Suarez International Ultimate Combat Rifle Camp


At the end of May I had the opportunity to attend the Suarez International Ultimate Combat Rifle Camp in Prescott, AZ taught by Gabe Suarez himself.  The class was an over view of a lot of subjects related to use of the rifle in a fighting role from basic manipulations, stances and ready positions to close range gun fighting, intermediate distance shooting, and basic team tactics.  The class was 4 days long and required a minimum of 1000 rounds.  While I have been using Suarez gear since 2010, and I have been representing the Suarez Group at shooting competitions since 2012, this was the first Suarez class I have taken.


Gabe discusses close range use of the rifle.

I have taken a lot of tactical/defensive training from various sources over the years, so some of the material was similar to what I had been exposed to before.  Shooting fast and effectively is shooting fast and effectively: I have little difficulty switching from match mindset to tactical training mindset.


Shooting and moving drills at close range

Learning New Things

Some portions of the class were a significant departure from what I had experienced before.  Particularly when it came to employing the rifle fast and efficiently off both shoulders at close range while moving.  I could see the benefit to Gabe’s method within the context he was teaching it.  Gabe’s methodology for transitioning shoulders is based upon making reasonably good hits at close ranges while moving; the methodology I had been previously taught was based upon working around barricades and making more accurate hits on targets at 50 yards+.  So while what I had been taught before wasn’t necessarily wrong, it was less efficient in this context and I found myself struggling to unlearn the process I had practiced for so many years.


Gabe doing some durability testing of the GWACS CAV15 MKII with KE Arms lightweight upper.

Gabe himself isn’t an absolutist and looks at all techniques with a critical eye.  He cautioned the class to beware the instructor that tells students there is only one way that is the best way for all situations at all times.  The techniques and procedures Gabe teaches have been worked on and refined at multiple levels; range work, force on force, and sometimes validated in actual gun fights. 0003 008 The students in this class were very, good particularly for the number present.  Normally classes have one goofball for every 8-10 students, and this class had none.  Everyone that came was serious and safe about their gun handling.  The students  represented a broad cross section of Americans; farmers, construction workers, photographers, law enforcement, and other gun industry people like myself.


Transition to Pistol vs Reload Rifle at Close Range? Pistol transition always beat reloading the rifle.

Instructional Method


Gabe running the new Suarez Direct Action Lower with Recce Upper.

Gabe’s instructional method is very adult education oriented.  Techniques are discussed in detail, then demonstrated cold, then demonstrated live.  Students then try the techniques cold, receive correction as necessary, then try techniques live, then receive more correction as necessary.  This is a stark contrast to other venues I have attended where it was almost as if the instructors wanted students to fail so they could yell at them and “add stress”. There was none of that present in Gabe’s class.  People were professionally informed of what they needed to correct both on and off the range and that was all.  In some cases I saw people struggle with physical limitations and fatigue by the fourth day.  Gabe simply told them to dial back on the speed and do things safely and not hurt themselves. They’re there for knowledge and getting hurt doesn’t help learning. Gabe is a wealth of information for firearms instructors to learn how to teach and manage classes.  I learned a lot about how to improve my own classes by observing this one and in my discussions with him.


Team work drills started the end of the third day and carried through the fourth and final day.

Team Drills

Gabe told us that part of learning to use a rifle effectively is employing it as part of a group.  If a disaster did occur that resulted in the break down of social order, as has happened a few times in recent history, the ability to defend one’s family and friends may be dependent upon working as  a group.  Some students posed the question, “what do we do if the people we are with have no training”…Gabe’s answer was in that kind of situation it would be incumbent upon the most experienced person to give instruction and direction.  There are a lot of people that are decent enough at doing things, that simply need the go ahead from someone to take action.

Movement and communication procedures were discussed and practiced along with patrolling formations and react to contact drills.  These were not comprehensive, but meant as an introduction to concepts should students want to take higher levels of training.  Everything was rehearsed dry several times before going live. One thing that became apparent to me during this portion of the class is that most people don’t like telling others what to do, or were uncertain how much direction they should be giving.  After seeing some team mates struggle with this, I filled in as “squad leader” for our group.  I had some previous experience doing similar activities in other venues so that definitely helped.  Being mentally aware and confident in ones own abilities and equipment allows looking at a larger picture and giving the team direction.

Range Conditioning Russell-07 Aside from the knowledge gained at the course, it was a great physical prep for doing the Ironman 3 Gun a week later.  Wearing 50 pounds of gear running around in 100 degrees for 4 days and shooting 1200 rounds of rifle in a tactical class was remarkably good practice for doing the same thing a week later in the match environment.  Normally the first few stages at a big event I feel like I’m getting settled in, this time I felt primed and ready to go.

Should You Take This Class?

People interested in the martial application of the rifle would benefit from taking this class.  How much so depends on your previous level of training.  What I can say definitively though is Gabe runs his classes professionally and he is serious about delivering a quality product to his customers.  There aren’t a lot of people teaching professionally today that have won multiple gun fights as a lone individual (not part of a fire team or SWAT unit).  Gabe is one of the few that has.  I am willing to make the assumption that this makes his training more relevant for the private citizen than many other venues.


Author (left), Gabe Suarez (center), Ian McCollum of Forgotten Weapons (right)

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How to Shoot Propeller Plate Rack

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May 2015 Local Matches

2 Gun Action Challenge

5th/52 Shooters

Phoenix Rod and Gun 3 Gun

1st place open with 379 match points, I won 3 of the stages

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KE Arms/KE15 Rifle

KE Arms has brought me on board as Marketing Director after shooting SMM3G 2015 with them.  I’m excited to be part of a company with such impressive manufacturing capabilities and quality people.  Amongst other things I will be coordinating match sponsorships for the company and shooting events.

FullSizeRenderI got my rifle from KE Arms back in November of 2014.  You may notice some differences  in parts in some of the photos.  In the months leading up to SMM3G 2015, KE Arms brought several new products to market.  I added them to my rifle as they became available.  Consequently I did a few different photo sessions.  KE’s ability to bring new products to market with such speed is one of the reasons I chose to accept employment with them.

Here’s a break down of the components on my rifle I used at SMM3G

R-003The Flared Mag Well lower makes reloads on the move or under duress much easier. Fumble factor is reduced significantly.

The NP3 coating on the upper and lower simplifies cleaning making it a simple wipe down process.

R-007The KE Arms Match Trigger is a crisp 4.5 pounds with short reset.  This is one of the products that came on line after I initially received the rifle.  The JP Pins and KNS pins pictured in these photos are not required, I simply prefer them as an extra level of security to keep Murphy at bay.

KE Arms ambi selector.  Another product that came out after my initial build.  There are  several variations that allow the user to choose the right feel.  Each selector has a long arm and a short arm that can be configured for left or right handed shooters.

Opposite side showing long arm configured for left handed shooter.

Receiver end plate accepts HK style hooks or QD Swivel.

With HK Style hook attached.

PMAG extensions add +5 rounds on 30 rounders or +6 on 40 rounders.  46 round magazines mostly eliminate the need to reload on normal 3 Gun Match stages, but cannot be used in the prone position.

Delta-S Keymod handguard.  The Delta-S is lightweight and cools fast

BCM Keymod socket attached
BCM Vertical Fore Grip attached.  One of the cooler Keymod accessories I have used.

R-010Ergo Grip Keymod covers in place.  The ergo covers give a nice positive grip and offer some protection to unused section of the handguard.

We have a lot more products in development that I look forward to putting into use on the range!

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Superstition Mountain Mystery 3 Gun Match 2015

The Superstition Mountain Mystery 3 Gun Match (SMM3G) is held annually at the Rio Salado Sportsman’s Club in Mesa, AZ.  It is the longest running active 3 Gun match in the country with the most competitors.  This year over 390 competitors participated. KE Arms generously provided me with a sponsor slot for the match and a rifle to evaluate by using it at the match.  I will be doing a full write up on the rifle in a separate article.  To get ready for the match I used the  guns I would be using there at as many local matches as I could.  I also took a Rifle/Pistol competition class from Kelly Neal two weeks before SMM3G using the same rifle and handgun I would use there.

The Guns

Here are the guns I used to compete in Open Division:11091344_343831852473208_1008908448906077055_n Shotgun: VEPR-12 Shotgun with Vortex SPARC 2.  I started with 13 rounds in the shotgun, and a second 12 round mag clamped together with the first.  Extra reloads were with MOLOT 8 round magazines from Legion USA

Pistol: Suarez International Glock 17 with Trijicon RMR and Suarez’s new suppressor sights.  I use Limited length mags that hold 20 rounds.

Rifle: KE Arms KE15 with competition funnel mag well and NP3 coating on the upper, lower, and Delta-S free float keymod handguard.
KE Arms Duty 4# Trigger
16″ Daniel Defense Barrel
Suarez International Kompressor
Nightforce 1-4X Scope Harris 9-13S Bipod (used on one stage).

I’d say my shotgun is the closest thing to a true Open Division gun.  The pistol is somewhere in between open and tactical.  The rifle could be a Tac-Scope rifle if I didn’t use a bipod.  However, any one feature from a higher level division bumps a competitor into that division.

Staff Match

I chose to shoot through with the match staff so I could work on various media projects while the main match was in progress.  Shooting through with the staff gives one an appreciation of how much effort goes into a match of this size.  Planning and logistics for the next year’s match begin almost as soon as this year’s match is over.  Stages are designed well in advance  and concepts tested at the club level match leading up to it.  Setting the stages up takes a lot of man power and time before the match starts.

The staff match starts at 6AM two days before competitors arrive.  Staff shoot until dusk the first day, and until done in the afternoon the second day.  The focus when shooting the stages in the staff match is to proof them out; make sure props will work, targets will function and stay in place, safety issues are resolved, and stage descriptions make sense.  There is always something to be fixed on every stage.

It is readily apparent what starts out as fun turns into work and by the end all the staff simply want to be done shooting. I would be surprised if anyone that shoots the staff match is truly competitive and on their A-game. The compressed schedule and different mental focus makes it almost a different event entirely.  Another factor is that there aren’t as many shooters to observe and plan stages.  The more people you get to watch the more potential solutions and problems you can see before your turn to shoot.  There were several things in retrospect that I wish I had done differently after observing more shooters during the regular match.


The match theme this year was Back to the Future. All the stages incorporated elements from the film trilogy. The shooters bags all included some goodies at the start: PMAG30, KE Arms +5 PMAG extension with SMM3G engraving, Prolix gun cleaning products.


Here’s my match in the order the stages were shot:

Day 1 Morning Stages

One thing I noticed on Stage 2 was most of my squad hit the moving no-shoot at the back when it leveled out on the track.  I think the change in direction resulted in people pulling the shots as they were leading expecting it to keep going in the first direction.

Day 1 Afternoon Stages

On Stage 3 I wish I had shot the steel first then the hangman.  Watching other shooters this made sense in retrospect; get settled in on the big targets.  Get solid behind the rifle and on the optic then shoot the small pipe.  Interesting challenge nonetheless.

On Stage 4 I shot conservatively because I saw others struggle on the timing.  This was definitely a stage where the more you saw it shot, it was easier to understand the timing of all the activators.

Stage 6 ended up getting thrown out because it took too long to reset during the regular match.  By the end of day two a full squad was backed up.


Loose gear? Stuck casing? Debris in your fire control? Luckily I had my Honor Point JACS with all my Trooper Division equipment to support the squad with gun maintenance and fixes.

Day 2 Stages

Day 2 started out very windy with with wind speeds of 15-30mph.

Stage 7 was my worst stage of the match.  I couldn’t tell where I needed to hold with the white backers  behind the targets.  I’m not sure it would have mattered anyway with thw winds being so inconsistent anyway.  I saw a lot of people struggle on this stage for similar reasons.  Others lucked out and had no wind to deal with.  That’s simply how it goes sometimes shooting in field conditions and the elements are unavoidable.

The rest of the stages went fairly smoothly for me.  The only malfunction at the match for me was with the VEPR-12 after switching to slugs there was one failure to eject.


I use the “load 8 system”: 8 round VEPR-12 magazines in chest rig when the 25 rounds on the shotgun at start aren’t enough.


Many of the  names here may be recognizable.  The top of the charts here is a who’s who of competitive shooting.  SMM3G has the highest concentration of exceptional shooters out of any match I attend.


The last time I shot open division at SMM3G in 2010 I was 24th out of 59 shooters. I shot Limited division at the match the past few years.  This year I ended up 28th out of 82 shooters in open. And that’s with all the inherent difficulties of shooting the staff match. My goal was to break into the top 30 so I am content with that. Maybe next year I can break into the top 20.  Being 35.106% slower than Jerry Miculek is doing pretty decent as far as I’m concerned.

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Interviews at Superstition Mountain Mystery 3 Gun 2015

I did some interviews at SMM3G last week with other competitors.

3 Gun History

Eric and Kurt Miller have been shooting 3 Gun for 20 years, including the original SOF matches that started it all. In this interview we discuss how the sport has evolved over time. Unfortunately I was too young at the time to have competed in SOF 3 Gun, and I feel like I missed out.

I do wonder how popular a match where all the stages were semi-surprise format would be today? The few events I have been to that have had blind stages I scored disproportionately higher on those stages than I did on others at the same match. I agree with them that the surprise stage format really levels the playing field.

Shotgun Reloading

We can argue about the real world practicality of shotguns and these techniques, but for the purposes of the game it is a large part of it and necessary to be competitive in most divisions.

Kurt Miller is one of the elder statesmen of 3-Gun. In this video we discuss how 3-Gun reloading techniques have evolved and why he reloads the way he does.

Jay Carillo is relatively new to the 3 Gun world, but he has a passion for it and has moved up the ranks fairly quickly. He explains how he loads 4 shells at a time in this interview:

Notice they both agree that the load 2 or load 4 system is easier for novices to master in less time. Either way if you’re using a tube fed it would make sense to have both the shell caddies and load 2 or 4 systems available depending on the match. At a match like SMM3G there are few liabilities for the newer systems. At a match like Hard as Hell crawling through tunnels, well the floor of the tunnel was littered with broken shell carriers.

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February-March 2015 Local Matches

Rio Salado Sportsmans Club Multigun Match 2-14-2015

First match using the KE Arms Rifle and Nightforce 1-4x Optic
3rd/22 Open. 9th/87overall

Rifle:KE15 16″ Barrel
KE Arms Match Trigger
KE Arms Delta-S Handguard
Suarez International Kompressor
Voodoo Innovation Competition Lightweight Bolt Carrier Group

VEPR-12 with Vortex SPARC II
(It needs a deep cleaning and scrubbing of the gas ports)

2 Gun Action Challenge Match 3-21-2015

5th/63 Shooters Over All

Same KE15 rifle as above and my Suarez International Glock 17 with RMR.

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