So, when it comes to competitive shooting, I have never truly embraced being a gamer as I simply don’t get into it, yet I have felt compelled over the years to participate due to the undeniable benefits that shooting competition offers the defensive practitioner. Those who keep proclaiming that shooting competition will get you “kilt in da streetz” simply say that to avoid taking a hit to their ego when they go to a match and realize that an overweight accountant is actually a much better shooter than they are, despite the fact that the accountant wears pink shorts and a polo shirt instead of tactical pants and 5.11 jackets.
The handgun specific competitions that are predominant are USPSA and IDPA. They are both just games, neither is “realistic” training, so let’s get past that discussion. However, they both emphasize and hone gun handling and shooting skill like nothing else. I have seen MANY relatively competent shooters, during their first match, induce malfunctions in quality guns that, according to these shooters, have never failed before. Why? Because, for the first time in their life they are shooting under stress. Vetting your equipment alone (thus, you should compete with what you carry) makes embracing competition worth it. You will never run your gun and gear as hard as in competition, and doing so under the stress of the match reveals many potential issues. Better to learn such things during a match than during violence.
When you shoot under stress you learn things about yourself and your gear and there are few avenues that allow you to do this as readily as a local or regional competition match. Trust me, you will learn more about yourself by shooting a single match than you will in taking five more defensive handgun classes. For the Tactical Timmys who will now rent their garments and proclaiming “yes, but a match is not REAL stress like a gunfight,” I would ask, what is? Before you say “force-on-force is the next best thing,” I would tell you that, having done a lot of force-on-force and having shot many matches, I think a match is more stress. So, until you do it, shut it. There is no way to truly duplicate the “stress” of real violence, but we can condition ourselves to it to the best possible level by doing force-on-force and, yes, competition. If you are serious, you should do some of both.
So, if you are not inclined to be a gamer, yet you want to play a game to enhance your shooting under pressure, which game should you play? USPSA and IDPA are now popular enough that most people will have an occasional match within striking distance. USPSA is essentially the American specific version of IPSC. IDPA started in the 90s and does not go as far back as IPSC. The creators of IDPA intended to make a game that was more “practical” in theory compared to what IPSC had become, where race gear ruled the day and stages were not designed to be at all relevant to self-defense. The issue with IDPA, however, was that the original intention to make the game more realistic and suited to real carry gear quickly went out the window, because the gamers are going to game the system.
IDPA faces an identity crisis; is it just a shooting game or is it a shooting game that is supposed to be a bit more realistic than USPSA? The vast majority of IDPA competitors use those stupid fishing vests as their token concealment garments, yet who among them actually carries their gun that way? I have shot a good bit of IDPA in the past, not once did I use a vest like that. I used to compete from an inside-the-waistband strong-side holster under a t-shirt. Now that IDPA has finally joined the 21st Century and allows AIWB, I will probably never again shoot a match from anything else. In my mind, you give up a great deal of the benefit the competition offers if you are not competing with your actually carry setup. Now, IDPA accommodates the majority of real waistline carry modes.
Likewise, you can shoot from concealment, and even AIWB, in some divisions of USPSA, so either game will accommodate the use of real carry gear, just bear in mind that you will be less competitive against the gamers with gamer gear. Still, if you are a self-acknowledged “not really into competition” concealed carrier, you should be fine with that going in. Both games can be played with your real gear and that is the most beneficial way to participate.
So, to clarify, despite IDPA’s stance as the more “realistic” game, they are both entirely games. Both serve to greatly enhance shooting and gun handling, and doing so while under the stress of the match, so the benefits are the same. However, if you are going to commit to one game or the other, which is “better” for the concealed carrier?
I can’t help but to be of the opinion that IDPA is still the better sport for concealed carriers who are primarily focused on self-defense yet want the benefits of competitive shooting. The reasons I prefer IDPA have nothing to do with IDPA supposedly being more realistic in stage design. Rather, there are three reasons that I like IDPA better for defensive focused shooters:
1) IDPA requires less equipment than USPSA. Stages in IDPA are limited to only two reloads or less, and eighteen rounds of ammunition or less. USPSA stages can require numerous reloads and a much higher round count. Therefore, admission to the game of IDPA is lower and more accessible concerning gear.
2) Even though gamers will game with their fishing vests and competition guns, you can still be more competitive with real carry gear in IDPA than USPSA. It probably should not matter much, but you can stand more evenly with real gear in IDPA.
3) The accuracy requirement in IDPA is much stricter than in USPSA and this is the one aspect of the game that is, indeed, more “realistic.” Good shooters in USPSA, depending on power factor, basically run on the balance of speed and accuracy that will dictate make an A and C zone hit on targets, but doing so faster than making two A zone hits, puts them ahead. IDPA severely penalizes the shooter for each hit dropped out of the Down Zero target zone, and that is a good thing. The “slower” game of IDPA, as the gamers proclaim, builds better habits here.
Again, both are just games, but both are great games that enhance your shooting and gunhandling. I prefer IDPA for the non-competitor who wants to compete for the above reasons. However, embracing either game, or both, is a very good thing to do as a serious handgunner.
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