So you have never shot in an IDPA match and wonder what it's all about.  You have decided that it sounds like it might be fun and you want to give it a try, but you don't know what to expect, you don't know what you'll need, you are concerned about safety, you are concerned about your shooting abilities, you don't want to be embarrassed.  Any of these sound familiar?  Keep reading and I'll try and give you the information you need to get  started.  If I left something off and you still have a question, please send me an email message and I'll try and answer it for you.

IDPA stands for International Defensive Pistol Association.  Our shooting format is not bullseye shooting, it is a form of action shooting.  Each match will have a number of "Stages" designed to test your shooting abilities.  The stages will normally resemble a defensive situation that you might encounter.  Common scenarios begin with something like, "You are at an ATM when you are accosted by " or "You are sitting at a stop light when ".  There will be a number of targets out there, and your goal is to shoot them as accurately as possible in the shortest amount of time possible.  Some of the targets may be partially obscured, some may be moving, falling, or turning.  You may have to shoot while moving from one position to another, you will probably have to reload your handgun during the course of fire, you may have to get your gun our of a desk drawer, the scenarios are endless and limited only by the imagination of the stage designer.  Each "Stage" may also be divided into "Strings".  You might shoot one string "Freestyle" using both hands,  and then shoot it again "Strong Hand Only" using only one hand.  The stages are not the same each time you shoot a match, so you will seldom shoot the same thing more than once.

If you want all the rules and information, visit the IDPA web site.  Everything you ever wanted to know about this type of shooting is there.

There is some misconception that action shooting sports are for the militant, para-military, or survivalist groups.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  The fact is that action shooting sports, whether they be IDPA or USPSA/IPSC or Cowboy Action, are comprised of normal people who enjoy shooting handguns in a controlled, competitive environment.  I shoot with doctors, lawyers, engineers, computer programmers, grocery clerks, car salesmen, mechanics, military personnel, law enforcement officers, and people from every other walk of life.  In short, we are people just like you that enjoy shooting.  If you come to a match looking or acting like some sort of urban Rambo I can pretty much guarantee that you won't have a good time.

There is another misconception that action shooting sports are "Men Only" sports.  This, also, is absolutely wrong.  There are many women involved in action shooting sports.  If you are interested I can put you in touch with some of them.

There is yet another misconception that IDPA will make you into some sort of tactics expert.  There is an element of tactics involved in IDPA, but if your goal is to learn about firearms tactics and how to respond to every tactical situation then I recommend that you take a class, join the military, or become a police officer.  IDPA is a GAME and you need to keep that in mind.  It will certainly make you more proficient with your firearm, you will learn to shoot faster and more accurately, and generally become more competent with your firearm, but it is still a GAME.  Any time we keep score and compare them to someone else, it IS a game.  If someone has broken into your house in the middle of the night I guarantee that you are not going to grab your timer and try to see how fast you can respond to the threat; time is going to be the last thing on your mind.  In ANY sort of competition time is a primary concern, and proper "Tactics" is going to be secondary.  Enjoy IDPA for what it is, a GAME, and if someone calls you a "Gamer" just thank them.


The biggest concern that most new competition shooters have is that of competing against other shooters.  They don't feel like they are "Good Enough" to shoot competition.  The whole point of IDPA is that you don't have to be good when you start, the sport will MAKE you good.  It doesn't matter if you just recently got your first handgun or if you have been shooting for years.  If you are inexperienced you will find your abilities increasing after just a couple of matches.  If you are already experienced you'll have fun and get better.

IDPA recognizes 5 divisions based on the type of gun you are using and its caliber.  The divisions are Custom Defensive Pistol, Enhanced Service Pistol, Stock Service Pistol, Stock Service Revolver, and Backup Gun.  Virtually any handgun in current production will fall into one of these divisions, but exactly which one depends on the particular gun.  The shooter does not pick what division he shoots in, that is determined by the gun he is using.

Within each of the five divisions there are five classifications based on the shooter's abilities.  The classifications are Master, Expert, Sharpshooter, Marksman, and Novice.  There is also an "Unclassified" category for those shooters who have not yet been classified.  The first time you shoot a match it will probably be as an "Unclassified" shooter.  You become "Classified" by shooting the "Classifier" match.  This match consists of three stages and exactly 90 rounds.  The speed and accuracy with which you shoot the classifier determines your classification.

The "Classification" method means that you will be competing against other shooters within your own level of abilities.  All shooters in a match shoot the same stages, but obviously a very experienced shooter is going to be able to shoot them much more accurately and quickly than an inexperienced shooter will.  This evens out because the experienced shooters will be in different classes from the inexperienced shooters.  If you are classified as a Novice or Marksman or any other class, you will be scored only against other shooters in the same class as you.  Many clubs post their scores with an "Overall Position" showing how each shooter in the match ranked overall.  This is an informational ranking only, and can be used to see how a shooter compares to other shooters regardless of classification or division.  As far as the "Official" positions go, any shooter in the match is only scored against other shooters in the same division and class.

Scores are based on time.  When you shoot a stage, we use an electronic timer that senses the report from your pistol.  An audible tone sounds when you should begin, and then each time you shoot the timer records the elapsed time at that shot.  When you finish the stage we write down the total time it took you to shoot it.

IDPA targets are all worth 5 "Points" and a "Point" equates to one half of a second.  The targets we use, except for steel targets, have three scoring zones on them.  They are the "Zero Down", "One Down", and "Three Down" zones.  A complete miss is "Five Down".  This means that if your shot hits in the "Zero Down" zone you do not lose any points.  If your shot hits in the "1 Down" zone you lose one point, and so on.  If you completely miss the target you lose all five points.  Each point down adds one half second to your time so if one of your hits is in the "One Down" zone one half second is added to your time.  If you have a shot in the "Three Down" zone 1½ seconds are added to your time.   If all of your shots are in the "Zero Down" zone, no additional time is added to your score.  As you can see, shooting accurately is a big advantage, and shooting inaccurately is very detrimental to your final score.

When all shooters have finished the match, the scores are totaled and the shooter in each division and class with the lowest score is the winner of that class.  The posted scores will normally show each division combined, however the shooter classifications will be grouped together.  For example, everyone in a match who is shooting SSP will usually be listed together, however that list will be further divided into Master, Expert, Sharpshooter, Marksman, Novice, and Unclassified.  Each class (MA, EX, SS, MM, NV, and UC) will be grouped together, so to see how you did in the match just look at the rest of the shooters in your class and compare your score to theirs.  An example score posting might look like this:
Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 3
Shooter 1
Shooter 2
Shooter 3
Shooter 4
Shooter 5
Shooter 6
Shooter 7
Shooter 8
Shooter 9
Shooter 10

This is only a partial score posting, and only shows the SSP division.  It is part of the scores from an actual match shot on February 2, 2002 at Gallatin Gun Club, so the scores are real scores.  We normally show the shooters' names, I just took them out for this document.

You can see that "Shooter 1" took the overall honors in the match, he had the lowest score of anyone regardless of division or class.  "Shooter 2" was also shooting SSP Expert and finished second in his class and second overall.  "Shooter 4" finished second in the SSP Sharpshooter class, and 18th overall.  He also finished 9th in the SSP Division (you have to see how many other shooters in the division beat his time to find that position).  Also notice that "Shooter 5" is a Marksman and beat "Shooter 4" who is a Sharpshooter in the overall rankings.  Remember, just like in golf, a low score is best.  Also keep in mind that even though we normally show an overall ranking (some clubs do, some don't, we always do) it is your position within your class and division that really matters because those are the people who are at the same level as you.


Very!  The most serious injury I have seen happened when someone had his finger in the wrong place while stapling up a target.  Shooting sports, because of the danger inherent in playing with firearms, are some of the safest sports you will ever participate in.  We take safety VERY seriously, and the quickest way to go home early is to break one of the safety rules.  We do not take chances where safety is concerned.  Everyone came to the range in one piece and we are determined to make sure they go home the same way.  Violation of a safety rule will end your day very quickly.

Here are the basic rules.  They may be different from club to club, and your local club may have others.

  • EYE AND EAR PROTECTION Approved eye and ear protection are required for everyone.  This means competitors and spectators alike.
  • COLD RANGE Most IDPA matches use a "Cold Range".  This means that every shooter's gun is unloaded until he is on the firing line ready to shoot a stage.  The shooter will be told when to load his firearm.  After he shoots the stage he will be instructed to unload his pistol, and the safety officer will visually check to insure that there is not a round in the chamber.  The shooter will then holster his pistol, and it will stay there until he is ready to shoot again.
  • SAFE AREAS Other than when actually shooting a stage or preparing to shoot a stage, there is only one other place that a shooter can have his gun out of the holster, and that is the "Safe Area".  If a shooter wants to check something on his gun, or wants to dry fire a few times, he goes to the safe area.  Handling ammunition in the safe area is absolutely prohibited.
  • MUZZLE DIRECTION Our ranges are normally designed with "Berms" in between the shooting bays to protect people on either side, and with a solid backstop behind to catch the bullets.  The stages are also designed so that there is nothing in the direction the shooter is firing that might be damaged or harmed.  In addition to that, the shooter must always be aware of the direction of the muzzle of his firearm.  The muzzle must NEVER be pointed in an unsafe direction, and it does NOT matter whether the firearm is loaded or not.  Pointing a muzzle in an unsafe direction is a guaranteed means of going home early.
  • SAFETY OFFICER When you shoot a stage you are not alone.  A "Safety Officer" will be right there with you.  He is normally behind and to the side so that he can watch you easily without getting in your way.  It is his job to watch out for safety issues, not so he can penalize you for them or disqualify you from the match, but to prevent them from becoming problems and getting someone hurt.
  • TRIGGER FINGER Many times our scenarios will involve moving from one position to another or reloading during the stage.  When a shooter is moving or reloading, his finger must be completely out of the trigger guard.  Moving or reloading with your finger on the trigger or inside the trigger guard is not allowed.
  • WE DO NOT HAVE PROVISIONS FOR HURT FEELINGS If you do something grossly unsafe, such as pointing your muzzle in an unsafe direction or dropping a loaded gun, you are finished for the day.  It doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter how mad you get, it doesn't matter how much you complain or whine, it doesn't matter who your daddy is, you are finished for the day.  We don't make exceptions and we don't take chances.  You knew the rules, you broke them, you are done for the day.


    IDPA is designed around the type of equipment that you would use for concealed carry purposes.  There are no special guns or holsters required.  In general you will need a pistol, holster, spare magazines or speed loaders, a magazine pouch or speed loader pouch  (not required, but recommended), eye protection, ear protection, and around 100 rounds of ammunition.

  • FIREARMS If you already have a pistol that you carry or like to shoot, it is probably suitable for IDPA shooting.  It must be centerfire, and .32 caliber is the smallest caliber allowed in IDPA (anything below 9mm Parabellum shoots in the Backup Gun division), but other than that there are divisions for just about everything else.  Revolver or autoloader doesn't matter, they are in different divisions.
  • HOLSTER Holsters are pretty simple as well.  We do not allow shoulder holsters or cross-draw holsters (because when you draw from them the muzzle is pointed back toward the people behind you).  There is a complete list of "Approved" holsters on the IDPA web site.
  • SPARE MAGAZINES OR SPEED LOADERS Many of our stages will require you to reload during the stage, therefore spare magazines for autoloaders or speed loaders for revolvers are, while not mandatory, very necessary.  There are ways to accommodate shooters who only have one magazine, but it slows the entire match down for everyone.  Please have at least one spare magazine or two speed loaders.
  • MAGAZINE POUCHES OR SPEED LOADER POUCHES Having your extra mags or speed loaders readily available is a good thing, so pouches for them are highly recommended.  Keeping them in your pockets is not a good idea.
  • AMMUNITION There are "Power Level" floors for each division, but if you shoot factory loaded ammunition you will easily exceed the minimum limits.  Bring at least 100 rounds to the match.  Normally you will not need that much, but it is easier to take some back home than it is to wish you had more.  Some ranges may have limitations on the type of ammo that you can shoot (for example, many indoor ranges require jacketed bullets), so check with your range in advance.
  • EYE PROTECTION The only requirement is that a shooter have some form of eye protection, which can mean simple sun glasses or anything else.  I personally highly recommend that a shooter do a little better than that.  Invest in some good polycarbonate shooting glasses, preferably some that wrap around the sides of your head.  No glasses are going to stop a bullet, and that is not why we wear them.  Rock chips get thrown up, pieces of gilding metal fly off when shooting steel targets, blow-back from the chamber of your gun, all of these things can throw stuff right at your eyes, and you only have one pair.  Take care of them.
  • EAR PROTECTION There are two basic types of ear protection, plugs and muffs.  Plugs are foam or plastic plugs that go inside your ears.  They are inexpensive and some types are disposable.  Muffs go over your ears.  Either type is suitable, and up to the preference of the shooter.  Some sort of ear protection is required, however.
  • OTHER The environment will dictate other things, such as sun block, insect repellent, sweat towels, water, rain gear, etc.  Some ranges have water and other refreshments available, some do not.  If it is hot, assume that the range will not have anything and take some water with you.


    Contact your local club or range beforehand to find out about specific local rules, regulations, and restrictions.  Find out the correct day, directions to the range (many of them are in the middle of nowhere!), and what time you need to be there.  Show up on match day, and sign up to shoot.  In most cases you do not have to be a member of a local club to shoot a match.  This, of course, will vary from club to club and you need to find out ahead of time what is required there.  IDPA allows a person to shoot one match without being a member of IDPA.  This means that you can go to a club and shoot with them to see if you like it.  If you do, join IDPA.  If you don't, you have lost nothing.

    Find a club near you.  A good resource for locating clubs in your area is the IDPA web site.  If they don't show anything nearby, ask someone at the local gun stores if they know of any clubs in the area.  If you still can't find anything, drop me an email and I'll see if I can scrounge something up for you.  Find out when they shoot, get your gear together, and go have a good time.  Don't worry about your inexperience, it honestly does not matter; we all had to start some time.  If you know someone in the club, go with them.  If you don't know anyone it probably won't make any difference at all.  I've been to a lot of different clubs, and have never gone to a new one that I wasn't made to feel welcome.  If you are still reluctant, go and watch the match.  A word of advice; take your gear with you so you won't have to say, "Gee, I wish I had brought my gear!"

    The cost for a match will vary from one club to another, and there is no "Fixed" amount.  Most clubs around here charge about $15 to shoot a match, but there is nothing "Standard" about that amount.  The clubs in your area may charge more or they may charge less, it is entirely up to them.

    If you are a new shooter, ask for the match director and tell him that you have never shot a match before and are unsure what to do.  He will explain the range rules, and tell you what you need to do to get signed up and started.  The match director is usually pretty busy right before a match, so don't expect him to sit and hold your hand.  You might have to sit by yourself for a little while until he gets things started, but that's just the nature of his job.  Use the time to introduce yourself to the other shooters, and get an idea of what is going on.  Look around the range, and try to get an understanding of the stages.  The MD will be back when he gets time, and he'll help you in any way he can.

    Before the shooting starts there will be a "Shooters Meeting".  This will be used to address all of the shooters at once, explain the range rules, the match rules, and give a brief description of the stages.  The shooters will then either divide into squads or, if the match is based on a "Shotgun Start", go to a stage and get in line to shoot it.

    For your first match, let a couple of people shoot the stage before you do.  Watch them and try to get a feel for what they are doing.  If you have any questions at all, ask someone.  Don't worry about them seeming simple, the people will be glad to help you.  If you don't understand a concept such as a "Tactical Reload" or "Using Cover" then ask about it.  The other shooters will most likely be more than happy to explain the concepts to you.  It will take a little time, and a few mistakes, to get everything straight, but it starts to make sense after a little while.

    Above all, enjoy yourself and be safe.  Take your time shooting the first few times.  It is a lot easier to keep everything straight in your head if you take your time.  The speed will come all by itself, don't try to rush it.  Take your time, get your hits, and have a good time!

    One word of advice for "Experienced" shooters who have never shot competition before, don't let your attitude exceed your abilities.  Regardless of the venue, IDPA, USPSA, or one of the other action shooting venues, there are some very, VERY good shooters who play in these competitions.  We occasionally get the "I shot Expert in the military with every type of firearm they have" or "I've been a street cop for 10 years" types with the inflated egos who are going to show us how a professional does it.  It very seldom works out for them.  This sport is "Different", it is a game, and you need to be willing to learn the rules and how to play the game if you want to do well.  Raw shooting ability is a big advantage but it isn't going to automatically put you at the top.  99% of the people who shoot a match for the first time realize this and don't have this attitude.  That other 1% usually doesn't have a very good time, and they seldom come back again.  Don't be part of the 1%, be willing to listen and learn and you'll have a good time.


    USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association) is the United States affiliate of IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation).  The comparison between USPSA and IDPA is much like the comparison between chocolate and vanilla, some people like one and some like the other, but they are both good.

    I shoot both venues, as do many other people, and enjoy them both.  They complement each other very well, and each has advantages in what you learn by shooting them.  They are quite different in many respects though, and the one that you prefer is entirely up to you.  I have written a comparison between the two that summarizes the equipment, scoring, and other aspects of each.  You can find that information At This Link.  You don't have to choose between IDPA and USPSA, shoot them both and double your fun.


    I have absolutely no experience with this shooting discipline.  I've never even been to one of their matches, nor do I even know exactly how they are run.  If someone who is experienced in this venue reads this and would like to write up something about it, I'll be more than happy to post it here for others to read.

    If you are interested in this form of shooting the Single Action Shooting Society web site would probably be the place to start.  There is a lot of information there, and plenty of links to get you started.

    Copyright © 1997-2020, Scott A. Craig, All Rights Reserved
    Site Use and Privacy Limitations