Follow this guide to get the most out of your 3-Gun practice sessions, utilizing time-proven techniques combined with budget-saving methods
Story by Bobby Walla
This is a bit of a tough article to write, because there a lot of things going on in 3-Gun shooting and at times it can be quite overwhelming, whether just getting into the sport or an average shooter trying to take their game to the next level. Everyone is going to have their own opinions on how and what they do to practice or train. Even the best shooters in the world who teach classes are recalling on the things they did to get to the level they’re at. Most people did not have a set regimen that they followed because the information out there is pretty thin.
I am sure there are a lot of people in the community whom got into the game after seeing episodes of the 3-Gun Nation TV show. I transferred over from the pistol sports, where I had previously spent about seven years competing. So I at least had a “feel” for what was expected and how to plan and execute a stage plan.
I am not going to go into detail about stage planning/execution in this article, because I think it would be too much to digest for the new to mid-level audience I am trying to reach. I will put together a separate article on that in the future.
In this article, the focus will be to organize the training from a single-gun standpoint. I’d suggest a heavy focus on this then as you get more proficient, and roll every thing into one-to-one, similar to the drill Keith Garcia has popularized.
The one HUGE point on doing this on a budget is DRY-FIRE! If you are not going to commit yourself to dry-fire practice, in my opinion, you will never be able to elevate your game to the level any competitive person would be happy with.
I take the approach of 60/20/20. That means 60 percent of my time is reserved for my pistol training. I then spend 20 percent each on the shotgun and rifle. So take a look at the amount of time a week you devote to practice, whether dry-fire or live-fire practice. A lot may disagree with this statement and they are very much entitled to their opinion, because this is just mine, which has led me to being decently competitive in the division I compete in.
This is where I spend most of my time and SO much can be accomplished by putting in good, solid reps. My main focus is on basic manipulations of the pistol. I have a few 3GN targets and small target printouts randomly in my basement, as well as trashcan with a five-gallon bucket attached. Draws, reloads, sight picture out of the holster, target transitions, malfunction clearances, re-holstering, abandonment, different start positions such as gun loaded/unloaded, etc.
You essentially want to put in reps of everything you would do on the range.
Live-fire should be where you are solidifying the manipulations you’ve done in dry-fire. You’re essentially testing your progress through the work you’ve put in without firing a round. When I hit the range my focus is not on draws, reloads, etc. Rather, focus now shifts to things I cannot do in the space where I practice. Recoil control, movement, target transitions under recoil, varying distances (my favorite is three targets place at five, 15, and 25 yards. Start close to far, then switch it around). Concentrate on re-acquiring your sights under recoil and learning your strong points and shortcomings. The pistol is hands down the hardest gun to shoot accurately, so I’m constantly focusing on the “throttle” mentality of “how fast can I make accurate hits on target.”
Most of my dry-fire work could just be copy and pasted from my initial opinion of pistol dry-fire. My constant headaches subsided when I realized that so much between the three guns was consistent. If you think about it, what are we taught about the pistol grip … “high grip, thumbs forward.” When we are holding the rifle and shotgun, all we are doing is taking that support hand and moving it out farther on the long guns, and we are still using the same body positioning.
Because of the cost of ammo, even though I reload, I barely shoot .223, maybe 2,000-3,000 rounds a year, and that is including local and regional events. I was lucky enough to already own a Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22. So I hopped on Ebay and bought the cheapest rail that was similar in length to the rail on my competition rifle. This allows me to spend more time shooting and incorporating a lot of things I would only practice in dry-fire and have some fun!
I think a lot of time more serious shooters forget that we started doing this because it was FUN! I work on multiple start positions, acquiring my reticle, shooting from different positions such as use of a barricade, shooting while moving, etc. I personally think, for a 3-gunner, this is a great investment!
Along those same lines, steel case ammunition offers a more economically solution to increasing the amount of rounds put downrange. There are two main complaints about using steel cases: The old, lacquer covered steel gummed up the chamber, and it is hard on your bolt and could cause the extractor to break. Wolf has released “poly-performance” ammo that does not gum up the chamber, and I have two bolts and extra extractors. One I will use for “practice” and the other is marked brass only. With that said, I have never broken an extractor using steel-cased ammo, but I know it has happened to others.
DISCLAIMER: SOME STEEL CASED PROJECTILES ARE BI-METAL, WHICH WILL REALLY BEAT UP STEEL TARGETS, DO NOT USE THEM AT A MATCH OR IN PRACTICE IF YOU ARE SHOOTING STEEL!
When I do get behind my competition rifle I am, again, doing a lot of the same stuff as I was with my pistol. Finding that acceptable accuracy balance, recoil control, shooting while moving, shooting off and around obstacles, etc.
The rest of the time, I am more focused on “distance shooting or long range,” which is typically considered 100 yards and beyond. Knowing how your ammo shoots out of your rifle is HUGE! You need to know and learn your holds at different distances because its no fun shooting a bunch and not hitting anything; it also wastes a lot of time! Practice prone shooting as well as anything else you can find to shoot off of because you never know what prop a match director is going to throw out there!
The shotgun is hands down the least natural gun out there, for most. Even long-time shotgun shooters have a lot to learn because of one skill, reloading the gun. Shotguns are easy to shoot for the most part; the downside to them in our sport is it seems like they’re always out of ammo, requiring getting more rounds back in the gun. This more than anything else should be your primary focus, becoming proficient with “dropping deuces” and “quad-loading.” My biggest advice when it comes to this gun is minimizing mistakes! When you shoot the gun, make sure you’re aiming and hitting the targets! It sounds easy, but everyone knows how it goes. You start in a good rhythm so you try and “pick up the pace,” and next thing you know your bolt is locked to the rear and you’re trying to load without closing the bolt first. Then once you get it topped off, you re-mount the gun and pull the trigger and you get … click … because you forgot to hit that darn small shell release button. Everyone knows they’ve been there before!
If you’re new to loading shotguns or you’re fumbling trying to quad-load, simplify it! Get extremely good at loading two shells first, because it’s still going to be faster than fumbling and throwing shells all over the range. Once you’ve got that down, THEN IN DRY-FIRE, start transitioning to loading four shells. FYI, your hands are going to hurt and you’re going to bleed, if your experience is the same as my journey!
The saving grace of shooting shotgun is like I said earlier, it’s a pretty easy gun to shoot and make hits. I really do not work much on reloads when I hit live-fire besides practicing loading on the move. Again, my main focus is “throttling” and recoil control, which go hand-in-hand.
Hands down the most important thing you can do on the range with your shotgun is to pattern your chokes and know your limits. I typically default back to Light Modified the majority of the time. The way I look at it, I’m going to aim every target down anyway and it pretty much covers me from 5-20+ yards. My go-to for learning my chokes is pretty simple, but you are going to go through quite a few paper targets. I will setup a target stand and a piece of knockdown steel. For every choke I will shoot paper at 7, 15, and 25 yards. Every time I pattern on paper, I will write on the target the choke and distance, then put up new paper. As for the steel, as soon as I can’t knock it over from a specific distance I know my limit for that choke. Take the data back that you learned, record it and reference it until you know off the top of your head. The other important part is shooting slugs. I recommend trying a few different brands initially and seeing if any shoot better than others out of your gun, as well as seeing where your impact is in comparison to your point of aim. Try to go for slugs that are reduced recoil. For instance, my Federal slugs deliver the same Feet Per Second (fps) as my birdshot ammo. After you’ve selected your ammo, now go back through, and check point of aim (POA)/point of impact (POI) through each choke. From my experience, owning a Stoeger M3K and now a Browning A5, both guns pretty much shot POA/POI with all the slugs and chokes, but you still want to get that data for yourself on your gun! My biggest issue when moving from one brand to another was the ammo actually functioning in my gun, reliably.
There’s much you can do, both on and off the range, to improve, whether you are just taking your first steps in the sport or trying to climb the ranks in 3-gun. Break your training sessions down to one gun at a time for simplicity, and lean on dry-fire to get the most out of your time. Use live-fire drills to learn how to transition, manage recoil, and do it all on the move. Then get in a match, hit the range, put it all together, and have some fun!
Find more great training information at 3GN Resources.