To refresh your memory, this series is about getting the new shooter, who might not have a friend or family member involved in competition, out to the range to give it a try!
Today’s topic is: IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association).
Shooting IDPA can really help new shooters improve basic skills and their preparedness for self-defense situations without overwhelming them with too much information or giving them a task that is out of their wheelhouse.
Ep. 1 Getting Started
Ep. 2 Steel Challenge
Ep. 3 USPSA Pistol
Ep. 4 Shotgun
Ep. 5 3 Gun
Ep. 6 High-Power Rifle
Ep. 7 Cowboy Action
Ep. 8 Shotgun II
Ep. 9 IDPA
Ep. 10 Bulls Eye Pistol
Ep. 11 Smallbore Rifle
What is IDPA?
In its own words, IPDA describes itself as “the use of practical equipment… to solve simulated ‘real world’ self-defense scenarios using practical handguns and holsters that are suitable for self-defense use.”
During a match, the shooter navigates a course of fire with their pistol, shooting targets as they become visible, but with attention to skills like retaining magazines (a deviation from USPSA and IPSC rule sets), utilizing covered shooting positions and using what they call “an order of engagement,” which is basically the sequencing for what target to shoot first and why.
Founded in 1996 by a group of shooters (Bill Wilson, John Sayle, Ken Hackathorn, Dick Thomas, Walt Rauch and Larry Vickers) who felt USPSA was an unrealistic equipment race (How many people carry $2,000 race guns on them day-to-day?), IDPA was born as a competitive discipline geared toward one’s duty pistol and other practical equipment.
What you do at a match is very predictable, and that’s good for a new shooter. Your stage cannot have more than a set number of rounds and there is generally little variation to the way a stage can be shot. The reason for this is because of the order of engagement. IDPA teaches shooters to engage targets in a tactical priority, which typically means the closer the target, the higher the priority — unless the target is not visible in which case the shooter engages the target when it does become visible while moving through the course.
Being of the mindset that there is more than one way to skin the cat, this is one aspect to IDPA that I see as both a pro and a con. It’s a pro because you truly can compare your time to someone else running the EXACT same sequence. It’s a con because everyone is doing the EXACT SAME THING. There is no room for improvisation or learning from others how and why they approached the course in the manner they did.
Where To Find A Match?
I knew where to look for my local IDPA match. I got right on our state’s shooting website that hosts calendars for events organized by discipline and I came up with not only an IDPA match, but one that was not terribly far, AND the $25 match fee came with pizza… had to be good, right?
I convinced my youngest son, Andrew, that he was going with me and after several Facebook messages to Mike and the other guys at Family Shooting Academy, I grabbed my STI in .45 and our 9mm we shoot for 3 Gun and a few holsters and headed to the range.
What to Expect & Gear to Bring
You will need a pistol, a belt, mag holders, eyes and ears, and ammo. From what I understand, the new rule set has done away with concealment garments, yet many people still wear them. Due to the need to retain your magazines while running the course, this seems prudent!
At our match, Andrew and I shot our 9mm STIs, and .45 STI DVC Classic. You could shoot a Glock, M&P, revolver, your concealed carry gun, etc. And this is the great advantage IDPA has over USPSA, you can shoot and be competitive with the gun you would normally carry every day. There’s tremendous value in becoming more familiar with your EDC gun.
Just like USPSA pistol, IDPA has different divisions which are outlined in the rules on IDPA’s website: “There are six divisions in IDPA: Custom Defensive Pistol (CDP), Enhanced Service Pistol (ESP), Stock Service Pistol (SSP), Stock Service Revolver (SSR), EnhancedService Revolver (ESR) and Back-Up Gun (BUG). Each division is based on the type of pistol a competitor uses.”
What to Expect – Different Rules
Besides gear that is more “true to life”, IDPA also has some rules that are designed to mimic reality. For example, you retain magazines that aren’t empty, and sometimes you are only allowed a set number of rounds. For our match, Andrew had three penalties. He didn’t plan to stow a magazine, so he dropped one, and after the 2nd mag change, I saw an expression on his face that said, “Forget that,” and he dropped it and continued the course. So maybe learning the real life skill of, “Think for yourself and make it work for you,” was something he not only accepted but ran with, penalties and all.
I had a round not go off on my last stage. It was a stage where we were required to load six and only six rounds in each mag. It could have been a high primer, they were in a bin labeled “practice ammo” of .45 that we had left from Singe Stack Nationals last year. Obviously labeled “practice” for a reason.
But nevertheless, I cleared it, but couldn’t shoot my sixth round because it wasn’t there. So not only did I get a miss, but I got penalized for not shooting six rounds. Hmm, I think this part of the rule book is silly, as a shooter new to IDPA, I didn’t like it. I always load my mags with extra rounds because if you have a light strike or other malfunction, clearing and continuing to shoot requires ammo. So that is my only constructive criticism: maybe instead of telling people how many rounds to load in a gun, they just tell you how many rounds you can shoot. USPSA does that, and it’s called a Virginia Count stage. And being able to count how many rounds you’ve shot can be a very useful skill!
“Failure To Do Right”
One of the big reasons I’ve never shot IDPA was that there can be a penalty for, “Failure to do Right.” It means you tried to game things or didn’t shoot it in the spirit of the stage.
It always sounded to me like a subjective and small-minded way of being able to account for the shooters that outsmarted everyone else. I’ve even heard horror stories about FTDR being applied when someone didn’t like who was winning a stage or match. This wasn’t an enamoring characteristic. I like thinking for myself. But there’s often that one guy at a match that ruins the fun for everyone else and causes a stage to get thrown out because they gamed it and argued the rules to the point the match director has no recourse but to throw the stage out. So FTDR has its place… maybe.
In my experience at the IDPA match we shot, the only failure to do right is on the part of the rule-writers. Malfunctions happen, and I wanted to have the opportunity to shot all six rounds on my last stage. Penalizing the shooter by not allowing enough rounds to engage the target, or a way to address it isn’t right. Failure to do right seems to historically have been used most when the R.O. judged the shooter’s use of cover. The new set has brought about taped fault lines so that a shooter can simply be within those and not be called on a procedural.
But Really, Why Do I Need a Half-Empty Mag?
Retaining magazines is one item in IDPA that differs from the USPSA and IPSC rule sets. During the course of fire, you cannot drop a magazine on the ground unless it is empty – if there is ammo still in it, you must retain it. So a new shooter might ask why retain magazines? Well, if I’m fighting for my life, I may not take the time to save a mag, but what if during that fight I run out of ammo, heck, I might want that half empty mag! But if I’m racing for time, I know that getting hits faster is often a bigger advantage to the score – stopping to stow a mag will bring the score down. So, what do you do? How shall you train?
Well, IDPA teaches you to save those magazines. It’s part of the game. But more importantly, it may come in handy in a real-life situation when holding on to that half-empty magazine might be the difference between getting out of the gunfight and being pinned down.
What You Don’t Know Can Help You
The biggest thing I took away from shooting this IPDA match was that what I don’t know can help me. I’ll understand IDPA shooters a little better. I’ll look at stages with a different eye. I will also consider that while a lot of practical shooting involves looking at everything, stepping back, considering all your options, then forming a plan, IDPA pretty much asks you to shoot the stage straight up, as it presents itself. They even have a rule forbidding memorization stages because it’s about the shooting, not who memorizes hidden targets better.
There’s something to be said for a test of shooting skill versus gaming skill. I see pros and cons to both, but the reason to try them all is to make yourself think differently. To test your skills in an unfamiliar environment. To find a new challenge and conquer it. To see what presents itself and address it as it comes. That’s a life lesson, and a competition lesson: see, assess, execute. In the words of Sean Connery in The Untouchables, “There endeth the lesson.”