunner with a pumpgun can shoot times that are competitive with the semi-autos, but the autoloaders definitely have an edge, especially for someone who doesn't have a lot of pumpgun experience.

Magazine capacity can be a significant factor on some field courses. The more rounds you can have in your gun initially, the fewer rounds you have to load along the way. Remember when magazine capacity is specified for a shotgun, the number includes the round in the chamber. Therefore, a "seven-round" magazine extension means the magazine holds six rounds with one in the chamber for seven. Magazine extensions are relatively inexpensive add-ons for most common shotguns.

Another way to reduce the reloading time with the shotgun is to install a "speedloader" device, such as the TECLOADER. This system includes a bracket that mounts at the bottom of the receiver and plastic tubes that hold four 2 3/4" rounds each. To feed the four rounds into the gun's magazine, the open end of the tube is aligned with the magazine feed by pressing the plastic ears on the end of the tube against the bracket mounted on the gun. A handle attached to a piston like mechanism is pushed, forcing the four rounds into the magazine in a single stroke. Four rounds can be loaded in less than two seconds. This is considerably faster than feeding rounds individually by hand. One problem with the speedloader system is that the plunger must be pushed straight down the length of the tube. If, in the excitement of the competition, the plunger is twisted slightly or its handle base pushed away from the tube, the entire piston assembly can be forced out of its track and it stops feeding rounds.  The common fix to prevent the piston from twisting out of its track is to insert a length of half-inch dowel in the back side of the piston that extends back through the hole at the "closed end" of the tube. This dowel prevents the piston plunger from losing alignment with the length of the tube.

The most common shotguns seen at LdF 3-Gun matches are relatively inexpensive autoloaders such as the Remington 1100. These usually have magazine extensions and devices that ease the loading process, such as the EASYLOADER. Several competitors are using the autoloading Benelli M1S90.

Although I have heard that optic sights are catching on at the national level of competition, competitors at LdF matches generally use the standard sights.

A few competitors are also adding compensators to their shotguns. Although these devices are expensive, they install easily in barrels that are threaded to receive choke tubes. Some competitors are also experimenting with "porting" (drilling holes at the top of the barrel near the muzzle) their shotguns.

Most targets for shotgun stages are steel: Pepper Poppers, US Popper, and various size round or square plates. These targets are always engaged with lead shot. Most competitors use #7 1/2 or #8 birdshot, with a few going as large as #4. Stages may also include some IPSC cardboard targets that are engaged with slugs.



For the pistol stages of a 3-Gun match, the competitor must use a centerfire pistol that is at least 9mm (semi-auto) in caliber. The higher capacity and ability to support much faster reloads makes semi-automatic pistols the preference of most competitors. The most popular pistols used at the LdF 3-Gun matches include the venerable Government model (made by Colt, Springfield, Armory, and others) in .45 ACP, "wide body" versions of the Government Model in .38 Super and 9x21/23/25 (made by Para-Ordinance, STI, and others), Glock (in .45 and .40), and a variety of 9mm manufacturers (including Glock, Beretta, Smith &Wesson, Ruger, etc.).

Competitors usually use the same pistol that they use in regular IPSC pistol-only matches, where LdF competitors compete in the Limited category. Therefore, many 3-Gun competitors use a relatively stock pistol, devoid of compensators and optical sights.


Each competitor must have a suitable holster for their handgun.

LdF Local Open/Limited Divisions

Linea de Fuego will offer competition matches in four divisions, Limited, Tactical, Open, and Heavy Metal at all club matches.

Each competitor must declare his/her division at the time of event registration, prior to beginning competition. A competitor may legitimately compete in the LIMITED division only if all three of his/her weapons (rifle, shotgun, and pistol) qualify as LIMITED division according to the constraints below. A competitor with LIMITED division weapons may choose to compete in the OPEN division. Failure of a competitor to properly register in the LIMITED division will result in the competitor being considered in the OPEN division for that match.

GENERAL DEFINITION, LIMITED GUNS: Any firearm commercially produced in quantities for sale to the general public. Prototype firearms are specifically not allowed.

  • No changes in caliber from the factory standard are permitted
  • Firearms with custom or factory installed electrical sights, optical sights, porting of barrels, or compensators are specifically not allowed
  • Internal modifications to improve accuracy, reliability and function are allowed.  For example, replacement barrels, spherical bushings are specifically allowed
  • Specifically allowed are changes of stocks on long guns, including the addition of pistol grip or folding stocks

LIMITED RIFLES: The following modifications are specifically prohibited in the LIMITED division:

  • The addition of any electrical sight or optical sight, whether magnified or not
  • The use of any aftermarket compensator device, including porting the barrel.  However, factory installed flash suppressors are specifically permitted
  • The use of any magazine holding devices that attach spare magazines to the rifle or join two magazines together
  • The use of any bipods

LIMITED SHOTGUNS: The following modifications are specifically prohibited in the LIMITED division:

  • The addition of any electrical sight or optical sight, whether magnified or not
  • The use of any aftermarket compensator device, including porting the barrel
  • The addition of any magazine tube extensions greater than (10) rounds (standard 2/3/4 inch), regardless of the manufacturer's standard capacities.
  • "Speedloader" type devices, such as the TECLOADER, which allow the insertion of multiple rounds into the magazine in a single motion.

LIMITED HANDGUNS: The restrictions on LIMITED division handguns are exactly as specified by the USPSA in Paragraph US 2.12 LIMITED DIVISION of the current edition of the Practical Shooting Handbook of the USPSA (also known as the "rulebook").


Your First Match Needs

When you come out to your first match, you will need to bring along a minimum contingent of equipment. Don't go overboard initially. Your first match equipment should include:


  • A rifle that qualifies for competition.
  • A soft or hard rifle case. When you first arrive at our range, your rifle must be encased!
  • At least 3 30-round magazines, or the equivalent in lower capacity magazines. Our rifle stages can require as many as 60 rounds. If you need to take any extra shots, you're into a third magazine. You probably want to carry at least one spare in case you have a problem during the run -- it's easier to just drop the magazine and stick in a new one.
  • Some way to carry around your extra magazines. Various types of inexpensive magazine pouches are available from a number of sources, although you may be able to just stick it in your belt or pocket for your first match, but you may have to go prone and get up again.
  • At least 100 rounds of ammunition. If you need extra shots, better have enough ammunition.  If you have a "range malfunction" during your run and need to "reshoot", you'd better have enough ammunition to reshoot the entire course. There's no point in cutting too close on the amount of ammunition you bring, you can always use the excess at the next match.


  • A shotgun that qualifies for competition.
  • A soft or hard shotgun case. When you first arrive at our range, your shotgun must be encased!
  • At least 50 rounds of lead shot, size #4 or smaller (i.e., #6, #7 1/2, #8, etc.). In addition, we sometimes require slugs on certain stages. Some way to carry extra rounds during the running of the course. This could include holders that attach to your belt; a pouch (like a "fanny pack") that goes around your waist; special shotgun ammunition belts with elastic loops to hold individual rounds, which goes around your waist or is worn as a bandoleer over one shoulder, etc. If you don't have one, you can surely borrow something from someone on your squad.


  • Your handgun, a semi-automatic pistol in at least 9mm (no .380 or smaller)
  • A holster that attaches to your belt, completely covers the trigger area of your handgun, and keeps the muzzle of the holstered handgun pointed downward in to a "zone" that is within 1 meter of the wearer. Inexpensive nylon holsters (such as those made by "Uncle Mike") are fine, but if it has a snap closure, you must snap it closed to start your run.
  • At least four magazines. It is not unusual for a stage to require one to three mandatory magazine changes. A single stage may require 35-40 rounds, so even without mandatory changes, you may use three or more magazines in the execution of a stage.
  • Pouches or other way to hold your spare magazines at your belt. Again, inexpensive nylon holders are available at most gunshops and even some discount stores.
  • At least 100 rounds of ammunition. If you need extra shots, better have enough ammunition.  If you have a "range malfunction" during your run and need to "reshoot", you'd better have enough ammunition to reshoot the entire course. There's no point in cutting too close on the amount of ammunition you bring, you can always use the excess at the next match.


  • Eye and ear protection. To shoot a 3-Gun match at LdF, you must wear safety or shooting glasses and some type of ear protection (plugs or muffs). Your regular sunglasses will not qualify as safety glasses, except for certain models of Gargoyles, Bolle, etc. that are designed as sports safety glasses as well.
  • Clothing that is suitable for the season (usually HOT) and provides adequate freedom of movement without being too loose, causing catches on props. LdF discourages the wearing of camouflage clothing that suggests a gun store commando attitude. If the weather forecast includes moisture, you might want to bring some foul-weather gear (rainsuit, poncho, etc.).
  • Knee and/or elbow pads, especially if you are sensitive in those areas. You can count on having to go to kneeling and prone positions during every match. If some padding will prevent injury when you get too enthusiastic, consider bringing some.
  • Water and food. Especially during the summer, dehydration is a constant problem.

This may be a long list, but it is pretty much driven by common sense.  Come on out and have a good time.