Ask Foghorn: Best Pistol for Competition Shooting for New Shooters?

A reader writes:

[…] I am interested in getting into some kind of shooting sport. I love the sound of 3 gun however, I am not financially ready for this. […] It looks like the best and cheapest weapon “pistol” I should look into getting is the new Springfield 5.25 in order to shoot the beginners matches. I’ve been out of the game for 9 years now, I’m a little rusty. Can you offer any advice on my choice of weapon, “the Springfield 5.25”? Also, can you tell me what type of matches I should look into shooting. As I said, I am not familiar with the names of the different styles of shooting matches. I want to start with a pistol competition first.

I assume he means the Springfield XD(m) 5.25, which is brand new for this year. We’ll get to that, but first I want to talk about what makes a good beginner’s competition pistol, and then what’s the best beginner’s competition style.

Shooting competitions are fun, there’s no doubt about that — an adrenaline junkie like myself feels right at home with the other addicts on the range. Competitions also encourage and enhance training and provide a great metric for tracking how well you’re shooting has improved. And while you do need some form of firearm to start competing, the nice thing about firearms competitions is that you can use just about any kind of handgun as long as its safe to fire.

For beginners, especially if they’re basing their handgun choice on competition shooting, I like to encourage them to keep a few criteria in mind when making their selection. Competition guns for beginners should have the following qualities:

  • Semi-automatic with removable magazines. Revolvers are fun to compete with, but getting the basics  down first is essential. Semi-autos with magazines are intuitive, easy to load, easy to use, and ergonomic.
  • Chambered in 9mm. Say what you want about “stopping power,” but for beginner shooters the relatively low recoil of the 9mm round, the low expense of the ammunition and the higher capacity of the associated magazines make using it in a competition ideal.
  • “Full Size.” Even if IDPA is your chosen competition a full size handgun will be easier to manipulate and easier to fire. Plus, the longer sight radius will help with accuracy. 4-5 inch barrels are perfect, and anything over 6 starts getting into that “diminishing rate of return” area.
  • Rugged construction. This one isn’t as easy to identify as the other features, but its essential. Competition handguns should be able to handle thousands upon thousands of rounds per year without a problem or any major parts wearing out. If you want to get better practice is the only way, and a firearm that can’t handle many long hours on the range isn’t any use to us.
  • Ergonomic. This feature is one each person will have to determine for themselves. For me the biggest reason I use a SIG P226 in competition is that it fits my gigantic bear-like hand so perfectly. A friend of mine uses a 1911 for the same reason, not necessarily because he likes the gun itself. Going to a gun shop and trying out a bunch of different guns is the only way to figure this one out.
  • No manual safety. This one is going to stick in the craw of the CZ lovers, but a manual safety on a beginner’s competition gun is just going to get in the way and confuse them too much. There’s a lot going on already when the buzzer goes off, adding one more step to the process of drawing and firing isn’t going to help.

A good number of firearms meet the criteria, of which the Springfield XD(m) 5.25 is one. Also in this category are Glock pistols, a good number of SIG SAUER firearms, and some Beretta gats. In short there are a ton of choices, but it’s up to you the shooter to decide what works best for you.

As for the Springfield XD(m) 5.25 in particular I haven’t had a chance to use it. Yet. So I can’t recommend for or against purchasing it. What I do know is that while it costs a pretty penny it does come with almost everything you need to start competing right there in the box (holster, magazines, magazine pouch, gun). American Rifleman has a short review of the gun, hopefully we’ll have one as well soon. We do, however, have a review of the XD-9 for your perusal. If you choose this gun, I again recommend the 9mm flavor.

So what about the best competition style for new competition shooters? The good news is that if you get set up for one you can easily transition into the others. Set up for USPSA? Throw on a jacket and you can do IDPA. Only holster you have is a IWB for IDPA? Works just fine for 3-gun. The required equipment doesn’t change much, only the rules and the style. For that reason I would recommend that the best competition style for new shooters is whatever the local ranges are doing. No matter what you do, whether its USPSA, IDPA or even Steel Challenge, the people running the match will be more than happy to help you get started and compete for the first time.

BTW, TTAG does have a series of articles explaining some of the competition styles for the uninitiated:

If you have the option, though, I think USPSA would be the ideal competition style to pop your proverbial cherry on. The rules are simple, you can walk the stage before you have to shoot it, and the targets will give you feedback on where you’re hitting. The website for USPSA / IPSC also has a handy function that lets you find local clubs that run competitions.

If you have a topic you want to see covered in a future “Ask Foghorn” segment, email