By Scott Smith
Now that my knees have mended from all of the orthopedic invasions, I was fortunate to shoot three major three-gun matches in 2015. These matches were the Rockcastle Pro/Am, 3Gun Nation Nationals and Surefire’s World Championships. Rockcastle was shot in the rolling hills north of Nashville, 3Gun Nation’s Nationals was contested on the plains in Tulsa and the Surefire World Championships in the rocky hills outside of Vegas.
One thing all of these matches had in common—besides a mix of women and men competitors using pistol, rifle and shotgun—was they were all great events; and they were all shooting matches, not contests of the survival of the fittest. To many shooters, this is an important item because of age, injuries or not being able to risk an injury out playing for fear it will impact their day jobs. Several three-gun matches such as the Iron Man, Superstition Mountain, and Hard as Hell at Purgatory Flats, place physical demands on shooters and their equipment they might not be ready for or capable of physically doing. Please note I am not knocking these matches; buds tell me they are a lot of fun and test your mettle—but not for the faint of heart.
It seems several three-gun match directors are attempting to duplicate the challenges these matches provide. When shooters get to such local and major tournaments they are often defeated by the stage props, unusual shooting positions or the length of the stage.
This ultimately leaves Joe/Jane Average with a bad taste in their mouth and they do not come back. Yes, the shooter should know the match requirements and with a name like “Iron Man” or “Hard as Hell,” it is easy to figure out you are in for a workout. If you are also new to three-gun competition, such demanding courses of fire may be intimidating.
Having been to Rockcastle for the 2014 Pro/Am I knew this was a shooter’s match that ran reasonable “par times” (maximum time) and while there was a lot of movement, it was not a marathon. And in August Kentucky weather is generally good. The other big draw for this match is that it is two separate matches for Pro and Amateur shooters. This means the Ams/Pros shoot involves totally separate matches on totally different shooting bays and you could choose to shoot either one. Knowing my limitations, I shot the Amateur, but I did peruse the Pro stages to see what that match looked like. As I suspected, shots were tighter, they shot “1/2” scale IPSC targets, had longer and far more challenging shooting positions. However, you did not have to be Harry Houdini to make the shots.
The staff at Rockcastle runs a natural terrain match, meaning it is not set on a typical square range. This allows for a wide variety of target placements, engagement distances from contact out to 200+ yards on the Am side and allowed you to choose how you deployed your rifle, shotgun and handgun for the stage. Thanks to the numerous ranges at Rockcastle you could be shooting in a field, down the side of a hill, through the woods and, yes, even on a square range; but even then the stage made you think and make tight shots. There were seven stages for the amateurs and eight for the professionals, with the round count being roughly 100 rounds per gun plus three slugs and 00 buck for the pros. They also needed a sling on one stage.
What makes this match a good shooter’s match is the variety of stages. There was a shotgun-only stage for each division which required the Ams to engage 25 pieces of steel and the pros 24 steel with bird shot; the pros had six additional targets, three steel with buckshot and three steel with slugs. That’s a lot of shotgun shells to carry; competitors carried them in vests, additional caddies or on the gun. The most challenging stage was the car stage in each division. You had to engage targets from inside a vehicle with your rifle out to 150 yards then exit the vehicle and engage numerous steel plates with your handgun or shotgun. This stage had the most negative comments made online because it seems many shooters thought it was unfair. Oh well, all I know is it was fun.
I found all the stages let you shoot to the maximum of your ability or crash and burn with the best of them. That is what a good match is, a test of your skill. The 2015 Rockcastle Pro/Am was simply a lot of fun even with a half hour or so delay thanks to the rain, but that was a good time to shoot the breeze with your squad. What you will find at the Rockcastle Pro/AM is a match for the shooters; you can even drive to all the stages. When is the last time you heard of doing that? Contrary to a few comments online; this is a fun match to shoot, was run well, the staff was on top of things, and many of the 450 shooters were making plans to return in 2016. If you look on Facebook for Rockcastle Pro/Am and BrianEnos.com, you will be able to see the latest details.
The 3Gun Nation Nationals at US Shooting Academy in Tulsa, OK, drew nearly 250 shooters the first weekend in October. This match not only crowned the top male and female pro shooter but titles were awarded to shooters who qualified through the pro series, regional series and club series. This match was 3Gun Nation’s first true national championship; it was far more than a match, it was an event. Vendors set up tables to display their wares, local media promoted and broadcast from the match, spectators had the opportunity to mingle with competitors to get first-hand information on three-gun and, of course, there was the match which paid out tens of thousands of dollars in cash and tens of thousands of dollars in prizes.
Of course the main event was the eliminator rounds which paired the top 16 pro male shooters reduced to 8 through elimination matches, while the ladies top eight were paired down to four. These stages were made for TV; fast, fun, up close and, to add to the drama, shot under the lights. In the end, perennial champions SFC Daniel Horner and Lena Miculek-Afentul took home the $50,000 and $25,000 checks.
While many folks came out to watch this Rumble on the Range as the Pro Series finals have become known, there was a National Championship Match.This match was truly a shooter’s match; there were no mountains to climb, walls to scale, or any complex physical activities to do other than shoot. Shoot is what the competitors did, firing three guns on every stage, often times needing to revert back to their handgun from a long gun on some stages.
Even though there were no physically challenging stages that did not mean all the competitors did was stand and shoot. On several of the stages you covered upwards of what seemed to be 75-100 yards because of the lateral/zig-zag courses of fire. While navigating the fields of fire you shot at large square steel plates, plate racks, poppers of all sizes, paper, clay pigeons, round plates. These targets were engaged at distances ranging from contact out to 100 yards. My first thought when I saw the stages was, what no long range shots? While it may not sound tough, let me tell you 8” and 10” plates and mini poppers at distances from 25 to 100 yards shot offhand or with a “short wall” for support on the clock is a challenge. Watching various sponsored shooters back off the throttle on the distance targets proved that.
Another feature of the match was the variety of shooting scenarios and options. Watching a squad of 12 shoot, you would see the stage 12 different ways. Shooters would post up for a stationary shot at different locations, engage arrays with different firearms, shoot the targets walking or nearly running, take all the slug targets at once or mix the shotgun load to alternate engagements. How each stage was shot was determined by overall skill level or, more importantly, how well shooters ran a specific weapons system. This was most apparent on stages where targets could be engaged with the contestant’s choice of firearm. Where this was most obvious was on steel that could be engaged with handgun or shotgun. Even though most folks can reload a handgun far quicker than a shotgun, on small steel you have better odds of a hit with birdshot than a bullet. This is where shooters chose to reload the shotgun over burning time with misses with a handgun. Shooting championship level matches like this becomes a game of knowing your skill level and equipment, not just how fast you shoot.
For newer shooters a match of this level is also a learning and educational experience. While there were no “shooting seminars,” if you paid attention to shooters on your squad and took the time to watch the sponsored pros shoot, you got shooting lessons. This is why digital recorders are a must have if you want to see how to improve your game. They allow you to compare how you shoot a stage versus SFC Horner. You may not have his fleet feet, but recordings show you how to improve your economy of motion, firearms staging, etc. Being able to see and learn these items is why competing at a championship level is something new shooters should do. Do not worry about how you place, use the experience to learn how to improve.
Overall this match was one of the best “shooter’s” matches I have seen in 20+ years of competitive shooting. There were no gimmicks, no tricks, and no athletic feats; you came to the line and shot. The stages were wide open with many options for shooters to play to their strengths. Being able to attend the 3Gun Nation Nationals is a good reason to join the nation. For more information on this match and other 3Gun Nation matches checkout their website: 3gunnation.com.
When it comes to a match where the shooters come first, Surefire’s World Championships has to be it. This match is actually three separate matches: an Amateur (fun); Semi-Pro (early), and Pro. All three matches share daylight stages and two night stages, while the Semi-Pro and Pro shoots require an additional 9 stages. The Amateur has a 25% random prize draw, the Semi has a 50% and the Pros all go to the prize table in finishing order; prices are commensurate (surefirewmg. com). If you shoot the Am or Semi-Pro, you will self-RO, these are meant to be competitive but fun matches. The match director emphasizes to those shooting the Am match that it is a match to develop your skills, self-confidence or it fits folks schedules/physical limitations. The most unique factor of the match is it uses time plus penalty scoring; there are no par times.
What sets the Surefire World Championships apart from other matches is the venue: Pro Gun Club just outside of Boulder City, NV. This facility is built around one of the many desert hills that surround Las Vegas allowing you to do a lot of shooting without having to drive or haul your gear all over. Competitors at this match shot everything: long range steel (230+yards); speed shoots; flying clay pigeons; reactionary steel of all varieties, and even night stages.
Having shot the Amateur event I can tell you there were no challenges that should keep you from shooting. My squad was the walking wounded; me with multiple knee replacements, a Marine with fused vertebrae, a gimpy former infantryman and none of us needed to be wheeled off the course. The most challenging stage on the Amateur match was the long range steel stage, which required you to cover over 100 yards uphill on the backside of the club. Reports have it that this was one stage no one really “ran;” there were loads of large rocks and rolling gravel, so solid footing was more important than the fleetest feet. When it came to long runs—Stage 7 Maze Runner and Stage 9 Disappointing Drops—saw the clean Pro runs in the four-minute range. These were truly long stages because of the number of targets and distances covered.
Shooters found the night stages to be a challenge because most folks do not have the ability to practice live fire with flashlights at night. Both stages required shooters to use their handgun; on one stage you ran your carbine, your shotgun on the other. These stages were fast and fun as well as being a good learning experience for those who do not get to shoot in the dark. Surefire provided weapons lights for those who did not have them.
The crew from the Nevada USPSA section does a bang up job putting on the Surefire 3Gun World Championships. If you cannot be happy shooting one of the three matches that comprise this event, I do not know what to say. This is one of the first matches I have shot that I did not hear a bad word about the match. My experience was good enough that I will venture out there again later this year and I am on the east coast.
Three gun competition has grown like bad weeds over the last few years. With matches like these, it is easy to see why. You get practical experience with firearms most all of us own, while seeing how good you are against others. 3GunNation.com and BrianEnos. com are the best sources I know of to find a match in your area. This game is addicting because of the wide ranging challenges it offers. Get your gear and go shoot; while you are at it, shoot straight, shoot safe and have fun.