IDPA Glossary

One of the most common questions I get asked by people who are looking to get into IDPA is “what is the difference between tactical sequence and tactical priority”?  For those of you that haven’t shot IDPA, on most courses of fire the COF layout will say “engage targets in tactical priority/tactical sequence” depending on how the COF is laid out and what the intent of the course designers was.  Since most IDPA stages are scenario based, tactical priority vs. tactical sequence becomes very important.To help explain, I’ll quote the definitions from IDPA’s rulebook first, then (hopefully) elaborate on them from there.Tactical Priority

 A method of target engagement.  For Tactical Priority, targets are engaged by order of threat.  If all targets are visible, targets are engaged from near to far, as long as targets are more than two yards from each other.  If targets are hidden by a barricade, targets are engaged as they are seen (slicing the pie).

Tactical Sequence

 A method of target engagement.  For Tactical Sequence, all targets are engaged with one round each before being engaged again.  In the case of three targets requiring two rounds each, all targets would be engaged with one round to each target BEFORE reengaging the targets with another round in any order (1-1-2-1-1).

Well, there we go.  Clear as mud, right?  Now, one of the other rules specifies that all COFs should be shot in Tactical Priority unless Tactical Sequence is specifically required.  The other little detail about Tactical Priority is the “2 yard rule”.  If you have two targets within 2 yards of one another, they’re considered an “equal threat”; and if the COF is in Tactical Priority then you can engage them in whatever order you please.  However, if those same two targets are on a course of fire that’s designated for Tactical Sequence, then you have to shoot each one of them once before you can go back and get your second hit on either of them.As you can see, Tac Sequence and Tac Priority can get confusing some times.  The way that I remember the difference is simple, and it keeps from getting procedural penalties for blasting targets in the wrong order.  If I see or hear “tactical sequence” I know that I have to get a hit on every target before I can go back and hit them again.  Since IDPA usually requires two hits on target, tactical sequence means everyone gets one shot before I give them a follow up.If I hear “tactical priority”, two things happen.  One, I get happy, because it means that I have more leeway in how I engage the targets.  I just have to be careful to remember when I’m slicing the pie on barricade targets to hit them in the proper order, which is usually “outside to inside”; since with Tactical Priority you’re engaging as they become visible.  To illustrate the differences, here are two COFs from the Indiana State Championship match, one of which has been slightly modified to better make the point.First up is the COF illustrating tactical sequence: undefinedIn this COF, since three hits are required per target (two the body and one to the head), tactical sequence would dictate the following engagement procedure, assuming that you’re like me and you’ll shoot the left target first.  In tactical sequence, your first round hits the left target (1), then you fire your three shots into the right target (3) and then return to the left target for your last two hits.  This way, you’ve satisfied the “shoot everyone once” requirement of tactical sequence in the fastest way possible. To illustrate tactical priority, here’s another COF from the State match.  Assuming that you’re like me, I went to the right side of the car.  Tactical priority means that the first target you’d see would be the right most target (the one with the hostage) and then you’d engage that target with two rounds before moving on to the next inward target.  Hence, in tactical priority with obscured targets, you work from outside to inside. Hopefully, armed with this information you’ll be able to head out to your next IDPA match and not have any concerns about the difference between tactical priority and tactical sequence! 


  1. This is a splendid example of how, in its quest for “practicality”, IDPA has become just as game-y as IPSC.

  2. Anytime you get a bunch of IDPA shooters in a group, all we talk about is ways to “game” the rule set-up. For example, in the “tactical sequence” scenario I have above, on the left most target my first shot was the head shot, so that when I came back after firing three into the other target I knew that I could fire a quick hammer into the body – because that would be faster than a single shot to the body and another single shot to the head.


  3. You know, for the whole premise of trying to provide “real world” scenarios for gunnies to fight through and learn from, both the USPSA and IDPA seem to be failing at their intended goals.

    I am not saying it is bad training, and I do need to get into it at some point (when I have the money for additional required hardware), but the framework seems… flawed.

  4. Well, yeah. At this juncture, they’re not providing “training” in the sense that you’re going to encounter this exact scenario when you get into a gunfight.

    The value that can be found in IDPA/USPSA from a self-defense/tactical standpoint is in the stress inoculation. IDPA teaches you to do things like reload, focus on the front sight, draw from concealment, etc under pressure. While the pressure of shooting a clean stage or winning a match isn’t the same as “ohgodohgodi’mgettingmuggedohgod”; it is stress, and teaching your brain and muscles to perform complicated tasks under stress is never a bad thing.

  5. Oh, like I said, this is certainly not bad training, if only from the shooting under stress situations, as you pointed out. But when they advertise the premise as “real world” situations… I am not looking for this exact scenario, but putting forward a scenario that requires me to carry half a Wal-Mart package of ammunition with me seems… unrealistic.

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