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My First Year Competing in 3 Gun Nation


3gn-logo-1Fans of ThruMyLens have seen several articles from me this past year where I’ve referenced competing in 3 Gun Nation.  As the final Classification Matches for 2016 are now over, I thought I’d write about my experiences this year, how I finished, and what I plan to do for 2017.

What is 3 Gun Nation?

To understand the organization which is 3 Gun Nation, it helps to first understand the sport of 3 Gun.  3 Gun is a competitive shooting sport which typically comprised of various stages in a match which are set up to challenge competitors to shoot a pistol, a rifle, and a shotgun both accurately and quickly.  Stages are scored based on time to complete, as well as hits vs. misses on targets (misses result in time penalties).  Typically, competitor times to complete each stage are added together for a final time score for the match, and competitors are ranked in order, with the lowest overall time winning the match.

No other shooting sport challenges competitors the way 3 Gun does.  Many people can shoot a pistol or a shotgun or a rifle well enough to be competitive.  But all three?  Therein lies the real challenge – becoming proficient enough with three different weapons platforms to be competitive.   3 Gun shooting competitions existed informally or in “Outlaw” match form for many years, but 3 Gun Nation is the first attempt to formally organize the sport, much like NBA formalized basketball competition or the PGA organized golf.  3 Gun Nation has 3 different levels of competition – the Club Series, the Regional Series, and the Pro Series.  All three are sub-divided into different equipment-driven divisions, with specific rules for gear configuration for each division.  3 Gun Nation also has a television show which showcases the talents of shooters in the 3 Gun Nation Pro Series in the highest levels of competition.

Why Did I Start Shooting 3 Gun?

Prior to getting involved in 3 Gun, I had seen the 3 Gun Nation TV show and thought it looked like a lot of fun.  But I also thought 3 Gun competition offered a wonderful opportunity to gain new levels of proficiency with the 3 dominant defensive weapon platforms of pistol, rifle, and shotgun.  Before shooting in 3 Gun matches, I was a strong pistol shooter with many different training classes under my belt, experience as an NRA Certified Pistol Instructor, and experience shooting in a local league.  Without fail, I was on the range at least once if not twice a week shooting pistol.  Rifle and shotgun were a different story.  I also had taken several rifle courses and generally got my rifles out at least once a month to shoot them.   But my rifle shooting was basically relegated to 50-200 yard target practice, without any serious application based drills.  I just really didn’t have a good reason to “push myself” with my rifle proficiency.  The shotgun was even worse – I got mine out maybe 2 or 3 times a year, cleaned it, then put it back in the closet.  I had taken only one shotgun class so I really didn’t have a solid handle on the platform, which meant I didn’t like shooting it as much as pistol or rifle.  Fast forward to today and my desire to be competitive in 3 Gun has given me an entirely new level of competency with all three platforms.  If 3 Gun teaches you nothing else, you WILL learn how to run your guns, which is invaluable.  3 Gun gives me a reason to practice and train with my firearms in ways which I’ve never done before, and I’m a MUCH better shooter and instructor as a result.  Now my rifle and shotgun proficiency have increased by orders of magnitude and I really do like shooting my shotgun, which a great feeling and a huge personal accomplishment.

Thanks to 3 Gun, I'm shooting my AR-15 better than ever!

                 Thanks to 3 Gun, I’m shooting my AR-15 better than ever!

I’ve also found something I didn’t expect to find in 3 Gun – meaningful relationships with like-minded individuals.  There were some truly nice and welcoming people at the clubs I visited.  If you’ve read anything about 3 Gun, you’ll hear that the people involved are some of the nicest people you’ll meet who will go out of their way to help you.  I can testify to that being absolutely true – in fact, I’m where I am in the sport because some very kind, patient people went way out of their way to help me and that’s something I’m trying to do for others as well.

Before getting into 3 Gun, I certainly had a passion for shooting, and a desire to learn what 3 Gun was all about.  Ultimately, I’m shooting 3 Gun today because a husband and wife team named Phillip and Lisa loved the sport enough to volunteer their time to start up and run local matches.  They made their first matches VERY accessible for those that didn’t have the proper equipment or any previous experience (that would be me…).  Thanks to their tireless efforts, we have the opportunity to shoot 3 Gun matches every single week.  I’ve been able to progress fairly quickly thanks to having so much opportunity to shoot 3 Gun.  It’s Match Directors at local club levels like Phillip and Lisa who will foster the most growth in the sport of 3 Gun.  If you currently shoot 3 Gun, support your local Match Directors – we owe them a great debt.

Our local Match Directors going over a stage.

                             Our local Match Directors going over a stage.

How Did I Finish My First Season?

My overall goal for my 1st season in 3 Gun Nation was to learn.  Learn the sport, learn what gear I need to be competitive, and learn what I need to do skill-wise to be competitive next year.  I thought that perhaps if I finished somewhere around the middle of the pack in my first year I’d be doing really, really well.  Much of my first year was spent trying to figure out my guns and gear – what worked and what didn’t.  I walked into my first match with a modified M&P Compact that was a primary carry gun for me, a Colt 6940P AR-15 rifle, and a Remington Versamax Tactical shotgun.  All three firearms would be replaced in favor of choices more suitable to competition – a modified SIG P320 Compact, a Benelli M2 3 Gun Edition, and two different AR-15 rifles set up for 3 Gun.  As it turns out, I exceeded my performance expectations for the first year – I finished #45 out of 148 competitors nationwide in the “Unlimited” division, and #371 out of 946 competitors nationwide in the “Practical” division.


So I finished in the top half of both divisions, and the top third of the “Unlimited” division.  For my first year out, I’m more than happy with that performance.  Hopefully, in 2017 I can finish in the top 25% of both divisions.  I’ll also add that I didn’t “DQ” in any of my matches.  They say that no matter how good you are, everyone gets a disqualification (DQ) sooner or later – it’s inevitable.  But at least it didn’t happen in my first year for me – I really tried to, above all else, be safe.

In the 3 Gun Nation Club Series, competitors are ranked based on their performance on various standardized classifier stages which clubs run either as stages which are part of their matches or as entire Classifier matches in which every stage of the match is one of the various standardized Classifier stages.  The set-up specifications for these stages are found on the 3 Gun Nation website, which creates a level playing field.  So the Classifier stage “Triple Play” is run the exact same way at every 3 Gun Nation club across the US, and the score of every 3 gun Nation member who shoots this stage is captured and recorded on the 3 Gun Nation website:


So as you can see from the above, on the “Triple Play” classifier stage, I ranked 21st out of 43 (there are many classifier stages and not every club will run every classifier stage) in my division, and #147 out of the 286 shooters in all divisions that shot “Triple Play” in 2016.

Every 3 Gun Nation member earns both a ranking within their chosen division and a classification.  From the 3 Gun Nation Website:  “Members must shoot 1 classifier in order to receive a 3GN ranking and compete in 4-Classifiers to be eligible for any points towards qualification.  After shooting more than 4 classifiers, only the top 4 scores will contribute to the shooters ranking and overall points. As the shooter continues to shoot and record classifier scores the system will only keep the top 4 scores. It is through this method that a shooter will move up through the classes.”  The Classifier system is also one of the main ways which shooters qualify for an invitation to the 3 Gun Nation Nationals.  Here are the six classes and the percentages need to qualify:

Pro 95-100%
Semi-Pro 84-94.9%
Expert 75-84.9%
High Marksman 60-74.9%
Marksman 60-74.9%
Amateur 2-39.9%

I’m fortunate that between the two 3 Gun Nation clubs that are within an hour drive of my home, I have the opportunity to shoot nearly every weekend.  I also had the opportunity to shoot in eleven classifier stages during my first year, which gave me the opportunity to qualify in two separate divisions – “Unlimited” and “Practical.”  I steadily improved as the weeks went by, and I made it out of the “Amateur” ranks to the “Marksman” classification.  I’m sure I can make “High Marksman,” and perhaps even “Expert” in 2017.  How did I shoot in 2 separate divisions?  In my case, it wasn’t hard.  The only aspect of my 3 Gun gear which throws me into the “Unlimited” division is the red dot optic on my pistol, but my rifle and shotgun work for the “Practical” division, which is the most popular division in the 3 Gun Nation Club Series.  So when we Classifier stages that were, for example, all-shotgun or all-rifle, I could pick which division I wanted the score to count toward.  My best scores I usually had count toward the “Unlimited” division, which is why I placed better in that division than the “Practical” division.

Goals For 2017

Shoot every local match I possibly can – The experience gained in shooting local matches is invaluable.  We are fortunate in that our local Match Directors do attend Regional matches, and bring back things that they see to our local club to better prepare us all for shooting at larger matches.

Get some 3 Gun Specific Training – I missed out on a local training opportunity this year due to a schedule conflict, but I’d like to rectify that in 2017.  I might even like to travel to one of the larger training facilities that have specialized 3 Gun Training courses.

Go to at least one 3 Gun Nation Regional Match – From everything I’m told, everything about a Regional match “takes it up a notch.”  The challenge and the fun sound great – hopefully, a good Regional match opportunity will work out for me to attend something in the Midwest our Southeast that is within a 4-8 hour drive.  Although the prospects of perhaps flying out West to one of the larger, open terrain matches is enticing as well.

Do well enough to be invited to the 3GN Nationals -the 3 Gun Nation Nationals is an “invite only” event.  I’ll have to do extremely well in my division or at a Regional event in order to get an invite.  It might be a stretch goal, but it’s a worthy one.

Are you shooting in 3 Gun Nation?  If not, head over to the 3 Gun Nation Website and find a club match near you!

About John B. Holbrook, II

John B. Holbrook, II is a freelance writer, photographer, and author of, as well as and

*All text and images contained in this web site are the original work of the author, John B. Holbrook, II and are copyright protected. Use of any of the information or images without the permission of the author is prohibited.


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