What to Expect – Your First Match

Maybe you’ve tired of the same old stand-‘n’-shoot at the same old targets, over, and over, and over. Or perhaps you’ve exercised your right to own a defensive handgun, acquired a concealed carry license, and are now wondering where and how you can hone your defensive pistolcraft skills, in a sporting, “non-Rambo” environment?

“Practical Shooting” is a fun, fast-paced, action shooting sport, using realistic courses of fire and scenarios, that challenges your mind, your body, and your hardware as you explore the limits of the man-machine combination. The only restrictions on course designers pertain to safety and standardized targets; beyond that, the sky’s the limit! Practical Shooting matches are realistic and diverse. Multiple targets, moving targets, partial targets, knock-down steel targets, no-shoot targets that cover or obscure “shoot” targets, barricades, doors, windows, walls, tables, cars, boats, motorcycles – all these and other props are mixed together by course designers to create constantly changing situations which challenge the competitor to shoot and think! As Practical Shooting is freestyle, you provide the solution to the shooting problem, and both your score (points) and speed (time) are factored.

“IPSC” stands for “International Practical Shooting Confederation,” which is the world governing body for Practical Shooting (a sport now practiced in nearly 40 countries). The United States Practical Shooting Association, or USPSA, is the governing body in America. The terms “IPSC” (pronounced ip’-sick) and “Practical Shooting” are used interchangeably. “DVC” (diligentia, vis, celiratis) is the Practical Shooting motto; it stands for “Accuracy, Power, and Speed,” and symbolizes the challenge of the sport. How fast can you shoot? How accurately? Can you find the right mix of speed and accuracy to solve the shooting scenario before you?

Safety First, Foremost, and Always!

Owning a gun doesn’t make you a safe shooter any more than owning a guitar make you a musician. In fact, it WILL make you a dangerous one if you’re not willing to learn how to safely control the force at your fingertips.

Firearm safety is ultimately a matter of personal responsibility and self control; two key qualities stressed in Practical Shooting. The shooter is always responsible for his or her actions and safe gun handling. The basic principles of safe gun handling are expressed in the Practical Shooting Code of Ethics:

  • I will treat every firearm as a loaded one
  • I will never point a firearm at anything I am not willing to destroy
  • I will be sure of my target and what is behind it before firing
  • I will keep my finger off the trigger until my sights are on my intended target

Violations of this Code of Ethics, as defined in the Practical Shooting Rule Book, are considered severe safety violations, and will lead to disqualification from matches. The careless will find other shooters intolerant of sloppy gun handling; they expect to compete under safe conditions. Like rock climbing, white water rafting, or sky diving, Practical Shooting contains a remote element of danger. Unlike virtually any other sport, though, the “disaster factors” are all under your direct control. Practical Shooting is SAFETY IN ACTION: SAFETY is the watchword of the entire USPSA program! Practical Shooters instinctively practice safe gun handling under pressure, and they demand the same of others. USPSA-affiliated clubs always check new shooters to insure that they have the skills needed for safe participation. Consequently, before you are allowed to compete in any USPSA match or organized practice, a Practical Shooting Safety Check and Orientation is always required — always.  You may arrange for a Safety Check and Orientation by contacting our Safety Director.

Your Safety Check and Orientation

At your Safety Check, you will need to have:

  • A serviceable and safe handgun, minimum caliber 38 spl./9mm. All of the critical safeties (slide safety, safety catches, half cock notch, disconnector, hammer block, etc.) on your handgun must be functional. If your gun is fitted with a trigger shoe or extension, it may not protrude beyond the outer dimensions of the trigger guard
  • A safe holster on a belt; the muzzle of the handgun must point downwards to the ground within three feet of you when standing naturally relaxed, the trigger must be covered, and the belt upon which the holster and allied equipment are carried must be secured at waist level (please leave your shoulder holsters, S.O.B. holsters, manly “Tactical” thigh holsters, fanny packs, etc., at home)
  • Magazines or speed loaders (2 or 3 is plenty to start with), and carriers for same. Bring at least 100 rounds of ammunition. We suggest factory ammo for your safety check (unless you already know what’s considered “safe handloads” under USPSA rules)
  • Ear and eye protection. Shooting glasses must be industrial safety glasses or genuine shooting glasses; most sunglasses lack the strength needed to afford adequate protection. Foam ear plugs provide excellent ear protection, and they’re cheap

At your Safety Check, you will need to demonstrate these safe gun-handling skills:

  • Clearing and checking your gun
  • Loading and making ready
  • Draw and fire from various starting positions
  • Safely reloading your gun while stationary, and while moving
  • Safe down and cross-range movement
  • Safely engaging multiple targets from multiple shooting positions
  • Safely clearing a jam
  • Unloading and clearing

Additional information about our Safety Class can be found by clicking here.

Your Guns, Gear, & Ammo: Getting Started

First, shoot a few matches. You can actually get started with minimal equipment: A safe gun and holster, ammo carriers, a belt, and several hundred rounds of ammunition. Eye and hearing protection are mandatory. Most all magazine/speedloader carriers work – some are more elegant than others. You can start with two magazines (or speed loaders), but most shooters carry four or more (courses of fire requiring up to 30 rounds are not uncommon). A bag for spent brass is handy if you reload.

Your gun must be serviceable and safe – not fancy, trick, or custom. Start with the gun you selected for personal protection – your first few matches with it will tell you a lot! Remember – it needs to make minor power factor (125 PF = Bullet Weight x Velocity / 1000)  to compete for place and/or prizes. Got a Glock? A 1911? Great! Need a $2,000+ race gun to be competitive? No! In fact, “Production Class” (stock guns) is one of the most competitive divisions with the most competitors! USPSA has also implemented “Limited”, “Limited 10,” “Single Stack,” and “Revolver” categories – basically, if you have anything in 9mm/38 Spl or larger, and a way to carry and reload it… there’s a category for you to compete in!  For a more detail explanation of USPSA Divisions, read our page on Understanding USPSA Divisions.

Don’t rush out and spend money on any equipment – you’ll be sorry later! Study what other shooters are using and ask them about their guns and gear; they’re always happy to help new shooters. Get a number of opinions (no shortage of opinions exist in this sport!) and ask where the best buys are before you do any major spending. Frequently, you can arrange to borrow equipment to try from many other competitors!

Even though at The Bullet Hole, we are an in-door club; most other clubs are outdoors.  Therefore, it is also critical to be sure and wear adequate clothing. Practical Shooting is predominately an outdoor sport practiced in all weather. Pouring rain, a foot of snow, whatever – the match goes on. Dress to stand around while you’re waiting your turn to shoot. Pants should allow you to freely bend and stretch. Shirts should fit closely so loose fabric doesn’t snag your draw. Stop holster wiggle with a good gun belt (if you ever shoot a match with a holster on a thin dress belt, you’ll quickly find out what holster wiggle is and how it badly it slows down your draw) — in fact, the selection of a good gun belt is every bit as critical as the selection of a good holster and firearm! Good running shoes (cleated football shoes are popular) are a plus. Sunscreen and umbrellas are nice to have, as are gloves and hand-warmers for standing about in the cold.

Gun store commandos and Rambo wanna-be’s have no place in our sport, so leave your camouflage clothing and your shirts with those clever and/or obscene sayings at home. USPSA Practical Shooting is a sport – not SWAT training, not combat training, not militia apprenticeship! Un-sportsmanlike appearance and/or behavior will get you barred from the range.

Your First Match

Nervous about your first “public performance?” Most people are! Relax and enjoy it!  Moreover, everyone you meet had a first match too; we’ve all been there. You’ll find that both experienced shooters and Range Officers are friendly and helpful with new shooters. We all enjoy Practical Shooting, and we want to get you started right! Matches are just as much social gatherings as shooting contests.

Above all else, though, forget speed! Walk through the match – it’s the smart move. Don’t try to imitate the “hosers” that zip through a course at lightning speed and a shower of brass. To be good at this (or any other) sport, you have to pay your dues, learn the fundamentals, and be able to apply them on demand. Forget speed – think safe and smooth! Forget your time – concentrate on getting all “A” hits. Forget winning – think about your front sight. Practical Shooting is very much a mental game. Shooters who are obsessed with winning rarely do – they distract themselves.

Finally, concentrate on controlling your gun! Nobody wants to see you get disqualified on your first time out because of a safety violation, but it will happen if you try to run before you can walk, or try to miss fast before you can hit anything slow. Concentrate on learning safe gun handling practices – speed will come with practice and experience (or, put another way, it’ll happen by itself or it won’t happen at all – don’t “try” to go fast). Always, always, always pay attention to your muzzle direction and where your trigger finger is!

On a final note, we highly recommend that you print and read our New Shooter Orientation Guide available here.  We will go over this guide during your first match and expand on concepts found in this overview.  If you can, please print and bring a copy with you.  We look forward to seeing you on the range!