Shooting in “practical” or “Action” matches is the best way to test yourself, recognize your weaknesses and strengths, as well as compare yourself to others and test the progression or decline in your skill level. It is also a good way to get cheap practice. Most matches require a $15-20 match fee but that is all you pay. You do not have to be a member of the range to shoot a match there. There are two major pistol-based sanctioning bodies, USPSA and IDPA. The former is more professional and money-based with professional shooters and teams that travel to large matches to promote different products or organizations. For example, the Army and Air Force have their own “Action Shooting Team” or “Marksmanship Unit” that normally do VERY well. There are also other teams from Glock and S&W, among others who have more famous shooters that dominate in their own fields.
Smith & Wesson’s Shooting Team includes one of the most winning female shooters ever, Julie Golob. She also happens to be the captain of the team. Their team also includes one of the greatest shooters ever, Jerry Miculek. In what other sport can a woman kick the men’s asses and a shooter that is old enough to collect social security dominate at any match he goes to? The shooting sports are the ultimate equal opportunity sport. Julie G. also has a new book out called “Shoot: Your Guide to Shooting and Competition.” I highly suggest reading it to anyone looking to get into shooting sports. It’s available through Amazon.com, as well as for your iPad and other mobile devices via the iTunes Store.
IDPA is a more grassroots organization that is normally easier to get into, requires less gear, and is very new-shooter friendly. IDPA is a great way to get started since they strictly forbid prizes and monitory income from shooting in matches. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have sponsored shooters in IDPA, but winners do not take home any money so the number of professional shooters and teams is pretty slim in IDPA. IDPA will also have some “side matches” that will allow you to use rifles and shotguns in a stage normally held at the end of the match which is scored separately from the main match.
For most shooters that are interested in getting going with competitive shooting I suggest they start with the IDPA match held near Idaho Springs. It is an easy drive up I-70. They welcome first time competitive shooters and keep them all together in one group for the entire match. Most shooters will already have all the gear they would need to compete. A class is held prior to the match that will get new shooters briefed on the rules and safety issues they will encounter. Once you are done with the first match you will be given a safety card that will allow you to shoot at many other matches on the Front Range without having to take their specific safety class. Many of the USPSA matches are more strict with who they allow to shoot and normally require that you attend one of their safety classes prior to your first USPSA match. The competition is also much more serious at the USPSA matches. For more information on how to get started in USPSA, you can see the Eastern Colorado USPSA webpage.
The next step in the evolution of practical shooting is Multi-Gun or 3-Gun matches. A typical match requires the use of a pistol, carbine, and shotgun all in one match and sometimes all in one stage. This aspect of the shooting sports has become hugely popular recently and even has it’s now TV show called 3-Gun Nation. All of the first season and second seasons is available to watch online at the link I provided above, the third season is airing right now. The reason 3-Gun has become so popular is because of the action. They is usually much more movement, higher round counts, and fewer competitors (this is only applicable at the local level. Large regional matches are packed with shooters). This makes the matches go faster and with less time between stages. The typical local level 3-Gun match has an average of 30 shooters per weekend. The typical pistol match will have a minimum of 60 shooters that causes some extra down time between the stages. The reason there are fewer shooters is also the only downside to 3-Gun… The amount of gear required is much higher. With a normal pistol match you will need about $600 of total gear since you only need a pistol, holster/mag holders and extra mags. At a typical 3-Gun match, I arrive with about $4,000 worth of gear. I’m right in the middle of the road for the cost of the gear I have. You can get away with less, but many people have more invested in their gear.
3-Gun or Multi-Gun matches are sanctioned mostly by the USPSA and have their own set of rules separate but similar to the pistol match rules. If you are interested in 3-Gun you should take a look at the USPSA Multi-Gun specific rules. These rules will get you most of the information you need prior to shooting your first match, but most matches are actually considered “Outlaw” matches. These matches run their own set of rules that allow for more flexibility, easier scoring, and faster matches. Good examples of this on a local level are the Multi-Gun matches held at the WCFW range and run by Zak Smith. Zak has several companies that he either owns or has a part in their operation that is shooting related. The one specific to Multi-Gun matches is Colorado Multi-Gun. Zak’s site is a great resource for other similar matches in the area as well as the rules and dates for his match.
Zak’s site also bring me to the next level of practical shooting matches. It is what I consider to be the pinnacle of this type of shooting competition, the practical field match. These matches take place in natural and typically rugged terrain that requires a good level of fitness and an extreme amount of gear and skill. Some of these matches are shot as a single person like other practical matches; but more of them are becoming team matches where two shooters are on the clock together, each having separate responsibilities during the match but working together to complete their task. These matches make the typical Multi-Gun match look like a walk in the park. I shot my first of these matches in 2011 in New Mexico at the first ever Thunder Beast Arms Team Challenge. Was hooked! My partner and I didn’t finish very well, but we still walked away with enough in prizes to make up for the event entry fee and we had a great time. In my opinion this match was the ultimate test of a rifleman’s skill. For more info on these matches and other extreme-type field matches, see the website for Zak’s new company that will be putting on some of the best matches in the country, Competition Dynamics. Our second run at these field team matches was at the 2012 Wyoming Tactical Rifle Championship. What an outstanding matches that turned out to be. We finished much better, learned even more and really enjoyed the match. There will be more to come about this match in another post soon…
In summary, those of you taking on this adventure should start with an IDPA match to get the feel for the rules. It will also allow you to focus more on shooting each stage and less on the gear it takes to compete. Keep in mind that you are competing against yourself more than anyone else. The mild stress of a match will cause you to make mistakes that you never would have thought possible. Take it slow and safe and be happy if you don’t make any safety mistake on your first time out. Don’t feel bad when your score does not meet your expectations. It takes time and most of those in the top half of the match results have been doing it for quite a while. Just because you feel good at the range on your own doesn’t mean you’ll be able to place well at a match. But it will give you a good idea of what you need to improve and work on for the next match.
If you have any questions please email me!!
And please, step away from the computer, and get to the range!!