Gun Digest

Three-Gun Shooting Competition: Heaven or Hell?

Have you ever dreamed of doing something to challenge every element of your shooting skills? Point your truck toward Parma, Idaho and bring along a couple thousand rounds of ammunition, it is time to take on the MGM Iron Man 3-Gun Competition. You’ve got to be nuts to try it, but now that I have tried I can tell you nothing will come between the next match and me.

Are you asking, “What is the MGM Iron Man?”

The slide. Targets are engaged from the top in any position you can get comfy in and again from the ground.

“This match isn’t for weenies and crybabies,” says Mike Gibson, creator of this one-of-a-kind 3-Gun match developed to test your shooting, physical conditioning, and your ambition to finish the longest and most intense shoot you will ever attend.

Gibson owns Mike Gibson Manufacturing, and produces MGM Targets, those high quality steel targets you see on all the best ranges. I have been trying to wreck a couple he sent me for T&E a couple years ago.  It can’t be done; a little white paint and they are ready to shoot again.  They are reasonably priced and the price includes shipping. But enough of the commercial for MGM, this story is about the match he founded in 1999 and has been running ever since.

The Iron Man combines all of the tougher targets that everybody dreads in regular 3-Gun matches and moves them farther away requiring they be shot from tougher and more uncomfortable positions.  If you shoot a limited or scoped tactical class there is no bi-pod option and the rests are not steady.  One rifle rest was a hangman’s rope hanging from a beam and you fired while standing on a table.

There are many more targets per stage and the round count for a stage is as many as some complete matches I have been to.  The squad I was on started out on Stage 10, which required 97 rounds; 32 rifle, 35 pistol, 19 shot, and 10 slugs.  That was the minimum needed if you didn’t miss.  For me, the whole match was about carrying enough shotgun shells.  Not only do you have to have a way to carry them, you have to manage how you shoot to engage the slug targets and shot targets accordingly and with the greatest efficiency.

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The stage started with the pistol.  We had to shoot through some barricades and the first shot knocked over a steel target to reveal a paper target that poped up and disappeared from view in a second and a half.  This paper target had to be hit at least once in the A or B area or twice anywhere.  Then we saw the “swinger” and it was not as exciting as it sounds.  A pressure plate in front of the window through which it was engaged started things with the “swinger” and scoring proved to be a challenge.

Next up was a short jog around the berm to a table with a dummy weighing around 90 pounds.  I had to carry this dummy a golf cart about 50 yards away and place in the cart without knocking over my shotgun that was staged on the seat. I had to engage some targets with the shotgun while driving the cart!  Other targets included a variety of shotgun poppers, whirly gigs, plate racks, and clay bird targets.  All this was followed up with 10 slug against on five targets at about 50 to 60 yards.

The most diabolical of targets seemed to be the Double Target Spinner. I had never seen anything like it before. The target consists of two round target plates of different diameters on arms of about the same length balanced on a stand. This leaves the heavier one at rest on the bottom.  The spinner rotates on the stand when you hit one of the plates. The goal is to make it revolve over one full turn.

Hitting the plates, which is no easy task, is only half the challenge.  You also need to time your hits to move the targets properly. I never did get used to that thing but it definitely is something to practice for next year.

The Zip line. Just lift your feet and go. Once you are out on the line the targets give you enough to do to forget about being up and moving along on a wire.

If there was a good thing about the spinner it was that I was on the ground while shooting at it. That cannot be said for all stages of the Iron Man. One stage had a sniper hide that I had to climb into.  I could fire either prone, shooting out of the end or in a sitting position shooting out of a hole in the top.  Both ways were just shy of comfortable, but it got worse.

After engaging the long-range targets I had to climb down on a wooden ramp/ladder-like thing, with rifle in hand, in order to engage the ground targets.  The rifle targets were challenging on all of the stages as they were not only far away, but skinny.  The 4-inch popper is a skinny target at 150 yards.

While bonus stages will have longer shots, you can expect to shoot 400 yards with your rifle during the regular stages. One series of 400-yard targets had to be engaged and struck twice for score and each also had center flags that would record a center mass hit for a bonus.  I shot at these targets from the top of a 30-foot platform. That stage also included some 100-, 200-, and 300-yard steel and paper targets.

Once I finished on top of the platform, I had to slide down a slide to engage them all over again on the ground. I tried the slide out the night before I shot it and was glad I did.  I picked up a good bit of speed coming down the slide and had to slow myself by pressing my feet outward against the edges.

During the match, I had to slide down with a cleared and empty rifle, another reason to avoid planting my nose in the ground at the bottom.  I actually did pretty well on the stage, squeaking a bonus out of each of the longer targets.  It was also the stage that my shotgun pooped out on me.

Massad Ayoob pioneered the concept of “stress fire.” His techniques are used by both competitive and combat shooters. Learn them in this book, available for 35% off retail. Click the image.

Wisely, I chose to bring a spare of each type. But my spare shotgun is a Remington 870 pump.  It was much slower than the 1100 and I did not know where the thing shot its slugs, which was a problem on the 60-yard spinner targets. With good hits the slugs will turn the spinner in three or four hits.  But the key is hits.  Pumping the gun wasn’t inconvenient but the pump held fewer rounds than my semi-auto and only had one side saddle.  I wasn’t as prepared as I would should have been with a quick way to load the shotgun adhering to the Scoped Tactical division rule.

The Iron Man follows nearly the same 3-Gun rules and categories as other 3-Gun competitions, allowing one open gun in the Scoped Tactical Division.  With my rifle being scoped, I couldn’t use my Saiga shotgun with magazines as it is an open gun.  Loading the tube magazine shotguns is much more difficult, so plan ahead. One good option I saw for toting shotgun shells is the TWinS SSL from Carbon Arms.  This is a chest rig with individual shell assemblies that hold four shells.  They can be taken off the holder two at a time and stuffed right into the tube. The vest holds 32 rounds if I remember correctly and I will be looking more closely at this in the future.  Their website is

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One of the more interesting stages was probably 150 to 200 yards from start to finish. It all started with shooters firing the shotgun and about halfway through there was a vehicle on blocks with five small paper targets to engage, but you had to shoot under the car.  It was only about 8 inches off of the ground.  This was a test of your urban prone and your goggles.  The dust and debris from the muzzle blast was less than enjoyable.

After that dusty mess we had to jog to a rooftop hide to engage rifle targets out to 150 yards from the slanted perch.  I actually remembered to put a 20-round magazine in my holster pouch for this stage.  The 30-rounder is a little long for this position.

Again, thinking ahead and knowing the limitations of your gear is important.

The dreaded swinger. This was a challenging target for all, especially if you never shot one before. It is a combination of hits, speed and timing to get it to roll over.

For speed and excitement the Zip Line was top-notch.  Shooters started on top of a 30-foot tower with a line running to a smaller tower.  Once the shooter was all strapped in and ready to go, it was a simple matter of lifting up his or her feet. Doing so, started you sliding down the cable, once you passed a marked point you could insert a magazine and charge the pistol to engage several paper targets on either side of the zip line.  When you hit the far tower, the cable shifted into reverse allowing you to pick up missed targets. That was good for me because I missed most of them on the way down. I did mange to get some bonus hits on a plate rack on the way back so that helped.  As fun as The Zip Line is I don’t know what you could do to practice for it.

My favorite stage was sponsored by Crimson Trace, Smith & Wesson, and Surefire.  It included a tunnel about 100 feet long with shooting lanes to the right and left holding targets. When you entered the tunnel were required to retrieve an M&P pistol and Surefire flashlight from a bucket.  It was pitch dark in the tunnel, so the flashlight was a necessity, but the M&P was fitted with Crimson Trace Laser Grip sights, which made the double taps effortless in the crouched position.  Upon exit there were two targets to engage just as your eyes were readjusting to the light. Hit those and it was a mad dash off to the sub gun.  This stage also had a MP-5 submachine gun at the ready. Everybody shot the first portion in semi auto and then switched to full auto for a “dump” target.  All hits in the dump target were bonuses.  Good times!

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You might get the idea with all the running and gunning, sliding crawling through tunnels that this competition might be a little loose or even dangerous. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I was really impressed with the diligence of the RO’s and the planning of weapon positioning in the stages.  Guns were to be either cleared and open or on safe when in transition and the Range Officers were right on that.  They wouldn’t let you go on unless your weapon was in the prescribed safe position for the scenario. Failure to follow these rules was also a match DQ, which gave some extra incentive to the shooters.

There was a lot going on at this match and we shot from 0630 to around 1930 for two days and until noon on the last day.  We had at least two and often four range officers on every stage and with shooters helping to reset the stages things moved along really well.  It is a well-planned event and Mike and his crew do their best to see that every shooter thoroughly enjoys the match.  The Iron Man is “must” for next year’s competition schedule.

2012 Match Dates

The 2012 match will be held June 3-9 at the Parma Rod and Gun Club in Parma, ID. Registration is not yet open, but watch the website and register immediately. Typically all the available slots fill up within the first two days of registration.  If you are interested in participating or acting as a sponsor for the 2012 match, please contact MGM at or call 888-767-7371.

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In this book, Massad speaks about mindset and jumps right into the aspects of learning combat shooting. Next, he highlights three gunfighters- Wyatt Earp, Colonel Charles Askins and Jim Cirillo- and the lessons we can learn from each.  Lastly, Ayoob shares his perspective on the importance of competition as training before closing with a discussion of the choices involved in being responsibly armed.

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