Ask Foghorn: Best Shotgun for New 3-Gun Competitors?

Ryan writes:

Hope your having fun at the 3 gun comp man. I actually have an ask foghorn question along those lines. I really need the advice, but if you can get an article out of it than more power to you. There’s lots of competitions out here and I want to get into 3 gun. I’m gtg with my pistol and AR, but I’ve never been much of a shotgunner. So, what kind of shotgun would you recommend for someone getting into entry level shotgun competitions?

3-Gun competitions are about being fast and accurate with three different kinds of guns. Rifles and pistols are relatively easy, shooting fast and easy to reload. Shotguns in comparison are the “brakes” of the competition and that levels the playing field for new competitors. Let me explain…

First things first, go re-read my Competition Shooting 101: 3-Gun article. There’s tons of information in there to give you some context for what we’re talking about.

In the majority of the divisions the shotgun is required to be reloaded the same way, using the loading gate on the bottom of the shotgun and feeding the rounds into a tube magazine below the barrel. Open division is the exception to the rule, allowing everything from Saiga 12 shotguns to funky contraptions that you load on Saturday and shoot all weekend. Open division is the place for people with too much money or who love to tinker with their guns, definitely not somewhere a new shooter should start and not a division which I found it fun to compete in.

Loading a shotgun through the loading gate is tedious work. In stark comparison to the pistol or rifle (which takes me less than 2 seconds to jam a fresh magazine with 18-30 rounds in the gun) each shell must be loaded individually, usually with a maximum of 8-9 rounds in the magazine. It’s slow going — so slow, in fact, that most stages are designed such that you only need to take out 3-4 targets with the shotgun before you have the option to switch to the pistol. Like this stage from the 2011 FNH 3-Gun Championship last weekend.

Instead of sitting there and reloading the shotgun it was faster to run it dry once and switch to the pistol, even though by doing so I was going to miss more. It’s a trade-off, you have to figure out if the increase in time it takes to hit the target offsets the time it would take to reload the shotgun, but for some it makes sense.

What I meant by this being an opportunity to level the playing field is that the difference between a super slick $1,000 semi-auto shotgun and a $200 pump shotgun in terms of rate of fire is almost negligible in a competition. Sure you might be a second or two faster with a semi-automatic shotgun, but for new shooters that’s not going to make much of a difference. You still will need to load the shotgun the same way as everyone else, you just can’t empty it as quickly. And that’s where you can make up your time.

Most 3-gunners don’t practice shotgun reloads. It’s not something they have to do very often and consequently they’re not very good at it. While shotguns are slow to load their larger shot spread means you can hit small targets easier, possibly even making up for any substandard pistol work. Like I said, often stages will be designed to give you the choice between hitting small steel targets with shotgun OR pistol and the ability to quickly reload your shotgun will give you an advantage no matter what kind you have. Here’s a video from the Noveske team showing how to do it the right (fast) way for competitions.

The temptation when getting into 3-gun is to automatically reach for the top shelf of equipment, buying tons of expensive guns and gear without really having much experience. But really, the specific shotgun doesn’t matter. For the first year or so of 3-gun competitions i competed in I used an NEF Pardner Pump, a 5+1 capacity pump action shotgun that is essentially a $200 (or less) Norinco clone of the Remington 870 and I can’t remember a competition where I dropped out of the top 25% of shooters using that gun.

For that reason I recommend new 3-gun shooters buy a cheap pump action 12 gauge shotgun of some sort. The NEF Pardner Pump is ideal, along with the Maverick 88 Security and any other cheap shotgun. It doesn’t need to be fancy and expensive or even have interchangeable chokes to place well in competitions, it just needs to work. Once you have your shotgun, PRACTICE. Sit in front of the TV with some dummy shotgun rounds and just practice loading as fast as you can, I promise it will pay off.

The time will eventually come when you feel the need to move up to a semi-auto shotgun, whether for the minor speed boost or you just get too lazy to work the action. Once that point comes I highly suggest the Mossberg 930 SPX as a first 3-gun semi-auto shotgun. Sure it might not have chokes, but the ghost ring sights are almost like cheating and it runs like a Swiss clock. My runner-up choice is a FN SLP Mk. I, but it is almost twice the price of the Mossberg 930 SPX.

If you have a topic you want to see covered in a future “Ask Foghorn” segment, email guntruth@me.com.

To browse previous Ask Foghorn segments visit http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/category/askfoghorn/.

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About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

15 Responses to Ask Foghorn: Best Shotgun for New 3-Gun Competitors?

  1. Agree 120%.

    I started off in “Heavy Metal Minor” with a police-surplus 500 and I still miss competing with that gun (it’s now upstairs in the safe room).

    Now I have a 930SPX with a +1 mag with a bunch o’ holders for shells on it from 3 Gun Gear, and the two guns together and 3 shellholders for my belt cost me less than what one stock Benelli or FN would cost.

    Is there a difference between the Mossie and a Benelli? Damifino. My 930 finally started puking on me last night after 500 rounds through it with no cleaning or lube whatsoever since I got it, but before that, it ate almost everything I tossed into it, only choking on crappy Winchester Universal shells that even my 500 won’t run smoothly.

    The 930 is a real value in scatterguns, and hey, if it’s good enough for Jerry Miculek, it’s good enough for me.

    An incidentally, the resin barrel shroud for an 1100 fits the 900 to a “T”.

  2. avatarRyan Finn says:

    Thanks Nick, exactly the info I was looking for and Walmart has pardner pumps on sale for $160.

  3. avatarTyler Kee says:

    That was an excellent instructional video.

  4. avatarTom says:

    Ithaca 37 and Browning BPS can be reloaded faster and they slide cycle faster than the lesser pump shotguns. You can pick them up used fairly cheap.

  5. avatarJason says:

    You can buy $20 shoes every year, but then you’re the dude wearing $20 shoes. Or you can buy $100 shoes that last 5 years, and then you’re wearing $100 shoes. Buy quality and you only cry once. Eventually you’re going to want the best, why not start there, and save yourself the time, aggravation, and money of wrestling with crap? FN all the way.

    • avatarSean says:

      It may be better to start with cheaper guns. You may find that you do not wish to continue to participate in a shooting sport. And would end up with an very expensive gun that you have no need for. An expensive FN, or custom Saiga would be too much for casual 3 gun shooters. I have limited funds, and shot a few 3 gun matches with my surplus police 500.

      • avatar"Dr."Dave says:

        Sure, if you do end up getting out of the sport, I would point out that a Remington 870 or a Mossberg 500 or any decent quality shotgun will hold a much, much higher re-sale value than a wall mart special. You’ll bet more of your money back if you decide to sell it. No such luck if you buy a $175 wall mart special.

        • avatarSean says:

          Well, not only that…there is no reason to get rid of a decent pump shotgun. As useful of a firearm as anything. A custom Saiga? Not so useful for much else. And would you would lose massive amounts of money. My 500 will be with me the rest of my life. Probably loaded up, near the bed.

  6. avatarJoe Grine says:

    Benelli Super 90s were always my favorite shotgun. The pistol grip makes it easy to hold one-handed, and the ergonomics are great.

  7. avatarMikeSilver says:

    BTW – check out this ninja move from Rob Romero … one handed load

  8. avatar"Dr."Dave says:

    Either in competition or in real life combat, do you want to know that your shotgun was gotten as cheaply as possible and was made by the lowest bidder?

    You can get a Mossberg 500 just about anywhere for well under $400. Its trigger will be better, its action will be smother, there will be more accessories available, its magazine will hold more rounds and just about everyone will agree that it will serve you longer and better than a sub $200 wallmart special. If you treat it right, you’ll be able to pass it onto your grandchildren in fifty years. And by then it will still be worth owning.

  9. avatarTom says:

    Can get a used Ithaca 37 in the mid to high $ 200 or low $ 300. I have seen near new Browning BPS defense guns go down into the high $200 mark. Why buy junk?

  10. avatarOregonTom says:

    Anyone run the Winchester 1300? I’ve seen them pretty cheap used. The model never caught on and was discontinued. I have owened the “Defender” model for 16-17 years and I like it a lot. I have the 18 1/2 inch smooth bore barrel and the 20inch rifled and buckhorn sighted barrel. If there are any problems that are occuring with the 1300 I’d like to hear about them so I can prepare with parts and such. Great web site by the way.

  11. avatarMark12A says:

    I’d like those shotshell carriers the guy in the video used. Where do you find them?

  12. avatarTheodore D. Trice says:

    I have a H&K usp 45 and a Mossberg 500 also a maveric 88 all i need is a .223 so my question is are the two guns i have good to start with in three gun and if not what should i get. Im rather proficient with the two I got but of course I always strive to be better.

    my second question is what .223 do you recomend on a budget.

    thirdly are you aloud to use reloads.

    larestly for know anyway are you aloud to modifi your shot gun ie.. tactical stocks with pistol grip rifle sight ect…

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