3 Gun Shooting Tips from the Pros

Author Bryce M. Towsley shooting pistol during a match.

I’m a 3-gun shooter, and have been fortunate to shoot with some super squads at a lot of matches. Most of those top 3-gun shooters will generously share their knowledge of the game. Here’s what five of them say you must do in order to become a better 3-gun competitor:

Jerry Miculek

Jerry Miculek has been a fixture in the shooting world for decades, and is one of the top shooters in 3-gun. I have squadded with him several times and I am proud to call him a friend. Jerry is always willing to share his knowledge, and when he speaks, smart shooters listen. His tip has to do with planning:

Jerry Miculek at the Rocky Mountain 3-Gun match in 2012.

“Organize your gear. Of course, all your gear must be proven to be 100 percent reliable, but you need to keep it organized as well. Three-gun shooting involves a lot of gear, and things often happen fast at a match. You need to be able to find anything you need without wasting time looking. For example, if you are the last shooter on a stage, you will probably be the first shooter on the next stage. That means you don’t have much time to recharge your magazines and switch out any gear you may need to shoot the next stage. If you are not organized, you will not only waste time looking for ammo or gear, it will make you frustrated and stressed out. That will carry over mentally to your shooting on the next stage and probably cost you some points. When everything is organized and it all runs smoothly, you stay calm and relaxed, and focused on the task at hand, which is shooting that next stage the best you can.”

Travis Gibson

The Gibson family owns MGM targets, perhaps the most widely known steel targets in 3-gun shooting. They are huge supporters of 3-gun shooting and are extremely generous to the sport. Mike and Rhonda are wonderful people, and I always enjoy squadding with them. I have never seen anybody get more joy out of shooting than Rhonda. Their daughter Tennille Gibson Chidester is a top woman’s shooter and works for 3-Gun Nation. Their son Travis is one of the top shooters on the circuit, and his son Wyatt will probably dominate the sport one day.

Travis Gibson shooting in the 2014 MGM Iron Man 3-Gun competition.

Here’s what Travis told me: “A lot of matches are won or lost with the long range rifle. When I practice, 30 percent of my shooting time goes into shooting long range, 30 percent into loading the shotgun, and the remaining time spread out over everything else. Long range is anything past 300 yards. You need to know your holds at every distance and learn to read the wind. You need to learn to do this fast. Some shooters like Daniel Horner read their shots so well that they are often on to the next target before you hear the ding of the bullet hitting the one before. That’s why he wins, and it’s what you should strive to accomplish.”

Daniel Horner

Speaking of Daniel Horner—he’s on the Army Marksmanship Team and may well be the best shooter in the world. He is also a good guy and is always willing to help other shooters. I can’t count the times his tips have helped me through a tough stage. His advice:

Daniel Horner shooting pistol in a 3-gun match.

“Pick a specific skill set you need to work on, and bring that to your practice sessions. Don’t just shoot what you are good at; make sure you practice what you are not good at. You can take note of problems at a match without letting them affect your mental game for the rest of your match—but do allow them to run your practice regimen.

“If you miss a target, that’s not the problem, that’s a symptom. The problem is you didn’t prepare mentally or you didn’t know your zero for that range, or whatever. Don’t confuse the problem with the symptoms. When you practice, identify the problem and work on that.”

Patrick E. Kelley

Kelley has been a top 3-gun shooter for years. You’ve probably seen him on television and YouTube giving tips about shooting. He writes for shooting magazines, is a great photographer, a very good gunsmith, and he loves to share his vast knowledge about 3-gun shooting:

Patrick E. Kelley during the shotgun stage of a 3-gun match.

“Don’t get hung up on your gear. You need guns that are absolutely reliable, but that’s it. Back when I started shooting, if you finished a match and your gun didn’t malfunction, you were automatically in the top five. Today, most of this stuff works very well. You don’t need the latest whiz-bang gizmo; use your money to buy ammo. The match is won with skill, not gadgets. The shooter that can apply the fundamentals of shooting, on time and at speed, will win, not the guy that dragged his gun through the gadget catalog. If you want to win, immerse your gun in ammo, don’t dip it in accessories.”

Bruce Piatt

Piatt wins in just about every discipline of shooting. Hand him a gun and start the timer; he’ll beat everybody and it doesn’t matter the game. He is a good friend and a great teacher.

I remember a stage at one of my first 3-gun matches that had two Texas Stars, side by side. They were the first targets in the long and complicated stage. I had never even seen a Texas Star, let alone shot at one, or two at once.

Bruce Piatt at the 2014 NRA World Championship of shooting. Bruce won this event in 2015.

Bruce gave me a long and detailed strategy about how to clean them fast with my pistol. I went into the stage bristling with all the pistol magazines I owned and could borrow.

When it was over I had a mound of empty magazines piled at my feet and a lot of plates still on the stars. I also had no ammo left to finish the stage, but it didn’t matter—I had timed out.

I came back hanging my head in shame and Bruce dryly commented. “I guess I forgot to mention that part of the strategy about actually hitting the targets.”

Here is some more good advice from Bruce.

“Every 3-gun stage is different, and you need to figure out how to shoot each one according to your own abilities. A lot of shooters watch somebody else shoot and try to do what they did. Or they watch the super squad and try to emulate them. But a lot of times, that will not work because you are not them. You need to plan each stage according to your strengths and weaknesses so you shoot the best that you can.

“For example, on a run-and-gun stage, most competitors will shoot on the run. But if shooting on the move is not your strength, it can lead to misses, dropped points and other problems. So, it might be better to pick places where you can stop and engage multiple targets from a stationary position. Then move to the next position and shoot more targets and so on. The extra second or two you spend doing this is more than paid for by the higher hit factors. When you do poorly on a stage, go home and practice the thing that gave you trouble. Your skills will change and your strategy will continually evolve. At the beginning of the season you may need to use one strategy, but as you practice you will adjust the strategy with your emerging skills and do something different for matches later in the season.”

Author Bryce M. Towsley with the Super Squad at the Superstition Mountain Mystery 3-Gun competition in 2014.

All-Pro Tip

Almost every pro 3-gun shooter I have talked with brought this up: how critical it is to know where your rifle hits at any distance.

So many shooters zero their gun at 50 or 100 yards and think they can rely on a computer program or ballistic chart or what their buddies tell them for the rest, but that will not work. You must absolutely know where your rifle will strike at any distance from 5 yards to 500 yards. It’s not just the long shots where this is important. A lot of shooters try head shots at ten yards, and with the offset on the optics, hit the hostage target below. You must shoot your rifle at every distance and know, with the certainty that only bullet holes in the target can provide, where you will hit at any given distance.

Author Bryce M. Towsley shooting a JP15 rifle in a 3-Gun Nation match.

Towsley’s Tip

My tip is simple: Pay attention to what these shooters have to say. We are fortunate that they would generously share their knowledge. They are the best of the best, and learning from them is like getting boxing lessons from Ali or voice lessons from Elvis. If you are going to learn, why not learn from the greatest?