Gearing up for 3 Gun

By Dave Dolbee published on in Gear, Gun Gear

Getting into 3 Gun is a great excuse to pull out the gear you bought and have not used in awhile, or purchase the new toys you have had your eye on but needed the excuse. Either way, while 3 Gun is a gear intensive sport, it does not take a huge investment to get started. Over time though, there are certain pieces of gear that you’ll want to improve your game. Here is you your starter list.

Shooting a shotgun from behind a barricade

3 gun will challenge your skill set. Practice firing from cover whenever possible.

The sport of 3 Gun is one of the most social shooting sports you be engaged in. You can show up with just about any pistol, shotgun, and rifle and play (some caliber restrictions apply). Moreover, while you will have a great excuse to buy a lot of new gear, you do not need to have it all the first day. Other club members are often willing to lend a piece of gear or two.

When I started, three of buddies joined with me and we pooled a lot of gear. That not only kept the cost down, it let us try different combinations to see what worked for each of us before making a purchase. There is no way to tell you exactly what gear you’ll need, but I can give you a pretty good idea. Once you shoot your first few rounds and watch those around you and the gear they are running, you’ll find your path rather quickly.

The three guns goes without saying, so there is not much for me to cover here. You will be shooting matches with rather high round counts. Check with the match organizer or read the course outline before signing up. That will give you an idea of the number of rounds. Generally speaking, regular ball ammunition for your handgun will work as well as anything, especially when starting out.

Arex Rex Alpha 9 pistol left profile

Listening to practical shooters, Arex designed and developed a pistol that excels in competitive practical shooting as well as in tactical scenarios.

Having all you need for 3-gun can best be organized if you break it down into three segments: guns/ammo, belt/holster, and transport. Glock, Smith and Wesson, Springfield, FHN – any of the major brands will do. I shot my last competition with an Arex zero 1S. (These guns just love to run.) You’ll need a minimum of three high capacity magazines and mag pouches. Five would probably be better, but three will get the job done.

You’ll see plenty of shotguns on the range with extended mag tubes. Lately, most shooters are switching to magazine fed shotguns. Depending on the capacity, you’ll want to carry 20-plus rounds as a minimum between what is in the gun and in your spare magazines or readily accessible. You can reload on the range, but remember, you will be on the clock and under pressure. Rifles are generally pretty easy with most running an AR-15 with two or more 30-round magazines.


I usually choose a 9mm. It gets the jobs done with less recoil. The ammunition for training and competing is also cheaper than .45 ACP. Depending on the competition, there may be a handicap or power factor that’s limits some of these advantages. Don’t get too hung up on which equipment you have. The range officials will classify you appropriately. Remember, you are learning, not going for the win on day one.

Black Magpul PMAG Gen 3 AR-15 rifle magazine.

Seriously, you can never have enough PMAGs.

For my 9mm pistols, I shoot 115- or 124-grain. I carry 3 19-round and one 17-round on my belt and in the gun. I have never needed more in a single stage. My shotgun is a Magazine fed MKA 1919 Pro. I carry two 10-round and one 23-round magazine. My favorite load is Winchester AA #8s 1300 fps. For my .223, standard 55-grain loads work well enough. However, if your rifle runs better with a heavier bullet, go with what works for your.

Gun Belt

The piece of gear that will yield the biggest improvement to your scores—other than upgraded guns—will be a properly set up competition belt and holster. Any solid gun belt will work, but a dedicated competition double belt will be more solid and allows you to set up and secure your magazine holders in place. This allows you to practice your reloads and develop your muscle memory, which will improve your performance and decrease your stage times.

A quality holster is also a must. 3 Gun requires you to move, even run. Having your gun pop out of the holster can be dangerous, but it will guarantee your disqualification. That means you’ll need a retention holster that completely covers the trigger guard. I use a Double Alpha belt and mag holders, but I’ve also attended training camp and used Kydex holsters and mag pouches with good results.

Competition gun holster and belt.

A quality competition rig and mag holders will do more to improve your game than any other accessory.

Shotgun Accessories

Shotgun accessories are an absolute must. Previously, the top shooters were using the “load 2” and “load 4” method. Taccom and Invictus Practical have belt and chest-rig systems to facilitate that loading method. However, as I previously mentioned, magazine fed shotguns offer advantages that simply can’t be beat when reloads are necessary.

You’ll need two rifle magazines. One 30-round magazine in the gun and one on the belt. Certain stages may require you to start with the rifle unloaded. That will require you to pull a magazine from your belt, so at least one magazine holder is necessary. Alternately, you can get a dump pouch for less than $20, which can double to hold your favorite Pmag or shotgun magazine.


When you are not shooting, your guns will either be holstered or cased. Soft cases work well for long guns and hard or soft cases for your handgun. You’ll need a range or two for the ammo. I also preload my magazines before the competition begins or the next stage and stash them in the range bag until I am ready. Check out Cheaper Than Dirt! for dedicated 3-gun cases, especially if you’ll be flying with your guns.

One of the best pieces of equipment you can buy is crate wagon from your local home improvement store. Three guns and a few hundred rounds of ammunition start to add up if you are carrying them. The wagon can also carry jackets, a cooler, range tools, a cleaning kit, hearing protection, and other accessories.

Do you have a 3 Gun tip or favorite piece of gear? Share your answer in the comment section.


Growing up in Pennsylvania’s game-rich Allegany region, Dave Dolbee was introduced to whitetail hunting at a young age. At age 19 he bought his first bow while serving in the U.S. Navy, and began bowhunting after returning from Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Dave was a sponsored Pro Staff Shooter for several top archery companies during the 1990s and an Olympic hopeful holding up to 16 archery records at one point. During Dave’s writing career, he has written for several smaller publications as well as many major content providers such as Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times, Outdoor Life, Petersen’s Hunting, Rifle Shooter, Petersen’s Bowhunting, Bowhunter, Game & Fish magazines, Handguns, F.O.P Fraternal Order of Police, Archery Business, SHOT Business,, and others. Dave is currently a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!

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Comments (9)

  • Steve


    Good article. I’ve shot three gun for many years and here is my advice. Skip the magazine fed shotguns! Most of those are based on the AK and they don’t function well at all. Guys must tune the heck out of them to keep them from jamming. Also it pushes you into unlimited/open division where you are competing with guys that have scopes and compensators on their pistols and multiple scopes on their rifles.

    Get a Beretta, Benelli, or Remington shotgun with an extended magazine tube. Then watch YouTube videos on how to quad load your shotgun. Get some 40 round Pmags for your AR style rifle.
    Buy a compitition belt with an inner and outer belt that is stiff to attach all your gear to. Shooters connection, Double Alpha and Safariland all make good belts. You will see what other gear you need at your first match. Good luck


    • Steve


      A wagon will work to carry your gear but most guys buy used jogging strollers and attach ATV gun racks to the side and use the seat to hold their range bag. Seems a little easier to maneuver around then a wagon.


  • Hide Behind


    Not putting down as bad any of those gun owners I write of, as it, of my own opinion, is of the overall environment and cultural lack of cohesion between gun owners that has always raised my fears as to future gun ownership.

    I have enough age to remember when gun ownership by individuals was not a divisive issue among the population and have watched the change in cultural attitudes, until today when majority of population are attempting to not just limit of use but deny any and all not connected in past or present government from having any access at all.

    The restrictions upon full automatics began long before my time but that event was allowed to happen because of a campaign of fear and violence hype by those in government and finacialy well off elites and their progreny; the same as is manifested by yodays grouping of aati gun people.An attitude of the majority of posessors of guns at time, hunters of game animals, clay and pigeon shooters, and bird hunters saw no need to themseves of owning a full auto, but even that early tax stopped many from ability to own.

    A victory for anti gun over all gun owners except for a priveledged minority.

    After WWII lies and bullspit kept the Conscription Act , the worst case of abuse to ideals of Constitution from its earliest manifestation began pre 1900, when tens of millions of males first exposure to a gun, the vast majority of them never fired a weapon during their enforced enlistment, and dreaded the times they had to shoulder them nor faced any harm from other armed males.

    The regimentation of minds into that of Government in Washington DC being final aritrator over ones free will and sole authority to control even daily economic livelihoods began.

    If one was then or still is today an opponent of Consciption Powers of that government being an Absolute Law then one is deemed un-patriotic and somehow ones personal enemy.

    I leave off here but in closing I question those whlo have priveleges to own guns why do they run from states with gun restrictions upon posession of, or else choosingvto stay, obey those oppressive laws, instead of standing up to the ideals of the Constitution especially the gross abuse of their 2nd Amendment ideals.

    The greatest power is fear is of death and then come fear of loss of livelihood and disaproval both of the society at large but that of even ones peers within gun owning community.

    Lot of mere excuses that society other than we gun owners is changing is not a true statement, for we dare not look within as to the changes we have chosen as well in own lives.


  • Jay


    “The Kel-Tec Sub 2000 dispenses with all of the problems of the semi-automatic SMG and is a neat trick compared to the best of the competing 9mm carbines. ”

    What exactly is a “semi-automatic SMG”?????

    Please don’t use the laguage of the gun banners. It only strengthens them.


  • George


    Hey, this is an interesting article, though it’s about gear. How about an article on where to go and what to do?


    • Dave Dolbee


      Check back over the next two weeks. We have 2 or 3 more 3 Gun specific articles that will be going live. ~Dave Dolbee


    • Bruce H Robson


      What if you live in a state (Colorado) that limits you to 15 round magazines?


    • Mike


      You can own >15 round mags in Colorado. Just can’t technically purchase them within CO. But the from out of state, buy a mag kit, etc. simple. No one can prove you didn’t have them before the unconstitutional ‘law’ went into effect.


  • LEON


    What about states with mag restrictions, do competitors from those states get a handicap (other than carrying more mags to equal the required round count) or an exemption on the mag capacity limit? Or do we save our entry fees and put them toward saving up to move to a more gun-friendly state?


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