3-Gun Shooting
At a 3-gun match, it’s safety first — but fun runs a close second.

Midnight 3-Gun Invitational (Photo: Crimson Trace Facebook page)


Frank Miniter

The starlit darkness is broken only by glow sticks zip-tied to the front and back of each person, dim headlamps pointed down so as not to disturb the night vision of other participants, tactical lights attached to firearms pointed downrange, red laser dots settling on targets, and the red muzzle flashes of guns being fired.

Kate Krueger, a gray-haired lady who would have to stand on her toes to be five feet tall, looks around and says, “I hope President Obama is using some secret surveillance program to watch us right now.”

She then giggles as she feels about the Batman-sized belt strapped around her waist, checking the placement of extra magazines for her AR-15 and her 9mm handgun and shotgun shells for her 12-gauge.

We’re at a gun range outside Bend, Ore., shooting in a 3-gun match at the Central Oregon Shooting Sports Association range, and Kate, who hosts a radio show called Talking Guns, is up next. Around us in the darkness are about 50 other journalists and television and radio hosts competing at the second annual Midnight 3-Gun Invitational on August 14. After the media are finished, about 100 pros will compete for a top prize of $10,000. Well, not pros exactly. These guys and gals (a lot of women compete in 3-gun and other shooting sports) mostly have real jobs. They’re police officers, farmers, mechanics, lawyers, and everything else. But they have earned the distinction of being good enough at this sport for Crimson Trace, a company that makes tactical lasers and other firearms equipment in Wilsonville, Ore., to invite them to this nighttime competition.

Looking around at a gun range lighted by tactical lights and lasers, I recall how the latest attempt at a gun grab fizzled like wet powder in Senator Harry Reid’s chamber. And I thought about how President Barack Obama seems to believe the reason his gun ban failed is that the National Rifle Association stuck pins in voodoo dolls of senators in some dark room in Fairfax, Va. Regardless, it’s obvious that there is a deeper reason why the gun-control machinations failed in Washington, D.C. Here, far from the Beltway, it’s clear that President Obama simply doesn’t grasp what a lot of Americans are really like. Put another way, those who “cling to their guns and religion” might just be a little more numerous than he thinks — and they certainly have more fun than he thinks.

Before I ponder further, Kate uses an M249 squad automatic weapon (SAW) to shoot bursts of 5.56mm ammo into three targets. She then picks up a 40mm grenade launcher and activates a Crimson Trace laser on its grip. When a red dot appears on her target — a derelict car positioned at the end of the dark range — she pulls the trigger. A smoke round lobs between high dirt berms, punches through a cardboard window on the auto’s passenger side, and explodes with orange light and smoke.

Kate isn’t done. She now runs, as fast as her old knees will allow, the 100 feet to where her AR-15 is positioned. She gets there, shoulders her rifle, and double-taps eight paper targets. Then she runs again, this time to her shotgun. She shoots eight clay targets.

A range officer follows her every step of the way. He is there to make sure she shoots safely. Another official is timing her. In 3-gun matches — the fastest-growing shooting sport in America — accuracy and time are tallied to create a score at each shooting station. This competition has nine stations — each is different from the others, and all are made to challenge.

Kate finishes and clears her shotgun. The official checks the 12-gauge and shouts, “All clear!”

“I did okay,” she says between deep breaths moments later. “On the next station I get to use my handgun. That’s where I shine.”

Yeah, no doubt about it, if some top-secret government program is spying on these folks with cameras attached to little drones, its agents are seeing a lot of good people having a hell of a time. Microphones would pick up range officers preaching safe shooting. Cameras would show competitors who know the NRA rules of gun safety. As President Obama watched and listened, he’d find out why sport shooting these days is safer than riding a bicycle. He’d see people from all over America — normal people who pay taxes and have families, and who you’d never guess were into 3-gun — enjoying a night out among friends. He’d find that this segment of society is rarely in the headlines because they shoot safely and don’t commit crimes.

Nevertheless, 3-gun is a sport President Obama wants to ban. Shooting AR-15s is something the president doesn’t think civilians should be allowed to do. In 3-gun matches competitors use modern sporting rifles (what the anti-gun crowd calls “assault rifles”), shotguns with extended tubes, and handguns. As this particular competition is done at night, everyone here is also equipped with Crimson Trace’s lasers and tactical lights. Most competitions are, of course, held in daylight.

Such competitions are rapidly becoming more numerous. For example, Chad Adams, who co-founded 3-Gun Nation in 2010, started with just a television show, but it has spawned an organization with 60 clubs, a magazine, six pro events and eleven open matches annually, and a finale in Las Vegas with a $50,000 prize. He says, “We’ve been growing at 500 percent or more every year and are just getting started. This sport is taking off. More importantly, 3-gun is the battlefield of the Second Amendment. Our competitors use semi-automatic rifles, handguns, and shotguns. Banning these commonly owned firearm types would end our sport and be the beginning of the end of our freedom.” (To see this sport in action, check out