Fifteen or more years back, I was at a Ruger press junket where the company president proudly informed us that the Vaquero revolver had sold more than 100,000 examples. This was a very pleasing surprise to Ruger, since they had primarily intended it for Single Action Shooting Society competitors.
SASS had about 15,000 members at the time, so unless they were buying more than a half-dozen Vaqueros each, they weren’t responsible for the gun’s success.
The Vaquero, which since then has expanded to many versions in several calibers, is just a fun gun to shoot, and that is the case with many competition guns. You don’t have to be heading for Camp Perry to like shooting a Colt Gold Cup, and a Perazzi is just as fun at your local trap field as it is at the Grand American.
Similarly, you don’t have to aspire to appearing on Armalite’s 3-Gun Nation to like shooting a gun designed with 3-Gun competition in mind. In fact, if you’re part of the vast majority that shoots primarily on a range, you will likely find that a 3-Gun AR will suit you perfectly.
Competitors thought up 3-Gun shooting to apply some of the techniques and challenges of practical pistol shooting to long guns. To shoot it, you need skill with a pistol, a semi-auto rifle (almost always an AR) and a repeating shotgun.
You could use just about any AR in 3-Gun if you insisted on it, but just as the pistols on the line at Camp Perry tend to look a lot alike, 3-Gun rifles tend to have some universal features.
The most noticeable is a slim, almost muzzle-length handguard around an 18-inch barrel. The 16-inch carbine may dominate the general-purpose AR market, but 3-Gun shooters like a longer barrel with matching handguard that enables an extended support arm.
3-Gun shooting requires a lot of sweeping lateral moves to shoot targets that may be spread out across the range, and this is better accomplished with the left hand (for the right-handed majority) extended.
Just as in skeet or sporting clays shooting, tracking targets is easier with some weight toward the muzzle, so relatively heavy barrels are specified, with a variety of muzzle devices for recoil and muzzle rise control.
The new 3-Gun Competitor from Stag Arms checks off all those boxes, making it a gun ready to rock in competition or just for fun at your local range.
Any competition rifle starts with the barrel, and the Competitor sports a Ballistic Advantage Hanson stainless steel unit. It’s fluted for a bit of weight reduction and good looks.
It’s cut with a .223 Wylde chamber that’s a compromise between the .223 and 5.56mm chambers. The Wylde specification is said to deliver the accuracy potential of a .223 chamber while keeping pressures under control when you’re shooting 5.56mm ammo.
The barrel extension has M4-style feed ramps and is nickel boron coated. Barrel diameter is .750″ at the gas block, stepping up to .875″ behind it.
The low-profile gas block itself is semi-octagonal, and it’s secured by four hex socket screws.
The octagonal aluminum handguard is from Samson Mfg. and has eight M-Lok slots each at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock. The other four surfaces each have 10 lozenge-shaped cooling slots, while the top surface is a 1913 rail with 36 slots for mounting optics or back-up iron sights. The handguard rail forms a continuous surface with the receiver rail, which has 13 slots of its own.
It’s hard to imagine an optic or combination of optics that can’t be accommodated by this much real estate.
The handguard is secured to the knurled barrel nut by a pair of hex socket screws that engage threaded inserts at the bottom rear.
At the muzzle is a Lantac Dragon muzzle brake. The manufacturer notes that it’s not a flash hider, so you unfortunates in California can have one. It has three large ports on either side and four more on top to moderate muzzle rise. There’s a modified duckbill configuration at the front.
The receiver halves are perfectly conventional; at this price point, you wouldn’t care to see any attempt to delete the dust cover, deflector or forward assist.
Inside, the bolt carrier group is QPQ treated. Here, parts are dipped in a nitrocarburizing salt bath, removed and mechanically polished, returned to the salt bath for another 23–30 minutes and then oil-dipped for corrosion resistance and a blackened finish. The result is a smooth, scratch-resistant surface that resists corrosion.
The best part of the lower receiver is the Geissele S3G Super 3-Gun trigger. It’s rated at 3½ pounds pull, but the sample was closer to 3 pounds. It’s a single-stage trigger, so if you’re used to two-stage AR triggers, you will want to do some dry-firing with it before heading to the range.
Stag has resisted the general urge to can the standard winter trigger guard in favor of a curved trigger guard. If you’re not shooting 3-Gun in Minnesota in February, this probably won’t bother you.
The pistol grip is a MagPul MOE, which has the currently fashionable more upright, 1911ish angle with an ample beavertail. It has a compartment with removable cover for storing batteries or other accessories.
Trapped between the upper receiver and castle nut is a plate that allows you to attach a single-point sling to either side.
The buttstock is the MagPul ACS, a comfortably bulky piece that’s adjustable to any of six pull lengths. It has rubber-stoppered compartments on either side in which you can store CR123 or AA batteries, or maybe a Slim Jim. You’re probably not going to need those down at your local range, but the extra width they provide make this an exceptionally comfortable cheekpiece.
It’s also one that doesn’t rattle, thanks to a separate clamping mechanism actuated by a lever at the front of the stock. Pushing up on the visible lever inside a sort of trigger guard structure pushes the clamping lever out from the stock. Select your pull length and release the visible lever. Then return the clamping lever to its original position and the stock is very securely tightened to the buffer tube.
The ACS also has a trapdoor in the right side at the butt. It contained a quick-detach sling swivel socket and a handy MagPul dummy round. You also can attach a web sling to the slot at the toe of the stock.
The magazine is the now-universal 30-round MagPul PMag, a unit that seems to be displacing the GI style
everywhere in OEM applications.
I mounted a Bushnell 1-6.5X SMRS scope on the theory that it’s a representative example of what a 3-gun competitor might select. It was excellent for fast firing, but probably not 100% fair to the Competitor for group shooting.
Using Winchester 55-grain Ballistic Silvertips, Federal Fusion 62-grain soft-points and Black Hills 77-grain MatchKings, a shooting partner and I got some half to three-quarter-inch groups, but most ran in the 1¼-inch range. A higher-power scope would have certainly yielded more braggable groups.
We struggled a bit with the scope in a stong morning cross light, but we had no problem whatever with the trigger. Geissele has achieved a position of dominance in the public mind over the last 10 years or so, really putting some of the traditional names in triggers, most of whom made their bones with bolt-actions, in the shade.
The S3G trigger is really a joy to use. As one who came up shooting smallbore and air rifles, I usually prefer a two-stage trigger, but the S3G takes almost no familiarization and delivers a smooth, light and consistent pull that really gives you confidence on the line.
Peter Kokalis always said there was no substitute for a fixed AR buttstock for accurate shooting, but I suspect he’d have to eat his words if he tried the MagPul ACS. The fat proportions and the secure locking mechanism make it very comfortable for long sessions at the bench.
I had only two real complaints about the Competitor. There was what I’d call excess play between the upper and lower receiver. This may or may not have any great effect on accuracy, but when you are paying a premium price for an AR, you like it not to rattle. An Accu-Tite or similar tightening system would be a useful addition.
Finally, the recoil spring was unusually noisy inside the buffer tube. This is not normally something you notice during firing, but it was very apparent here.
Those two niggling items aside, the Competitor is a rifle that will be an excellent choice for the budding 3-Gun shooter or for anyone who likes an accurate rifle with a superb trigger.