Now, you’ve probably heard the IDPA pitch before, and all the reasons why it is useful, and maybe the reasons it could even be detrimental. In short, all of the reasons, for and against, are totally irrelevant. The simple fact is that IDPA is unbelievably fun, inexpensive, and utilizes skills that I have acquired and practiced with the crew at Shoot Logic. As far as I can see, the main benefits of IDPA competition are as follow:
Guns & Gear: IDPA literally requires the same stuff I bring to pistol classes. I use the same belt, holster, guns, ammo carriers, and safety equipment. Well, I already own it all, so I’ve got that going for me. So, since equipment cost is essentially zero, all I’m really doing is spending some quality time with it. I have tried to figure out what the downside is, but I can’t think of any downside to playing with my toys. I’m actually getting use out of the $85 kydex holster and four extra magazines that I just had to have. Additionally, I have always thought the best part of firearm classes was the experience of testing your equipment. It is somehow different running drills with an instructor than when you’re at the range by yourself. The external pressure shifts everything, and all of a sudden we discover that our holster isn’t working the way we thought, or maybe there is such a thing as too many aftermarket parts on our guns.
Accuracy and reliability are certainly important metrics for me when using a firearm, but there is another “x” factor that I can generally only find when I run more complicated drills. The fact is, whatever notions I conjure up in the comfort of my home don’t always translate at the range. Like a pistol class, I am really starting to see IDPA as a great testing ground for the guns and equipment I’ve acquired. As I noted before, many of the skills learned at a Shoot Logic class translate directly to playing in IDPA, so in the course of a match, I get to draw, shoot multiple targets, reload, re-holster, and yes, manage the occasional malfunction. An IDPA stage is akin to a cumulative exam of “gunmanship”, and knowing I am being scored and observed puts me in a different headspace than when I’m alone at the range practicing (let alone dry firing in the living room). So, to that end, I really can’t think of a better testing ground for how I interact with my gun and gear. For instance, I ran my 2nd match with my 1911, and while I have experience target shooting with it, I’ve never shot it under any pressure (or dare I say, “simulated duress”). However, after the match, I now have a higher degree of confidence with my 1911 skills, as I performed competently throughout the stages. When the pressure was on, everything ran as it should have, and all I had to do was concentrate on the target. When reliability, manipulations, and safe gun handling all fall into place and don’t impede my shooting; I can’t think of a better compliment I can give my equipment and training.
Skills development: I won’t bore anyone with how IDPA is scored, but the basics are this – shoot targets under time, missed shots add seconds to that time, shortest time wins. So, to make the point, the less you miss, the better off you are. Now, I don’t want this to sound condescending, but I question if we (shooters in general) value accuracy enough? If you’ve ever looked at a target and said, “Well, I may have missed the heart, but that shot would still mess ‘em up”, you may be undervaluing accuracy. For the record, I said those exact words this weekend, as I was looking at theoretical headshots that ended up in the neck of the target. Sure, it was “defensively viable”, but at the end of the day, I missed what I was aiming at. To that end, I have noticed there is a saying that keeps getting bandied about at the matches, and that saying is:
Speed is fine, but accuracy is final.
Essentially, most bad shots are attributed to “going to fast”, and the need for speed has resulted in disappointing stage scores. In my limited experience, I can attest to that theory. I blew some “easy” shots this weekend, because I was racing the clock a little more than making sure I had a perfect sight picture. Currently, I’m trying to let go of “combat accurate” or “meh, it’s good enough, I guess”. It’s my gun, my bullets, and damn it if they aren’t going to put holes where I want them. At the end of the day, as we sling lead down range, isn’t that what we all want? Annie Oakley isn’t remembered for anything save this: she put the bullets where she wanted them to go. With time and practice, so can we. I watched Tim Elmer of Shoot Logic crush a stage last month, placing 1st place out of 60+ shooters. Tim isn’t ex-military Special Forces. He wasn’t born into a championship shooting family. He is a normal guy with a day job who one day decided he wanted to improve his shooting skills. A few years later, he was the fastest shooter on the field and an instructor at a firearms school. He endlessly focuses on his accuracy, and the results are on the scoreboard for anyone to see. If he can do it, so can I. So can you.
Like many other aspects of life, our errors can be our best teachers. My very limited experience in IDPA has already shown me a few problems in my shooting abilities, and I now have a new focus when at the range on my own. I rushed a few 25 yard shots at my first match and scored lower than I am capable of. So, my next range visit was mostly 20+ yard shooting, and I spent some quality time finding where my speed and accuracy thresholds intersect for good aimed hits. I have a long way to go, but I am a better shooter after the match and subsequent range session. I am grateful for that experience, and it was truly rewarding when the longer shots at my second match were markedly better. As my experience grows, so do my “learning mistakes”. I’ve discovered so many new things, it’s hard to encapsulate them all, but this last match showed me that using a shirt for a cover garment is a different animal than using a jacket, tactical reloads always need practicing, and getting cocky about how good you are with a revolver will quickly be followed with a healthy dose of humility.
Good ole’ Fashioned Family Fun: It is hard to encapsulate all of the elements that have made shooting IDPA such a fun time. Sure, I like guns and shooting, so the deck was already stacked to be an enjoyable experience, but there is so much beyond that. In my three matches, I’ve seen some truly wonderful examples of human spirit and how amazing the gun community truly is.
First of all, everybody cheers. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best shooter on the field, or a nervous first timer who is doing terribly. Everyone wants you to win, and everyone is rooting for you. You don’t often see the mix of competition and cheerleading, but that’s been the norm as far as I can tell. The field is rife with husbands and wives, parents and children, in-laws, and co-workers (I’m looking at you Dorchester county deputies). It is a positive environment, and everyone is happy to chat, joke, and even offer any advice or direction. An ill-fitting coat plagued my first match, and TWO other competitors offered an extra vest or windbreaker to me. While I have found the crowd in general to be great, I have also really enjoyed running into familiar faces at the matches. My last match gave me the opportunity to catch up with fellow Shoot Logic alumni and instructors as well as folks I’ve met around the Palmetto Gun Club. As I’ve mentioned in the past, most of my early years shooting were done alone. My family and friends, while otherwise great people, couldn’t care less about guns. Conversely, I just spent a cool Saturday morning shooting with a handful of friends and plenty of familiar faces. I know it’s clichéd, but I’m particularly grateful for that.
Finally, there is one tiny little detail about IDPA that brings a smile to my face…I’m actually pretty good. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not amazing or one of the top shooters, but after a few years of learning and training at Shoot Logic, I say with total confidence that I know what I’m doing. My skills have grown, and the scores from IDPA let me see where I stack up against others who share this hobby. What I find particularly interesting is the fact that I’m getting to a place where I can diagnose what I’m doing wrong and take action to fix it. Sure, I can always go consult one of the Shoot Logic instructors, but it’s nice to see that I’ve developed as a shooter. There is little in life as rewarding than seeing your efforts bear fruit, and simultaneously, I am motivated to further my skills and see how far I can take this adventure.
All right, that’s my experience with IDPA so far. I feel like I’ve really received a bounty of education and fun from participating, and I think others could benefit as well. As much as I enjoy taking classes, the local matches allow me to practice my skills, diagnose my weaknesses, play with my gear, and it only costs a fraction of the time and money. Honestly, I think taking a few classes a year, then punctuating them with local matches might be the greatest opportunity I’ve ever had as a shooter, and I consider myself very fortunate to be able to participate with the firearms community in my area. If you are curious at all, I encourage you to try it out. I had tons of questions, and the gang at Shoot Logic was more than happy to fill in the blanks. If you have any questions, you might think about checking in with them. Let’s face it, Shoot Logic exists to guide us as students, and it just makes sense to take advantage of their insight.