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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.

Dropped Firearm

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.

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  1. We’ve got the same rules in the 3 – gun we’ve got coming – although it is not officially sanctioned. We’ll be using stock patrol guns and standard road – issue departmental ammo with standard sights. I like that type of competition because it utilizes standard issue holsters, magazines, gun, and mag holders – exactly what I would have if I got into a gunfight on the job. I think 3 gun is cool, I’m just not that into all of the gun mods which tend to make the gun impractical for normal carry.

    In the event of a negligent discharge, an officer would recieve a suspension and incident documentation in their personnel file. That officer would have to formally re-qualify prior to return to duty. A Taser discharge would require re-qualification, documentation, and a possible suspension. A negligent discharge with injury could result in termination and criminal charges.

    • Sanctioned 3-Gun in California is rare. Mainly because of bullet buttons and baby magazines. I do like the idea of shoot what you wear or work with. Kinda levels the playing field that way, and it is the shooter not the equipment.
      I know they have iron sights in 3-gun, but the other important ting to remember is having fun. For the vast majority this isn’t a living we don’t have huge sponsors, so keeping it in perspective is important.

  2. I’ve shot IDPA for several years and in that game you are obviously limited to one weapon and its ammo. You do everything with that one gun on your hip or in your hand. When I started shooting 3 Gun, my natural inclination was to always have my handgun in its holster and ammo for it on my belt – even if the stage did not call for pistol. It wasn’t until I reached the last stage of my first match that I realized maybe having a pistol in its holster was bad idea as I was going to be running/gunning with the shotgun and then transitioning to prone rifle shots – no pistol shots required. What if my pistol worked its way loose?

    So my big lesson was kit up with only what you need and nothing you don’t. This may seem obvious, but it took me 5 stages to get it and this practice can help you avoid dropping things you don’t need in the first place.

      • I can believe it, especially if it had some sort of highly tuned competition trigger. Some people in their quest to craft a finely tuned competition gun, bump up against the limits of safety.

        Also, my guess is that the competitor forgot to engage the safety when dumping the shotgun.

    • This could and should be its own post.

      My initial guess/theory would be that the gun went click, the shooter dumped it thinking it was empty, while leaving the chamber closed, and then it experienced a hang fire. But I’d love to know what actually happened.

    • I could be when he dropped it into the barrel. A lot of shotguns are not drop safe so if he was to fling it into the barrel then it could of gone off.

  3. There are two types of shooters in matches… those that have been DQ’ed and those that will be. I have been DQ’ed in a IPSC type meet. It stings and you learn a lot when it happens. Mine was a stupid mental error. After showing clear and dropping the hammer down range, I bent over to pick up a magazine before I holstered. I swept my knee. It was entirely my fault and a reflection of how I had been practicing changing magazines that week. I had been working on mag changes all week and not holstering the gun when picking up magazines. DOH!

  4. As a side note, some clubs may not allow a retention holster (think SERPA), because of potential negligent discharges while drawing. While this typically isn’t an issue if not chambered, as in some 3 gun courses of fire, a round is chambered in USPSA (typically).

    I was at the Pro Series at Peacemaker and I saw Erik’s DQ. He made it about 2 steps after the pistol fell out. You could see him watch it, in his mind, as it fell out (rifle in hand). I believe it was stage 1, about half way through the day. A couple other DQs that day as well. Matt and Travis, for different reasons. It’s painful, but a learning experience.

    On the picking up a dropped firearm, if it’s unloaded and dropped, only a RO/RSO can pick it up. If it’s loaded or dropped after the “Make Ready” (signifying the start of a course of fire), it’s a DQ whether you pick it up or not. So, lesson here is, if dropped outside the course of fire, call over match personnel to pick it up for you. Only handle a firearm in the declared safe area or under the direct supervision of an RO.

    • I was wondering about the bit about picking up a dropped pistol; as written in the article it doesn’t make any sense, you’d already be DQed.

      Thanks for the expanded explanation.

    • Is the concern with a dropped gun (after the DQ is established) that the muzzle could be pointing in any direction, and that’s why an RSO has to handle it? Do they just hand it back to the competitor immediately after that?

      What happens if a competitor picks it up on their own (aside from the already existing DQ)?

      • Typically, approached by match staff, taken to a safe area, ensure unload and show clear, then bagged (firearm is put into case or bag). Official Match DQ and notification to Match Director/RangeMaster. Only the RO/RSO handles it after its dropped to ensure its safely handled. 10.5.14 is part of the USPSA ruling. 5.3.16 is the Multi gun ruling. 2.5.1 is the FNH rule set.

      • lol see my post 😉 believe me if you are ever disqualified, you feel like an idiot and make a strong resolve to not ever be dq’ed again. If you are thinking of shooting 3-gun, you might want to try some pistol matches first… only one gun to worry about. Some of the local 3 gun matches here require you to shoot at least one pistol match. I have been shooting IPSC for that reason…. plus my AR is not complete yet…. Things I have seen at matches….. Never move with your finger on the trigger unless the stage calls for shooting when moving… Never ever reload a mag with your finger on the trigger. …. Never make ready until the RO tells you to…. etc

        • Booger flicker off the bang switch, rule 2 apparently still applies while in competition 😛

  5. As much as everyone WANTS to go fast, take your time. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Don’t sacrifice safety for speed. Odds are, you won’t really go any faster, but you’ll make mistakes that may cost you a DQ, hurt someone, or just fumble with stuff because you are hurried.

  6. One thing I would have liked to see mentioned in the section about a dropped gun, is to LET IT FALL. Trying to catch a gun in mid-air is far more likely to cause a discharge, than just letting it hit the dirt. That’s a damn hard human instinct to overcome, though.

  7. Gah, that idiot 180 degree rule. I understand the point of not shooting behind you, but requiring people to walk backwards versus simply pointing the gun in a safe place while moving is just dumb. It is completely doable to watch where you are going and watch the muzzle at the same time.


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