As I stepped into the shooting box at Stage 9 of the Crimson Trace Midnight 3 Gun Invitational (M3GI), I took a deep breath. I was still trying to contain my excitement after lobbing a 40mm paint grenade at an unfortunate (and at that point in the competition, heavily battle-damaged) Cutlass Ciera. Four steel silhouettes stood behind the Ciera. Except for a dim blue light on the steel some 40 yards out, everything around me was dark.

The goal was to land two shots on each steel target before moving down a row of 11 paper targets, each of which required one round to the central “A-zone” or two on-target. After the rifle targets, I was to proceed down a lane and engage a complementary row of pistol targets. Finally, I had to bust up some hostile clays with a shotgun at the end of the chute.

Stage 4 of the M3GI shortly before it went hot. Image by Matt Korovesis.
Stage 4 of the M3GI shortly before it went hot. Image by Matt Korovesis.

At the sound of the starting buzzer, I shouldered my Tavor, switched on the Rail Master Pro mounted to the top Picatinny rail, and let fly at the steel. The first shot found its mark, but the combination of smoke and dust filling the air in front of my rifle caused me to lose my sight picture and whiff with my second round. Immediately, I recalled a moment when my rifle’s mounted light was unable to cut through a cloud of smoke in front of me earlier in the match. Unable to easily spot the target beneath my EOTech’s reticle, I slightly cocked my head and saw the Rail Master Pro’s laser slicing through the hazy obstacle, marking the target, which allowed me to accurately discern where my shots would land. Using the laser as my guide, the third shot hit home, and I proceeded down the line of steel.

The M3GI, held at the Central Oregon Shooting Sports Association outside Bend, Oregon after sundown, was my first 3-gun competition (though I competed in the media and range officer match that begins two days before the real event) and my first taste of competition shooting of any flavor. My Stage 9 laser epiphany proceeded from something I had learned earlier in the match about bringing your guns to the game with the proper equipment. Likewise, I learned a few other things about shooting that’ll have a lasting impact on me. Building off Britney Starr’s “Seven Things I Learned from My First 3-Gun Match” that we published in June, I thought I’d share what I learned from my first match.

1. Bring the right equipment for the job, and use it

My experience regarding the efficacy of lasers in nighttime shooting environments was likely shared by many other first-time M3GI participants. Much hubbub is made by the sellers of lasers and lights about the necessity of equipping any gun you might use in a stressful situation (whether it’s at night or otherwise) with a laser or light, or both. Until M3GI, I regarded that notion as not applicable to my potential employment of firearms. However, after running just one stage of M3GI, their value is crystal-clear to me. The Rail Master Pro will be staying on the Tavor, and my CZ P-07 will be sporting another Pro soon enough.

PVS-14 helmet
On Stage 6 of the M3GI, “the right equipment” included two PVS-14 monoculars. Image by Matt Korovesis.

Using the right ammunition for the tasks you’ll be putting your firearms to is one of the most important parts of self-defense and competition shooting. Winchester was kind enough to provide me with a cache of pistol, shotgun, and rifle ammunition that functioned flawlessly in all of my guns throughout the match. Their Match 77-grain 5.56x45mm is probably the most accurate round I’ve ever used in my Tavor—during pre-M3GI sight-in, it was hard to make the ammo not produce hole-on-hole shot groups at 50 yards, and one-inch groups at 100.

2. Everyone should own a shotgun suppressor

One afternoon on the range, a matte-black Humvee sped past the central tent to one of the furthest shooting bays and delivered some precious cargo to pro shooter Chris Cheng (okay, it was a white Chevy Cruze that was probably a rental). Said cargo was the SilencerCo Salvo 12 shotgun suppressor, which Cheng was testing out on his Benelli M2. After the can was attached, ear protection came out and the fun started. Let me say this—firing a tube of 12 gauge at a steel target with a Salvo-equipped scattergun is a sound to behold.

salvo 12 chris cheng
Chris Cheng firing a Benelli M2 equipped with a SilencerCo Salvo 12. The Salvo muffled the report of a shotgun shell going off so well that no ear protection was needed. Image by Matt Korovesis.

3. I need to get better at shooting, and shooting handguns in particular

Watching some of the competition shooters and range officers run the M3GI stages was jaw dropping—in the time that it took me to clear one string of targets, many could have cleaned the stage and been halfway to the next. My performance on pistol targets specifically revealed to me that I still sometimes flinch when shooting handguns. Whereas before, I had lulled myself into a sense of complacency and “I’m good enough,” I realize now that I have much, much more to learn about shooting straight.

4. Trunk Tavors are the best Tavors

Making sure your equipment isn’t about to fail on you when you need it most is also critical. My Tavor had been sporting a Timney trigger since I received it in April, and until Wednesday, I had never experienced any problems with it. However, during some preliminary fun and “final check” shooting before the match, it began to produce light primer strikes. Since I had read about Timney Tavor triggers failing, I brought along my stock trigger pack just in case.

two tavors
Dave Bahde was kind enough to offer up the TAV-D trigger from his Tavor (top) for the author’s use. Image by Matt Korovesis.

But instead of having to fall back on the stock 11-pound trigger, my roommate, gun and tactical writer Dave Bahde, was there to help. He had his Tavor in the back of his truck as his trunk gun (must be nice, eh?). In it was one of the smooth two-stage, five-pound TAV-D triggers from ShootingSight. Bahde was kind enough to offer up use of the TAV-D for the match, and I suspect that my ability to actually hit any of the rifle targets was due to the clutch installation of the ShootingSight trigger. I was also very thankful for how easily trigger packs could be swapped out of the Tavor.

5. Familiarity with a firearm’s manual of arms is critical

I used a Tavor, Glock 19, and Beretta 1301 on the M3GI stages where we didn’t have a select-fire 300 BLK AR-15 or M249 SAW forced upon us. Of those three, I only had long-term experience with the Tavor. The Glock and Beretta were loaners from OutdoorHub contributor Tom McHale, who was also present.

Shouldering, operating, and reloading the Tavor in a slightly stressful and dark environment was easy as pie—I’ve had it for a year and a half now, and I know many of its secrets. The same was certainly not true with the Glock and Beretta, and everything from getting a proper grip to reloading the pistol and shotgun went slowly. The next time I 3-gun, I’m going to be sure to use guns I’m more familiar with, and spend an adequate amount of time drilling with them before it’s show time.

fn40 gl
Greater familiarity with the FN40GL-S grenade launcher would also be helpful before next year’s M3GI, but that might be a more difficult task to pull off than just training with rifles, pistols, and shotguns. Image by Matt Korovesis.

6. Even one sentence of qualified instruction can go a long way

The instruction we media members received from expert shooters like Jerry, Lena, and Kay Miculek, Chris Cerino, and my squad’s excellent ROs (thanks, Austin, Chris, and everyone else) did a lot to help me start chipping away at bad habits and change the way I think about shooting.

Chris Cerino’s hands-on (literally—at one point he wrapped his hand around mine while I was shooting a pistol at a training stage and pulled the trigger with me to identify where I was going wrong) approach to instilling accurate pistol shooting skills and my ROs’ in-depth explanation on how to grip a handgun to better control it had me shooting much more accurately by the end of the match.

miculek tavor
Jerry Miculek (left) guides the author through a “sample” 3-gun stage before the M3GI proper began. Image by Pete.

7. 3-gun shooting is fun and educational

A common topic of discussion throughout the competition was whether 3-gun shooting was “practical.” Some of the more tactically-minded participants bemoaned the event’s decidedly un-tactical stage structure, featuring shooters running full-speed through shoot houses and firing at static targets.

For individuals seeking tried-and-true advice for self-defense situations and force-on-force combat, 3-gun might not be the best educational tool. To be sure, there are certainly “gamey” elements of the sport—you probably wouldn’t be using a shotgun with an overlong 20-round magazine that doubles as a monopod in a home-defense situation. However, for someone like me whose range time usually consists of standing on a firing line at an indoor facility plugging away at mutant rat targets with a pistol or awkwardly bench shooting a bullpup at an overbuilt DNR range, the M3GI was a welcome and enlightening experience.

cutlass ciera grenade
The Cutlass Ciera that was the target of the 40mm on Stage 9. As evidenced by the paint and impact holes, even the media match participants managed to hit it. Image by Matt Korovesis.

The simple ability to practice moving and shooting, quickly identifying targets, and rapid manipulation of a firearm’s controls was incredibly beneficial—as was learning firsthand the value of lasers and lights as aiming aids.

Debates about 3-gun’s ability to turn you into an Army of One Home-defense Machine notwithstanding, I simply had an unquantifiable amount of fun at M3GI this year. I hope to return next summer, and get a few more stages under my belt beforehand.

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4 thoughts on “Seven Things I Learned by Shooting My First 3-Gun in the Dark

  1. I know EXACTLY what you mean about needing to speed up your handgun shooting. I still feel like its my weakest component by far.

    The other thing that both the M3GI and the Ironman really instilled in me was the importance of Planning a Stage. Any time I have to make a choice: I slow down. If I can remove as many of those choices before shooting, I’ll shoot better.

    1. Yup–in addition to working on my “gun muscle memory,” I’ve definitely got to remember to make a solid mental map of each stage before the real thing.

      -Matt

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