The Rise of 2 Gun

    A custom rifle configured for 2 and 3 gun competition by KE Arms.

    A custom rifle configured for 2 and 3 gun competition by KE Arms.

    Recently, I had the opportunity to shoot the Desert Brutality match outside Phoenix, AZ. Organized by Ian and Karl from InRangeTV, Desert Brutality was a two-day match that amplified the physicality of a normal 2 Gun match. It was a fantastically fun match and the video below gives you a great look at what a 2 Gun match is all about.

    If you have never heard of 2 Gun, it grew out of 3 Gun. Three gun matches have been around for a while and are fairly well known in the shooting crowd. If you aren’t already familiar, 3 Gun involves action shooting with a rifle, pistol, and shotgun. It’s fast-paced and the scores are a result of the time it takes to shoot all targets on a stage, minus any penalties for missing a target, failing to neutralize a target, or hitting a no-shoot target, depending on match rules. It is quite popular, but there are elements that make it less approachable for some folks.

    A typical shotgun set up for 3 Gun competition.

    A typical shotgun set up for 3 Gun competition. This one is a Breda USA B12iS modified by Taran Tactical with a 24″ VR barrel, 12 round Nordic Components magazine tube. Photo credit: Keith Garcia

    One of those elements is the shotgun. To be competitive in 3 Gun, you need a semi-auto shotgun with a large magazine. Either a tube fed such as a Remington 1100 with an extended magazine and speed loaders, or you need one that takes detachable mags like a Saiga or MKA 1919. To be fair, there is a He-Man or Iron Man division at many 3 Gun matches that specify a pump 12ga, but that division also usually requires you to compete with a .30 caliber rifle and .45 Auto pistol and it doesn’t exist in all matches. So in practical terms, a semi-auto shotgun is pretty much required and it has to be in a configuration that is not very practical for defensive use.

    To make it worse, at least for folks who aren’t big fans of the shotgun, many 3 Gun matches feature the shotgun prominently in at least two stages, and those stages usually come down to ammunition management. The shooting part usually isn’t all that challenging. It is a shotgun after all. The part that separates competitors is how fast they are able to get ammo in the gun and their ability to count shots to avoid running out at critical times. That makes it more of a loading competition than a shooting competition.  There was even a move a few years ago to try and remove shotgun as a platform, due to complaints of loading, but techniques (like quad loading) largely eliminated the problem.  A couple of organizations even popped up devoted solely to 2 Gun competitions (they even held a couple of National Championships), but the training and techniques to rapidly load the shotgun allowed 3 Gun to remain the primary competition format.

    There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. 3 Gun is a fun and challenging sport and it’s exciting to watch, too. But that’s where 2 Gun comes in. Some shooters started organizing matches without shotguns. 2 Gun matches tend to be more practical and physical than 3 Gun. Where 3 Gun often requires movement from one shooting position to another, 2 Gun may require running up a hill, climbing over a wall, through a tunnel, or throwing a kettlebell.

    A competitor at Desert Brutatlity 2 Gun match moving over a wall.

    A competitor at Desert Brutality 2 Gun match moving over a wall.

    It combines real-world relevant skills like shooting around barriers and shoot/no shoot targets with activities designed to elevate the heart rate. It’s not intended to be a combat simulation, but it is intended to provide a venue for folks to work on combat relevant skills in a timed environment. It’s not a replacement for training, but it can be a very relevant sandbox to hone the tools that you learned in training. Of course, it doesn’t have to be approached like a job. 2 Gun matches are also a great deal of fun. They give us an opportunity to shoot guns that we might use for defense in a physical and changing setting.

    A highly customized Glock by KE Arms

    A highly customized Glock by KE Arms would place a competitor into the “Open” or “Sport” class, depending on match rules.

    Like most firearm sports, there are several divisions to compete in. Different matches may have different rules on what defines a division, but they are all equipment related. For example, two optics on your rifle or an electronic sight on your pistol may put you in the “Open” or “Sport” division. Some events may have an “Armor” division that requires competitors to wear a plate carrier and rifle rated armor through each stage. But one thing that all have in common is that you should be able to compete with virtually any detachable magazine semi-auto rifle and pistol. You don’t need special gear. If you don’t want to sink a lot of money in optics and accessories, you should be able to make it through a match with a simple AKM type rifle and a revolver. Many matches even have divisions specifically for simpler setups like that. Many stages are designed in such a way that you can often complete them without a magazine change. If you do need a spare magazine, you can usually get through with one extra 30 round for the rifle or one extra 15 round for the pistol. While most folks will choose to use magazine pouches, you really can get through stages by just sticking an extra mag in a pocket.

    You’ll see a lot of different types competing at 2 Gun matches. From military reenactor types with period correct XM177 carbines and slant pocket OD fatigues to jeans and tie-dye hippies. You’ll see folks in A-TACS trousers, combat shirt, plate carrier, and tactical fanny pack. But what you probably won’t see are nylon jerseys plastered with sponsor logos or guns covered in stickers. The competition is fun, informal, and the shooters encourage each other, especially if someone is having a hard time. To get started with 2 Gun, you don’t really have to dive into the deep end. Most matches are somewhat informal and just require a $15 or $20 range fee. Show up with eyes, ears, pistol, rifle, and 100 rounds for each and you’ll leave with some aches, a grin, and probably a lot of leftover ammo.

    For Desert Brutality matches:

    For 2gun matches in Arizona:

    KE Arms:


    Andrew is a combat veteran of OEF and has performed hundreds of ballistic tests for his YouTube channel, The Chopping Block ( He is an avid firearm collector and competitor and lives with his family in Arizona. If you have any questions, you may email him at [email protected]