Competing in a normal 3-gun competition is hard enough. There’s no end of things you have to remember and worry about, from complex stage designs to targets that are only visible from certain locations. But if that’s not challenging enough for you, try doing all of that with the lights out. Night time 3-gun events have been gaining in popularity recently, and with the Crimson Trace midnight 3-gun looming in the distance, I wanted to get some practice in before the main event. So I loaded up my car and drove to the range just south of Dallas for some nocturnal shooting . . .
First things first, a minor confession. When I signed onto the FNH USA team, I was supposed to use their guns and their guns only for competitions. But for this one, I had no choice – I needed to use my old Sig Sauer P226. I’ll be getting a light and laser combination gizmo for my FNS-9, but it hadn’t arrived by the time the Texas event rolled around. So, as my P226 already sports a light and the only handgun laser I had was an integrated version in the P226’s grip, I decided to use it instead.
In the days before the event, it had rained pretty heavily in Texas. Driving up the day before I could barely see the taillights of the truck in front of me on the highway, the rain was so bad. The effect of all that water was that the range had been turned into a massive mud pit, the ground squishy and unstable. Those are bad conditions for a normal 3-gun shoot, but even worse at night. Now shooters needed to not only remember where the targets are located but also which parts of the stages were flooded and where the best path was. Slipping and falling with a firearm isn’t something that you ever want to experience, but especially in a competition.
As the sun was setting on the range, we started things off at stage 4. It was a basic design with a vertical plate rack some distance in the background and a bunch of handgun targets. The match designer had differentiated between which targets needed to be hit with which guns by their visual appearance: square paper with the rifle, IPSC targets with the handgun, bent steel with the shotgun and any other steel with either the handgun or the shotgun.
The plate rack at the back of the stage proved to be the target that gave people the most trouble. Everyone else had decided to run it with a handgun, and with the distance and at night even the more experienced shooters were having a tough time hitting the small steel targets. I, following in Larry Houck’s footsteps, decided to do it with a shotgun instead. The plates were set to fall with a pretty light hit, so I was sure that even with my modified choke, I’d be able to get a solid hit and knock them down. I was right – they fell immediately.
The biggest issue I ran into on this stage was running out of ammunition. As I was starting my first shotgun reload, I realized that some of the rounds had fallen out of my shell holder. A couple misses with the shotgun needed to be made up, and I was now a good six rounds over my expected round count. I had only allowed for four extra shots, and ran dry before I could knock down the last two steel plates. Moral of the story: always bring spare ammo.
Stage five was one where they were trying to make you forget about targets on purpose. The layout of the stage’s shooting area was symmetrical, but the targets were lopsided. Extra pistol targets on one side, extra shotgun targets on the other and rifle targets scattered around at the end. Add in the beginnings of exhaustion starting to creep their way into your body and you can very easily forget a target, which I almost did. And you can hear the peanut gallery talking about it in the video at length.
I did have one major gripe about the stage design. In general, I HATE stages where you need to run up range with a firearm. It encourages people to break the 180 rule, pointing their gun at the crowd. Especially in a night match, I was expecting the match director to be more conservative with their designs. Instead, it was the first time in a couple years that I was required to run backwards on a stage. I call that bad design, but that’s just me.
The rest of the stage went well, but at the end of the run my rifle had a malfunction of some kind. This match allowed us to use silencers for our firearms and I was taking full advantage of that opportunity. But having run my rifle with the silencer before, I hadn’t expected any issues. The ammo, however, was my first suspect. I have officially run out of the good Winchester ammunition, and had resorted to using a mixture of American Eagle XM193 and Freedom Munitions ammo. It’s the same stuff that had malf’ed many times before in my firearms, but it’s all that’s available. I cleared the jam, but it quickly became apparent that every stage where I ran my rifle I would need to clear at least one malfunction thanks to the ammo. I tried everything I could think of to stop the gun from jamming, from using different mags to running without the silencer, but nothing worked.
In this case, it didn’t set me back too far. Racking the action cleared the jam, and I still finished with a good time. I get the feeling that the timer may have missed my last couple shots thanks to the silencer, but I’m not one to complain.
Stage 6 was actually a lot of fun, featuring multiple targets from different positions, a perfectly symmetrical stage (less to remember), and a table right in front of you to put your stuff. It was a good ol’ fashioned “hose ‘em down” stage that was quick to shoot and reset. The only issue I ran into was another rifle malf, this time needing to go into a full double feed drill instead of simply racking the action. Again, I’m chalking it up to an ammo issue (that will hopefully be solved soon).
By the time we reached stage 1, we were really starting to feel the effects of shooting a night match. The sun had dipped below the horizon long ago, and after spending hours in the hot and humid Texas night resetting stages we were all getting tired. It didn’t help that we were about to shoot the more intense stages of the competition.
Stage 1 was a shotgun and rifle affair, with rifle and shotgun targets mixed and scattered across the ground. It was set up in a “U” shape, and most people started at the tip of the right arm of the U, then ran all the way around to the tip of the left arm and all the way back. I found a nice spot about halfway up the right section where I could hit all of the targets on that part of the course, cutting a few seconds of walking off my time.
Again, the rifle had a massive malfunction. Not only did it have a double feed from the first magazine, it failed to completely chamber the first round on the second magazine as well. This is what makes me believe that ammo is the problem, because even with a fresh magazine it failed to chamber the very first round. It seems to be an issue of improperly sized reloads from Freedom Munitions, which was the original diagnosis when I ran this ammo the first time.
Stage 3 was the final one of the night, and by the time we got there we were thoroughly exhausted. The plan was to be done by 2 AM, but when I ran the stage it was about 6 in the morning. The sun was already coming up over the hills, and by the time we had finished the stage the last shooter didn’t even bother turning on their flashlight anymore. The reason for our sluggishness was that there were 20 people to a squad, and they only had two squads — six stages and only two in use at a given time. It was nowhere close to an efficient use of our time, and we all paid the price.
The price I paid was a complete and total loss of concentration. I ran the stage mostly how I planned, with the exception of missing about six targets. I realized my mistake about halfway through and was able to get most of them, but the damage was done. My score had taken a pretty big hit, and the continued ammo-related issues weren’t helping.
As dawn broke over the range, I checked my scores at the statistics cabin and figured that I had finished somewhere in the middle of the pack. Considering the percentage of sponsored shooters there, that’s not a terrible finish. But if my rifle had run properly, I get the feeling that I would have scored much higher. You heard me: I blame my ammunition for my score.
In the end, this competition confirmed my suspicions. Getting the equipment ready is easy, and remembering where all the targets are isn’t the real challenge. Nighttime 3-gun events are an endurance test, finding out who can remain alert enough to successfully complete a stage at 4:00 am. And while my many nights spent riding around in an ambulance prepared me well for that part of the competition, I eventually reached my own breaking point on the last stage.
Note to self: invest in large quantities of Mountain Dew for the Crimson Trace Midnight 3-gun.