3-Gun Ready AR-15 Builds with Bruce Piatt

Bruce Piatt 3-Gun Ready AR-15 Builds
ARBuildJunkies talks 3-Gun Ready AR-15 Builds with NRA World Champion Bruce Piatt.

Where do we turn when our readers want to learn about 3-Gun ready AR-15 builds? All roads lead back to Bruce Piatt.  Few have lived with the AR professionally for as long or as intensively as he has.

Why Bruce Piatt?

No exaggeration or hyperbole:  NRA World Shooting Champion Bruce Piatt is one of the world’s greatest living shooters, dominating the competition for almost 30 years.  Should you be interested in Bruce’s credentials when it comes to giving advice on 3-Gun ready AR-15 builds:

  • 2015 NRA World Shooting Championship winner
  • 5-Time Bianchi Cup National Champion
  • 2006 Bianchi Cup World Champion
  • 8-Time NRA Action Pistol Open/Metallic Aggregate National Champion
  • 5-Time Soldier of Fortune (SOF) World Tactical 3-Gun Champion
  • 4-Time Sportsman’s Team Challenge National Champion
  • 3-Time USPSA Multi-Gun National Champion
  • 20-Time USPSA Law Enforcement Division National Champion

ARBuildjunkie recently sat down with Bruce to give our readers some advice on what AR builders should focus on for their 3-Gun Ready AR-15 Builds…and share his history and perspective on the platform.

Bruce Piatt talks 3-Gun Ready AR-15 Builds.
Bruce Piatt with some of his work tools…

Q:  Bruce, can you give us a brief background on how you started shooting, and how you eventually started shooting with rifles like the AR-15?

A:  I grew up in New Jersey outside of New York City.  So you wouldn’t think I’d be a shooter, but I wanted to shoot since I was a little kid.  All I wanted to do was shoot.  Once I got old enough to get a drivers license and drive around, I wanted to shoot every match I could.

Back in the early 80s, 3-gun would have a rifle stage, a shotgun stage, and a pistol stage. It wasn’t like the 3-gun of today where you are transitioning from gun to gun.

1986 – Police Academy graduation photo

I did that as much as I could until 1986, I became a police officer.  In 1987, I was able to travel the country and start doing major matches, where I did well right off the bat.  Caspian was my first sponsor. They saw I was doing well and they picked me up and started helping me out, and it grew from there.  I did many different disciplines…dabbled in everything.   Anything that went bang, I wanted to shoot.

Q:  Can you describe what a 3-Gun Ready AR-15 build looked like back then.  Or, had you not gotten into the AR-15 at that point?

Bruce Piatt mini-14
Folding Stock Mini-14 – Photo courtesy of Sveeny’s Armory

When I started in the early 1980s, my first rifle was a folding stock mini-14 I had tried to modify suit my needs.  I was reading stuff, and I ended up trying to bed it and make it more accurate.  I also changed the front sight because it was too wide.  That helped quite a bit.

Most of the top guys were shooting .308 M1As back then.  It really burned their asses that I showed up and beat them all with a folding stock mini-14 (laughs).

Q:  The Soldier of Fortune 3-Gun Tactical Championship was a real eye-opener when it came to 3-Gun Ready AR-15 Builds.

When we talked to John Paul recently from JP Enterprises, he mentioned it was these shoots that make him realize what the AR-15 platform NEEDED to be. What was your experience with the SOF shoots?

A:  Soldier of Fortune matches were an excellent platform for learning, especially in the early 80s.  They had major and minor rifle. Most people shot minor, or 223.  That was because your rifle had to be a military caliber. It had to be a military adopted gun like the AR, and if you chose an optic, it had to be adopted by some military.  So at that time, for an AR,  it had to be an ACOG an Elcan or a Colt 3x that clamped on top of the carry handle.

Bruce Piatt shot an AR at a time when optics options included the colt 3x.
Colt 3x optic mounted on the carrying handle.  Photo via Loose Rounds

Remember, this was the early 80s where there were no flat-tops.  We were actually cutting off the handles and making flat tops back then…or you shot iron sights. I was on a limited budget, so I won every one of my Soldier of Fortune wins with iron sights.

As for the rifle, the first two wins I had at Soldier of Fortune were with a standard HBAR.  It was my first AR, and it was stock, right out of the factory.  But they were awesome guns, right from the factory.  They were all 20” guns.  All I did to it was a trigger job.

Looking back at all of those experiences, the big advice I would give is if you are going to spend money on a modification, it should be a quality trigger.

Q:  Can you describe what John Paul’s innovations, specifically the trigger, did for you?

A:  I got with John at JP Enterprises, and he had built me some guns that had a free float barrel…but he did awesome triggers.  He came out with probably the first adjustable trigger you could drop in and adjust it yourself.  I had him put it in and I was really happy with that trigger.  It just had such a clean break.  You can get a lot of triggers like that, but most triggers have a little bit of travel to them, but with his…I don’t know how he did it, but the one I had broke clean.

John Paul's single stage trigger for a 3-gun build.
Examples of single stage triggers from JP Enterprises.

It was fairly light, but when it reset, it reset with a click and it moved very little.  Your finger didn’t do anything…it just clicked on and it clicked off.  It’s very difficult to explain, but you knew instantly you were reset.  This was just such a sweet feeling.

In all my guns now, I like a crisp trigger on a rifle.  I can’t have any movement.  If I have any movement, I am not shooting accurately.  And let me be clear:  accuracy is key.

Slow(er) and Steady Wins the Race

One of my strengths is accurate shooting.  I’ve watched videos of myself shooting compared to other people.  I’m not real fast, it is just I am not missing.  Someon would have two or three misses, and especially in long range rifle shooting,  every miss is a second or more to fire a follow-up shot. I’m just going a little slower than them. but I am just hitting every single shot. You don’t even have to have a tack-driving rifle but you have to have a good trigger to shoot well.

3-Gun Ready AR-15 Builds with NRA World Champion Bruce Piatt

Q:  What should be our priorities, other than trigger, if we are wanting a 3-gun ready AR Build?

A:  Number one,  it has got to run. If you have any kind of malfunctions with it, that is no good.  Gas rings are key.  Above all, it is just a matter of getting out and testing them. That said, don’t skimp on quality.  Secondly, as I mentioned, is the trigger.  I can’t emphasize that enough. 


A:  Third priority for a builder in a 3-gun ready AR-15 should be accuracy. It does not have to be a tack driver. It somewhat depends on how far you are going to shoot.  If you are 400 yards and in, you can get away with a minute of angle gun.

Of course, you want the gun to shoot as best as you can.  But that also means using the right ammo that runs out of that gun.   That’s something to big to touch on for your readers. You have to take a gun and first break it in, just shoot it some and then find what ammo works for that gun.

Ammo Selection

A: Many people they get into ARs and right away they go out and they buy 77-grain bullets because the military uses them and they think they are going to shoot good.  I can’t get a 77-grain to shoot in most of my guns.  And forget about reloading them.  I can’t reload a 77-grain to get them to shoot, so finding the right bullet for your gun and the right load is crucial.

Buy a box of everything, if you are not reloading, and go out and test your gun after getting 300-400 initial rounds through it, then go out and test the ammo.


Now, if you are reloading, just stick with a quality bullet.  I’m recoil-sensitive.  77’s kick a lot.  You say “It is an AR, its not going to kick.”  Well, they kick if you want to shoot fast.  I like a lighter bullet.  I shoot 55-grain BlitzKings.  They are tack drivers.  If I have to shoot like a heavy, knock-over stage, then I shoot Sierra 69-grain.

Overview of the 55-grain Sierra BlitzKing

Q:  So, let’s say you’re going start a 3-Gun ready AR-15 build from the ground up.  What does it look like?

Up close look at Bruce’s favorite trigger for 3-gun.

A: Right now if I were to build a gun from scratch I would invest in a trigger.  Drop in is great.  The AR Gold trigger is awesome.  I like their safety mechanism and I like how they feel. People think its like a two stage but its not.  But whatever trigger you like and you go out and try.  Try someone’s gun, find what drop-in trigger you like, buy that.

3-Gun Ready AR-15 Build Barrel Selection

A: I would get a decent barrel that shoots good from a reputable manufacturer.  It does not have to be a $900 barrel.  Those are for high power shooters.

3-Gun Ready AR-15 Build Handguard

A: The next thing I would want for a 3-gun ready AR-15 is the longest handguard you can get on it.  Pretty much anything.  If your barrel touches anything while you are shooting, that shot is going to be off. It doesn’t take much pressure at all, so you want to protect that barrel from touching anything.

Obstacles like these where your barrel could potentially touch show the importance of a quality full length handguard.

It has happened to me in matches where I am on the hand guard and you are touching the barricade for support and you move a little bit and the barrel touches, and you miss by a lot as soon as you touch. Get the longest handguard you can get until you are up against the compensator.

3-Gun Ready AR-15 Build Muzzle Device

Jerry Miculek shows us how to install a Miculek Compensator

A:  You need a compensator, not just a flash hider.  I use a standard Jerry Miculiek Comp and I have for years.  There are a lot of comps out there. Each one feels a little different.  You can spend a whole bunch of money on them.  Whatever you get you will get used to it. What you don’t want, they make them real effective and they actually push the gun down…that’s the worst you can have.  I’d rather have a little lift than going down.

3-Gun Ready AR-15 Build Stock

Aero Precision A2 Fixed Stock- Black - MSRP - $49.99
Aero Precision A2 Fixed Stock- Black – MSRP – $49.99

A:  The rear stock?   I can shoot an A2 stock that’s fine by me.  That said, If you need a collapsible one, it should be whatever is comfortable for you. That’s the key.  Therefore, if you can get out and try somebody else’s gun before you invest the money that would be great.

3-Gun Ready AR-15 Build Optic

World Champion Shooter Bruce Piatt talks about his Burris XTR II and explains the BDC reticle.

A: Depends on how far you are going to shoot.  Some people that are building a strictly 100-yard match gun that’s fine…you can pretty much shoot a red dot.  But if you are going to go out and invest your money, go out and by a 1-8 and you are good.  For my purposes, I like the Burris XTR II.  I use the BDC reticle, and I have for years. Rather than try to guess the holdover with just a standard reticle, the BDC reticle has a series of lines that you sight in and you use those lines for every 100 yards…it is awesome.

It might not be exact for your bullet..it is always off an inch or two, but what I do is I zero for 300 yards.  I make my 300-yard line perfect.  Because that is the average long-distance shot at most 3-gun matches.  Now, you might be off an inch or two at 400 yards and at 100, but who cares…you’ll still hit any target that’s out there.

Bruce prefers the BDC reticle in optics for his 3-Gun Ready AR-15s.
Bruce prefers the BDC reticle in optics for his 3-Gun Ready AR-15s. 

Q:  In addition to your professional shooting career and your time in law enforcement, you stay busy with Bruce Piatt Training Concepts. Can you talk about that?

A:  I was a police officer for 28 years and I formed Bruce Piatt Training Concepts.  A lot of time there is spent time teaching 1911 build classes. The classes start with a box of parts that don’t fit, and I teach everyone how to build so at the end of a 5-day class, everybody hand-fits every part and they have a functioning gun at the end of the week.    Then, I also do some instructional training…mostly military units.  I’m supposed to be retired but I’m working more, it seems.

Q:  I’d imagine there’s a dramatic difference between the world of building 1911s and building ARs.

A:  Big difference.  Building an AR…once you know how, it is just swapping out parts.  There’s not much technical talent that you need.  Now, building a 1911, fitting all the parts…that takes some talent and know-how.  There’s not a 1911 part that comes out of a bag and gets dropped in the gun. Every single part gets tuned and adjusted some way.  Not so with the AR.

Q:  Finally, I’d be negligent to not ask you about the AR from your view as a law enforcement officer.  What’s been your overall impression of the platform?

The AR for police work is ideal.  Keep in mind, I was from New Jersey, so it was difficult for our police department to have ARs because of the mandated qualifications. But, once I convinced our chief it was worth it, we never looked back.

The AR, even the caliber, itself is safer than shooting pistols.  With the correct ammo, you have a lot less shoot-through. So, if you do miss and hit something, it does not penetrate as much as a pistol caliber.  9mm and .40s zip through walls, and 5.56 does not with the correct ammo.

Switching to an AR for Police Work

For years, we only had shotguns in the cars. One of the main reasons why my department allowed the rifles is we had active shooter training in the schools after Columbine. We went in our school and I took a laser rangefinder in. One of the hallways was 112-yards.  How could you ever cover that with a shotgun?  You can’t.  You have to have some kind of long gun.

As to what AR? everybody wants a short one like the 10.5” guns, but I think they are a little too short. You are losing a lot of ballistics there.  As long as you are within 100-yards, its ok, but I’d rather have a 14.5”.

Now, the downside to having an AR, if there is one,  is the sound.  Everybody goes to the range outside.  They shoot the AR and it is not an issue. Now without a suppressor, you go inside and start shooting…well, its deafening.  If you have to do it, you have to. But eventually, I think you will see more and more departments go with suppressors on all their guns.  Right now, I think a suppressed AR is the ideal rifle.


Tremendous thanks to Bruce Piatt for taking the time to speak with us about building a 3-gun ready AR-15. To keep up with the latest from Bruce, be sure to visit brucepiatt.com.

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