How to select a gun for competition (pistol)

20120417_IDPAI 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.

Full Size M&P 45Possibly 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.


  1. Dave L. says

    You forgot to note IDPA weight limits…IIRC it’s 39 oz for SSP and 37 oz for ESP. (Which rules out the CZ SP-01 series, although Matt Mink does do an upgrade that apparently weighs in at 38.8 oz.

    • ronlarimer says

      You are correct. I think they are pretty convoluted (there has been rumors that they are changing) and they “common” guns don’t come near them, so I didn’t mention them. Astute catch!

  2. ronlarimer says

    As an update, I contacted USPSA to ask if there was a reason why the 19/23 RTF2′s were on the list and recieved the following response…

    “No reason other than Glock has not presented the paper work yet, I met with them Shot Show to clean some of these up and called them last week, should have something soon and will update
    the list.”

  3. says

    The RTF2 Glocks don’t have different model numbers, ergo they are on the USPSA Production Approved List whether HQ thinks so or not. I guarantee you would win an arbitration if it came to that.

  4. Ben Gilman says

    In USPSA production class all shooters are scored minor, regardless of whether their ammunition makes major or not, so shooting a .40 or .45 gives you no scoring benefit over a 9mm. You could shoot a production legal gun in limited or limited 10, which do have major/minor scoring, but they’re much more competitive divisions because highly modified single-action guns are allowed. I’d suggest either getting a production legal 9mm which could also compete in IDPA SSP or ESP or a .45 1911 which could shoot in CDP or USPSA single stack.

  5. Dave says

    I shoot USPSA Single Stack, because I typically carry a Springfield LW Champion in .45 ACP. When I first started, I shot the Springfield until I could get a full-size steel framed 1911…now I have a Ruger SR1911 which I use in USPSA and in club steel matches. While the Ruger may be more forgiving in the recoil department (more weight), it’s obviously still the same manual of arms as my carry Springfield, so I figure it’s useful practice.

  6. CTMedina says

    I started in IDPA with a Taurus 709 slim 9mm which i would carry. Due to limited holster availability and just because I wanted a full frame gun I bought a S&W M&P40 for competition. I might also go back to the 709, but I will decide that later. I also plan to carry my S&W when possible, but of course the 709 is much more concealable.

  7. Colt1911 says

    I just shot an nonsanctiomes USPSA steel challenge production class. I usually shoot USCA two-gun and assumed my glock 17-C would be in production class because it is a production compensated pistol,nope it isnt. So after using my e.d.c. glock 19,i want to either buy a GLOCK34 or a tanfoglio cz75/E.A.A. Stock II style 9mm. Im just wanting to buy something a little Different,but the CZ75 target weighs too much and the tanfoglio stockII doesnt qualify..what tanfoglio model 9mm would be production legal?
    I really like the witness elite stock II,the way the slide rides in the frame like my old CZ40B/COLT LZ and the fit and finish are beautiful.almost seems a waste that they dont make a model like the S.A.O.,WITNESS ELITE LIMITED in DA/SA for production under 38oz.
    I love my glocks with zev tech spring and skeletonized connector,a little flitz polish and i have a 2.7lb trigger pull and high capacity. Only thing is i own three of them,and they are ugly as sin. I want something different..guess il have to switch to single stackwith my Colt enhanced model 1911 until someone finds me that perfect production pistol that would make more sense than buying my third glock (34).

  8. William Rockwell says

    Hey, wait a minute here! My daughter loves my new ‘Range Officer’ in 9mm. She would love to shoot competition. Is there a niche that allows single action AND 9mm?

  9. Michael Sherman says

    I am shooting a .44 mag tomorrow. I chose that due to that’s what I have……or my 2″ S&W .38 special. I hope I can use it.

  10. says

    I love my SIG 226 for competition shooting I love hacker see that the weapon has for shooting distance at 375 feet for center mass I also like it for 275 feet to do 13 shots in 15 seconds to the head and a 2.5 s compass I found the sig for not only competition shooting but for tearing it also competition shoe same with the night Carrie which gives me a slight advantage over my opponents the double accuracy of the double action

  11. says

    I want to start in IDPA and I usually carry a Subcompact gun (Springfield XD 9mm Subcompact), while I am very accurate with it, I can see how a full size gun can help me. Problem is, that I do not have the money now to purchase another firearm. Would it be to crazy to start with that gun? Thanks guys.

  12. says

    Ok I have a Kimber 45 Master Carry Pro. It’s one of my first handgun purchases. How come I never hear anyone talking about this model gun? For the price I paid and the guns tolerances, I would think it would rank high amongst these other guns. Any thoughts on this?

    • Mike says

      I shot my first USPSA match last weekend, and there were a few guys with Kimbers there. I personally wouldn’t use the pro because of the 4 inch barrel. Most guys are using something with higher capacity mags, and all that were using the 1911 had at least the 5 inch. I love my 1911, but mag changes are easier and less frequent with the tapered double stack mags.

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