- It’s fun. Really, really REALLY fun
- It helps familiarize yourself with your pistol of choice
- It improves your accuracy under stressful conditions
- You meet great people
- It’s better exercise than sitting on the couch
- It’s mentally challenging
- It helps prepare you to react to situations with your gun
- You’ll quickly learn what works with your gun and what doesn’t
- You’ll find out what skills you need to train to get better with your gun
So why do you shoot action pistol matches?
We’ve talked about what the IDPA Classifier is, now let’s talk about how to shoot it well.
This is my scoresheet from the last Classifier I shot. I really wanted to make Sharpshooter in Stock Service Pistol (SSP) Division with this classifier, but I fell short. Fortunately for me, I know why I didn’t make it and what I need to do to improve. For the past few years, I’ve had a practice regimen that is more about developing my skills overall, so this is the first time I’ve had to practice with a specific goal in mind.
Guess where I need to improve…
If you guessed “Stage Three”, you’re right! Stage Three is all about making longer-range shots from 20 and 15 yards, and it’s the only part of the Classifier where you’re shooting around cover. So not only are you making longer shots, you’re making them from positions that are more awkward than the other parts of the course of fire.
It’s like they’re planning on messing with your head or something…
Breaking it down, with one exception, (a missed headshot on my third shot on Stage One), the first two stages are, in my opinion, an accurate reflection of my current shooting skill, so there’s not a lot of room for improvement there. However, I know I can shoot Stage Three better than I did, because I have.
So what did I do wrong?
For starters, I concentrated on the wrong thing. I’ve been shooting a fair amount of USPSA as of late, and the rules for changing the magazines in your gun in that sport are different than they are in IDPA. In USPSA, it’s perfectly ok to let a partially-full magazine hit the ground, in IDPA, that’s cause for a 10 point procedural penalty. As I was preparing myself for the stage, I was worrying about my reload, not concentrating on slowing down and making sure I got my shots.
Secondly, I rushed my shots. While I took more time for each shot than I did in the other two Stages, the fact is, it wasn’t enough: I could have slowed down even more and made doubly sure that my sight alignment and trigger press were there for each shot, but instead, I rushed things a bit and paid the price for my haste.
Whoops. Let’s break down my breakdown on Stage Three even more.
|My Classifier Score|
|Stage||Time||Points Down||Score||Total Time||Time Remaining*|
* Time remaining is the time I have (before penalties) to complete the Classifier in order to have a score that will push me into Sharpshooter.
61 points down on that stage includes five missed shots, and at 10 penalty points per shot, that translates into 25 seconds taken off my score. Had I made those shots, that would have put me at 130 seconds for the course of fire and into Sharpshooter.
Hence my problem. I have to balance the speed of my shots with the accuracy of those shots so I come to a balance where I can do better on that last stage. I shot it in 49.03 seconds, and I don’t think there’s much room for improvement right now with my movement speed between the barricades or getting my gun out of my holster quickly, so any improving my score has to come from improving my shot accuracy.
What this means is that 49 seconds is my par time for practices this stage, and the 15.2 seconds of remaining time translates into 30 max penalty points I can possibly have on Stage Three in order for me to make Sharpshooter. This really should not be a problem, as that’s three times the points down I had on Stage Two.
Fortunately, I know how fast I shot each string of fire on Stage Three, so that gives me a par time that I can use in my practice sessions, and the 15 seconds time remaining tells me how accurate I need to shoot to make Sharpshooter.
Breaking it down, here’s what my practice drills will need to in order to make everything work.
|Stage Three||Drill Time||Max. Points Down Allowed|
Intimidating, but I know I can turn and shoot three targets clean at 10 yards in under 11 seconds with a reload, so shooting it at 20 yards in under 19 seconds should not be a problem. As with just about everything in practical shooting, I can do what’s required to be successful, all I need to do is do it on demand while the timer is running.
And that’s the hard part.
IDPA is a fast-growing shooting sport that is more focused on “defensive” situations than other shooting sports such as USPSA. People competing in IDPA are sorted according to how well they shoot the IDPA Classifier, a standardized course of fire that is the same for shooters around the world and allows people of equal skill to compete against each other.
The Classifier stage setup looks something like this:
The course of fire is as follows:
|Stage One||7 Yards||30 Shots|
|String 1||Position #1 Draw and fire 2 shots to the body and 1 to head on T1.||3 shots|
|String 2||Position #1 Draw and fire 2 shots to the body and 1 to head on T2.||3 shots|
|String 3||Position #1 Draw and fire 2 shots to the body and 1 to head on T3.||3 shots|
|String 4||Position #1 Draw and fire 2 shots at each head T1 – T3.||3shots|
|String 5||Position #1 Start gun in “WEAK” hand pointed down range at a 45 degree angle, safety may be off, but finger must be out of trigger guard, fire 1 shot at each T1 – T3.||3 shots|
|String 6||Position #1 The shooter will load three rounds maximum in the handgun and begin standing, facing up-range (back to target). On the start signal, the shooter will turn, draw, and engage targets T1 through T3 with one round each. The shooter will then perform a slide- lock reload and re-engage targets T1 through T3 with one round each.||6 shots|
|String 7||Position #1 Draw and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 “STRONG” hand only.||6 shots|
|Stage Two||10 Yards|
|String 1||Position #2 Draw and advance toward targets, fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 while moving forward (all shots must be fired while moving) there is a forward fault line at the 5 yds line for this string||6 shots|
|String 2||Position #3 Draw and retreat from targets, fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 while retreating (all shots must be fired while moving).||6 shots|
|String 3||Position #2 (Load 6 rounds MAX. in pistol) Start back to targets, turn and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3, reload from slidelock and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3.||12 shots|
|String 4||Position #2 Draw and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 “STRONG” hand only.||6 shots|
|Stage Three||20 Yards (Bianchi style barricade and 55 gal. barrel required)|
|String 1||Position #4 Draw and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 from either side of barricade, perform a Tactical Reload and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 from the opposite side of barricade.||12 shots|
|String 2||Position #4 Draw and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 from either side of barricade, perform a Tactical Reload and advance to Position #5, fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 from around either side of 55 gal. barrel.||12 shots|
|String 3||Position #5 Draw, kneel and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 from around either side of 55 gal. barrel.||6 shots|
|Start position for all strings EXCEPT Stage One/String 5 is hands naturally at your side.|
While all those shots look intimidating for beginning shooters, the fact is, the IDPA Classifier is a good test of a your ability to deal with close range targets, long range targets and moving while shooting. As with all IDPA stages, your score on classifier is a mixture of your raw time as measured by a shot timer plus extra time added for poor shooting or not following the rules.
Your score on the Classifier will put you into one of five IDPA classifications:
|Master (MA)||89.00 or less||91.00 or less||92.00 or less||101.00 or less||102.00 or less|
|Expert (EX)||89.01 thru 109.00||91.01 thru 110.00||92.01 thru 111.00||101.01 thru 122.00||102.01 thru 124.00|
|Sharpshooter (SS)||109.01 thru 138.00||110.01 thru 140.00||111.01 thru 142.00||122.01 thru 155.00||124.01 thru 158.00|
|Marksman (MM)||138.01 thru 190.00||140.01 thru 192.00||142.01 thru 195.00||155.01 thru 212.00||158.01 thru 218.00|
|Novice (NV)||190.01 or greater||192.01 or greater||195.01 or greater||212.01 or greater||218.01 or greater|
So if you raw time plus equals 190 seconds or greater and you’re shooting a Glock in Stock Service Pistol, you’re considered a Novice shooter and compete against other people of similar classification in a match.
Me? I’m on the cusp of breaking into SSP Sharpshooter, and I *almost* made it there last weekend, but alas, I fell short. I’ll have a walk through of how I shot the Classifier and what I can do better to make it to Sharpshooter the next time I shoot it in my next post, and hopefully we’ll both learn something as a result.
We’re big fans of competition as a means of testing yourself and your gear in something that’s more stressful than just punching holes in paper on a shooting range.
If you’ve bought a handgun for self-protection, I recommend shooting it in some form of competition. Massad Ayoob, one of the world’s foremost experts on firearms law, says it best,
“A shooting competition isn’t a gun fight, but a gun fight is most definitely a shooting competition.”
And a gun fight is one shooting competition you DEFINITELY want to win.
You don’t need a lot of special gear beyond what’s needed for everyday concealed carry because an IDPA match is designed to shot with commonly used equipment. I enjoy shooting International Defensive Pistol (IDPA) competitions with my everyday concealed carry gear to see how it works under stressful conditions. I don’t win matches when I do that, but I learn what works and doesn’t work in the real world.
To shoot IDPA an IDPA match, you’ll need:
- A good, serviceable holster. Avoid nylon or cheap leather holsters, as they tend to collapse when the gun’s not in them, making them harder to re-holster your gun after you’re done shooting. I recommend a Kydex outside the waistband holster for a first competition holster (or first holster of any kind) because they’re inexpensive, rugged and won’t collapse in on itself after you’ve drawn your gun.
- Magazine pouches to hold your spare ammo. Typically, you’ll need 3 magazines to shoot an IDPA match: One in the gun loaded to either it’s full capacity or the IDPA limit for your Division, whichever is less and two more for reloads during a course of fire. I use double mag pouches from Blade-Tech and they work just fine.
- A cover garment. As IDPA is a *defensive* pistol match, it’s designed to mimic concealed carry, and that means keeping your gun and gear concealed as you shoot a match. I prefer to cover my gear like I cover my CCW gun and shoot a match with an untucked t-shirt, but most competitors end up using a dedicated cover garment because it allows for a fast draw and is comfortable to wear during a match.
- Eye protection and ear protection. This is a no-brainer. If you own a gun, you need something to protect your hearing and something to protect your eyes from ricochets.
- A desire to have fun and learn something. I love shooting IDPA, and everyone I’ve taken to a match has loved it as well.
If you have all that gear, I strongly suggest shooting an IDPA match. You’ll learn more about yourself, your gear and how both of you react to stressful condition than hours on a square range will teach you.
It’s the difference between winning trophies and finishing at the bottom of the match results. It’s also a critical part of being able to successfully defend yourself. It’s my least favorite part of being a competitive shooter, and I often refer to it as the “P” word:
Like it or not, practice is a must to improve your shooting skills, but it doesn’t have to involve spending lots of money and time throwing lead down range. Dry fire practice is an incredibly effective method for improving your shooting skills, and it’s much less expensive and time consuming than live fire practice. There are several companies that make tools and training aids to help make dry fire practice more interesting and effective, here are a few of the tools that I use when I dry fire:
Dry Fire Training Books
Many of the top competitive shooters in the world use dry fire practice to keep them at the top of their game, and a few of these top shooters have written books on the subject. Both Steve Anderson’s Refinement and Repetition, Dry-fire Drills for Dramatic Improvement and Ben Stoeger’s Champion Shooting: Guaranteed Results in 15 Minutes a Day, Vol. 2 include several drills that include presentation skills, advanced multiple target engagement and transition techniques. Both of these gentlemen used dry fire practice drills to achieve the rank of Grand Master in USPSA, and they share those same drills in these books.
Laserlyte makes these nifty training lasers that fit inside your pistol chamber. They have a firing-pin activated switch that beams a bright red laser dot when you pull the trigger, so you can see exactly where you are placing your shot. I’ve found mine very useful when doing draw to first shot drills. You can find the Laserlyte training cartridge at Brownells for $80, they are available in .380, 9mm, .40 and .45.
Airsoft pistols are a great way to add some fun to your training program. Higher end airsoft pistols are built to look and function just like the real thing, but they shoot plastic pellets. I’ve been using a WE brand High CAPA 5.1 (2011 style) airsoft pistol for a couple of years, and except for the recoil, it feels and shoots just like the real thing. Take it out in the backyard, tape a target to a cardboard box and go! Expect to pay $100 to $150 for a decent quality, gas blowback airsoft pistol.
COMMON SENSE SAFETY WARNING: ALWAYS Follow the Four Rules of Gun Safety (even with an airsoft pistol), and read these great tips about Dry Fire Safety. I accept no responsibility or liability for anything that happens as a result of reading or following the above information Don’t shoot people or animals with an airsoft. Be safe, have fun.
TeamGunBlogger may have received a review copy of a product mentioned here and may receive a commission on referrals or sales generated. Our reviews are based solely upon personal opinion and have not been influenced by any company entity.
There are many reasons why I recommend that at some point, new gun owners shoot a practical pistol match.
- There is no better way to find out if your choice of gun, holster and gear will work under stressful conditions than at a shooting match.
- You are solving somebody else’s problem with a gun in your hand, which is exactly what will happen if you need to use lethal force: Somebody else started the problem, you need to solve it.
- You will find out how your brain does (or doesn’t work) under stress.
To that last point:
I shot an International Defensive Pistol (IDPA) Match this week with my co-bloggers, and totally and completely messed up the first two stages. IDPA is notorious for it’s rules, which are, in theory, designed to help re-create what might be found if you need (God Forbid) to use your firearm to save your life. Two of those rules are you shoot the targets in the designated order and you don’t discard a partially loaded magazine.
Watch as I break both of those rules on the first stage, but recover and turn in a pretty good run (for me) on the second stage.
The stress that a a practical pistol match puts on you is 1/10th (if that…) of the real thing.
But that’s 1/10th more than most people (thankfully) will have to face in their lives, which is why it’s a good idea for anyone who owns a pistol for self-defense to give it a try at least once.
Who knows, you might like it.
Last month, I had the opportunity to shoot the 2013 IDPA Nationals. This was my first national competition of any kind, and while I wasn’t quite sure if I was ready to compete on a national level, I decided to check both my luggage and my ego to find out how my skills compare to shooters from across the country (and the world). Not surprisingly, IDPA Nationals turned out to be an amazing experience, full of extremely challenging stages that forced me to find (and go past) the limits of my shooting abilities. I also met some fantastic people and shared in a healthy dose of good times on and off the range.
Just as important as having a great time, I learned a metric ton of stuff about shooting and traveling to higher level matches by competing in the Nationals. I learned a lot from watching others, and learned some things the hard way by not being as prepared for things as I could have been. Here’s a few things I learned that might be helpful to you if you are planning to take your shooting to the next level and compete in a Regional or National Competition.
Fast is Fine, But Accuracy is Everything
Action pistol shooting is basically an accuracy contest that happens to be timed, and the IDPA Nationals was a true test of accuracy. There were only a handful of targets that weren’t obstructed by a no-shoot or some type of hard cover, which meant there were lots of opportunities for penalties and points down (each point adds a half second to your time, and you want the lowest time possible).
I shoot above my weight when it comes to speed, but below it on accuracy. Shooting several of the stages too fast to make well-placed shots cost me dearly. For example, on the Standards stage, my times look pretty good, but I gained 14.5 seconds because of poorly placed shots. The lesson here is to take as much time as you need to make a good shot. While this is always solid advice, it becomes even more important when you’re shooting with the big boys and girls.
Shooting Weather You Like it Or Not
Unless the weather conditions are too dangerous to shoot in, the show will go on. The squads that shot on Thursday had to take an extended break due to high winds and lightning, but still dealt with rainy conditions. Those of us that shot Friday morning ended up getting lucky with the conditions, the threat of rain loomed all day, but never materialized. The conditions on Friday were still a bit tricky, Thursday’s rain left the grass slick, and contributed to at least one shooter getting DQ’ed for slipping during a stage.
Check the weather conditions before you head to any big match, and bring rain gear, cold gear or whatever you might need to make sure you stay comfortable and safe in any condition. It’s better to have it and not need it then not have it and need it.
Life’s Not Fair and neither are some stages
It’s very likely that there will be a stage or two that you will have a problem with for some reason, perhaps you think a stage is set up incorrectly, you have bad knees and have a hard time getting back up, or maybe you’re vertically challenged like me. Bitching or complaining takes mental energy, and you really don’t have any to spare at a major match. Let it go and shoot the best you can.
There were a few targets at the match that I saw very little of due to my shortness. If I had let that get to me, my performance would have suffered (even more than it already did). During the Air Marshall Stage (pictured at left), I could see very little of the last target. When I got to that target, I put two nicely placed shots into the 3 points down area of the target, took my 5 second Failure To Neutralize penalty and moved on.
Shooters are the Best People in the World
Having the opportunity to meet and hang out with hundreds of people that love and understand the sport is worth the price of admission alone. I got to spend time with awesome people that I’ve met at previous events and I made several new friends.
I’ve said it 1,000 times before, and I’ll say it again – the shooting community overflows with people that would do just about anything to help you when you’re having any kind of problem. Before the first stage of the match, I had a Murphy’s Law moment – my electronic ear protection broke. One of my squad mates saw it happen and immediately offered to lend me a pair (thanks Dustin!).
The other lesson to be learned here is BRING TWO OF EVERYTHING WITH YOU TO A BIG MATCH. If you don’t need it, you might be able to help someone else avert disaster.
Eat your Wheaties
IDPA Nationals was 17 stages, shot over 2 days. Make make sure you have enough fuel to get through each day, and try to keep your blood sugar up throughout the day. I forgot to do that on Saturday and ended up crashing and burning hard on the last few stages of the match. Stash some high protein snacks in your bag and munch throughout the day (even if you think you don’t need to).
Even though I wasn’t sure I was ready, I’m really glad that I made the decision to shoot the 2013 IDPA Nationals. It was an amazing experience that I won’t soon forget. I will definitely back next year – this time more prepared and ready to burn it down. With accurate shots.
You’ve decided that yes, you want to do this “practical pistol” competition thing because it looks like it’s fun (it is) and it might just help inoculate you against making stupid mistakes when you life is on the line (that too).
So, what do you need?
- A reliable, serviceable handgun
Duh. Yes, you CAN shoot practical pistol with a cheap $150 hunk o’junk. No, you don’t want to. If you’ve bought a Glock or XD or CZ or M&P or similar, in either 9mm, .40 or .45, you’re set.
- Enough spare magazines
What’s “Enough”? Four, at an absolute minimum. Look, magazines are a disposable, replaceable part of your gun: They’re going to wear out eventually, so buy some spare ones now.
- A decent holster
What’s “decent”? Opinions vary on this, but in general, don’t use a woven nylon fabric holster for a practical pistol competition. Me, I like Blade-Tech holsters, but Safariland, Bianchi, Galco, Comp-Tac, and DeSantis are all good brands to start with, and if you need help choosing, my friend Tom’s written a great book on buying a holster for your gun.
- Some way to keep your spare ammo handy and accessible
And by this, I mean a magazine pouch on your belt. Again, my preference is Blade-Tech, but there’s a lot of different choices here.
- A good belt to hold everything together
No, not even a solidly-built “work” belt is going to cut it. Something like this reinforced “tactical” belt will help distribute the weight around your waist and make things MUCH easier for you.
- Ear Protection and Eye Protection
No, a pair of drugstore sunglasses and cotton balls in your ears isn’t enough. Get something that’s safety-rated for your eyes and something that’s designed for noise reduction for your ears.
Figure on 150 or so rounds for a match, a bit less if it’s an IDPA match.
- Somewhere to compete
All this cool stuff means SQUAT if it just sits around in a corner of your house. You can use the National Shooting Sports Foundation Range Finder page/app to find a range near you that hosts practical pistol matches, or visit the United States Practical Shooting Association or International Defensive Pistol Association to find a competition near you.
And be safe. And have fun.