Getting Started in 3-Gun

by Deb Ferns

Getting started in 3-Gun can be daunting to say the least. An exciting, intense sport, there’s a lot that goes along with it. So many choices from firearms to holsters, cleaning gear to eyes & ears…. And everything in between. What do you really need? How do you get started? A prime example of a novice who’s successfully navigated her way through the sport is Deb Ferns. We now turn it over to Deb to weigh in...

A little bit about me… I shot a handgun for the first time on my 45th birthday, then in my 50’s I started shooting 3-Gun competitions which is a type of “run and gun” event with pistols, semi-automatic rifles and shotguns I am the Camp Director of Babes with Bullets, a female only firearms training camp that we started in 2004; in 2009 we started the Women’s Outdoor Media Association, and recently I started the Ladies Adventure Camp Experience ( which is a mentoring program for women who want to learn to hunt and fish. These are busy hobbies for me while I still work as a meeting planner for a railroad association.

I tend to want to buy whatever catches my eye at the moment; thinking it will make my shooting better without putting forth more effort. If you stop reading after this one piece of advice, you’ll walk away ahead of where I started. Don’t spend a lot of money buying gear right off the bat. That’s the biggest piece of advice I give folks entering the world of 3-Gun.

Try before you buy… I’ve learned the hard way (i.e. spent a lot of money on things I don’t need) in the last 12+ years of competitive shooting. I have MANY “slightly used” gun belts, holsters, rifle scopes, gun rugs, rifle bags, shotguns cases, shooting shoes, shooting pants, shooting shirts, shooting gloves and the list goes on. Most of these items I purchased though some items I won at various prize tables at competitions throughout the years. Note to the new competitor… don’t pick something off the prize table you aren’t positive you can use or sell to someone at your gun club!

Research, research, research. I also seemed to have accumulated a lot of guns that I don’t shoot or have shot very little as I didn’t do my homework first. Before you start to buy any guns or gear first visit at least a few 3-Gun competitions as a spectator. On any given weekend from mid-March to mid-November there are competitions in literally every region throughout continental US. You can usually find a list of these competitions on 3-Gun forums or sign up for the free service through as they usually have a calendar of events as well. Even attending a USPSA handgun match can be a good place to start. Take your own ear and ear protection to the event and be ready to take a lot of notes. Let the range officer at each of the competition stages know you are a “newbie looking for equipment suggestions” and that will most likely get you started on your homework. HOMEWORK means figuring out which division of 3-Gun you want to compete in. Maybe you want to use a rifle with a scope, which puts you in a division called Tac Ops or maybe your rifle has a scope and a bipod; that puts you in a division called Open. Learn about the various divisions and the gear in a bit more detail here.

Ask the experts! As you hone in on the division that seems to suit you/your budget then it’s time to go back to spectate at more competitions to see what competitors are shooting in the division you are interested in. Make a list of their gear, respectfully ask questions if you aren’t sure what gun/gear they are running; usually they are happy to share with you all the attributes of their individual makes/models and why that chose that particular make/model.

If I didn’t mention before that 3-Gun is a TON of gear and a TON of ammo then remember I gave you a heads up! Here’s a list of the essentials. Regardless of what division, you’ll need the following gear (not including guns & ammo):

- belt, holster and magazine pouches. Obviously the holster and a few of the magazine pouches are for handgun but remember you’ll also need a rifle magazine holder to be on the same belt. Plus you’ll need shotgun shell caddies to hold the extra ammo you carry for the shotgun. Pay attention to the type of belts and holsters you see on competitors; there are literally hundreds of them. Personally I like a Kydex holster that has a drop/off set and the belt is an under/over style so it’s easy for me to get gear on/off for bathroom runs.

-eye and ear protection is the #1 thing to pull out of your bag BEFORE you get out of your vehicle as you arrive at the range. Make sure your eye protection is comfortable even when you have ear protection pressing on the stems of the glasses. Ear protection has different levels of protection, noted by a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). Get the most comfortable protection with the highest level of NRR. Hearing loss is no joke. Some competitors double up with a form of inner ear protection and then a pair of ear muffs. Make sure you practice shooting with your ear protection of choice to get comfortable - I find some of the really big ear muffs get in my way when I’m shooting rifle or shotgun so I use a slimmer ear muff, but some people just don’t have that issue. Electronic plugs are another option but again I’ve spent some big dollars (like over $750) on electronic plugs that are not comfortable plus I lost one of them at the range (yes, I cried!). Otis offers two different forms of ear protection, check those out here.

-gun cleaning & maintenance kit. I couldn’t get through this article without mentioning how important it is to properly care for your firearms. I can’t tell you the number of competitors I’ve seen go down in a stage (myself included) because they failed to properly maintain their firearm. Jams cost precious seconds which can make or break the stage for you. Plus remember that 3-Gun matches go on in almost any weather condition - I once went from shooting a match in the dusty dry desert to a muddy humid environment. Otis makes a cleaning kit just for 3-Gunners… pair their 3-Gun competition cleaning kit with their AR tools. some Ripcords and my all time favorite Dry Lube. Pack it in your range bag and never leave home without it!

-comfortable clothing. Make sure you can move comfortably in whatever you choose, as you’ll be running, kneeling and who knows what else. Make sure your clothing isn’t too loose, as you don’t want it to get in the way of your equipment. 3-Gun matches operate in a variety of weather conditions so be prepared with layers. Remember, there might be just what you need in your closet but if not, there are several companies that make tactical apparel. I’m big on clothing with four way stretch, that offer a lot of pockets.

-knee and elbow pads are a must for 3-Gun. I have several pairs where the elastic band stretched out so I strictly go for pads with long Velcro straps. You need something that will give some protection so go with soft padding versus hard plastic that slips on wood surfaces. My favorite pair is from a gardening store but their size XL just fits me over my tactical pants and I still haven’t found anything for my husband who needs a 3XL. These are items you are better off trying on in a store instead of ordering them online.

Take a course. If you are hesitant to sign up for a firearms competition before you’ve had a real opportunity to run a 3-Gun stage, sign up for a firearms training camp. As the camp director of Babes with Bullets, not only do we offer handgun camps for women, but we offer a 3-Gun camp each year for both men and women. Since 2004 the camps operate as a firearms traveling academy where a three day immersion training program is offered by an all-female staff of national and world shooting sports champions. Not only do you have an opportunity to learn from the best, you can pick their brain on their equipment favorites AND the camps give you that opportunity to “try before you buy,” as all equipment is provided free of charge. Try out the different types of gear and see what’s most comfortable to you. What works for you might not work for someone else.

Go shopping! Now that you’ve done your research, consulted with other competitors and gotten your hands on different gear, you are ready to make some purchases. Hit up the internet or a local retailer. is a great place to start for basic gun costs. Overwhelmed by it all? The easiest thing to start with will be your handgun, your belt and your holster.

Good luck and welcome to the wonderful world of 3-Gun! I look forward to seeing you at the range.