That was a question posited over on TFL, which surely start the usual “IDPA IS TACTICAL AND USPSA WILL GET YOU KILLED” or the also popular “ALL GUN GAMES WILL GET YOU KILLED” debate. The problem is that for anyone arguing any side of those points is that it’s just not that clear-cut. However, to discuss the first point: no, IDPA is not realistic. Paper targets do not shoot back, cardboard no-shoots don’t run towards waving their arms yelling “HELP ME” and obstruct your shot; the weird things that happen during a dynamic event don’t generally happen to mostly static targets on a pre-designed course of fire. So no, in that sense IDPA is not realistic – but then again, neither is USPSA, Steel Challenge, et al.
I can now hear the tactical guys saying “See, I told you so!” and preparing to exult in their triumph over us game players. The problem with all that is that anyone who is really honest with themselves about the gun games will be the first to admit to you that shooting USPSA/IDPA isn’t supposed to be tactical training. It’s not. No IDPA match will have you stacking in the door with your teammates, tossing flashbangs, and clearing a room – and it shouldn’t have these things because shooting gun games isn’t supposed to teach you tactics. Shooting gun games does do something very, very important though – it teaches you to think with a gun in your hand under stress. We all can’t afford to go to a force on force class, so shooting gun games provides a reasonable stress simulator to teach you to THINK with a gun in your hand. Simple thoughts such as “did I hit that steel” suddenly become very important, because you have under a second to make the decision to take a second shot or to move on. Opening a door becames a challenging task, because you know it will trigger a drop-turner that you’ve only got a half second to shoot, etc.
If someone tells you that IDPA will teach you tactics, they’re wrong. It won’t, and it’s not supposed to. IDPA is fundamentally a game, just like Bianchi Cup is a game. You will have two kinds of people shooting IDPA matches, as well: people who are shooting with their concealed carry gear to practice and reinforce fundamental skills that might save their life, and people who are playing the game to win the game. There is nothing inherently better about either of these schools of thought, because in the end both sets of people are putting rounds downrange and becoming better marksmen (and women) in so doing.
So to answer the question, no, IDPA is not realistic. But shooting an IDPA match is a great way to practice certain skills that you may need to save your life someday. I don’t know about you, but the ability to draw and put accurate hits on target in under 1 second might be pretty useful in a self-defense situation.