This August, I attended the Crimson Trace Midnight 3-Gun Invitational (M3GI). As you may guess from the name, the match is held in darkness. Stages had some artificial light, however the majority of the targets require the competitor to illuminate them with a weapon-mounted light. Equipment rules differ from other 3-Gun matches as there really….aren’t any. Everything is in Open division, any light/laser combo is allowed. Night Optical Devices/Night Vision Goggles (NODs, or “NVGs”) are legal as are thermal sighting systems.
Stage 9 got pretty wild at M3GI.
Since my involvement with firearms is almost exclusively in the competition realm, the concepts of shooting in darkness were new to me. Prior to the match I had never done any extensive shooting in low/no-light. Unfortunately, I didn’t train up with my lights much prior to M3GI, and my match results reflect that.
For a pistol, since my standard STI 2011 pistol has no provisions for mounting a light, I borrowed a friend’s Glock 17L kitted up with a magwell, Fulcrum trigger and TTI magazine extensions. On that gun I mounted a Crimson Trace LightGuard. The gun came with two slides, one with a Burris FastFire sight and Lone Wolf ported barrel, the other with black Warren sights and the factory barrel. I intended to use the optic-equipped slide, but it developed some ejection issues prior to the match so I used the slide with irons. In what little testing I did, I found that at typical ranges, I had enough light from the 100-lumen LightGuard to see my sights. I baked up a hideous excuse for a Kydex holster for the light-bearing 17L that served to get me through the match.
Crimson Trace LightGuard
Unfortunately, on the first night at M3GI I couldn’t see my sights well enough to hit a 6″ knock over plate, although the LightGuard lit up the targets well enough. A quick trip to the REI in Bend, Oregon and I picked up a headlamp that served to illuminate the sights on night two. I definitely think that visible lasers (such as a Crimson Trace lasergrip) or pistol-mounted optics are faster at night. As an RO on Stage 9, I only found one competitor who used the night-sights on his pistol (with no weaponlight) throughout the match. Many competitors used lasers, and they seemed to work quite well. I did not find that the targets were intimidated by the laser shining on their chest, however.
Works way better than iron sights.
Next year I plan on fitting an STI Tactical frame to my Open pistol with a slide mounted red dot. I’ll probably use a Crimson Trace Rail Master light that CT supplied to all the shooters in the match swag bags. The slide-mounted optic concept is pretty unconventional and not very much accepted in law enforcement circles, but I have had a positive experience with mine. I think a laser sight is a more than acceptable alternative (or backup sight) and is easy to retrofit to a service pistol. The only reason I prefer the dot is that I will not have to train myself to use the laser for the match.
For the rifle at M3GI, I used my 3-Gun carbine with a 16″ JP barrel, 15″ Seekins handguard, Kahles K16i scope and a dual-illuminated Trijicon RMR on a Predator offset mount. Much like slings, lights are almost stupidly easy to mount to a carbine nowadays. I chose an Inforce HSP WML light, mounted to the 12 o’clock rail on the handguard. The price was right, $109 from Haley Strategic (about half the price of an X300) and from what I’d heard, they were reliable. The light is 200 lumens, “momentary only” (meaning that the light is only on when you press the switch) and mounts directly to a 1913 “Picatinny” rail.
HSP WML on offset mount alongside some sort of IR illuminator/laser. Photo from HSP.
I purchased the light with HSP’s IWC Thorntail Offset mount which serves to kick the light off to the left side of the handguard. Honestly, the mount isn’t necessary unless you are mounting an Inforce in front of a front iron sight or around some other accessory, but the light is a little bit easier to activate mounted on the offset. The light provided plenty of illumination and I had no issues keeping it on despite the momentary-only function.
I mounted the light so that the bezel was to the rear of the muzzle device (a PWS FSC-556) as I was worried that the comp blast would damage the light. The only issue I encountered with the light was on a large array of paper targets (nine of them). As fast as I could engage them, I found that I could not see through the cloud of muzzle blast. Mounting the light forward of the comp probably would have alleviated this issue, and I later found that it is quite common to mount a light out by the muzzle.
Weaponlights mounted near the muzzle may require some cleaning, but a good one won’t break.
All the rifle targets at M3GI were within 50 yards. I never turned the K16 past 1x and never used the RMR. I found in practice that the RMR would wash out indoors with a 200 lumen light, but it was still visible outdoors. Next year I will likely keep the WML and use an Aimpoint or EOtech sight as the field of view is wider, leading to faster transitions at close range.
Since the M3GI rules allow more than one shotgun to be used throughout the match, I brought my Firebird MKA-1919 and my Tac Optics VersaMax. I mounted a Crimson Trace MVF-515 foregrip to the MKA and the supplied Railmaster to the VersaMax barrel clamp.
Since the rules allowed me to load the 12-round tube on the VersaMax all the way up (plus the round in the chamber and the round “ghost loaded”), I used it on all but one of the stages. Since the only magazines I have for the MKA only hold 10, I only used it on the two stages where I had to reload the shotgun anyway. Both the lights worked well, but the Railmaster activation paddle snapped off in the case on the drive home. It still works, the paddle is just shorter.
I am not big on vertical foregrips, but fortunately the MVF switching system is very forgiving of different grip styles. The only issue I’ve found is that unless I grip the thing with a “chicken-choker” grip (holding the grip like a broomstick) I will block the laser. Not that big a deal as a laser is far to precise a sighting system for a shotgun (with bird/buckshot), but it could be an issue on a rifle. I did find that the MVF was quite sturdy when mounted to the Akdal and had no issues with 12 gauge recoil.
MVF-515 held with a “chicken-choker” grip. The hand will block the laser if the grip is used as a hand stop.
Thoughts on Lasers
Crimson Trace puts a lot of time, effort, and money into the M3GI. Their stated intent is to demonstrate the effectiveness of laser sighting systems in low/no light on carbines and handguns. They did so not only by holding their big match at night, but by supplying competitors with effective laser sighting systems in their shooter bags, and by supplying some awesome stage guns (and a grenade launcher) equipped with laser sights.
Yes, I did say “Grenade Launcher”.
I did not use any lasers at this year’s match. I was of the opinion that they were effective to diagnose trigger issues in training, but impractical due to poor visibility in daylight and thought that good night sights and/or illuminated optics were preferable.
I was wrong. Several competitors on my squad in the staff match had laser grips on their handgun, and did far better than I did. As an RO, I witnessed how much faster competitors could engage small targets using handgun lasers. One stage required the shooter to use dual PVS-14 NODs inside a shoot house. The infrared laser sight on the stage guns (a suppressed Glock 17 and PWS Mk 1 SBR) were the only way to aim using those awesome goggles. I can’t even imagine trying to use a NOD-compatible sight (like an EOtech or Aimpoint) with NVGs. PWS also ran a side match using a select-fire Mk 1 SBR and a green MVF-515, in the daytime. The laser was quite visible.
Me, on Stage 6.
Handgun optics may be reliable, but they are (so far) a specialized option that’s out of reach to a lot of shooters. A laser is just as effective and far easier to install. They are (in my experience) more durable and less expensive.
Lasers can serve as an effective backup sight on a carbine with illuminated optics, and many of the newer green laser sights are very much visible in daylight. They may be a good tool to allow for accurate fire when the carbine can’t be shouldered to allow aiming down conventional sights. I look forward to doing more shooting with lasers to find out!