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What the Heck is IPSC and What Do You Do?

Overview | Safety | Getting Started | First Match | Disclaimer

A lot of folks have some level of interest in shooting, but no formal means to do anything other than occasional plinking. There are several flavors of "action shooting", and they are all fun.  Some claim to be more focused on defensive tactics and combat scenarios; others re-create the Old West, or at least the romantic parts of it as portrayed in television and movies.  For me, IPSC offers the best blend of speed, action, gamesmanship, and practical skills.  It's fast, it's fun, and the people are great.  Recently, rules have changed to broaden the playing field as far as equipment is concerned which gives the shooter more options; there's something for everyone.

My son and I have been shooting IPSC for a number of years; when we started, he was just under 14.  We thoroughly enjoy the sport, and have made a lot of friends.  The future of our sport lies in spreading the interest and inviting others to try it out. Our enthusiasm and sharing of pictures and stories has resulted in a number of new shooters joining in.  I've been asked many time to describe what it's all about and what happens.  Sitting on a plane the other day I started writing down a few thoughts to describe the sport and what happens at a match. While I'm by no means a great writer, nor the most experienced competitor I thought perhaps the following might give a prospective shooter enough of the flavor to come try it out.

A General Overview

The sport of Practical Shooting has its origins in the early 1950s and started in California. Generally considered the pioneer in action pistol sports, Col. Jeff Cooper was the first President of the International Practical Shooting Confederation [IPSC]. Today, IPSC includes over 60 countries; each country is considered a region within IPSC. The United States Region is governed by the United States Practical Shooting Association [USPSA], which is in turn divided into 8 Areas. Oklahoma is part of Area 4, and also includes Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

IPSC shooting differs from many other shooting sports, in its blend of action, speed, and accuracy. Unlike sports such as bullseye or silhouette shooting, an IPSC competitor shoots a course of fire [called a stage], engaging a wide variety of targets against time. Each stage requires many shots, frequently taken while moving; it is not uncommon to shoot 30 rounds or more on a given Stage in 30 seconds or less. The IPSC motto - DVC - says it all: Diligentia, Vis, Celeritas (Accuracy, Power, Speed).

Shooters compete with a variety of handguns, 9mm or larger. There are various Divisions, depending upon the configuration of the firearm used, and minimum power factors required. Stages include a wide variety of targets that may include multiple targets in an array, targets that react when hit, targets that move, targets that are partially obscured, no-shoots, steel plates, etc. A course of fire may require the shooter to move, shoot through small ports or barrels, around barricades, etc., and perform rapid reloads. Many stages involve shooting from seated, prone, or kneeling positions, two-handed grip [freestyle], strong-hand only, or weak-hand only shooting. >Most well designed stages allow for individual shooter creativity; there are usually many ways to shoot a course of fire, allowing the competitors to best balance their performance.

While competitors of varied skill categories and classifications shoot together, scores are ultimately sorted out by firearm divisions, power factor, and shooter skill level. This allows shooters of all abilities to share experiences, shooting styles, and strategy.

IPSC Shooters come in all sizes, shapes, ages, sexes, backgrounds and abilities. You see youngsters; minors must be accompanied by their parent to compete. The common bond is enjoyment of the game and some friendly competition. Careless, irresponsible, or unsportsmanlike conduct is never tolerated. We're all here to have a safe enjoyable time competing in a safe, challenging sport. Is it a competition? You bet; for the most part you are competing against yourself. We're out there to have fun -- wherever we are in the final scores is a secondary issue [or maybe not even that important]. The three priorities are: Be Safe, Be Courteous, and Have Fun; everything else flows from there.


A Word About Safety

The one common, uncompromising constant throughout all IPSC competition is safety. All activity is carefully controlled and all stages are run by one or more Range Officers [ROs], who are responsible for the safe handling and operation of the stage. All IPSC competition follows strict rules for handling of firearms and ammunition: where firearms may be handled, where ammunition may be handled, when a firearm may be loaded, where any firearm may be drawn or pointed. Safety rules are universally adhered to, and there is no tolerance whatsoever for violation of any safety rule; the competitor is immediately dismissed and disqualified. IPSC has an enviable safety record that any sport would be proud of. Having said that, we always provide a range briefing for new shooters, and provide extra help and coaching for the first time IPSC competitor, so don't let the strong emphasis worry you.


Sound Like a Lot to Know?

It is, but don't worry too much about it. You'll find that the IPSC crowd is friendly, enthusiastic, and free with advice and explanations. If you're not sure if IPSC is for you, come watch a match. Introduce yourself and ask questions. When you sign in for a match, let the folks know that you're a first time IPSC shooter. An experienced person will brief you on the rules, procedures, and basic range commands; when it is your turn to shoot a stage, let the RO know. Start slow, and just focus on the process of safely shooting the stages. This will give you a chance to get the flow and mechanics of it in your mind. The "dazzling speed and style points" will come naturally with time & practice. Shooters are generally eager to share strategies and tactics for mastering a stage, and the two most important elements to get straight from the outset are safety and enjoyment. There will be plenty of help available to explain the finer points and guide you through the scoring and flow of a match.


What Do I Need to Start?

Not much, really. Start simple and don't rush out to buy special equipment until you've shot IPSC for a bit and know what YOU want. Most folks are happy to share and let shooters try out equipment and offer advice. Advice: DON'T rush out to buy a new firearm until you're sure what Division you want to shoot. Then see what works for you and try it out before you jump in. At a minimum, you need:

  • Handgun: pistol or revolver 9mm/38 caliber or above [that you are comfortable shooting];
  • Magazines or speed loaders to accommodate a 30 round course of fire [you can never have too much, though everyone pitches in even to the extent of loading magazines for new shooters if they are short on magazines];
  • Holster: to begin with, nothing fancy. You may want to buy an inexpensive holster such as those made by Uncle Mikes. You may not use shoulder holsters. As you become more familiar with IPSC, personal preferences and design differences may favor an upgrade. Look at what others are shooting and ask what they like or dislike.
  • Ammunition for the entire match, plus reserves. A good figure for a normal club match is 150 rounds, with spares.  I usually bring 200.
  • Hearing and eye protection are essential. Some shooters favor ear plugs while others prefer the muff styles. Personal bias: electronic hearing protection is the greatest! Eye protection may be any type of safety glasses.
  • Comfortable clothes, suitable for the weather and allowing easy movement. A hat of some sort is highly recommended, both for shade and protection from flying brass. Matches are held in all sorts of weather. About the only thing that will stop a match would be dangerous conditions - lightning, flooding conditions, hail, etc. Dress accordingly.

IPSC matches take a lot of work to set up and run. Help is always appreciated; if you can, arrive a little early and offer to help setup, or stay a little afterward and help break down. During the matches, after the range is declared safe by the RO, help pick up brass, tape targets, reset steel targets, etc. Just a little effort by everyone makes it go much smoother and everyone has a better time.


The First Match - An Overview of What to Expect

So you're ready to try it - great! If you've watched a match, you probably have a good idea of the basic flow and range commands. You may have even looked over the USPSA website and the rules that are published there. You've pulled your gear together and are comfortable with the safe operation of your chosen firearm. You may have practiced some dry fire drills, to become familiar with smoothly drawing from a holster and performing reloads. Now what?!

An important note: If you have a concealed carry, "ungun" in the car. IPSC matches adhere to the cold range rules -- no loaded weapons of any sort until on the course of fire and instructed by the Range Officer to "Load and Make Ready"

Show up a bit early for the match and introduce yourself to the match officials. When you sign in, you'll be asked what you are shooting. Categories are Open, Limited, Limited 10, Production, and Revolver; this refers to configuration and capabilities of the firearm you will compete with. You will also be placed in Major or Minor caliber depending upon your ammunition. Don't fret; we'll help you figure out what division you fit best. If this is your first match, you will compete as an unclassified shooter; your classification comes from USPSA and is determined by your scores on specific courses of fire over time. You do not have to be a USPSA member to shoot an IPSC club match, but in order to develop your rating, and compete in higher level competitions, you will. After you’ve signed up for the match, you will receive a score sheet for each stage to be shot. Make sure your name is one each page, and the stage number. You will be asked to turn in your score sheets to the RO for each stage as you progress through the match.

Your safety briefing will include such information as where 'safe areas' are located, a review of basic range commands, a reminder that you may not ever 'break the 180' [point the gun anywhere but downrange], the use of hearing and eye protection, etc. Before the match begins, a walkthrough will be conducted of every stage. The course of fire will be explained in detail, and any special instructions or procedures. This is a good time to ask questions. Remember, you may not have a loaded firearm unless you are on a stage and have been instructed by the RO to "Make Ready". Do not handle a firearm except in a designated safe area; when in a safe area, do not handle any ammunition --- ever.

As a new shooter, you will not be called to shoot first. This will give you a chance to observe some of the other shooters and see how the stage is shot. Don't be surprised to see a variety of styles; there are usually several ways to shoot a stage, and each competitor develops strategies that work best for them. Ask questions, but at this point, just take it easy and adhere to the KISS principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid; there will be plenty of things to occupy your attention the first few stages. Relax, be safe, and enjoy it.

Your turn comes. When your name is called, proceed to the start position. The RO will declare the Range is 'hot' and ask you if you understand the course of fire. This is the time for any last minute questions on stage procedure or rules. You will be instructed to "Make Ready", at which time you may load your firearm [pointing downrange!] and assume whatever start position is required for that stage. The RO will ask, "Are you ready?"? When you nod, the RO will say "Standby.." followed in a few seconds by the buzzer on the timer. That is your start signal to draw and shoot the stage. At the completion of your run, the RO will say, "If you are finished, unload and show clear". This is your queue to unload the firearm and show the RO that the chamber is empty [remember, it is your primary responsibility]. The RO will verbally confirm that they see clear, and instruct you to dry fire the gun [pointed down range of course], proving that it is clear and uncocked and then holster your firearm. The actual command is "If clear, hammer, holster, the range is clear". At that point, the stage is scored, targets are taped up, props are reset and your brass is retrieved. Congratulations!



Caution: IPSC competition can be habit forming. There is no known cure, but repeated exposure to more IPSC matches has been shown to result in greatly improved accuracy and sense of satisfaction in the shooting sports in 9 out of 10 competitors.  Your mileage may vary.

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