Recently a question was presented to me in reference to scheduling, planning and executing a successful trip to a major 3 gun match. Now if I was to simplify my response and say Just sign up and go, this wouldn’t be a very helpful article. So lets set up some criteria that apply to most people. Lets assume the person trying to schedule a match is in a relationship, works 40 hours a week, already has their shooting gear squared away, and is going to travel out of state to shoot this match. However they haven’t had the chance to do this a dozen times a year for the last few years. When I started shooting 3Gun, I didn’t have the support or the budget to shoot nearly as much as I do now. So believe me when I say, I can tell you what to do and how to do it. You will feel like a baller (on a budget).
First, if you are going to only attend a couple of major matches a year, you have to figure out which one to invest the time and money. We are assuming you will be traveling out of state for this match, so proximity is not a determining factor. There are a few other factors you can use to decide what match you would enjoy, or want to shoot. Do you want to go shoot the match and avoid anything else, like social outings? Or would it be important to you to have entertainment and night time festivities? There are several matches located in large cities, and even more located in the middle of nowhere, so you can have your pick on that topic. Does the prize table matter to you, or are you in it for the style of the match (or both)? Now days it seems like there is a major match every weekend at many locations across the country, put on by match directors with all different ideas about what is “fun“. That makes this decision easy. Do a little homework, find out what people liked or didn’t like about a few matches, and base your decision on what you want to get out of a match.
No matter what match you decide on, do it sooner rather than later. Popular matches tend to fill up in minutes, not weeks. I usually plan my match schedule and set reminders on my calendar to alert me when the match is opening, so I don’t forget to sign up right when it opens. Many major matches have websites or facebook pages these days to keep you updated. My trusty “go to” source for info is BrianEnos.com/forums. Don’t ask me why, but at some point, this became the hot spot to list 3-Gun match dates. Once you have your match, book your hotel. Don’t wait. Yes I know, I am telling you to call the “No Tell Motel” 10 months in advance. Believe me if the match is in a small town they will be booked. As far as how to choose a hotel, I go with closest one to the range wins. If you are on a little tighter budget, shop around and find someone to share a room, but do it early.
Okay, so we have decided on a match, we have a date, a hotel and we know where it is. Next, we assume you have enough vacation to take off from work, but if you are like me, you want to make every effort to save a vacation day. That’s where our travel options start. Flying saves travel time, but costs more money. Driving is usually cheaper, but costs an extra day. Lets consider both.
Option 1: Flying- For the sake of not writing another article in the middle of this one, I am going to gloss over flying with guns and ammo. I will mention that it is easier than people think, but the ammo weight restrictions mean you usually end up shipping your BB’s. If I am flying to a match, I contact the hotel I am staying at and ask them if I can ship a package for them to hold for me (I have never been turned down). I ship my ammo 3 weeks ahead of time and call the hotel 1 week before the match to make sure they still have it. This gives me time to ship another box of ammo, in case it was lost. Along with my ammo, I ship my box of miscellaneous parts, range tools, specialized items like knee pads and rain gear. You may ask, “How much ammo?” I find out the round count for the match and triple it. That method hasn’t failed me yet. Just like the hotel, schedule the flight early and make sure you are landing in a free state that doesn’t impose the opinion of the empire as to what firearms are “legal”. Remember with flying, you will also need a rental car. You probably guessed….book it early, and unless you are a professional rental car rally driver (kind of an inside joke), make sure you get something properly equipped to handle the range you are attending. If the match is Friday-Sunday, I like to fly in Thursday to walk stages, shoot the weekend and fly home late Sunday night. This saves a day off on both ends. Remember to have a plan to get to a FedEx to ship your ammo and tools home, before your flight home leaves.
Option 2: Driving- So, driving to a match doesn’t require as much planning, but it does cost you extra time off work….Unless… You have a buddy or two, equally as crazy as you, who also want to save days off. In that case, pack all your stuff in and get ready for a marathon. Like I said, I am a fan of saving vacation days. If the match is Friday-Sunday, and I want to walk stages Thursday, I plan on leaving Wednesday after dinner. Living in Central Texas puts everywhere about 14-22 hours away for me. Basically forever, if we are using time and not distance as a measurement tool. The plan goes like this: Get in the car, drive as far as you can. Switch with your crazy buddy. Repeat til you are there. Walk stages. Sleep. Shoot. Sleep. Shoot. Sleep. Shoot. Get back in the car, repeat steps 1-3 til you are home and back at work on Monday. If you don’t mind burning a little more vacation time, take your time driving. And don’t forget the 0300 hour stops at a random Walmart, to decorate your rental.
Once you know how you are going to get to a match, you can start planning to make it happen. If your significant other isn’t as cool as mine, you might need a little more than a text of, “I will be in Kentucky on the weekend of ______. Oh, and in Missouri two weeks after….and Virginia the weekend after that…I synced our calendars. Love you! :)” Either way, make sure they are on board, so it doesn’t become an issue when you want to do it more…because you will.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, if there is one thing that makes for a successful 3Gun trip, it’s plan early and stick to a schedule. If that type of thing doesn’t work for you, more power to you. For me, it helps me manage 12-16 majors a year on a tight budget. Most people say they plan $1500-$2000 for a major out of state match. If you have someone to share the travel with you and you plan right, you can get it done for under $1000. If you can split the cost 3 ways, even better! Much of my match schedule, especially early in my shooting career was based on cost. The more I saved, the more I could shoot. One thing is for sure, if you are getting into the sport and want to shoot majors, you can’t be afraid to put in some long hours on the road.