Guide to Practical Shooting Sports
Why shoot competitively?
For most of us it is because we enjoy shooting, but some of us have to overcome a few hurdles first. For a long time I shrugged off competitive shooting because I was concerned I would get too competitive and lose enjoyment. I was also worried I might build bad habits are somehow hurt my ability to perform in the “real world”. After shooting my first match I quickly discovered I had return and shoot more matches. I lost miserably and it would have been embarrassing for an infantryman with two combat tours if it weren’t for how amazed I was at the other shooters. I discovered I had a lot to learn and they had a lot to teach me. My concerns with being competitive and training scars quickly vanished. Instead my focus shifted to something I didn’t expect, learning everything I could about the art of shooting. So put aside your fears and concerns, leave your ego at home and come shoot with some of the best shooters not only in the state, but in the country. I guarantee you will improve no matter how good or bad you really are.
What is Practical Shooting?
Practical shooting is a conglomeration of shooting sports that test the shooters ability to shoot quickly and accurately throughout the course of fire. Most of these sports involve full powered handguns although there are some exceptions where rimfire pistols are allowed. Scoring varies between each discipline but they all focus on time and accuracy. The three main disciplines shot in the Jackson area are USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association), SCSA (Steel Challenge Shooting Association) and ICORE (International Confederation of Revolver Enthusiasts) along with an Outlaw variant of Steel Challenge.
USPSA handgun competitions at require competitors to solve dynamic shooting challenges while seeking a balance of speed, power, and accuracy. Competitors move through unique courses of fire as quickly as possible while safely engaging a variety of paper, steel, and moving/reactive targets. Scoring is points divided by time. Each match consists of 5 to 6 stages that require anywhere from 8 to 32 rounds to complete. Shooters are divided into separate squads and rotate through each stage.
USPSA consists of 6 divisions: Production, Revolver, Single Stack, Limited, Limited 10 and Open. Each division has specific characteristics and limitations ranging from mostly stock pistols to full custom race guns with compensators and optics. Shooters compete against each other within these divisions and between their ability classifications.
Steel Challenge is one of the most straightforward pistol disciplines in the practical shooting realm. Stages generally consist of 5 steel targets and a shooter’s box. The shooter will stand in the box with wrists above shoulders. At the start signal the competitor draws and engages the 5 targets as quickly as possible. He or she will get 5 runs per stage with the slowest time discarded. The total time of the remaining 4 runs is the score. Most matches consist of 4 to 6 stages requiring a minimum of 25 rounds per stage if there are no misses. Steel Challenge is a great way to begin practical shooting due to its simplicity. The sport is one of the few that allows rimfire pistols to compete in their own division. It is also a great sport for those with physical constraints that hinder movement.
Like USPSA, Steel Challenge is broken down into divisions and ability classifications. Center fire divisions include: Production and IPSC Production, Revolver, Single Stack, Limited and Open. It also has two rimfire divisions: Rimfire Iron Sights and Rimfire Open.
ICORE (International Confederation of Revolver Enthusiasts)
ICORE is a revolver sport somewhat like USPSA but not as complicated and is a little more straightforward when it comes to the designs of the stages. Scoring is time plus penalties so it’s a bit easier to understand than USPSA. 6 and 8 shot revolvers are preferred and semi autos are welcome to compete as an Outlaw division.
Outlaw matches or divisions are usually based on a sanctioned rule set with some deviations. Outlaw Steel Matches do not conform to the 8 standard stages used in sanctioned Steel Challenge matches. The advantage to outlaw steel is it allows a large variety of stages and usually includes at least one field course that requires movement. Outlaw semi auto division in ICORE allows competitors to practice with their semi auto even though it is a revolver match. The scores from outlaw divisions and matches are not submitted to SCSA or ICORE because of the rule deviations.
Arriving at your first match
If you read nothing else in this guide read this section. When you arrive to your first match keep your firearm unloaded and cased until you speak with a Match Director (MD) or Range Official (RO). Ranges are cold and firearms can only be handled under the supervision of an RO or at the safe table. They will point you to the safe table so you can safely move your gun to your holster. The safe table is a clearly marked table where you can handle your firearm. You cannot handle ammunition at the safe table. Ammunition can be handled anywhere else away from the safe table. The idea is to keep from mixing the ammunition and firearm until you are under the supervision of an RO and under the “make ready” command.
Do not arrive in your shooting gear. You will have to help set up the stages and the gear just gets in your way. You will have plenty of time to register and put on all your gear after setup. Again, be sure to use the safe table or an RO.
As with any sport there are unwritten etiquettes and courtesies involved. Always arrive early enough to help setup and help teardown the stages. Exceptions are made for level 2 and level 3 matches where volunteers set up days prior to the match. In between shooters help paste, paint and reset targets. The exception is for shooters on deck or in the hole. Shooters that just finished the stage should reload their magazines and return to pasting after a couple of shooters. The more quickly this gets done the better the match flows. We all enjoy laughing and joking around with our friends, but hold it down while a shooter is running his course of fire. If you happen to get disqualified don’t take it personally. Learn from your mistake and move on. Most competitors stay to help paste targets and run the stages. Do not chase your brass at the expense of interfering with the match. Resetting the targets is priority; also don’t hold up another shooter while you try to find 3 pieces of brass. You can recover it after tear down.
Everybody was a new competitor once. Don’t let this intimidate you. Also don’t let your ego interfere with having fun. Most people, regardless of skill level, don’t do as well as they expect their first couple of matches. Keep your expectations reasonable and shoot a safe match.
Make a plan for each stage and stick to it. Use your time in the walk through or while on deck to rehearse it prior to your turn. Plan for magazine changes and the order you want to shoot the targets or move through the stage. If you have an idea that is a little out of the ordinary be sure to let the RO know so you don’t surprise them or bump into them.
Don’t be shy about asking for advice. Many experienced shooters love to help out beginners. Keep in mind you might not be able to approach a stage the same way as a Grand Master or Master due to differences in skill level do don’t feel like you have to follow their plan if you aren’t comfortable with it.
Be sure you read each stage description and account for each target. Missing or failing to engage a target because you weren’t aware of it will cost you points. The stage diagram will be posted so you can see where all the targets are placed. Pay attention to Comstock and Virginia count stages. Comstock allows as many rounds as you want, but Virginia Count means you must shoot exactly that many rounds.
Don’t just shoot the stage and walk off, follow the RO as he scores your targets. This will give you a good idea about your performance and where your hits are. You might also catch a mistake in scoring or dispute a questionable call.
The minimum requirement to compete in these sports is a centerfire pistol with a 9mm caliber or larger (magnum cartridges are not allowed). 9mm, .38 super/supercomp, .40 S&W and .45 ACP are popular in autoloaders. Competitors will also need a sturdy belt, magazine pouches and a quality belt holster that completely covers the trigger. Do not show up with a nylon holster or one that collapses and has to be held open to reholster as these tend to get people disqualified when they sweep their hand trying to reholster. We also recommend not using a concealment type holster that has a reward cant. They are not against the rules, but they are difficult to draw from and it is difficult for a competitor to reholster while keeping the pistol from breaking the 180 rule (more on that later). Additional holsters that are not allowed are shoulder holsters and crossdraw holsters.
You should bring enough magazines, speedloaders or moon clips to hold about 50 rounds. Even though it is unlikely you will shoot that many rounds on a stage it helps plan magazine changes, gives you a buffer for misses and an extra magazine if you have a malfunction. You will also need enough magazine pouches to keep the extra ammo on your belt. Having enough magazines, ammunition, and pouches helps keep the match moving. Having to stop and load up magazines during a stage is a time killer for us all.
Eye protection and ear protection is mandatory. You will not be allowed to watch or participate without this equipment. It is not uncommon for some spatter from the metal targets to hit competitors. Although getting injured or cut by the debris is rare you still don’t want it in your eyes. You will also need to bring a case for you firearm. You will have to arrive and depart from the range with it unloaded and in a case.
A good sturdy belt is essential to support the weight of the gun and the magazines. Ideally you want a belt that will not sag or move and keeps the equipment from moving. CR Speed and Double Alpha Academy (DAA) are the most popular. Both of these use an inner and outer belt system. The inner belt goes in your belt loops and has Velcro covering the entire length. The outer belt attaches to the Velcro. This makes for a very rigid and stable system.
Popular holsters include Blade Tech, CR Speed, DAA, and Ghost International. Be sure you understand the division you want to compete in before you purchase a holster. Each division has very specific rules regarding the placement and type of holster. USPSA and Steel Challenge use the same equipment rules so it makes it easy to move from one sport to the other. Production and Single Stack holsters must be placed behind the hipbone.
- May not be manufactured or cut lower than, and must cover the slide up to, 1/2” below the ejection port (belt slide “Yaqui” type holster exempt).
- Revolver holsters open no lower than halfway down the cylinder.
- The drop offset type holster is allowed in production Division as long as the heel of the butt of the gun is above the belt.
- May not be manufactured or cut lower than, and must cover the slide up to, 1/2” below the ejection port (belt slide “Yaqui” type holster exempt).
- Must carry pistol so that the entire front strap (to the trigger guard) is at or above the top of the belt. Female shooters must carry the pistol no lower than the heel of the butt at the top of the belt
Open, Limited, Limited 10 and Revolver
- No holster restrictions. Race holsters are allowed.
CR Speed, DAA, and Ghost are the most popular magazine pouches. They come in a variety of styles and configurations. You will need between 3 and 6 pouches depending on the division you shoot. Limited and Open shooters usually have 3 on the belt. Production and Limited 10 use 5 and Single Stack shooters usually have 6 pouches. Placement on the belt is dictated by the division rules. Magazine pouches can be rotated and some give the option to have bullets facing out. Some shooters find this more comfortable. Magnetic pouches are only allowed in Limited, Limited 10 and Open. Production and Single Stack pouches must be placed behind the hipbone.
- Shooter’s Connection
- Power Factor Shooting
- Dawson Precision
- Blade Tech
- CR Speed
- Double Alpha Academy
- Ghost International
The range is “cold!” All firearms will be kept UNLOADED except on the firing line under the direct supervision of a range official or at a safe table. Safe tables are provided and clearly marked for competitors to safely uncase their firearm and transfer it to their holster. Competitors can also perform maintenance and dry fire at the safe table. Under no condition is ammunition to be handled at the safe table. You can have it on your belt in the magazine pouches or in your range bag but you must not handle it. This prevents ammunition from accidentally finding its way into a firearm. Failure to comply with this rule will result in disqualification.
- Semi-autos must have chamber and magazine well empty.
- Revolvers must have all chambers/cylinders empty.
- If a competitor is thought to be in violation of the COLD RANGE rule, a Range Official will escort the competitor to a safety area and direct the competitor to “unload and show clear”. If the firearm is found to be loaded, the competitor will be disqualified from the match.
- During the contest, contestants will refrain from handling their firearms, except when instructed by a match official or in designated areas (“safety areas”).
Eye and ear protection is required for all shooters and spectators. Individuals observed without eye or ear protection will be required to leave the shooting area until such eye and ear protection is worn.
Persons who have been disqualified may not shoot during the remainder of the event. The following will be grounds for an automatic disqualification from the event:
- Pointing a firearm up range (breaking the 180 degree line).
- Dropping a firearm, whether loaded or unloaded, at any time during a course of fire.
- Leaving the firing line with a loaded firearm, or possession of a loaded firearm anywhere other than on the firing line.
- Retrieving a dropped firearm. Dropped firearms must always be retrieved by a Range Official who will, after checking and/or clearing the firearm, place it directly into the competitor’s gun case, gun bag or holster. Dropping an unloaded firearm or causing it to fall outside of a course of fire is not an infraction; however, a competitor who retrieves a dropped firearm will receive a match disqualification.
- “Sweeping” or pointing the muzzle of a firearm at any part of any person’s body.
- “Moving” (taking more than one step) with finger inside of trigger guard.
- “Finger on the trigger during reload, unloading, loading or during remedial action
- Holstering a loaded handgun without the external safety applied or on a revolver, hammer cocked.
- Accidental discharge – This includes any discharge while loading/unloading/reloading or lowering the hammer, any shot fired outside of a timed string and any shot fired into the holster or into the ground within 10 feet of the contestant.
- “Make Ready” – Under the direct supervision of the RO, the competitor must face down range and prepare their handgun. The competitor must then assume the required start position. At this point, the RO will proceed.
- The “make ready” command signifies the start of the competitor’s attempt at the stage. Once the “make ready” command has been given, the competitor must not move away from the start location without the prior approval, and under the direct supervision, of the RO.
- Sight Pictures: In Steel Challenge the competitor will have a maximum of two minutes after the Make Ready command to prepare themselves for the run, sight pictures will only be done at this time. Exception would be for the Range Official to offer additional sight pictures at their discretion.
- “Are you ready?” The lack of any negative response from the competitor indicates that he/she fully understands the requirements of the course of fire and is ready to proceed. If the competitor is not ready at the “Are you ready?” command, he must state “Not ready”.
- “Stand by” This command should be followed by the start signal within 1 to 4 seconds.
- Start signal At the audible start signal the competitor is to begin their attempt at the course of fire. If a competitor fails to react to the audible start signal, for any reason, the Range Official will confirm that the competitor is ready to attempt the course of fire, and will resume the range commands from “Are You Ready?”
- “Stop” Any Range Official assigned to a stage may issue this command at any time. The competitor must immediately cease firing, stop moving and wait for further instructions from the Range Official.
- “If you are finished, unload and show clear” After the completion of the final string, the Range Official will issue this command. If the competitor has finished shooting, he must lower his handgun, completely unload it and present it for inspection by the Range Official with the muzzle pointed down range.
- Semi-automatic firearms must be presented with magazine removed; slide locked or held open, and chamber empty.
- Revolvers must be presented with the cylinder swung out and empty.
- “If clear, hammer down and holster” or “If clear, cylinder closed, holster” After issuance of this command, the competitor is prohibited from firing. While continuing to point the handgun safely downrange, the competitor must perform a final safety check of the handgun as follows:
- Centerfire self-loaders – release the slide and pull the trigger (without touching the hammer or de- cocker, if any).
- Rimfire self-loaders, show clear and holster or case. You do NOT have to pull the trigger.
- Revolvers: close the empty cylinder (without touching the hammer, if any).
- If the gun proves to be clear, the competitor must holster or bag their handgun.
- If the gun does not prove to be clear, the Range Official will resume the commands from Rule “If you are finished”.
- “Range is clear” This declaration signifies the end of the stage. Once the declaration is made, officials and competitors may move forward to score/paint targets.
The bottom line is to be safe, have fun and just shoot the match. Keep an open mind, meet some new friends and have fun. Shoot what you have and don’t worry about spending too much on gear until you learn a bit more about the game. Talk to the match director, he/she will ensure you get placed in the best division based on what kind of equipment you have.