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.
Dave Spaulding (who knows more about firearms training than just about anyone else on the planet) talks about grip and stance.
One of the things that annoys me about 90% of the “Tactical” training out there is that they teach you a “perfect” grip and stance, which you will probably never, ever use if (God forbid) you need to defend your life with your gun. Real life is not a shooting range: There’s a zero percent chance you’ll be wearing hearing protection if/when you’ll need to use a gun defensively, and the stress you’ll be under when you do is nothing like the stress of shooting at a range.
This is one of the reasons why I encourage new gun owners to shoot at least one practical pistol competition: You’ll get a much better understanding of how your body reacts to stress when you have a gun in your hand, and you’ll see the need to close the gap between your skill level shooting in the relaxed environment of a square range versus your skill under the pressure of competition.
“A shooting match isn’t a gunfight, but a gunfight is certainly a shooting match.” – Massad Ayoob.
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.
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!
All of us here at TeamGunblogger support practical pistol shooting as part of a balanced approach to self-defense, and one of the reasons why I shoot competitions on a regular basis it to test my shooting skills in stressful situations. In other words, can I make the shot when it’s needed, and what are the limits of my shooting ability?
Case in point, Stage 10 from the 2012 USPSA Area 2 Championships, specifically the 1:07 mark in this video where I drop a round into a no-shoot as it covered up the “shoot” target.
I was confident I could make the shot and put two rounds into the shoot target before the no-shoot covered it up, except I couldn’t. My shooting skill couldn’t cash the check my mind was writing for it. The good news is, I gained this knowledge in the context of competition and not out on the street, where the consequences of not hitting your target (or hitting the wrong target) is a LOT more severe than just a few penalty points in a shooting match.
If you’re one of the thousands and thousands of people who’ve purchased a gun in the last few years and don’t know what to do next, you’re not alone. There are many, many people out there who’ve made the most adult decision they can make in their lives and have chosen to purchase a firearm and become their own first responder.
But owning a gun isn’t enough, because guns aren’t a talisman of self-protection with magical powers of protection. Guns are only as effective as the person behind the trigger. Think about it this way; who would you rather have on your side in a gunfight , Woody Allen with a .44 Magnum, or Chuck Norris all by himself?
I rest my case.
Now that you’ve realized that having a gun your unloaded under your bed isn’t going to keep you safe, what should you do? What should you have in your home besides your gun? Is owning a gun and keeping it unloaded under your bed enough? In a word, no.
My first recommendation is to get some training so you can shorten your learning curve by benefiting from someone’s else’s wisdom.
Secondly, practice, because you’re not going to rise to the occasion if you have to defend your life, you’re going to fall to your lowest level of competence.
Thirdly, I recommend trying out some form of firearms competition, be it a simple weekday steel match or International Defensive Pistol or United States Practical Shooting match. Competition is going to give you stress levels that won’t see anywhere else, and it’s the best test you’ll have to see what you can do with your gun under stressful conditions.
Next week, we’ll talk about ideas about what to have in your home to help keep you safe besides your gun.
Top female action pistol and cowboy action shooter, Randi Rogers is in Las Vegas this week for the 2012 USPSA National Championship, but before she left, she posted some great advice on her website about how to mentally prepare for a shooting competition.
I encourage you to head over to read the whole post, but here’s a quick overview of her suggestions and techniques:
- Make peace with your current skills
- Set a goal and a plan
- Stay positive!
- Stick to the plan
Whether you’re shooting a local club match or a “big” competition, these techniques are sure to help you improve your shooting performance.