10 best pistols for 3-gun competition

Choosing the best 3-gun pistol isn’t tough. In fact, there are many great pistols for the 3-gun competition. The struggle isn’t finding great guns, it’s defining which pistol will work best for your unique needs in the competition.

AND EVERY SHOOTER SHOOTS 3-GUN DIFFERENTLY – Which makes the idea of picking a best in class for each shooter impossible. However, this variance in strategy and skills is what creates most of 3-Gun shooting’s dynamism.

Knowing this variability helps us to determine the best in class pistols for all shooters from casual to hardcore; aggressive to relaxed; professional or just starting out. The following list is a group of the best pistols for 3 gun competition on the market.

Best 3 Gun Pistols

STI - John Wick Combat Master

STI - John Wick Combat Master

We aren’t fans of wantonly branded firearms that are loosely tied to Hollywood properties or superheroes, etc. It just doesn’t make sense. Furthermore, the most recent attempts to tie a firearm model to a particular real world hero has been met with less than ideal market placement and implementation.

That isn’t to say the real world heroes that gun companies try to tie their guns to, like the Navy Seals (Sig Sauer) or other law enforcement, military, etc. (think the Molon Labe guns by Sig Sauer again) aren’t amazing, but we can do without the marketing hooks. We just want great products.

That’s where the John Wick line comes from though: a place where great guns become even better through realistic tuning and (while not perfect), mostly tasteful aesthetic changes.

The John Wick movies feature an ultra-capable assassin with all kinds of crazy guns doing outlandish trick shots; real world tactical stuff and basically taking on the world with our favorite guns. Keanu Reeves, the lead actor was trained by Taran Tactical’s Taran Butler who is a pretty well-known competition shooter and gun “alchemist” / gunsmith. In the time since they collaborated, there have been a slew of John Wick inspired guns that are mostly slanted towards the 3-gun crowd.

This particular gun is “quite excellent” (as Keanu Reeves’ early character Ted Theodore Logan would have said) for the purpose of three gun.

You get a highly treated STI core firearm utilizing 9mm and with a ton of aesthetic work done to it, which mostly is a dual-purpose form/function alteration including scalloped hand grip/frame; lightened aggressively cut slide and a precision fit barrel, trigger and internals. The entire thing actually seems quite polished.

As well it should: it’s a 4k+ gun. Worth every penny if you want to shoot for the absolute pinnacle of the 3-gun pistol world. And hard to beat if you are just going to covet it from a distance.

Pros

  • Well made
  • Smart alterations, that, while not completely function only, are relatively tasteful
  • Proven platform from one of the most storied 3-gun competitors (Butler)

Cons

  • Expensive

FN - 509 Tactical

FN - 509 Tactical

The real world alternative to the above highly modified STI John Wick variant, the FN 509 tactical is almost frivolous in it’s appearance and feature set, but it is an excellent gun if you need the full-on-tactical slant to your handgun.

It starts with a color change to mix it up and put you in the desert tan sand of the Middle East. In part, this was to cater to the armed forced modular handgun test submissions from the RFP a few years back. Partly because it’s “tacticool”. Either way, it looks good and has the contrast of key elements like the trigger and magazine release.

The threaded barrel accommodates a suppressor; the slide is fitted with suppressor height sights and features a factory cut; factory-filled rear sight cut that will accommodate an RMR style reflex optic. 

The full-sized gun also features a hand grip customization scheme to help size the gun properly at home for shooters. This is a smart feature even Glock has jumped on recently to sell more units and increase perceived value. You may benefit from it, you may not. Either way, you can size the thickness and width of the grip to your or your friend’s hand size.

A massive capacity of from 10-24 rounds fit into the pistol, with the 24 round magazines not protruding too obnoxiously as to be a complete deal breaker.

If you sense a bit of sarcasm in this overview, it’s not sarcasm, except to poke a bit of fun at how WELL EQUIPPED this particular pistol is compared to other “tactical models”.

Night sights are standard; the barrel length is 4.5 inches and the sight plane is excellent. The ability to add accessories is ever present and the gun is a proven reliable performer. What more could you need?

Pros

  • Fully loaded, not a massive price point
  • Tons of grip options
  • Tons of capacity

Cons

  • Maybe the combination of features is borderline over the top?

Sig Sauer - P320 M17

SIG SAUER - P320 M17

This is the winner of the armed forces Modular handgun competition and is now serving as the replacement sidearm for the Beretta M9. Was it deserved? Who knows? But it’s damned good on its own.

The gun is much more simply laid out than some of the other competitors in that particular Military RFP, but it is still a loaded option with what amounts to be basically ambidextrous control sets across the board.

The Sig is priced properly to the market and the demand will continue to be high, because you know: the public likes military approved firearms.

The ability to customize the grip frame is there; the high capacity 9mm chambering and magazines are there. The standard night sights? Check. Multiple slide serration sets? Yes. All tan with black accents? Recessed Magazine well? Slide mounted optics options? PVD coating? Check. Check. Check. Check.

Simple and easy to learn on? That too is an affirmative.

It’s easy to understand, if you can handle a full-sized firearm and want all the creature comforts without having a ridiculous snag-fest in your holster. This is a good one.

Pros

  • Relatively simple
  • Safe (multiple manual safeties)
  • Quality maker
  • Chosen as the winner of a grueling competition for the modular handgun contract for the US Armed Forces

Co​ns

  • No CONS, except the looks are a bit awkward compared to some guns on this list.

Glock G17 Gen 5

Glock G17 Gen 5

The original tactical pistol, the Glock 17 is still a viable contender in any competition thanks to the wide market acceptance of the reliability; durability; high capacity and to the robust add-on/aftermarket. It doesn’t matter which generation of Glock 17 you choose you are getting an excellent tactical firearm and the 3-Gun field is generally teeming with them.

This is a GEN 5 so you get a it more modularity and a few generational upgrades in terms of optimization; new finishes and some grip changes, which are all positives if you have decided to compete with a Glock in 3-Gun.

There’s a barrel change to the new “Marksman barrel” which claims enhanced accuracy and it’s believable because of the sheer volume of shooters who are fielding them. They must be doing something right.

The simplicity is the true story though, with only 35 parts in total on the pistol. And basically, everyone knows and understands a Glock. It’s safe even though it doesn’t have a true manual outer safety and the trigger pull has gotten better over the years.

High capacity; good sight plane and the ability to customize the gun to the hilt, this is truly a best 3 gun pistol.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Low risk
  • Proven track record of reliability and durability
  • Highly customizable and a huge aftermarket for add-ons and modifications

Cons

  • The “broken” sights are a change that Glock has been needing for years and can’t quite figure out

Smith & Wesson - M&P40 M2.0

Smith & Wesson - M&P40 M2.0

This is one of the original Glock copycats, and yet, it has started to really gain traction against the competition, Glock included.

That said, Smith & Wesson is a legitimate history-maker in the gun design industry, they didn’t need to copy Glock to make a great product, but this is a reply to Glock’s popularity which threatened profitability in the 1980’s, 90’s and 2000’s. Finally after decades, Smith has caught up with the Austrian powerhouse.

This is a particularly interesting case study too, with the version 2.0 clearly attached to the pistol. It represents a fairly novel concept in the gun industry: consumer feedback changing design implementation. Perhaps like never before in the old school gun industry, Smith & Wesson recognized internet based negative feedback and begun to make changes to the pistol design to improve the trigger and some other things on the gun.

And in doing so, they dramatically improved user experience on many fronts and produced a firearm that has now begun to take precious market share away from competitors like Glock and Springfield because it is directly in line with what the public has been requesting.

Kudos to S&W, this is a great way to do business.

Great ergonomics (significantly better than the Glocks of the world); a full-sized frame and barrel (4.25 inches); great looks and a slim, purposeful build makes this a concealed carry juggernaut. The high capacity and good sights as well as a robust aftermarket for modifications makes it an ideal pistol for 3 gun competition candidate.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Great changes in the 2.0 models
  • Slim and ergonomically designed

Cons

  • No real CONS

Glock G19 - John Wick 3 Combat Master

Glock G19 - John Wick 3 Combat Master

Again, with the John Wick pistols… except that they are super applicable to the 3-gun realm. We will state again, it’s not our preference to push a loosely tied brand name in this article, but Taran Tactical has collaborated to build a fantastic 3-gun pistol which utilizes the Glock 19, a stalwart, legitimate competitor for the space.

Yes, you are spending a lot of money on the gun, but the work has been done for you and professionally so. The modifications you are probably already considering are already integrated into the design and this is a turnkey high-end solution for the 3-gun competitor that wants more from their standard pistol.

Standard is a good word for the Glock 19. As in THE STANDARD. Or the Standard Bearer. Or the standard by which any compact pistol is judged. It’s got an amazingly good track record and it is hands down the most reliable, durable pistol on this list. At least in its virgin form.

The Taran version has some slick additions and modifications which probably do keep the original integrity with regards to durability and reliability.  

Slide cuts are both good looking and functional; the sights are a fiber optic colored hybrid and are excellent for daylight shooting; the barrel is significantly tuned, and the double undercut on the trigger guard is helpful in a two-hand hold. The stippling and colorizing/finish is tasteful and subdued, and the mag well is a marked improvement over what was not a very good mag well from factory.

Pros

  • Well thought out
  • Good finish and fitment especially at barrel
  • Proven design
  • Great mag well

Cons

  • A bit futuristic looking for a competition specific gun (though the 1911’s from the 1990’s give it a run for its money)
  • The trigger guard seems a bit light for hardcore use
  • Pricey

CZ 75 SP-01 Tactical

CZ 75 SP-01 Tactical

Ergonomics, accuracy and center of gravity are the key points that describe the CZ 75 SP-01.

From an ergonomics perspective, this is what amounts to essentially a Browning Hi-Power clone, that has taken on a life of its own with some exceptional upgrades and has evolved into something quite special that stands alone against a large market of fine firearms.

The ergonomics start with the grip angle and high hand hold that is built into the grip frame. But it isn’t just the way the pistol seats in your hand. The control set is placed close to your thumbs and makes it easy to make changes without having to shift your hand position. The slim feel makes it easy to holster and de-holster and keeps the gun snag-free.

There are conscientious bevels and smoothing along all surfaces and the gun shoots as though it’s an extension of your hand. That speaks to the low center of gravity and the low bore axis that will help with keeping muzzle flip under control and the sight plane stable. This leads to inherently better accuracy.

And accuracy is what this gun makes its legacy on. A lot of things go into the reason this pistol is so historically accurate, but the tolerances and fit of the metal parts perhaps contribute the most to that accuracy. It will be rare to find another firearm at this price point that has as smooth a fit and as tight of a tolerance set. 

In all, this makes for a premium firearm at an excellent price point, with all the bells and whistles (like good sights and an accessory rail) and a large capacity magazine. Perfect for competitions like 3-Gun or tactical usage.

Pros

  • Impressive ergonomics
  • Low muzzle line in hand
  • Very controllable recoil and muzzle flip
  • Well appointed

Cons

  • No real CONS

Springfield Armory - XDM OSP 9mm

Springfield Armory - XDM OSP 9mm

A very impressive tactical pistol that is essentially an answer by Springfield to the market for guns like the FN 509 tactical and the Competition factory guns with the John Wick name. It is a direct build for competition and tactical needs.

It is also priced extremely competitively. It represents one of the better value plays alongside the FN 509 for a fully stacked tactical offering. You are getting all the bells and whistles from a threaded barrel for suppressor mounting; to high suppressor iron sights to a pre-machined slide for optics mounting.

You are also getting one of the most proven tactical platforms on the pistol world today in the XD lineup from Springfield. The full-sized frame and barrel length make for an impressive magazine capacity (19), which helps on long stages, and an elongated sight plane, which leads to very good accuracy.

There isn’t a lot to say about this firearm other than that it is proven reliable, very durable and made to match the best tactical guns on the market and does so well. The trigger isn’t amazing but it’s very good (likely better for most shooters than the contemporary pistol options like Glock, S&W and FN).

The accuracy is excellent and there is a physical safety that mimics a 1911 in the form of a grip safety and a manual thumb safety

Pros

  • A very traditional gun design on a polymer/steel platform pistol
  • Lots of manual interactions
  • Good trigger
  • High capacity

Cons

  • This is not necessarily a best in class, but it is an alternative to higher priced pistols

Rock Island Armory - M1911-A1 Tactical 2011 VZ

Rock Island Armory - M1911-A1 Tactical 2011 VZ

The Philippines-based Armscor can take advantage of surprisingly low wages and a thriving gun culture in the Philippines.

That means you get very high-quality firearms at much lower price than you can from a US based producer. Particularly with modified guns, or guns that require some hand fitting or one-off production, like semi-custom or custom guns. Such is the case with this 1911 style 9mm pistol that is a fantastic value for money.

This is a finely tuned gun (not the most premium you can buy, but very good compared to factory available firearms). For the money it’s ridiculously hard to find even a well-used semi-custom 1911 for the price point.

You are getting a full dustcover which balances the gun for long shooting sessions. The grips are very nice because they are aggressive, but not over the top. The grip texture is enough to keep you comfortable, and not overpowering. The other aesthetics are quite nice, and the finish is Parkerizing, which makes the gun essentially rustproof.

A tuned (drop-in) trigger/hammer/disconnector/sear allows you to take advantage of a very nice single action trigger pull and the quick follow-up that you can achieve with the minimal trigger pull and the balanced pistol means you will be fast on the 3-gun course.

You also get a high capacity 9mm magazine that keeps you in the game without frequent mag changes. With a standard 1911, in 45ACP, you’d be changing mags quite often.

The barrel is well fit for a gun at this price point, and while the tolerances won’t match the best of the market, the fitment is still exceptional.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Excellent ergonomics
  • High capacity

Cons

  • This is not a best in class, but it's an excellent alternative to higher priced models.

Beretta M9

Beretta M9

The Beretta 92 and other substantially similar variants are unbelievably good guns. If they weren’t, they would have never been picked as a military sidearm. That said, they have made great improvements on the model series over the years until now, where the culmination of all the best innovations and improvements has presented one of the finest defensive or tactical firearms you can buy.

The model range may not get the same press and marketing hype as other brands or models, but there are a lot of Berettas being purchased year after year.

This is a particularly nice model because it’s made in the image of the most recent military model, and even has the stampings that indicate it is such. The barrel is chrome lined for good long-term wear characteristics; the alloy frame balances the pistol very well and with a loaded magazine this is a gun that feels really nice in the hand.

The steel top end of the firearm has built into features including a decocking lever and integral sights. The basic maintenance is unbelievably simple and doesn’t require pulling the trigger to field strip. The build quality, despite having an aluminum alloy frame is nothing short of bulletproof.

The high capacity (15+1 and 17+1 variants are available) magazines make this a great option for long 3-gun rounds. The finish is also bulletproof and it will take many thousands of rounds to wear any noticeable marks into any part of the gun except a couple of small points on the barrel.

It’s an excellent tactical pistol, with the ergonomics that any shooter can adapt to easily and the proven reliability. The smoothness with which it operates is also impressive.

Pros

  • Good value for the money
  • Simplicity is king
  • Easy maintenance
  • Very accurate and a long sight plane

Cons

  • Doesn’t have the marketing hype anymore after it left US military contract status

Conclusion

The best 3-gun pistol is the one you get familiar with and which meets your own realistic standards. 3-Gun has so many flexible parameters that allow for a plethora of guns to be used and therefore, you just need to find the one that makes the most sense to you.

Among the list portrayed above, you will find some of the finest handguns on the market. There is likely to be a model that you were unfamiliar with, or you may come to the realization that the gun you already use, and love is capable because it matches the statistics of the models on the list. No matter what you decide, 3-gun is a growing and progressive competition and you’re going to enjoy it if you haven’t already fallen in love.

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