What shooting sports and divisions are the most relevant to real world concealed carry?

This weekend, as I was sitting in dangerous gun free zone eating mediocre chicken wings and drinking mexican beer, I started to idly wonder to myself which shooting sport is most relevant to real world CCW. But as I went further down that rabbit trail, I realized that an even better question is which division of which sport is most relevant to the type of guns and way people carry them right now.

Caleb IDPA Nationals Ruger GP100

For the sake of this post, we’ll confine our discussion to the two major pistol only sports: USPSA and IDPA. The USPSA divisions up for consideration are Production, Limited, Limited-10, Single Stack, Revolver, and Open. IDPA divisions are Custom Defensive Pistol, Enhanced Service Pistol, Stock Service Pistol, Back Up Gun, Stock Service Revolver, and Enhanced Service Revolver. Right off the bat we can make a few obvious cuts: all of the revolver divisions are out. Sad to say it, but most people aren’t carrying wheelguns these days, and I’d wager that the preponderance of wheelguns that are carried fall under the BUG definition.

Up next, we can cut Single Stack and CDP from the list. Not because people don’t carry single stack guns, in fact a lot of people love 1911s. But again, what we’re looking for here is a division or divisions that are representative of what most people are carrying. For the same reason, we can cut Open out of this list. While red-dot guns are getting more and more common, they’re not carried by enough people to really be a huge market. The people who do carry them tend to be pretty serious shooters and invested in their training, but again, there’s not that many of them. I should ad that the number of people putting lights and lasers on their guns is also increasing, and if I revisit this post in five years, I may have a different conclusion on Open. Now we’ll turn to the Production/SSP conversation. I want to strike Production and SSP from the list for one reason: magazine capacity limits. Who actually owns a Glock 19 and only carries it with 10 rounds in the gun? No one. You load that sucker all the way up. For the same reason I’m going to kill ESP and L10, because if you’re talking about real world concealed carry, no one intentionally downloads their gun to 10 rounds.

So what are we left with? Well, we’re actually left with the two divisions I think represent concealed carry the best: USPSA Limited and IDPA BUG. When I watch trends in the shooting sports, I see two big pools of carry guns: small, pocketball guns in 9mm, .380 or .38 Special, and serious mid-to-full sized carry guns like M&Ps and Glock 19/17. IDPA’s BUG division really does represent what a lot of people carry every day, small, lightweight easily concealable guns like the M&P Shield or the Ruger LCP. Those are “real” carry guns, as evidenced by the sales numbers that you see reported by the companies that are making these little carry guns.

Limited makes sense for the same reason, but at the opposite end of the spectrum. These are the “serious” concealed carry/shooting people, they carry guns that are modified in ways that might make them illegal for Production, they load their mags all the way up, and more and more are turning to appendix carry. What division of the shooting sports lets you do all of that? USPSA Limited. If you want to shoot exactly what you carry, and you don’t want to download your gun or carry something that fits into a narrowly defined set of “Production” rules, you shoot Limited. You carry a Glock 22 AIWB with extended mags? Limited. Got your gun stippled a little too high? Limited. In fact, it’s even legal to shoot Limited with a light attached to your gun, so long as you pull the bulb, then it’s just “weight” which is also legal in…Limited.

It seems weird when you really think about it, but I really do believe that the two shooting sports divisions that best represent CCW are BUG and Limited. They’re at opposite ends of the spectrum for sure, but they’re the places where your real world carry gun and gear is most likely to find a home.


  1. Well stated. I have to concur. Without thinking about it much, Limited is exactly where I end up by choice when I shoot USPSA

  2. Guess that is why they are still a game or sport. If the owner is willing to modify their pistol and then take their chances on function and reliability then it is in my mind a game/sport gun. What are used by real life carriers who lack all the modifications or what I have done since I started. Shoot what you carry. Extended mags, who in the real world carries the? Some minor modifications maybe, but RULES in these sports are made to level the competetive edge of sport. Not so in real life. Cheating is fair in any real life fight. Object, win/survive. Wish I could state this better, hope you understand my thoughts.

  3. That’s why I got involved in the local action pistol shoot, to wring out my carry gun. Of course, we don’t have all the classes, I don’t even know what they mean, it’s basically pistol, revolver and 22 for the kids.

    I have noticed everyone is shooting reduced loads. There is a limit on ‘magnum loads’, in fact. How do you think that translates to actual self-defense use? Is the use of light loads detrimental?

    1. I don’t think using light loads is a detriment. it’s a bonus if you ask me. Trigger time is trigger time. I practice with .38’s and to burn through old carry ammo, sometimes I run the same multiple target drill and my times were just a little longer, but not much. Point of impact will be different as well. It depends on the gun and the ammo. Magnums out of a light weight are terrible. I carry a Ruger SP101 and Hornady .357 Critical defense rounds don’t seem that bad at all. I have some Buffalo bore magnums that are rough out of my heavy 6 inch GP100.

      Under the pressure of the timer I noticed the heavier recoil, but not really that much.

      1. Buffalo bore…yup! :o)

        I mostly carry a Redhawk (45c), sometimes a 1911 if something smaller is required. I bought a 200gn bullet mold to save on lead, which I can’t recover at the range. Seems to be only one click difference on the sites so far, but I’ve been reluctant to slow them down too much. Maybe I’ll take a little more off. It’ll save some on powder too.


  4. That’s funny, he eliminates single stack guns. I’ve been carrying a 1911 since I was 21 and I’m now 65. It never fails me and it hits exactly where I point it!

    1. I acknowledge that people carry 1911s, I’ve even carried one extensively. But I don’t think they represent the majority of guns being carried at all.

      1. Also a competitive single stack 1911 has a huge magazine well, and large safeties. My single stack gun looks nothing like anything I would remotely carry.

  5. Bah I carry a open 2011 every day. I’ve practiced the draw so I can turn off the holster lock, and turn on my Cmore in one smooth swift motion.

    I also figure even if I miss the blast of the comp will scare the bad guy and what is left of my hearing away. :p

  6. I miss the days when Production allowed one to load up their mags. Those were the days before the Clinton AWB. In fact, in those days, major and minor competed against one another in Production. It was kinda cool. A guy with a topped off S&W 5906 competed against another with a M1911. Mano a mano.

    Conversely, I heard that Limited and Limited 10 allow “gas pedals.” That’s too bad. Limited is creeping further from reality.

    Perhaps USPSA needs to split Production into Production and Production 10. And, even allow Production major guns with major scoring.

  7. Don’t be so quick to discount Limited-10. If you live in an unfree state (cough*California*cough) with mag size limits, all of the same reasoning for Limited applies, and L10 allows you to run guns for which there’s no conceivable way you could legally own standard capacity mags. I ran a P30 from AIWB in L10 for the first half of the year, and I’ll be running a G41 in L10 starting with the next match. There’s not a lot of advantage to moving to Limited when your gun tops out at 17 rounds with $40 Arredondo extensions on every. single. mag.

  8. When I bring my carry gun out to play I shoot Limited. It’s on the production list but modified externally such that it’s disqualified. Good call Caleb.

  9. IDPA SSP/ESP would be fine if they’d just increase the damn mag limits to 15. Why penalize a majority of shooters just because a few states went full retard?

    1. To me, the point of the mag limit is to just force people to practice a reload. I like the rule.

Comments are closed.