3 AR-style rifles ready for 3-gun
By Bryce Towsley, Gun Digest
Three-gun shooting is the fastest growing competitive shooting sport in the nation. As the name suggests, competitors use three guns; pistol, shotgun and rifle. Of the three, the rifle is called on for the widest range of use. A shooter might engage multiple close range targets very fast, and within seconds transition to precision targets at long range. I have shot at rifle targets from as close as 18 inches to as far away as 800 yards in a single match. The key is to do it with speed and precision, as the guy who hits all the targets the fastest wins the match.
For a long time competitors had to spend time and money to modify their rifles to make them suitable for competition. But rifle makers have noticed the growth in the sport and several are now offering “competition ready” rifles in their catalogs. Here are three that I have been lucky enough to test.
Colt Competition Pro
Colt Competition was started with the concept that 3-gun competitors needed rifles that were ready to shoot. The Pro model is the higher grade of the two Colt Competition .223 Remington rifles offered. It was designed by hardcore shooters and tested extensively at national 3-gun matches.
It has an 18-inch long, match-grade stainless steel barrel. The custom fluting on the barrel is unique and exotic looking with a series of interrupted flutes. The barrel is six-groove button rifled with a 1:8 RH Twist. The 1:8 twist is preferred by most 3-gun shooters as it will stabilize heavy bullets but also handle light bullets, so it provides the widest range of ammo options for shooters.
The gun has a .223 Wylde Match Chamber and uses a rifle-length gas system. This longer system is more reliable and smoother than a short “carbine” length gas system. It has the Colt Competition Fully-Adjustable Gas Block, which allows the shooter to tune the rifle to the specific ammo used. The result is a smoother action cycle, which can aid in speed and accuracy. The smoother the gun runs, the less disturbance on target and the faster the next shot can be taken. Those tenths of a second in split times add up in a game that’s won or lost by seconds.
Mine is an early rifle and came with a Sure-Fire muzzle brake. This is a very effective brake that’s also designed to attach a suppressor. The current rifles are being shipped with the new Colt Competition Triple-Chamber Muzzle Brake while the Sure-Fire is still offered as an option.
The Colt Competition uses a proprietary 15-inch floating handguard, which is the perfect length for the extended arm grip favored by a lot of shooters.
The upper and lower receivers are forged and machined for a precision fit. The upper is a flat-top with a Picatinny rail on top. The lower has the Colt Competition logo laser engraved into the side of the magwell.
The rifle has a proofed and magnetic particle (MP) inspected bolt. The charging handle has an extended latch for fast operation. Meanwhile, the two-stage trigger on my gun breaks at 2 pounds, 12 ounces; lighter than the advertised 3.5-pound trigger and great for precision long-range shooting. It has a short and positive reset for fast work.
The gun has a Magpul CTR 6-Position Adjustable Stock, Magpul arched Trigger Guard and a Magpul Grip. As you might guess, it comes with a Magpul 30-round magazine. The safety is a standard, two position AR-15 safety.
The rifle is extremely accurate and with the light trigger it’s easy to use for precision long-range work. The average for 12, five-shot groups at 100 yards with three different ammo products was just .9-inch. The best groups were .65-inch for five shots.
When shooting speed drills to test my time, my best effort with this rifle was 1.6 seconds, which is the second best I have ever done.
This is a gun that you can take out of the box, add optics and ammo and win matches. I know that to be true, not just hype; because I have several shooting buddies who have done it.
Colt Competition Pro Specs
Caliber: .223 Remington Wylde chamber
Action Type: Semi-auto
Receiver: Forged, precision-fitted with forging mark
Barrel: 18-inch, match grade barrel with a 1:8 twist
Magazine: 30-round magazine
Trigger: Geissele Two-Stage Match Trigger
Sights: Rail for mounting options
Stock: Grip, forend and stock are Magpul
Weight: 7 lbs.
Overall Length: 38.25 in.
Next – JP Enterprises JP15
JP Enterprises JP15
I am in the middle of the third shooting season using the JP15 rifle for competition. It’s not very objective for a gun writer to say there is magic in a rifle, but in this one there is.
Let me tell you a couple of reasons why I think this way. We have a speed drill we practice often (mentioned earlier in this article): three targets at 5 yards and spaced three feet apart. The shooter starts with the gun on his shoulder and the barrel pointing at the ground. At the buzzer he fires two shots at each target. My best time is 1.3 seconds with the JP. I do this drill with every rifle I get in here to test, which is a lot of guns. I have never been able to beat that time.
During the 2012 Iron Man 3-Gun Match I engaged three sets of bonus targets at 550, 650 and 799 yards. The shooter was allowed up to five hits on each target. Most competitors brought a long range precision rifle for this stage, but I used the JP and cleaned all 15 bonus targets. I think I am the only competitor to do that with a main-match, competition .223 rifle.
Magic? You bet.
This rifle is extremely accurate and 100 percent dependable; both are qualities needed to help a shooter step up to the winner’s table. I am not anal enough to keep actual records of each round fired in every rifle I have, but I am well north of 15,000 rounds through this rifle without a gun-related hitch. When shooting ammo it likes, it still shoots half-MOA.
The JP15 is the “entry level” rifle from JP Enterprises. But that’s like saying an “entry level” Ferrari, because the JP entry level picks up where a lot of other gun makers end off.
The heart of the system, as it is with any accurate rifle, is the barrel, which in this rifle is the JP Supermatch barrel. This button-rifled barrel is made from 416R stainless steel. This is a pre-hardened chromium stainless steel, which is engineered for use in precision match-grade rifle barrels and designed to work well with button rifling.
The barrel has a 1:8 twist rate and is air-gauged and cryogenically treated. It measures .88-inch at the muzzle where it meets the brake. The barrel has a wasp-waist that is fitted with a set of cooling fins hidden under the handguard to aid in rapid heat dissipation. The JP Thermal Dissipater between the gas block and receiver results in a 700 percent increase in surface area under the handguard. This keeps the accuracy-robbing heat from building up during sustained fire drills. That keeps the shooter’s hand cooler, but more importantly it enhances barrel life, too.
The chamber is .223 Wylde that will accept .223 Remington, as well as 5.56x45mm ammo. The barrel is fitted with a JP Compensator that is timed and blended to the barrel so well you can’t see the panty line.
My rifle has the JP Low Mass Operating System. This system uses a reduced weight bolt carrier and low mass buffer with a matched buffer spring. This speeds up the cycle rate and makes the rifle run smoother, which is an asset when doing rapid, aimed fire, particularly during some of the drills common to many 3-gun matches.
The rifle has the JP single-stage Fire Control trigger system with the low mass speed hammer for a faster lock time.
The receivers are 7075 mil-spec forged. The long, round, vented JP Modular Hand Guard is well suited for competition. It has a rail on top and two swivels. The side swivel is for a sling while the bottom is used for a bi-pod. The buttstock is the ACE ARFX skeletal, which I find perfect for 3-gun competition. There are a lot of reasons why I am not the top Tactical Optics class shooter in the country, but I guarantee my rifle is not one of them!
JP Enterprises JP15 Specs
Caliber: 223 (Tested) .204 Ruger, 6.5 Grendel
Action Type: Semi-auto
Receiver: Mil-spec forged 7075 upper/lower receiver set
Barrel: JP Supermatch 416R air-gauged, button-rifled, cryogenically treated barrel, 1:8 twist, button rifled
Trigger: JP Fire Control Package available in weights of 3.0 – 4.5 lbs.
Stock: A2 or ACE ARFX buttstock, Hogue pistol grip
Weight: 7.5 pounds
Overall Length: 38-inches
Accessories: JP accessory pack including operator’s manual, one magazine, GasGunBasics DVD
Next Stag Arms 3G
Stag Arms 3G
Stag Arms is well known for producing left handed AR-15 style rifles, as well as the conventional right handed models. They got noticed for the southpaw aspect, but built their name by producing high quality rifles. The 3G is their competition ready rifle and can be ordered in a right or left hand model. I have a couple of southpaw shooting buddies who are very happy about that.
Stag Arms worked with their 3-gun shooting team to develop the new rifle. There are in truth a few things I would change. For example, I would add an extended charging handle latch, a tactical bolt release and possibly an ambi-safety. But these are small things and the truth is, this gun is competition ready out of the box. The one major change is I would also use a different muzzle brake as the one in my rifle over-compensates and drives the muzzle too low. All in all, minor issues on a fine rifle.
The rifle uses an 18-inch stainless-steel semi-heavy barrel that measures .727-inch near the muzzle and uses a 1:8 twist rate. The chamber is 5.56 NATO, so it can fire both 5.56 and .223 Remington ammo. The barrel has six flutes that are interrupted by the gas block for the rifle-length gas system. The last ¾ inch of the barrel is stepped down to .705-inch to the muzzle.
The barrel is fitted with a 21⁄4-inch long compensator installed with a crush washer. The gun is fitted with a Samson Evolution free-floating handguard. This handguard comes with a rail along the top. There are holes along the sides and bottom to add more rails if you want them. The sides are skeletonized with a double row of cuts on each side to shave off weight and aid heat dissipation. The diameter of the handguard is 1.825-inches, which is easy to grip. The 15-inch handguard extends well past the low profile gas block.
Most top 3-gun shooters never hold the gun in front of the magazine well. Instead, they will have the weak hand extended way out on the front of the gun for action shooting. This gives much better control of the rifle for lateral movement during rapid target transition. Try this with a short handguard and all you get is burned fingers. I guess my point is this long handguard proves to me that Stag listened to some real shooters when designing the rifle.
When it comes to triggers, many AR builders are stuck on “Mil Spec Stupid” and forget that shooters need good triggers. It’s not uncommon to have precision targets at 500 or 600 yards or even farther in a 3-gun match. It’s a huge handicap to have a 10 pound “battle trigger” that’s rougher than Rosie O’Donnell’s personality.
Unless you order a better trigger as an option, almost all rifles will need an expensive replacement before using them in competition.
One popular replacement trigger is the Geissele Super 3-Gun trigger. This STAG rifle comes with that trigger as standard equipment. It uses what Geissele calls a ‘hybrid pull.” It’s a longer pull than most match-grade, single-stage triggers, but smooth and clean. On my rifle it breaks at just slightly over 3 pounds.
The buttstock and pistol grip are from Magpul, featuring their collapsible ACS buttstock and their MOE hard plastic pistol grip. Both have storage compartments.
I accuracy tested the rifle by shooting three different factory loads and one handload using bullets ranging from 50-grains to 75-grains. The average for three, 5-shot groups with each of the four loads was 1.23-inches, which is excellent accuracy in any rifle you plan to shoot, particularly right out of the box.
Stag Arms 3G Specs
Action Type: Gas impingement semi-auto
Receiver: Right handed and left handed both offered
Barrel: 18-inch 1:8 twist
Magazine: 30-round removable magazine
Sights: Rail for mounting optics, Dueck Defense Rapid Transition Sights (RTS) Optional
Stock: Magpul ACS buttstock, Magpul MOE hard plastic pistol grip
Weight: 7.5 lbs.
Overall Length: 39.25 inches