3Gun is one of the fastest growing action shooting sports in the world. To the point where there are competitions nationwide, multiple leagues and even leagues overseas. The sport grew in popularity so much that the U.S. Army shooting teams took notice and formed their own. One of the key members being Staff Sergeant Dave Horner. SSG Horner has been on the team for years and has won more competitions than I care to count, a short list of these comps includes,
- 7-time USPSA National Multi-gun Champion
- 3-time 3-Gun Nation Champion
- 2-time IDPA National Champion
- 2014 Trijicon World Shooting Champion
- 1st Place 2014 USASOC International Sniper Competition (with partner Tyler Payne)
- 1st Place 2012 International Sniper Competition (with partner Tyler Payne)
- 4-time Winner of Mammoth Sniper Competition (2012-2015, 3 times with Tyler Payne, 1 time with Candice Horner)
Credit – http://candi323.com
Clearly, the man knows what he's doing behind a gun. There is a good motto I like that says “it's the Indian, not the arrow.” Meaning the man behind the rifle is more important than the rifle. I fully believe that SSG Horner could outshoot me with a Ruger 10/22. However, for SSG Horner to compete at the level he does he needs a high-end rifle. In a competition where fractions of a second and mere inches determine the difference between a win and a loss, you can't accept substandard.
Staff Sergeant Horner has built one helluva competition rifle. He’s designed it to be a rifle designed for pure competition. It’s a highly customized rifle that’s designed to be lightweight, but competition ready. The rifle itself weighs just a hair over 8 pounds with optic and magazine. Staff Sergeant Horner’s rifle is built using some of the best parts the market offers.
So let’s take a look at his rifle, and really break it down to see what goes where and discuss the value of these parts on a 3 Gun rifle. Admittedly I’m only an amateur when it comes to 3 gun, but I can appreciate quality and can Monday morning quarterback a pro, right?
The lower receiver looks pretty normal, at first glance it's nothing special. However, according to several reports, SSG Horner uses a MAG Tactical lower. What set this lower apart is that it's 35% lighter than your standard forged lower. It's still aluminum, and still uses standard components, but it's just a bit lighter than your average receiver.
Here is the bad news, MAG Tactical seems to be out of business. Their website is gone, and it seems anyone whoever stocked their lowers is now out of stock. Luckily they are not the only lightweight lower receiver on the market. Quite a few companies produce lightweight lower receivers.
This includes Battle Arms Development’s own 6.84 ounce lower receiver here.
The Upper receiver appears to be quite standard. It looks like a forged upper receiver without anything too fancy. It's a flat top upper of course, and it allows SSG Horner to mount an optic.
SSG Horner uses a fascinating barrel that is top of the line both technologically and performance wise. He uses a Proof Research barrel, what makes it stand apart from most barrels is the carbon fiber wrap. The carbon fiber is wrapped around the internal stainless steel barrel and offers shooters some significant advantages.
The first is weight savings, and Proof Research carbon fiber wrapped barrel weighs 64% less than standard AR 15 barrels. They are available in a wide variety of different lengths and calibers. Of course, SSG Horner uses a standard 5.56 barrel. The barrels offer match grade accuracy and have been used by several professional shooters including Caylen Wojcik.
The carbon fiber wrap offers improved heat dissipation, and there is no point of impact shift after massive amounts of firing. There is also reduced harmonic vibrations, which lead to greater accuracy. The Proof Research barrels are an excellent choice for a pro shooter and perfect for 3 Gun. After a little research, I understand why SSG Horner chose one.
SSG Horner reportedly uses an Armalite muzzle brake. A brake is an excellent option for three gun because it reduces the felt recoil. This allows the shooter to shoot both fast and accurately. 3 Gun is a sport dedicated to speed and every fraction of a second counts. The muzzle device design is somewhat unique. It's a tunable brake that is a muzzle brake and compensator hybrid.
The user can remove set screws to customize how the gun recoils and how the muzzle rises.
These devices function by utilizing the gas of the round to reduce recoil. When you fire the gun, the gasses propel the bullet and follow it down the barrel. Once they hit the muzzle brake, they crash into the walls of the three chambers in the brake. This crashing force pushes the gun forward and helps reduce recoil.
The downside is these breaks are pretty expensive. If you are looking for something a little simpler, here's a good brake/compensator hybrid.
Trigger – American Trigger Gold
The trigger is the heart and soul of a rifle right? The only way a competitor can get the most out of his rifle is to have an excellent trigger. The better the trigger, the easier it is to have a solid trigger pull. The Gold American Trigger is one of the best on the market. The American Trigger Gold is a self-contained system that simply drops into any standard AR 15 lower receiver.
This Match grade trigger is grit free and offers a smooth and short trigger pull. The reset is reportedly super short and very easy to feel and hear. A short reset and a light trigger pull give shooters the ability to put a lot of lead downrange in a controlled and accurate manner. Outside of Staff Sergeant Horner, pro shooters like Jerry Miculek, Mike Voigt, and Bruce Piatt all use AR Gold triggers.
Rail – Free Float Keymod by Armalite
SSG Horner keeps the Armalite tradition alive by utilizing their own rail system. This free float Keymod rail system makes a lot of sense on this rifle. SSG Horner doesn't seem to utilize any accessories, but a free float keymod rail system makes sense.
For one it’s a very lightweight option, and it covers the entirety of his barrel. It’s also thin and easy to get your hands around. The handguard’s free floating nature ensures the barrel is never affected by outside pressure. The rail length allows shooters to get their hands close to muzzle to use a C Clamp style grip to help mitigate muzzle rise.
Keymod and M Lok rails are the future of the AR world, and they offer substantial advantages over quad rails and plastic handguards. Armalite seems to have possibly discontinued this rail system. It doesn’t seem to be available on their website. However, it’s not much different than any other keymod rail system, and almost any free floating version would fill the role.
Bolt Carrier Group, Buffer Tube, and Gas Block
It might not make sense to group three very distinct pieces of an AR 15 together. However, in this case, it's critical you do. Each piece requires the other to function reliably, and they are all specialized parts. There is nothing mil spec about these three pieces. They are all made by the same company and are designed to give premium performance to premium shooters.
The bolt carrier group is a JP Industries low mass operating system. This BCG is trim and slim, designed to reduce the overall mass of the system. A standard Mil Spec BCG weighs 11.61 ounces, and the JP Reduced mass BCG weighs 8.9 ounces. This reduced weight bolt takes less gas to properly operate, and less gas means less recoil. Additionally, because the bolt is lighter, there is less mass moving rearwards, which again reduces recoil. The bolt also has the secondary effect of making the system just that much lighter.
You can't simply toss in a low mass bolt carrier group in a gun and expect everything to function with less gas and less recoil. To function properly, you need to tune the system with a lightweight buffer. The lightweight buffer works with the BCG perfectly. The JP industries low mass buffer ensures the low mass BCG can function reliably with minimal gas. Again, you are also reducing your rifle's overall weight.
So lastly we have the oh so subtle gas block. The JP industries adjustable gas block is a necessity to really take advantage of the low mass components. This gas block allows the user to tune their rifle to the minimal amount of gas needed to reliably run their gun. A standard gas block would make the low profile components nearly useless since it will run ‘full' out with no regard to the low mass components. The JP industries adjustable gas block is a low profile system that will squeeze under a rail system. The JP low profile gas block has six positions per rotation, and the standard is 4 positions per rotation. The extra two positions allow you to really fine tune the gas system. You also have the ability to access the gas block from the side of the system, which is just convenient.
The Stock – The TacMod
The TacMod AR 15 stock is quite unique in both appearance and function. It's designed to be as adjustable as possible. The reason this stock makes so much sense on SSG Horner's rifle is that it was developed by the US Army Marksmanship unit. The very unit SSG Horner shoots for. The TacMod stock was designed with the input of some of the best shooters the army has to offer.
It’s adjustable for length of pull of course. You can also adjust the height and location of the cheek rest making it optimum for almost any optics setup. The stock can be adjusted for cant and comfort. It’s also outfitted for the placement of QD sling swivels which is a convenient feature to have. Availability of this stock seems to be feast or famine. It’s well made and likely worth the wait if you want to outfit your rifle with the best.
Optic and Mount
SSG Horner seems to prefer the Leupold VX-6. The VX-6 is a 1 to 6 power scope with an illuminated reticle and bullet drop compensator. The 1 to 6 and 1 to 4 magnification settings are quite popular in the 3 gun world. 3 gun stages could involve targets at anywhere from 10 yards to 150 yards. The ability to rapidly transition between different magnification levels is quite critical in these situations. At 1x with an illuminated reticle it's basically a red dot. At the end of the spectrum when you have to hit small targets at 150 yards away, you simply slide the magnification ring and start picking them off.
Leupold also makes good gear, and the VX-6 is no different. Leupold has a long history of providing optics to snipers in both the Army and Marine Corps. It's not a big surprise to see them as favored optics among the Marksmanship units.
The mounting system is the Leupold Mark 2 IMS. The Mark 2 IMS is a single piece scope mount that holds optics rocksteady. The Mark 2 IMS isn't too fancy, but it's functional. It also makes sense to use Leupold with Leupold. It ensures you get a nice tight lock up.
It’s not too surprising to see that SSG Horner does not use USGI aluminum magazines. I don’t doubt his experience isn’t too different than mine when it comes to their reliability and functionality. They typically aren’t terrible, but if there's something better why not use it? SSG Horner is rocking PMAG by Magpul. The PMAG was the first successful polymer magazine, and there's a reason for it.
They're lightweight, reliable, and tough as nails. They are a very common choice among soldiers and Marines. SSG Horner's PMAGs are outfitted with Taran tactical base plates. These base plates add an additional five rounds to the overall capacity. No one has ever complained about having too much ammo. The aluminum baseplates also ensure the magazines drop freely from the weapon. The only downside of PMAGs is when they're empty they tend not to drop free. With the extra weight of the aluminum base plate, they drop with some authority.
SSG Horner certainly knew what he was doing when he built his rifle. This machine is very finely honed and designed to fit the shooter and the sport. It's customized not out of vanity, but out of necessity. Everything about the rifle is functional, and it seems to be a rifle built with meticulous planning. It's light, accurate, and superbly well made.
- Battle Arms Development’s lower receiver ($269)
- Noveske Stripped Upper Receiver w/M4 Feed Ramps ($114)
- Proof Research carbon fiber wrapped barrel ($940)
- Precision Armament – M11 Severe Duty Muzzle Brake 5.56mm/.223 ($100)
- Gold American Trigger Corporation – Gold Trigger ($284)
- Midwest Industries – AR-15 GEN 3 SS Keymod Free Float Handguard ($220)
- JP Low Mass Operating System ($438)
- JP Enterprises – Low Mass Recoil Buffer ($57)
- JP Enterprises 2-PC Detent adjustable low profile gas block ($114)
- Leupold VX-6 1-6x24mm Rifle Scope ($1000)
- Leupold Mark 2 IMS ($85)
- Magpul 30 Round PMAG GEN M3 ($15)
* Items may have been out of stock or discontinued at the time of this writing.