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Getting Started in IDPA

IDPA was founded to provide an arena where shooters could be competitive with standard type carry guns. Before IDPA's inception, if you wanted to shoot competitively, and you were shooting a Beretta, Glock, Sig, or any other standard "off the shelf" gun, you might literally have to shoot in a division against other shooters using $2000 "race" guns.

Even though some other shooting sports have since added divisions for production type guns, the stages still may put you at a disadvantage. At the first non-IDPA match I went to, the first stage was 48 rounds. I was shooting a Sig 229 and only had four 10 round magazines total, which is a total of 41 rounds, so I was unable to finish the first stage.

Stages in IDPA are designed around the capabilities of a standard type of production gun with two or three magazines, and in general, are supposed to represent scenarios you might actually face in real life. There are guidelines and rules that make the stages fair for all shooters, regardless of gun type.

Some of the (very basic) guidelines are as follows:

Shooters are divided up into categories of weapon type and skill level, so a shooter only competes against other shooters of the same ability.

Weapon type is as follows:
The allowable calibers are .38 or 9mm Parabellum up to .45. ACP (although, the most recent rule book simply states .38 or larger).

Stock Service Pistol (SSP)
This is any 'standard' production type gun that is Double Action, Double Action Only, or Safe Action (Glock) such as Glock, Sig, Beretta, Smith and Wesson, etc, in any allowable caliber. Magazines may be loaded with 10 rounds only, but you may start with 11 rounds (10 in the magazine plus one in the chamber).

Enhanced Service Pistol (ESP)
This is (mostly) Glocks and single action guns of any allowable caliber, such as the Browning Hi-power, Springfield, Colt, etc. You can shoot any other SSP gun, such as a Sig, in this division if you choose to, but few people do, since the competition is mostly single action guns. Magazines may be loaded with 10 rounds only, but you may start with 11 rounds (10 plus one in the chamber).

Custom Defensive Pistol (CDP)
This is any gun of .45 ACP caliber only. You will see mostly single action guns, such as the 1911 style pistol, but any gun in .45 can shoot in this division. Magazines may be loaded with 8 rounds only, but you may start with 9 rounds (8 in the magazine plus one in the chamber).

Stock Service Revolver (SSR)
This is any revolver of any allowable caliber that uses ammunition with a rimmed case and is not reloaded with a full moon clip.

Enhanced Service Revolver (SSR)
This is any revolvers of any allowable caliber, but in this division, you can load more than 6 rounds on models that have more than 6 chambers, and you can use moon clips, and there are different ammo requirements.

Other general equipment rules
Any gun that can be changed from double action to single action at the discretion of the shooter may be shot in multiple divisions as long as you start correctly for that division. For example, a Walther P99 in 9mm or .40 S&W can be shot in SSP with the trigger fully forward, or it can be shot in ESP with the trigger set to single action mode.

Some gun modifications are allowed, but not many. In a nutshell, if a modification is not practical for "street use" it cannot be used in IDPA (there is a list of specifically allowed and disallowed modifications). Also, specifically, no safety features may be disabled. If unsure about a modification you have made, ask a Safety Officer or Match Director.

Other equipment (holsters/magazine pouches) may not be modified in any way.

Equipment must be worn as it is worn on the street and all retention devices must be used. Most equipment must be worn behind the vertical centerline of the body.

Many stages in an IDPA match will be shot using a concealment garment.

To compete in a sanctioned match, you must first be classified by shooting a 90 round classifier match. After shooting the match, the match director assigns your classification.

Skill level classification is indicated as follows:
Novice, Marksman, Sharpshooter, Expert, Master

If you shoot in more than one division, you must be separately classified in each division.

Other guidelines and rules
It is required that stages represent something that might actually happen in real life. No "run and gun" or silly stages such as "Little Green Men from Mars" or "Cowboy Bob Gets His Steer" stages are allowed. You will often see stages that represent protracted gun battles, but you will not usually see a stage that is too incredibly long or silly.

No individual string of fire may be more than 18 rounds. This allows shooters with guns with lower capacity magazines, such as a Sig 239 or Glock 27, to remain competitive. If you are shooting a gun of this type, you may have to perform an extra reload every now and then, but generally, you can still be competitive.

Whenever possible, stages are to be kept "six shot friendly." This allows revolver shooters to be competitive. Six shot friendly means that a revolver would be able to completely finish a course with no additional penalties. For instance, you should never see a stage that requires eight continuous shots with no position to reload.

Movement is kept to a minimum during individual stages. Movement is very common in real gunfights, and IDPA recommends moving while shooting, but during any individual stage, movement is limited 10 yards from point A to point B and 15 yards maximum. In some sports, movement is not limited, and 50 percent or more of any given stage time may be movement. I have seen stages in other sports where contestants must run 50 yards or more before shooting. Other than being generally unrealistic, this type of stage turns a shooting match into an Olympic track event, and rewards shooters for foot speed instead of shooting ability.

Many IDPA stages will have some sort of cover available. If so, you must shoot from behind cover or while moving to cover. The term "cover" refers to anything that will stop incoming rounds, but in IDPA, anything you get behind is usually called cover.

There are only two types of reloads allowed in IDPA.
If you shoot until your gun is empty, you may allow your magazine (auto) or loose casings (revolvers) fall to the ground. At that point, you simply insert a new magazine or fresh rounds and continue shooting. This is known as a slide-lock or empty gun reload. If your gun is not empty but you have reached a point where it is beneficial to reload, you must retain the magazine or unfired rounds. This can be done two different ways:

First, you can reach for the fresh magazine, bring it up to the gun, take out the partial magazine and replace it with the fresh magazine, then put the partial magazine away. This particular method requires you to have two magazines in your hand for a few moments, which requires a little extra dexterity, but this method is touted as being the only correct way by some "tactical experts." This is known as a "true tactical reload."

Second, you can take the partial magazine out of the gun first, put it away, then reach for the fresh magazine and insert it into the gun. This particular method is a little faster overall, but the gun is out of commission for a longer period of time, which is why some "tactical experts" don't like it. This particular method is known a "reload with retention."

According to the rulebook, if a tactical reload or reload with retention is required in a course of fire, either one can be performed at the shooter's discretion.

Most folks don't know what to expect at a match, so here are a few suggestions.

If the match will be held outdoors, especially if it's a hot day, you should take plenty of drinking water with you. A cap or hat is a good idea too.

Besides a gun, you will also need the following equipment:

Holster. No shoulder or cross-draw holsters are allowed. Holsters must be belt or paddle, strong side type. Retention devices are not required, but must be used if your holster has a retention device on it. Retention devices may not be altered.

Spare magazines or speed loaders. At least one, but more is better. Sometimes one spare is not enough. Three or four is about right as a minimum, but most folks bring at least four or five. The more you start with, the less time you will spend reloading. You should not need more than one or two magazines for any one stage, but sometimes stages have multiple strings and more magazines equals less reloading between strings.

Magazine or speed loader pouch. Otherwise, you have to carry the spares in your pocket.

Flashlight, sometimes. Occasionally, a range will run a 'low light' match.

Concealment garment. A vest, jacket, or over-shirt works well.

Spare ammo. One hundred rounds is usually plenty for a local club match. Some matches, such as a state match or the national match required several hundred or more.

Hearing and eye protection. This is a requirement. Regular eyeglasses are ok.

Once at the match, remember, you may not handle your gun unless you are on the firing line and are about to shoot, and then only once the Safety Officer (SO) tells you to load your gun. Handling your gun anywhere else may get you disqualified from the match.

Most matches are run "cold." This means no one may have a loaded gun, except when they have been told to load by the SO. If you show up to a match with a loaded gun, you should inform an SO and let them tell you where to go to safely unload the gun. The general guideline is to arrive at the range "cold" but that may not always be an option. In a perfect world, you would travel to the match with your gun unloaded, but in perfect world, we wouldn't need to learn to shoot to defend ourselves in the first place.

Before each stage, there will be a brief walkthrough explaining how the stage is to be shot. If you don't understand something, ask questions. Usually, the stages will be straightforward and will not require any lengthy discussion as to how to shoot them.

When it is your turn to shoot, the SO will call your name. Once you are on the firing line and no one is downrange, the SO will tell say "Load and make ready." At this time, you can draw your gun and load it. Once it is loaded and ready, reholster the gun.

The SO will now ask, "Do you understand the course of fire?" This simply means, do you understand what to do. If not, ask now. This is not the time for a lengthy discussion, but if you don't understand or you forgot something, ask about it.

Once you indicate you understand, the SO will ask "Are you ready." If you're not ready, say no. Once you indicate yes, the next command will be "Standby" and then a few seconds later, the buzzer will sound. Once the buzzer sounds, begin the course of fire.

Once you are finished, you simply stop shooting and wait. The SO will tell you to "Unload and show clear." Empty the gun and show the SO the chamber(s) is/are empty. You may be told "Hammer Down" which means you must point the gun downrange and pull the trigger. Some ranges do not require this even though they are supposed to by the rules. You will then be told "Holster." Simply holster your gun. Do this before you do anything else! Once you have holstered, you can pick up magazines, look for brass, or whatever. This is also the time when the SO will score your shots on the targets.

The objective in IDPA is to get the best hits possible, as quickly as possible, while using correct tactics. The best hit possible on an IDPA target is in the zero down area, which is the circle in the center of the chest of the target. The next area around that is one point, the next area around that is three points, and a miss is five points.

Scoring in IDPA is simpler than in some shooting sports. The amount of time it took you to complete the stage (the time on the timer) is called your "raw" time. To figure your final score, take the raw time, add one-half second for each point down, and add any penalties. All penalties are expressed in increments of time, so any penalty earned increases your stage time. This makes your "stage" time. To figure your final total score, simply add all the stage times together. The lowest final total time wins.