Far from the agenda pushed by marketing types, 3-gun competition equipment doesn’t have to be an arms race or a gear race. You can absolutely compete without going crazy on equipment and firearms. That said, if you’re shooting in open or unlimited, get ready to spend some money and see how much your hardware dollars can help with your overall capabilities in 3-Gun.

Shooting a rifle

By the way, it’s more fun to find the best gear, and this article should help you do just that for 3-gun competition equipment.

You’re going to need an AR-15 – that’s a standard component. You’ll also need a shotgun and a pistol. And it’s super important that you look at the applicable rules for the match(es) you intend on shooting in. These rules for your specific intended competitions will help to direct your pathway for finding game-changing gear.

In addition to the firearms, you’ll need a belt/holster setup, mags, ammunition, and reloading add-ons (speedloaders for shotgun, etc.). Researching and sourcing all these cool new gear items is one of the best parts early on, in the 3-gun spectrum.

All that said – this cannot be understated:

Anyone saying that the gear defines the competitor in 3-Gun is either selling you something, or they are a seasoned competitor that can quantify improvements in their personal game due to enhanced gear packages.

3-Gun is more about skill and experience than it is about gear, but the gear is the fun part. Especially for someone just getting into the game, or those who are moving up in their progression and are focused on incremental improvement.

So, let’s talk about how to find the right 3-gun competition equipment. There are a large variety of online firearms retailers to help you easily find the right equipment for the job.

What should you be considering for 3-Gun Competition Equipment?

Below, you’ll find not just some gear recommendations, but the concepts behind why the recommendations make sense, and the background that helps explain the reason this gear matters for 3-Gun competitions. It’s laid out by firearm type and then there is a section that explains some gear that might be incredibly useful.

There are two paths you can go down, and you need to go down both if you are trying to compete at the highest level in these types of shooting competitions.

  1. Modifying the guns to make your shooting style easier, faster, more accurate
  2. Adding ancillary equipment beyond the firearms for 3-Gun that can help you shave seconds off timers, and improve quality of life, and even help avoid DQ (disqualifying events)

So, look for the separation of these concepts and plan accordingly as you start to source or accumulate gear for your 3-Gun journey.

Rifle Concepts – 3-Gun Equipment

If you aren’t shooting an AR-15 you’re not doing it right. It’s also important to try to stay lean and mobile. So, prioritize internal components, and weight saving designs if possible. The less stuff you have hanging off the gun, and the lighter weight that your rifle is, the easier you will move through the tough off-hand stages.

Next up is your optic. Rules for the class you intend to shoot in will dictate what optics you can utilize. You may be limited to 1x magnification in some competitions/classes, or in Open style competitions, you can go full tilt on the most impressive optics you can find for the course.

Optics are the game changer here. Period. If you prioritize anything on the rifle more than the optic, you’re again, not doing it right. A stock gun with a dialed in premium optic can win versus a hardcore build with a subpar optic. Red dot sights with a magnifier are a good option but most people opt for a low power variable optic.

You’re likely to need 2 magazines in most rifle stages. They should be outfitted fully (heavy baseplates, precision springs, or whatever helps you to shave seconds and make your life smoother). Magazines are cheap to outfit and fine tune. Take the time to do it and learn to leverage those gains.

After optics, in this order, the most important benefits can be derived with regards to upping performance in the rifle stages of 3-gun competitions:

  • Barrel twist and length mated to specific loads you intend to fire
  • Trigger work that takes out slack and resets to your desired settings and is comfortable to shoot
  • Dropping weight on the overall rifle package
  • Magazine improvements (more on this below)

Shotgun Concepts – 3-Gun Equipment

You can shoot with a pump gun. But it’s going to hold you back if you are already committed to the idea of 3-Gun. Simply put, the speed and reaction time is significantly cut down with the utilization of a semi-auto. This is particularly true for beginners. Shotgun work in a 3-gun competition is going to be smoother if you’re shooting a semi-auto gun with a bigger mag tube. It’s just math, really.

So, whether you are shooting a Mossberg 930, a Benelli M2, or a Beretta 1301, etc., you automatically gain speed over a Mossberg 500 or a Remington 870, etc.

You want big mag tubes, fast cycling, and lightweight builds, and the three listed shotguns above make a lot of sense, while still being budget-oriented considerations. There are more modified and better outfitted shotguns out there for premium price points, but the incremental gains may not justify the price, if you use these three semi auto options as a litmus test for baseline competitors.

Some shotgun considerations:

  • The right optic (the best you can buy for the regulations of you competition and class orientation)
  • Extended magazine tubes to push your options in case of a miss or failure
  • Speed Loading techniques and tools (as the regulations permit)
  • Trigger and spring work to make the gun fast and smooth
  • Oversized load gates, bolt catches and safeties

Pistol Concepts – 3-Gun Equipment

Sights are going to be incredibly important here unless you’re only shooting unlimited class, in which case they will be even more important than that.

If you aren’t changing out the sights on your factory gun and expecting to crush it, this can be a decision that holds you back in 3-gun.

The pistol gets the least number of concessions when it comes to sighting and target acquisition in 3-Gun. You’ll want to get the sights that help you shoot fast and keep you on target. Then practice with that sight system – to the tune of many thousands of rounds.

Extended magazines are also a thing. Base plates that allow for heavier magazines for faster drop free capabilities, and for more capacity can be huge. The 170mm rule applies to pistols of all classes, including unlimited/open class. Don’t buy cheap magazines. It’s not worth the potential for malfunction or lack of durability, just buy the best and budget for replacements as needed.

If you are not mating your pistol selections to the match regulations, you’re doing it wrong. The sweet spot for pistols is working with a gun that comes from a factory set up for the practical class, and then going from there on the internals (if they are not already modded).

Internals get a benefit from the handicap that is inherent to the regulations. That is: internal mods generally don’t count against your pistol. Unless you are a dedicated unlimited class shooter, don’t count on optics for any help on pistol stages.

Some important factors in a 3-Gun pistol selection:

  • Comfortable, easy to control and inspires confidence in the shooter
  • Properly tuned internals
  • Springs and ammo/load that match with slide weights
  • Magazine upgrades like weighted base plates and better springs
  • Exceptional barrel fitment
  • Above all the other gear options – well-chosen sights that you can shoot quickly and accurately with – almost never is it a benefit to use factory sights

Some Additional Concepts For 3-Gun Competition Equipment

Three-Gun competitions are not just about picking up a few cool guns and expecting things to go smoothly. Even the most seasoned shooters learn a lot in their first 10 matches. The first match is the biggest learning curve.

Subsequent matches may see you finding new gear solutions rapidly, as you develop your core preferences for the matches you are shooting.

The following concepts can also help to solidify a good 3-Gun competition equipment setup.

Additional Notes About Recoil Control

Recoil control is part about technique but it’s also part about balance and weight distribution on the firearm you are using. Furthermore, the right compensator can be a crucial component.

But it’s not just about compensators, also about internal mechanisms that can harmonize the miniscule movements after and between shots. Springs, rods, buffers, and weights can all help with this on different firearm platforms.

More on this below but mate your springs and balancing to your intended loads.

Get Committed on A Premium Belt System

A premium belt is a massive help. It’s not just for easy draws, and smooth transitions to magazine reloads. It’s the core of the system of accessory help. If you aren’t utilizing a solid, consistently placed belt that has the capacity to stay in place while under heavy loads, you will lose many seconds per round. Using your every day conceal carry belt is probably not the best option.

Almost as important as minimizing unnecessary movement as a shooter, is eliminating movement in your ancillary items like mags, etc.

Buying a premium belt system with proper holster matching and magazine holders is incredibly important.

Holster Retention

Running with your rifle? But your Pistol falls? You’re DQ. Don’t let something as stupid as a tensioner cause you to fail out of a match. Dial in your gun, and your style to compensate for the necessary retention levels commensurate to the course.

Reloading Assistance

Specifically for the shotgun, this is a game-changer. Having an extra couple of rounds, or even as many as 6-8 more on a belt can be big if you need the rounds suddenly. Having the ability to do the proper handling of additional shells or using the tools that help you to get rounds into the tube will also be crucial.

And on that note, let’s talk a bit more about how skills factor into the competition equipment equation.

Tuning Your Guns to Your Chosen Ammunition Loads

A single malfunction can take you out of the running for a match. But more than that, a single malfunction can clutter the rest of your run, which can make you put up some horrible times.

It can also cause longer-term doubt and lack of confidence that could stretch between matches or put undue stress on you as a shooter in a competition setting.

So, the best way to mitigate that issue is to have ammunition and guns tuned to each other. If you have lightened bolts, and shaved down slides, you’ll need to make sure the powder charge, velocity, and bullet weight, as well as the springs are tuned to make that faster cyclic rate consistent.

Otherwise, you will get a malfunction, and possibly a DQ if something else triggers as a result.

Skills Are More Important Than Gear

For 99% of shooters getting into 3-Gun competitions, the skills won’t be there yet. Even if the shooter is exceptionally skilled; very accurate, fast, and experienced, the individuality about any given 3-Gun competition and the governing rules (the whole sport isn’t ever going to be fully standardized) will create a “learning experience” every time.

It’s going to take many matches before you feel comfortable, even if you buy the best equipment and have a robust set of skills. Some shooters have 20K+ rounds through each of their chosen firearm platforms in 3-Gun.

That’s very likely to be more than most shooters just exploring, so you’re already behind the curve a bit. Take that as an impetus to train more, even if it means dialing down gear at first while you find your feet and see what you like on the 3-Gun courses.

This ideology may mean shooting factory or limited class first to see if you like that, or if you need to move up in tiers.

Again, it cannot be understated that skills must come first, and generally you need to use the actual equipment you intend to shoot long-term with in competition, to shorten that learning curve.

But here is the rub: Once you have hit a general peak in your skillset, the only way to make improvement is through the “optimization” phase, which is slower in gains, more expensive, and much more gear centric.

So, while you can begin a 3-gun journey as a “Factory” gun class participant, and do just fine, it isn’t until you get into the “Open/Unlimited”, or at least the “Practical”, where you will start to make these hardware improvement jumps. And these “jumps” will be incremental, not exponential.

The cool thing is, however, that you don’t ever have to stop investing in gear if you commit to 3-Gun, because you’ll always find a way to improve through minor optimization improvements. And it’s all about the gear, as you know.