Getting Started in Practical Pistol Competition

Competition is one of the most fun things you can do with a pistol and it is a great addition to self-defense training because it teaches good gun handling skills, ads pressure you can’t get shooting alone, and forces you to measure your skills so you know your level of confidence.

Unfortunately, many new shooters are apprehensive about entering the world of practical pistol competition so we put this guide together to help guide to address many common excuses.

Excuse 1: “My gun isn’t good enough.”

Practical pistol shooting is designed to allow you to compete with the gun you carry or use to defend yourself. There is a class for nearly gun 9mm or larger and many local IDPA clubs will let you shoot your 1st match with what ever have.

It may surprise you but except at the VERY highest levels, assuming the gun is reliable, the gun doesn’t matter too much. In fact, WTBGU! President Ron shoots his Glock 19 carry gun in ESP.

Excuse 2: “I don’t have the right gear.”

If you have a hip holster that cover the trigger guard, enough magazines to hold 18 rounds and pockets, you have the right gear for your 1st match! Until you get the hang of things, there is nothing wrong placing your magazines in your pockets as long as you can access them safely.

As you improve, your will undoubtedly want to purchase “Gear that Just Works!” for you. There are good choices, better and best choices for everything from holsters to mag pouches and shoes to ear pro. We pride ourselves in being able to offer that gear!

Eventually, you may even decide to purchase a pistol specifically for competition (like Lee did as a reward for making Expert).

As you may have noticed in the It’s not the Arrow, It’s the Indian (Confirmed by IDPA Nationals) post with experience you can learn to shoot anything and the choice of caliber or division doesn’t matter much. So you really need to choose for yourself, however…

  • What you compete with and what you carry should be aligned in caliber and trigger style
  • In your local club there may be more or less competition in a given division (Chose the one with the most competition)
  • There are very different benchmarks in IDPA for given division
  • Some guns can compete in more than 1 division… chose something flexible

One common concern that really should be rethought though is the price of the pistol. In the long term, it is a relatively small part of the total cost of competing. Get something durable, reliable and competitive.

Excuse 3: “I am a defensive shooter and gun games will get you killed.”


It is important to understand What IDPA is and what it is not however, there are a quote from Massad Ayoob that describes the WTBGU! philosophy with regards to competition…

A shooting competition isn’t a gun fight, but a gun fight is most definitely a shooting competition.

You are very unlikely to forget that someone is shooting at you and forget how to use cover appropriately. However you are also very unlikely to forget the gun handling, problem solving and shooting proficiency honed in competition. Go compete!

Excuse 4: “There isn’t anywhere around here that I can shoot!”

Both major practical pistol organizations have club listings available and while you may have to drive to find a club close to you, you will likely decide that it is worth the trip. If not you can always start one closer to you!

Excuse 5: “I’m not good enough.”

Well… You aren’t going to win!?!

But, that really isn’t the point either. For almost every shooter the goals of competition are to 1) Have fun 2) Hang out with great people 3) Compete.

In fact, if you really want to get better in addition to attending matches, you need to be able to identify your weaknesses and practice. To be very good you have to enjoy practicing even more than the matches.

How can I shoot more?

Once you are hooked you stop finding reasons to avoid going and start figuring out how to shoot more and even better matches!

For most this involves sanctioned matches, travel, hotels, dining out (remember when I said the gun was a small portion of the cost?) They are expensive, but they are also worth it. The number of stages, complexity, production value and fun are all increased for these big matches.

Dun, Dun, Dun! Eventually everyone gets Disqualified.

It is going to happen. It doesn’t mean you are bad person (unless you were purposefully cheating!). It doesn’t mean you are dangerous.

What it is, is an opportunity to learn from a mistake. End of Sentence.

You will dwell on it for a couple of days, you will analyze what happened, you will figure out how to keep it from happening again.

The 3 steps to handling a DQ well on match day are the following…

  1. Own your mistake. The RO/SO/MD didn’t DQ you. You disqualified yourself and they alerted you to the infraction. Apologize to them for ruining their day, because they didn’t want to do it.
  2. Take 5-10 mins and cool off. You aren’t going to be happy with the situation. You may be angry. You will be embarrassed. Let that pass, put your gear away and come back to your squad.
  3. Help paste targets and be a good sport. You are not kicked off the range you just can’t play more for that match. If you storm off the other shooters will likely talk about you, if you stick around they will talk to you. But just as importantly you force them to work more and paste more targets which is unfair to them.

Obviously at WTBGU! we feel strongly about the benefits of competition and all of the contributors are frequent competitors. If you agree or if you found this resource page useful, share it on your favorite forum, on Twitter or Facebook!



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