One of the biggest pains for newbie 3-gun competition shooters: finding the guns and gear that fits. It’s hard to justify dropping a couple hundred dollars on belts and magazine holders and special bags and such. Being a naturally cheap bastard, kitting up for 3-gun has been a long and involved process. But the instant I got picked up by a sponsor, things changed . . .
On the last day of SHOT Show, I sat down with Larry Houck of Team FNH USA to talk about the plan for the year. After a chat about my competitive shooting background and how the team runs, he got down to business.
When you sign up for a sponsorship, you have to use their gear. Larry made it clear that if there was a company name on my shirt, I had to use their stuff.
The only exception: if I was running in a competition where the manufacturers I had just sold my soul to didn’t make the relevant equipment. So for now at least, it looks like my M1 Garand is safe for the CMP matches.
“What do you use for guns?” Larry asked.
“Well, I’ve got a Noveske AR-15 and a Mossberg 930 . . .” I started to answer.
“I’m going to stop you right there. We’ll send you out a SCAR 16S and SLP MK1. How about a handgun?
“Right now I’m running a Sig Sauer P226—”
“Yeah, that’s no good. Are you opposed to striker fired pistols?”
“No, in fact I was considering switching to—”
“Good, we’ll send you an FNS-9. What about optics for the rifle? What division do you run?”
“I’m usually in tac optics, and the Leupold guys recently sent me this really nice Mark AR scope—”
“That’s no good either. Here, take this.” Larry reached over for an FNH USA branded pad of paper and started scribbling on it. “You’ll need a Mark 6 1-6 with the 7.62 reticle. Take this and give it to John or Tim, tell them you’re on the team and they’ll set you up.” He tore the sheet off the pad and handed it to me, like a doctor handing out a prescription.
“Do you use a Safariland belt?” Larry asked.
“Well, no, right now I just thread the pouches on there—”
He started scribbling on the next sheet of paper. “You’ll need all the QLS attachments, a holster, a 3-gun gun bag, a range bag, an under belt and an over belt. Take this to Bobby at Safariland.” He wrote out a laundry list of competition gear, ripped the sheet off and handed it to me as well.
“And you’ll need a mount for the scope,” he started scribbling on the next sheet, “take this one to Warne.” Another sheet for the pile.
“And you’ll need a backpack; the guys at Eberlestock will hook you up.” He wasn’t even bothering to ask now; he was just handing over slips of paper like a short order cook.
“Then take this to Vertx, and this one to Pro Ears, and this to SKB Corporation for some cases.” He kept handing me slip after slip with the contact information for the relevant rep and a list of gear I’d need. It was like visiting Santa Claus, but in reverse – instead of asking for toys, he was telling me what I would be getting. And it all sounded awesome.
The best part about starting this on-boarding process at SHOT Show: all of the vendors and reps were already there in the same place. Instead of having to chase each one down over the phone, I simply wandered from one end of the hall to the other talking to my new sponsors and filling my competition prescriptions.
Having been a gun writer for a while now, I thought I understood the whole testing & evaluation protocol. You find something cool, ask to test it and eventually they send one out to you. It’s a slow process, but generally you can get just about whatever you want.
However, being a blogger instead of a traditional publication writer, there are occasionally companies that are slightly skeptical, and we’ve pretty much wrote those companies off for review requests. But the second you mention you’re on one of the recognized teams, it’s like you’ve said the magic word; the clouds open up and the stuff just falls from the sky.
The best example was Eberlestock. I had hovered around their booth earlier in the week looking at their nifty replacement stocks. When I asked to test one out (being from the most popular gun blog on the Internet) the reception I got was, well, lukewarm. They hadn’t heard of us, and weren’t about to send a multi-thousand dollar piece of equipment to someone they didn’t know.
When I went back later for a backpack and mentioned I was just added to the FNH USA shooting team, their eyes lit up and instantly agreed to send me whatever I wanted.
There is, however, a catch. When I get stuff for testing and evaluation, the companies generally already have stuff allocated to send out to writers and I have to wait my turn to get my hands on it. So, for the larger companies, that can take some time. Ruger, for example, is averaging about six months from request to receipt. But for shooters, there’s no pre-allocated stock. So stuff comes when its available, which means it takes forever and a day.
Over the next few weeks and months after I got back from Las Vegas, I watched as the packages slowly trickled into my apartment. One week it was pants, another week it was sunglasses, all trickling in slowly as production schedules allowed. And each time I got a new package it was like Christmas morning all over again as I ripped it open and played with the gear.
So far, everything has been pretty much what I’m used to using. The style might be slightly different and the brand name is new, but the way it works and feels is familiar. Basically similar equipment, just in a different package.
The only big changes are with the guns, which are a pretty solid departure from what I’ve been typically using in matches. But that’s another post for another time . . .