Recently I had the opportunity to take a 3-Gun class taught by Mark Passamaneck and James Casanova. For the uninitiated Mark and James are the owners of Carbon Arms, inventors of the TWinS Shotgun Loading Systems and a couple of very accomplished three-gunners. When I saw an announcement on the local AR-15 shooter’s message board that they were holding a 3-Gun training class on Black Friday I was in.
The class was held at Colorado Rifle Club in Byers, the same range that hosted the 2012 Noveske Rifleworks Colorado Multigun Championship that I competed in this April. Google claimed it was a two hour drive but I remember it taking significatnly less. Not one to be late I decided to err on the side of Google and wound up an hour early for the class. That was just fine by me because I got to meet James and Mark early and help them set up the two practice stages that we would be shooting later on.
I also got to meet a bunch of very cool shooters that came out to learn about Multigun and better their skills. While I was chatting with one of my shooting buddies that attended, I heard a guy talking to James and I recognized his voice. I turned around and it was Michael Bane of the Down Range Radio podcast. Michael is also the producer of nearly a dozen TV shows on the Outdoor Channel but I know him from the podcast. He was there with his “sweetie” to learn about 3 Gun as well and they turned out to be the nicest, most down-to-earth people. As it turned out Michael brought a 22″ Mossberg JM 930 T&E gun that was identical to mine save all the match scars.
When the stages were set up and everyone had gathered, Mark started out the class with a good 30 minute talk that covered the Four Tenants of 3Gun, gear they take to the matches, how they travel, stage breakdown and rules, divisions and gear. It was very cool to listen to Mark talk about the things he does to prepare for a match, the tools and gear he carries with him to the match and to hear the stories of his match experience.
After the talk we were told to gear up with our pistols and mags and head to the firing line to shoot a quick group and get some feedback on our fundamentals. We were aiming at a paster in the middle of the lower A-Zone on a Metric IPSC target about 20-25 yards downrange which was easily the farthest pistol group I’ve ever shot. That said I did pretty good with the exception of one flier down low where I totally anticipated the recoil and dipped the muzzle before firing. From the group we learned how accurate we are at typical pistol distance on a 3-Gun stage as course designers tend to put small steel at distances up to 35 yards requiring a perfect trigger press.
After we showed clear we grabbed our rifles, got back on the line and were instructed to put a five-shot group in the center of the head box and follow up with four rounds as fast fast as we could pull the trigger while aiming at the paster in the lower A-Zone. What James and Mark were trying to teach us here was the mechanical offset of the AR-15 platform at pistol-distances, the importance of compensating for it and to be able to run the rifle like a pistol at close distances. I did well at the mechanical offset portion of the drill as I have done drills before focused on compensating sight height over bore at close distances in the past. I was pretty quick on the trigger for my rifle for the speed portion of the drill but not as quick as I’d like to be. More practice is needed in this area before I can say that my gear (mil-spec trigger, mid-length gas system, etc) is holding me back.
Next we were treated to a shotgun loading demonstration where James and Mark traded off teaching us a myriad of different methods to load the shotgun. We learned the weak hand reload, the Carlock Shuffle, strong hand TWinS, weak hand TWinS and the Quad Load. Having seen the multiple ways the pros do it we geared up with our carriers (many students borrowed gear) safed our shotguns and headed to the line to practice what we had just learned. I am a weak hand loader so I started off with what I already knew to get some feedback from the pros. After multiple repetitions James hooked me up with an SSLP6 Pinwheel and I got the opportunity to try out a little TWinS loading on my own. Rolling the shotgun over to have the loading port up took some thought and practice but from the very get-go I was able to load six shells of the Pinwheel way faster than I can load four weak hand from a caddy and I’ve been practicing that for 10 months! I did not get the opportunity to try out the Quad Load with an SSLP8 Pinwheel or a TWinS FSL but my experience with loading two shells at a time with the SSLP6 tells me that I will be swapping over to a TWinS system as soon as possible. I just can’t deny how fast they are. The only thing holding me back from snagging a couple right now is that one SLP8 is $97. You’d need at least two but likely more for a larger match.
We broke up into two squads with one instructor each to attack the two stages that I had helped set up earlier in the day. My squad first went with James to the shotgun/pistol stage. James went through a quick stage brief and then asked for volunteers. Of course I went first and the group got to learn from my mistakes.
The stage was what James called a “pistol-length stage” as it was fairly short and had one shooting position. The stage was symmetrical from the center point with the first course of fire consisting of four clays, a close IPSC Metric Target, two MGM 4″ x 10″ Knock Over targets, and a Pepper Popper with a clay flipper on the left. The right side was the mirror image. We were instructed to start with Shotgun first which meant that I would start with nine in the gun and reload at some point. Of course you’d only need to reload three if you hit all the targets but you might as well load four and have a spare since you’re going to your belt anyway. You’d then abandon the shotgun either unloaded with no rounds in the tube or on safe and draw your pistol to engage the remaining targets. The way I did it was to engage the four clays on the left, load four, engage the four clays on the right, engage the two poppers in front then the two aerials and then unload the last round (should have just safed it), drew my pistol and engaged the two IPSC Metrics and the four remaining steel. During the intro discussion Mark told us a great Jerry Miculek quote that applies to time-plus scoring in Multi-Gun “See brown, jerk trigger fast two times.” I tried to put this into practice but ended up with “two alpha” and “alpha charlie” which means I was not going fast enough. It is difficult to break the “alpha-only” habits that I worked so hard to ingrain during 6 months of shooting USPSA-style matches at my local range.
The second string we shot removed one clay from either side of the array and allowed us to start with either shotgun or pistol. James gave us a hint for the stage strategy saying that if you shot pistol first you could drop both poppers, abandon pistol and engage the two clays in the air with the shotgun. Well of course I had to try just that and when I did, I dropped the first steel and had a Mike on the second. I had a brain-hiccup for a moment trying to figure out if I should take a second shot or just abandon the pistol. While I was deciding this, the first popper was falling, activating the flipper and tossing the clay in the air. Luckily I made a decision in time, abandoned my pistol on the table, picked up my JM Pro 930 and destroyed the clay in the air. I then engaged the three clays on the left, the popper, the flipper, loaded 1 extra shell and engaged the three clays on the right. Afterwards James gave me a little feedback and instruction to the rest of the squad saying that if you were to choose that as part of your stage strategy in a match that you’d have to commit to taking two shots and abandoning the pistol no matter the result. Good advice and great to hear first-hand from a top level shooter like James.
We broke for lunch and when we came back my squad hooked up with Mark on the 3-Gun stage. The stage was again pretty simple, start from Box A or B, engage 5 Colt Speed Plates with pistol, abandon in bucket, load rifle and engage 10 IPSC Metric Targets, abandon on table, load shotgun and engage four Knock Overs and three Auto-Poppers. What Mark wanted to teach us here was to save time while moving and to look for doubles on the shotgun. The three of the five pistol targets were obscured by walls from the boxes but you could see four of five if you moved slightly. Mark recommended that we move while drawing to save the time and to get in position. This required only one move as you could engage four targets from one position and the fifth from a second position on your way to the dump bucket. You then picked up the rifle, loaded off your belt and went to work on the 10 IPSC Metrics. Abandoning rifle, loading shotgun and getting into position gave you an opportunity for a double on the Auto-Poppers. I did very good on the pistol here cleaning the Colt Speed Plates in only five shots, I took some extra shots on rifle as I was going too fast and called some misses. I loaded the shotgun fairly quickly and hit both sets of Knock Overs in one round per plate but was unable to get the double that Mark showed us. I tried but I must have been aiming low or my pattern wasn’t tight enough.
Next Mark showed us how to do a mixed load in the middle of a stage where you were required to engage both bird shot and slug targets. We loaded four bird shells into the magazine, racked one into the chamber, loaded a slug, shot a bird target, shot a slug target, loaded two slugs, shot a bird target, shot two slug targets, loaded a slug, shot a bird target, shot a slug target and then unloaded the last bird shell. I was pretty skittish of this as I was disqualified from the 2012 Noveske Rifleworks Colorado Multi Gun Championships because I screwed up a candy cane load and engaged a bird shot target with a slug. Mark talked me through it and was very patient while I called out the loads I was putting into my Mossberg and what target I was engaging for each round. I did just fine and didn’t kill any of CRC’s targets, putting all of my slugs on paper. I can see how this is a more effective method of shooting a mixed array of targets than I had tried in April and way faster than engaging all the bird targets on a stage first and then going back for the slug targets.
I thoroughly enjoyed attending Carbon Arms’ Intro to 3-Gun class. Although my 3-Gun skill level was a bit higher than most of the other attendees (many had never competed in a 3-Gun match) I still was able to walk away feeling like I got a great return on my time and money investment. Just being able to ask Mark questions on rifle/shotgun zero, ammo, holds, gear, etc and being able to get real-time feedback from James on technique, mechanics and strategy were invaluable. Both are very obviously experienced instructors and each has their own style that will reach the individual shooter in different ways. A very big thanks to Mark and James for taking the time to plan and host such an awesome class and for all their help in polishing my game.
It looks like Carbon Arms is now offering more advanced rifle and shotgun courses and I look forward to training with them again in the future. James and Mark are stand up guys that have a love for the game and genuinely want to see their students succeed. You can’t ask for much more than that.