OPEN DIVISION: 3 Gun Divisions Break Down

Open Division is the almost anything goes division. When people use the term “race guns” they are often referring to Open Division equipment. There is a common misconception that buying expensive equipment is a substitute for skill.  Without the requisite skill level more advanced equipment can actually be a liability.  Open is a very competitive division, albeit usually smaller than Tac-Scope.  You must put the time in practice to do well in Open.

There’s also a misconception that Open Division guns aren’t “practical”. The truth is if you look at the features of current generation service weapons many would fall into Open Division if used competitively.  Many of the same concepts like dual optics on rifles, red dots on shotguns, and most recently now red dots on pistols are carrying over.

Again I will be referencing Superstition Mountain Mystery 3 Gun Rules as they generally set the standard for other major multigun matches. The current version of the rules apply the principle of if its not prohibited, it is legal.  Firearms must still comply with minimum caliber requirements and ammunition restrictions discussed in the Limited Division Article. In short .223 is minimum rifle caliber, 9mm minimum handgun caliber, 20 gauge minimum shotgun caliber. Generally no armor piercing or magnetic projectiles are allowed, this includes steel shot and bi-metal jacket projectiles.

Handgun Handgun holsters must safely retain the handgun during vigorous movement, and must completely cover the trigger. The belt upon which the handgun holster is attached must be worn at waist level. Shoulder holsters and cross draw holsters are prohibited.

Optics, compensators,  porting, and other modifications are all allowed.  Using a red dot on a pistol takes more practice and training than using iron sights.  Once mastered it offers some distinct advantages in speed and accuracy.


Travis Gibson’s Cameron’s Custom 2011. An example of a typical Open Pistol. Note C-More sideways to get lower to the bore. The optics and comps on Open Pistols often require specialized holsters.


Kelly Neal with Open Pistol equipped with Leupold Delta Point


Craig Outzen’s Open 2011 holstered with optic cover on to keep it clean between stages.


My Suarez International Glock 17 with Trijicon RMR and Viridian X5L Light/Laser and 33 Round Magazine. Take the mag out and replace with standard length and it could be used as a duty or carry gun in traditional holster. Any one of these features can make it an Open pistol. Weapon lights may or may not be allowed in Tac-Scope or Limited. Lasers count as an optical sight as does the RMR. Magazine length may not exceed 170mm.

Magazines can be 30mm longer than in Tac-Scope or Limited. Glock 33 rounders are over this length limit.  Some matches have no capacity restriction so open is truly open.  I typically just use my Limited length mags when competing in open with mag length restrictions because Open length mags/extensions are typically harder to find or more expensive.


More than one optic is allowed.  It is common to use a magnified optic on top and an offset red dot.  The down side to an offset red dot is most of the time they can only be used from the strong side shoulder.


Leupold sponsored shooter Kelly Neal with Open Rifle. Note variable optic on top and Delta Point mini red dot offset on handguard. Kelly tells me he uses the Delta Point to 25-50 yards depending on the stage and shoots through the scope for further distances.


Author’s Open CAV-15 MKII RIfle 2005. I had to drill and tap my free float tube to mount an OKO red dot sight offset with an ACOG on top.


Author with Open CAV-15 MKII Rifle 2009. Note Aimpoint Micro on Daniel Defense offset mount. There are now a number of purpose built options for mounting offset red dot sights.

Stacked Optics are another option for dual optics.  The down side is more bore offset and two different cheek welds.  The up side is it can be used off either shoulder.  I’m in the minority preferring stacked optics.  As a lefty I have to switch shoulders too often on stages designed for right handed shooters to use offset red dots all the time.  With a 50 yard zero the bore offset issue is minimized.


Leupold HAMR with Aimpoint Micro in Hahn Precision Mount


Eye on the red dot


Eye on the HAMR.  Rifle is a GWACS Armory CAV-15 MKII with 16″ Lightweight Barrel. Supporting devices (e.g. bipods) are permitted, and may start any stage folded or deployed at the participant’s discretion.

SMM3G Rules allow the removal or installation of the bipod at the shooter’s discretion.  Confirm that this is allowed at the match you are attending as this rule can differ.


Bipods aren’t useful as often anymore, but they’re a good thing to have in Open if you do find somewhere to use them. Mine is on a QD mount so I can pull it off when I don’t need it. A swivel pod is a must for use on uneven terrain.

Muzzle Devices

Compensators and Brakes larger than 1″x3″ are also allowed.  Most people in Open still use  comps/breaks that would be legal in Tac-Scope or Limited.


JP Enterprises Tank Brake-Open Division only.


JP Cooley Brake-Limited and Tac Scope Legal.  Also legal in Open if you want to use one.


Shotgun is perhaps the most radical departure in equipment from the other divisions.  Higher capacities and faster mechanical reloading methods set Open Division shotguns apart.  There is no limit on shotgun capacity in Open.


Travis Gibson with an Open Remington Versamax. Note extra long mag tube and optic. Speed loading devices and/or detachable box magazines are permitted.


Wyatt Gibson with Roth Concept Innovations “RCI-XRAIL” equipped Benelli. The XRAIL is an automatically rotating tube assembly. When one tube empties the next alligns to keep feeding. These can hold over 24 shells. X-Rail users often don’t feel the need to use speed loaders since they start with so many shells in the gun.  Photo by Pat Kelley

Magazine fed shotguns are often seen as a short cut to fast loading.  While this can be true, they still require practice and a more educated user because they have idiosyncrasies that tube feds do not.  The most common mistake I see new shooters make is buying a mag fed shotgun not understanding they are only allowed in open.  If you have a mag fed shotgun and no other open equipment, I would generally recommend getting a tube fed and shooting in Limited or Tac-Scope.  Or simply accept that you will be at a disadvantage and shoot for fun.


Saiga-12 in use by author 2012. With the sunset of the Assault Weapons Ban in 2004, the door was openned for magazine fed shotguns. They have become increasingly popular in recent years. A number of specialized companies make products for the Saiga-12 and the AKDAL MK1919 to turn them into competition shotguns.


Saiga-12 with 20 round MD Arms Drum 2009. When drums run they are great, but I found them to be too unreliable. Most mag fed shooters prefer straight insert mag wells for faster reloading than the traditional Saiga-12 rock-n-lock. Mag wells preclude the use of drums.


The VEPR-12 is probably the most cost effective shotgun to buy for open division. It comes with most of the features people were spending hundreds to add to Saiga-12s including: straight insert magazines and last round bolt hold open. The downside is there are fewer magazines available for them, and SGM magazines are likely to require end user repairs to work.


Johnny Lim of Limcat with his custom AKDAL MK1919. Note large capacity magazine fabricated by attaching multiple mags together. Photo by Sterling White.


Craig Outzen with his Firebird Precision Custom AKDAL MK1919


Craig Outzen with Firebird Precision custom AKDAL MK1919. Note mag pouch on his leg. Tubular speed loading devices must feature a primer relief cut.

Old Tech-loaders without the primer relief cut caused a few catostrophic failure of chain firing all the shells in a mag tube as the one at the rear discharged setting one off after another.  It has likely been almost 20 years since this design safety change has been made.


Jojo with his Open Benelli  set up to accept Tech-Loaders. Note the large speed ramp to help align the loaders, and quiver of loaders on his leg. Photo by Sterling White.

Red dots are a big advantage on Open shotguns for making slug hits at range.  Personally I find they help shoot close range target arrays faster as well.  With both eyes open using a red dot on a shotgun is like using an aimbot cheat code in first person shooter games.


Flying clays are not a problem to hit with both eyes open using a red dot.


Open Division is best for experienced competitors intimately familiar with their equipment.  If you only have a few of the open features it’s best to decide to either go all the way or down grade to another division.  Open is a very fun division to compete in at high round count matches like Ironman or Hard as Hell.  Less reloading and mechanical shotgun loading advantages make those kind of stages significantly faster.

About SinistralRifleman

I've been competing in the action shooting sports since 2002. I believe competition shooting to be an excellent way to build gun handling and marksmanship skills and encourage all gun owners to seek out some form of competition shooting. Anyone can become reasonably good at it if they devote the time and resources to do so. Winning, while nice, need not be your goal; bettering yourself through the pursuit of excellence is something we all can achieve.
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