Soldier headed to 3-Gun Nation
February 27, 2014
FORT JACKSON, S.C. (Feb. 27, 2014) -- A Soldier at Fort Jackson is hoping to take his hobby to the professional level.
Staff Sgt. Sergio Hernandez, of the 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, is competing Saturday in Clinton, S.C., in the Southeast Regional Championship for 3-Gun Nation. As the name suggests, competitors in 3-Gun contests use a trio of weapons: A modern sporting rifle on an AR-platform, a handgun, and a shotgun at different stages in the event. Competitors engage a variety of targets from different shooting positions.
"I've been shooting competitively for two years," said Hernandez, a 2007 graduate of the U.S. Army Sniper School. He took those skills with him for a tour in Iraq, which is where he said he "really fell in love with shooting."
But, the skills taught in Sniper School were much different than those needed to compete in 3-Gun events, he said.
"As a sniper, it's more about patience and accuracy," Hernandez said. "There's no speed involved."
3-Gun is still a growing sport, he said. Hernandez is one of two Soldiers on post competing in shooting events in South Carolina, but competitors have been known to travel from around the country to take part.
Hernandez said he hopes to eventually be able to compete as a professional. Regional matches, like the one in Clinton, run on a two-day format, with participants competing for $150,000 in prizes per event.
"First place for this competition is going to take $20,000," he said. "You've got a lot of the manufacturers ... that have donated money and items. Going pro would open me up for sponsorships. For each major match, I'm spending $500 to $600 just for entry fees."
He saves money by manufacturing his own ammunition, which he said costs him 21 cents per round. He's also built his own rifle for competition.
Still, honing the kinds of skills required to successfully compete in 3-Gun doesn't come easily.
"There are no ranges around South Carolina that let you practice like that," he said. "The only practice I do is in my garage. All I do is dry fire. I run around in my garage and little yard, and that's where I get my practice in. I'll have my neighbors look at me like, 'What is this guy doing?'"
Hernandez said he didn't have much experience with pistols and shotguns, which proved to be a problem in early competitions.
"They're all hard," he said. "Each one has its different challenges. I spent a year doing nothing but pistol, because I was horrible with the pistol. Then, after doing U.S. Practical Shooting Association for about a year, I competed with the South Carolina sectional last year. After that, I decided it was time to switch from one discipline to the next."
His first competition was in Summerville, S.C. He finished in last place.
"I actually got beat by a 10-year-old in the match," he said. "I had to up my game after that."
Since then, he's been slowly climbing in the rankings. He competed in his first 3-Gun match last year in North Carolina, which also proved to be a rude awakening.
"I was way out of my league," he said. "I was running a regular rifle, a Smith and Wesson M&P40, and a pump-action shotgun ... which is not as fast as a semiautomatic shotgun. Guys were just blowing past me. In USPSA and 3- Gun, it's all about accuracy and speed. There are two of the core foundations of it."
Things have since improved. He placed ninth in his last 3-Gun competition, and has since been working to prove his skills with a pistol.
The upcoming event is expected to attract more than 200 competitors, he said.
"I'm pretty nervous about it," he said. "I hear there's going to be the top shooters there. I'm going to be the underdog and won't be as famous as some of those guys. ... If I come in the top 20, I'll have the chance to compete in more major events throughout the country."