Clay: Getting Ready for Your First USPSA Match

Shooting competitively is a great way to improve your accuracy and speed.

One of the most fun things you can do with a pistol is shoot a competitive match. There are many flavors in this regard and eventually, you will find the one that suits you best. But just like Baskin Robins, there is something to be said for trying them all. This week we are going to talk about USPSA, which is my favorite of the bunch.

USPSA stands for United States Practical Shooting Association and by “practical” they don’t mean “tactical.” Most of the pro’s wear jerseys in colors that wouldn’t be out of place in an 80’s rap video and most of the guns are shiny. In fact, the thing I like best about USPSA is that it absolutely is a game and no one pretends otherwise. That might sound weird from a guy that teaches tactics for a living, but it’s not.

The truth is there is no sport that mimics combat. All the ones that try become a walking abortion of skirting the rules and cheating your equipment to toe the line of what’s acceptable. No one wears a fishing vest in real life (*Cough* IDPA *Cough*). USPSA teaches you pistol skills only in that it forces you to be fast and accurate and that is more than good enough to take from a sport.

To shoot your first USPSA match all you really need is your pistol, holster and a few extra mags.

This is a pro-level belt, but is not required for your first match.  They run about $300.

There are a number of “tactical instructors” that will try and tell you competition teaches bad habits. I couldn’t disagree more. I know why these bearded dudes in their $400 shooting pants don’t want to show up — because they would have their collective asses handed to them, and they know it. I am speaking here about the usual Instagram heroes.

If you did a tour in the GWOT, you are entitled to your opinion. But so did I, and I think competition is great. It has made me faster and more accurate and not once did I show up for a firefight afterward thinking I should dance around in my cleats putting two in everything. And it’s a pretty easy statement to make considering that Kyle Lamb, Aaron Reed, Tom Beckstrand, Mike Pannone, and countless guys I won’t name right now from Bragg agree with me.

Your First USPSA Match

Your first match is nothing to fear. The competition shooting crowd is some of the nicest people you will ever meet. There are a lot of rules to learn if you want to play to win, but the video we put together this week covers enough basics to get you started. You can find other resources at or by checking out Becky Yackley’s competitive shooting series on GunsAmerica.

I like competitive shooting not only because it is fun, but because of the people I have met. Shooting sports was really the first time I was around civilians during my military career and I have made lifelong friends from participating in the sport. It’s the best use of 150 rounds you are going to get this week and I highly encourage you to try it.

The firearm featured is the Smith & Wesson M&P M2.0 pistol.  For more information, check out the S&W website.  You can also shop for an M&P M2.0 on GunsAmerica.


About the author: Clay Martin is a former Marine and Green Beret, retiring out of 3rd Special Forces Group. He is a multi-decade and -service sniper, as well as 3-Gun competitor and Master ranked shooter in USPSA Production. In addition to writing about guns, he is the author of “Last Son of The War God,” a novel about shooting people that deserve it. You can also follow him on twitter, @offthe_res or his website,

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Greg May 5, 2017, 3:48 pm

    One thing that needs mentioning, and that is the “sportsmanship” that I have encountered since I got into this sport, and it has been nothing short of amazing. My first state match, I was having trouble cycling my Glock cause I put in too heavy a spring for my light loads–a competitor I never met loaned me a spring and just asked I find him and get it back to him after the match. When my son wasn’t listening to Dad’s advice when he was shooting his first steel match, one of the club’s GMs (and one of the fastest draws I have ever seen) took him to the side and gave him a 30 min demo/instruction on drawing/target acquisition/shifting aim. If I am having trouble analyzing a stage, someone is always ready to have ideas bounced off of them. The sport is populated with serious shooters looking to grow the sport. Everybody wants to be a mentor, everybody out there wants you to succeed. The only people not welcome are the unsafe, or the ones who are unwilling to learn USPSAs definition of safety.

  • mfreem02 May 5, 2017, 3:29 pm

    Good explanation of the game but what I never hear about regarding these sports is picking up the spent brass. Some of us are reloaders because we can’t afford to keep buying ammo. So what happens to all my brass? Do we get to pick it up after a stage or at the end of the day? Does someone else pick it up and pass it out to shooters based on rounds fired? How do I get my brass back so I can reload it for the next time?

    • Greg May 5, 2017, 3:57 pm

      Depends on the range. Most places I’ve seen you would be entitled to get your brass back, but you have to pick it up yourself. There is time between “range is clear” and the next shooter for this to be done, but you need to make the call; is recovering my brass more important than following the RO scoring my target? USPSA does allow you to designate a squad mate to observe the scoring if you are picking brass.
      A lot of ranges make $$ selling brass to processors, and look unfavorably of people taking more than what they brought

    • Mike S. May 5, 2017, 4:50 pm

      Good question! It really depends on range policy, but almost every local match I have ever gone to let you retrieve your brass either during re-setup of the stage for the next shooter or after the stage is done but before the next squad. Also so shooters don’t reload and will let you get theirs! Only larger matches like Area or Nationals do the RO’s get to keep the brass as the thanks for doing their job.

  • Robert May 5, 2017, 1:40 pm

    Good video Clay. But for god’s sake give your tshirt back to your kid and get an XL that fits you..he he he
    Aco 3/505. 2 tours

  • Gerald F. Donovan May 5, 2017, 10:30 am

    Great job describing and explaining a USPSA match. As Clay states, it IS a game, and a very competitive game if that’s what you are looking for. You will learn SAFE GUN HANDLING AND SAFETY RULES. Unsafe acts will get you disqualified for that match but you will learn from it. You experience a tiny bit of adrenaline rush as you hear “shooter ready?” and the beep of the start timer. You will learn how to make a plan, perform quick reloads, clearing a gun jam, all safely and while keeping your firearm pointed in a safe direction, changing your plan now…, keep your finger OFF THE TRIGGER except when shooting a target, etc. And you will learn to do these things reflexively and safely as it consciously or unconsciously becomes your training. Yes, it is a game but you can get out of it what you want to. If you carry in real life and the ball drops, you will forget the plan and revert to your training reflexively. Slide lock; no prob: reload. Jam, you’ll deal with it quickly. You can do it in a dark room. No training? You got a problem my friend. Life is not always a game; better stick w/golf…..

  • Retrocon May 5, 2017, 9:12 am

    Nice article, the sport is loads of fun. I am fortunate enough to be pretty close to a public range that offers weekly matches, and happens to have a few of the best competitors in the world who go down and shoot the course almost every week. So, you can see the best.

    Sadly, you can’t easily be the best. The range has pistol bays, and is the only place to shoot steels within 50 miles. Used to be that you could rent the bays if you were a member, but the sport has gotten so popular around here, they’ve limited the use of the bays to only the most serious competitors, and their shooting schools. Your only practice is to shoot the 150 rounds in the competition once a week. Fun, but you don’t really get bettter, especially with the long lines (170 competitors).

    Even here in AZ there just aren’t enough ranges that have steel capable pistol bays without spending more in gas than bullets.

    Ok, that’s the downside, on the bright side, I have found a way to practice, get’s laughed at, but not many other options for the casual shooter who still wants to improve. Airsoft.

    Give it a try.

  • Bill May 5, 2017, 8:57 am

    “No one wears a fishing vest in real life (*Cough* IDPA *Cough*).”… Well, I know some that actually do. Every day. And no, I don’t, even when I’m shooting a match. Just normal, every day clothes that cover up the gear. 🙂

  • Mike S. May 5, 2017, 7:24 am

    Best article about uspsa I have seen in years. Usually “shooters” bash the sport, but Clay sees it for what it is, a sport! It is a game, but a game that will shame the unskilled.
    Try a match but be careful, it is addictive!

    • Sgt. Pop September 3, 2018, 6:10 pm

      agree, I shoot Glock League matches because it gives me a good reason to shoot, and with the time element, gives it a “stress” factor that you can’t normally replicate on most public firing ranges. Good write up Clay.

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