The Speed Limit Science of Action Shooting

By: Chris Andersen, 3-Gun Nation Pro Shooter

Three Gun Competition Targets
Three Gun Competition Targets
3-Gun Nation
3-Gun Nation

USA –-( On your daily commute you likely pass dozens of road signs telling you what the maximum safe speed is on that particular stretch of road is.

Traffic engineers spent countless hours determining the appropriate speed for that road in an effort to keep you out of trouble.

In 3-Gun, a course of fire leaves you completely to your own devices, giving you every opportunity to go way too fast, or in some cases too slow, and come off track or not perform to your potential.

Imagine driving on a race track, where the only speed limit is the one you set, and the objective is to get around the track as quickly as possible. You set your own speed limits for a particular type of turn based on your own and capabilities and those of your car. The fastest way around the track means not leaving anything on the table, pushing as hard as you can without overdriving your car.

The same rules apply to your shooting. You determine how hard to push from 0-100% each time you address sections of a course of fire. After you master your shooting fundamentals, the science of determining, and then maximizing your personal speed limit is where real speed in action-shooting comes from.

My Approach

3-Gun scoring in most major matches can be a real grey area for determining appropriate speeds. Any two hits on a target or one center hit to neutralize it can mean different things to different people. A lot of shooters will spray bullets at targets in these matches, accepting the fact that they may or may not neutralize the targets with 2 bad hits, or hoping to get lucky with one hit in the center of the target. This can be a recipe for disaster.

My background is in action pistol, where center-hits help your score and I try to default to that mindset for 3-gun, shooting for center-hits just like I would at a pistol match. That means less makeup shots, a lower likelihood of a miss, and that consistency generally keeps me out of trouble. I even shoot pistol matches occasionally for practice, choosing divisions where getting points are most important to ensure I keep my accuracy in check.

That approach works as a great baseline, keeping penalties and makeup shots to a minimum. That also helps me not take long-distance shots for granted. Maxing out your speed from there comes from knowing EXACTLY how much time to spend or how hard to push to get those types of hits with as little waste as possible.

Before you start setting your criteria for what your speed limits should be, make sure that you have a couple of variables dialed in: equipment, ammunition and accuracy.

  • Equipment – None if this works if you don’t know your guns. Trust in your gear is paramount to making the right decisions relative to speed. You would never take a trip if you knew your car was unsafe or may not make it. Apply that same type of logic to your gear. If you have never tested your rifle out to long distances for example, you are handicapping yourself when it comes to match performance. Time spent verifying this type of info can also be some of the best training time you will ever spend. So start there.
  • Ammunition – I do as much as I can to squeeze maximum accuracy out of my guns when reloading and choosing equipment. If, for instance, I know my rifle is incredibly accurate, that confidence carries over into my shooting performance. That accuracy also increases my margin for error on long distance shots.
  • Accuracy – Be certain your equipment is as accurate and reliable as it can be within your budget and time constraints. Then know your equipment capabilities by heart. This will minimize uncertainty, and help you accurately determine how fast you can go.

Setting Target Speed Limits

Being efficient on the clock comes down managing priorities. Knowing exactly how much time to spend on a particular type of target will equate to quantum leaps in speed in competitive shooting.

Chris Andersen Ready, Set, Go!
Chris Andersen Ready, Set, Go!

Think of driving on that racetrack again. You drive at different speeds depending on the type of road you are on, keeping your speedometer in check. Apply that same logic to the type of target you are addressing. I break target priorities into the following three categories, which can apply to all 3 guns in your kit.

  • Easy – Think long, straight stretches of road, where the speed limit is high. These are close-range no-brainer targets that may not even require you to have a sight picture. Targets like this get the minimum amount of attention in my walk through, and likely only require a minimal sight picture to get the necessary hits on target, or possibly no sight picture at all (point shooting). You lose speed on targets like these when you spend too much time on them. Beginning shooters in particular tend to wait for that perfect sight alignment and make a good trigger press when none of that is necessary at all to neutralize these targets and move on. You may not even notice a transition happening between targets when you watch a high-level shooter in this situation because their cadence is so quick.
  • Intermediate – Think of driving a twisty section of that track, where you can go fairly fast, but you have to mind your surroundings. I map these targets in my walk through and can see them in my mind before I shoot a stage. I make sure I have my positions planned to ensure I can engage them efficiently and take a good sight picture and aim for the center of the target. Never take these targets for granted, as the misses will surely sneak up with you. I pretend the outer scoring zone on these targets does not exist and shoot for the smaller target area created by doing this. That generally gives me just the right balance of speed, and enough accuracy to stay out of trouble.
  • Difficult – Picture a treacherous canyon road where one misstep can mean big trouble. SLOW DOWN! These are danger targets. These targets can lose matches or cost you good finishes so it is important to recognize them. Speed is lost on danger targets when you don’t give them enough time or respect. Make-up shots, especially on long range, can cost enormous amounts of time. It is not unusual for a shooter to look back and realize that not giving enough respect to one or two targets in a match made a significant difference in how he or she finished. These targets get hard focus, perfect sight pictures and smooth, fundamentally sound trigger presses. Depending on your trust in your equipment and ability level, you might also be waiting to see the target fall or react to confirm the hit.

The key to speed on each target type is to first learn how to identify which one you are dealing with, and then to spend time on the practice range dialing in the speed limit for each difficulty level. That range time is critical for determining which sight pictures, shooting positions and shooting speed is appropriate for you in a given situation.

Practice Time

Try setting up all three types of targets next time you are at the range, and work on transitioning between them, adjusting your speed to give each one the level of respect that they deserve. Then push harder and test your perceptions. You may surprise yourself and find you are going too slow and spending too much time on certain targets. Then try slowing down. If your hits suddenly get better on difficult targets, that can indicate that you have been going too fast. Set up sample courses of fire and test both approaches on the clock to find which is most effective. That is your shooting speed limit.

You can also apply these principals to your movement into shooting positions, shooting on the move, and gun transitions and manipulation. Push hard, but never harder than you can control.

As you progress, your speed will increase, but your limits should not. They are always a percentage of your ability. Never lose sight of that. Too often people get caught up obsessing over numbers on a timer. Be careful as this can cause you to forget your fundamentals, and limit your improvement.

Chris Andersen
Chris Andersen

Testing and pushing these limits in your training help you improve, and slowing down and comparing approaches on the clock will keep you as efficient as possible. Proper management of personal speed limits will insure you achieve the best possible performance level and that means better match finishes!

Chris Andersen is a 3 Gun Nation Pro Shooter for Team Vertx and regular contributor to and Look for his articles and videos every month in the ARFCOM Newsletter to help improve your performance in 3 gun competition.