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.
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.
“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!