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Your First IDPA Match Part 3: How Does IDPA Work?

Lee's Sportsmen Association

IDPA: What is it, how does it work, and what do all the parts mean?

In Part One of this series, we talked about getting your gear together and arriving at your first match; what steps to take when you get there, getting organized and finding your group. In Part Two, we talked a little about scoring and what it was like to start your first stage and then clean up and prepare for your next match. Here in Part 3 we will bring all your IDPA knowledge together and learn about how the competition works.

What is the IDPA?

The International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) is a world-wide association of like-minded shooters who come together to compete and practice defensive shooting via weekly and monthly competitions held throughout the U.S. and other countries. The IDPA was founded by a number of defensive pistol shooters in 1996 as a way for defensive shooters to compete with the same gear that they use every day. Prior to this, there was no gun sport that offered this kind of shooting.

The matches are usually made up of a number of stages that simulate real-world defensive scenarios in some form or fashion. Or they allow a shooter to “practice” a shooting fundamental they may not use on a regular basis. For example, some stages may be set up where you can only use your weak hand for all shots.

The nice thing about IDPA is that you can be competitive with just your concealed carry gun and holster. You don’t need to have fancy race gear or high-speed rail guns. Just your pocket pistol and a desire to shoot your best.

Stage Coach

As mentioned above, each match, from the local club level, up through tiered matches, are broken up into various stages for the group to shoot. Each stage is different and sometimes has a certain component it focuses on.

Before starting each stage, the squad (the smaller shooting group of all the competitors) Safety Officer (basically the RSO for the squad and leader of the pack) will take some time to read the stage description and possibly the scenario it represents to help put you in a certain mindset.

During the Stage Briefing you will find out about minimum round counts, possibly if you need to down load your magazines, how the targets should be shot (including order) and anything else you need to know. It is important to pay attention during the Stage Briefing as this may be your only chance to hear all that information. Unlike in USPSA, you are not given time, nor allowed, to walk the stage or “air gun” it to see angles after the briefing.

When it is your turn to shoot, you need to remember everything you can for the stage, but most SOs will be kind enough to offer a helping hand and answer any questions about the stage you might have.

Speedwell Targets
Speedwell Targets


As with any game, you need to keep score some way to see who wins. Scoring in IDPA can be a little confusing at first, but it’s actually really easy to break down.

First of all, did you see that guy running around behind you with a funny colored box that made a beeping sound? That guy is not just stalking you. He is holding the shot timer that is being used to time your run. The timer can hear your shots and keep track of how many and when they were shot. So time, in seconds, is your biggest scoring factor. The faster you shoot, the better your score.

But, accuracy counts as well. The standard IDPA target is a silhouette-shaped target with the scoring zones marked via perforations on the cardboard. The biggest thing to remember, is that any scoring questions are scored in favor of the shooter. So, for example, if a bullet punches a hole on the perforations between the -0 down zone and the -1 down zone and more then half of the bullet hole is in the -0 zone, it’s scored and -0 points down.

The scoring zones are marked as -0, -1,-3 on the target. These are the “points down” zones. Points down is an easier way to remember how many seconds get added on to your time at the end. Each point is .5 seconds added to your time; so -0 is 0 seconds, -1 is .5 seconds and -3 is 1.5 seconds. See how accuracy can effect your score now? No matter how fast you shoot, if you’re not accurate, you still add time and make your score worse.

In the end, the only person you are competing against is yourself. If you do not have a good balance of speed and accuracy, you will not score well.

IDPA is a fun, but challenging sport to participate in. It’s also a great “beginner’s” place too. You don’t need fancy gear or $1,000-dollar guns. If you carry a pistol every day, grab some spare magazines, some ammo, and come to the range and shoot in a match.

Most IDPA shooters are very open and will answer any questions you have about the sport and getting started in it.

Everyone is welcome!

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Your First IDPA Match Part 3: How Does IDPA Work?