6 Things I Learned At My First Rocky Mountain 3-Gun

Signing with Smith & Wesson was one of the best things I have done for my shooting career.  Having the opportunity to use so many different firearms in a wide variety of shooting sports and divisions has made me a better, all around shooter.  I once feared trying new sports or shooting different guns, but now it excites me as a new, fun challenge.  And that’s exactly why I decided my next “new” adventure in the shooting sports would be 3-Gun.

I dabbled in 3-Gun many years ago, but the sport has greatly evolved. In the few matches I competed in, I borrowed equipment and never shot more than one gun on a stage at a time.  Now in 3-Gun, you not only can shoot rifle, shotgun and pistol on each stage, you’ll find that you can shoot any combination of the three guns in stages.  You might even encounter a fourth gun added into the mix like several of the stages at the Rocky Mountain 3-Gun last weekend.

The Rocky Mountain 3-Gun (RM3G) was my first “official” 3-Gun match. Held at the gorgeous NRA Whittington Center near Raton, NM, the event is notoriously one of the most difficult of the “Outlaw” 3-Gun matches.  Why “Outlaw”?  There really is’t an organization that ties all the matches together the way USPSA, IDPA, IPSC and SCSA do. Consistent rules regarding equipment, divisions and safety across the board for all matches would be ideal. But Outlaw events sell out quickly and organizers feel there is little incentive to associate with an official organization.  There’s a lot of match pride that comes into play as well.  As a new shooter trying to learn about 3-Gun and how to get started, the inconsistencies can be confusing and even frustrating at times.

Despite these challenges, competitors constantly prove to the best people! I have been able to tap into their knowledge and kindness to prepare for the match.  So even though I was humbled on just about every single stage, I went home with a huge amount of great advice and tips for my next event.

My RM3G experience started out with United and Great Lakes Airlines losing all my luggage for about twelve hours. I was not at all pleased with the situation and was left rather unimpressed with the airlines’ customer service.  Fortunately though, my bags arrived in time for me to get a chance to check my zero before the match started on Thursday.  Safariland’s Scott Carnahan got me dialed in with my S&W M&P15 and helped me learn how to read my Leupold optic to feel confident enough to take a 550 yard shot with a hit! I was ecstatic as this is the farthest I have shot that I can remember.

I went into the match with zero expectations. My single goal was to learn.  I knew I was going to have a great time shooting with both Tasha Hanish and Dianna Liedorff.  These two ladies are quite accomplished 3-Gunners.  Watching them tackle the stages as women was very helpful. Everyone offered me tips and suggestions along the way, all of which I was grateful for.  So what did I learn?

1. Know where your slugs are hitting.

There were plenty of difficult slug shots in the match, even out to 100 yards. Unfortunately, I had to scrounge for some slugs right when I arrived and ended up shooting some full power bulk packs from Walmart.  I now have plenty of Federal Tactical® TruBall® Rifled Slugs to shoot out of my Benelli M2. There’s simply just no comparison between these and others and I have made sure I am prepared for the rest of the matches on my schedule.

2. Do not put your barrel on a prop.

Yeah, I learned this the hard way from a position with the rifle.  Resting my barrel on the prop resulted in some consistent missing on my part. Not a good thing. This happened on my first stage and as I was in the moment, I had a huge sense of dread and self doubt. My squad mates and the range officers immediately made me feel better though and explained that by setting the barrel instead of the hand guard on the prop, my shots became misses.

3. Be prepared to shoot other guns.

My experience in IDPA was something I was able to tap into for this challenge. There were several pick up guns in the match.  Generally I am not a fan of these in competition. Malfunctions, unfamiliarity with the firearm, sighting issues, and the fact that some firearms just don’t hold up to the intensity of that many shooters, shooting so many rounds can spell disaster and result in competition inconsistency.  I will say the one pick up gun in the match I was both nervous and excited to shoot was the MP5, full auto.  The range officers were super helpful and lessened my nerves but I still  I leaned into it, gripped with all my might, ready for anything and was so pleasantly surprised. FUN!!!

4. Listen to the walkthrough and ask questions.

Unlike handgun sports I compete in with clearly defined rules, 3-Gun is much more free. What was acceptable on one stage at RM3G was not allowed on another. Never assume that you can do something on a stage and always ask the range officers in the walk through so you are clear on the procedure allowed for that given stage. Once you know, you can then prepare accordingly.

5. Be prepared to get physical.

Each time I finished  a stage, I was tired and out of breath.  Of course, running around with all the guns and ammo on me at such elevation 8000 feet certainly contributed to my fatigue. With my Crossfit workout regimen I was very pleased with how I was able to stay strong throughout the long courses. 3-Gun is by far the most physical shooting sport I have competed in thus far.

6. When in doubt, bring more ammo.

I knew the rifle and shotgun were going to be tough at this match.  In fact, when people learned that RM3G was my first match, they asked if I was crazy.  My reply, “You have to start somewhere!”  Because of the significant number of distance shots, I took up a “shoot three and go” motto for the rifle targets. It wasn’t long before I became concerned that I hadn’t brought enough rifle ammo. Thankfully ASYM Ammunition was a match sponsor and included 10 match rounds in the shooters bag, the same ammo I was using for the match.

What went well?  First and foremost, I had SO MUCH fun.  I was also very pleased with my pistol shooting. I even posted a ladies stage win by a significant margin on the one stage in the match that was 100% handgun. On the other stages, my accuracy and ability to reload my S&W M&P 9 Pro with Warren Tactical Sights helped me in the standings. One of the highlights for me was Stage 3, a course that used all three guns with far shots for each. My rifle and shotgun were sub par in comparison to some of the other women, but I drilled six shots on steel with the pistol at 40 and 50 yards, taking only one extra shot. I can still recall feeling the trigger and seeing the sights for each target.

This weekend I’ll be at my second match, the Rock Castle Pro Am/AR15.com event.  I haven’t had much time on the gun since RM3G after injuring a rib on the second stage. I did get out to the range this week to check zero and do a little position work.  I’ll be taped up and ready to give it my all this weekend!

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