I recently decided to jump into the 3-gun world with barrels blazing. With a background in upland bird hunting, big game hunting, and defensive handgun, why not? So, I bent the ears of some of the best pro shooters in the industry, soaked in as much information as my brain could handle, gathered gear, and hit the range for lots of practice with 3-Gun Nation competitor Rick Birdsall. At the end of May, I was invited to shoot the Hornady Zombies in the Heartland – Pandemic 2014 in Nebraska with Team Burris—my first real competition! Shooting competitively is definitely an ongoing process. Some things went well, and others not so much. Here are seven things I learned from my very first 3-gun competition.
1. Goals are good
My first-match goals went a little something like this: don’t throw up, be safe (don’t get disqualified), and don’t come in last. Missions accomplished! It’s a good idea to set at few goals for yourself, no matter how small. You’ll be excited when you meet or exceed your expectations.
2. Something will break
And there might not be anything you can do about it. Luckily, most 3-gunners are willing to help other shooters who are in a pickle. My nearly brand-new shotgun’s magazine tube cracked during the first stage of the Pandemic, forcing me to borrow a shotgun from fellow Burris teammate Sky Leighton for the rest of the competition. Freaking out is not going to fix the situation, so you just have to roll with it.
3. “Kmart arms” are not good for off-hand shooting
My dad used to tell my mom that her arms are so weak the only thing they are good for is pushing a cart at Kmart. I fear that I have inherited her Kmart arms, considering that I struggled while shooting my rifle off-hand, and as the competition progressed, I became more fatigued. My Burris XTR II 1x-5x 24mm scope makes quick target acquisition a breeze, but it’s definitely time to hit the gym and pump some iron!
4. Muscle memory is hard to change
One of the most difficult things for me to do is transition from shotgun to rifle. Due to my upland bird hunting background, my muscle memory is trained for shotgunning; my form needs work when it comes to AR-style rifle shooting.
I recently added a Grip Stop to my 2 Vets Arms 5.56 LRRP, in hopes that having an anchor point for my support hand would make it a little easier to transition to the thumb-over-bore grip. But, I’ve found that, when adrenaline kicks in, unless you’re really thinking about form, your muscle memory tends to do what it remembers best.
5. Sunscreen is your friend
Randi Rogers of Team Smith & Wesson once told me that she uses a ton of sunscreen during competitions to keep her from feeling dehydrated. Being a fair-skinned Michigander, I tend to burn easily. I took Randi’s advice and reapplied SPF 50 every half hour, and drank plenty of water. Oh, and I also made sure to bring high-protein snacks to munch on throughout the day. No one likes a hungry Britney.
6. Being left-handed sucks—sometimes
Let’s face it, no one is thinking about the lowly left-handed shooter when they are designing 3-gun stages. I missed five targets on one stage because I couldn’t see them with the way the course was set-up. Dang! This also came as a lesson in how important it is to pay attention during the walkthrough.
On the other hand (see what I did there?), stages that are designed to specifically trip up right-handed shooters may be easier for a southpaw. Maybe lefties don’t have it quite so bad, after all.
7. Garage-sale baby strollers are in high demand
I saw multiple pimped out, three-wheeled baby strollers that shooters used to haul their gear from one stage to another. Although flying with said baby stroller might not be practical, one would definitely come in handy for local matches. Less things to carry equals less fatigue toward the end of the day.
I obviously didn’t have a baby stroller, or even a 3-gun bag during the Pandemic (just my hard case that I used for transporting my guns on the airplane). Sky to the rescue again! Thankfully, he had an extra 3-gun bag that I borrowed.
I didn’t know what to expect when I signed up for my first 3-gun competition, but I’m glad that I have it under my belt. I’m looking forward to improving and continuing to learn every time I step onto the range. Now, I’m off to search the local garage sales for a baby stroller!