I have been outspoken on the fact that shooting a gun is about the Indian, not the Arrow. I have also gone on record with my default recommendations for a carry gun, and even proposed an objective method of answering “Which polymer 9mm is best?“, but selecting a gun for competition is a different thing.
First, each sport has its own rules that favor one type of gun/caliber or another. 9mm shooters have to be more accurate to be competitive than 40S&W shooters in USPSA. IDPA made an entire class dedicated to the gun the founder produces. And nobody has a good class for guys that like lasers, slide mounted optics or non-1911′s that hold fewer than 10 rounds.
Second, shooters play the games for different reasons. For some it is social and they like talking about their HK/Jerico/Baretta92FSTUV. For some it is training and they use their duty/carry gear. For some it is an engineering exercise and they like tweaking their comps, optics, sights…
Third, it is only a game so if you make a mistake with the manual of arms, or the gun fails, or it is a less than ideal choice it doesn’t have any real consequence.
All this means you can really shoot what makes you happy, but there are a few things you can keep in mind to be able to play the most games competitively.
1) USPSA and IDPA both require the guns be at least 9mm
1a) USPSA scores 9mm guns (and other calibers shooting underpowered ammunition) on a different scale requiring more accuracy so .40S&W and .45ACP are rewarded… IDPA doesn’t care.
2) Double Action and Safe Action guns can shoot in all IDPA pistol division and are the most widely accepted in USPSA, Single Action guns are more limited.
3) USPSA has a defined production gun approved list, so purchasing a gun not on the list (Like my Glock 19 RTF2 would prohibit you from playing)
4) If you plan on modifying your gun… know what that does to its division. My speedway in my carry gun move it from SSP to ESP in IDPA, but it would still be in production if it were on the USPSA list… which it is not. However, if I were to mount a slide mounted optic it wouldn’t be permitted in any division in either sport.
The standards… Glock 17/22/34/35, Smith & Wesson M&P’s and 5 inch 1911′s in 45 are very common in both sports, but the 9mm varieties are more common in IDPA and the 40S&W varieties are more common in USPSA.
Possibly the most versatile is a gun that we almost never mention the M&P45.
It is “double-action” and therefore legal in all IDPA pistol classes and is scored major in USPSA production, holds the maximum allowable 10rds, has removable grip panels so they can be textured, loads easily with double stack mags… (Uh oh, I think I need one!)
However, if you are just starting out I recommend you shoot what you have or what you want to carry.
If you absolutely have to buy a gun (don’t already have something 9mm or bigger), buy a 9mm that is USPSA production legal and meets the IDPA weight restrictions.
Assuming you compete, what gun did you start with and why did you chose it? Let us know in the comments below.
Lastly, this post and many others have been added to the “Getting Started in Practical Pistol Competition” resource page in the top navigation. That collection of posts has been put together for new competition shooters and is available to be shared freely or link to by any local club.