IDPA Classifier Tips

idpa_classifierThe IDPA Classifier is unique in sports in that it ranks people via a required standardized test, known to the participants in advance, that has little to with the actual game, in order to create arbitrary strata that is completely ignored until the scores are tabulated.


What is the IDPA Classifier

IDPA requires all shooters that participate in a sanctioned match (non-local club) to shoot a classifier on an annual basis. The goal of the test is to ensure that shooters of approximately equal skill are grouped together and give nearly everyone a chance to win their class and provide realistic targets for improvement.

Ideally this system keeps a very highly skilled shooter from going to a match and winning a lower class, however it creates two oddities…

Sandbaggers – These are people that want to take first in their class and purposely shoot poorly on the classifier to face easier competition. This person wants to be a big fish in a small pond and it isn’t fair to the people that are just learning… don’t do this. It can also be the person that switches classes once they have obtained their actual classification so they can win in another.

<cough>Ahem… an SSP Expert shooting the same gun in ESP SharpShooter</cough>

IDPA is somewhat self-correcting in that if you win a significantly big enough class, you get moved up to the next higher classification.

Grandbaggers – While there are some people that practice the classifier and shoot it over and over for score to obtain a higher classification so they can say they are a “IDPA Master.”

Few people care about this for 2 reasons:

  1. they get clobbered on match day so no one is harmed
  2. there are people whose lack of mobility or shoot strengths are more suited to the classifier than a “real match”

IDPA Classifier Course of Fire

Like all IDPA Matches the Classifier is shot on a Time + Score model and it is a 90 round course of fire, spread across 3 stages and 14 strings of fire and is designed to take the place of a match.

It includes 14 draws, strong and weak hand shooting, target transitions, movement, 2 different elevations and reload types and is a good test of general shooting skill.

Stage 1

String Instructions Shots
1 Draw and fire two (2) shots to the body and one (1) to the head on T1. From 7 yards 3
2 Draw and fire two (2) shots to the body and one (1) to the head on T2. From 7 yards 3
3 Draw and fire two (2) shots to the body and one (1) to the head on T3. From 7 yards 3
4 Draw and fire two (2) shots at each head T1-T3. From 7 yards 6
5 Start with gun in WEAK hand pointed down range at a 45 deg angle, safety may be off, but finger must be out of trigger guard, fire one (1) shot at each T1-T3. From 7 yards WEAK HAND ONLY 3
6 (Load 3 rounds MAX. in pistol) Start back to targets, turn and fire one (1) shot at each, T1-T3, reload from slide lock and fire one (1) shot at each, T1-T3 6
7 Draw and fire two (2) shots at each T1-T3 From 7 yards STRONG hand only. 6

Stage 2

String Instructions Shots
1 Draw and advance toward targets, from 10 yards, fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 while moving forward (all shots must be fired while moving) there is a forward fault line at the 5yd line for this string. 6
2 Draw and retreat from targets, fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 while retreating (all shots must be fired while moving). Start at 5 yards 6
3 (Load 6 rounds MAX. in pistol) Start back to targets, turn and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3, reload from slide lock and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3. From 10 yards 12
4 Draw and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 From 10 yards STRONG hand only. 6

Stage 3

String Instructions Shots
1 Draw and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 from either side of the barricade, TACTICAL LOAD and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 from the opposite side of barricade. From 20 yards 12
2 Draw and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 from either side of the barricade (20 yards), TACTICAL LOAD and advance to 15 yards, fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 from around either side of 55-gallon barrel. 12
3 Draw, kneel, and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 from around either side of 55-gallon barrel. From 15 yards 6
Totals 90


Unfortunately the course of fire doesn’t look much like a typical match.

The course of fire favors the shooter that plant and shoot, quickly… not the bulls-eye shooter and not the athletic run and gunner (although if I had to pick I’d take the bulls-eye shooter)e IDPA Classifier doesn’t look much like a normal match. All of the targets are wide open, there is no movement to vertical cover, and there is very little movement.

IDPA Classifier Tips

My best tip is… Don’t worry about it, just go shoot it.

More than likely you aren’t going to do as well as you could with a couple of dry runs and your friends are going to say you sandbagged it.


Tip #1: Don’t Miss the Head Shots

During the 1st 4 strings there are 9 head shots and there are no make-up shots on the classifier. Each miss add 2.5 seconds to your score and that can be very costly.

  • The first three come as part of a failure drill (2 to the body, 1 to the head).  These can be tricky because the 1st 2 shots are very quick on a fairly large target and the head shot requires you to slow down and see your sights.  Fast to slow is the hardest transition to make so be sure to let your sights settle.
  • The last six are just 2 to the head from 7 yards. Think of these as 6 shots and not 3 pairs and make sure you see your sights.  The tendency is going to be to over swing on the transitions and rush the second shot in the pair.

Stage #1 can cost you a classification bump!

Tip #2: Think About Your Mechanics

The IDPA Classifier isn’t a gun fight, it is a pistol match and you can make decision that will help you shoot it easier.

  • On 2 stages you are required to start facing up range. Always turn to your gun side so that you can get it facing downrange quicker and snap your head to start acquiring the target 1st target with your eyes before you turn.
  • When you shoot one handed, the recoil will tend you push the gun toward your center. Shoot those strings so the recoil helps your target transitions.
  • When you are shooting on the move, you can cover 5 yards… but you don’t have to. I move quickly while drawing and slowly while shooting moving forward and I try to have my shots fired before I pass 8 yards while retreating.

Tip #3: Stage 3 is a Bulls-eye Match

20 yards is a long way and many pistol shooters, especially those that are defensive minded, rarely shoot at that distance.  The 8″ down zero only appears 17% of the size of the head shots I said to not miss in Tip #1. In fact the whole target appears barely bigger than the head zone in stage 1.  Slow down and make your hits.

I’d say for most shooters, Stage 3 makes or breaks their classifier.

What tips do you have from someone new to the Classifier? Let me know in the comments below.


  1. Scottie says

    Thanks Ron, this was super helpful! I dabbled around in IDPA club matches for much of last year but this spring I’m getting geared up and ready to shoot a lot more. Including classifying officially and my goal for the end of summer is top 20 CDP at the Washington state match.

  2. says


    Seriously? So, anyone that practices the Classifier (what else can’t we practice?) in order to become a better shooter is a “Grandbagger”? To a new IDPA shooter like me, this is very discouraging. I wanted to shoot IDPA matches, not to be some big shot “Master”, but to become a better all-around pistol shooter. And now I see: if I practice for the Classifier, I am a “Grandbagger”. Wonder if Ben Stoeger was considered a “Grandbagger”.

    • says

      If you are practicing the Classifier, you are not practicing to be a better shooter. You are practicing a specific course of fire to achieve a better score.
      If you were practicing to be a better shooter you would be practicing basic skills and techniques, not scenarios or specific courses of fire.

    • says

      The classifier course of fire features a good assortment of the basic skills. Actually train those skills and you should do well in the classifier and actual matches. Out shooting those who complain about those who practice can be rewarding. Get good enough and the only thing that’s of interest is being high overall.

  3. Paul Botha says

    I’d been battling to progress from marksman to sharpshooter, so this year I deliberately slowed down enough to ensure more hits in the centre mass circle. It feels slower, but since less time is being added to your actual elapsed time, accuracy is rewarded. This sounds a bit obvious, but its critical. IDPA scoring rewards accuracy. As they say, you can’t shoot fast enough to make up for the badly placed or dropped shot.

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