We're thrilled that you are interested enough in practical shooting to explore how best to get started. You are about to take the first step on an exciting journey to a new world of safe, fair, family fun with some of the greatest people you will ever know.
The United States Practical Shooting Associations (USPSA) is the premier competitive shooting organization in the world. USPSA membership is your pass to compete in any USPSA or IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation) match anywhere in the world.
USPSA membership does not include range or local club membership. In most cases you will be allowed to compete in local matches even if you don't belong to the local organizations. You will discover, though, that there are many advantages to belonging to a club in your area, if for no other reason than the camaraderie that exists among like-minded enthusiasts!
Practical Shooting IS competition. Competition necessarily requires that there be more than one person taking part, so the first step is to locate someone near you with whom to compete. Fortunately, USPSA has more than 400 affiliated clubs located in or near most communities in the United States so it shouldn't be difficult. The USPSA home page has an interactive map that you can use to find clubs in any state, or you can enter your zip code to find clubs close to you. Club listings include email addresses and other information the clubs have posted to let new and veteran competitors alike know when and where they have matches.
The local club leaders will be excited to see you and eager to answer your questions, but here are a few pointers to make that first visit a pleasant experience for all concerned.
* Do take and wear eye and ear protection. Your normal corrective lens or sunglasses will serve for your first visit. Inexpensive foam earplugs available at most sporting goods or hardware stores will suffice for hearing protection. Most clubs will have such items available to loan to visitors, but having your own will simplify the process and ensure that you will be able to watch the match.
* Don't assume you know more than you do. Use your first visit to concentrate on watching, listening, and learning.
* Don't assume that you will be allowed to shoot the first time you go to the club. Many USPSA affiliated clubs require that new competitors complete a "safety check" before shooting an actual match. Some clubs will be willing to administer the check on the day you visit while others will require a stand-alone session at another time.
Firearms & Holsters
It may be that the firearm you already own will be just what you need to get started in practical shooting, but you may learn of other competitive opportunities that will give you that excuse you've been looking for to buy a new toy! USPSA has seven competitive handgun divisions, and one division for pistol caliber carbines, delineated by equipment rules. Unless you are blessed with more money than you need, we recommend that you don't rush out and spend until you've had the opportunity to learn enough about the sport to make an informed decision.
Holsters must retain the firearm during any required movement, must cover the trigger of a holstered gun, must point to the ground when the firearm is holstered, and must be carried at belt level; shoulder holsters, fanny packs, et al, are not permissible at USPSA events. Further, Production Division has additional holster restrictions. The USPSA rule book, which is available on this web site in HTML or PDF format, has more information about the equipment requirements of each division.
Other necessary equipment includes spare magazines or speed loaders and belt mounted carriers. Practical shooting events usually require having at least five magazines to get you through the various stages in a match. Magazines should be available from the gun manufacturer or from a variety of after market sources. Some divisions have limitations on the length, so be sure to check the rules for the division that interests you.
We recommend three to four belt mounted magazine/speed loader carriers, depending on the divisions in which you choose to compete.
Most USPSA members reload their own ammunition, although some use factory loads. Reloading is common for reasons of both economy and performance. The desirability of reloading depends on the divisions in which you choose to compete and the caliber you select. The division choice frequently influences the caliber choice. The issues involved in caliber choice include magazine capacity, recoil, and the division rules.
For example, most Open Division competitors use .38 Super or one of its variants. Most firearms built to compete in Open Division require specific bullet weights and velocities to reach full potential so most Open competitors choose to reload.
Limited Division is dominated by the .40 S&W cartridge fired in highly tuned firearms similar those found in Open Division, although they are less complex. Most Limited competitors also opt to reload.
Many who compete in Limited 10 (L10) Division use the same guns they use in Limited Division, but the division rules allow no more than 10 rounds in the magazine. However, a growing number of people compete in L10 with single stack 1911-pattern firearms in 40S&W or .45ACP. While most L10 competitors reload, it is more feasible to use factory ammunition here than in either Open or Limited.
Production Division provides a competitive venue for the box-stock firearms people typically purchase for self-defense. Most Production competitors use 9MM or .40 S&W calibers. Because the power requirements in Production are less than those in the other divisions, factory ammunition is common.
The most commonly used calibers in Revolver Division are .45ACP and .357 Magnum. The recoil dished up by factory ammunition can be significant in a revolver, and most competitors find that there are combinations of bullet and powder that can be hand loaded to provide the necessary accuracy and velocities without the recoil (and cost!) of most factory ammunition. However, a recent rule change that allows eight-shot revolvers to compete at minor power factor has made the newer 9mm revolver offerings quite popular.
It is important to have realistic expectations as you approach competitive shooting. Many people, but most especially those without a lot of shooting experience, make unreasonable assumptions about this game.
If you had just begun to golf it is unlikely that you would assume you know how to golf before the first lesson. You've probably seen Tiger Woods on television and heard the commentators wax eloquent about his skills. You may have seen him muff a shot and go into the rough. Even if you've never swung a club yourself you understand that golf is hard.
Unfortunately, many people are exposed to shooting only on television or in the movies and they believe a lot of myths that are presented therein. Our heroes are shown hitting difficult targets at extreme ranges without seeming to aim. Looks easy. Anyone can do that. Even people with some shooting experience may fall into the trap of believing that tin can plinking or hunting has prepared them for competitive shooting.
Practical shooting is an exciting, fun, safe sport. Like any sport, though, it takes time and effort to become proficient. Like any sport there will be times when your progress is rapid and it's easy to remain focused on your goal. At other times it will seem that you're not getting anywhere and it will be easy to become discouraged. Consistent practice will take you where you want to go.