Shotgun? Rifle? Pistol? How about all three!
That's what one of the fastest growing shooting disciplines in the U.S. offers, a chance to engage targets with a variety of firearms. Targets consist of cardboard silhouettes, steel, clay targets or whatever else a particular match director chooses to offer.
The format is reasonably simple. A shooter demonstrates his proficiency with a multiple of firearms against a mixed array targets. It is as fast-paced as safety will allow. Shooters are scored based on the number of targets hit and the time they use to complete a particular shooting stage.
A briefing session is held with all shooters prior to each stage of multi-gun competition. Mandatory safety procedures and the course of fire are thoroughly reviewed and all questions answered prior to the first competitor being called to the firing line.
Jason Guilford, Minot, left, and Jon Paul, Bismarck, reset steel and clay targets at the Minot Rifle and Pistol Club outdoor range during a recent multi-gun competition.
A multi-gun, or three gun, competitor takes aim with a pistol at the steel targets on the left. The target arm begins to rotate after the first target is struck. The cardboard targets in the background are engaged with a rifle and the clay targets with a shotgun.
"There's something to say for a guy to be good with all three disciplines. You are kind of getting into the ultimate for shooting," said Erik Lehner, Minot, an avid shooter who has participated in multi-gun events. "It's better than firearms collecting dust."
At a multi-gun, or three-gun event, there is little time for dust to gather. Shooters at the line must make certain their rifle, shotgun and handgun are in working order and ready for competition. Competitors are allowed to hold only one firearm at a time. The remaining two firearms are placed in safe boxes where they can be reached as necessary.
"It takes some strategy. Three-gun puts a lot of people on an even playing field," said Lehner.
The targets might include clay pigeons, cardboard silhouettes, steel targets of varying sizes and anything else the match organizer designates as a target. Distances of the targets might vary from 1 yard to 500 yards or anything in between. The shooter who hits the most targets - and avoids certain "no shoot" ones - in the least amount of time is the winner.
Source: National Shooting Sports Foundation
The division definitions vary based on the specific match, but the basics remain the same.
Limited - This is the entry-level division due to the light equipment requirements. It's also one of the more fun divisions in which to participate. You are allowed iron or red dot sights, no magnification. Shotguns can be semi-auto or pump, 8+1 rounds maximum, but no detachable magazines. No speed-loaders or porting. Handguns also must have no porting or optics, and must have a maximum magazine length of 5.56 inches.
Tactical - This is the most popular division with the stiffest competition among three-gun competitors. The only difference from the Limited division is that the optic on the rifle may be magnified.
Heavy Metal or "He Man" - The rifle must be .308 caliber or larger with iron sights only; the shotgun must be a 12-gauge pump with iron sights and no porting; the handgun must be .45ACP or larger with no optics or porting only.
Open - Handgun magazines must be 6.74 inches or less in length. This division also allows speed-loaders for the shotguns during stages.
Even though all multi-gun events are carefully timed, the fastest shooters do not always win. Accuracy counts too and few shooters are equally proficient with all three firearms. All seem to have a favorite firearm that they handle accurately and quickly, but also one in which there is room for improvement. Putting all three together during a single stage of shooting is the challenge.
During a recent multi-gun event held at the Minot Rifle and Pistol Club a total of 170 rounds were fired by each competitor during four stages of shooting - 60 rifle, 60 pistol and 50 shotgun.
Among the modern sporting rifles used for multi-gun the most popular caliber is .223, but larger calibers are used too. Rifle targets are set at whatever distances a match director or shooting range allows.
"Popular handguns are 9mm, 40s and 45s," said Lehner.
Shotguns choices for multi-gun include both 20 and 12 gauge. Depending upon the field of fire, a shooter can be called upon to use birdshot, buckshot or slugs. Clay targets, stationary or sometimes "popped" into the air, are common challenges for the shotgunner. Multi-gun shotguns are usually fitted with an extension tube that allows for as many as nine rounds to be loaded at a single time.
The Minot Rifle and Pistol Club and Bismarck/Mandan Rifle and Pistol Club are two shooting organizations in the state that promote and host multi-gun events. The next multi-gun match is scheduled for Oct. 6 in Bismarck.