About 18 months ago, I decided it was high time for me to try my hand at 3 Gun. Life was good; I carved out some range time and found a friend to attend with me. He had some experience running matches, so he helped me kit up and learn some practice drills. We had a great time, even if he consistently smoked my stage times.
He has a bigger bankroll and runs in unlimited class. His pistol is a semi-custom Glock with an RMR optic, extended barrel, and 21 round mags. The AR-15 he runs is custom built with Sun Optics 1×6 main glass and Vortex Venom as his 45° offset. He has a huge compensator, whose brand name escapes me, and a Harris folding bipod. The shotgun he runs is a Siaga. He has personally slicked it up to run reliably with Winchester AA shells.
My starting equipment was my full sized M&P 9mm with an Apex forward reset trigger, 18-inch .223 Wylde chamber AR-15 with Vortex 1×6 scope and 45° offset iron sights. My shotgun was a Remington 870 with a mag tube extension. I am guessing you can see part of the reason he smoked me on most of our practice events. Well… other than me having never done the drills before.
At our first event, my goal was simple: don’t get a disqualification (DQ), don’t do something dumber than a DQ, and don’t finish last. In a surprising show of not being completely inept, I succeeded at all three. I will take complete credit for items one and two. Item three was pretty easy, as I was not the only newbie, and there was one guy who brought his 80-year-old father to shoot. “Dad” did awesome, but he was slow moving around the stages.
However, even without Dad, I was almost never the worst shooter on a stage and even finished up in the pack on a rifle heavy stage. On that stage, I finished 2 out of 9 in our heat, and 11 out of 35. I wasn’t nearly as good on the shotgun heavy stage. My placing was 7 in our heat, and something like 28 out of 35. My first real attempt under duress, and I am not a shotgun guru by any stretch, and I was running a pump… So, I figured with more practice, I would get better.
Life got in the way, so the next practice was our next event. I did pretty good on pistol. Some luck made me the 7th fastest on the Texas star stage. I did quite good on the stage with a focus on long-range rifle, 2nd in my stage and around 10th overall. In the stage with 28 rounds of shotgun, I was smoked from the jump. My shotgun held 8 rounds total. My Invictus Practical 12-Q shotgun caddy holds 12 rounds, which left me with pockets of shells for “super quick” access for the extra 8 rounds, assuming I shot clean. I decided to dump 8 rounds in each front pocket, just in case.
We will say that was a fortuitous decision. Not because my aim was off; rather, my trusty Remington 870 decided to break the shell elevator. She worked fine for the first 5 shots—five slugs, five holes in the center of the cardboard. Shot six became interesting as she went click!, not bang! Quick repump and something bounces off my boot and click!, not bang!
A quick glance down, and I noted that there were two unfired shells at my feet. A few seconds of fiddling determined, shells are not being lifted into the chamber. I devised a quick work around as I reloaded. Open chamber, flip gun upside down so gravity will feed the shell, visually confirm location of shell, slam into battery, flip gun right side up, aim, fire, eject… repeat.
I cleared the stage with three more unfired shells on the ground. Reloading from my pockets was as torturously slow as my field expedient chambering technique. My time was 2 minutes and 48 seconds. That was slightly less than double the next slowest competitor. It felt like 15 minutes to me. The great thing, every single person in my heat came over and slapped me on the back or shook my hand.
One guy asked how I knew to flip the gun. Another guy immediately offered to let me use his Benelli on the next stage. My buddy, slightly red faced, smiled and told me, “I have that on video.” I watched the video. It wasn’t so bad. I adapted and overcame. Yes, my time on that stage was dead last. Even with that, I was not dead last in the event. Close, but not last. Sometimes, small victories are the important ones.
The Benelli Performance Shop M2 – 3 Gun Edition, was awesome. Even though I had never run one before, my time compared to my properly functioning 870 was not even close. I mentioned my bankroll earlier. At +/- $2,100, the Benelli was not a responsible adult purchase for me. That meant looking for another option. That came in the form of a sub $600 Stoeger M3k.
I have heard rumors that Benelli bought Stoeger due to how well they copied the Inertia Drive and did it at such a distinct discount. There is no way to determine the truth of that statement, but crazier things have been done in the corporate, much less gun community. The Stoeger is not a Benelli. The machining is a tad rougher as is the rest of the fit and finish, but at 30% of the cost, it is easily 80% of the gun. That is a proper adult purchase for me.
The Stoeger M3K is made in Turkey, but it is not like many Turkish guns. They did their homework on this one and I am sure Benelli has been keeping an eye on quality control as well. The shotgun has a sturdy aluminum receiver that comes optic ready. The 24-inch barrel points well and quickly puts lead where you want it. Compared to the Benelli, there are minor differences to the inertia drive system. The cam location is different, as is the carrier latch; but in use, they are almost identical. Some people even suggest loading is easier in the Stoeger due to lighter resistance in the latch. My loading technique is not good enough to tell.
From the factory, there are some obvious items that need attention before heading out to a 3 gun match. The most obvious is increasing the 4+1 capacity. Getting larger control surfaces would be great too. With this in mind, I spent $200 with MOA Precision. This garnered me a +6 magazine tube kit, a blue oversized charging handle, a blue oversized safety, blue oversized bolt release, improved follower and an improved Disconnector.
With a good set of instructions, internet installation video, and a few tools, my basic upgrade was done in about 2 hours. Some of that time dealt with user error. I may or may not have lost the follower for 20 minutes. I also included a Hi-Vis iron sight system, as I cannot use optics in my class. The installation time was 20 minutes.
The factory chokes have served me well, although I may upgrade to a Carlson set for next season. They offer a few more choices and pattern a bit better.
At about 450 rounds into owning this shotgun, it has eaten every 2 ¾” shotshell I have sent its way. My 7.5 birdshot runs great, both the Federal Target loads and the Winchester AA. I run Federal Heavy Load for longer shots or heavier targets. It has a bit more recoil, but works flawlessly. Remington Managed Recoil Buckshot and Winchester 1 oz slugs have been champs. The only feeding issue was one variant of low-recoil Fiocchi slugs that did not load reliably, but that is a known issue, and the Fiocchi with a slightly heavier powder load fixed the issue.
In the future, once my loading technique improves enough to make it matter, I will be removing some metal from the feed port. The factory port is decent, but it could lose a bit of height, have the port beveled more for smoother flow, and to allow for a bit of user slop. Currently, my loading ability is not hindered by the unmodified loading port.
All told my (as modified) $900 Stoeger, coupled with my skill, or lack of, is pretty much equal to my running the triple base-price Benelli. I am sure if I chose to practice weekly and compete monthly, there would be a point where my improvements might encourage me to believe the Benelli would up my game. Seeing as I practice about once every six weeks and compete 4 times a year, the Stoeger M3K is far better than I am.