Subguns Are Fun Guns

The author sets the learning curve to full auto at his very first submachine gun competition.


It’s the first stage of my first match and I’m nervous. The range officer asks, “Shooter ready?” and I nod, almost reluctantly. The buzzer sounds and I raise my Uzi submachine gun, sight in on a plate rack downrange, and trigger a burst. The staccato bark of my gun marks the start of my first-ever subgun competition.

A lineup of subguns at a competition includes a mix of Uzi SMGs and modified MAC buzzguns.

I was at the Michigan subgun match because I wanted to do something with my registered fullauto Uzi more interesting than “busting dirt” at the local gravel pit. A submachine gun competition sounded like the challenge I needed.
ALTHOUGH I WAS NEW to the sport, the sport itself is not new. Organized submachine gun competitions have been around since at least the 1980s. The events, while never as well known as other “run and gun” sports such as IPSC, have maintained a mix of die-hard supporters and new blood. The basic requirement is for a fullauto-capable gun that fires a pistol-caliber cartridge.

The longest continuously running SMG match in existence is the Knob Creek Range National Subgun Competition held in West Point, Ky., each April and October. The match is part of a larger event at the Knob Creek Range that includes a machine gun shoot, huge gun show, and other competitions. Shooters from all over the country compete in what has become the defacto national title match for subgun shooters.

Three Uzis and a Thompson (second from the top) on the table at a match. The Uzi is popular due to its availability, reliability, accuracy, and ability to accept accessories.

The KCR match has evolved over the years: The early match format featured a single long stage where shooters moved along a predesignated path while engaging targets along the way. Over time the match changed to a more efficient multistage format that allowed match directors to work in different challenges, while also being quicker to reset. The original format still survives as the “Jungle Walk” side match.

The match has also changed to keep up with technology. The advent of “slow fire” kits for the MAC series of SMGs offered advantages to seasoned shooters and also made it easier for new shooters to get into the game by making those less expensive guns competitive. These changes are reflected by alterations in course design, rules, and how guns are classified for the match.

A shooter with a Thompson SMG at a match.
A shooter advances to engage a target array.

THE MATCH FORMAT will seem familiar to anyone who has shot in an IPSC or 3-gun competition. Most matches are multistage with three to five shooting positions in each stage. The targets are a mix of steel, other reactive targets such as bowling pins, and paper targets. Obstacles, barricades, and “no shoot” targets are used to round out the course. The round count can be as low as 150 rounds for a good shooter, and up to over 500 rounds for those of us who miss a lot.

One difference is that most matches require that the gun be fired only in full-auto mode for the whole match. This rewards those shooters with good trigger manipulation skills who can fire short bursts or even single shots on demand. Although this is the best way to shoot most targets, the shooter might be instructed that certain target arrays can only be shot with a single long burst. This benefits those who are also good at keeping the gun on target while firing a long burst or even a full mag dump.

A close up of an Uzi with the selector in the “A” for auto position.

Scoring is based on the shooter’s time and modified by penalties for things such as missed targets, insufficient hits on paper targets, lower scoring hits on paper targets, and hits on “no shoot” targets.

Many matches feature scenarios or an overriding theme. One scenario at a recent KCR match required competitors to try to rescue a downed pilot in enemy territory and included a stage with a large helicopter mock-up as a shooting position.

A pair of Uzis at a match. The top gun sports an optic and vertical grip.

At the KCR match, guns are divided into classes based on their method of operation and sighting system. The classes are Open Bolt/Iron Sights for guns like the Uzi or MAC with stock sights, Open Bolt/Optics for those same guns if they mount any type of optical sight, Closed Bolt/Iron Sights for guns like the MP-5 or 9mm M-16 and Closed Bolt/Optics, for those guns when they mount optics.

Other matches may use an older system that divides guns up by date of design (pre- or post-1945), open or closed bolt, sight system (irons or optics), or rate of fire (below or above 900 rounds per minute) or they may use a different classification system altogether.

Safety is paramount at all matches. Any shooter who has an accidental discharge or breaks the 180-degree rule, pointing the barrel in an unsafe direction, is immediately disqualified. One special rule commonly used is that shooters are not allowed to backtrack once they have moved even a single step forward. This is to reduce the chance of a shooter tripping while holding a loaded full-auto firearm.

The author fires his Uzi at steel poppers at the Michigan Subgun Match.

THE BEST WAY TO GET STARTED with subgun matches is to enter a competition like the Jungle Walk side match at Knob Creek. This is because the range will actually rent you a submachine gun for the match. For only $40 you get a Uzi or 9mm M-16 and 50 rounds of ammo. You then get to take a nice walk in the woods while looking for 18 swinging steel targets that are usually rusty and hard to spot. A range officer follows you the whole time and once you’ve completed the course he’ll help you safe the gun, tell you how many targets you hit and your time. The winner each day is the shooter who hit the most targets (usually all 18) in the fastest time.

Aside from the Jungle Walk, or a really good friend who will loan you his gun, the other way to get started in submachine competition is to jump in with both feet and buy your own gun.

While all the details of how to legally buy a submachine gun are beyond the scope of this article, machine gun ownership is legal in most states, and the required ATF paperwork and procedures are really not that difficult to complete.

The bad news is that the guns aren’t cheap. That is because private citizens can only own those machine guns that were manufactured and registered with the ATF before May 19, 1986. Since this limits the available supply, the law of supply and demand has kicked in over the past 30-plus years, and prices have steadily risen in that time.

Although the initial expense may shock you, an entry level but still competitive SMG can be obtained for just a bit more than what it would take to purchase a complete three-gun setup. By the time you add up the costs of a quality AR, optics, an auto-loading shotgun, a handgun, slings, mag pouches, and other gear, you aren’t that far off from the price of a MAC series SMG and a slow fire conversion kit.

A competitor shooting an Uzi in the Optics division at the Michigan Subgun Match.

Of course, if you have the cash, other guns such as the Uzi, MP-5, Sterling, Thompson, etc., are out there and are suitable for competition. Aside from the gun, all you really need are extra magazines, mag pouches, and lots and lots of ammo! ASJ

Editor’s note: The author wants to thank Paul Winters and Todd L. for their help with this article.

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