- 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?
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.
Or, how to do the same thing three different ways.
Jaci, Robert and myself all shot the USPSA match at Rio Salado Sportsman’s Club last Sunday, and we each approached stage two of the match in a slightly different way. Because Robert and I shot it in Production and Jaci in Single Stack Minor, we each started out with 11 rounds in our gun and 10 in our mags, meaning we each had to shoot the stage in roughly the same manner, but we still managed to find some ways to change things up to match our level of shooting skill.
14 Targets, 26 Shots.
Here’s another competitor shooting the stage in Single Stack Major to show you how it’s laid out.
Robert started shooting from the shooting box itself, then moved to a standing position to engage the next three targets, then moved to the right side of the barrel near the fence and engaged the targets as seen in the video, but with a little more hesitation to make sure all the targets were hit.
She started out walking, engaging the first four targets on the move and the next three while moving and shot the entire stage much like it was the video.
I shot this a little differently, as I wanted to work on moving then shooting then moving again. I started the stage by engaging the first four targets from the box, then running across the fault lines to a spot where I could shoot the next three targets, then ran across the fault lines again to take the shortest distance possible to my next shooting location, then finished up the stage much the same way as my co-bloggers.
So who was fastest?
Jaci, by a couple of seconds. Yep, I got my ass whipped by a girl. Again.
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.
“Know thy enemy, know thyself, and you will be invincible.”
– Sun Tzu
When I was a professional photographer, inevitably, once someone found out what I did for a living, I’d be asked “Say, I want to take better pictures, what kind of camera should I get?”
My answer to this was always “Well, that depends. How many rolls of film do you shoot each week?”, which would usually end that part of the conversation as the would-be photographer grapples with the concept of shooting an entire 36-shot roll of film each week, much less more than one, where it was not uncommon for me to burn through two dozen rolls of HP5+ or TMZ covering just one high school basketball game.
The point I was trying to make is that it’s not the camera that limits the photographer, it’s his or her ability to put in the time necessary to realize their vision and their desire to push their creativity that limits a photographer.
Looking back on this now, I realize my answer to the wannabe photogs was/is snarky and condescending: People want to take better pictures not to become the next Mark Seliger, they want to capture memories that are more evocative and aesthetic, something all of us share.
Which brings me to practical shooting. I’m blessed/cursed to call Rio Salado Sportsmans Club my home range. It’s loaded to the gills with USPSA Grandmasters. It’s a blessing in that each match is challenging and exciting, but each match is meant to be challenging and exciting to shooters like Rob Leatham, Vic Pickett and Matt Burkett.
This can discourage beginning shooters. Imagine cranking off the best golf drive in your life and then have Tiger Woods shoot behind you and out-drive you by 100 yards.
The upside to this, though, is that in the words of The Chairman Of The Board, if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere. And another great thing about shooting at Rio is the opportunity to participate and shoot in some 1st-class matches like the Desert Classic and Mystery 3 Gun, which bring in shooters from around the country. I get to meet some of the best shooters in the world, and the prize tables for each match can be really good.
This explains why I like shooting laid-back, easy-to-shoot steel matches with friends on a regular basis rather than the more difficult but less friendly USPSA matches at Rio. I like Rio: I do all my practicing there and I’ll still shoot a USPSA match there as often as I can, but right now, it’s important that I believe I can shoot well and do so when needed, even in the toughest of competitions. My practice sessions are there for me to prepare me physically, the steel matches are there to prepare me mentally. My standard for success needs to be me and the progress I have made, not the best shooters in the world can do.
If you’ve been thinking “Well, gosh, there’s no way I can shoot a pistol competition”, you need to give a try. Buy a good holster and some mag pouches, find a low-key “Steel” match in the middle of the week, let the people who run it know that this is your first time shooting a match, and you’ll soon find out that practical pistol is a fun way to learn to shoot better and keep your skills sharp.
If you’ve been reading our website for any amount of time, you’ve seen how much fun we all have shooting action pistol matches like IDPA or USPSA. Action pistol (also known as practical pistol) is a ridiculously fun sport, but getting started can be extremely intimidating for both men and women. I waited almost a year after taking my first training class (that included the basics of USPSA) before shooting my first match because of the anxiety I felt about competing. You don’t have to wait, just remember a few basic things, and you’ll be well on your way to having a great time.
Just Do It – If you’re waiting until you’re 100 percent ready, you’ll never shoot a match. There are a few things that are helpful to know before stepping foot onto the range. Practice and repetition will make you a competent action pistol shooter, but for now, it’s best to stick to the basics:
- Focus on the things you can control, like making sure your gun works and your ammo runs, malfunction drills are no fun when you’re competing.
- Learn the rules of the range you will be competing at (hot or cold range, safety areas) before you go, that will save you some time and put you a little more at ease when you step on to the range.
- Make sure you know how to safely draw your pistol from a holster before heading to your first match. This is easily accomplished with dry-fire practice at home (safety first – triple check to make sure your gun and magazines are unloaded first and move your ammo to a different room).
- Add some reloading practice once you’ve got your draw down (check to make sure there is no ammo in the magazines first). Don’t worry about your speed, take the time you need to be smooth and steady when pressing the mag button, reaching for your magazine pouch and inserting the new magazine.
Learn the Lingo – There are some basic commands that you can study before shooting your first match. Make sure to learn the range commands of the sport you’re shooting (IDPA and USPSA commands are slightly different). Knowing and following these commands will keep you from getting disqualified (it happens, even at big matches), which is the opposite of fun. Here’s a comparison of the basic IDPA and USPSA range commands, you can also read the current IDPA or USPSA rulebook for definitions and an explanation of the scoring.
It’s Ok That You’re A Little Freaked Out – Just roll with it. You’re going to be running around with a gun shooting things that you’ve probably never shot before under the pressure of time, it’s pretty normal to be uncomfortable with that idea if you’ve never done it before.
You Will Have Bandwidth Issues – There’s only so much space in your brain, and with action pistol shooting, you will quickly fill it up with all the things you need to remember. Despite your best efforts, much of that information will leave your brain as soon as the buzzer goes off (we call it the Red Mist). The most important thing to remember above all else is to be safe. Watch your muzzle direction at all times (keep it pointed downrange at all times) and keep your finger off the trigger when you’re not shooting at a target. Speed and accuracy will come with practice, right now is the time to concentrate on safe gun handling. You’re going to mess up, don’t stress about it. I still have my share (and sometimes more) of missed targets and penalties at pretty much every match.
You Will Not Embarrass Yourself – I hear this concern a lot from people thinking about getting started in action shooting sports. First of all, check your ego at the door, you won’t need it on the range (it’s much more of a hindrance than a help). Also, hardly anyone is watching you, and if they are, they’re either making sure you’re safe, or they’re looking at the course of fire, trying to figure out their plan of attack. There’s always a few ways to shoot a stage, and many of us watch to see if we can pick up some clues that we hadn’t thought of. We were all new to the sport once, and we are very aware of the mental energy it takes to shoot action pistol. Follow the safety rules and be safe with your gun, and I promise that the other shooters will encourage you and help you out where needed.
BE SAFE, don’t try to shoot too fast and have fun!
Don’t be this guy.
Police say a man was shot in the hand after his gun fell out of its holster while he hurried across a parking lot to avoid holding up traffic outside a Pennsylvania Walmart store.
So he was doing the right thing (carrying his sidearm in a holster), but the holster wasn’t up to the basic task of keeping his gun on his person while running across a road.
Chances are, this guy bought a holster because it felt right or looked nice or was comfortable to wear, and unless you’ve taken a serious training class where running around and “stress fire” with your daily carry gear is part of the agenda and sidearm OR competed in USPSA/IDPA with the same kind of rig, you’ll never know if what you have on you is capable of handling physical activity beyond pulling yourself up off the couch.
A practical pistol match subjects you AND your equipment to a certain amount of artificial stress. Is it the real thing? No. Is it the closest thing you’ll get to the real thing? Todd Green, Mike Seeklander, Michael Bane and Massad Ayoob say yes, and I believe them. Finding out if your holster of choice keeps your gun safe in a match will spare you the embarrassment and danger of failing to keep it safe on the streets.
Short answer: No. Doing dumb gun stuff in the midst of a gunfight gets you killed.
You can avoid doing dumb gun stuff under pressure by shooting practical pistol matches because they help vaccinate you against such things, one match at time. However, if you treat a real gunfight like it was a shooting match, you’ll be in a world of hurt.
Massad Ayoob is probably THE most respected firearms instructor and personal defense consultant alive today. He literally wrote the book on personal defense with a firearm and his MAG40 pistol class is considered to be one of the best classes for dealing with what happens before, during and after the defensive use of a firearm. What does he say about shooting practical pistol matches?
“A shooting competition isn’t a gun fight, but a gun fight is most definitely a shooting competition.”
And he prefers IDPA as well.
“Possibly the biggest benefit of competition is that it is often the most stressful shooting many people will ever be exposed to. While obviously not the same as being in an actual gunfight, shooting in a competitive event in front of peers and strangers will do a great job of showing you just how easy it is to make mental mistakes under stress. Learning to stay focused on the task at hand and building experience fixing mistakes under pressure both have legitimate real world payoffs.
At the end of the day, there are pros and cons to competition shooting for the ‘defense-minded’shooter. But, the pros are pretty universal and the cons are really only cons if you let them be.“ (Emphasis in the original)
Here’s some more expert opinion from top firearms trainer Mike Seeklander: Marine veteran, former law-enforcement officer and host of The Best Defense on Outdoor Channel.
“I’ve always been a proponent of competitive shooting, as long as the individual competing understands what they are going to get out of shooting matches. They’re going to love it. They are going to get some energy from it. They are going to want to do it more. It will make the average person, especially the average police officer who doesn’t get to train much, WANT to train because every human wants to be better at something. BUT the rules of the game are different than the rules of defense with a gun.” (emphasis in the original)
So, will firearms competitions get you killed?
Yes, if you expect that a gunfight will play out by the rules of your game of choice.
But if you want to shoot accurately and quickly during one of the worst days of your life, you may find that regularly shooting practical pistol competitions like IPDA or USPSA will provide you the skills and mindset you need to survive a gunfight and come out on top.