Stocking Supplies for 3-Gun Shooters

3-gun shooting competition is the doorway to profit if your store stocks the right supplies and gear.

Stocking Supplies for 3-Gun Shooters

A bold statement for sure, but true: Three-gun calls on every single skill used in the shooting world. Close-range speed, long-range precision, moving targets, awkward positions — it’s all there.

As the name implies, 3-gun uses handguns, shotguns and rifles, which means it calls on all the shooter’s skills. Each gun needs a different skill set, so 3-gun competitors are some of the most accomplished shooters on earth. They are very serious about their sport and willing to spend money to compete. This is a gear-focused venue, and it provides great potential for sales.

There are multiple sets of rules, including those from USPSA and Outlaw. There are multiple classes that are based on the equipment used, and probably the most popular are Tactical or Tac-Optics, which are pretty much the same. Due to space limitations, I’ll focus on those. However, it’s best as a retailer to not ignore the needs of the shooters in other classes.


The Three Guns

The rifle will almost certainly be an AR-15. Most popular is a semi-heavy barrel, usually 18 inches and with a muzzle brake. Many manufacturers now offer a 3-gun-specific rifle, and you should be able to order what the customer needs and wants. As with all the firearms, it might be best to be well acquainted with the market so that you can special order the gun. It’s not a bad idea to keep a few entry-level rifles in stock.

The rifles use a wide range of sighting equipment, including iron sights, scopes or red-dots, depending on the classification the shooter competes in. Most common in Tactical is a 1-6 or 1-8 scope, usually with a visible illuminated dot in the reticle. Most optics companies offer that style scope. It’s smart to keep a few of the most popular brands in stock and have the ability to order any others.

The customer will, of course, need a mount for the scope. Most prefer the quick-change mount designed to fit on a rail. Don’t forget to offer a power-change throw lever for the scope.

Aftermarket triggers are very popular. Stocking a few to fit an AR-15 rifle will ensure impulse buys, particularly if your store can install the trigger. There are an infinite number of aftermarket goodies for the AR-15, like slings, grips, rails and buttstocks. The list is endless, but they all offer opportunity for sales. Three-gun shooters are gear focused and are always looking for an edge, so any bolt-on accessory they think might give them one is a strong seller. You might offer some oversize controls like the magazine release or bolt release. If your store can install them, all the better.

The shooter is going to need multiple magazines, including some high-capacity styles. You should be able to sell a 3-gunner several 30-round magazines, but also offer some high-capacity options, which opens the door to sell magazine loaders like the Maglula, M4/AR-15/5.56 /.223 LULA loader and unloader. While you are at it, sell them one for their handgun magazines as well. Let them try one in store and it sells itself. Older shooters with arthritic hands will love them, but any shooter will appreciate the speed and simplicity.

The shotgun will usually be a semi-auto. There are some divisions that use a pump, but they are not hugely popular. Most Tactical shooters use a semi-auto with a high-capacity magazine tube. There are some shotguns that ship ready to go — the Mossberg 940 JM series is one that comes to mind. That shotgun was designed in conjunction with Jerry Miculek, who is one of the top competitors in the game. The FN SLP is another out-of-the-box, competition-ready shotgun. Stoeger offers an inertia-driven 3-gun competition shotgun. However, there is a weird rule about European shotguns being sold in the U.S. with large-capacity magazines, so the buyer will have to add one on after the purchase. Benelli is the same: Their 3-gun-ready shotgun is not really ready. It needs a longer magazine tube, which is an opportunity to sell the buyer these necessary add-on aftermarket goodies. If you are a Benelli dealer, the M2 is the hot shotgun for this market.

The guy who just wants to upgrade his existing shotgun will be looking at a long list of bolt-on products, starting with extended magazine tubes. Oversize controls are popular, as is modifying the loading port if your shop offers gunsmithing services.

Extended chokes that can be swapped out easily without tools are a no-brainer sale. Also slings and, because most shotguns don’t have them, sling attachment kits.

Handguns are almost universally 9mm, with a few exceptions. Many new shooters and a lot of long-time competitors will use a polymer-framed, high-capacity striker-fired handgun. The hardcore shooters will probably use a 2011-style double-stack handgun. Either way, they will need lots of magazines and maybe better sights and upgraded triggers.



Shooters will require a good competition belt. The double belt, Velcro-style is best. Safariland or CR Speed are popular, but there are many on the market. The shooter will need a holster for the handgun. There are several excellent holster makers who offer competition-style Kydex holsters. The holster needs to be secure, as 3-gun shooting is active, and much of it happens with the loaded handgun in the holster. It’s a DQ (disqualification) if the handgun falls out, so security is as important as a fast draw. This point can be used to sell up to a better holster. When you order stock, don’t forget us lefties! We are 18% of the population, and only a foolish business ignores 18% of its market. It’s been my observation that the percentage of left-handed shooters is much higher than the percentage of left-handed people in the population. If you want a customer for life, have a left-handed holster to fit his gun.

Shooters need belt-mounted magazine pouches for both the handgun and the rifle. They also will need a locking system to mount the mag pouches, and they need something to hold a lot of shotgun shells. Most competitors are using quad loaders now, so they can grab four shells at one time. (It never worked for me — it just meant I dropped four shells on the ground. One reason I never could reach the top tier of competitors.) Three-gun shooters are constantly messing with their gear, trying to gain an edge, so stocking the latest shotshell holders is all but a guaranteed sale. You just need to stay current on what’s hot at the moment.

Shooters have to transport their gear. They need a shooting bag, of course; a long bag designed to carry all three guns. They also need a range bag for magazines, ammo and assorted gear. This is a tough sport, so sell the best or risk returns and complaints. Only the highest quality can stand up to a hardcore competitor. Those who travel to compete will need a hard case for the airlines as well. The 3-gun carts that look like baby buggies are extremely useful and should be an easy sell.

Cleaning gear needs are never-ending. In addition to the usual suspects, make sure to offer specialty stuff like aggressive copper-cutting rifle bore solvent. A strong shotgun solvent that removes plastic from the bore will sell itself. Make sure you have brushes for all, and good quality, one-piece, coated rods for the rifles. Don’t forget bore guides for the rifles, and some sort of tool or cradle to hold the rifle open so it doesn’t keep snapping shut on the customer’s fingers. Watch for buyers with bloody Band-Aids on their fingers — they are a guaranteed sale.

Let’s not forget electronic ear muffs and top-quality shooting glasses. Every shooter needs these. Make sure to stock batteries for the ear protection.



Now to the elephant in the room: Ammo. Three-gun shooters use a lot of ammo. I recently had a customer bring a rifle to have the stock shortened. “My father bought this gun in the early ’70s,” he said. “Dad hunted with it for years until he passed it down to me. Now I am passing it down to my son. We still have the original box of ammo dad bought with the gun!”

In contrast, I can remember shipping more than 1,000 rounds to the MGM Iron Man 3-gun match and running out. Which customer do you think is going make your store more money?

Of course, it’s always best to talk to your customers and see what they are using, but here are a few suggestions. Shotguns are almost universally 12-gauge. The most common load is 1 1/8 ounce, 1,200 fps. It mostly comes down to price, though. Stock up what you can sell cheaply and it will move fast.

Any larger match will have a few slug stages. Foster-style slugs are needed, but most of them are not very accurate. I have seen some very difficult targets for slugs, so accuracy is important. Reduced-recoil slugs are the way to go. They have plenty of power without beating the shooter half to death. I use Federal Truball reduced-recoil slugs and highly recommend them. I have tested most of the Foster-style slugs over the years and have found these to be the most accurate.

Many of the bigger matches will have a buckshot stage or two. Everyone I know uses Federal Flight Control buckshot. This stuff holds tight patterns so it will knock over the tough steel targets. Your customers will let you know if they want some other brand, and you can order it in for them.

The pistol is almost universally 9mm. It’s probably a tossup between 115-grain and 124-grain, FMJ ammo, although there is a trend to 147- or 150-grain loads these days with competition shooters. Stock lots of each and you have it covered. As with the birdshot loads, price point is often the important aspect.

Rifles are a bit different. You will need to stock a bunch of low-priced FMJ ammo for the “hoser” stages with a lot of close targets. In fact, this is a good choice for most club-level matches if there are no long-range targets. But you also need precision ammo for the long shots. My choice has been Federal or Black Hillswith 69-grain Sierra Match King bullets. The truth is, I just shoot that ammo for the entire match. It’s a bit more expensive, but one load keeps it simple. Switching ammo in the middle of a match can lead to problems. I know a lot of very good competitors who use Hornady 75-grain ammo for their precision, long-range work and often for the entire match. It’s probably best to stock some of both — assuming you can even get ammo these days, of course.

Finally, this is a good time to get your customers into reloading. The starter kits sold by RCBS, Hornady, Lyman, Redding and others are a good place to begin. For shotguns, look at the MEC loaders. The thing about reloading is that it creates an endless stream of sales. There is always another tool needed — presses, scales, dies, shell holders, case trimmers, the list is endless and impossible to cover in depth in this article. Don’t forget ammo boxes! I just spent way too much time looking for some recently and found no joy.

Then there are the components, the consumables: primers, powder, cases and bullets for the centerfire stuff. The shotgun loaders will need primers, shot and wads. I know all this is hard to find at the moment, but plan for better times.

Remember, 3-gun is three times the guns, three times the fun and three times the profits.


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