Unraveling the ‘mystery’ of Superstition Mountain
Tuesday, April 04, 2017
Why do they call it the Superstition Mountain Mystery 3-Gun? The first part is easy; the location of the match is in the backdrop of the beautiful Arizona Superstition Mountains. The "mystery" part is what makes this match fun and unique among all other three-gun events in the country.
The SMM3G, as it is lovingly known, was started in 1996. After 22 years, it's one of the largest and longest-running "outlaw" matches in the country, drawing more than 400 competitors every year. Due to its popularity, the match has a lottery process of getting into to it, and those lottery slots sell out in a matter of hours.
The SMM3G is held annually at my home range of the Rio Salado Sportsman's Club in Mesa, Arizona. I have enjoyed this match for the previous three years and can confidently say I have solved many of the match's "mysteries." Hidden throughout the match are prizes requiring you to look high and low as well as a "mystery" puzzle game given to each squad on their first stage of the day.
I will admit I am a bit of ringer when it comes to puzzle games. My wife is constantly playing puzzle games and enlists my help on a daily basis when she's stuck. I was able to navigate the puzzles on both days and walked away with a $250 Robar Firearms Finish certificate and a hard-sided travel case from Explorer Cases. I was also able to find a hidden prize for $50, which I found inside a stage prop.
I have been shooting with mostly the same squad for the previous three years, and after three years they have all but given up trying to race me to the prizes. The hidden prize element adds a lot of extra fun to the match and is unique to the SMM3G. I currently monopolize the hidden prizes, but I challenge all competitors next year to get their puzzle game and clue-finding skills in order during the offseason.
My haul of mystery prizes from the match.
The SMM3G features an exclusive division known as "stealth," now in its second year. The stealth class is essentially a blending of the tactical and open divisions.
Pistols must fit inside a box, which generally means you can choose to add an optic or an extended magazine in exchange. Rifles can have multiple optics and bipods but are capped at 30-round magazines. Finally, your shotgun can have optics, but the magazine tube must not exceed 23.5 inches and speed loaders are prohibited.
This division is a great way to experience some of the fun of optics on your firearms without the traditionally high ticket price of the open division. If my agency ever approves optics on my duty weapon, I'll be fully jumping into this division head-first.
Superstition Mountain affords the match directors the ability to offer shots out to 500 yards and then some. Multiple stages had you shooting anywhere from 20 to 30 shots with your pistol or shotgun before climbing a set of stairs or shooting off a vehicle at 300 to 500 yards.
SMM3G provided long-range stages throughout the match, such as these three targets at 360 yards.
I really enjoy this variety as it offers a little something for the "run-and-gun rabbits" and the "one shot" crowds. Few matches can blend the close distance and long range as seamlessly as the SMM3G.
The theme of the SMM3G match changes every year, and this year's theme of "American Heroes" was present throughout. The stages were dedicated to famous American heroes or well-known battles, and many unique and fun props were included to augment the theme.
Have you ever shot from a moving wooden horse? I can now include this accomplishment on my shooting resume. One stage had you place your rifle in a box side-saddle and mount up. Upon the start signal, you pulled the reigns of the horse causing it to buck forward and swing back and forth as you attempted to engage an array of targets with both rifle and pistol.
Riding high in the wooden saddle.
Ever wanted to engage in a Black Hawk Down style helicopter shootout? Yep, the SMM3G has you covered. The Rio Salado Sportsmen's Club has several helicopter fuselages, and they always make for one of the more interesting shooting platforms at the match.
This year's stage had you simulate pulling a pilot from the cockpit, which activated multiple steel and moving targets. After you defended the downed pilot, you took your rifle with you and engaged a large array of hidden rifle targets down a 40-yard stretch.
Navigating through the downed helicopter stage.
The SMM3G had a little fun with the American Heroes theme and featured a Batman-inspired stage. The stage started with you in the driver's seat of the Batmobile, complete with bat steering wheel and a suppressed, SBR stage gun provided by Amtac Suppressors.
After firing several rounds you discarded the SBR and headed to the trunk of the Batmobile. Upon opening the trunk, multiple swinging targets were activated. You engaged several racks of steel with your shotgun and a swinging clay stand before abandoning your shotgun and retrieving your rifle.
Several arrays of static paper targets and swinging targets were hidden inside the stage before you finally ran up a ramp into the bed of a truck and fired at steel 360 yards up the mountain from the wooden lights and sirens of the truck. This was a personal favorite stage of mine as I feel the Dark Knight would have been proud of my speedy stage time.
My squad from inside the Batmobile.
In between stages, competitors had a wide range of activities and vendors to visit. Last year, the Rio Salado Sportsmen's Club constructed a feature-rich building to house the shooters lounge and vendor area. The shooters lounge was sponsored by Trijicon and had coffee, water, snacks and fruit ready and free of charge to everyone. It's sometimes tough to grab a bite to eat and hydrate properly during a match, and being able to sit down in an air-conditioned building and recharge was a literal oasis in the desert during the match.
Several vendors were showing new products, and one that really had me salivating was the new "Elite" trigger from Timney. 3-Gun Nation Champion Tommy Thacker demonstrated the new features of the trigger, including a 1.5-pound trigger pull that still delivered full hammer strikes, and most ingeniously a multi-directional rotating trigger bar that allows you to custom set it to your individual trigger position. This trigger has a long wait list, and I look forward to getting mine for a future full review.
New Timney Elite trigger and safety on display.
Overall match sponsor POF-USA was debuting their new Revolution .308 rifle, and it delivered the one feature that is first and foremost to me in a .308 rifle: weight. The new rifle is championed itself as weighing the same as a standard AR-15, coming in at 7.3 pounds. I was shocked at what POF was able to accomplish in not only a .308 rifle but a gas piston rifle at that. I wasn't able to shoot the rifle, but if it shoots as promised I may be making a foray into the Heavy Metal Division soon.
Quarter Circle Ten, KE Arms and Vltor ran a separate side matches allowing you to test your skills with a pistol caliber carbine on a plate rack and spinner target — is shooting a spinner ever fun? Aero Precision, Ballistic Advantage and VG6 Precision hosted a free-range table that included suppressed and full auto firearms.
NFA items such as suppressors, SBRs and full auto are always crowd pleasers, and every shooter had a huge smile on his/her face after shooting one of them. I have a love-hate relationship with full-auto firearms and am required to utilize three-round burst as part of my M4 qualification at work.
VG6 Precision featured a new muzzle brake dubbed the Gamma 556 on one of their full-auto SBR rifles. I prepared to shoot the weapon in my normal aggressive full-auto stance in preparation of controlling the weapons steep climb. I was pleasantly surprised when the rifle appeared to only recoil in a straight back-and-forth manner with little effort on my part. I was even more pleasantly surprised when I won the Gamma 556 in the daily raffle and look forward to putting it through additional testing (I told you I monopolize the prizes).
After three days of shooting and 11 stages, all competitors headed to the main shooting complex for everyone's favorite part of the match: the $300,000 prize table. The scores were tallied, and my fellow Arizona law enforcement partner Kelly Neal won the overall match competing in the Stealth Division. Neal was awarded a brand new POF Revolution .308 rifle and a specialty Tomahawk by POF President and Owner Frank DeSomma.
POF-USA Owner Frank DeSomma presenting a Revolution .308 and Tomahawk to overall match winner Kelly Neal.
The SMM3G doesn't just reward winners; it also rewards those who show up and test themselves against the competition. The "Last Man Standing" award is for the shooter who completes every stage but finishes last in the match. This year a lucky (or unlucky) shooter was awarded free match entry into next year's event, 500 rounds of ammunition from Fiocchi and a complete rifle from Aero Precision. No one wants to finish last, but at least one competitor left with a smile instead of total frustration.
After the many awards and raffles, I was faced with one final challenge at the match: the always-pressure-filled prize table decision.
The SMM3G throws one last curveball at you before you head out the door. There are "mystery" ammo cans spread throughout the prize table, and it was declared to everyone that several of these cans contained rifles and suppressors or almost nothing at all.
The $300,000 epic prize table.
I had a few mental errors resulting in some bad stages but still managed to finish in a respectable order. My dilemma was to either take a known prize or take my chances and spin the mystery ammo can wheel. It broke my heart to walk past many upper receivers, hundreds of dollars in gift certificates and the like, but I figured with my luck, a suppressor or rifle was assured.
I selected my can and went back to my group of friends to open my spoils. When I cut the zip tie, I knew a certificate was awaiting me, but alas, it was a T-shirt and a few other small prizes. I had a laugh with my buddies and vowed next year to only collect mystery prizes from the stages and not the prize table.
I hope next year I'm one of the lucky 400 to be drawn for the match and invite anyone who hasn't partaken in the match to throw your name in the hat and experience all the fun and "mystery" the SMM3G has to offer.
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