July 01, 2013
Very few sports require the amount of equipment necessary to compete in a 3-gun match. By the time your wallet gets deflated from buying all the gear, you may even need to get a bigger vehicle just to transport it.
Each piece of equipment requires thoughtful consideration, as there are endless ways to accessorize each component in your loadout. First, you need to consider which division you plan to shoot. Sanctioned 3-gun events are usually split into three divisions: Limited, Tactical and Open.
Most 3-gun beginners start in the Limited or Tactical divisions. Selecting a pistol for either is a relatively easy task since equipment guidelines for pistols are identical for both classes. The rules for pistol equipment state they must be chambered in any caliber larger than 9x19mm, and cannot have any type of muzzle device or optical sight. Those broad restrictions allow shooters a number of opportunities to choose a handgun they can compete with comfortably.
A few main components must be considered when selecting a pistol for Limited or Tactical 3-gun divisions. The foremost consideration is to select a semi-auto that has a large or full-sized frame. Full-sized frames offer several advantages over their compact cousins — most notably a longer barrel and sight radius for more precise shots, and increased muzzle energy for knocking down steel targets. Full-sized guns are also great because of their generous magazine capacity and forgiving purchase on the grip, for effective weapon manipulation.
You also need to consider the availability of aftermarket and OEM replacement parts. Running any pistol in competition will result in normal wear and tear. On the occasion your gun breaks down, you need to be able to find replacement parts to get back in the ring.
The availability and cost of additional magazines is another important factor when choosing a pistol. Most folks find they need at least five mags. While you probably won't use them all in one stage, having a couple extra will make it much easier to transition from one stage to another. Refreshing your gear between stages for all three guns is a timely distraction, and your thumbs will feel like you've been playing with legos all day if you're constantly loading magazines.
With so many factors to consider, this list of quality 3-gun pistols for under $1,000 will narrow your options down to just eight out of the thousands of potential choices on the market.
Glock 34 Gen4
Specifically optimized for competitive shooting, the Glock 34 Gen4
employs similar ergonomics from the world-renowned Glock 17
, but has a longer barrel and lighter trigger.
Operating the Gen4 is a breeze with the enlarged slide stop lever and ambidextrous magazine release. Interchangeable backstraps let you easily customize the grip to your liking. Replacement parts are readily available, and the G34 accepts the same standard 17-round 9mm magazines as the Glock 17, as well as the extended 33-round mags.
FNH USA FNX-9
Don't let the 4-inch barrel scare you from using this beauty in competition. Sure, the sight radius on the FNH USA FNX-9
is shorter than the other pistols on this list, but the pinpoint precision of the cold-hammer forged, stainless steel barrel will not let you down.
This DA/SA pistol also plays no favorite to right-or left-handed shooters with its ambidextrous docking/safety lever, slide stop and magazine release. I can only complain about magazine availability and price. Spare mags run for about $45 each — if you can find them. Overall, this is an excellent option for those who want a practical gun for everyday carry and competition.
Often overlooked, the Beretta 92A1
is an excellent choice for 3-gun shooters. The 92A1 evolved from its battle-hardened G.I. brother, the M9
, which boasts over two decades of service in the U.S. Military. The 92A1 essentially sets a standard for other pistols to follow. Some may complain that it's heavy and prone to jams, but they might also be referring to a wartime experience, where it was carried in adverse conditions for several years at a time. The average 3-gun shooter probably isn't going to carry it through a desert for an entire deployment.
Replacement parts for the 92A1 are easy to find at a reasonable cost. Common modifications include grips, trigger kits, and replacing the front sight post with a Dawson Precision fiber optic sight. Standard magazines are sand-resistant, easy to find, and hold 17 rounds of 9mm. Overall, this is a good option for 3-gun, especially for many folks who have one collecting dust in their pile of military surplus goods. Price: $745
Smith & Wesson M&P9 Pro Series
The M&P line has taken a massive share of the polymer pistol market in recent years, and the Pro Series is a direct reflection of that success.
Designed specifically for competition with its fiber optic front sight and extended sight radius, just take the M&P9 Pro out of the box and you're ready to go. Compared to the normal M&P9, the Pro version also has additional care put into the trigger break and reset.
This is an all-around excellent option for 3-gun shooters, except for magazine availability. In the current market, spare magazines are as good as gold. They are nearly impossible to find at most online retailers, so they fetch $70 or more per mag on auction sites and forums.
SIG Sauer P226
Currently in service with several military and police organizations around the globe, the SIG Sauer P226
is also a well-known competitor in the 3-gun arena. Those who favor having no mechanical safety to fumble with on a competition gun will love the P226. Reliability and ergonomics of the P226 are really hard to beat.
Beginners and intermediate shooters will look and feel good when they see nice tight groups on their targets. More advanced shooters may notice a long reset in the trigger, which can be easily tuned at the SIG Sauer Custom Shop with a Short Reset Trigger Package for $100. The 15-round magazines are fairly easy to find among many online retailers for around $30 each. Although this is the most expensive pistol in the lineup, I think it's worth every penny.
CZ 75 SP-01
Pro competitors from all around the world know how to customize a CZ to the finest detail. But if you're a beginner, don't be scared. Time and time again, the CZ 75 SP-01
has been dubbed the lightest recoiling 9mm in production.
The grip has also been designed to fit a wide variety of shooters, which includes a comfortable high-ride beavertail that other semi-autos on this list leave out. It also serves as a great platform to grow from as your 3-gun skills improve, considering the amount of custom shops that could easily turn this into an open-division race gun. The 18-round magazines are easy to find, but a bit pricy for around $45 each. Overall, I would suggest this gun if you want a good platform to eventually modify into a race gun.
Kimber Custom Target II
For all the 1911 fans out there who haven't suffered from anaphylactic shock yet from polymer pistol allergies, here you go. It's truly hard to leave out the reliability, versatility and heritage of the venerable 1911 platform
— especially when it involves knocking over steel plates with 230-grain projectiles.
Unless you really want to liquidate your bank account on a true handmade 1911, you should consider the Kimber Custom Target II. It offers a great standard platform for endless customization options and all the accessories you can dream of. The only limiting factor of a 1911 in 3-gun is the magazine capacity, and the skill of whoever is pulling the trigger. Even if you don't buy one for 3-gun, no collection is complete without John Browning's legendary 1911.
Springfield XD-M 5.25
This sweet-shooting Springfield XD-M 5.25" 9mm Comp Series
is ready to go right out of the box. It comes neatly packed with a kydex holster, three magazines, a double mag pouch, interchangeable fiber optic sight rods and backstraps, cleaning brush, and lock.
Beginners can easily shoot tight groups thanks to the bright fiber optic front sight and a fully adjustable rear target sight. Standard 19-round magazines will keep you gassed up after most competitors have already reloaded. Modifying the trigger is the most common modification, as some shooters complain that the factory trigger has a long pull with a mushy break. Springer Precision makes excellent trigger kits to solve those concerns. In my opinion, put your resources toward training and ammo before you modify an all-around excellent production 3-gun pistol.