There are cars, and then there are race cars.
There are guns, and then there are race guns.
The best place to see race guns in action is at a 3-Gun match.
3-Gun is an action-shooting sport, in which competitors using pistols, carbines and shotguns engage a variety of steel, clay and silhouette targets on shooting stages designed to test their skills with all three firearms. They compete for time and accuracy — a miss can add a time penalty to a shooter’s overall score.
It’s one of the fastest-growing shooting sports in the world for both men and women, and when you see a match, it’s easy to understand why.
3-Gun is fast — real fast.
Shooters engage targets as quickly as accuracy allows. Reloads are at combat speed. Movement is at the double.
Most serious 3-Gunners use high-end, high-capacity 1911 variants in 9mm or . 40 caliber, AR platforms fitted with advanced optics and semi-auto shotguns with extended magazine tubes.
The highly-modified guns are built for accuracy, reliability and speedy reloads, as is the gear.
Belt rigs feature Kydex holsters and magazine holders for quick, one-handed access to pistol and carbine mags. Many competitors carry shotgun ammo on chest rigs, which allow them to grab up to four shells at a time for faster reloads.
There are three basic divisions — open, limited and tactical — which specify magazine capacity, whether the shooter can mount an electronic optic on their handgun, and the amount of magnification on their rifle scope that they’re allowed to use.
Despite all the running and gunning, 3-gun is an incredibly safe sport.
As they run through the stages, each competitor is trailed by a range safety officer, who times the shooter and insures that they practice safe muzzle discipline. While minor scrapes and bruises do happen, serious injuries are rare.
Nationally, sport has never been more popular, thanks to 3-Gun Nation, a pro-series with its own television show, magazine, sponsors and fan base in the millions.
Chad Adams, 3-Gun Nation’s vice president, said once the TV show aired, popularity of the sport “exploded.”
“People who never knew such a dynamic, action-packed, fast-paced shooting sport existed, and were seeing it for the first time, turned out to the range,” Adams said. “It’s become a lifestyle brand. There are more than 270,000 followers on our Facebook site, and there aren’t that many 3-Gun shooters in the country.
“And 3-Gunners are athletes who use the scary black guns that everyone wants to ban in a positive light. We’ve put something out there that all people — gun guys and gun gals — can enjoy.”
The Manatee 3 Gun club is a good example of the type of local 3-Gun groups that are surging in popularity around the country.
The Southwest Florida club started with a cadre of just 8-10 shooters, who would gather at a private range on weekends, erect a few shooting stages and then hone their skills.
Their recent championship — the club’s first — drew 80 shooters from all over the country, including several who were sponsored and nationally ranked.
“Our club’s just gotten bigger and bigger,” said Todd Newby, match director for the championship shoot.
It’s not hard to figure out why.
Newby and his members are extremely gracious and engaging, especially with shooters new to the sport.
“There’s a real camaraderie here. It’s also fun, relaxing and a great way to relieve stress,” said Barry Campbell, a property manager who’s been shooting 3-Gun for three years in the tactical division.
Al Ales, the club’s spokesman, encourages new shooters to try the sport with whatever firearms they have on hand.
Some first-timers have brought 60-year-old M1 carbines, out-of-the-box handguns and hunting shotguns, he said.
“They don’t need all the expensive gear,” Ales said. “We’ll help them out. Almost anything will work. It’s ‘run what you brung.’”
— If we don’t run into each other at the range, you can reach me at (941) 284-8553, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail, 1741 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You also can follow me on social media at facebook.com/TheGunWriter or Twitter.com/ht_gunwriter or watch us on our new YouTube Channel.