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  1. #1
    Master slow1911s's Avatar

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    Competition Pistol Shooting - Gear Basics - a white paper for newbies

    The 2011 shooting season has started for a few of us. Over the next month, most, if not all, USPSA, IDPA, steel, multigun, and other clubs will have started their match calendars.

    For those of us that shoot regularly in one or more of these sports we already have the gear we need. But, if you’re new, you probably have some questions. Okay…you have A LOT of questions. But, that’s no problem because this thread is intended for you.

    First, a few words about safety at a shooting match. All USPSA, IDPA, steel, and multigun matches are run on COLD RANGES. What does that mean? Do I need a sweater? No. It means you only handle your gun in the either (1) the safe area where no ammunition is allowed or (2) when the range officer or safety officer specifically tells you. That’s it. Period. End of story. Comprende? Any other time, and it’s the end of your shooting day. Otherwise, keep the muzzle in a safe direction and your finger off of the trigger unless you’re engaging a target. That’s WAY oversimplified, but if you’re doing these things, you’re on the right path.

    We will start with the obvious – the guns. From my perspective, this is about the easiest question to answer. And the answers here are general and will cover 95% of what you really need to know. Afterwards, I’ll get into holsters, magazine holders, magazines, and belts.

    Good gawd, man! How long is this going to take? Well, it’s either this or you can read the rulebooks yourself. Actually, I hope you do because far too few people actually do these days. So, be patient. We’re trying to get you to a basic level of understanding – that’s it.

    For those of you who are impatient, here is the abstract of the next 1100+ words: if you were to show up at any USPSA, IDPA, or steel match with a Glock 17, five magazines, an Uncle Mike’s belt holster, four single magazine pouches, and eye and ear protection there is a division you can shoot in. For the guns, substitute M&P, XD, or 1911 and the exact same is true.

    For those who need more detail, here we go…


    Glock, S&W, Springfield XD and 1911, Taurus, Tanfoglio/EAA, etc. If it shoots 9x19/9mm Parabellum or bigger, you can use it in most divisions in USPSA, IDPA, steel, and multigun. For example, a Glock 17 can be shoot in all divisions except Revolver (surprising, I know). A Glock 17 can also be shot in IDPA’s Stock Service Pistol (SSP) division and every division at a steel match (steel includes Steel Challenge, Friday Night Steel, steel plate, and all other matches where steel is the only target) except, again, Revolver. If you’re lucky enough to have a .22 rimfire conversion for your Glock 17, you can also shoot it in the .22 divisions (USPSA, IDPA, and multigun do NOT recognize .22s in their rules).

    Custom guns (generally 1911s, 2011s, and some Glocks), in general, are found in USPSA’s Open, Limited, Limited 10 divisions only. IDPA allows them in Custom Defensive Pistol, but the amount of customization is very restricted.
    USPSA has three divisions where Revolvers are welcome – Revolver, Production, and Open. Iron sight revolvers can shoot all three. If you have any kind of scope or red dot sight, you shoot in Open. Revolver division is limited to 6 round capacity only. Far and away the most common model seen is the S&W Model 625 (N Frame, 45 ACP via moon clips).

    All USPSA, IDPA, and multigun matches require a holster that safely retains the gun and covers the trigger guard. What we’re talking about is a strong/dominant side belt or IWB holster. Leave your cross draw, appendix, small of the back (SOB), and shoulder holsters at home. Thigh holsters are only allowed (1) if you’re a LEO or military and shooting from your duty rig (if you don’t know what that means, it doesn’t apply to you – keep on reading), or (2) if you’re shooting a multigun match.

    Friday Night Steel matches do not require a holster at this time. If you do have one, it is only used to transport the gun to the firing line and to hold the gun between your turns to shoot. Holsters used at Friday Night Steel should follow the same rules as those used in any other shooting sport.

    Let’s cover holsters by sanctioning body.

    Open, Limited, Limited 10, and Revolver allow what are known as race holsters. These are cut-down, minimalist holsters that do what the rules specify and not much more. Examples include Safariland models 009, 010, 011, 012, 113; CR/Speed WSM; Bianchi’s Hemisphere; and Amadini’s Ghost. While there isn’t much to them, they are, however, very adjustable. If you’re getting started, this is way more than I think you need.
    Kydex or plastic belt holsters from makers like Blade-Tech, Uncle Mike’s, Kytac, Raven, Shark Tac, and Blackhawk are allowable in all USPSA divisions and required specifically in 1911 Single Stack and Production divisions.
    Some people ask if inside the waistband (IWB) holsters are allowed? Yes, they are so long as you can wear it on your strong side from your hip forward.
    Thigh holsters? Only if you’re an LEO shooting your duty rig.
    The spirit of IDPA’s holsters rules is this – if you would wear it for daily concealed or open carry for defensive purposes, you’re probably ok. I say probably because there are some things that just are not allowed for safety reason (not necessarily yours, mind you, but rather for other shooters and the Safety Officer/timer). Holsters that are not allowed include shoulder, small of the back (SOB), appendix, and cross-draw holsters.
    If you want the details check out pages 29-36 of the IDPA rulebook. But, here’s a quick and dirty guideline – if it’s intended as a concealed carry holster and you can’t see daylight between the holster and belt, you’re probably ok. Just don’t walk up to the line with your Glock in a C/R Speed WSM holster (although, I think that would be HILARIOUS).
    These matches, when they have holster rules, follow USPSA or IDPA rules.
    Magazine Holders/Ammunition Carriers

    The number of extra magazines, speed loaders, or moon clip holders is most often a matter of personal preference. More to the point – if you plan on missing a lot, carry more magazines.

    For pistol magazines, I think that single magazine holders are far superior to doubles or quads. Why? Single holders are more flexible regarding placement

    IDPA limits or requires only two spare magazines for your semi-auto or three speed loaders for your revolver. And, these must also follow their rules – intended for concealed carry basically.

    Steel matches generally don’t require magazine holders. You can use them if you have them. But, you can also hold them in your range bag.

    Let’s try to keep this as simple as possible.

    If you’re shooting a semi-auto, you can have no more than 10 in the magazine if you’re shooting Stock Service Pistol or Enhanced Service Pistol divisions. Custom Defensive Pistol is eight rounds. For example, if you show up with a Glock 17 and a standard capacity magazine (17 rounds), you can only load it to 10 rounds. That’s it.
    These rules get a little nuts, quite frankly. You’ll read or hear about 140mm or 170 mm magazines (what’s this metric stuff, didn’t that go out with Jimmy Carter?). You’ll also hear about extensions and sometimes plugs. Ugh!!!
    Let’s use the Glock 17 and a standard capacity 17 round magazine for an example.

    • If you filled the magazine to capacity (17 rounds), you could shoot in Open and Limited.
    • If you put only 10 rounds in the magazine, you could shoot Limited 10 and Production.
    Now, a 1911 in 45 ACP.

    • ·If you used 10 round magazines, you could shoot in Open, Limited, or Limited 10.
    • ·If you shot standard 7 or 8 round magazines, you could shoot Open, Limited, Limited 10, or 1911 Single Stack
    Like with holster rules, steel matches follow USPSA or IDPA rules. For semi-autos, standard capacity magazines give you the most flexibility.
    You’re gong to need one and the stiffer the better. If you’re just starting out, your daily dress belt will work okay. I am not recommending that you go out, right now, and spend $75+ on a specific gun or instructor-type belt. That is unless you have $75 burning a hole in your pocket.

    Competition Specific
    In USPSA’s Open, Limited, and Limited 10, mostly, you’ll see a lot of Velcro inner/outer belt systems. They work like this: the holster and magazine holders are attached to the outer belt just as you would to your belt on your pants right now. The inner belt is threaded through the pants loops and then the outer belt with attachments is pressed onto the inner. It makes for easy on and off, and most importantly, keeps your gear in a specific position. Safariland, C/R Speed, DA, and Amadini all make these holsters. I like and use Safariland.
    Here you have two materials – leather and nylon. In leather, there are a ton of options. Some makes, like The Belt Man, will even make them in double thickness with a stiffener. Galco, Bianchi, and Safariland are others that make quality leather belts.
    The biggest name in nylon is the original Instructor Belt by The Wilderness. They have three levels of stiffness – original, 5-stitch, and 5-stitch with liner. Both of these leather and nylon belts are tested and true, with years of field service by every-day-Joes, LEOs, and military.
    IDPA doesn’t allow the competition belts mentioned above. One more time – the idea is to use the same stuff you’d use to carry a handgun concealed. And, if you do, you’re probably already wearing it when you pull up.
    IDPA requires concealment of the gun/holster and ammunition carriers...most of the time. Some scenarios do not require them. Some clubs, especially in the hot summer months do not require them. But, if you attend enough of these, you'll need something.

    The idea here is to wear your street gear, so you shouldn't have to run out and get something specific to this end. There are, however, many who do. And, those people usually buy some kind of photojournalist vest (Domke is a name brand). For a lot of people, a button-down, untucked shirt does well. So do a lot of jackets and coats.

    Is concealment required in USPSA or steel? No. USPSA, specficially, is mostly shot free style. That means you solve the shooting problem in the best way you can. Can you use a concealment garment in USPSA or steel? Yes. Absolutely. The only reason I can think it might not be allowed is if it somehow created an unsafe shooting or range condition. I've never seen one, but that doesn't mean it can't or won't happen.

    Competition Shooting on a Budget
    One thing you may have heard is how expensive the shooting sports can get. That’s true – it can get VERY expensive (this is your last warning, btw). But, it doesn’t have to be. Like any other hobby, this can be as expensive as you want to make it. Want all the new stuff? You’ll pay more. Want to pay less? Hawk the classifieds or go to a match (someone always seems to have something for sale).

    Below is an example of the rig (rig n. – a collection of shooting gear including belt, holster, and magazine holders) that a local club president wears in USPSA Limited, Limited 10, and steel matches.

    • · Holster – Kytac Sooper Hooper - $65
    • · Mag holders – Blackhawk CQC - $70 (5 @ $14/ea)
    • · The Wilderness Instructor Belt (5-stitch w/liner) - $50
    • · Three extra magazines (your gun probably came with two) - $40 (2 @ $20)

    $225. That’s not a lot of scratch. Okay, maybe to you it is. But, here’s the thing. If you bought all that stuff tomorrow and used it in one match, you could turn around and sell it for $180-$200 if you hated it.

    I hope this answers the big questions. Have fun, be safe, and put ‘em in the middle (thanks, Jim).

    ETA - in hindsight, I was to swift in giving this thread a name. It is clearly focused on pistol competition shooters, and the action crowd within that subset. I didn't mean to exclude you fine folks that participate in Highpower, International, Bullseye, or other shooting sports not mentioned. - dp
    Last edited by slow1911s; 02-14-2011 at 20:39.

  2. #2
    Grandmaster HICKMAN's Avatar

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    Big Dave! Great write up!

  3. #3
    Plinker LEGENw84itDARY's Avatar

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    funny thing was i was just wondering what kind of cost goes into doing stuff like that, not really for the competition but just to get better with my gun and here you write this great article.....THANKS!!

    Question, how much does it cost to do these events? and if i had a 9mm Kimber 1911 Pro carry, would that be part of the 1911 or is that 45 acp only?

  4. #4
    Grandmaster HICKMAN's Avatar

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    usually around $20 a match, cheap fun!

  5. #5
    Marksman DougBarnes101's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by LEGENw84itDARY View Post
    funny thing was i was just wondering what kind of cost goes into doing stuff like that, not really for the competition but just to get better with my gun and here you write this great article.....THANKS!!

    Question, how much does it cost to do these events? and if i had a 9mm Kimber 1911 Pro carry, would that be part of the 1911 or is that 45 acp only?
    As for the 9 mm Kimber you can shoot single stack with it (I am with my 9 mm STI Spartan) but you will be shooting minor. But if you choose you can use 10 round magazines to major shooters 8 round.
    I may not be accurate but I sure am slow!

  6. #6
    Plinker LEGENw84itDARY's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by HICKMAN View Post
    usually around $20 a match, cheap fun!
    well heck thats about as much as it costs to go to an indoor range lol

  7. #7
    Grandmaster Fishersjohn48's Avatar

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    “Go tell the Spartans, travelers passing by, that here, obedient to their laws we lie.”

    "Before you say something about the barbecue sauce on somebody else's shirt, take a look at the barbecue sauce on your own shirt" Kid President

  8. #8

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    That was an awesome summary...Thanks Dave
    Luddite Curmudgeon #2

  9. #9
    Plinker Reaper's Avatar

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    Great Post!!!! I have spent the past 7 weeks asking all these questions and hoping I did not miss anything. What took you so long


  10. #10
    Grandmaster HICKMAN's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by LEGENw84itDARY View Post
    well heck thats about as much as it costs to go to an indoor range lol
    yup, and is there anything more boring than standing in a lane shooting the same piece of paper?

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