A New Shooters Guide to 3-Gun (and Shooting in General)

I have had this article in the notes of my phone for the better part of 3 months, but can never get around to finishing, polishing and publishing it…

So I just decided to post it as is.


I’ve seen and instructed thousands of new shooters over the past 17 years. From a Small Arms Training (SAT) Range Operator in the Canadian Forces, to a commercial range safety officer at The Shooting Edge, to the founder of the Young Guns and Action Shooting League programs at the Buffalo Target Shooters Association – I have seen it all with respect to new shooters.

Ideally, after the first time on the range, a new shooter is filled with a fiery passion to shoot again. I have seen many yoYu ung (and not so young) padawan’s leave as the learner where I left off as their first SO, only to reunite with them years later to learn they have become the master (and I the learner).

It’s a humbling experience, but it is also incredibly satisfying knowing someone I once taught now vastly surpasses me in skill and accomplishment.

It takes a lot of passion and dedication to become good enough to instruct someone to shoot. It takes even more to become a champion or a better shooter than your first instructor.

In my mind, the only way the Canadian shooting community will survive and thrive is with more shooters with that kind of passion and dedication.

It is for that reason I am sharing all I
instruct my students with respect to shooting.

I believe what is documented here is enough for a committed shooter with passion and dedication to improve themselves to become better shooters than me.

Safety Fundamentals

Safety first.

With all the fundamentals, safety must be the first and foremost priority.

Different shooting ranges and disciplines have different rules which must be adhered to.

  • At a minimum always follow the universal firearms safety rules:
    • Assume every gun is loaded
      Control the muzzle, always keep it pointed in a safe direction
      Trigger finger stays off the trigger until prepared to shoot
      Be sure of your target and beyond (if you are shooting) or see the gun is safe and prove it is clear (if you are not).

    Even then, people make mistakes (myself included) and it helps to go above and beyond the universal safety rules to develop personal safety rules to have a bigger margin of error.

    The Canadian military trains recruits to be very intentional to prove clear when they are first issued a rifle. 10 years after releasing from the military I still personally follow a variant of the rifle clearing protocols I learnt at Basic as a 17 year old Private.

    There is no way to be a good shooter without being a safe shooter.

    At a competition or commercial range (which tend to have the strictest safety rules anywhere guns can be fired) an egregious safety violation could lead to a disqualification or permanent ban from the facility.

    In an armed profession such as a commercial range safety officer, private security, law enforcement, or in the military, safety violations could lead to job loss.

    Whenever you are in the presence of a gun, fatal consequences can result from a moments lack of attention to safety protocols.

    Never, under any circumstances, let safety be anything but your first concern.

    If you are able to master this, you have mastered the most and important fundamental to becoming a good shooter.

    Do something seriously unsafe, and you may never shoot a gun again.

    Basic shooting fundamentals
    The place for any new shooter to start is a static shooting range with a single fixed firing point with a single fixed target.

  • It is here where the new shooter must learn everything related to
    • Grip
      Sight alignment / sights picture
      Trigger control
      Sight in
      Manual of arms for the guns they are shooting
      Body positioning (alignment to target, including stance, posture, and use of shooting platforms such as benches, rests and stands)
      Body mechanics (alignments to gun, including hand placement, grip tension, wrist tension, forearm and upper arm tension, trigger squeeze, neck and head alignment, stock pressure)

    And more!

    (Google search each of these topics, there is nothing more I can add to the existing body of knowledge on these topics.)

    The objective is to shoot under relaxed conditions to come to the point where these fundamentals become second nature and the shooter is intimately familiar with the guns l he is shooting.

    This allows the shooter to set reasonable expectations for future shooting.

    Once the basics of shooting have become second nature, basic fundamental shooting can be done as needed to troubleshoot problems with existing guns, to introduce new shooters to the sport, or to verify performance and assess the capabilities of a new gun.

  • All you need to master the basics of shooting are:
    • Gun
      A simple target

    With both the basics (and more advanced) shooting techniques, it is very important to collect “DOPE.”

    Not the kind of dope you smoke to get high on (although shooting can give you a much better high than marijuana).

    Range DOPE is “Data On Previous Engagements” or “Data on Personal Equipment.”

    While DOPE is traditionally associated with long range precision shooters (and professional snipers), casual and competition shooters, whether intentional or not collect and apply DOPE all the time.

    With respect to the basics, the DOPE you are looking to collect is accuracy at a certain range on a certain target of a particular size, with a certain load of ammo.

    My personal, basic standards for DOPE are:
    Service rifle (.223/5.56 Semi auto, detachable magfed rifle)

    6MOA. 6” group in 5 shoots supporter from a bench at 100 yards with M193 or equivalent surplus grade ammunition.

    More practically, this translates to a 3” group at 50 yards with the same ammo/position.

    This, by my memory, was the grouping standard of reservist Canadian Army combat support and combat service support trade in the early 2000’s.

    The idea was that a cook, clerk, or radio operator armed with a C7A1 rifle with an Elcan C79 optical sight, shooting from a sandbag, could land a centre of mass hit against a man sized target up to 300 meters without adjusting sights or point of aim (the average shoulder width of an adult male is 18” – which translates roughly to a 6MOA standard).

    Service Pistol (9mm, semi auto, detachable magfed pistol)

    3.5” group in 5 shots, standing from 10 met with minor power factor ammo.

    This is derived from an original design requirement of the Browning High Power pistol that “the gun be capable of killing a man at 50 meters.”

    18 inches at 50 meters is about 3.5 inches at 10 meters.


    Birdshot patterned on point of impact at 10 yards standing, capable of landing a slug hit on an IPSC metric target at 50 yards from a bench.

    I have no rationale behind this standard, but that it seems reasonable from my 3-Gun experience and knowledge.

    Note that none of these DOPE standards are particularly high for most shooters of modest experience.

    While I strive to beat those standards, those are my personal minimums before I commit to a training program with more advanced techniques or feel confident enough a gun is suitable for competition.

    If you can develop your own, similar personal standards of basic fundamentals you are ready to train with more advanced shooting fundamentals.

    That said, having mastered these basic fundamentals, a shooter will be fully capable as a fixed target, fixed firing point marksman.

    Skills that translate directly to bullseye competition, hunting, and most armed professional (private security, law enforcement, and military) basic shooting qualification testing.

    Timed Handling Fundamentals

    Timed fundamentals are application of the basic shooting fundamentals in the lowest time possible.

    These fundamentals are most relevant for action shooting competition and potentially for more advanced “practical” shooting scenarios for armed professionals (in my knowledge, similar to the “gun fighter” training the Canadian Army adopter in the mid-1990’s).

    These fundamentals can be done at fixed firing point/fixed target ranges, and only require the addition of a shot timer to perform.

    The timed fundamentals I focus on are:
    -present on target
    -sight picture acquisition
    -trigger priming
    -recoil management
    -draw from holster (for handguns)

    Personally, I believe in the “isolation” principle described by Lucas Botkin, founder of T.Rex Arms and structure my range time doing sets of simple drills, with pre-defined reps.

    This is important, since developing proficiency with these fundamentals especially requires a lot of live fire training (supplemented by even more at home dry fire).

    For individuals like myself (a father of 4 young children, including a special needs child), range time (or even at home dry fire time) is an extremely precious (and costly) commodity.

    I can only make it to the range when I have pre-arranged child care to support my wife with our special needs daughter (often at about $15 / hour).

    I make a big deal to structure my range time so I make sure I don’t waste it.

    To that end, I preload all my gear when my kids are sleeping, so I don’t spend time on the range loading mags.

    I draft up a detailed plan for the types of drills I plan to run on my personal (physical) journal and keep meticulous details of my performance on the range.

    I attempt to video record most of all of my shooting performances so I can review and identify weaknesses and areas to improve on. (Also to try to be a bit of an Instagram whore @NikThunderYYC).

    The key point is to make sure I waste as little time on the range as possible.

    … to be continued…

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