Are USPSA shooters better than IDPA shooters?

One of the most common arguments among shooting sports enthusiasts is “who is better, IDPA shooters or USPSA shooters?” It’s a popular argument, because shockingly enough people that shoot competition seriously tend to be competitive. Generally speaking, USPSA matches tend to offer tougher shooting challenges to their shooters than IDPA matches, however the IDPA scoring system places a higher premium on accuracy in a given stage. To really analyze “who’s better” there are three important metrics to compare: classification systems, match performance, and directly related to match performance is depth of the match field.

idpa logo 2

First, let’s look at each sport’s classification system. Here are the various classifications in order from least skilled to most skilled:


  • Novice – (anyone who shoots the classifier and fails to make at least Marksman is classified as Novice)
  • Marksman
  • Sharpshooter
  • Expert
  • Master
  • Distinguished Master – (only persons who win a National Championship or finish with 3% of the winner earn this title)


  • D class: 39.9% or less (anyone who fails to shoot C-class classifiers is automatically D-class)
  • C-class: 40-59.9%
  • B-class: 60-74.9
  • A-class: 75.84.9%
  • Master: 85 – 94.9%
  • Grand Master: 95-100%

How USPSA and IDPA decide a shooter’s classification is different, and that’s important. IDPA uses a single classifier match, a 90 round course of fire consisting of three stages. Your score on the classifier determines your classification. Shooters who win their class/division at major matches can also be bumped to the next higher class, assuming that certain participation numbers are met.

USPSA determines your class by taking a running average of your scores on the sanctioned USPSA classifier stages, which are usually inserted into club matches as a single stage. You National Percent on an individual classifier is your hit factor (points per second) taken as a percentage of the “high hit factor” on that given stage. USPSA then takes an average of your most recent classifier scores, which determines your classification. Certain scores are dropped if they’re too low or too old.

To the uninitiated then it would appear that the ranks are roughly equal, right? Novice = D class, Marksman = C-class, etc. Unfortunately, experienced has proved that to not be the case. In generally, a mid-to-high level B-class shooter in USPSA would have a reasonable expectation of shooting the IDPA classifier and making Master. I made IDPA Master in all five divisions, and when I finally got classified in USPSA, I made it right in the middle of B-class. Now, where this argument usually goes off the rails on forums is that people make the assumption that because a B-class USPSA shooter should be able to make IDPA Master, that an A-class or higher USPSA shooter is automatically better than an IDPA Master.

The problem with that is that it fails to account for something that USPSA does fairly well with the classification system, which is filter shooters into tighter bands of ability. Looking at that B-class shooter for a moment – he or she has a very good handle of the fundamentals of marksmanship, understands manipulations, and generally knows how to shoot pretty well. USPSA will then take that skills and break it down into those increasingly smaller bands of talent with their A-GM classifications, where IDPA simply says “Master class.” What that leads to is a wild disparity of talent within IDPA’s Master class. Take a look at the scores from the 2013 IDPA Nationals, where the top Master in ESP finished with a time of 241.85. Compared to the bottom Master, who finished with a 358.72. That’s a difference of 116 seconds. To put it in USPSA terms, it would be like a GM shooting 48% of the winner at a major match. Comparatively, the last place Grandmaster at the 2013 Production Nationals finished 62% of the winner. Of course, drawing two single data points doesn’t really prove or disprove anything, as USPSA has a similar problem at the top end of shooters; there are obvious tiers of Grandmaster shooters within the classification.

IDPA attempted to address the issue of clutter in the top band of shooters by creating the Distinguished Master classification. As mentioned above, to become a DM a shooter must win a National/World Championship, or finish within 3% of the winner. There are currently 18 shooters in all of IDPA classified as Distinguished Masters, and of those 18 at least 50% are also USPSA Grandmasters.

From looking at the classification systems, we can draw two very simple conclusions. The 1st is that USPSA does a better job of stratifying its shooters according to skill level than IDPA. While the USPSA classification system isn’t perfect, there is at least in theory less clutter at the top end of it than in IDPA. The second conclusion is that a shooter who is an IDPA Master could fall anywhere on a fairly large scale of talent.

Both of those conclusions lead to the importance of match performance and depth of field to answer this question. We’ll look at that in part two, which will go up tomorrow.

The business of the action shooting sports: General Trends

This week, we’re going to take a look at the business side of the shooting sports for a while. In this we’ll look at membership trends, championship growth, media coverage, sponsorship dollars, the way each of the major sanctioning bodies are organized and operated, as well various other decisions and actions off the range that will affect shooters directly. We will cover the “practical” shooting sports only, focusing on IDPA, USPSA/IPSC/Steel Challenge, 3-Gun, and in a double feature on Friday NRA Action Pistol and ICORE. Today the series opens with a look at general trends in the shooting sports.


Generally speaking, the news is good. Discussions with shooters across the country indicate that regardless of discipline, match participation at the club level is up. This is pretty directly connected to general increase we’ve seen in gun purchases and ownership over the last few years, as plenty of shooters bought all these cool guns during the crisis and are now seeking something more to do with them. Also adding to the club level increase is the easier availability of components and ammunition. While things still aren’t as great as they were pre-2008 in terms of ammo availability, you can actually walk into a store and buy 9mm practice ammo. That’s a good thing.

At the national level in the sports, participation in various discipline’s major national championships, with the exception of Steel Challenge World Shoot is up as well. The “big matches” like Bianchi Cup, USPSA Nationals, and IDPA Nationals have seen steady growth and are showing no signs of slowing down. A major success for USPSA has been the back-to-back Classic Nationals, which puts the once barren Revolver Nationals immediately after Single Stack Nationals. Prior to the format change, Revolver Nationals would see at best 30 shooters. The new format has grown participation to over 100 shooters, shooting the match in a single day. IDPA’s twin National Championships continue to be a success, with Indoor Nationals consistently selling out within minutes of opening. In 2013, IDPA added an additional National-level match, the BUG Championship. This was the surprise hit of the year, with shooters who attended the match providing excellent feedback on future matches.

Also of interest has been the rise of 3Gun Nation as the king of the heap in the 3Gun circuit. This year, 3GN added their regional matches, and eliminated use of the great “outlaw” 3-Gun matches as sanctioned 3GN events. Their regional matches and pro-series matches have been huge successes, and at the same time have not appeared to diminish participation in the classic outlaw matches either.

Across the board, sponsor participation is up as well. There are more jerseys, logos, and dollars flowing around major matches and even down to the club level than when I started back in 2006, and that’s a good thing. Because the shooting sports are hugely, critically dependent on both sponsor dollars and volunteers to make the matches happen, a sudden loss in major brand participation would be devastating at the national level. However, there are no signs of this happening any time in the immediate future, barring a major political event. While the allocation of money and resources may have shifted, the participation trends at national and club levels are still strong.

Everything is not perfect though, as the shooting sports in general face a couple of major problems. The first issue is that the current level of participation growth and sport expansion isn’t sustainable. People’s time and company’s money are both finite resources, and eventually a tipping point will be reached where both become too exhausted to support additional shooters. When that happens, there will be a contraction at the national level and the club level, as shooters will find other things to do with their time and companies other things to do with their money. This is part of the cycle of the sports to a certain extent, and is coupled with national trends in gun ownership as well.

Perhaps a more pressing concern is this: an aging volunteer population. Volunteers are absolutely the heart of the shooting sports. You can have all the Presidents and Boards of Directors and CEOs of Shooting Integration you want, but without dedicated volunteers at the club level, there will be no matches. While the shooting sports in general have been successful at attracting new, younger shooters, that trend has not always translated into those younger shooters becoming volunteers at the club level. Again, people’s time is a finite resource, and the demands of being an RO or Match Director at a club are competing directly with time that could be spent playing Wolfenstein, driving cars, or having drinks with friends. Of course, the problem could simply be an age one, and as the younger shooters grow older in the sport, the idea of working as a volunteer will become more attractive. Time will tell.

The last major challenge faced by the shooting sports is the real question of how to adapt to a changing culture. Not just gun culture, but culture in general. Gun owners now weren’t introduced to guns by their parents, there is much more of an emphasis on cool-guy gear and appearance oriented products that there was even as little as 10 years ago. The Red Bull and X-Games generation is now in their 30s and 40s, and the Millennials are out there, buying guns, and then writing poetry about their vegan peace bicycles. Times have changed, and the shooting sports must adapt to stay relevant.

As we go through the individual sports this week, we’ll look at how each of the sports has changed, grown, and what successes they’ve had. We’ll also address the issues of membership growth and churn, stagnation, and how each of the sports has responded or could respond to some of the challenges that are presented in this post. It is a great time to be in the shooting sports, and there are tremendous opportunities here for all shooters, regardless of discipline.

Good Sportsmanship, the Shooting Sports are the Exception

20140402-105924.jpgMaybe I’m biased, but I have seen more impressive acts of true sportsmanship from the competitive shooting community than from any other sport in America. Everything from the courtesy extended to me when I visit a match to the written rules of the 3 Gun Nation, lead me to feel this way. I would even go so far as to say that children who participate in the shooting sports seem to be better behaved and have better manners than any other group of kids I’ve seen. Can this all be credited to guns? Continue reading “Good Sportsmanship, the Shooting Sports are the Exception”

Major match scoring in a perfect world

I noted a column in the Outdoor Wire about how the scoring system in the shooting sports is broken, because the way we do it now doesn’t allow for real-time spectator participation. I agree 100% with the column, and it dovetailed nicely with another rant I had about technology in the firearms industry, specifically timers.

The CED7000 Pro is a really good timer. By the standards of any other consumer electronic, it’s ancient technology tottering along. In an age of tablet computers that weigh less than a volleyball and have more computing power than my 90s era desktop, it’s ridiculous that our very best timer is something like this.

Here’s what match scoring would look like in a perfect world: you’d have an all-in-one device, about the size of an iPhone that records the time, then allows you to enter the scoring (points down, target hits, whatever). You’d have all the different shooting sports profiles entered into the device, so you could select “USPSA Match” and go to work. You wouldn’t need pen-and-paper score sheets, because this magical device would use WiFi, so that all the scoresheets would be digitally pushed to each device from the central scoring PC. In the software backend, you’d have the central scoring PC that pushed the data on shooters (class, name, shooter number, division) to the devices, and each device would be digitally “assigned” to a stage so that the data coming back would go to the correct spot.

So when a shooter finishes his run, the RO goes through and scores it, enters the data on the Sorcery Device, the shooter views his scores and hits a button labeled “Accept”, and the score is magically submitted to the database. The central scoring computer would be linked to a monitor or something so shooters could see live progress of how the match was progressing.

The crazy thing is that we have the technology right now to do that. Even if we didn’t use a magical all in one device, we could get a 75% solution with the use of iPad/iPhone technology and a good scoring app. But I’ll tell you right now why it won’t happen, and this makes me sad: $$$$

Building the technology, and more importantly building it right and robust will cost money. No one is going to do that kind of work for free, and the people who have the technical skills to do it would rather make money doing something else than building an amazing technology that would receive limited implementation. Because local ranges and clubs aren’t going to drop $50 on software and $1000 on the devices necessary unless they’re an especially progressive and forward thinking club (shout-out to ENPS who are squared away). So, how could this work? If it was top-down. For example, if IDPA bought a program like this, and then mandated that all major matches buy the program and be compliant by 2015, providing co-op dollars to help ease the cost. That would work. That would be a game changer. I actually hope that IDPA’s partnership with the cool bros at RangeLog turns into something like this, because if there’s anyone that could build this scoring app and do it right, it’s RangeLog.

Admit it, you’d love to see this kind of scoring system used. It would make matches so much interactive, to the point where being a match spectator might actually be fun!

2013 ProAm Match Review

The 2013 ProAm represented a pretty interesting match for me. Coming into the match, I had no expectations of my performance, because I had no benchmark for my shooting. Because of the gun issues I had in 2011, I had no way of knowing how many plates I’d fired at that the gun simply couldn’t hit. Thus, my plan for this year was “show up, shoot, have fun.”

ProAm screencap

As it turns out, that was a pretty good idea. In the Limited match, I finished 28th overall and 7th A class. With the value of post match self-analysis, I can look back at the match and see two stages where I left about 15 total points on the table, which, had I shot them would have obviously improved my position in the standings fairly considerably. But I’m not too upset about it, because on 6 of the 8 stages I actually shot very well. I was pleased with my stage planning, pleased with my shooting, and very pleased with my accuracy. Shooting an 8 round gun instead of the 10 rounders that most of the other guys were shooting meant I had to be serious about getting hits; while you may not think that two extra rounds in the gun makes that big a difference, at a match like ProAm in genuinely does.

I had a great squad for the Limited match – a couple of dudes that I knew from previous matches as well as a good crew of guys I’d never met before. The thing that makes a squad good is that everyone was invested in moving through the stages. We didn’t have any guys standing around in the back not setting steel, despite the 90+ degree Florida heat which felt like about 1,000 degrees with the humidity. Once again, Florida in July was quite warm when it wasn’t pouring rain.

So I had a good squad, good stages, and I shot reasonably well. My gun worked great, even with the 185 grain SWC bullets. Sure, I’d like to go back to stages 4 and 5 and take another whack at them, but that’s the game, right? It was unfortunate that I made mistakes on two of the stages with relatively high point values, but it is what it is. If you recall my post Bianchi Cup analysis, I was fairly harsh on myself simply because I didn’t shoot to my ability. At ProAm, I did. I shot a solid A-class match, and like an A-class shooter I made a couple of mistakes that cost me in the standings. I can live with it, because the errors I made were shooting errors. I left a plate standing that I should have made sure I hit, and I left a popper up that made me return to a shooting box and cost me time. The solution for errors like that is simple: train harder, shoot better.

My 2013 ProAm match was a lot of fun. Shooting on a cool squad with a working, accurate gun really made me enjoy the Limited match. I certainly would have liked to finished better, but on 6 out of 8 stages I shot to the best of my ability. Thanks to Colt and GunUp the Magazine for providing me the guns and financial support to make this great match a possibility! Now it’s time to practice for Steel Challenge…

Glock Shooting Sports Foundation Match AAR

Big thanks to Dave Sevigny and Chris Edwards from Glock for turning me on to the GSSF match being held in Indy this past weekend; and to the weather for raining out the Indiana USPSA Section Match and getting it moved to July.  That allowed me the time to go shoot the Glock match, which was a great experience.  Right up front, I have to say thanks again – see, I don’t own a Glock, having sold my competition rigged Glock 24 a while ago.  So Glock was kind enough to loan me not one, but two guns – first one of the new Gen 4 Glock 17s, then to follow that up a Gen 3 Glock 17 with the RTF-2 frame for comparison.

Starting off I shot the Gen 4 Glock 17 – I have to say that I liked it, and I liked it a lot except for one minor issue.  The grip really is smaller with the adjustable backstrap, and the new recoil spring system really does soak up a lot of the recoil.  Felt recoil with 115 grain FMJ was lower than you’d expect for a 9mm, which made the gun shoot very flat.  However, it did also create a problem – the gun was brand new and the spring was slightly overweight, so it actually had some problems feeding the lightly loaded factory ammo.  Glock is shipping the newer guns with lighter springs from the factory, which will rectify this particular issue.

I also shot the Gen 3 Glock with the RTF-2 frame – if you remember that’s the gun with the “fishgill” slide cuts and the aggressively textured frame to make it grippier.  I actually really liked this particular frame.  The grip and everything is the same as a regular Gen 3 Glock, but the texturing on the frame actually does help you hold on to the gun better, which is important when you’re shooting for score.  I liked it so much that my next project (which will start after the Quest for Master Class) will probably be built on an RTF frame.

But enough about all of this, because I want to talk about the actual match.  To do this, you need a little background on GSSF.  The Glock Shooting Sports Foundation was founded to bring competition shooting to people in a newbie shooter friendly format, and it’s been a huge success.  It has the widest membership very high participation levels, and you have to give kudos for Glock for their level of investment in the shooting sports.  Each GSSF match is based around 3 stages: Glock the Plates, Glock ‘M, and 5 to Glock.  The courses are inspired by none other than Bianchi Cup, as they use the NRA D1 target, (except for the Plates) and have an extreme emphasis on accuracy.  Hits in the A and B zones add no time, hits in the C zone add 1 second, and Ds add THREE SECONDS to your time.  The Glock the Plates is simple – a plate rack at 10 yards, with six plates, knock them down as fast as possible.

When you’re looking at the stages, it looks easy – deceptively easy.  The emphasis on accuracy means that going too fast can cost you a lot of points, as there’s no major power factor and no forgiveness for Deltas.  I really, really enjoyed this match – it’s kind of a combo of my two favorite games, Steel Challenge and Bianchi Cup and will actually challenge both your speed and your accuracy.  In fact, I liked it so much that I’m probably going to buy a Glock now, just so I can have a gun to play in these matches.

Once again, big thanks to the guys at GSSF for loaning me guns and getting me squared away with this match, I had a great time!

Weekend activities

In addition to the Indiana 2nd Amendment March that’s being held this weekend from 2pm-5pm, if you are so inclined you could also head out to Atlanta Conservation Club for our monthly Steel Challenge club match.  It’s just 10 bucks for a day of shooting, and there just isn’t anything more fun that blasting steel on a sunny Saturday.  There’s a category at our steel matches for just about anything, .22 rifles and pistols, Glocks, wheelguns, 1911s, bring ’em all!

Steel Challenge, and shooting steel in general is definitely my favorite of the shooting sports if for no other reason than it’s entirely unambiguous.  You either hit the steel or you didn’t; there’s no A, B, C, D zones to worry about, no running around, no reloading (unless you screw up) – in my opinion it is the purest of the shooting sports in that it tests your ability to shoot the gun at the highest level possible.

It doesn’t hurt that you get to go really fast, either.  Come on out!

Competition ready revolver package

So you want to shoot a revolver in competition shooting, but you don’t want to spend a ton of money?  Here’s a simple, competition ready revolver package that will allow you to compete and actually be competitive in multiple games using one gun and one set of gear.

The Gun: Smith & Wesson 686SSRchambered in .357 Magnum, this gun combines some of the Performance Center features with a “Production” price.  When using .38 Special loads, this is a great gun for IDPA Stock Service Revolver and ICORE Retro division with Comp-III Speedloaders.  Upgrade to a light .357 Magnum load for major scoring in USPSA, and while you’ll probably not beat the top notch revolver guys with moonclip guns, with enough practice you’ll not be at a total disadvantage.  The light weight and fast sights make this gun excellent for Steel Challenge Revo division as well.

The Holster: Blade Tech StingRay Belt Holster 

This is approved for IDPA competition, and with the addition of the drop-offset attachment for an additional 10 bucks because a wicked fast holster for ICORE/USPSA/Steel Challenge.  I use one of these holsters exclusively on my competition guns.

The Belt: Blackhawk Instructor’s Gun Belt – again, this is the belt I use in competition.  It’s 1.75 inches wide, and sturdy enough to support an N-frame revolver and 8 moonclips full of .45 ACP ammo, so it will carry the little 686 quite handily.

Speedloaders and pouches: While I’m personally having some trouble with mine, the Safariland Comp-IIIs are far and away the choice for competition shooting.  When paired with (another) Blade-Tech Speedloader holder, it can’t be beat.

Not counting the gun, which can be found at retail for around $760, the rest of the gear costs you less than $200 once you purchase everything.  While that seems like a lot, to be able to get in and be seriously competitive for less than $200 is a pretty good deal, especially since you’re able to use the same rig across three or four disciplines.

As a matter of fact, I like this rig so much that I own everything in here, bought and paid for with my own money.

Sometimes you get the bear…

And sometimes you get outplayed.  If you watched the Super Bowl on Sunday, you saw a perfect example of a team getting outplayed by another team.  As much as I wanted the Colts to win, and as well as they played, the Saints came out and played with a chip on their shoulder and flat out played Indianapolis.

What does that have to do with the shooting sports?  Well, sometimes you get outplayed in our games as well.  You can go to a match, and have the best match of your life, shoot rocketfast, nail all your reloads, and generally kick ass…and still lose.  That’s the game.  But in those moments, when you’ve shot your heart out and left it all on the range and still didn’t come away with the trophy you can find your greatest opportunities for improvement.  The measure of the shooter isn’t what you do when you win, but how you examine your performance when you lose.  Honest performance assessments are the key to improving your scores on the range (well, that and practice); and while it may at times be unpleasant to look at your scores and say “I messed up” it’s better to have that moment of unpleasantness and become a better shooter than live in denial.