Getting Started in USPSA
If you’ve come to this post then it’s because you are either thinking about joining the USPSA -OR- have no clue what USPSA even means…
OVERVIEW AND HISTORY LESSON
USPSA stands for the “United States Practical Shooting Association” and is the national governing body of practical shooting in the USA under the International Practical Shooting Confederation (AKA IPSC). Membership in USPSA automatically includes membership in IPSC. The USPSA has over 31,000 members and around 440 affiliated clubs.
In 1976 an international group of enthusiasts interested in what had become known as “practical” shooting met in Columbia, Missouri. From that meeting came the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC). In 1984 USPSA was incorporated as the US Region of IPSC.
For 20 years USPSA competition has provided a test bed for equipment and techniques, many of which are now the standard for police and military training. Some of USPSA’s top competitors are regularly employed as trainers for elite police and military units. Today, USPSA matches are conducted every week by over 400 affiliated clubs all over the United States.
For most people, practical shooting is pure sport conducted with little or no thought of the self-defense aspect of firearms use. However, USPSA members are generally the most proficient shooters in the world as witnessed by their domination in the world of firearms competition.
Like any sport, the USPSA has an official rulebook. Sports like football and hockey would definitely be considered full-contact sports and have many rules regarding the safety of the players. With the USPSA, safety is paramount. We’re dealing with real firearms and live ammunition so there can be no lax in safe firearms handling. We’ll explore this topic in greater detail later on…
WHAT YOU DO
USPSA is a shooting sport. There is a competition aspect to it. Competitors are scored on their speed and accuracy. The courses are often referred to as “stages” and can vary greatly from one to another or week to week. A designated Range Safety Officer (RO or RSO for short) oversees every shooter from start to finish to ensure safety protocols are followed throughout. Some people may think that 50 or more people walking around with firearms strapped to their hips may not be the safest place to be however, it couldn’t be any further from the truth. Safety is paramount!
POWER FACTOR AND DIVISIONS
The USPSA has various divisions in which you can participate in. These divisions are primarily focused around what gear you have at your disposal. Like anything, it can be as affordable, or as expensive, as you want to make it. We need to briefly discuss POWER FACTOR before we get into the divisions since this plays an integral part in how your matches get scored.
What is power factor?
Power factor is based upon your ammunition. It is a mathematical formula, calculated by multiplying your bullet’s weight by its velocity (using a chronograph) and dividing the result by 1000. If the number is below a certain value then you will compete in the MINOR POWER FACTOR. If over, then you will compete in a MAJOR POWER FACTOR. Some exceptions apply regarding this which I will get into more when we talk about each division. The reason for having a power factor is to deter savvy shooters from hand loading ammunition that is able to cycle the firearm but have considerably less recoil than say factory ammunition. Lighter recoil would definitely be considered an advantage in this sport because it means the shooter has better control of the firearm and that can translate to operating the firearm faster for follow up shots. Power factor helps deter cheating. The type of power factor also has an impact on how your scored.
The topic of Power factor can get really detailed and involved and we may touch upon it in a later post. For now, just remember the following:
Minor Power Factor – 125 kgr·ft/s. Factory ammunition chambered in 9mm is the norm for this power factor.
Major Power Factor – 165 kgr·ft/s. Factory ammunition chambered in .40 S&W, .45, or .38 Super are most commonly used.
Production Division – This division serves as a great starting point for everyone and this is the one I am currently competing in. If you own a pistol, 5-6 magazines and belt to secure an outside the waistband holster and some magazine holders then you are in business. Scoring in this division is based on a minor power factor only so you do not get any brownie points like in the other divisions for shooting a larger caliber. 9mm is the norm in this division so if you own a 9mm handgun then consider using it. There are some guidelines for the firearm used in this division and where your equipment is placed on your belt. Refer to the Official Rulebook for the specifics. It is advantageous to use a “full-size” handgun as opposed to a “compact” or “subcompact” firearm. The reason for this is because full-size firearms (i.e. Glock 17 or Glock 34) are easier to manage recoil as opposed to smaller framed firearms (Glock 19 or Glock 43). You are required to use 10-round magazines in this division regardless of what state you reside in). This is business as usual for those with a magazine capacity limit (like here in NY) but is something to consider for those residing in states that don’t infringe on the Second Amendment, just know that you’ll have to pick up 5 or 6 10 round magazines. Finally, Production Division is meant to keep the firearm as stock as humanly possible. You can definitely make internal changes, such as lightening the trigger, but you cannot add things such as a magwell to aide in speed reloads or mill your slide. You are also allowed to swap out your sights but that’s about it. The other divisions are more suited for modifications.
Limited 10 Division – Participating in this division starts to effect your wallet some more. You CAN shoot in either a major or minor power factor but scoring in this division is more favorable for those shooting in the major power factor. But using a larger caliber will cost more than 9mm ammunition. The gun of choice in this division is the “2011” (a double stack variant of the 1911 platform) but a full-sized Glock 35 would also do the trick since it’s chambered in .40 S&W and is a fraction of the cost of a 2011. A 2011 from companies such as STI, Nighthawk Custom, etc can easily cost $3,000 or more. Magwells can be used and more can be done to the firearm as opposed to Production Division. The 10 in the name refers to the need to use 10 round magazines.
Limited Division – The same thing goes for Limited as Limited 10 except you can use larger capacity magazines (where applicable by law) which will save you from doing fewer (if any) reloads during a match.
Open Division – If you have ever seen pictures of a competition shooter using what looks like a sci-fi space gun then chances are they are competing in the Open Division. This division allows for all the gadgets and gizmos allowed in Limited, with the addition of red dot optic to be mounted on your pistol and longer magazines if you so choose. The gun is typically called a “race gun” in this division. All the Limited rules remain as far as holster and magazine placement but Open Division allows for “race holsters” to be used which aide in drawing from the holster at a much faster rate.
Carry Optics – Carry optics is located somewhere in between Production and Limited division. Like Production, there is only Minor power factor scoring. Also, the pistols need to remain stock with only internal modifications as specified in the rule book. Optical/electric sights are required for this division so modification required to mount them is acceptable. Glock’s such as the Glock 17 M.O.S. or Glock 34 M.O.S. would be perfect for this division. M.O.S. stands for Modular Optic System and has a cover plate on the slide where a Red Dot optic could be mounted. Since this division only uses a Minor power factor, it is not going to help you out any if you shoot any caliber greater than 9mm.
Single Stack – This division is for the 1911 purists out there. Major power factor is used for scoring and no caliber less than .40 S&W is allowed. Also, single stack 1911’s chambered in .40 or .45 only hold 7-8 rounds at most. Therefore, you will need enough spare magazines to run the 30+ shot courses.
Revolver – Revolvers are also warmly welcomed in the USPSA. 6,7 or 8 round revolvers are allowed and your belts are fitted with moonclips or speed loaders for reloading.
Getting DQ’ed, better known as getting disqualified, only happens if the range safety officer has deemed you to have done something unsafe with your firearm. You could be disqualified before you even start a match. An example of this would be if you draw your firearm (maybe to show it off) when you are not in a designated safe spot, loading your firearm when you are not supposed to or even if your firearm falls out of your holster. When you are on the line and shooting a stage, you could be disqualified for anything like running with your finger in the trigger, reloading with your finger on the trigger, your muzzle breaking an imaginary 180 degree line of the stage (potentially putting others in danger), muzzling yourself or another, negligent discharge or accidental discharge. If you are unsafe, the range safety officer will catch it. If you get DQ’ed then learn from it and be more cautious next time. Let the range safety officer know it is your first time shooting in USPSA and they will take good care of you and educate you throughout the day. The biggest culprit I have seen occurs when the shooter is running and reloading. They are running from one part of the stage to another and they position their firearm to reload but it causes them to break the 180 line. When you are DQ’ed it does mean that you have to pack up and leave and your scores do not count for the day. Safety is important and is taken very seriously.
STAGE DESIGN AND RUNNING THE STAGE
Now that you know what NOT to do, let’s take a look at what a sample stage may look like and the whole process of running a stage.
Stages vary from one to another. The USPSA Rule book has guidelines as to what is allowed and not allowed in stage design. Ultimately, it is up to the club or setup crew on how the stages will be designed for the day. Each stage should have a diagram and stage rules that the RSO should read off. You can see in the sample stage above that the targets are scattered about with walls and barriers you have to shoot around. Some stages could involve going through a door or shooting through a small window.
One important thing to notice is if they say “comstock” or “virginia count“. Comstock means there is no shot count. You can do as many make-up shots as you want if you are unhappy with your shot placement. Just keep in mind that the clock is still running while you do your make up shots! Virginia count means that the shot count is fixed. Any additional shot you take will be a -10 point penalty! This could be devastating to your score.
After the stage is explained, the RSO should allow for some time for your group (also known as a “squad”) to walk through the stage a couple times. It is during this time that you should walk and determine what your game plan will be. No firearms are to be handled during the walk through!
Stages sometimes require you to start with gun holstered and you standing in a surrender position, hands at your side, hands flat on a table, hands on X’s. You could also be told to sit and have your gun unloaded on a table unloaded, in a suitcase or a variety of other ways.
When it comes time for you to run the stage, the RSO will call you up and make sure you are at the correct starting place. It is at that time that they will tell you to “load and make ready.”
Sidenote: It is a good idea to load 11 rounds if the stage allows for it. I load 1 round from my last magazine and then put it back before loading a full magazine into my pistol to start with 11. This is also known as a “barney.” The reason for this is so you can run a part of the stage and then reload without going into an empty mag slide lock. Time is of the essence so you need to think about how you can shave off as much time as possible.
After you are ready and re-holstered (or everything is where it needs to be) the RSO will say “Shooter ready?” you nod, give thumbs up or whatever. This is followed by the RSO saying “Stand by.” This is when the shot timer they are holding will sound off an audible “beep” sound. Shot timers have a lot of features but they are primarily used to detect the start and end of the stage and display the time it took you to complete it. This is done by the shot timer responding to gunfire sounds. Your time is then recorded and used for part of your score. When you are finished with a stage, the RSO will say something like “If you are finished, unload and show clear.” They are telling you to remove your magazine, rack the slide (thus ejecting the chambered round, if any) lock the slide back and show the RSO that the chamber is empty. They will visually inspect it and say “slide forward, hammer down and holster.” At this point the RSO cleared your firearm for safety and will say “Range is clear.” Now scoring can take place and targets can be taped up for the next shooter.
TARGETS & SCORING
Targets are mostly cardboard targets with zones on them. Here is an example of an official USPSA target:
These targets can be partially painted black or could be white in color. The white target represents an “innocent” so you will be penalized if you hit them. The black areas represent “no-shoots” and will not count in your score. Here is an example of what you may see in a stage:
Typically, you are expected to put two shots on each cardboard target you see (unless otherwise specified for that stage).
There can also be steel targets that you must knock down. This can hopefully be done in one shot. If you leave any standing then that will be a penalty that will negatively affect your score.
When scoring is happening, make sure you are next to the score keeper and observe what they are recording. If you notice an issue you can call it out and challenge it. Don’t be shy. Now keep in mind that just because you shot at a target doesn’t mean you HIT the target. If you miss a target it is called a “Mike” and synonymous with a miss.
All scores are added up and your hit factor is calculated. These are typically entered on tablet PC’s and eventually make it up to a website posting the standings when the day is over. Practiscore.com is the most common site where scores are posted.
You may see or hear shooters having a class associated with them. You may also hear Master or Grandmaster being thrown around. You get this classification or grade by shooting classifier matches. This is an official USPSA classification and these classifiers are stages that are pre-canned and allow for you to be graded with any other USPSA participant across the country. You start with a “U” classification until you complete 6 classifier matches.
In conclusion, the USPSA is home to some of the most proficient shooters in the world. It is an experience that I would encourage any firearm’s enthusiast to participate in. If you would like to participate in a USPSA match but don’t know where to go, visit Practiscore.com for more information on a nearby matches. Your local gun range or gun store may have information on USPSA matches as well.
See you on the range!
Integral Defense Group, LLC