Adam Maxwell:

[00:00:30] up everybody. Coming at you from my backyard, today. Want to put a new spin on an old topic. People want to talk about rifle set ups all the time, and if you read the title, you know we’re here to talk about something that’s a little out of the ordinary.
Right here, I have my first three gun rifle, my first real three gun rifle. It was built for me by a friend. It’s very representative of what a lot of folks who came up in [00:01:00] the Novekse Shooting Team era of three gun, like I did, started out with. You have the 18 inch rifle length gas system, with a heavy stock. Big mag well on it. At the time, when this was a [tac optics 00:01:13] rifle, it weighed upwards of 10.5, 11 pounds.
There’s a lot of conventional wisdom, at the time, that keeps getting rehashed, and rehashed in conversations, as they pop up, every week. There’s a lot of people, [00:01:30] I think, who regurgitate this old information, and haven’t really revisited at the time, and I feel like the landscape of the rifle world has changed.
So, not really here to give you, or convince you of anything. I just want to reset the conversation to the present day, and the game, as it exists today.
So, if we rewind, back to about 2010, or so, the 18 inch rifles [00:02:00] ruled the day. This was primarily for two reasons. One, it was the most efficient way to get the optimal performance out of a .223 cartridge, and that’s still true today. The other thing that was very … that made it very popular at the time, was the rifle length gas system. To get the softest recoil impulse possible. You’ll hear a lot of that information regurgitated today, but I think [00:02:30] a few things have changed, since then, that have maybe turned the tables on the 18 inch gun, that are worthy of consideration.
Primarily what we’re talking about is the advent, the vetting, of adjustable gas blocks. As adjustable gas blocks became more popular, more people refined their designs, and they became more reliable, we didn’t need a rifle length gas system to get the softest recoil impulse anymore. [00:03:00] They’re still very soft, to be sure, but what sold it at the time was that it was the softest shooting rifle you could get.
As time went on, I fell out of love with these rifles. I started shooting some of these shorter rifles, and realized that this thing is pretty heave. It was pretty heavy. When it was a [tac optics 00:03:23], it weighed probably 10.5, 11 pounds. I found myself fighting with the rifle [00:03:30] quite a bit, as the sport evolved more into this arena style game that it’s become today.
So, this was my serious rifle, but then there were a couple matches where I just got tired of this. I wanted to put it down for a little while. I picked up some of my shorter guns. Eventually, I got tired of fighting with my 18 inch rifle, and I found my way to the 14.5s.
14.5 in rifles, I found, were a lot more nimble, than the [00:04:00] 18 inch rifles, that were in vogue, at the time. I started to really be a fan of them. The rifle itself was a lot more nimble. It was a lot lighter. Not so much lighter, but it balanced better, for me.
As I really started to do research with it, I found that I wasn’t giving up anything in a 14 inch rifle, that I was getting from an 18 inch rifle. I could get the same ballistic performance on target. I was still making [00:04:30] hits with ease out of a 14 inch rifle. The ballistics still matched up with my BBC radicals, and all the ballistic tables, and everything, for the type of hits we needed on three gun style targets. I found I got exactly the same performance out of a 14 inch rifle, that I got out of an 18 inch rifle. And, I had a rifle that was a lot easier to shoot, for the majority [00:05:00] of the game, because if we realistically look at what the three gun game, itself, is today, long range targets are, maybe 10% of the shooting you’ll do at a match, maybe. Whereas the rest of the match, you still have to wrestle with an SPR style rifle.
Whereas, the 14 inch rifle, I didn’t have any of that. I was still getting ballistic performance, and I had something that was more nimble [00:05:30] to shoot, as we interacted with props, with cars, barricades, shooting under walls, compromised shooting positions. I found I was fighting the rifle a lot less with a 14.5 inch gun.
The caveat with a 14 inch gun, you do have to pin and weld the mizzle break on there, which isn’t a big deal, really it’s some of the most simple gunsmithing your gunsmith’s ever going to have to do. Takes him about 10 minutes, [00:06:00] and if you want to change it, it’s just a matter of drilling it out and re-pinning it. They say you have to pin and weld it, they don’t say you have to pin and weld it well. So, in the broad scheme of things, pinning and welding isn’t a real big deal.
You will notice that I skipped right over 16 inches. The simple answer for that is the 16 inch doesn’t give me anything I need. The only reason that 16 inch barrels exist is because of the National Firearms Act. That’s the only way … that’s [00:06:30] the shortest rifle you can have without welding something onto the end of your rifle.
But, with pin and welding, the compensators that we use in three gun, on the end of a rifle, we can trim another two to three inches off a rifle, and get a package that we need, and there’s a lot of really popular ones out there today. If I had to be one and done, with a rifle, and I could only have one, it would be a 14.5 inch rifle.
But, with what I learned, [00:07:00] going to 14 inch rifles, I began to ask the question, “If I’ve come this far, why don’t I keep going? Why don’t we look closer at short barrel rifles?”
And I couldn’t find any good information on it. I know there’s some people who have done the research on it, that aren’t sharing, and I found a lot of people who would say things like, “I have this PDW”, or “This truck gun, that I built, and I shoot it for fun, once in a while, but it doesn’t perform really good.”
But, [00:07:30] if you look at some of the rifles they were shooting, they weren’t three gun rifles, they were goonie short barrel rifles that people bought because they were fun. Or, for other purposes. No wonder they didn’t perform like a three gun rifle did.
[00:08:00] So, my question, then, became, “If I’m unleashing the same amount of energy, every time I dent the primer, I’m gonna get “N” amount of pressure generated. If I don’t need that pressure to build velocity for a long range hit, or to fight the wind, or what have you. If I don’t need that pressure to generate velocity, can I, instead, harness that energy to drive a compensator harder? Can I [00:08:30] build a three gun rifle that gives me more recoil control, in a shorter package? And what does that cost?”
So, I started playing with short barrel rifles. What I found was actually quite interesting. I found that I got a much handier package that was a lot easier to get in [00:09:00] and out of positions, and I didn’t give up a whole lot, if I was going to be inside of 400 yards.
The big caveat on the short barrel rifles is you are giving up some velocity, to be sure. Once you get past about 200, 250 yards, the dope on the bullet changes quite a bit. Well, not quite a bit but, you need to start paying attention to the ballistics more carefully to get hits. [00:09:30] If you realistically look at the ranges that we’re shooting inside a three gun, that pretty much encompasses most of the targets at most of the matches, across the country.
So, I started to see if I could drive more energy into a compensator, and a gas system, to get a rifle that potentially recoiled less, and was in a handier package. I think I found that. [00:10:00] It’s harder to do in a shorter rifle, because the pressure curves are more extreme in a shorter barrel rifle, so finding an equilibrium of the right blend of gas to cycle reaction reliably, without over-gassing the system is tricky to do. Once you have that, and some of the ones that I’ve dialed in, like the PWS, it’s like shooting a staple gun. It really is. Ti’s definitely [00:10:30] become one of my preferred set ups.
They’re more than capable at three gun distances. If you look at what these rifles were originally built for, by the manufacturer, they were going after the CQB rifles in the [SOP-MOD 00:10:46] program for the military, to offer short barrel carbines for assaulteres, for people who clear rooms for a living. They needed a rifle that was very handy, and maneuverable [00:11:00] in tight spaces, but still capable up to 300, 400 yards. Well, what do we do in three gun? We’re working around a lot of close quarters, props, cars, things of that nature, doing positional work, and most of our targets are within 3-400 yards.
So, really, if we look at … does a three gun rifle requirements close resemble Mark 18, CQB assaulter’s type rifle, [00:11:30] or is it more similar to a DMR, a designated marksman rifle? I would say that vast majority of three gun is more towards this side of the house, so I would say that, maybe, folks should start looking a little bit closer at these rifles that were more specifically designed for that purpose.
That’s not to say that these rifles are incapable at long ranges. [00:12:00] The certainly are. All the rifles that I’ve tested with 11, 10 inch barrels, they’re still minute, or sub-minute guns, out to 400 yards. They can get four inch groups, pretty readily, with this PWS, and other rifles that I’ve tried. So, the rifles, themselves, are capable. What becomes [00:12:30] challenging with them is that the dope starts to change. Once you get out to 250, your drops are going to change, and that’s something you have to be aware of, and account for, if you’re going to shoot at those distances.
That’s just math you have to do. That’s just notes you have to take, and holds you have to learn. No different than any other rifle. You have to know the holds on these, too. They’re just different with this one. So, I don’t really consider that to be a big [00:13:00] hindrance.
If I were going to a match where I knew there was going to be a lot of long range, yes, I would tend more towards my 14 inch rifle, again, but I’m not afraid to shoot long range with this rifle. And, what I gained out of cutting the barrel down, was I gained something that was a lot better balanced, and a lot handier in the more arena style courses. The weight of it is less, because we cut some weight off the front end, [00:13:30] and then, in doing so, we also brought the center of gravity back closer to us. So, we have more of the weight in our support hand, or our fire control hand. We have less to work with out here.
I think we have the angles of it, are a bit better to have more control over this weight, as we hold it up. As you have to stand, and deliver, for 90-100 seconds, sometimes, in some of the longer field course [00:14:00] stages, you’re not as fatigued holding up this rifle, to get a pinpoint shot.
Now, the flip side of that argument would be, “Well, just get in better shape, so you can hold up this rifle.” Well, get in better shape, strength is strength. If you can hold up that rifle, you can hold up this rifle easier. They weigh what they weigh. So, I don’t accept the weakling argument [00:14:30] against some of these rifles.
The other argument that’s very interesting is, “Well, we shoot really long shot guns.” That’s true. But, why do we shoot long shot guns? We shoot long shotguns because they give us a capacity advantage. What’s the trade off for the capacity advantage? The capacity comes at the cost of length. But, when you add length to a shotgun, you’re adding very thin tub of aluminum, or carbon fiber. When you add length to a rifle, you’re [00:15:00] adding steel. We’re adding very thick, dense steel, and that changes the characteristics of the rifle quite a bit.
So, I think the argument could be made that, “Yeah, we shoot long shotguns, but you can shoot shorter rifles because we’re shaving the weight, and getting something that’s better balanced.”
The flip side to the shorter rifles is that you get less intrinsic balance [00:15:30] from just the mechanics of pointing the gun. The longer it is, the more naturally you can just point-shoot the gun, which is something that’s quite prevalent with these, and that’s what a lot of folks will say is that they can naturally point the gun and hit targets without even really looking at the sights. That is true, but again, you have to weigh the benefits with the costs. I think that’s part of what you need to consider when you look at some of these rifles.
[00:16:00] Another thing that comes up, when we start talking about short barrel rifles, obviously, there some legal paperwork that goes with them. You have to file form four, form one, with the ATF. You got to have your stamps with you. There’s a tax associated with owning these items, and there’s state and local restrictions with traveling with them. I think that’s just a cost you have to pay. You have to decide if it’s worth it for you. A lot of us have spent a lot more than $200 to get a competitive advantage, before. So, I don’t see [00:16:30] it as, necessarily, cost prohibitive, in the grand scheme of what I watch people spend on rifles, all the time. It is something to consider.
The other thing to know, before you go the SBR route, one three gun rifles, is that they are regulated, when you’re traveling outside of your home state. To leave your home state, with your registered short barrel rifle, you need to submit form 20 to the ATF, and basically get their permission to move about the country. Those are good for about a year. So, it’s something that you fill out, and send in. It takes them a few weeks to [00:17:00] process it. It’s not terrible, but it does … if that’s something you want to do, it is a process that you need to follow.
Now, do I dislike having to fill out the form, and get the permission to do this? Yeah, I do. Do I look forward to the day that it changes? Yes, I do. But, if I think it’s a competitive advantage, frankly, it’s harder to book a hotel room, than it is to file form 20. So, if I’m going to a match that I think a short barrel rifle is going to be an advantage, [00:17:30] I’m going to take the five minutes, I’m going to fill out the form, and get it approved ahead of time, so I can bring a short barrel rifle to a match.
So, that’s some of the things I wanted to talk about, when we realistically have a conversation about what a three gun rifle does. Do you really need an 18 inch barrel? I would say the day of the 18 inch barrel is dead, if you’re being honest with yourself. Unless you live in a geographically vast place, like Texas, or Nevada, or if you [00:18:00] shoot at Tar Heel a lot, if long range is a big part of your three gun experience, then it makes some sense to have an 18 inch rifle. But, I don’t think that the conventional wisdom of the base three gun rifle needs to be an 18 inch rifle. I don’t think that plays anymore. I think the technology has changed, and the game has changed, to where the shorter rifles start to make a lot of sense.
If I had to have one rifle, or if you can only have one [00:18:30] rifle, to do everything you want to do in three gun, I think the hands down choice is now a 14, or 13 inch rifle, whichever legal length you want. But, the 14 inch rifle, I think, really, should be considered the new standard. It’s the shortest rifle you can get, without the paperwork, and it does everything an 18 inch rifle does. It does, pretty much, everything a short barrel rifle does.
Now, if you can have more than one, if you can have a variety of tools, in your toolbox, [00:19:00] I really think you need to give short barrel rifles a look. They take a little bit more homework to get dialed in. They’re a little bit more finicky, but when you do, I think there are definitely some performance advantages to them that make them a viable option for three gun.
So, there you have it guys. Some brief thoughts on barrel lengths for three gun rifles. It’s definitely a broad topic that has been discussed at [00:19:30] length, many, many times, on a weekly basis, but I wanted to, again, reset the conversation, because I feel like we’re still rehashing the same thread from [ARFCOM 00:19:41] from 2011. Let’s bring the conversation into 2017, and look at, realistically, what the technology has evolved to, what the rifles are capable of, and what we need the rifles to do for us, to pick the optimal package to give us the performance [00:20:00] we need.
So, that’s just my opinion. If I could only have one, have a 14. If I can have two, I’m going to have a 14, and an 11. There isn’t really a whole lot of reason to go shorter than 10, or 11, because then, really, you’re just shooting a PCC with a big fireball. But, the short rifles are definitely worth a look, especially if you rarely see a target beyond 300 yards. But, that’s just my mileage, your may vary.
I definitely invite you to comment [00:20:30] below what you think about the different barrel lengths of three gun rifles. Come find us on Instagram, Facebook, hawkeyeordnance and hawkeyeignite, on Facebook. is where you can find all the events we’re doing up here, in Minnesota. You can find me on Instagram, pewpewamax. My cohort, Mark, is at hawkeyesyndicate.
Let us know what you think. Let’s get this conversation restarted again, and [00:21:00] realistically look at what we need out of three gun rifles, today.
I’m Adam Maxwell, and that’s all I had to say about that.
What’s up everybody, coming at you live form my backyard, today. If you see ISIS sneaking up behind me, please leave a comment down below, and I will try to danger up in tine to avoid this from being a tragic documentary.
This is my first three gun rifle I ever bought, or had built. If you’ve seen [00:21:30] me shoot this rifle live, and in person, we’re probably good friends, because it was a long time ago.