Competition shooting is one of the safest sports in existence. More people are injured playing golf than ever get hurt in a 3-gun match. The reason these competitions are so safe is that there are strict safety rules, and the penalty for breaking even a single one is an instant and unchallengeable disqualification from the competition. There are lots of things you can do to earn you a “DQ,” and I wanted to go over some of the more common ways to get sent home so that hopefully you’ll never have to take the walk of shame . . .
Breaking the “180”
The most common way to get yourself disqualified is by breaking the 180 rule that’s intended to keep the shooter’s firearms pointed downrange at all times.
Imagine you’re standing in a shooting bay facing some targets, and you extend your arms straight out to either side of your body, making a straight line. The 180 degrees in front of you, with your arms as the left and right limits, is the area in which your firearm is allowed to be pointed, and the line they create is that imaginary “180” line.
If you pivot your body, the line doesn’t move with you – it stays anchored to the targets and parallel with the back of the berm. Usually. There are some exceptions, and it’s always a good idea to ask the range officer if you have any questions.
This is also sometimes called a “floating 180” as while the angle of the line doesn’t change in relation to the targets, it moves with you as you move up and down the range. If a target is behind you and you need to shoot it, you can move backwards until the target appears in front of you. But God forbid you pivot past that 180 line.
Shooters need to be aware of this whenever they start a stage. But in situations where the shooter needs to advance downrange, they really need to pay attention. It can be very easy to miss a target as you’re walking downrange, and then fixate on hitting it while you keep walking. At a certain point you’re bound to pass the target and start firing backwards at it, a dangerous situation and very deserving of a DQ. Situations like this even catch professional level shooters, snagging at least one at the first Pro Series 3-Gun Nation match in West Virginia this year.
Abandoning a Gun in an Unsafe Condition
When you’re running a multi-gun stage, you’ll probably need to ditch a gun at some point to transition to different one. When you do that, you’ll need to make sure the gun is “safe” before leaving it. Depending on the competition, they will dictate exactly what constitutes a safe condition, but generally there are two modes that are acceptable:
- Completely empty with no rounds in the magazine (or magazine removed), no rounds in the lifter, and no round in the chamber.
- Loaded, with the safety engaged, and pointed in a safe direction.
The safe condition requirement is especially tricky for people looking to speed through a stage. There have been many situations where pro level shooters have dumped a shotgun without fully engaging the safety, or the safety was flicked back to the “off” position when it scraped against the side of the barrel. Even worse is when shooters think they have run their gun dry, but the gun has only malfunctioned and there are still live rounds in it.
I was standing next to Erik Lund at the Texas Multigun competition, watching one of our squad mates going through the painful process of being disqualified for exactly this situation – a shotgun abandoned in an unsafe condition – when he gave me some insight on why shotguns are especially prone to this malf.
Shotguns like the FNH SLP lock open by default in their operating cycle; it’s only when a new shell trips the mechanism on the lifter, telling the gun that a shell is ready, that the action is released and continues to cycle. Therefore it’s possible that the gun could lock open with a round in the chamber or on the lifter. Erik’s advice: ALWAYS put the safety on before you dump the gun. Even if you’re dumping a completely empty firearm. That’s still the advice I’m going with.
Firing a Round Unintentionally, or Not At a Target
Naturally, at a competition where firearms are involved, making sure every shot is aimed is important. A round that sails over the berm and outside the confines of the range could injure someone a great distance away, and minimizing that possibility is very high on the safety checklist. Therefore, ANY round that isn’t fired specifically at a valid target is a liability and grounds for disqualification.
Surprisingly, I saw this happen twice in as many weeks. Both times it happened when a shooter was going to dump their shotgun, and both times it left a rather sizable scorched hole in the side of the barrel.
The first time it was at the pro series competition and it happened AFTER the shotgun had been placed in the barrel and the shooter had moved on, meaning the shotgun basically fired itself. The competitor tried to argue that since he didn’t do it he shouldn’t be DQ’d, but that ran him smack into the rule requiring safe and functional firearms to be used and he was tossed anyway. In the other instance, it was an issue of a trigger finger being somewhere it shouldn’t.
The moral of the story: watch your trigger finger, and be careful when abandoning firearms. Don’t sacrifice safety for speed.
The last DQ is one that Erik actually suffered at the Pro series match and might be the worst on the list in terms of safety issues. In all the other situations, the shooter has direct control over the firearm and the gun is generally in a safe condition or at least pointed in a safe direction when the infraction happens. But when a shooter loses control of their gun in the middle of a stage, that’s a major hazard.
In Erik’s case, he was sprinting down the length of a stage when his handgun worked its way out of its holster and somersaulted to the ground. The guns in the pro series are “cruiser ready” when not in active use (chamber empty with a loaded magazine), so the gun wasn’t “hot,” but that didn’t matter. A loaded handgun tumbled out of his holster and fell uncontrolled on the ground. In other situations, where the handgun was fully loaded, that gun might have gone off and hurt someone.
According to Erik, he watched as it fell, as if in slow motion, realizing what it meant and powerless to stop it. Picking up a dropped gun, by the way, is another DQ-worthy action.
This rule is designed to force competitors to use safe equipment. Personally, I’ve always preferred my handgun holsters to have active retention for 3-gun competitions. Then again, I cut my teeth at the Tiger Valley matches where rappelling and wall climbing are normal events during stages. Nevertheless, many competitors try to run 3-gun with their IPSC race holsters and end up with their guns flopping out of their holsters. Expect to be vigorously running and jumping, and choose your gear accordingly.