The business of the shooting sports: 3-Gun

Now we arrive at the new hotness of the action shooting sports: 3-Gun. We’ve covered USPSA, IDPA, and general trends, so now it’s time to turn our attention to the sport that seems to be grabbing the lion’s share of media attention and sponsor dollars. These days, when people think “3Gun” they’re probably thinking about 3 Gun Nation, which has risen from nothing to become the absolute top dog of the 3 Gun community. For clarity’s sake, we’ll use the abbreviation 3GN when referring to 3 Gun Nation specifically, and use 3Gun as a general term for other 3Gun stuff.

To look at the world of 3Gun, one does need to break it into two categories: 3 Gun Nation and, well to be honest, everything else. That’s not to take away from the non-3GN events, because there are quite a few of them, ranging in quality from “just okay” to “pretty awesome.” Some of the ones that will likely be recognizable to most shooters are the Ironman, Crimson Trace Midnight 3 Gun, Superstition Mountain, and the Brownells/Rockcastle ProAm. Regardless of whether you’re discussing 3GN or the outlaw events, there’s no denying that 3Gun is the hotness right now – the coolest of the shooting sports.

Now, when you’re talking about the current success of 3Gun, what you’re really talking about is the success of 3 Gun Nation and how 3GN has driven participation across the board in the multigun sports. It is a tale of both convenient timing and clever marketing. 3GN hit the scene around the same time that everyone and their sister were buying AR15 pattern rifles. They started off using the existing outlaw matches as sanctioned events, working towards the unified championship, so existing 3Gun shooters were obviously enticed to attend and shoot. On top of all of that, their TV show was actually entertaining to watch. So out of the gate they were already hitting on all cylinders. They even managed to survive getting yanked from NBC Sports in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings.

Now, 3GN is its own sanctioning body, and has grown into the premiere 3Gun event/series in the nation. In 2014, they decided to eschew the use of the classic outlaw matches, instead hosting their own 3GN Regionals are various ranges. But what’s interesting is that this hasn’t hurt the popularity of the outlaw matches at all, which are still filling up and still seeing great prize tables and shooter attendance. This is actually one of the biggest general successes of 3Gun at large: great prize tables and sponsor involvement. Because the matches consist of shooting three different guns (duh), the potential for sponsor involvement increases significantly outside of what you’d see at a pistol match. Companies that are traditionally oriented towards the LE/military community suddenly have an interest in the competition shooting world specifically because of what’s being done in 3Gun with rifles, and to a certain extent, shotguns.

On the marketing front, 3Gun has been well marketing, again primarily by 3GN, whose man-on-man shootoff is the most exciting televised bit of shooting all year. Because the targets are reactive and it’s two shooters going head to head, there is a sense of drama, and at the same time the casual viewer can easily understand who’s winning and why. Also part of the image of 3Gun is the carefully cultivated sense of it being the extreme sport of the shooting sports. Climbing barricades, running with rifles, and in some cases shooting actual machine guns or suppressed firearms makes the game itself edgier than its competitors.

So, if 3 Gun is well marketed, and the main 3GN series is well managed, what challenges does the sport face? The first is obvious, and it’s the relatively high cost of entry. Unlike USPSA, which is where 3Gun seems to be poaching the most shooters from, you need more than a pistol and 5 mags to compete. You need a rifle, you need a shotgun. Manufacturers are catching on that 3Gun competitors want “ready” shotguns out of the box, which is why you’ve seen Mossberg, Remington, Benelli, Beretta, and now even CZ offering guns out of the box that are ready to go for 3Gun competition. But you’re still looking at $600 (on the low end) up to north of a grand for your 3Gun shotgun, plus shell caddies. Then there’s the rifle, and yes while you can go shoot 3Gun with a vanilla 16 inch Colt 6920, it’s not an ideal set-up. Again, manufacturers get this, and there are plenty of options for 3Gun ready rifles..but you’re looking again at a grand or so out the door. Plus magazines and pouches for those. So even if you just shoot a Glock 34, your initial start up cost in guns alone is going to be $2500-3000.

The biggest problem facing 3Gun as a sport is sustainability. We’re not talking about hippie environmental sustainability, but rather the incredible growth its seen in the past couple of years. The thing is that time, specifically the time of the shooters and volunteers is a zero-sum game. The more time a shooter spends on 3Gun, that’s time being taken away from somewhere else. It stands to reason that 3Gun will eventually reach a tipping point where growth slows to a more reasonable pace, and you see some sponsors go find other things to do with their money, and volunteers drift away. A likely scenario we discussed is that you’ll see a contraction first in the outlaw matches, as dollars and media attention get pushed to 3GN, then a drawback in prize tables or cash payouts from the Pro Series itself.

At least for now, 3 Gun as a sport is showing no signs of slowing down. The 3 Gun Nation series of matches is an excellent example of a well run, well thought out organization that absolutely has a plan and a vision for where it wants to go. 3 Gun as a community is going strong, with tons of great matches outside the 3GN banner; while there are obvious challenges on the horizon, barring a major political event that affects the availability of AR15s and ammo, I don’t see 3 Gun pumping the brakes for at least another 2 years.

1 Comment

  1. In addition to the startup costs, ammo cost and availability is a roadblock for some. A couple of clubs run matches locally, but they want 250 5.56, 150 pistol, and 50 shotgun rounds. I get the point that a short match isn’t much fun, and I might undershoot what I bring, but dropping $120+ just for ammo is a hard pill to swallow.

    Contrast that with a 6 stage IDPA match with a round count of 85 and the fun ratio changes a bit.

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