Shoot-Off in the Desert

Friday, July 28, 2017

Arizona's Cactus Combat League at Ben Avery Hosts 3GN Club Series Shoot-Off

by Joshua Fry

Every year the best 3-Gun Nation Shooters in the country square off against each other in an elimination-style one-on-one shoot-off for cash and the title of 3-Gun Nation Champion. To get there, you must work and grind your way up the leaderboards and qualify for a spot to the big dance. For most 3-Gun competitors, the dream of competing in the shoot-off will only be experienced through TV and social media videos of the event—until now. 3-Gun Nation is an ever evolving competition shooting organization and constantly strives to listen to its members and bring them the events they are asking for. 3-Gun Nation has recently expanded to long range, PCC, Shotgun and Pistol events and is now bringing the final shoot-off experience to a club near you. 

Ben Avery Shooting Facility, in Phoenix, recently held a 3-Gun Nation Club Series Shoot-Off, presented by Timney Triggers and Armalite. The Ben Avery Shooting Facility hosts some of the largest competition shooting events in the country and covers everything from 1,000-yard long-range competitions to Cowboy Action events that draw nearly a thousand competitors. It made a fitting location to host the inaugural event, and Match Director Ryan Wiggins secured some great prizes, including $500 cash for the first place finisher and raffles including an Armalite 3-Gun Rifle, Timney Trigger Coupons, and certificates for entry into a 3-Gun Nation Regional Event of your choice.

Rain is a valuable commodity in Phoenix during the summer when temperatures reach well over 100 degrees. The day of the event was met with disbelief when it began to rain as the match was about to start. Competitors shook their heads and everyone’s spirits remained high as we waited the rain out. In typical desert rainstorm fashion, the rain roared in strong but quickly stopped. The dissipated storm clouds gave everyone a nice break from the sweltering heat for the remainder of the competition. 

The match brief was held and the course of fire consisted of eight clay pigeons at approximately 15 yards away, followed by offhand rifle shots at falling steel approximately 90 yards away, and finally 11 falling steel pistol targets with a stop pepper popper. The stop pepper popper was a thin-style target and was standing dangerously close to your opponent’s mirrored target. Knocking down your opponent’s stop pepper popper was an instant DQ in this single-elimination event. Thirty-two competitors entered the event and encompassed everyone from junior shooters, casual 3-Gunners, and sponsored shooters.

Most of the competitors had never experienced a shoot-off style event, and I’m sure I can speak for everyone when I say there is a unique level of nervousness and pulse-pounding adrenaline that a shoot-off induces. Trying to run a 3-Gun stage the fastest you possibly can is hard enough. Hearing your opponent hitting targets as you try to do the same during a stage is a whole other level. Several competitors experienced the heartache of shooting their opponent’s stop pepper popper and DQ’ing, while others experienced equipment malfunctions and watched helplessly as they attempted to clear their malfunctions while their opponent finished the course. 

The true equalizer of the event was the offhand rifle shots at 90 yards. Many shooters (including your author) discovered some off-season work will be spent getting that deficiency addressed. Most 3-Gun longer range shots are taken from a braced position and many of us never realized this gaping hole in our game until the event. A final unique experience was shooting the competition under flood lights. The competition started during the evening, but as the sun disappeared and the flood lights came on; those of us accustomed to the glow of fiber optic pistol and shotgun sights now were left with pitch black sights. The long-range steel became increasingly difficult to crisply differentiate in the darkness as well. These little lessons are glossed over by the professionals on TV but become glaringly apparent during your first time in a shoot-off. 

Match Director Ryan Wiggins (left) hands out gift certificates to lucky 3GN Members during the event. 

After each round of the tournament, Wiggins raffled off prizes and one junior shooter walked away with a brand new Armalite 3-Gun rifle. This brought a smile to everyone’s face and gave everyone a reason to hang around even after they were eliminated and nursing a bruised ego (such as my own). With four rounds of brackets complete it came down to Team Armalite Shooter John Mouret and local Phoenix shooter Brandon Schilling.  Mouret is an experienced 3-Gun Nation Shoot-Off Competitor, while Brandon is a local standout shooter with many successful matches under his belt. It was decided that the final bracket would be a best of three for the $500 grand prize. Wiggins deployed his video drone for the final match and combined with the lights, the facility, and the crowd; it truly felt like you were right at the Pro Series shoot-off.  The range grew completely quiet as both competitors went to the breakout boxes and awaited the air horn start signal.   

With the sound of the horn, both shooters raced to their firearms and seemed to go one-for-one with each shot they took from their pistol, rifle or shotgun. It was no coincidence that these two made it to the final round, and it was a great way for many of us to observe where we need to take our own personal shooting game. After two rounds, Mouret narrowly defeated Schilling and claimed the cash prize and title of champion of the inaugural 3-Gun Nation Club Series Shoot-Off. If you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting John, he is a stand out competitor and all-around nice guy. He represents Armalite with professionalism and made them proud at their sponsored event.

Everyone left the event with a smile on their face, and I’m sure there will be plenty of ribbing about who eliminated who at the next match for months to come. The 3-Gun Nation community is ever expanding, and it’s events like these that make you want to keep competing and get to that next level. If you want to experience the ultimate in head-to-head, pulse-pounding shooting, I challenge everyone to seek out their local 3-Gun Nation Club and experience the thrill of the shoot-off. You just might find yourself in the Pro Series shoot-off one day, and you’ll be glad you had a few Club Shoot-Offs under your belt before that air-horn goes off.

About the Author

Joshua Fry is a 13-year federal law enforcement officer and is currently part of his agency's national 3-Gun Team. He and his wife Amanda Fry write articles covering the competitive shooting sports and their equipment.             

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