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[dcs_fancy_header bgcolor=”#ffffff” color=”#000000″ fweight=”bold”]I’ve been a firearms enthusiast my entire life and a shooter for 25-years. I started young on a bolt-action rifle chambered in .22 LR like lots of folks and upgraded to the big boys during my time in the military. Over my life time I have sent hundreds of thousands of rounds down range. In all those years and after all those rounds, I have never competed in any type of firearms competition… Until recently.[/dcs_fancy_header]

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I just finished the 2014 3rd Annual Crimson Trace Midnight 3-Gun Invitational (M3GI). This was my first competition event… ever. I came as media to cover the event and to shoot against the other media members. The Crimson Trace M3GI is unlike any other 3-Gun competition in the world. It is known as the Outlaw Event of the Year as it is the lone wolf of the 3-Gun circuit. It takes place in the black of night and utilizes the latest lights and lasers provided by Crimson Trace as well as a bunch of other high tech gear from the likes of Blade-Tech, Rainier Arms, Danner Boots, FLIR, FNH, I2 Technologies, PWS, Gemtech, Smith and Wesson, Leupold, Mossberg and many other event sponsors. Competitors shoot for a $10,000 check and a killer prize table filled with all kinds of wonderful toys.

For me, the M3GI event started on a Tuesday as me and the other media members converged on the Sun River Resort just outside of Bend Oregon. It was there I met up with my shooting partner, media correspondent and femme fatale, Jacqueline Carrizosa. Happy hour and dinner was the order of the evening. We spent that time meeting old friends and making new ones. After dinner, Jackie and I did our gear prep and got some shut eye.

Wednesday morning came quick and us media folks lugged our cameras, guns and gear to the waiting vans and drove 45 minutes to the magnificent COSSA Range. The Central Oregon Shooting Sports Association Range opened in 1995 and is 600 acres of Bureau of Land Management Land that is leased to the shooting organization. At the range we all moved to a large tent that was set up for the event. Once at the tent it was time to get going. There was a short brief of our schedule of the day and instructions of what to do and where to go.

3-Gun 101

First order of the day, was to get the media outfitted with a 3-Gun belt, holsters and mag carriers from the one and only Blade-Tech. Once everyone was outfitted, we were put into squads and sent out to either a rifle, shotgun or pistol station where we would spend the next five hours being coached on the proper way to operate each platform. Our coaches for the day seemed pretty knowledgeable and were pretty good shots. Ok, maybe that is a slight understatement.

Teaching pistol was Chris Cerino, LEO, Top Shot Season 1 veteran and Owner and Lead Trainer at Chris Cerino Training Group. The pistols we were shooting were Smith & Wesson M&P COREs outfitted with Leopold Delta Points and Crimson Trace Rail Master Pros. The Rail Masters feature paddle switches on the side that allow the user to operate a white light, laser or both. There was a wide range of shooter skill levels in the group and Chris was very informative and patient. We practiced engaging targets while acquiring a good site picture and demonstrating proper trigger control. Chris worked with everyone giving tips and even fired some inexperienced shooters pistols with his hand over theirs to give them an idea of what a proper trigger press should feel like.

I must admit, shooting the M&P CORE with the Delta Point and the Rail Master took some getting used to. There is a lot going on in the sight picture to include irons, a red dot and a laser. During the day the laser was somewhat hard to see, but everyone seemed to get the hang of it. The laser does a great job of giving user feedback on basic pistol fundamentals such as proper grip, anticipating recoil, breathing, etc. Chris did a great job working with everyone and putting us through the paces.

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Next up were the rifles. We all shuffled to the rifle range a few bays down and were met by our new coach, Jerry Miculek. Yes, Jerry Miculek would be our rifle coach for the next hour and a half or so. For those of you who don’t know, Jerry is the Godfather of the firearms world. He is a speed shooter, competition instructor and holds numerous championships in USPSA 3-Gun, Masters International Long Gun, USPSA National Revolver and IPSC Revolver. In 1999 Jerry set a world record and fired 6 shots from a Smith and Wesson 625 revolver, reloaded and shot another 6 rounds on target in 2.99 seconds. This man is a legend and it was an honor to be coached by him.

Jerry started us off by getting familiar with the AR 15. The rifles we were using were Smith & Wesson M&P15s and Mossberg MMRs both chambered in 5.56. Every rifle was equipped with a Leupold VX-R Patrol 1.25-6 scope mounted to the rifle with the outstanding Warne SKEL Mount. Of course there was a Crimson Trace Rail Master Pro mounted to the front of the M&P-15’s rail at the 9 o’clock position. Jerry started off by having us work on accounting for the optic over bore offset that is often overlooked at short ranges. This basically means when shooting a target close up and aiming through an optic mounted to the top of the rifle the shooter will need to hold over a couple of inches to make hits in the desired location. If the shooter doesn’t hold over and places the optic reticle where they want the bullet to go, the rounds will hit low. We worked on this by engaging targets in the head box and center of mass at a relatively short distance. We then transitioned to the laser. When using the laser mounted at the 9 o’clock position the shooter needs to place the laser low and left of the desired point of impact. The point of the exercise was to get folks used to the offsets during the day time, so when the lights went out, folks weren’t left in the dark hitting nothing but air.

We then moved to double and triple taps. Some of the rifles had American Trigger Corp. AR-Gold Triggers installed. The triggers made for a quick shooting rifle. It is a crisp trigger with a short reset which is very beneficial for quick follow up shots. Jerry would put a couple of students on the line at a time and walk around giving pointers. For example, he suggested I work on bringing the rifle stock up to my face instead of the opposite. Yes, Master.

Of course, we all wanted Jerry to demonstrate the exercise, which he happily agreed to do. He explained that the goal was to get the muzzle of the rifle to come back down onto the target at the exact same place for the follow up shot. For multiple targets it is about keeping the gun in motion and being able to consistently predict where the muzzle will fall. Jerry dropped some good wisdom on us children saying, “You don’t really have to shoot faster than the other guy; you just have to shoot smarter.” Roger that. We finished off the session by alternating between double taps on paper and knocking down the plate rack. I could have stayed there all day, but it was time to move on to shotgun.

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At the shotgun bay we were met by the other half of the Miculek clan. Kay and Lena were waiting for us and all smiles. Kay Miculek and Lena Miculek-Afentul are top notch shooters in their own right. Kay is Jerry’s wife and a highly accomplished female shooter who has won many regional, national and world championships in numerous disciplines. Michael Bane, host of Shooting Gallery has hailed her as “The most accomplished woman shooter in the world…”

Lena, at the young age of 19 is an accomplished shooter in her own right. She is naturally gifted and has two of the best shooting coaches in the world for parents. She began shooting when she was 8 years old but then took some time off in 2010. The next year she came back and really became a student of the gun. She has won numerous championships and is a force to be reckoned with on the range.

Lena took the lead and went over a typical 3-Gun shotgun, using her personal Mossberg 930 as an example. She walked us through the mechanics of the shotgun, how to properly load from a shot shell caddy without destroying our thumbs and how to properly unload the firearm. She also showed us how she sets up for a match, stands and makes ready before the shot timer goes off and how she moves from target to target. We then practiced loading and shooting at the provided steel and clay targets. Lena was a great instructor. She is very well spoken, easily approachable, funny, and extremely knowledgeable. She also showed us her yellow Surefire that was taped to the side of the shotgun. Someone said, “Nice duct tape job.” She quickly responded, “It isn’t duct tape, it’s electrical tape. Much better.” Stay classy Lena.

After the shotgun session, it was time to put everything we learned together into a 3-gun exercise. We were tasked with engaging a fairly simple course of fire beginning with rifle, transitioning to pistol and finally moving to shot gun. This exercise was not about being fast; rather it was about being safe and deliberate. Make sure the guns are dumped back where they belong, either empty or on safe. Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction during movement. Engage targets smartly. The exercise was very productive and as the rain and wind picked up Lena made a point to note that wind direction should dictate order of target engagement. This will help minimize dust obscuring the target view. Good point.

Game Time

Once the lightning started burning up the sky it was time to pack it up as none of us wanted to become tactical lightning rods. We got hydrated and threw down some grub and waited until it got dark. After dinner The Range Master was introduced, safety brief given and squads assigned for the match. The media would compete on Wednesday and Thursdays and the Pros would come in on Friday and Saturday to show us how it was really done. Jackie and I were both assigned to squad 15. As it was pitch black, everyone on the range were required to wear chemlights. It was mandatory two lights were worn on each person. Range Officers (RO) wore red. Competitors wore blue. Guests wore green and the media that was not shooting wore white. For our two nights of fire we would need to complete 10 stages. Five stages on day one and the remaining five stages the second day.

Our squad started on Stage 5 “Lew’s Saloon” and worked our way through Stage 9 “Countdown” the first night. The first stage felt slow to me. It was my first time running a stage and I didn’t want to get disqualified for breaking the rules or having a safety violation. As the night progressed I picked up the pace and got faster. The stages varied in complexity ranging from single bay engagements, double bay engagements, shoot houses and vehicles. My favorite stage of the evening was Stage 8 “Puppet Master”. This stage worked two bays and was a very fast stage. It required the shooter to engage 11 IPSC targets with the rifle using double taps, dump the rifle, sprint to the second bay, and engage clays and steel with the shotgun and pistol. It was a very fun, but long night. We didn’t wrap up the first night until the sun rose the next morning. We finally were able to hit the sack and catch some Z’s at 0630 Thursday morning. Sort of…

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There is no rest for the weary, so 3 hours later we were headed back to the range with the rest of the media zombies. Thank God for coffee. Upon arrival we had the chance to have some hands on time with the sponsored manufactures guns and gear. ”Shoot other people’s guns and other peoples ammo” you say…? Sign me up. After a few hours of shooting it was time to fuel up, get our safety brief and prepare for the evening festivities. Once the sun set, it was time to light up the night and finish the remaining five stages. We started on Stage 10 “I Came, I SAW”. This was one of the most unique stages where the shooter engages three IPSC targets with double taps, dumps the laser equipped 1911 pistol and jumps into a RP Advanced Mobile Systems Commander which then takes off running. The shooter then goes to work engaging steel with a FN M249 SAW machine gun equipped with a green Crimson Trace Rail Master Laser. Epic. My last Stage of the match was Stage 4 “Road Rage”. It required the shooter to start from inside a vehicle. When the buzzer sounds, exit the vehicle, and with a laser equipped pistol engage four IPSC targets with two rounds a piece making sure not to hit the hostage. The shooter then dumps the gun, runs to the back of the vehicle to open up the Truck Vault and grabs a rifle to engage 2 steel targets and three IPSC targets. Then dump the rifle and run back to the vehicle and acquire a shotgun from the Truck Vault and engage the eight remaining clays. I finished my last stage on a high note and was happy with my performance. While I didn’t finish at the top of the media pack, I didn’t finish last either. I ended up right in the middle, which gives me lots of room to improve. I won’t even tell you how I stacked up against the pros. Not even worth mentioning.

Friday and Saturday belonged to the Pros and they did not disappoint. We followed the Miculek Family around and watched Jerry, Kay and Lena run through the stages, but it was the Army Marksmanship Unit that really set the bar high. 2 time reigning M3GI champion, Daniel Horner blazed through the couse of fire and would eventually go on to capture his 3rd Crimson Trace Midnight 3-Gun Invitational title. This was no surprise to anyone as he practically sprinted through the stages, leaving a trail of smoking brass and smashed targets. He gets paid by the Army to win and he earned his pay crushing M3GI.

As Daniel puts it, “I come here to win and if I have fun, that’s great. Whereas most people come here to have fun and if they win that’s great. It’s a little bit different when it’s your job.”

Daniel proved once again he is top dog in this competition and the 3-Gun world. Congrats, Daniel!

Every stage was sponsored by a manufacture and some of the stages required the use of said manufactures equipment. For example, FLIR sponsored a stage in which their optic and rifle were used. As mentioned above, other stages required the use of an FN Herstal FN40GL-S or a FN M249 SAW from an RP Advanced Mobile Systems Commander SXS Tactical off road vehicle. There was even a stage where we ran through a kill house wearing I2 Technologies NVGs while blasting targets with Gemtech sound suppressed weapons and Crimson Trace Lasers. For stages that didn’t use manufacture equipment, we were required to use our own firearms, ammunition and optics. Gear selection is critical for a 3-Gun match, especially one that takes place at night.

The Gear

As I had never competed in 3-Gun before, let alone 3-Gun at night I thought it best to consult with someone who had. So before I began this journey I got some tips from a 3-Gun buddy of mine who shoots on the Rainier Arms Shooting Team. He was kind enough to give me some tips and even send me off with his 3-Gun AR-15, shotgun, shot shell caddy and a slap on the ass for good measure.

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The AR was a custom Rainier Arms build featuring components from Seekins Precision, Rainier Arms, Battle Arms Development, Mission First Tactical, Geissele Automatics, Magpul and Northtech Defense. For optics, the Vortex Razor HD II 1-6 rode on top and a Vortex Razor Red Dot sat at a 45 degree offset. Jerry Miculek made sure to wink and tell me he was a fan of the Razor HD II. He should be, as he helped Vortex develop it. This configuration worked extremely well, allowing me to ring steel at distance and then quickly terminate evil paper up close. The Geissele Super Dynamic 3-Gun Trigger was lightning fast and perfect for this type of competition. The mags I used were the Magpul PMAG 40. For a light, I used the Surefire X300 Ultra, which easily illuminated every target I had to engage.

The shotgun was a Mossberg 930 which was outfitted with a 12-round tube, with a match saver round attached to the side. Total rounds available in and on the shotgun were 12+1+1. 14-rounds came in really handy on some of the stages. The long gun pointed very well, even with its extended tube length. Another nice feature of the Mossberg is the controls. They are simple and easy to access. The safety is on top of the firearm making it quick to activate and deactivate. The light used on the Mossberg was the Surefire X300.

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The pistol I used was my custom Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm. The pistol has had its slide worked over by Innovative Gunfighter Solutions and sports Trijicon HD night sights, 21st Century Gunfighter Catalyst Mag Release and an Apex DCAEK trigger. Under the pistol sat a Surefire X300. The combination worked very well. A competition trigger and match barrel would have been better but at my level it worked just fine. The sights were easy to see in the dark and the Surefire lit up the night.

My gear belt and magazine holsters were supplied by Blade-Tech. They were super solid and allowed easy access. My holster was the Raven Concealment Phantom cut to accept my M&P9 and Surefire X300. Danner graciously supplied every shooter with their awesome Tanicus Boot so I was very happy to sport those. My Triple Aught Design Force 10 RS Cargo Pants were the perfect pants for this event. They have a ton of storage space for spare mags, snacks, ear and eye pro and they are rugged to boot. On top of that, they have internal knee pads which came in handy when kneeling on the rocky desert floor. As the temperature dropped as the night wore on, I threw on my Triple Aught Design Ranger Hoodie and Stealth LT jacket. This was a winning combination and kept me warm throughout the night into the wee hours of the morning. For additional light I used my Elzetta Alpha A322. It is a small, single cell light that gave me 7 to 315 lumens of light. The low light was great for pasting up targets and moving around. I think next time I would like to also bring a headlamp with a red lens to free up my hands when setting stages backup.

All of my gear performed well and considering we were playing in a big sand box in the middle of the night, I was very happy about that. Also, unlike a few other competitors, I didn’t have a single malfunction with my personal firearms or gear. It was really fun to see how the other competitors set up their gear, especially the pros. Some ran pretty minimal and others like Twins and Olympic Athletes, Tracy and Lanny Barnes ran giant torches to light up the night. Everyone was sporting head lamps and Crimson Trace Lights and Lasers. Some ran their ARs suppressed, but most did not. It was quite the light show we put on in the middle of the desert!

Conclusion

Over all, I cannot say enough good things about my experience. Crimson Trace hosted an amazing event and the sponsors, media personnel and competitors are some of the nicest folks I have had the pleasure of meeting. These are the type of people who would do anything for you. Everyone was so generous with their time, equipment and advice. The facility was top notch and the accommodations were stellar. Crimson Trace is really setting the bar high for 2015. Hell, I just got back and am already looking forward to next year. While I can’t speak for the other media members, I can say that I learned a lot, met amazing people, participated in an exhilarating sport and had a wonderful time. I can honestly say it is probably the most fun you can have with your clothes on. Period.

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Steve has been a firearms enthusiast for over 20 years and is currently an NRA lifetime member. In 1996 he joined the United States Navy and served as a Special Warfare Combat Crewman (SWCC) at Special Boat Unit 12 (Now renamed Special Boat Team 12). He made two tours during his time of service and spent most of his time in southeast Asia and the Middle Eastern theaters. Upon his Honorable Discharge in 2000, Steve spent the next 10 years earning his Masters Degree and state license as an Architect. Steve brings a unique perspective from both his tactical and design background and is a reviewer and contributor for Guns & Tactics Magazine, Defense Marketing Group and other media outlets.