3 Gun Training for Beginners

Note, this is just what I’ve found has worked for me. I’m not an expert, but I have a few friends starting in 3 gun and I wanted to share some training resources and findings. I’ve covered most of the equipment for Canadians in my other Canadian-specific 3 gun article, so this one is going to include the training videos I found most useful.

I’d really encourage anyone out there to hit a local match with the priority of shooting it safely and learning a lot. You’re going to get your ass kicked bad, so don’t worry about that. Instead, use your first match as an opportunity to see where your shooting skills need the most improvement, what equipment you’re running will work, and what needs to be replaced. Check out what people are running and ask them where they buy all this stuff.

If you can, take a class. Here in Canada, there are very few 3 gun instructors putting on clinics, so that wasn’t really an option for me.

Next, when you’re at home, practice dry fire and reloading with dummies. For more platform-specific advice, check out the below:

Shotgun Reloading

If you put 6 beginners in a match but one of them is half-decent on reloading their shotgun, they’ll blow all the other beginners away. Shotgun reloading speed makes up for a huge amount of time in shotgun stages and should be a big focus for new 3 gun shooters.

So before you buy that oversized safety, buy a box of dummy shotshells or make some yourself. Buying is preferable because they’re consistent and nicely labelled, but you can always make some if you want. If you choose to make up some dummies, pick up some empty shells at the range in a color that you never shoot. You want your dummies to be very different than your live rounds.

When it comes to reloading technique, there are a few different ones but most people dual or quad load. In my opinion, loading in this manner uses gross motor skills that are more reliable in the stress of a match than fumbling with 4 shells in one hand and trying to shuck them into the loading port one at a time. Note that most top competitors are dual or quad loading with their strong hand. Personally, I quad load with my weak hand, but I started off with just load 2’s. I really like this video for explaining all the differences between the different techniques:

Beyond loading the tube, keeping the chamber charged is a priority. You shouldn’t run the chamber dry in normal use, but if you do, you should have a last round holder or Match Saver on the side of your shotgun and be able to use it quickly like this guy:

Shotgun Modifications for 3 Gun

Your #1 concern with your 3 gun shotgun should be reliability. It doesn’t matter how many doohickies you’ve got on there if it fails to feed or the magazine tube spring gets caught up in the extension. Test your shotgun with the ammo you intend on using (target ammo?). Reliability is why many competitors choose more expensive shotguns. Semi automatic shotgun technology just doesn’t allow for cheap semi autos to be consistently reliable yet. Some competitors run inexpensive shotguns that have been tweaked or modified to be a bit more reliable.

When it comes to shell selection, some competitors will try to run the lightest recoiling stuff possible, but keep in mind that you may sacrifice reliability in cycling on some semi auto shotguns. You’ll also risk not knocking down plates or need additional shots to run a spinner. While we’re talking about knock down power, I thought I’d mention that I usually like running an improved cylinder or modified choke. Of course, having flexibility is important, but modified knocks over plates decently and you can still run slugs through it (check your manual of course). Running a cylinder bore fixed-choke shotgun is a mistake, as you’ll have trouble knocking plates off a texas star at 10 yards if you’re using #7.5 or #8 target loads. Every match I go to, someone tries using a cylinder bore choke and has to use multiple shells or accept a miss on a steel target that they’re unable to knock over.

Top shotgun features to look for or modify for 3 gun:

  1. Extended magazine tube
  2. Extended bolt release (if you have a semi automatic)
  3. Bevelled loading port (irreversible, and may reduce the resale value of your shotgun)
  4. Single shell holder on the receiver. Sometimes called a match saver.

Pistol Shooting

Unlike some other pistol-specific shooting sports, there is no power factor in 3 gun. Instead, there are classes. For most of the popular classes you’ll want to be in, 9mm is the best option. It’s inexpensive, low recoil, and high capacity. If you’re looking at the heavy division, your pocketbook is going to take a beating from shooting all that 308 and 45 ACP. If you want to compete in Practical division, or if you’re just super pragmatic, buy a Glock, M&P or CZ SP01. All three have lots of aftermarket support for holsters and magazine pouches.

For someone new, the difference on pistol shooting will not come on equipment. Modern pistols are extremely reliable, simple to clean, and are accurate enough. The difference in pistol shooting comes down to the shooter and their capability.

Pistol Training for 3 Gun

The most straightforward thing here would be to go to a training class or two. With a trainer, they can actively break your bad habits before they become ingrained.

In terms of self-lead practice, here’s what I found worked for me: I’d watch a few YouTube videos on fundamentals, pull out 2-3 things I’d want to practice, practice them with dry fire, and then hit the range and do it with live ammo. Things like:

  • Focusing on the front sight
  • Slowly squeezing the trigger, mentally think about adding a half pound of pressure at a time until the gun goes off.
  • Grip
  • Squeezing tightly with the left hand
  • Practicing recoil control
  • Practicing long range targets
  • Magazine reloads
  • etc

There are a lot of videos on YouTube that give tips on the above. I’d encourage you to keep the number of things you’re focusing on to a minimum so that you’re not messing yourself up. You can still combine other aspects, like magazine reloading, into practice on other fundamentals. I like to run my 3 gun belt when I’m at the range practicing, because it lets me practice magazine reloads, from hand position on the magazine to punching the pistol back out on target.


Beyond getting competent at pistol shooting, there’s one thing that separates excellent shooters from newbs: what they do when something goes wrong. For this, it’s best to have a buddy to practice with, because they can induce a malfunction in your pistol that you then have to fix. Some of my favorites:

  • Put a dummy or snap cap in the middle of the magazine to simulate a misfire.
  • Put a fired case in, usually it’ll cause a failure to feed.

Beyond that, there are some dry fire drills you can do. In these, the tester preps the gun and hands it to the testee to rectify. Make sure that no live ammo is present. You can do the above in a dry fire scenario as well as:

  • Close the slide on an empty chamber and then insert the magazine (bonus points if you can simulate a magazine that’s not fully seated by leaving it just a smidge out)
  • Induce a double feed
  • Stovepipe
  • etc

If you get a squib (cartridge has a primer, but no powder), essentially your round is over but it’s super important that you recognize that squib for what it is and not be a meathead and ram another round in with force. This video does a really good job of showing what a squib does and how the gun behaves after you get one.

Rifle Training for 3 Gun

When it comes to rifles, most people will be well served with an AR15 that is equipped with an effective muzzlebrake and is topped with a 1-4 optic or red dot. If your club shoots longer ranges, you’d be better with a FFP scope with a calibrated drop reticle of some kind. A ballistic reticle makes it far easier to shoot longer ranges quickly than remembering a hold over or dialing in a turret.

When practicing with your rifle, start shooting from a bench off your elbows until you can easily shoot a 3 MOA group. From there, go prone and get the same group sizes. From there, go to sitting, kneeling, modified prone, and try to keep everything within 4-5 MOA. From standing, try to keep everything within 8 MOA. That’s a large group, and it’s pretty much all that’s expected in most 3 gun courses, but you’d be surprised to see how many misses get racked up in a match.

Aside from that, manipulation practice comes in handy. The AR-15 is a very ergonomic rifle, but it takes practice to use correctly. Practice ramming the magazine home, switching safety on and off quickly, and rapid magazine changes.

How you react when your rifle jams is again a time to shine or make an ass of yourself. Practice tap, rack, bang, practice clearing stovepipes, and practice clearing double feeds. Then, practice it all again from different positions: prone, sitting, standing, etc. A 3 gun buddy can help here because they can induce jams of different flavors for you to clear. Just don’t be a bastard and put an empty in the channel above the bolt, those can be hell to clear. There isn’t a quick way to clear that one and it doesn’t happen very often.

Finally, an orgy of my favorite 3 gun videos:


I’ll add more videos if you send em to me! Comment below if you have a favorite 3 gun training video.

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