Does IDPA reward accuracy more than USPSA?

The guys at Precision Response Training have a very interesting post up that looks a the oft-repeated phrase: “IDPA rewards marksmanship, USPSA rewards speed.” It’s a thoughtful post that takes the time to look at the various scoring systems and how they actual penalize poor accuracy. I don’t entirely agree with their conclusions, but that gives us the opportunity to discuss speed, accuracy, and how they affect scoring.

Caleb IDPA Nationals Ruger GP100

First, a quick discussion of top level performance. The guys who win IDPA and USPSA matches are generally faster and more accurate than their opponents. What causes them to win is finding the appropriate balance of speed and accuracy together. To address the topic of IDPA penalizing accuracy more than USPSA, you have to look at how it applies to shooters within their own competitive set. A competitive set, or comp-set for short is a group of shooters that you’re on a relative par with in terms of skill. Unless you’re Dave Sevigny, Bob Vogel isn’t your comp-set. People in your comp-set are the guys that finish within a few seconds of each other at IDPA, or a few % points at USPSA.

So when Bob Vogel says that IDPA penalizes you for accuracy more, he’s not talking about that penalty in relation to how his overall score looks, but rather how it affects his standing against other shooters of his ability. To elaborate, IDPA uses a scoring sytem called time plus. In time plus scoring, your score is your time, plus any applicable penalties for points down, no-shoots, or procedurals. Let’s say your an IDPA SSP Master, competing for the 1st Master trophy at Nationals. There are five other shooters in your class, and you’re all squadded together. On each stage, you and two of the other shooters are posting roughly the same times, swapping leads by fractions of a second, and if you’re lucky a whole second here or there. Then you make a mistake, and shoot a no-shoot. Bam, you now have a five second penalty.

If you’re already shooting to the max of your ability to compete with other shooters of your skill level, that 5 second penalty will now follow you from stage to stage. You can keep shooting to your own max, and you will have a very difficult time making that penalty up on other stages because you’re already at your own maximum level of performance. I know, because I’ve done just that. In time plus scoring systems, making up for penalties incurred is extremely difficult, because it usually means you have to push and find another gear, which can lead to worse mistakes.

Contrast that with USPSA scoring. Same situation, you’re shooting with several guys in your comp-set competing for high A-class. You make a mistake and lose several stage points. However, because of the way USPSA awards points as a percentage of the overall stage winner, it has been my subjective experience that it is easier to erase a bad stage in USPSA than IDPA. Because most IDPA stages are 12-18 rounds, there’s not a lot of extra time sitting around to make up. However, a bad 22 round USPSA stage can be won back at least in part with a good 32 round stage, because there are more available points on the 32 round stage.

Both IDPA and USPSA penalize the shooter for poor accuracy. I don’t think IDPA penalizes you harder or worse than USPSA for accuracy. I do think that time plus scoring plus the nature of IDPA stages makes it difficult to come back from a bad stage than USPSA’s scoring sytem. But, like many things, that’s just my opinion. I’m curious to hear your feedback, so let me know in the comments. If the comments turn into another nonsense IDPA vs. USPSA thread, the banhammer will come out pretty quickly, though.


  1. Doing an extremely cursory analysis reveals that the 2013 IDPA Nationals SSP Champion (Rob Vogel) dropped 32 points on 237 shots (13.5% error) while the 2013 USPSA Production Nationals Champion (Eric Grauffel) would have dropped 45 points (by IDPA scoring) (12.3% error). On the other hand, under USPSA scoring, Rob would have gotten 1121 points out of 1185 (94.6%), and Eric got 1732 points out of 1830 (94.6%). (Of course more matches should be analyzed, but my lunch break is just about done.)

    Assuming my math is correct, these numbers are so close that I’m not sure that one sport favors accuracy more than the other, as least with respect to SSP vs. Production. Either that or shooters are just shooting both sports the same way.

    1. It would be interesting to compare Bob’s performance at an IDPA match vs. a USPSA match. See if he shoots more charlies in USPSA than in IDPA.

  2. I think the question is worded wrong. IDPA doesn’t reward accuracy over speed. The best shooters of USPSA and IDPA are fast shooters, period! Speed matters in both sports. However, in IDPA there is a greater penalty for inaccuracy. Your example in the text is well stated and brings light to this fact.

    If you want to be the best in IDPA, you have to go fast, period! However, you must respect a good stage design that slows down the shooter for a tricky shot. In other words, go as fast as you possibly can where you can. Slow down and gather yourself on the “necessary shots” that can’t afford steep penalties.

  3. It’s kind of an overgenralized statement because uspsa has so much more variety on stages it’s easy for people to watch the high hit factor hoser stages and see someone with with a miss win. On the other hand there are also so many stages with lower hit factors and/ or less points where bad accuracy can penalize you much more than in idpa. On top of that uspsa scoring is all relative to the best stage shooter, so a the penalties are all shifting depending on how well the best shooter that day finished. I’ve shot matches where the top 3 guys all push a little too hard and edge a tight no shoot and get almost no penalty because the next best guy was a b who shot it clean and they all ended up with 90+ % and I’ve also had stages where someone did the same thing and only get 30% when one of the top guys lit up a stage

  4. You start off by saying you’re going to address whether IDPA rewards accuracy more, and whether USPSA rewards speed more, and then you only addressed penalties. Penalty and reward are two sides of the same coin, but the way they interact is completely different in each sport, and you totally missed that by not discussing the rewards side at all.

    1. Fair criticism, I was actually going to title the post “Does IDPA penalize poor accuracy worse than USPSA” but that was too wordy for my taste.

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