Getting Started In Practical Pistol Competition

Published May 11, 2013 by
Filed under Competition, Equipment, USPSA

CZ75 set uo for USPA

AKA Intro to USPSA 090

Duck Dynasty is the #1 show on basic cable. Top Shot is returning to History Channel. Guns are selling in record numbers. The clampdown on gun ownership proposed after the Sandy Hook massacre has failed, and despite Joe Biden’s tough talk, gun control just isn’t a priority for the American public right now.

In short, it’s safe to go back to the range again. If you’re one of many, many new gun people who have bought their first gun these past few years, now is a great time to think about different ways to enjoy going to the range. Along with thousands of other people, I’ve found that practical pistol is a great way to have fun with a pistol and learn how to use it safely under the stress of competition. 

I didn’t get into the shooting sports because I grew up around guns, (though I did quite a lot of shooting in my youth), I shoot because a) it’s FUN and b) I want to protect my family’s life from a lethal threat. I am fortunate to have a home range that is ground zero for USPSA in my area, so I thought I’d write a quick guide for everyone out there who want to get into USPSA but doesn’t know where to start.

Two quick points:

  1. I’m not “high speed, low drag” (the opposite, in fact’¦) and I’m not a Tier One Tactical Operator, I’m just a guy who thought practical shooting might be a fun way to get in some firearms training under stress, so this advice is coming from someone whose first time at a match wasn’t that long ago. 
  2. There are two major organizations for practical pistol in the United States: the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) and the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA). What’s the difference between the two? Lots, and yet, very little. What it boils down is that USPSA tends to have more specialized equipment, and IDPA tends to focus on “real world” application of things. If you need an analogy, think of USPSA as Formula One, and IDPA as NASCAR.
    Which is better? That’s for you to decide. 

This is the basics for USPSA Production class, which is for “stock” semi-automatic pistols. Now before you start thinking that it’s the Little League of practical shooting, some of the best shooters in the world compete in this class, but don’t worry, you don’t have to live up to their standards. USPSA (and IDPA too) is set up so marksmen of comparable skill compete against each other, not against the top guns. 

What You’ll Need

A serviceable and safe semiautomatic pistol in 9mm.
Almost anything out of the box in that caliber is good to go as is, as long as the magazine can hold ten rounds. Sucks to be you, New York. And yes, you can compete with a .40 S+W or a .45 auto, but Production division was set up with 9mm in mind.
A safe holster that attaches to a belt.
Nylon may (MAY work), Kydex or leather is better. No drop-leg, shoulder, cross-draw or small of back holsters. And a good stiff gun belt to hold everything secure on your waist.
Magazines and mag pouches. 
Four is pretty much the minimum. In USPSA, you can shoot up to 32 rounds (without misses) on one “stage”. To make things even for states with mag capacity bans (sucks to be you, California) and to account for the varying capacities of a bunch of different guns, the USPSA mandates that Production guns can only start with 10 rounds in a magazine, even if the mag holds a dozen or more rounds. 10 rounds a mag, 32 shots… You do the math. 
Ear and eye protection. 
Safety glasses and good earplugs are a start. I like electronic earmuffs, myself.

What does this add up to, cost-wise? 

$500-700 for a new pistol. Glock, S+W, CZ, Springfield, H+K, whatever. If you own own of those already, you’re in. If you don’t have one already, get something you like, know how to use and are comfortable with. If you’re one of the thousands of people who recently bought a pistol for home defence, go ahead and use that. I did.

$50-100 for the holster and magazine carriers. Bladetech, Safariland and Blackhawk! are all good brands to look out for. Hard plastic nylon or Kydex is preferred, but soft nylon works as well. 

$50 for a gun belt. I started out thinking a gun belt was just a “vanity” accessory and that any ol’ belt will do. It won’t. Think of the gun belt as the foundation that will hold the weight of your pistol and magazines as you run around on a stage. The better the foundation, the more secure your stuff will be.

$50-100 in spare magazines. Get at least four, because you’re going to be dropping these suckers into the ground over and over again, and stuff breaks.

$10-50 for a range bag to carry everything. Something big enough to carry all of the above yet easy to lug around with you from stage to stage. I saw a guy at a match last month with a DeWalt tool bag as his range bag, and you know what? It worked GREAT!

$50 and up for ammo. Here we get to the really expensive part of USPSA. A typical match for my club is 4 stages, each with about 25-35 rounds fired. Add in misses and the need to keep your spare magus full and you’ll soon see that bringing 200 or more rounds to a match is a good idea. The good news is we’re starting to see 9mm creep back into stock again, the bad news is, it’s at higher prices than it was a year ago. But don’t let the cost of ammo stop you: Practical pistol is worth the ammo costs, that’s for certain. And it’s STILL cheaper (and more fun) than a round of golf.

Pre-match preparation. Go to a match ahead ahead of time without your gun and see how things are run before you shoot your first match. Find someone there who can show you the ropes the next time when you show up. Know how to use your gun and use it safely. You don’t need to be Annie Oakley, but you should know how to load it, how to unload it, how to deal with loading or feeding issues and most importantly, the basics of gun safety. And be safe and have fun.

Is it worth it? 

Oh yeah.

A practical shooting competition will quickly show you how well you perform under semi-stressful conditions with a firearm. Under the artificial stress of the timer, simple things like reloading an empty pistol become the hardest thing you’ve ever done, and hard things like hitting a 25 yard head shot become nigh-impossible. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes, and the more you become confident in your firearms-handling abilities. Todd Green, who knows more about combat pistol training than just about anyone else out there, said it best

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 ‘œdefense-minded’ shooter. But, the pros are pretty universal’¦ and the cons are really only cons if you let them be. Because whether you stay true to your original purpose or give in to the dark side and become an absolute gamer, you’re still getting more time on the range and more experience shooting complex problems under stress. As long as you don’t fall into the trap of thinking that winning at a game makes you an honorary gunfighter, competition is a fun and effective way to become a better shooter. 

This is the reason I do this, (well, that, and it’s FUN) and it’s the same reason why humans have used games to train for combat since the days of ancient Greece. We train to be good when it doesn’t matter so we can be good when the highest stakes we have are on the line. 

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  • 1 Will Shooting Firearms Competitions Get You Killed? // Jul 1, 2013 at 8:33 AM

    […] Another firearms expert, Todd Green, formerly of Beretta, H+K, Sig-Sauer and now of pistol-training.com, explains his reasons why he recommends shooting competitions.  […]

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