Day 1: Follow Our First Shots at the 3-Gun Match

Welcome to day one of the 2024 Zombies in the Heartland Match. For this match, Armscor's John McClain is shooting the Open Division, which means that he can use multiple optics on his rifle, a magazine-fed shotgun, and a pistol that is tricked out to the rafters with things like red dots and compensators. This division and the tactical optics division tend to be the two most popular when it comes to multi-gun matches. With the introduction of the VR-80 from Rock Island Armory, there has been a decided uptick of open shooters trying that division, since they can get into it without spending an arm and a leg for a functioning box-fed shotgun.

John's 3-Gun Match Lineup

  • ShotgunVR-80 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 1 — The First Four Stages

Stage 1

I begin my match at Stage 1, the all-shotgun stage with 33 targets. This stage had several shooting areas that have clay birds on the grounds, which simulate landmines. If you break a clay bird with your foot or any piece of gear, you receive a five-second penalty.

Remember when I said I didn't change my batteries like I typically do? When I checked my red dot before my turn, everything was working. The dot was bright and easy to follow. Once I got up to the shooting line and got ready, I noticed that my red dot was suddenly extremely dim and would not get any brighter. This tends to happen when your battery is just about ready to die. Take my advice — always swap out your batteries before a match.

Since I was already on the line and ready to shoot, I decided that I could see my dot well enough to shoot the stage and decide to go for it. Shotgun stages are interesting because they're about more than shooting accuracy — they're also about deciding where to reload without wasting unnecessary time. The other thing you want to take note of is when you have extra shells in your loaded shotgun, which is typically means more time wasted on the stage. Luckily when you're shooting Open Division, it doesn't really matter because it only takes a few seconds to load a new magazine full of ammo.

The mistake that I made on this stage was needing too many makeup shots because I couldn't entirely see the red dot clearly. As a result, when I reloaded, I didn't realize I had an empty chamber until I pulled the trigger heard a click instead of the telltale "bang." When you look back at stages, it's moments like these when you'll realize that you wasted two to three seconds by not keeping the gun loaded. Luckily, I was able to engage all the targets including the flying clay and ended up with a clean run and a final time of 45.00 seconds putting me at No. 9 on the first stage.

Time: 45.00 seconds

Rank: No. 9

Stage 2

Stage 2 is a pistol and rifle stage. You begin this stage with your hands on an acorn that has fallen on your police cruiser before engaging the zombies. Your pistol starts un-loaded and holstered, and your rifle starts with a magazine inserted and an empty chamber lying inside of a minivan. On the signal, you load your pistol and engage a zombie target through the minivan with ten shots to the head. Extra shots will result in a penalty, and an extra hit will result in a penalty. Any shots that are not above the perforation of the target in the neck area also result in a penalty, as you have not hit the target in the right zone.

I decided to load only 10 rounds in my magazine so I can essentially just pull the trigger and fire until the gun goes completely dry — knowing that I've engaged it 10 times. I then dumped my pistol in the dump bucket, picked up my rifle, and pulled back on the charging handle to load a round. From there, I proceeded onward to the four 50-yard targets, 2 shotgun clays to the body and 2 zombie head shots.

For this particular match, anytime you engage a zombie target it must hit in the head, and if a target has a clay target, the clay must break. If the clay is in the head, breaking the clay is enough, but if the clay is in the body then you must break the clay and then fire a single shot into the zombies head. This means these 50-yard targets both require broken clay in the body and a shot fired into the head of the zombie target. Once I made it into the shooting area, I took a breath and went one-for-one — hitting both clays and both heads with a shot each. I then moved into the secondary firing position and engaged 14 more targets as I hunt and peck for them amongst the abandoned vehicles. I finished with another clean run with a final time of 37.12, putting me at No. 5 on Stage 2.

Time: 37.12 seconds

Rank: No. 5

Stage 3

Stage 3 is an all-rifle stage. It has several shooting areas with clay mines, as well as color coordinated clays and barrels towards the ends of the stage. Each colored clay must be engaged through the correct barrel. Bracing your firearm or your body on anything outside of the shooting area results in a penalty.

This stage is straightforward and comes down to who can move the fastest through the clay mines and engage all the targets with only one round to minimize your final time. This stage has 29 targets to engage, and after another clean run with no penalties, I ended up with a final time of 43.02 which placed me No. 4 on the stage.

Time: 43.02 seconds

Rank: No. 4

Stage 4

Stage 4 requires the use of all three firearms. You start with your shotgun on a teeter-totter, engaging zombie targets on both your left and your right while negotiating the teeter-totter obstacle. During this portion of the stage, my hand guard came loose, resulting in several failures to fire. I racked the rounds out and continued to engage targets, trying to keep my frustration at bay.

Once I engaged all eight zombie targets with my shotgun, I flipped the safety on and dumped the shotgun into a dump barrel. I retrieved my AR — which was staged in another barrel with a magazine inserted and an empty chamber — rack the charging handle to load it, and engage 17 targets with the rifle from varying distances of 1 to 30 yards. I then safe my rifle and placed it into the dump bucket. Proceeding to the final shooting area, there was a “bag of gold" that I had to pick up and hold while loading my handgun and shot the remaining eight targets. You are not allowed to draw your pistol from the holster until you are holding the bag in one of your hands.

Once I finished engaging the pistol targets, I unloaded and holstered my pistol. It was brought to my attention that I had missed a clay target with my rifle. This surprised me because I recalled seeing a visual indicator of a black dot through my optic in the middle of the clay, making me thing I had hit the clay target. As I walked over to inspect it, however, I found that there was no hole in the target. Later on, I discovered a fly had landed on the clay target right as I had shot at it, which was the black dot that I ended up seeing on the lime green target. My time on the stage was 54.75, which was adjusted after the five-second penalty to 59.75 and placed me at No. 25 on the stage.

Time: 59.75 seconds

Rank: No. 25

End-Of-Day Thoughts

While this was not how I wanted to end my day, there was nothing that I could do about what happened on my final stage of the day with the malfunctions of my gear or my eyes. I returned to my hotel room with some food and got everything prepped and ready for day two of the match.

I reminded myself that this was only day one, there were two days and six more stages to shoot. Plenty of opportunity to fight my way back to the top.

Follow Day 2