How to Get Started in Shooting Competitions/ the Shooting Sports – USPSA / IDPA / 3 Gun

USPSA Getting Started.png

Pew Pew Pew

When you hear “Shooter ready?….Stand by……BEEEEP!,” your mind turns to milk regardless of the plan that you thought that you had.  Then all of your senses seem to act at once, and your body goes through motions you didn’t know it could or would.  Somewhere on the edge of consciousness you feel recoil, smell burnt powder, make unbelievable shots, make shots that Ray Charles would be embarrassed of, then it’s all over.  Next you hear the Range Officer (R.O.) say “If finished unload and show clear…Hammer down…..’Click’….Holster…The range is clear…”  You feel like Ralphie on Christmas morning.  What a rush…It sure is fun.

After alligator, dove, duck, squirrel, rabbit, deer, hog, etc. hunting season ended this year I was in my usual state of exhaustion and burnout.  It was time for a change of pace, and something new… Shooting competitively.  Specifically, pistol competitions.  Why Pistol? Because out of rifle, shotgun and pistol, pistol is what I suck at the most.  If I’m going to start carrying a concealed handgun to protect myself and others, then I’d better learn to shoot and manipulate the weapon system well.

Fate In the Ammo Isle:

I was purchasing a case of shotgun shells for a skeet shoot fund raiser I was participating in, and decided to pick up some 9mm (9×19) ammo for a concealed carry pistol I have yet to purchase, when I came across a very interesting character.  It’s funny how pivotal moments in life seem so inconsequential at the time.  I noticed a soft spoken retired gentleman on the ammo isle talking to another customer about a sale the store was having on ammo. As fate would have it, I ended up behind him in the checkout line.  I looked in his cart, and it was littered with pistol, rifle, and shotgun ammunition, and I thought “Now, this is a guy worth gabbing with.”  I struck up a conversation.  It turns out that he was buying ammo for shooting a variety of competitions that he was participating in around my neck of the woods.


I asked what kind of competitions he was into, and he mentioned USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association), 3-Gun competitions, and IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association).  My ears perked immediately, because I’d been trying to find a place to dip my toes into the world of competition shooting for some time.  On prior occasions when checking around on my own, I found that much to my chagrin, the area of South Louisiana where I live is a barren wasteland of shooting competitions (or so I thought).  I looked online, but wasn’t sure what I was looking for, and didn’t understand all of the abbreviations (USPSA, IDPA, IPSC…sheesh, tactical alphabet soup).

Things that I feared or that I didn’t want to do:

  • Having to travel a long way to compete;
  • Entering a competition that I’m not familiar with;
  • Spending a bunch of money on gear or entry fees;
  • Having to shoot against guys whose shooting prowess makes me look like a bed wetting toddler (not hard to do);
  • Showing up at a shooting competition when I don’t know the right gear to use;
  • Going to a competition when I don’t know any of the people;
  • Showing up when I don’t know the rules;
  • Looking like an idiot (more than usual), etc. etc. etc.

By the end of the conversation, the man in the checkout line invited me to go practice with he and his buddies, and would give me information on when/where to compete.  He would even help me out with gear choices, techniques, etc.  We exchanged cell numbers, and as I was walking to my truck, I loaded my case of 12 gauge under the back seat, and wondered to myself if I was going to end up experiencing some “Fatal Attraction” moment involving some random guy with a cart full of ammunition to which I’d just given my personal cell phone number.  I don’t have a rabbit, but even if I did I wouldn’t want it to end up boiling on my stove (unless I was making a stew or something)!

Above is a video of Yoda going off a little.

Much to my relief, he texted me a few days later and told me about a USPSA pistol competition being hosted at a recently built indoor shooting range in my area.  Due to his role as my teacher in the dark arts of pistol badassdome, I took to calling him Yoda. I was so pumped to get to try out the shooting sports, and a little relieved that I was going to avoid having an ether soaked rag over my face, and being shoved in the back of a rusty old child molester van.  There’s always time for that on the weekends, I suppose.

My First USPSA Competition – What Took Me So Long?:

Shooting First USPSA Match.png

I showed up at a newly built indoor range in Youngsville, Louisiana and wasn’t so sure what to expect.  The place is called Sentry Defense. The owners, Brandon & Shelby Elias, know there stuff, and literally treat everyone who walks through their doors like family.  If you are new or an experienced shooter anywhere in South Louisiana, it’s worth a trip to the Sentry Defense range, or check out their classes (concealed carry classes, self defense classes, trauma classes, etc.).  They host a USPSA competition once a week (alternating every other week between Wednesday & Thursday nights) starting at 6PM, so come shoot!  And no, I don’t get paid to say this kind of crap…It really is a great range.

The guys gathered to shoot were a mix of new (and confused) shooters just like me, as well as guys with whizz-bang, Buzz Lightyear, George Jetson, and Marvin the Martian looking equipment.  The new guys had all of the same questions and concerns that I did.  The guys who knew what they were doing were incredibly kind, and were excited to introduce newbies into the shooting sports.  What new shooters don’t realize is that all of the guys at the match with experience of any level were once the uncomfortable guy showing up for his first match not knowing what to expect.

What I Learned That Might Help You:

  • Be humble, and expect to have a great deal to learn;
  • You do not have to be a USPSA member to shoot in a local USPSA match;
  • What in the Hell took me so long to try this?;
  • Everyone involved in this sport are incredibly kind and inviting.  You are not the first, nor the last new shooter to show up, and ask questions, so don’t be intimidated or shy;
  • It is incredibly easy to get started in the shooting sports;
  • Bring whatever equipment you already shoot, and shoot whatever you already have.  Whatever you do, don’t buy a bunch of crap until you shoot in a match or two with equipment you have or something you’ve borrowed.  Then talk to those who know better, and take their advise on equipment.  Your old S&W revolver, or brand new STI autoloader will all have a place here;
  • Bring lots of ammo, and don’t be afraid to stow some extra rounds in your truck, just in case;
  • Check your ego at the door.  Don’t show up thinking you’re going to beat shooters with years of experience, and be carried out on everyone’s shoulders like a bad 1980’s movie.  There are no epic movie montages here, Daniel San.  No matter how good you actually are, you will never be that guy at your first match.  You will get better, but not today so accept that, and you will enjoy yourself.  There’s plenty of time to compete in this sport (with yourself, the guys locally, national times, classifications, between divisions, etc. etc. etc.);
  • For your first match, focus on safety, following the rules, understanding the process and just try to take everything in and have fun;
  • Focus on not getting disqualified for the first match or two.  Just make your shots accurately, and don’t worry about flying through the stages at Mach 6.  Make sure your fundamentals are good, and then you can speed things up a little at a time;
  • Don’t get too bogged down in the differences in Classification or Divisions because it is confusing, and makes things not fun.  Just ask the person signing you in to help put you where you belong.  Ask questions from the guy or gal with the most gray hair, and/or a clipboard.  You can figure all that crap out as you go;
  • You don’t need to be a tactical ninja to enjoy this sport.  This sport is designed to shoot against shooters of like skill level (that is the point of the classification system).
  • You don’t need to be Batman with Bruce Wayne’s income to be competitive in this sport.  That is the point of the different divisions.  For instance, I shoot Production division, which is basically designed to shoot factory pistols from normal holsters (not equipment that looks fancy for Capt. Kirk).  However, if you have a tricked out custom Glock, STI, Atlas, Akai Custom, etc. there is a division for you as well!  Divisions will be explained in a separate article.
  • You will gain practical knowledge and experience with the firearm platform you are shooting which can’t be simulated by just shooting static targets in a shooting bay or on grandpappy’s back 40.  This is true run & gun.
  • You will be immediately addicted, and will at some point think to yourself “what in the the Hell took me so long to start doing this?!”

Here is What to Expect at a USPSA Match from Start to Finish:

Still being very much the newbie I’m sure that I’ll leave out something, but below is exactly what I experienced at my local match (major matches are larger, but generally follow a similar format from what I’ve been told, but may be shot over several days).

(1) Bring your equipment in some kind of range bag or case that can be closed or zipped.  Pistol should be in minimum caliber 9mm up to and including 45 ACP.  Have them unloaded, and stored separately from your ammunition, with no magazine in the gun, and the hammer down.  You can have magazines loaded with ammo, just don’t have the loaded mags in the same zipped case as the pistol.

  • If you are shooting an outdoor match remember that a firearm is not the only equipment needed.
  • Bring water, food, sunscreen, chairs, etc. I’m a supreme “whitey,” so sunscreen is a must for me.
  • Eye Protection: Sunglasses are fine for outdoor or clear safety glasses for indoor or overcast days.
  • Bring Ear Protection: For the first year of shooting, I just used a pair of the kind you stick in your ears, but the muff style work better.
  • Firearm of choice: 9mm or larger up to and including 45ACP.  Most people are shooting either 9mm or .40S&W.
  • Holster:  Any holster that covers the entire trigger guard, and holds the firearm securely when you move.  I couldn’t find anything that I liked locally or online within my “frugal” (a/k/a cheap) budget, so I made a kydex holster.  If you want to see how to make a holster on the cheap, check out How to Make a Kydex Holster.  If you don’t have a holster, then bring a bag or box that closes for your first match.
  • Extra Magazines: I started with 3 because that’s what came with my Glock 34, and was just fine.  However, bring whatever you’ve got to start out.
  • Magazine Pouches:  Generally any kind of cloth, kydex, or plastic thing that can attach to your belt that holds your extra magazines will work fine until you can figure out what works best to compete with.  If you don’t have mag pouches it’s no problem. You can just wear pants with pockets.  At my first match, 20% of the guys used pockets.
  • Ammunition: Don’t bring tracers or incendiary rounds or something.  Don’t be a tac-tard, just regular target or match ammo will do.

(2) You show up and sign up for the match, and pay the match fee which is usually cheaper than dinner and a movie with your wife or your girlfriend (especially if they’re on the same date, which I wouldn’t recommend).  If they ask what division, tell them you don’t know what that means, and they will help you.  You do not have to be a USPSA member to shoot in a USPSA match.  We will discuss USPSA Membership in future posts.

(3) You will muddle around with all of the other shooters exchanging much dude banter until they call for a safety meeting.  I can’t stress this enough:  Don’t tune out during the meeting.  Pay close attention, because this part can save your life or the lives of others.  Not to mention it will prevent you from getting disqualified.  It is very easy to get confused when you’re nervous, and being timed.  If at any point you aren’t sure what to do, then simply stop & ask a range officer before doing it.

Simple Safety Rules to Keep You Alive And Avoid DQ’s:

  • Don’t ever remove your pistol from the holster (or range bag if you didn’t bring a holster) unless and until the RO (range officer) gives you the command to do so.  When you are on the shooting line ready to shoot he/she will say “Make ready” when it’s time to take the pistol out of the holster.  Don’t take your pistol out of the holster (outside of the safe area) to show someone your equipment, this WILL get you DQ’ed immediately.  At the 2nd match I attended, we had a very experienced shooter get DQ’ed for doing this very thing.
  • Do not sweep the muzzle of the gun (loaded or unloaded) across any human body part.  It doesn’t even matter if the body part is attached to you or a person you dislike.  Basically don’t point a gun at anyone (if you don’t understand that, then look into playing ping-pong instead of playing with firearms).  This would include accidentally sweeping yourself when you draw, or when you are moving/running.
  • Keep your bugger digger off of the bang switch.  Do not have your finger inside of the trigger guard when you are moving with the firearm.  This is to prevent an AD (Accidental Discharge), which can get someone killed or maimed for life.
  • Do not have your finger inside the trigger guard when preforming a reload (magazine change).  Again common sense, but everyone’s inner moron comes out when under stress, and in a hurry.
  • Do not “Break the 180 degree line.”  This is simple:  every stage will have an imaginary line that separates the crap getting shot at from all the people not getting shot at.  If you swing the muzzle of the firearm (loaded or unloaded) across that 180 degree line, it is an automatic DQ.  This is much easier to do than you would think when you are under pressure, so always point muzzle downrange.
  • No ammunition is allowed in the safe area. Otherwise, it’s just an area.

(4) If you need to work on a firearm, dry fire, draw from the holster, etc., it can only be done in the designated “Safe Area.”  The 180 degree rule and muzzle awareness rules still apply inside the safe area. This a predesignated area where you can have firearms, but no ammo.  The easiest way to think about thinks is like this:

  • Inside Safe Area = All the firearms handling you want, but NEVER ammo;
  • Outside Safe Area = All the ammo handling you want, but NEVER unholstered firearms.

(5) After the safety meeting, you will enter the range or shooting area, and go to a berm or safe area to place your weapon in the holster.  When doing this, you can not have any ammunition near you, so only bring the firearm in a closed case or zipper bag, and leave the ammo in another location.  After everyone is holstered (with no mag, and the hammer down), you can go load up mags with ammo, store them in your mag pouches, and begin with the match.

(6) The RO will divide you up into Squads, and they will begin assigning a shooting order for the first stage.

(7) There is usually a Stage Diagram available for each stage being shot in the match.  It’s always good to look over before you start flinging bullets downrange.  The stage diagram is a drawing showing where all of the targets will be located on the stage, the types of targets in the stage, the starting position, how the stage is to be shot, and how many rounds it should take to shoot the stage clean, etc. etc. etc.

Below is a stage diagram showing a short, but typical stage called “Piano Keys.”

USPSA Stage Diagram Piano Keys.png

Typical Stage Diagram.  This one is called “Piano Keys.”

Below is a video of yours truly shooting this stage (Piano Keys).  Please don’t judge…the sun was in my eyes…or something.  The blacked out portions are considered “Hardcover” (the different types of targets will be explained in Understanding USPSA Targets and Scoring).

Below is an example of a stage diagram for “Tick Tock” which is a classifier stage.  I will explain classifiers in Understanding USPSA Classifications.

Tick Tock Classifier CM 13-05.png

This is an example of a stage diagram of a stage called Tick Tock.  It is a USPSA Classifier stage.

I really wish I’d filmed someone who knew what in the Hell they were doing, but I did get video of me shooting Tick Tock so you can compare the diagram to what it looks like while being shot.  Not very fast, but all “Alpha Hits.”  The white target in the middle is a “No Shoot” target.  The scoring will be explained in Understanding USPSA Scoring and Targets.

(8)  When it’s your turn to shoot the stage, you will get in position, and then:

  1. The R.O. (Range Officer) will say “Make ready.” At that point you will pull your pistol from the holster or bag (don’t ever do this until he/she gives this command or your are DQ city, buddy).  You will insert the magazine and rack a round in the chamber if the stage calls for a loaded start, and you will reinsert it into the holster.
  2. The R.O. will ask “Are you ready?”  At that point if you are not ready just raise your hand or stop him.  If you are ready you can either nod your head or just don’t move at all.
  3. The R.O. will say “Stand by,” then there will be a slight delay, and then the buzzer will sound “BEEEEP!
  4. Then you shoot the stage remembering your safety procedures, and following the instructions on the stage plan as quickly as you can.

(9) When you are done shooting the stage, the R.O. will say “If finished, unload and show clear.”  You will drop the mag, and pull the slide back (or open the cylinder on a revolver), removing the round from the chamber.  You will hold back the slide and inspect the chamber to make certain there is no round in the chamber, then show the range officer that the chamber is empty.  Once the RO has seen the chamber is empty, he will say “If clear, hammer down, holster.”  Drop the slide, point the muzzle at the berm, then pull the trigger to allow the hammer or striker to fall.  Then you simply place the bang stick back in the holster.

(10) The RO will say “The range is clear.”  Then everyone can approach the targets to score your hits, misses, and any procedural, in addition to marking down your time.  This will determine your overall score known as “Hit Factor,” and how you place in the match.

(11) After the targets have been scored, everyone will walk up and paste the targets by adding a small piece of tape that is colored to match the target over the bullet holes you made to allowing the next shooter to be scored on a clean target.  New shooters, please try to help out as much as possible.  That may be pasting targets, setting up/taking down stages, etc. etc.  If you aren’t sure, ask someone who knows what they are doing.

Once all of the shooters have shot all of the stages, and everything is put away, the match is over.

(12) The safety rule dealing with unholstering your weapon still applies.  Unholstering, and putting your weapon away can be done in the safety area (with no ammo present).  If there is no safety area, or it has been put away already you can go to the berm with the RO’s blessing, and without any ammo present, you can remove from holster, hammer down, and put the pistol away in a range back or case to leave.

You can ask the Match Director how to get scores, but they are usually uploaded to

How Do I Find A Match In My Area:

This couldn’t be simpler.  Go to Greatoudoorinary’s Practiscore Matches Link, enter your location, and check out matches near you! This works for the entire planet!

If you are still reading this, then quit playing on the freaking internet, and go find a match to shoot in…sheesh…you lazy keyboard jockey.

Categories: Shooting

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7 replies

  1. Welcome to the dark side, my friend! Great to see that you’re honing your hand gunning skills, and exercising due diligence to prepare yourself for concealed carry. It certainly is worth it!


  2. Any idea n what you’ll eventually be packing as your EDSC?


    • Good question. I’ve spent much time arguing with myself, and still have yet to win the argument. I currently carry (concealed) a Ruger SP-101 (chambered in .357 Mag), because it is what I have, and it conceals quite well. However, I will probably end up purchasing a Glock 19 Gen 5, because my competition gun is currently a Glock 34, Gen 5. That way the two platforms are compatible, and familiar in a high stress situation. I hope that I never have to touch it in defense, but it is quite comforting for me and my family that it is there.

      Are you allowed to carry concealed where you live. What is your choice for carry?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Unfortunately, I live in Australia for the most part right now (I’m retired), and we have no provision for personal defense using firearms, or for concealed carry in this country.

        When I’m in the Philippines, hoevever, (where I also hold citizenship) I have several options:

        1. Glock 23 in .40 S&W (with 2 extra mags)
        2. Smith & Wesson M&P9 full-size in 9mm (with 1 extra mag), or
        3. Taurus Millenium Pro PT-145 in .45 ACP (with 2 extra mags).

        Things can get pretty exciting over there, so I also carry a Ruger LCP .380 ACP as backup (always with 2 extra magazines). If you’d like to find out why I chose these guns, my notes are all on Alternative backup (which I rarely use) is Smith & Wesson’s 351PD in .22 Magnum. (I’m afraid that I’m not much of a revolver shooter.)

        Wouldn’t mind carrying your Ruger SP101, though! That’s a pretty solid performer, with plenty of power on tap. With 2 or 3 speed loaders, I’d feel more than adequately armed.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yep, wheel guns are not the most popular. I do carry a few speed loaders (although cumbersome to conceal). I purchased it years ago because I was not comfortable defending myself with an semi-automatic. No bells, whistles, springs to go bad…just bang instead of click. It is equipped with a crimson trace laser, which makes it much easier to acquire a target in all light environments.

        However, due to the small (but powerful) round count, and my abilities improving with the auto loader pistols, I will be purchasing a semi-auto in the near future to carry. Your choices are all spot on, I am actually considering the G23 as well as the S&W Shield, and Subcompact XD Mod 2 in .40 S&W.

        If my wife can do it with purses and shoes, why can’t I have a carry weapon for every outfit??

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ha-ha-ha! That’s what I told my wife and happily, I managed to get away with it. Best of luck to you—hope you can convince your lady, as well!

        Liked by 1 person

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