Tarheel 3-Gun Treasure Hunt

A beginner 3-Gun competitor looks for an MSR on North Carolina’s coast


On one side of Route 17 in North Carolina, between Hampstead and Wilmington, are beautiful beaches and plenty of fishing for speckled trout, redfish, and flounder. But just inland, I had my eye on an MSR for 3-Gun competition. That became my cover story, with a buddy and I looking to get into the sport and needing the right rifle. My expectation was that retailers would ask right away about my budget. They might also ask about which 3-Gun division I was going to compete in, and perhaps my brand preference (it’s a crowded field). What I found were plenty of smiles behind the counter and mostly good advice—even if I didn’t have a Down East drawl. These boys and girls in eastern North Carolina know a thing or two about MSRs.

Store A: HOW CAN WE HELP YOU?

➤ A billboard on Route 17 directed me to the store. This retailer, the largest of the four I visited, had the best location, right off the main highway. A big, easy-to-read sign prominently advertised concealed-­carry courses. In addition to firearms and hunting gear, the store offered a mix of outdoor clothing, footwear, and fishing tackle. The back of the store was dedicated to firearms, and behind the counter I saw at least five employees, all of whom were wearing the same polo-shirt uniform. I was greeted with several “Hellos” and plenty of “How can we help yous?”

I said my line and was directed to one of the several long-gun bays dedicated to MSRs. They asked my budget, and I said “about $900.” They then put two inexpensive MSRs in my hand—one from Del-Ton and one from Windham Weaponry—and then explained that a lower-priced MSR would be a good choice for a beginner. They also had some expensive Daniel Defense MSRs that were out of my price range, but also well suited to 3-Gun. The staff was well versed and personable and knew an entry-level rifle was probably my best bet.

Store B: TIME FOR A SMOKE

➤ This retailer/gun range touts itself as Wilmington’s only indoor range. Its billboard on Route 17 got my attention, but finding the place took some doing. A tree branch blocked the sign to the facility’s entrance, and it was located behind other businesses on the busy strip. The retail space was about 900 square feet, with a wall of new and used rifles, and glass cases of handguns.

I was greeted immediately by a young clerk, and when I explained what I needed, he asked his colleague (“the AR guy”) to help. The “guy” was on his way out for a smoke, but he took the time to inquire about my budget and give some newbie pointers. He then asked the young clerk to show me the S&W M&P rifle and explained that it was very easy to spend a lot of money on a 3-Gun MSR. The colleague proceeded to explain how an entry-level rifle is a great gun to start with, as it is an inexpensive platform that allows for performance modifications down the road.

Store C: ADVICE, YES; EXPERIENCE, NO

➤ Store C, also a shooting range/retailer, was a few minutes away from Store B. The signage was well placed on this busy main business route. I was again warmly greeted by a young clerk who offered his opinion on what a 3-Gun MSR should be. His advice was mostly spot-on, but when I asked him if he competed, he said he didn’t. But he did say he knew which rifles would work. On the downside, this retailer had few rifles I could actually handle, but they did offer to order me whatever I wanted.

Store D: EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS

➤ I always tell myself, Don’t judge a small retailer on the basis of its website, but I must say my expectations were low. However, when I saw the store’s billboard on the main highway advertising MSRs, my interest was piqued. Though the store was located well off the main road, it was easy to find. The interior was the smallest of the group, about 500 square feet.

From what was hanging on the wall, though, I could tell this was a shop dedicated to serving MSR customers. I was greeted with several “hellos” upon entering, even though the clerks were waiting on customers. But soon the female owner directed me to a staffer who immediately took extra time and care to show and put rifles in my hand. The salesman was well versed in 3-Gun, having competed in the sport. He knew his stuff and went on to share the nuances of a 3-Gun rifle and the specific parts (rails, etc.) for accessories on an MSR that aid in competition. I was thoroughly impressed with the staff’s knowledge as I asked question after question.

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