A couple weeks back I participated in the third annual Crimson Trace Midnight 3-Gun Invitational. This is by far one of the most fun 3-gun events in the United States, mainly because it takes place at a range in the middle of the Oregon desert in the pitch black of night. 3-gun is cool, but when you’re running suppressed firearms with lights and lasers on them and thermal optics, things just get exponentially more awesome. I’ll have an equipment breakdown at some point, but first I want to talk about the stages and how the light (or lack thereof) impacts your options as a shooter.
Stage 3 was one of the first in the rotation that required a “stage gun” to be used. A stage gun is a firearm that is provided by the match with ammunition and a properly zeroed optic and is required to be used in the process of completing the stage. In this case, the stage gun was a FN-15 rifle and one of FLIR’s new consumer grade thermal optics.
There are two main issues when it comes to using stage guns.
The first problem is that the optics are rarely properly zeroed. In this case I needed to hold slightly off center on the plate at 50 yards to hit the thing, meaning that the optic wasn’t properly zeroed. Technically you can get a re-shoot if you prove that the gun isn’t on target, but with my history of failing miserably at re-shoots I decided not to press the issue.
The second problem is that you’re never quite given enough time to familiarize yourself with the firearm. A gun is a gun, but when you’re in the middle of a competition it takes a minute to transition from your perfectly tuned firearm and pristine trigger to a gun that probably isn’t the top shelf model — and especially if it uses optics which you have never had an opportunity to use before and aren’t sure how they work.
When stage guns appear, most times it isn’t so much a shooting challenge as it is a challenge to see who can acclimate to the new weapon system the fastest. It’s a test of flexibility, and the shooter who can adapt to the new platform the fastest wins. It’s an interesting gimmick to throw in on a stage or two, but doing it too much in a single competition can turn a test of skills into a test of luck very quickly.
The other challenge on this stage was the plate rack. While most plate racks use solid steel plates, this one used the FLIR logo instead. So while there was the same surface area as a normal plate, there were holes. The best option was to use a shotgun to knock down the plates, and those who used a handgun seemed to spend more time shooting through the middle of the plate than actually hitting them. That’s one of those critical firearms selection decisions that can make or break a stage.
Stage four was a stage of nothing but stage guns, and it really put a beating on some competitor’s scores. A couple of the top shooters were perplexed by the safety system on the Mossberg shotgun and lost valuable time trying to get the gun to work. Others accidentally tripped the light on the shotgun and turned it off, and spent several seconds trying to get it to turn back on again. This was a stage where anything that could go wrong did go wrong, and in the end it was more about problem solving and quick decision making than actual shooting.
The issue I ran into was with the rifle. When I finished I tried to engage the safety catch on the gun, but it didn’t click into place firmly enough to convince me that it was on safe. Normally if you discard a firearm in an unsafe condition (loaded, safety off) then it’s a match DQ, but in this case it was simply a 15 second penalty. This is a situation where the ability to visually inspect the safety would have let me know instantly if I needed to do anything else, but because it was dark the quicker thing to do was dump the magazine and rack the live round out of the chamber. An unloaded gun is a safe gun, so I saved myself the penalty.
Safety is paramount when you’re shooting at night, and I would rather spend the extra time to unload a rifle than possibly create an unsafe condition. I’ve been disqualified from this competition once — I don’t need that to happen again.
Stage 7 is always a pain in the butt, and this year was no different. The real challenge was the long range plate racks — one for rifle and one for handgun.
With the rifle plate rack, my plan was to stand and shoot it offhand. Years of practice with Olympic smallbore shooting have made me a lean mean offhand shooting machine, and usually I can use that to my advantage by remaining standing rather than taking extra time moving around for a more solid shooting position. After two rounds failed to hit their mark, though, I opted to just kneel like everyone else.
This is one of those situations where if it was daylight, I might have made another stab at the offhand shot. Being able to see where the bullet impacts the ground allows you to adjust your fire, but when there is no sun there is not seeing the impacts.
With the handgun — well, I suck at handgun shooting. I never expected to even get one plate, let alone four. My plan was to throw a couple rounds at the plate rack, and then take the time penalty. I figured I could shoot the rest of the stage quickly and absorb the 60 second penalty rather than sitting there plinking at the rack until the cows come home. The problem was that as soon as I hit one plate, I threw my plan out the window. My brain was screaming “STOP SHOOTING! NO! WASTING TIME AND AMMO!” but I couldn’t stop. I was so fixated on my target that nothing else mattered. I was eventually able to put the gun down, but not before wasting more time on the rack than the penalties were worth.
Make a plan and shoot your plan. Where I run into issues is where I deviate from that plan.
In the end, I finished in 64th place out of 185 shooters overall– and 3rd in the media division. The interesting thing to note is that Chris Cheng (of Top Shot fame) and I finished exactly the same way we did last year, side-by-side. Chris beat me by two match points last year, and he beat me by two match points again this year. At least we’re consistent.
The M3GI this year was an absolute blast, and I was sad when it came to an end. But there’s always next year to look forward to.