Why the differences in USPSA and IDPA targets matter

USPSA Metric and Classic Targets

USPSA has 2 different targets the original metric target and the newer classic target (the one shaped like a turtle)

It is probably pretty obvious that the WTBGU! crew believes in IDPA and competition as part of our pistol skill building. (In fact I am the only contributor that hasn’t appeared in the Tactical Journal, then again I’m not a photogenic as the other two.)

But it isn’t the only form of competition we compete in. Tara has shot 3 gun, I have shot a number of indoor practical pistol course and I really enjoy Steel Challenge, but Lee’s recent primary focus is USPSA; where he recently reach “B” Class. Congrats Lee!

In the past I have written about some of the built-in advantages that IDPA has in marketing that I believe contributes to its growth, but for 2013 I want to encourage everyone to shoot a different sport at least 3 times!

Since I fear that part of the reason people don’t do it already is a lack of understanding of the other sports, over the “off-season” I am going to cover a number of the differences in the standard WTBGU! style. Lets get started with obvious…

A Standard IDPA Target


While both targets are made of card board, are generally the same shape and they are approximately the same size there are actually a number of differences that can be important to the shooter.

The 1st and most obvious difference is the scoring zones.

Both targets actually score a maximum of 5 points per shot (and misses count twice the maximum scoring hits), but since in IDPA there is no power factor difference in scoring and the points are assessed as penalties, the target is marked with points down. This is a handy short cut, but it is not available in USPSA because zones are scored differently based on the caliber and power of the cartridge being shot. It is marked with A, B, C & D zones.

On each target, there are 2 5pt scoring zones (highlighted in red below), one in the head and one in the body. On the IDPA target (right) the entire 6″x6″ head and the 8″ diameter circle are both called “Down Zero” result in no penalties. On the USPSA target (left) there is a small 10cm x 15cm A zone in the head and a large 15cm x 28cm A zone in the body; these are 5 points regardless of power factor.




For the competitor, there are a couple of thing to consider with each of these designs…

1st on the IDPA the upper -0 zone is far larger which means up close, head shots are not much of a challenge and can be shot quickly. This prompts match directors to move them further away and increase the use of hardcover and no-threat targets to increase the difficulty. There is also no identified aiming pont which baits the shooter to shoot at the whole head vs the smaller target and misses have no leniency.

The upper A-zone on the USPSA target is tiny and represents just 1.8% of the total target area. Making matters worse for the shooter it is aligned horizontally (roughly the alignment of the cranio-ocular cavity) and poor sight alignment and/or a poor trigger press will result in a B-zone hit. On the plus side it promotes aim-small, miss-small shooting.

The USPSA target gives back some its difficulty on the lower A-zone. At 65.1 sq in it is 30% larger than a 8″ circle in the IDPA target AND it is arranged vertically (roughly like a spine/lungs); making it more forgiving on mistakes in trigger control (low left for most shooters), flinching and poor recoil control (2nd round impacting higher).

Overall there is 18% more -0 area on an IDPA target; however the arrangement of the area’s mean the typical shot to the lower zone is easier in USPSA and the typical shot to the upper zone is much harder… but somewhat more forgiving.

In other words, to get A-zone hits in USPSA you need to be good at transitioning between fast/index shooting and slow/precise shots.

The 2nd major difference is how the targets are viewed, in USPSA, targets are views as scoring instruments and in IDPA they are viewed as threats.

At first this seems like semantics, but it really isn’t and it affects a number of rules related to the targets. For example…

1) In IDPA if there isn’t at least one hit in the -1 or -0 scoring areas there is an additional 5 second penalty assessed for “Failing to Neutralize” the target and it is possible to get a 3 second penalty for failing to engage a target… of course this is on top of typically 2 missed shots and then you almost always expose yourself to it.  Missing a target in IDPA can cost you 16 seconds added to your time. (Which I have had happen).

Since USPSA is scored on a hit factor, it is possible to be better off by not shooting a target!

2) In IDPA all targets are penetrable, meaning any bullet that passes through a threat target and a non-threat scores as both a hit and a penalty, in USPSA all targets are impenetrable so any targets hit on a shoot through aren’t scored. (I find this somewhat ironic since any time the target actually is impenetrable and the bullet doesn’t make it through, it is scored as a miss)

3) In IDPA it is somewhat common for targets to turned and even cut to simulate a pig dog.  While cutting the target would be legal in USPSA, the RO would then have to draw on a non-scoring border. The reason for this is to make is more obvious when the target is nicked to ensure proper scoring. USPSA RO are even asked to carry gauges to measure shot holes when a double hit is suspected… by rule in IDPA if you have to look that closely the benefit goes to the shooter.

Lastly USPSA and IDPA take different approaches to hard cover and obscuring a target.

In USPSA a target must have at least 25% of the lower A-available or the entire upper A-zone.  In IDPA I can find where there is a requirement to have any of the A-zone available and I have shot targets where less than 20% of the upper -0 kept it from being a disappearing target!

I had never thought of it before researching the details for this post but IPSC/USPSA seems to geared to architects and engineers, while IDPA is geared more towards the carpenter…

Everything in USPSA is spelled out in an “If A and B then C, If A and not B then D and If B and not A then re-shoot” formula… If that was confusing, that was the point! While IDPA is more A, B, C are Ok… D isn’t, when in doubt give it to the shooter or ask the match director guideline.

… and targets are no different!

Below I have included links to diagrams of USPSA Metric and IDPA Targets.


If you shoot both IDPA and USPA… Do you think the target designs impact the way the game is played? Do you prefer one design over the other? … Why? Let me know by posting a comment below or be tweeting @BalloonGoesUp on twitter or leaving a message on Facebook!


  1. Stony Lane says

    I don’t think it is the targets as such, but the scoring. To do well in USPSA you must be fast and accurate (points divided by time). In IDPA you must be accurate and fast (points down add to time).

  2. Robert C says

    This mentions that it can be advantageous to skip a USPSA target. I struggle to find a scenario where that would be wise — remember that USPSA has penalties for misses and failures to engage. Because your score is the points you earn minus penalties all divided by your time, penalty points tank your score very, very badly.

    To do an exercise, let’s say that there’s a 32 round course where Timmy Tryhard can punch all A hits in 20 seconds. 5 points earned per hit yields 160 points, which divided by his time yields a hit factor of 8. Let’s say that Sammy Speedfreak is just as accurate, but he passes over a single target, and that saves him five seconds (which means that something in the course is probably contrived or broken, but that’s another story).

    Sammy Speedfreak will then earn 150 points, and if there were no penalties applied, a hit factor of 10, which is better. But there _are_ penalties: Sammy Speedfreak gets to eat two miss penalties, for 20 points, and an additional 10 points for a failure to engage, which yields 30 penalty points. Sammy’s net points then becomes 120, and his hit factor is the very same 8.

    If you apply a more realistic time savings of 3 seconds, the difference is far more stark: the hit factor goes down to 7.06. If the course is shorter, with less movement, the difference still applies: a clean 120 points divided by a time of 10 seconds gives a 12 HF, and a dirty 90 points divided by a time of 8 seconds gives 11 and a quarter.

    If you have an example where you’ve seen skipping a target make a competitor have a better score compared to someone of the same ability, I’d like to see it, mostly so I can avoid making courses that would have such a “loophole.”

    Robert C., USPSA course sadist, IDPA SO, and 3-gun target hauler

    • Benny scott says

      2013 area one match Manny Bragg skipped two no penalty disappearing swingers and took the stage win over all other shooters while shooting limited. I watched him run through it several times the day prior to the match timing it with shooting them and not. When he shot the stage in the match the time saving was worth way mor that the twenty points he could have scored.

  3. Neil Casper says

    Too much steeenking math! Saps the fun right out of the excersise.

    Too Old but Still Having Fun,
    Neil C.
    IDPA A01972
    Former IDPA SO and USPSA shooter

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