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.
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.
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.
Let’s talk more about how competition, practice, training and concealed carry all fit together. JaciJ and myself shot an International Defensive Pistol Association match at Phoenix Rod and Gun Club last week at Phoenix Rod and Gun Club. Jaci shot it using her 9mm 1911-style pistol she uses for such matches, and I shot it with the 9mm Smith and Wesson Shield I carry with me on a regular basis. Jaci was shooting the match to get a good score, I was shooting it to practice my reactions if, God forbid, I need to use my pistol for defensive purposes. The difference is, unlike a lot of other competitors at that match who were shooting for a high score, I kept my (empty) gun on my hip after I was done shooting, then drove off and loaded it up with my 9mm defensive ammo of choice when it was safe to do so, because I shot with the gun I carry as a defensive firearm.
Let’s look at two stages in the match that were, as they say, ripped from the headlines’s of today’s news and how Jaci’s approach and my approach to each was different because of our different goals for the match.
Scenario: You are downtown when the Zimmerman trial verdict is announced. A group upset by the verdict begins to riot. At the buzzer, engage closest targets with two rounds each in tactical sequence while retreating to cover, then engage remaining targets with two rounds each in tactical priority.
Here’s Jaci shooting this stage by the IDPA rules and as quickly as her shooting skills allow.
I shot this stage slightly differently. I did a “tactical reload” in-between the two groups of targets, reasoning that I’d want to top up my gun if I had a break in the action, and swapped out the half-empty magazine in my gun with a full one from the mag pouch on my belt. This is perfectly legal by IDPA rules, but it won’t win you any matches because it’s slower than going to a “slide lock” reload.
You come across a mob upset with the Zimmerman trial verdict attacking an innocent bystander. Engage all threat targets in tactical priority with two rounds each.
Here’s Jaci shooting this stage so she gets a good score in the match.
And here’s me shooting it, trying to approach it as I would in real life. I made sure I told the range officer running the stage beforehand that I was going to issue verbal commands to the targets before I engaged them, so as not to freak him out TOO much when I started yelling.
Another thing I learned on that stage? My Shield doesn’t lock back on an empty magazine, and needs to head to the gunsmith.
So which is better, shooting an IDPA match for good score, or shooting it for good practice for concealed carry? Well, that depends on what your shooting goals are. I look at IDPA as defensive pistol practice first, and a competition second (USPSA is where my competition freak flag flies). Jaci (and a whole buch of other people) see IDPA as a competition first and concealed carry practice second. Those two goals are both valid, and both can be accomplished in the context of an IDPA match with equal vigor.
Update: Hey, if you’re reading this via the IDPA’s Facebook page or other points on teh interwebz, thanks for stopping by, and feel free to stick around!
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:
- 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.
- 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?
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.