A safe and fun sport, 3-gun is practiced by thousands of people all over the world, but it can be an intimidating sport to get into for casual gun owners and people new to the sport. It’s very common to see competitors in the pistol-centric sports like NRA Action Pistol and other practical pistol events that can be shot with commonly available service pistols, while 3-gun requires the use of a rifle, pistol and shotgun, which can easily cost thousands of dollars.
In addition to this, walking on to a shooting range and competing in a match in front of your peers can be very intimidating for a lot of gun owners. A shooting match will show you, and everyone around you where your failings are as a shooter, and while that is a great way to show you where you need to improve, I know from personal experience that it can also be very embarrassing.
As a result, there are many gun owners who are interested in shooting 3-gun, but are hesitant to go shoot a match because of the entry cost and their performance anxiety. However, there are many people out there who compete in obstacle course racing like the various Tough Mudder, Spartan Race and other high-intensity athletic events that have difficult physical challenges that are designed after military-style obstacle courses. Adding a shooting element to such events is a logical next step, and the Dropzone Gunner match held at Manatee Gun and Archery Club is one of the very first matches to integrate the demanding physical challenges of obstacle course racing with the skill and marksmanship of 3-gun.
At a typical 3-gun match, it’s not uncommon to see competitors wearing bright jerseys festooned with the logos of their sponsors and slick, tricked-out AR-15s, shotguns and pistols. Dropzone Gunner, on the other hand, attracted a different crowd. I didn’t see a single sponsored shooter at the match, and all the guns were provided by Kel-Tec.
Stage guns, preloaded guns that are picked up and used on a specific stage, are frequently used in a 3-gun match, but at the Dropzone Gunner match, every shooting test used stage guns, allowing competitors to shoot the match without a large cash outlay. The competitors themselves were very different than a usual 3-gun match: According to match organizer Jeremy Griffin, only around one-quarter of the 120 people who shot the match compete regularly in 3-gun, making this match an excellent introduction to practical shooting for gun owners and non-gun owners alike.
The match has two distinct elements to it: Over twenty different physical obstacles to climb over, climb under or fight your way through including a nasty bit of barbed wire and mud that contestants had to crawl through and a number of shooting stages, each with a Kel-Tec rifle, pistol or shotgun loaded up and ready to shoot. The day of the match was uncharacteristically chilly for central Florida. Temperatures struggled to get above fifty all day long, which made that mud crawl a cold shock to the system.
The obstacle courses were tough and pushed most competitors to their limits, raising their heart rates and quickening their breathing, which made the shooting portion of the match all that tougher. I’ve shot 3-gun matches where there were elements that pushed you physically such has having to drag a heavy sack for a while before shooting, but they pale in comparison to the challenges at Dropzone. Getting the sights of a Kel-Tec RDB rifle on to the target and shooting five rounds into an eight inch steel plate 100 yards away seems easy on the practice range, but doing it after you've had to climb over two cargo nets, scale two eight-foot walls, jump over four hurdles and negotiate a pair of rope courses is another thing altogether.
The competitors seemed relish the chance to put their bodies and shooting skills to the task, though. I talked with Jeremy, one of the competitors at the event, about why he was doing this.
“I own a bunch of guns and I like to shoot them,” he said, “but I also like to compete in obstacle course racing. I don’t shoot 3-gun, but I might give it a try after this match.”
Another competitor was Richard, who flew in all the way from England for the event.
“We can shoot 3-gun in England,” he said, “but because of the laws there, the guns we use are nothing like the ones here today. I shoot 3-gun, and I like to compete in tough endurance racing, so this event seemed like a perfect fit for me.”
Jerome Griffin of Grizzly Targets organized Dropzone Gunner because he saw a need for a shooting sport with an appeal that extended beyond what was currently being offered.
“Most practical shooting sports are not spectator-friendly and serve a narrow niche,” said Jerome. “With Dropzone Gunner, we’re looking to open up the market for 3-gun to a market who is used to competing in obstacle course racing but not competing in a shooting match.”
It’s that appeal to people outside the shooting sports that drew the attention of Chad Adams and 3-Gun Nation, who covered the match live on social media.
“We looked at this, and we set it as a crossover sport for people who enjoy sports but who don’t compete with guns,” said Chad. “The shooting stages are basic and safely administered, and they work well in the setting of endurance racing.”
The prize table for the match was quite generous: Over $7,000 in prizes were up for grabs courtesy of Kel-Tec. Overall match winner Daniel Say walked away with five different guns from Kel-Tec and other gear for finishing first. Additional prizes included other Kel-Tec firearms, steel targets from Grizzly Targets, gear and accessories.
Dropzone Gunner is looking to set up another match at Manatee Gun and Archery Club later in 2018, and is looking to take the tour nationwide in the future. For more information on future events, you can visit dropzonegunner.com.