Gear Up for a 3-Gun Match with Expert Tips and Stage Planning Strategies


If you've ever watched shows like Shooting USA, 3-Gun Nation, or even Shooting Gallery with Michael Bain, then you've probably come across an episode following a shooting competition. Some of these competitions are based around self-defense scenarios, some are based on speed and accuracy, and some are based on your mastery of several different platforms at one time. One of our Armscor team members, John McClain, just recently shot in the Open Division of a 3-gun match in Grand Island, NE, and he's here to walk you through this three-day match — one day at a time. Hear from John as he breaks down the stages, the platforms that were used, and his approach to executing what he considered the best stage plan.

John's 3-Gun Match Lineup

  • ShotgunVR80 with mag well, single chamber compensator, and magazine extensions from TaylorFreelance
  • Pistol Prototype RIA TAC Ultra 9mm Minor Open Gun with a Vortex Viper Red Dot and shooting 124 gr 9mm Armscor Ammo
  • Rifle — TTI AR-15 topped with a Vortex Razor HD 1-10 shooting 55gr 223 Armscor Ammo

Day 0 — Walkthroughs & Preparation

Typically when attending a multi-gun match, you want to arrive at least one day before the match officially starts, so you have an opportunity to walk the stages and begin planning. Unlike USPSA, IPSC, or IDPA you must remember that some of these stages are not going to require one stage plan but rather two or three stage plans.

For example, a stage that uses only a pistol will only require one stage plan. On the other hand, a stage that requires the use of a rifle and a shotgun requires two different stage plans — one for the shotgun and one for the rifle. A stage that requires all three firearms requires three individual stage plans. Things can also get very complicated if you are shooting a division like Tactical Optics, which would require you to load the shotgun by hand as you are shooting the course of fire. Luckily, I’ll be shooting Open Division for the 2024 Zombies in the Heartland 3-Gun Match.

Stage Planning

When I do initial walkthroughs, I avoid making an absolute stage plan with no room for change. Instead, during the match, I can bounce ideas off of my fellow shooters on my squad, as they may point something out a plan that's easier to remember or more efficient. The last thing you want to do is spend all night rehearsing a stage plan in your head over and over — only to change it as you're preparing to shoot that stage.

What to Prepare For

So when I am doing my stage walkthroughs the day before the match begins, my number one goal is to ensure that I find all the targets that I will need to engage and the positions in which I will need to engage them. I note any targets that require precise positioning to see clearly, as they may be obscured by barrels or walls from other locations on the stage. This way, I avoid having any major penalties, like Failure to Engage, which can cost a competitor boatloads of time. Additionally, I can commit all targets to memory in order to ensure that I don't engage targets multiple times from multiple positions which would result in a slower final time. I also do this to avoid getting the correct round count but engaging a target twice or never engaging a target for a penalty.

Final Prep

Once I've walked all the stages and found all the targets throughout the match, I will then typically take an opportunity to check my gear over one more time. This involves looking to make sure all screws are tightened, everything is cleaned and oiled, and typically that batteries are swapped. Unfortunately, I didn't follow my own advice for this match, which you'll learn all about when we get to stage one. After that, it's about enjoying a nice dinner with some good company and then getting a good night's rest.

Trust me, you are going to need it.

Follow Day 1