Anytime spent on social media looking up firearms related content has inevitably led to content posted by competition shooters. Usually this is footage of a shooter reacting to a pro timer and hosing down a stage as fast as possible. Competitive shooting, specifically the action shooting sports, has been around since the 1980s but recently has started go mainstream with actors participating in mock stages set up shooting veterans like Taran Butler:
My start with competition shooting was in 2014 when I shot my first International Defensive Association Pistol Match (IDPA). At the time, I had just finished taking my first introductory pistol and carbine course and I needed a way to practice the shooting fundamentals. The strict range rules at many of the indoor ranges made it near impossible to push the limits of speed and accuracy. The following year I competed in the 2015 IDPA Alabama State Championship, my first major match.
One of the harshest lessons a semi decent shooter learns from competition is that your perception of where they are skill wise can be built on a false sense of security. Completing beginner, intermediate, and advanced pistol courses I felt very confident about my ability to perform with a handgun, but review of match performance told another story. Weapons manipulations and movement were all deliberately slow and accuracy under speed was not as strong as my timed drills led me to believe. When it comes to weapons handling and shooting mechanics the level requirement for competition shooting is rivaled by few other training avenues.
If the above video of world champion JJ Racaza has convinced you that competition shooting has merit to your development as a shooter; the logical question would be where should you start? I think the answer is to find a club that hosts an action shooting sport and acquire some basic equipment to practice with and monitor your performance. The two primary national pistol sports that are shot at most clubs are USPSA (uspsa.org) and IDPA (IDPA.com). IDPA is a more defensive approach to pistol shooting, notably the shooter must draw from concealment and use cover when feasible while shooting. United States Practical Shooting Association is a faster paced shooting sport that has longer stages and a scoring system that promotes a faster shooting tempo. Either will serve you well, which one you choose to shoot is largely dependent on personal preference and what your club sponsors. Generally, you can only shoot one IDPA or USPSA match without being a member. You will want to join either organization. Practiscore serves as the primary place to register for the majority of matches (Practiscore.com). I use the website to find matches, register for them, and view my scores. Next, become familiar with the rules governing the sport you will be shooting. IDPA and USPSA have similar range safety rules that if violated will result in disqualification but it is important to read the rule book thoroughly. The biggest violations are breaking the 180 rule, aiming the muzzle past a 180 degree plane that separates up range and down range, and keeping your finger in the trigger guard while not actively engaging a target.
With a basic knowledge of how to shoot your first match, you’ll need some basic equipment. In IDPA a setup of a kydex holster, two mag pouches, three mags, and a cover garment, vest or jacket, is sufficient. USPSA requires more gear depending on what division you are shooting. Production, a division most closely aligned with a stock handgun, usually requires four mag pouches, five mags, and a belt system that can support all the gear. Here are two setups that are used for the two sports:
The last and most vital piece of equipment is the firearm itself. The Stock Service Pistol and Production Divisions in IDPA and USPSA respectively allow you to be competitive with a close to duty setup handgun. To get the most direct translation to tactical firearm use I use the Glock and M&P line of pistols. I mostly shoot the Glock 34 because it’s longer sight radius is advantageous for taking longer range shots with a greater degree of hit certainty; however, IDPA has a division called Compact Carry Pistol (CCP) that is perfect for a Glock 19 sized pistol.
With your gear sorted out and the match date set make sure you bring a minimum of 200 to 250 rounds of ammunition, this will ensure you can finish a six stage match even if you need to re-shoot a stage. On match day make friends with the people in your squad and they will help you learn the game. Matches are always more fun when you are shooting with people you enjoy being around and the competition shooting environment is usually a friendly one. Be sure to post on how your first match experience goes!