I was lucky enough to attend the Crimson Trace Midnight 3 Gun Invitiational last week in Bend, Oregon. The match takes place over five days, with 10 unique stages that highlight the challenges of shooting at night.
The Midnight Invitational gathers some of the top dogs in the shooting world. Top Shot winners, national champions, media writers, and industry professionals make for a unique 3 Gun shoot.
You are on the range shooting all night: from sunset right till 4:00am, and its some of the best fun to be had with a firearm.
For the un-initiated: 3 Gun is a competitive race through a course where the shooter must engage targets with a handgun, shotgun, and rifle. Stages involve obstacles, targets that can react or move, and a fair bit of running. It’s massively popular, and if you haven’t tried it: you should.
This wasn’t my first 3 Gun match, but it was my first time shooting seriously in the dark, and my first time employing lights and lasers outside a static range.
The first thing most people want to hear about is the grenade launcher. Their eyes swim while imagining massive fireballs illuminating the night sky. That’s a little over the top, but it is pretty cool for a 40mm virgin.
No rusty M203 for the Crimson Trace: we were using an FN MK 13 EGLM ambidextrous launcher with chalk rounds to engage a vehicle. You’re barely at the 40 yard line, so this is more novelty than marksmanship, but still plenty of fun. The pull on the launcher is like nothing I’ve ever used before: more christmas cracker than trigger.
Another highlight was Stage 3, which involved an FN AR-15 outfitted with a FLIR Thermosight RS 64. Shooters targeted “heated steel” downrange that was almost invisible in the dark, but glowed hot through the optic. An on-target hit would spark nicely, and a bright green glowstick would swing into view. Its the sort of reactive system that feels good to hit: you get the crack of the rifle, the thwack of your round hitting steel, and a little glowing flag waving back at you.
Being Canadian, I’ve spent some time with night vision, but we don’t get much hands-on time with suppressors or full-auto guns. Stage six, a cooperative effort between Gemtech, PWS, and i2 Technologies was a great close quarters scenario where each shooter would be fitted with dual night vision goggles, then clear the house using a suppressed Glock 17, a suppressed select-fire PWS, and a semi-auto Mossberg.
Full-auto is fun, but adding a vehicle to the mix really ramps up the excitement. The furthest stage on the range involved a Polaris MRZR 2 vehicle, a M249 SAW, a green laser, and 4 steel silhouettes. In daylight they were woefully close. But at night, with just the vehicle headlights and dazzle from the laser: they were a challenge.
I like shooting my own guns too, but part of the fun of the M3GI is getting to use unusual firearms in more than just a range context.
I’ve attended 3 Shot Shows now: and while I don’t mind media day at the range, there’s generally little more to do with a demo gun other than point it down-range and pull the trigger. The Midnight 3 Gun definitely steps outside the “try this” box and invites shooters to “use this.” You’re given a course of fire, and the clock is ticking.
I came away from the M3GI with a new appreciation for shooting in the dark, and a few key lessons.
Bring lots of lights, but use them sparingly. You need to see what you’re shooting, but in the wee hours of the morning all the smoke, dust, and condensation can really catch that light: forming an obscurant between you and your target. A headlamp is crucial for resetting and getting from one stage to the next, preferably with red-light if you want to be polite and not blind your squad mates.
Name brands exist for a reason. Immediately following the first stage, after struggling fruitlessly with a plate-rack, I removed my lightweight Chinese red-dot and multi-mode no-name flashlight. I replaced them with the equipment I should have been using from the start: a Vortex Optics Razor 1-6 and a Surefire Defender. I’ve always believed budget accessories can be fine for the range or “great for plinking” with the argument that they’re not being used in a military or survival context.
But when the lights literally went out, the limitations of my low-cost off-shore equipment became painfully apparent.
In the same vein: a custom holster is worth the cash. My frankenstein’s pistol meant none of my conventional holsters fit, and no major manufacturers were likely to produce something specific to my Jericho 941 & TLR-4. I found Soley Canadian, a local kydex-blacksmith who was able build me something on short notice that was specific to my gun. The light & laser are a big part of this match, and having a proper holster meant one less thing to worry about.
Over-all it was a great experience with some awesome company. Name dropping means different things to different people, but I was pretty excited to watch Daniel Horner and Jerry Miculek shoot, and pleased to meet good natured media folk like Caleb Giddings and Chris Cheng. The M3GI is not your usual 3 Gun event, and that’s part of its charm.
Author’s Note: The shooter you see in the animated night vision gif isn’t me. It’s Greg Fiddes, a sponsored shooter with MTG Firearms. He’s much much faster than me. The fellow shooting the pistol is my RO, Scott Springer. Also miles faster than me.