I was on vacation with my family in Yellowstone National Park this year when I received an unexpected phone call. It was Iain Harrison with Crimson Trace Corp. You might have heard of him. He’s that popular guy with an accent who won the first season of the TV competition series “Top Shot.” He was calling to see if I would like to participate in the first Crimson Trace Midnight 3-Gun Invitational shooting match.
Sometimes the right answer to a good question is “yes,” and after a bit of schedule verification, that’s what I told Iain. I would be glad to take part in such a unique event. Not only did it have the earmarks of an exciting 3-gun match, but all of the shooting would take place at night with participants using lights and laser sights to work in low- and no-light scenarios. But my acceptance of the invitation did come with some trepidation. This was going to be my very first 3-gun match, and since I was new to the sport, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into.
In hindsight, I can say with confidence that it was the right decision. I came away from my first 3-gun match having learned things I might not have learned any other way. But I also had to face and overcome many of the same obstacles and concerns that most people face when stepping into something they’ve never tried before. Here are a few of the things I learned by jumping feet first into a 3-gun competition.
Do Your Homework
With that understanding, it was much easier to interpret the critical information contained in the Crimson Trace match-specific rules and the descriptions of each stage of the competition. For example, most long-range shots used staged guns provided at the match, while most of the rounds fired using our own guns took place at close range to accommodate the limitations of gun-mounted flashlights. All of that knowledge played a role in deciding what gear to gather and take.
Test Your Gear
Was this the “perfect” gear set? Probably not for everyone, but it was a promising set for me. One thing 3-gun gurus warn against is running out and buying all of your gear at once. This can be a costly mistake as shooters find out that what they paid for is not the best fit for their personal needs. Start with what you already have on hand, borrow some of what you don’t have, then watch or participate in a few matches before you lay down any cash. Folks competing in these matches are usually happy to talk with beginners about their gun and gear selections. Once the initial gear set is available, head to the range to practice. The best way to reduce malfunctions is to run the guns in the configuration, and with the ammunition, you’re planning to use in the match.
Embrace The Malfunctions
On top of possible gear failures is the added stress of competition, which leads to shooter-induced malfunctions. Experienced 3-gunners say that the competition nerves never go away. All of the time spent practicing on a static shooting range seems to suddenly evaporate when the buzzer sounds and the adrenaline begins to flow. Rounds are pumped downrange while moving, reloading and activating lasers and lights. All the while, the shooter’s progress is being carefully monitored by a group of peers, adding to the pressure.
So how can malfunctions and stress under these circumstances possibly be a blessing? Because problems, mechanical and mental, encountered in the course of a stage demand the development of shooting skills. Going to a match is the perfect opportunity to practice remaining calm and focused when the butterflies in the stomach start to swarm. It was very informative to watch how others dealt with those challenges. When one competitor’s gun-mounted light winked out, he instantly replaced it with a hand-held light from his belt. Some competitors, when they bogged down during a particular stage, would stop shooting that portion and move on to the next one so as to preserve more of their score and avoid timing out. Accidentally dropped magazines were smoothly replaced by fresh ones. One shooter had a feeding issue with his rifle, so he manually cycled each shot into the chamber using the charging handle to successfully complete the stage.
Improvisation, compensation, course correction and seemingly miraculous innovation all came into play as competitors tackled the obstacles that cropped up. While problem solving and a focused resolve to succeed are useful in generating positive marks on the score card, what the competition experience translates into is far more important. While most of us will thankfully avoid ever having to use deadly force in defense of our lives, when such situations arise they’re rarely easy to deal with. Adrenaline will surge, complex tasks may have to be completed on the move and defensive tools may malfunction. Live-fire training, and shooting competitions such as 3-gun, provide an opportunity to learn how to run defensive equipment under pressure.
By the way, this match brought defensive drills into, well, a whole new light. Most shooting practice takes place during the day or on well-lit ranges, but defensive situations tend to occur in low- and no-light environments. It was an eye-opening experience to see what lasers and lights can and can’t do. For example, lasers make fast target acquisition easy, but they don’t replace proper grip, stance and trigger control. Likewise, a pistol-mounted light will successfully illuminate a target, but hand-held lights can be safely pointed at anything in the area. In short, if you plan to use a light or laser with your defensive firearm, include these devices in your regular practice regimen.