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.

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