Getting started in competitive shooting

Easily the most common thread I see in the “competition” forum at TFL, and also one of the most common emails I get goes something like this:

Dear TFL/Caleb:
I want to get started in competition shooting, but I don’t know what gun to buy, I already have a Glock 19/Springfield XD/Ruger GP100 that I carry sometimes.

My answer is invariably the same, and I’ll repeat it here for posterity: if you’re just getting starting in competition shooting, shoot the gun you carry for self defense. If you don’t carry, then shoot the gun that you keep in the nightstand/closet/gun safe for home protection. If you’re not sure what competitive division your gun will play in, don’t sweat it – go to the local match, and ask someone there because odds are they will know.

For example, say you have a Glock 19 that you carry for self defense/use for home protection. In USPSA, that gun would be a Production Division gun, and in IDPA it would be in Stock Service Pistol. You don’t need to do anything goofy to the gun, just get some extra magazines (5 is a good number) and go shoot.

The next question I get is “what about holsters/mag holders?” This is easy, actually. For IDPA you’ll need at least 2 mag holders, and a good holster. For USPSA you’ll need a few more mag holders. I use Blackhawk magazine holders – they’re durable and relatively inexpensive. However, any quality magazine holster will serve you fine, as long as it retains the mags during rapid movement.

Holsters are again pretty simple – like my mag holders, I prefer Blackhawk CQC holsters. If you’re not interested in a Blackhawk holster, I would also recommend Comp-Tac or Blade-Tech. All three of these are excellent polymer holsters which will be very resistant to sweat, heat, and other elements of competition shooting. Galco makes a great “Carry Lite” package, that is essentially a competition “starter kit”.

Not counting spare mags, you can get all the gear you need to shoot competition for around $100. Don’t sweat the gear too much – just get stuff that is safe and serviceable, and spend that extra money on ammo for practice.

If you end up liking competitive shooting, use your carry gun for a few months before you think about buying a special gun just to run in matches. I still shoot my carry gun regularly in matches; it also shares the exact same operating system as my other competition guns.


  1. I’ve got some more thoughts on this as a relative newbie ( ).

    One of the intimidating things about shooting at my home range is it’s also the home range of Rob Leatham, Angus Hobdell, Nils Jonasson and a whole lot of Grand Masters.

    It’s kinda like teeing-off right after Tiger Woods. Sure, you may hit it great by your standards, but compared to the 300 yard+ drive that was hit right before you…

    Actually, thinking about it, practical pistol is a lot like golf. You’re playing against yourself and the course, and what the other competitors do has an only marginal impact (if any) on your results.

  2. dont forget fobus as another cheap source for holsters and mag carriers… mine work great for the entry level competitions i shoot in…

  3. I have some personal reservations about Fobus gear, because I’ve had some negative experiences with them; however they are certainly better than one of those crappy nylon Uncle Mike’s holsters with the fabric retention strap.

  4. Don’t forget that besides the pistol folks there are Garand Matches, Vintage matches, Highpower Matches, Smallbore matches, Long Range Matches, Silhouette Matches and…well….others both reduced and across the course.

    Get over your drama about being the worst shooter on the line. It’s unlikely and…anything WORTH doing is worth doing BADLY, at least at first.

    Enjoy being a beginner. You won’t be a beginner long.

  5. They shoot a Swiss rifle match, for goodness sake, where people wear leather shorts. And Appleseed. Exploding targets. Machine guns. Rimfire.

  6. I posted a comment on Exurban League’s site and wanted to add it here too – especially since Caleb is a self-professed gear head.

    It is easy to get caught up in gear, but competitive shooting is all about shooting. This implies getting solid hits.

    Whatever you decide to shoot, be it IDPA or IPSC, if you are starting out, focus on shooting at your speed, as safely as possible, getting solid hits.

    I offer these quotes:
    “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast”

    “It will come”

  7. Yes. It doesn’t matter for a second how fast you are or how whizbang your gear is if you’re not hitting the target. Get your hits first, then worry about going faster.

  8. “It is easy to get caught up in gear, but competitive shooting is all about shooting. This implies getting solid hits.”

    Heh. I don’t know if it’s just my range or USPSA in general, but we have a LOT of Open Class shooters here for our club matches firing off their flame-throwing Star Wars laser blasters.

    And it thrills me to no end when I do better than one of them with my lil’ ol’ Production CZ. 🙂

    I worked a stage at the Area II Desert Classic last year, and the best time on my stage out of all three days, all shooters (including more GM’s than I could count) and all classes was turned in by Dave Sevigny shooting Production.

  9. True, but he was in good company that day. Taran Butler, Michael Voight, Angus, and a whole bunch of other top-notch shooters also shot that match, some of them shooting Open, some Limited, some Production. And Dave beat ’em all on my stage.

  10. Yeah, but Dave is a god among mortals, so that’s not necessarily a fair comparison.

    I’m not saying he’s not good, but realize that YOU could be that good with practice and mindset too.

    Never put yourself down.

    Accomplish what you want.

    About Open guns:
    I think open guns are neat, as they free one from having to juggle so much regarding reloads, etc. You focus on the shooting and the movement…

    It is sad that there is almost too much emphasis on “going fast”, both in IDPA and IPSC. (Hell even in PPC…)

  11. It is sad that there is almost too much emphasis on “going fast”, both in IDPA and IPSC.

    You call this a bug, I call this a feature. If I didn’t race guns, I’d probably race cars or something. Daddy Ahab loves going fast.

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