I am happy to report that you guys are getting it. By that, I mean you are getting the bug to join the ranks of the fastest growing shooting sport: 3-Gun!
Consider this the first of several articles to help you gear-up to shoot like a pro!
We will begin by assembling an entry-level 3-gun battery. For some reason when I think of 3-gun or multigun competitions, the order is always: rifle, pistol and shotgun. So, since I am writing this that is how I’ll proceed.
Rifle (or more correctly stated carbine) is first up. To begin we will put a good quality entry-level rifle in your hands. One that you can shoot and enjoy “as-is” and then build on as your skill and pocketbook allow. Since this is a Cheaper Than Dirt! article, I will try to direct to you to products that we offer, but keep in mind that there is some stuff we just don’t have…yet! Perusing the Cheaper Than Dirt! online catalog, we find the DPMS Sportical and Oracle. The DPMS line of carbines has been a staple of the 3-gun community for years and is still an excellent value for the AR enthusiast. It has the right stuff for the right price. The 16-inch barrel with 1 in 9 twist is plenty good for bullets up to 69 grains and shoots many 75s (like the Hornady Steel Match) very, very well. Don’t get caught up in the heavy-bullet-is-better gig, as many hot-rod 3 gunners run 55s!
This is a budget gun so at some point you’ll want to let the otherwise good barrel shoot its best by swapping out the accuracy inhibiting stock hand guards for a free-float forend. I am not a big fan of railed forends, as I only want rails where I need them and that are not between my hands the forend! Here I would recommend rifle-length (12 inches or greater) unit from Hogue in either knurled aluminum or aluminum “over-molded” with rubber. Many of my carbines wear the over-molded unit as it provides a great grip and helps insulate my hand from the heat I am bound to generate! The only hitch in the build so far would be that the hand guard might not slip over the gas block that comes with either the Sportical or Oracle. A couple of choices here: you could go cheap (I would) and cut, file or grind the “pic rail” off the top of the gas block giving enough clearance for the hand guard to fit over. If you want easy with more expense, pick up a low profile gas block like the Troy and swap your stock gas tube onto it.
Staying with the barrel, a good muzzle brake or compensator is in order. It is not a must have but considering the low price of the one I am recommending to you and the improvement in handling, I feel it is worth it. One of the very best all around shooters on the planet had a strong hand in the development of one bearing his name. For about 30 bucks, the Miculek AR-15 comp is hands down the best value and is better anything else at twice the price. OK, maybe it IS a must have! At this point the upper is done.
Moving from the upper to the lower, the only real change I would make within the lower is to change out the trigger group. Back in the old days, we bent springs and polished engagement surfaces. While this improved things, the outcome from all that effort is not even close to the perfection that $200 will buy you today…and no gunsmithing required! For bang switches, Cheaper Than Dirt! offers two “drop-in” units and either should serve you well. Timney Triggers are known for just that, triggers! Although they have a good reputation, I have not had a chance to “test drive” one so I’ll confine my recommendation to one that have, those by CMC Triggers. Cheaper Than Dirt! has within its catalogs both the curved and straight trigger versions and if only for looks, I run the straight one. Again, no gunsmith required. Just push out your two trigger pins, pop in the CMC unit, and replace the stock trigger pins with ones supplied with the CMC trigger. Not only does it offer a nice predictable break, but also a very positive reset. For me the qualities I want in a trigger are a consistency in movement, a known break point for precision shots and a short, solid reset for improved speed. The CMC’s got it!
That should do it for the carbine itself. Now for some optics.
Again, I will only offer up what I know works, things that I have used, so don’t get cranky if I don’t shower praise on your choice of optic or mount. I might love it, too. I just don’t have any experience with it.
We are working within a budget but I will ask you NOT go to too cheap on your optic’s mount! You can get a decent one for under $100, and though you can use a good mount with a cheap scope, the other way round is just foolish. Only two mounts come in at this low price point. One is the Burris P.E.P.R. and the other is ArmaLite one-piece unit. Call me a snob but my personal “best value mount” is the Warne R.A.M.P. The Warne mount is equally at home holding a $150 or $1500 scope.
When the words “budget and optics” are said in the same breath, blurry visions of poorly made guattymotto cheap units come to mind. To avoid that please stay with a name brand. Yes, even name brands offer scopes made “overseas” but having a “name” means, they are more likely to keep a tight reign on quality and provide service after the sale.
I am of the opinion that having a variable power scope that offers one power (1X) on the bottom is more important than magnification beyond 4x on the top. Fully 75% of most 3-gun events challenge competitors with shots less than 100 yards and 50% of those are under 25 yards. Those shots are perfect for the shooter equipped with 1x. Sure, you will see (or hear) of shots taken out to 400 or even 600 yards, but at that point 4x is plenty to put your bullets on target.
For about $300, you can get a good scope that will take you a long way in the 3-gun game. My first choice is Burris’s TAC30. It is a 1x to 4x scope with an illuminated BDC (Bullet Drop Compensating) reticle. A big handful of strong competitors are making good use of this serviceable optic. Leupold has a VX-2 scope that is fits my 1x-4x criteria only this one scope sports a duplex reticle. While I like BDC reticles, they are really not a requirement. Given a standard cross hair reticle and a 300-yard zero, one can make decisive hits on targets from 4 to 400 yards with some practice.
Well there you have it. For an initial investment of $600, you will have a nice little carbine. Pop on the optics and you’ll have a capable carbine for under a grand. Add the trigger, forend and brake and you’ll be threat to win most any match you enter…provided you have the skills.
Shoot safe and often.