AR15’s are like… Golf Clubs? Part Two

What to look for when setting up a 3-gun competition rifle

We’re shaking things up with part two of this series. Today we’ll take a look at some of the parts and pieces that go into a winning 3-gun rifle. Let’s start by identifying what kind of shots we’re taking with our rifles at a 3-gun match.

At 3-gun matches, your AR15 needs to be set up to be a flexible “do it all” tool. You may see targets from 5 yards, all the way out to 500 yards. Both paper targets, and fixed steel targets at distance. Some stages may include shooting through “USPSA” style courses of fire that are generally short range (inside of 50 yards) with wall sections and barricades. Conversely there are plenty of stages that exercise distance shooting, with minimal barricades or braces to shoot from.

There is a high chance that some matches have some of everything listed above. So what do you actually need? Simply put, you need a rifle that is relatively lightweight, has a magnified optic, low recoil, a fast trigger, and the ability to attach a bipod. That’s a lot of bells and whistles, so how do we set it up?

  • The rifle itself should have a 16-18 inch barrel, with a mid or rifle length gas system. The barrel should be medium to light in profile, and the twist rate is subjective to what bullet weight you plan on shooting at matches. This is one of the rare times that I’d suggest a 1:8 or 1:9 barrel, as you’ll most likely be shooting 55gr at these kinds of matches.

  • Adjustable gas system? Maybe! I personally am not a fan of adding failure points to a rifle, but this is a competition, not a life or death situation. Buy your points if you need to. An adjustable gas system can greatly reduce felt recoil, but it can also cause a myriad of problems, so keep that in mind!

  • You’ll want a good, fast, and clean trigger. My favorite three triggers come from Larue, Geissele, and Triggertech. I personally prefer two stage triggers, but some prefer single stage options. Try both types out before picking one!

  • Muzzle brakes are also a great way of making your AR recoil less. Keep in mind though that they are extremely loud. A good 2 or 3 port setup will make a huge difference.

  • Buffer systems are a good upgrade for making the rifle more reliable, and for reducing recoil. My go-to option here is the Geissele Super 42 system, or the VLTOR A5 system. I would recommend avoiding anything hydraulic, and anything that utilizes multiple tuner springs. These can cause reliability issues between different types of ammunition!

  • Handguards or rail systems should be solid, yet lightweight. There are a million options out there when it comes to rails. I’d recommend something with a barrel nut that is longer than 2 inches, so that you have some rigidity in your rail for shooting from a braced position.

  • Having the ability to mount a bipod is essential for some of the long range stages you may encounter. My personal preference for bipods is the Atlas series from BT. Magpul also makes a good bipod that has most of the features that the Atlas does.

  • Optics are the biggest piece of the puzzle, so we saved it for last! At matches you may have to engage targets from 10 yards out to 200 yards in the same stage. Having a low power variable optic or LPVO in this case is a must. A good 1-6, or 1-8 will take your game to the next level. Due to the fact that you may be shooting at unknown distance targets, it may be a good idea to consider getting your LPVO in a first focal plane configuration. For starters, I’d recommend taking a close look at the Eotech VUDU series of optics.

    First focal plane or FFP for short, simply means that the optic’s reticle or crosshairs stay the same size in relation to the target, regardless of the magnification settings you are using. Second focal plane or SFP for short, means that the reticle or crosshairs are only scaled accurately in relation to the target at one magnification level, which varies by brand. FFP optics make it easier for the shooter to make hits on the fly, by being able to accurately use bullet drop, or grid style reticles without having to stop and adjust their optics.

    The final touch for optics on a 3-gun rifle are secondary sights. Earlier I mentioned having to transition from 10 yards to 200 yards. Having a quality red dot sight, or set of iron sights mounted at 45 degrees offset to the rifle makes taking those close shots a breeze, and allows the shooter to smoothly transition to their main optic for the longer range targets.


    My final piece of advice for competitive shooting such as 3-gun is simple: ASK QUESTIONS! Go to a match and observe how people have set up their gear. Look at what works well and what doesn’t. Ask other shooters what they are using and why they are using it. The competitive shooting community is always excited to bring new people into the mix. Everyone in our community wants to see new shooters have a good time, and improve their skills.


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