Are USPSA shooters better than IDPA shooters, part 2

For some reason, I decided it would be fun to try to an answer a question that has been the source of many forum slapfights. Yesterday I looked at both sport’s classification systems, and from that was able to determine…basically nothing. USPSA does a better job of breaking shooters down into tiers of skill, and it turns out that the top shooters in IDPA are almost always pretty good USPSA shooters as well. Today we’ll look at match performance and depth of competition.


The first thing I want to address is a common argument in favor of USPSA shooters being “better” than IDPA shooters. It goes like this: “I took a USPSA shooter to a club level IDPA match and he smoked everyone, but then I took an IDPA shooter to a USPSA matched and he tripped over his own feet and cried lol IDPAsux.”

Now, I’ve observed and experienced IDPA shooters struggling with making the transition to USPSA, but it usually wasn’t a result of shooting related challenges. One of the fundamental differences between USPSA and IDPA are the non-shooting demands placed on the shooter. IDPA shooters generally “shoot on a rail” – that is they follow a proscribed course of fire, generally shooting everything from the same position as everyone else. Within a division, the majority of shooters will shoot the stages the same way, with the winners determined by who shoots the COF the fastest and most accurately. What that means is that stage planning isn’t as critical a skill in IDPA, because there’s usually only one acceptable way to shoot any given stage. It’s like traditional kata in martial arts – you’re following a pre-written series of steps.

USPSA on the other hand allows for shooters to come up with their own stage plans, and basically do whatever they want so long as it’s not against the rules. That means that stage planning and mental prep is hugely important in USPSA. What happens frequently in my experience is when people who start in IDPA make the jump over to USPSA, they struggle with the stage planning part of it worst of all. That leads to poor shooting performance, because if you’re trying to think about your stage plan while you’re shooting the stage, you’re going to have a bad time. Does that mean that USPSA shooters are better at shooting? At least in this instance, no it doesn’t. It does however mean that a shooter who primarily competes in USPSA will generally have an easier time crossing over sports because he or she has a better understanding of mental stage prep.

Let’s talk about match performance as an indicator of skill; because that’s a decent way to compare skill level of shooters. But to do that, we have to first talk about depth of competition in a given sport. USPSA has a much deeper field in terms of pure talent. A shooter who just got his GM card in USPSA is going to be better than a shooter who just got his M-card in IDPA. When you ratchet that up to the top of the field, the talent level in USPSA is deeper than IDPA as well; specifically because the top GM shooters with a few exceptions don’t play in IDPA. If you look at the results from 2013’s IDPA Nationals, the top five fastest shooters are all USPSA Grandmasters, with the fastest overall shooting being Bob Vogel. Brandon Wright, Matt Mink, Nils Johnassen, Morgan Allen, and Glenn Shelby are all GM level shooters in USPSA. That rounds out the top tier of IDPA shooters at the last nationals.

From that we can now add a 3rd conclusion to the two established yesterday: at the National championship level, USPSA has a deeper field than IDPA. But what about in individual classes? That’s much harder to calculate for, primarily because class winners aren’t generally household names. You know who Dave Sevigny is, but you don’t know who won C-class at the Production Nationals (Alex Larche, if you’re wondering). You know who Bob Vogel is, but you don’t know who won SSP Sharpshooter at IDPA Nationals (Phillip Bernard). Within individual classes and divisions at the National level, the depth of field is going to be largely the same. You’ll always have the higher skill guys competing to win their class, the middle tier guys, and the bottom third. That is true regardless of the class and division; so it’s difficult to make a straight comparison. Obviously, we’re not accounting for sandbaggers/grandbaggers here, because that’s an entirely different discussion.

At the end of all this, I’ve written over 1400 words in two posts about this topic. Now it’s time for the definite, forum slapfight ending answer to the ancient question: Are USPSA shooters better than IDPA shooters? Ready? “It depends.” There is nothing inherent in the actual shooting challenges presented by IDPA or USPSA that would make one shooter more or less skilled than another at the actual act of shooting. However, USPSA’s non-shooting challenges tend to make dedicated USPSA shooters better at adapting to IDPA than vice versa. Additionally, in my experience dedicated USPSA shooters seem to be, well, more dedicated to practicing on the reg, which does actually translate into getting better at shooting.

But here is some real talk for you. The answer to the question is simple: The average IDPA shooter and the average USPSA shooter are probably about equal in shooting skill. But the best IDPA shooters, the guys who win National championships are also serious, dedicated USPSA shooters.


  1. New click bait: Are competitive shooters better than strictly class taking shooters? And most importantly, does Joe-Bob weekend blaster know how bad he is?

  2. “The answer to the question is simple: The average IDPA shooter and the average USPSA shooter are probably about equal in shooting skill. But the best IDPA shooters, the guys who win National championships are also serious, dedicated USPSA shooters.”

    But that’s what I was going to say!

  3. IDPA markets itself to casual shooters with CCW permits and so they have lots of those. USPSA is straight gun racing so it attracts motivated gun racers. It’s not a huge mystery why the average level of skill at USPSA matches is higher than at IDPA matches (or at least the ones I’ve been to).

        1. I have been torn over the same questions you ask here. it is a moot point for me because I don’t have easy access to an IDPA club or match. So, I shoot USPSA in divisions I think are relevant. I shoot major revolver, single stack, and limited. I can see a real person carrying any of those weapons on a daily basis. I DO NOT GIVE A RAT TURD HOW FAST YOU CAN SHOOT AN OPEN GUN! I am not an athlete and have no intention of becoming one. I am a daily concealed carry practitioner and I need PRACTICE.

          IDPA is kind of bound up with rules. USPSA tends to become an equipment race, even in , say revolver division. Every thing is fine with me and my 4″ 625, and then they make 8 shot revolvers legal for minor. O.K. No problem. I will just go buy another 1k + Smith and Wesson revolver, have it tuned, get more moonclips, etc. etc. I almost bought a 5″ 627 when I started competing. 357 mag is just as good as a 45 for self defense and a lot more flexible. I actually prefer a 357 when I am on the farm. Let me guess………in two years, 357 and 38 super will qualify for Major.( and they should now)……JEECE, Just leave the rules alone.

          I am not wealthy, and I don’t want to be forced to buy a lot of stuff to be competitive in a sport I am only semi interested in for sport. That is my problem with USPSA. With IDPA I am not all that interested in rules that are silly. In practice, SHOOT THE BAD GUY. Shoot him more than once, and do it quickly. I think the best deal overall would be to use USPSA rules, but add concealment requirements. If you can hide it, you can shoot it..

          1. So which is it? Do you shoot USPSA for practice or do you shoot it to be competitive? You seem to make the argument for both ways at the same time. If you do it for practice, then why does it matter if your equipment is competitive?

  4. I believe that the average shooter at a national level match is quite different than the average shooter in a local club match. At our local club, the are a lot of shooters that are there for the fun of it, not to win a match and not to train in self defense. I hope that in both IDPA and USPSA that you can have a good time even if you are not competitive, or else why would so many people shoot?

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