3-Gun Nation: The Beginner’s Guide

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While 3-gun matches often run under “house rules”, it’s becoming increasingly popular for them to use the 3-Gun Nation rules.

3-Gun Nation, or 3GN, is a nationwide organization that runs regional and national championship matches in 3-gun and related disciplines.  They also allow local clubs to affiliate and use their rules.  

The advantage to the competitor is that they’ll know what to expect at every 3GN club and match.  Outlaw or house rules can differ slightly from place to place, and that can be confusing.  How can you know whether your equipment meets the requirements for the division you want to shoot in for a particular match?  What will a particular club allow you to do or not do when shooting a stage?  

For all 3GN matches, here are the high points of their multi-gun rules (we’ll leave aside long range and single gun rules today).  It’ll be just enough to get you started, so be ready to learn more once you’re done here!

Safety Rules

As with all firearms competitions, safety drives many of the rules that are in place.

In 3GN, that starts with getting your guns to the range and carrying them around with you at the match.  They should always be unloaded until you are told otherwise by a Range Officer (RO).  That means no rounds in any chambers, no magazines in guns, and no shells in shotgun tubes.  

Moreover, chamber safety flags ($12) are required in all long guns and unholstered pistols.  If not in a case, 3-Gun pistols must be holstered and your 3-Gun rifles and 3-Gun shotguns must be carried muzzle up unless they are in a cart.

Chamber Safety Flag in Use
Chamber Safety Flag in Use

When grounding a firearm into a designated container, it’s important to ensure that the muzzle points down and that either any manual safeties are applied or that the chamber is completely empty.  The RO will check the state that a gun was left in and you can be disqualified if a gun is grounded improperly.

And of course, like in other action shooting sports, you need to be mindful of making sure your finger is visibly outside the trigger guard when you aren’t shooting.  You also can’t point the muzzle beyond the 180, even when grounding a firearm.  Don’t remember what the 180 is?  It’s like the 170 rule in that other multigun sport, Cowboy Action Shooting.

There are other safety-related rules that are unique to 3GN, and you should read the rules yourself to get familiar with them.  But these will get you started and keep you safe during your first few times out.

Shooting Rules

When preparing to shoot a stage, the most important thing you can pay attention to is the Written Stage Briefing (WSB).  That will tell you what targets can be engaged with what guns, if you have to start with a particular gun, and other specifics that are unique to that stage.  The WSB can override the rule book.

As a competitor, your stage begins when the RO tells you to “make ready.”  That’s when the RO will guide you through loading or staging all of your guns.  You’ll then be asked “are you ready?” and if you don’t say no, you’ll be given the “stand by” command and a timer beep to signal you to start shooting.

While you’re shooting, you need to comply with the safety rules and the requirements about which targets can be shot with which guns.  You also have to stay inside the shooting area unless you want to rack up foot fault penalties.

You’ll also need to keep in mind things like start positions and shooting positions.  Some of the terms you may hear include:

  • Port Arms means you’ll start with the butt of your long gun touching your belt and the muzzle angled upward and across your body.  The magazine well or loading port must face the ground, the safety must be on, and your finger must be out of the trigger guard.

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Brian Daku starts this stage in Port Arms

  • Low Ready means you’ll start with the butt of your long gun mounted to your shoulder and the muzzle aimed downward.  Otherwise, it’s like Port Arms.

  • Prone means you have to shoot lying down with your chest towards the ground.  You are never allowed to be in this position with a holstered pistol that has a live round in the chamber.

 

  • Supported means that your gun or any part of your body (except, obviously, your feet) is touching the ground or a stage prop, like a barricade, while shooting.

  • Support Side means that instead of using your primary, strong hand and side, you shoot shouldered on the support hand side for long guns and using your support hand’s trigger finger to shoot the gun.

While the sport is 3-gun, you can only shoot one at a time and will have to put down the one you’re using before you go to a new one.  That’s called abandoning a firearm.  

Once you are done shooting, the RO will say “if you are finished, unload and show clear.”  That’s when you’ll work through making sure all of your firearms are completely unloaded and showing the RO that.  After the RO has had a chance to look, they will instruct you to close the slide or action and pull the trigger (by saying “hammer down”), and either holster your pistol or insert a chamber safety flag into your long gun.

Official 3-Gun Target
Official 3-Gun Target

After all firearms are made safe, then the RO will call “range is clear,” and the stage can be safely scored and reset.  Your score is the time between the start beep and your last shot, plus any penalties you’ve racked up for missing targets, shooting penalty targets, not shooting a target at all, foot faulting, using a grounded gun, or otherwise.  

On paper targets, you usually need two shots anywhere on paper or one shot in the center circle.  Steel targets normally need to be hit or knocked over to count.  Clay and frangible targets need to be broken or hit by at least one shotgun pellet.  

You will generally start your guns on the staging tables that are designated for that purpose throughout a stage.  Some stages might use the same containers for staging and grounding, in which case it doesn’t matter where you start a gun.  You just need to make sure you never stage more than one gun in a container.

If you’re a new competitor, or even one who has more than a few matches under your belt, always remember that you can ask questions if you aren’t clear about what’s allowed with staging your guns or shooting the stage.

What Guns Can I Shoot?

3GN divides competitors into different divisions based on the kinds of guns that they shoot.  The major multigun divisions are:

Unlimited

No restrictions on any of your guns.  You can bolt anything you want on to them, including optics, lights, suppressors, bipods, and the like.  Shotgun speed loaders or magazine-fed shotguns are permitted.  If any one of your guns doesn’t meet its division requirements, it’s likely you’ll end up in Unlimited.

Practical

Pistols can’t have electronic or optical sights, compensators, or barrel porting, and must use magazines approximately 140mm or shorter.  Rifles are permitted a single optical sight, a limited size compensator, and any capacity magazine, but no bipods or similar.  Shotguns must be tube-fed with a maximum capacity of nine shells and not have any optical sights or compensators.  This is the most popular division at most matches.

Factory

Pistols follow similar rules to Practical, but no more than 15 rounds are allowed in any magazine.  Rifles are similar to Practical as well, but the optical sight cannot be magnified in any way – normally, this means some sort of red dot sight – and only standard 30-round or smaller magazines can be used.  And finally, shotguns are the same as in Practical except that their magazine tubes cannot hold more than eight shells at a time.


Regardless of your division, your pistol must be 9mm or larger caliber, your rifle must be .223 Remington or larger caliber, and your shotgun must be 12, 16 or 20 gauge.  Some divisions, such as Heavy, have different requirements both for minimum caliber and the types of modifications and features your guns can have.

Classification Blues

Classification is a way of ranking competitors within a division so that they know who else is at roughly the same skill level as they are.  

3GN does it by having standardized courses of fire that any club can set up and submit shooters’ scores for.  Those scores are compared against a national database and the shooter is given a scaled percentage score based on an average of the best scores for that classifier stage.  Your first four classifier percentages are averaged to determine your classification.  After that, it’s your best four out of your most recent six.

Classification percentages move up from Amateur through Marksmen, High Marksmen, Expert, Semi-Pro, and Professional.  But for the purposes of a competitor new to 3GN?  Don’t worry about it too much.  Instead, pay more attention to the safety and shooting rules, and making sure your equipment meets the division you want to shoot in.

What’s Next?

This quick skim through the major 3GN rules should be enough to keep you out of trouble, but you should also sit down and actually read the rulebook, which is available for free online.  It’s also a good idea to check the rulebook frequently, especially before a major match, to make sure there have been no changes and that you haven’t forgotten anything important.

In the meantime, get out there and shoot a few matches!  The best way to learn the rules that mean the most to your shooting game is to show up, pay attention, and ask questions.  

Do you have questions about 3GN or wisdom to impart?  How has your experience with 3GN been, whether you’re totally new or have lots of experience?  Share with us in the comments.

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