Looking back over the last year, and the last few matches for that matter, it is clear to say that I have much to learn about 3-Gun.  In reflection the encouragement is that I’ve not let it stop me from getting started.  Old dynamics of my past experiences are now forced to higher levels by the challenge of this sport.  Ever more so the enthusiasm builds for more chances to compete despite our beloved Minnesota winters.  The sport is fast, and growing with that split-time speed, bringing in new shooters, and more challengers.  In just a year I’ve travelled from the freshest face, to embracing the community’s close, yet welcoming brotherhood/comradeship/unity/environment.

I didn’t start competing in 3-gun, or any sport.  Rather my first competitive appetite grew amidst the members of my squad as I entered the last year of my time in 3rd Ranger Battalion.  The other Team Leader and I had a sort of competitive spirit, which spilled into our training at the range.  This turned into full-blown attempts at beating each other in make-shift pistol and rifle competitions amongst our comrades.  This earned our whole squad a reputation of crack shots, as even our “minions” tasted the fruits of our competitive labors.

Still I departed the Army in 2013 and eagerly set to sleuthing after this mythical beast I’d heard of called “3-Gun.”  The vastness of the internet provided some knowledge, but time passed and I had still not shot a match until 2015.  I was convinced that I couldn’t compete with what I had, as Google filled my head with visions of Benelli’s, and raced-out pistols.  To my excitement I caught wind of a “Rifle only” match in the spring of 2015, and with determination I started planning my entry.  Now I can laugh at how silly I had been to wait that long.

In preparation for the match I expected to do quite well.  The Rangers had made me very familiar with the AR, and I expected mixed resistance in my path to glory.  Let me tell you, I was served a heaping slice of humble-pie that day, but that, perhaps, was the best part.  These competitors, friendly as they were between stages, lit the fire of challenge again in me.  Even knowing it was a sport I still had to deliberately fight old instincts to use cover, or make decisions according to old training, but that didn’t negate that these shooters shot faster, and more accurately, all under the pressure of the dreaded shot-clock, which is no joke.

I left that match eager, coursing in the thrill of it.   From that moment on I set out to continue competing, to tackle my own progress so that I could challenge the top shooters in stages to come.  I assessed my obstacles, and eagerly set out to attend every match I could between work trips abroad.  When away I could use a more honed knowledge, thankful for the advice given after matches to improve my game.

The first obstacle, the most detrimental, was learning the rules of the game.  Knowing full well that 3-Gun is a sport is necessary.  Combat training has its place, but is a much broader scope of skills than what are used at a competitive match.  So while I knew that I’d have to play the game, the drive to become better master of the rifle, shotgun, and pistol would fit into any defensive training I would later contribute to.  Stepping out of a shooters box may come naturally in aggressive urban combat, but cost me more than a few stages at the start.

Setting out to learn the sport, the best place to glean and apply was simply more matches.  USPSA afforded more chances to shoot, and I needed the pistol practice.  The similarities between USPSA and 3-Gun worked to my favor, and soon I found myself planning stages, and comparing plans.  The value came mostly from the other shooters, in whom the crucible of improvement flourished.  Even if my gear was not in “the meta” solutions were found to complete the stages as they came.  One match led to another, and the more I learned on the range, the more I could refine through the internet when abroad.

Summer came around and I was hunting for a shotgun.  Thankful that I had a better resource then forums alone, I set out to ask other shooters for their recommendations.  The few matches I’d attended gave me some insight into the questions most pertinent, further narrowing my decision.  Each shooter had their own suggestion, and some surprised me when it was not what they were toting that day.  Modularity and affordability got thrown around and piece-by-piece I narrowed my choice to the Versa-Max I shoot now.  Confident in my new scattergun, and eager to learn a new tool I set out for my first full-blown 3-Gun match.

With a better sense of the rules, and more confidence in my other firearms, the skill with a shotgun was that gigantic mountain.  While I cant say I’m any master now, I recall watching each shooter between stages, deciphering how they navigated the objectives, planned reloads, and stored rounds.  I was familiar in safe operation, but far from fluid.  All I had used before was a Remington 870, for hunting ducks, or breaching doors, and this was something completely different.  Thankful that I had a good foundation, I’ve been practicing on and off the range for our upcoming season.  I’ve got all winter, and a training path, so here’s to next year.

Just as each new skill is developed, I know that there is more to build with and build on thanks to the opportunity to learn from others.  The community has been paramount to my involvement.  There’s no easy win, and the competitor in each of us wouldn’t have it any other way.  The wealth of knowledge is shared to any who would ask, as stage plans are discussed, suggestions are made, and compliments don’t come cheap.  All walks of shooters grace the stages, ranging from ex-cool-guy to surprising prodigy, each bringing their own direction and decision making to the sport.  Thankful for stages that support the shooter’s decision we like to push that to our advantage every time.

So, returning to this transition from the “black rifle” world where “operator” is thrown around as much as children playing hot potato, I gladly now call myself a part of the 3-Gun world.  Old prides still have their place, but I’m pleased to leave it off the range, for here I’m still a novice.  Call me an apprentice, if you must, but this shooter is here to stay.