I was still in college procrastinating on homework the first time I ever saw 3-Gun Nation. While I was already on a collision course with my 3-gun obsession, 3GN certainly was a catalyst to the sport as it exists today. Though it seemed like a pipe dream at the time, I have thrown my hat into the ring as a semi –pro for the last few years for the same reason I suppose a lot of folks buy lottery tickets… because maybe, just maybe, one day I would make the cut. With each passing year, as I improved, it became a more attainable goal but always just out of reach. When we closed the book on 2015 in Tulsa last fall, I was closer than ever, but still below the cut. Then in February, an email came…
The Pro Series has evolved a lot from what it started out as a few years ago. The primary driving force behind this is to make it a palatable format for TV. Traditional outlaw 3-gun is hard to film, and even harder to make appear interesting to an at home audience. Therefore, the Pro Series as it exists today is 100% made for TV and, other than involving the three guns and the same rules, is unlike any other match in the country. Each match consists of six athletes and three stages. Everyone shoots the first stage and then half progress and half go to an eliminator. Eliminators are synonymous with a “Last Chance Qualifier” for you motorsports racing fans, only the winner get a second chance and advances. This continues on as six become four, four become three, and three become two…the top two shooters then advance to the big shoot-off at nationals for the $50,000 grand prize in the fall with all the qualifiers from all the other episodes.
In case you missed it, as a shooter you are only guaranteed 1 ½ stages. All the standard expenditures of going to a major match apply…plus taking place in the middle of the week in addition to some other caveats, and no prize table unless you win in the fall. It does beg the question: Why go at all? Of all the matches in all the land, why go to this one? For me, the answer was pretty simple: the thrill of competition in its purest form and at its highest level. I don’t care about the prizes and I don’t care about being on TV, but I will be damned if I were to let an opportunity to swing the bat in the major leagues pass me by. If I got knocked out in the first round…well, that would be the longest ride home ever, but it is better to fail greatly than to fail to try.
The day starts at the crack of Noon, when they start doing interviews and photoshoots. Interviews don’t really make me nervous, and based upon watching the show in seasons past I had some ideas of what I would say. Of course, they didn’t really ask me any questions I had good answers for, so that didn’t work out. As for the photoshoot, um, yeah…I don’t want to talk about it. After a brief break, the practice session begins. Basically they give you three hours to shoot the stages as much as you want in sort of a jam-session format. This serves as practice for you and B-roll film for the show. I of course love shooting guns way too much, and had a bunch of nervous energy, so I took full advantage the whole time. For this I received some good natured flak from the other shooters, but hey- even if I get knocked out in the first round, at least I got my fix in. After practice wrapped up, the crew began freshening up the course and setting up the lights. In two hours, it’s show time.
Stage One was a pressure cooker. First, there is the pressure of not choking. Then, there is the pressure to make the cut to stage two. On top of that, myself being the lowest seed, I got slotted to go first. Finally, on my mind were all those folks at home who in one way or another made it possible for me to be here. If it is possible to feel very smothered and yet very alone all at the same time, I felt it when I laid my hand on the button and Romero said “Shooter Ready?”
In the moment, the shooting always feels slow. I got through the stage in a reasonable amount of time with no penalties, and then proceeded to sit on the hot seat for 20 minutes (literally, you have to sit there). I was sweating bullets the whole time, because if there was one thing I didn’t want to shoot in this match it was the Stage One pistol eliminator with two other desperate athletes. Everyone at this level is a good pistol shooter, so it is nearly impossible to ride your pistol to victory, and by the same token even a slightly less than stellar pistol run can end your match. Luckily for me, I escaped the pistol eliminator by about half a second.
I don’t know if I can say I went into full beast mode after that, but after Stage One the pressure was definitely off. The adrenaline was flowing, I had secured my pro status for next year, I was having a blast, and I officially had nothing to lose. Before I knew it I facing off against Rob Tate in the rifle eliminator on Stage Three. The rifle eliminator consisted of a spinner and four poppers shot off hand at about 50 yards. I’ve shot the MGM Ironman so many times that the spinner doesn’t scare me anymore, but it is a wild card. This is because there are so many variables that go into spinning one and none of them can be planned (realistically). Unlike the Ironman however, they do not call “over”…which will mess with one’s head every time. I spun it in 19 seconds and picked up the poppers along the way. It was a decent run, but I felt I left the door open for Rob. As it would turn out, he got it swinging, released a surgical double tap on the bottom plate (extremely hard to do), and bested me by 4 seconds. It was very well done.
The Pro Series was quite a ride and certainly the unadulterated rush that I ultimately seek from action shooting competition. The format is definitely different, but I certainly did not feel short changed. While there are not many stages “for score” you can get your fill of shooting for sure in the practice session. The other unique part of the practice session is you can experiment with things. Usually we only got to look at the stages before we shoot them for score and can only speculate on what will work and how we want to do the stage. On stage Two, the activator and the first plate on the propeller plate rack were very close together. Could it be doubled with one shot? We spent about 20 minutes shooting it with every shell and choke under the sun. It could be done, but it was risky…decisions decisions. That aspect of the match was very interesting because I definitely made some changes to my game plan during the jam session. The best part was the level of competition though. I am super stoked to have had the chance to ride the meanest bull in 3-gun and look forward to a chance to lock horns with the Pro Series again next year.