Skip to main content

Which Practical Shooting Sport is Right for You?

Want to get into practical shooting but don't know where to begin? Here is a look at the various practical shooting sports.

IDPA, IPSC, USPSA, SCSA. Is your head spinning because of the veritable alphabet soup of different practical shooting sports? I don't blame you.

There are so many to choose from and the rules are so similar that sometimes understanding which one is which can be a challenge. Don't let that frustrate you and drive you away. While the names are confusing, the people shooting in these sports are some of the best people you will ever meet.

Practical shooting is the application of real world shooting and self-defense techniques in a sport or game environment. These are sports that allow you to use what you have been taught and trained for to defend yourself.

Here is a look at each of the practical shooting sports.


3-Gun is currently the fastest growing shooting sport across the country. Competitors use three firearms to complete a course of fire: a Modern Sporting Rifle (MSR) like an AR-15 or similar, a shotgun and a pistol.

Competitors have to engage many kinds of targets including cardboard, paper, clay pigeons and steel in various positions like standing, sitting, lying down, around barricades and other obstacles. They move across the course of fire, transitioning from one firearm to another.

Try using a semi-auto pistol like an M&P or Glock, a Remington 870 or Mossburg 500 with an extended magazine tube and an AR-15 gets you set to shoot 3-Gun Matches.

1080FN Ken
3 Gun Nation

International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC)

IPSC was the first international body of practical shooting. IPSC is a fast paced running and gunning sport with many targets across a wide range of courses. The idea behind IPSC matches are to engage targets in accordance with the stage description, and shoot as fast as possible. According to the IPSC webpage,

The Latin words Diligentia, Vis, Celeritas (DVC) meaning accuracy, power, and speed are IPSC's motto and form the foundation for competition. IPSC also emphasizes procedures for safe gun handling and strict adherence to the rules governing the sport.

The IPSC target has a 15 Centimeter "A-Zone" center target area. There are multiple divisions for competitors to shoot in. There are some IPSC matches in the United States, but most are competed in other countries.

All you need to start is a center-fire handgun.


United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA)

The USPSA is the governing body of the United States region of IPSC. It is the largest region in IPSC and is broken up into 8 areas across the country. It has six divisions to compete in ranging from stock off the shelf guns to highly modified and tricked out race guns. Each division allows competitors to compete against other people with the same equipment. That way you aren't trying to compete against a super tricked out race gun with an off the shelf Glock.

The stages promote creativity in design and execution, and force the shooter to think the problem through. The goal is to shoot a stage as fast as you can while adhering to the safety requirements and other rules in place. All you need to start in USPSA is a handgun, holster and mag holders.


More from Wide Open Spaces:

Pro tip: stage planning for steel challenge shooting competitions [VIDEO]

5 ways to stay calm and focused during shooting competitions

5 pieces of shooting competition gear no one talks about [PICS]

Steel Challenge/Steel Challenge Shooting Association (SCSA)

The SCSA is the governing body of Steel Challenge matches and the World Speed Shooting Competition. The intent for this competition is to have five to eight common courses of fire consisting of steel plates that competitors shot five times, dropping the slowest time.

There is minimal movement, but extremely fast-paced trigger pulling. There are various local matches around the country, some associated with SCSA and others just a local match for fun.

All you need to get into shooting steel matches is a handgun and a holster.


International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA)

The IDPA was formed with the intent to create a sport that allows competitors to solve real world self defense problems in a simulated world experience. IDPA allows competitors to use the same gear and guns that you would use for everyday carry and still be competitive.

Like in the USPSA, IPSC and 3-Gun, shooters engage cardboard targets in an attempt to keep their time low. There are IDPA matches all around the country and can be found at most local ranges. All you need to get started is the same gear you use everyday to carry your concealed handgun.

Hopefully this look at Practical Shooting has peaked your interest. The desire to get out and shoot in a match is all that is needed to start. Find a local match in the sport you want and head out to the range and join them. You won't be disappointed.

you might also like

Which Practical Shooting Sport is Right for You?