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Competitive shooting disciplines are among the fastest-growing shooting sports in the United States.
The two largest disciplines today are IDPA and USPSA. Learn the basics of competitive shooting, the differences between IDPA and USPSA, and which of the two is best for you.
Competition Shooting Basics
You may be familiar with firearms and shooting in general. But if you’re new to the world of competition shooting, the concept may seem a little intimidating.
The first thing to remember with competition shooting is the vast array of available disciplines. There is a discipline for everyone, from classic bullseye target shooting to high-intensity action shooting.
By far, the two most popular choices in the United States today are IDPA and USPSA, which are among the world’s largest practical shooting organizations.
If you already possess guns, magazines, ammunition, and a range bag, you need little else to get started.
The United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) is one of the largest practical shooting sports associations in the U.S., with over 31,000 active members and over 440 affiliated clubs nationwide.
USPSA is the American branch of the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC). Founded in 1976, IPSC is the world’s largest shooting sport association.
USPSA shooting features 8 divisions and recognizes 2 power factors.
Before explaining the different shooting divisions, you must understand the power factor of a competition gun and how it affects your scoring.
USPSA Power Factors
Power Factor (PF) is a simple mathematical formula designed to measure the ammunition’s rough power level in a competition.
To measure your gun’s Power Factor, check your bullet weight in grains, then fire one round over a chronograph to obtain a velocity reading in feet per second.
Multiply your bullet weight with the velocity value, then divide the result by 1,000 to get your PF.
In USPSA, there are only two power factor levels: Major and Minor.
- USPSA Major is any firearm developing a power factor of 165 or more.
- USPSA Minor is any firearm developing a power factor above 125 but under 165.
- Firearms developing less than 125 PF are not USPSA-legal, preventing shooters from using deliberately under-loaded ammunition and benefitting from the lower recoil.
For example, if you’re shooting .45 ACP, 230-grain full metal jacketed bullets and obtain an average velocity of 800 feet per second, the formula is: (230 x 800) / 1000.
The result is 184, placing your gun in USPSA Major.
The eight USPSA divisions are as follows: Production, Limited, Limited-10, Open, Carry Optics, Single-Stack, Revolver, and PCC.
- In the Production division, competitors must use stock or near-stock handguns from an approved list. Only a minimal number of legal modifications are allowed (typically, different iron sights, grip tape, or cosmetic parts).
- In the Limited division, competitors may use almost any modifications they like on their handguns, except optical sights, requiring shooters to use iron sights only. Shooters may use longer magazines than stock but must not exceed 141.25mm for double-stack models or 171.25mm for single-stack models.
- Limited-10 is similar to Limited but with a 10-round limitation per magazine. This division is intended to simulate shooting with firearms legal in states with magazine capacity restrictions.
- Open is the oldest division, featuring the fewest restrictions. In Open division, shooters may use optical sights and longer magazines. Here is where you’ll find the most extensively modified firearms. The maximum magazine length allowed in Open is 171.25mm for all guns.
- Carry Optics is a relatively new division, similar to Production, but allowing slide-mounted optics and Limited division magazine lengths.
- Single Stack is a division devoted exclusively to single-stack 1911 pistols. Your gun must be a metal-framed, single-stack 1911 variant, fitted with standard iron sights. Magazine capacity is limited to 8 for Major guns and 10 for Minor guns. A good example for this single-stack 1911 variant pistols would be the Springfield armory gun.
- Revolver is the division to be if you prefer shooting wheelguns. The maximum barrel length is 8.5”, and the cylinder capacity is limited to 6 for Major guns and 8 for Minor guns.
- PCC, short for Pistol-caliber carbine, is the newest USPSA division. As the name suggests, shooters are allowed to use rifles chambered in pistol calibers.
The International Defensive Pistol Association was founded in 1996 in Bogata, Texas, focusing on “real-world” scenarios and practical gear usage.
The founders of IDPA believed that USPSA had strayed too far away from the “practical” in practical shooting, criticizing the use of extensively-modified handguns instead of unmodified pistols.
In response, the IDPA tightly regulates what shooters can modify or alter on their guns, in the spirit of keeping the competition focused on the shooter instead of the gear.
There are 10 divisions in IDPA. Power Factor and caliber requirements depend on the division.
The ten IDPA divisions are as follows: Stock Service Pistol, Enhanced Service Pistol, Custom Defensive Pistol, Compact Carry Pistol, Stock Revolver, Enhanced Revolver, Backup Gun Semi-auto, Backup Gun Revolver, Pistol Caliber Carbine, and Carry Optics.
In Stock Service Pistol (SSP), you must use a stock or near-stock semi-automatic pistol chambered in 9x19mm or higher, featuring a DAO, DA/SA, or Glock safe-action, with a minimum PF of 125, and no more than 10 rounds per magazine. SSP-legal pistols must also meet maximum weight (43 oz.) and dimension requirements (8.75” x 6” x 1.625”).
- Enhanced Service Pistol (ESP) is similar to SSP, but shooters may use SAO pistols and a broader array of allowed modifications.
- Custom Defensive Pistol (CDP) is reserved for .45 ACP semi-automatic pistols (mostly 1911s) with a minimum PF of 165 and a maximum of 8 rounds per magazine.
- Compact Carry Pistol (CCP) is similar to SSP but imposes a maximum barrel length of 4.375”, smaller maximum dimensions (7.75” x 5.375” x 1.375”), and lower maximum weight (38 oz.)
- Stock Revolver (REV-S) is the revolver counterpart to REV-S. You must use a stock or minimally-modified revolver chambered in a rimmed cartridge (.38 Special or higher), with a PF of at least 105 and no more than 6 rounds in the cylinder. REV-S-legal guns must be under the maximum weight (43 oz.) and barrel length (4.25”). Moon clips are not allowed.
- Enhanced Revolver (REV-E) removes the rimmed cartridge restriction, but REV-E guns must feature a PF of at least 155 (.357 Magnum or higher) and meet specific maximum grip dimension requirements.
- Backup Gun Semi-auto (BUG-S) allows concealed carrying-oriented semi-automatic pistols chambered in .380 ACP or higher, with a PF of at least 95, a maximum weight of 26 oz., a barrel length not exceeding 3.5”, and even smaller maximum dimensions than CCP (6.5” x 4.625” x 1.375”). The maximum number of rounds per magazine is 6.
- Backup Gun Revolver (BUG-R) is the revolver counterpart of BUG-S. Almost all of the requirements are the same, except for caliber (.38 Special or higher), capacity (max 5 rounds per cylinder), and barrel length (max 2.5”).
- Pistol Caliber Carbine (PCC) is similar to its USPSA equivalent, with very few requirements. IDPA PCC guns must be carbines chambered in 9x19mm, .40 S&W, .357 SIG, .45 ACP, or 10mm Auto, with a minimum PF of 135 a maximum of 30 rounds per magazine.
- Carry Optics (CO) is also very similar to its USPSA equivalent. IDPA CO requirements are almost identical to ESP but with a maximum weight of 45 oz. and the ability to install a slide-mounted optical sight and a laser sight.
The only way to be sure if competition shooting is right for you is to visit a local club and try it for yourself.
Feel free to try different divisions; as long as your gear is legal for the division of your choice, you should be allowed to participate.
Lastly, don’t forget the most important part of competition shooting is to have fun!