Getting in to Practical Shooting

posted on October 26, 2010

One of the most popular topics among shooters and gun owners right now is practical shooting. With shows like Top Shot on History Channel showcasing IDPA Master Class shooters, 3-gun competitors and USPSA Grand Masters, many people are taking an interest in action shooting sports to help hone their skills with carry guns, or simply to have a good time on the range. While there are many different shooting sports—ranging from precision exploits like NRA Intercollegiate Pistol Championships to Steel Challenge—the action games bring together the ultimate combination of speed and accuracy. For everyone from the novice shooter, the concealed-carry permit holder, all the way to the long-time shooter, action shooting has challenges that will improve your skills.

What is Action Shooting?
Action shooting is a generic term that encompasses a wide range of shooting games, but the most widely recognized flavors are USPSA, IDPA, Steel Challenge, Bianchi Cup and 3-Gun. Each sport has its differences, yet it's more than possible for the average concealed-carry permit holder to buy one set of gear and compete in everything. If you carry a 1911, a Glock, an XD or any number of modern pistols in a service caliber and can get a good outside-the-waistband holster and several spare magazines, you're ready to go. IDPA and USPSA are the most common, and their divisions are reflected in Steel Challenge as well. For 3-gun, just add your home-defense carbine and shotgun to the mix, and you're ready to go. Here's a look at the divisions in IDPA and USPSA.

IDPA – International Defensive Pistol Association
IDPA was founded in the early 1990s by competitive shooters with the intent to get back to the roots of practical shooting, namely to sharpen the shooter's skills with realistic carry guns and gear. While in its nearly two decades of existence many things about it have changed, the insistence on no race guns, use of concealment gear and limiting the number of magazines to two (plus one in the gun) keeps IDPA grounded in its traditions of defensive shooting. IDPA has five competitive divisions, one for every gun you might be carrying:

  • Custom Defensive Pistol: The flagship division of IDPA, this division is limited to pistols chambered in .45 ACP only. Originally intended for 1911-style pistols (as evidenced by the capacity limit of 8+1), today's IDPA matches will find 1911s competing alongside Glock 21s, Smith & Wesson M&P45s and other polymer pistols chambered in the venerable .45 ACP.
  • Enhanced Service Pistol (also known as "The Browning Hi Power Division"): While any pistol legal for Stock Service Pistol is also legal for Enhanced Service Pistol, the division rules have it set up for single-action pistols in 9 mm, .38 Super and .40 S&W. Your Glock 17 can certainly run here, but if IDPA had a race-gun division, it would be ESP. This is where you'll find 1911s in 9 mm and .40 S&W set up to run as fast as possible. In an interesting rule interpretation, which has increased the popular of Enhanced Service Pistol, the Springfield Armory XD pistols are classified in this division by IDPA—meaning that your 9 mm XD will be at home right here, and just as competitive as the 1911s.
  • Stock Service Pistol: Here are your stock guns. Glocks, SIGs, Berettas, M&Ps, Ruger SR9s—this is the division for the most popular carry guns on the planet.
  • Enhanced Service Revolver: Not a lot of carry guns will fit in this category, unless you happen to carry a Smith & Wesson Model 625 revolver in .45 ACP.
  • Stock Service Revolver: The most common carry gun in the galaxy before the Wondernine Revolution was the 6 shot, .38 Spl. revolver. These guns live and breathe in IDPA's Stock Service Revolver division, which, with the exception of the dedicated revolver sports, is the most popular place for the wheelguns to play.


If you carry a 1911, a Smith & Wesson Model 10, or a Glock 19, IDPA has a place for your guns.

USPSA – United States Practical Shooting Association
USPSA is the American sanctioning body of the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC), originally founded by Col. Jeff Cooper to focus on teaching the fundamentals of defensive shooting. In the time since its founding, USPSA/IPSC has retained two divisions that are suitable for your every day carry gear.

  • USPSA Single Stack: Not recognized by IPSC at the international level, USPSA absorbed Single Stack after it existed as an independent match for some time. This is the place to run your 1911. The division rules specify practical holsters and magazine pouches, and limit the modifications allowed. If you're a fan of the 1911 and carry one, this is your division.
  • Production: Here there be monsters! Production is one of USPSA's most popular divisions owing to the fact that you can buy a stock Ruger SR9, a good holster and several extra magazines and have everything you need to compete. Because of the popularity of Production division, you'll also see lots of the top professional shooters from Glock, Smith & Wesson, FNH-USA and other companies competing here. Modern double-stack handguns rule this division, and it's the best place to bring your carry gear.


Additionally, USPSA has a third division good for carry guns called Limited-10. While it's not used as such right now, it has tremendous potential to provide a competitive home for the world of Glocks and other defensive guns chambered in .40 S&W and .45 ACP that aren't competitive in Production.  USPSA is different from IDPA in that it doesn't require concealing garments and has higher round counts, but you can't go wrong shooting either discipline. In fact, you should shoot both! The more trigger time you get, the better prepared you'll be.

Everything Else
Steel Challenge has divisions that mirror each of IDPA's and USPSA's divisions, so your gear will compete across the board there. For example, if you have a Kimber 1911 you carry every day, five Blackhawk CQC Single Stack magazine pouches, an outside-the-waistband holster from Safariland and a good belt, you're ready to compete in IDPA's Custom Defensive Pistol and USPSA Single Stack. Carry a Glock 19? IDPA Stock Service Pistol and USPSA Production will be great places for you to practice and train. Whatever you carry, competitive shooting has a place for your guns and gear, and you'll certainly benefit from the additional trigger time. Who knows, you might even have some fun!


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