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 guntruth@me.com.

avatar

About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

13 Responses to Ask Foghorn: Best Pistol for Competition Shooting for New Shooters?

  1. avatarPatrick Carrube says:

    Like Nick, I haven’t tested (or even held!) the new XDm 5.25. However, I started competing with an XDm-40 with nothing more than a few extra magazines, a $10 double-mag holder, the factory double-mag holder, and the factory holster. I now shoot an XDm-45 in Production Class (10-round max) and a heavily modified XD-9 5″ for limited class.

    Modern polymers, especially the XDm-9, hold 19+1 rounds. Throw in a relatively inexpensive set of mag extensions and you’re up to 23+ round capacity. I usually recommend people start in Limited class, even though it seems counterintuitive, because let’s face it – you’re going to screw up…. A lot! Having 17, 18, 19+ rounds will let you get a “feel” for competing with fumbling too much with reloads. Production class, similar to Single-Stack, puts more emphasis on accuracy and reloading. Accuracy comes with practice, familiarity, and with the ability to recognize what kind of site picture you need for each specific shot. Getting better at reloading requires lots of “dry” practice in your living room. The range or in competition is not the arena to hone your reloading skills.

    In my experience, rarely does equipment (other than a reliable pistol) make or break a competition. I much prefer a holster that is sturdy and reliable – I need two hands to count the number of times I’ve seen competitors forgot to lock their “race” holster and dropped their $3500 pistols in the dirt between stages. On a similar topic, I’m still amazed by the number of competitors in all classes, but Limited and Open Classes in particular, who put up with unreliable pistols and magazines. I had the opportunity to shoot a match with a heavily modified STI Edge in .40S&W. I had the full setup and plenty of magazines. Unfortunately, the gun jammed at least twice per magazine and I was so frustrated that I ran the match again with my XDm-40 and pulled a better score! Red-dots, compensators, and what appears to be an infinite supply of bullets don’t mean $hit if the gun won’t shoot!

    The OEM mag holders work fine to start, but my favorite mag holders cost less than $15. They’re adjustable, never drop a magazine, and are “slick”. On that notion, my favorite holster is a $35 Safariland model. One piece of equipment that I will recommend is a Double Alpha (or similar) competition belt. These belts are rigid and allow you to don/doff your equipment easily. Of all the stuff I bought and tried for competing, my AA belt is by far my most favorite.

    Best of luck to you!

  2. avatarTroy Defew says:

    Thank you very much for the response. You provided me with the information needed. I am a 15 year police veteran until an injury forced me to retire. I have owned just about every pistol out there during my career. I found a Glock to be my favorite weapon simply because it’s simple to operate, reliable and most importantly, it fits my small hand. I have traded my Glock for a Springfield XDm 9mm. Although I am and always will be a Glock fan. I had the opportunity to shoot the Springfield Xdm next to the Glock. With the Springfield, I was able to regain my site picture faster when shooting “double tap”. Also, the Springfield Xdm 9mm seems to point better for me. When I pull it out of the holster and bring it up, it’s right there on target as if I’m pointing my finger. That is why I chose the Springfield Xdm. However, I have not shot the new Springfield XDm 5.25. I believe I am going to my supplier and pick one up. After I get it and put some rounds down range, I will report back and let you know how it performs. As far as the Springfield XDm, I can attest to it being a great weapon. I’ve not experienced any malfunctions, even shooting cheap loads. It is extremely accurate, I can shoot off hand and get 3″-5″ shot groups from the 25 yard line. The included holster, 2 magazine holster are decent quality, it reminds me of a Fobus holster. The magazines are very well constructed out of metal, not plastic so you can push the magazine release button and the mag’s do fall out freely which is good for speed. The fact that they are metal means you don’t have to worry about letting them fall to the ground “In grass or loose dirt”. I wouldn’t want to dump them onto cement or gravel.
    Again, thank you for the information,
    Troy D,

  3. avatarRabbi says:

    Good article. I would like to interject on additional point. If you carry a have a gun for self-defense, competitions are an excellent way to get additional trigger time with your carry piece. A year or so after I started IPSC, I bought a race gun. After using that for a two years, I switched to shooting my carry gun and have never looked back.

  4. avatarChaz says:

    the best competition style for new shooters is whatever the local ranges are doing

    Yes. While not addressing particularly the “best pistol” question, let me mention another possible activity for new competitors namely Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS). The Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) lists all the clubs they know of on their www.

    SASS was founded in 1987 by IPSC shooters who were also TV Western movie fans. Part of the fun of CAS is playing an Old West cowboy. The SASS folks claim that with 75,000 members and 500 affiliated clubs CAS is the fastest growing outdoor shooting sport in the country.

    When shooting CAS your costume and guns all date to pre-1900. Some really get involved with their costume, looking like someone just stepped out of a movie, but it is not necessary to spend very much on that. Any period revolvers, a carbine firing a revolver caliber and a shotgun are appropriate. I use two 1873 Colt SAA type revolvers in 45 Colt, a Winchester 1892 type lever action carbine in 45 Colt and a side-by-side 12 Ga double barrel shotgun.

    The variation on this is the relatively newer SASS “Wild Bunch” format which uses one 1911 pistol instead of two revolvers. Wild Bunch also uses only the Winchester 1897 pump shotgun plus any period lever action carbine.

    All targets in CAS are steel so there is instant feedback. Bullets have to be plain lead. The target distances are modest. It’s a timed event and the virtuosic shooters go really really fast.

    Ammo wise, the 38 Special round dates from the 19th century and is popular in regular CAS. It’s readily available and cheaper than the larger calibers. Aficionados often shoot historic but now obscure calibers like 44-40, 38-40, 32-20, 44 Russian, 45 Schofield et al. We 45 Colt shooters may just enjoy the “KaBOOM—CLANK” of it all (especially true for the black powder shooters since AFAIK black powder can’t be down loaded). ;->

    “Buckaroos,” youngsters 13 years old and under may shoot 22LR and .410. Parental supervision is required for any competitor under 21. Several families participate together in my SASS club.

    • avatarDrew says:

      Honestly? I’d love to do SASS, but no way in hell am I going to get dressed up like I’m going to a @#$% renaissance fair. Do they have them for normal folks who find the dressing up and playing cowboy just a little too fey?

      • avatarChaz says:

        like … going to a @#$% renaissance fair.

        Pre-20th century but not that far back! (I know what you mean) My club doesn’t care about costume. Participants show up in jeans and sneakers although many folk do look authentic to me. With any luck you could find a CAS club like mine.

        A working cowboy e.g. didn’t dress like Roy Rodgers in a movie (although some folks in fact go for that look). At a large competition with prize money, however, I’m sure they would insist on the dress code.

        • avatarDrew says:

          I do wear jeans and boots almost all the time, I guess a western shirt and hat (except for the near impossibility of finding the perfect hat) probably wouldn’t kill me. I really do need to lighten up sometimes :)

  5. avatarIndyEric says:

    Glock 17 and GSSF. That’s how my wife got into it. All stages are stationary and you compete against others in your skill level using the same production weapons. Plus, the people are awesome and totally supportive of the beginners.

  6. avatarJason says:

    No manual safety? Look, I’m a big fan of double actions on defensive pistols for people who don’t shoot much, but if you’re competing, even a little bit, you’re going to get plenty of practice. Yes, you will probably screw up once or twice, but you’re going to screw up in plenty of ways. You’re going to step over the fault line, you’re going to get targets out of order, you’re going to fumble reloads, and all sorts of things. If you think that you’re going to continually mess up with a safety, then you should probably not compete at all, because if you can’t develop that habit, then you’re going to have a hard time developing any of the other habits you absolutely will need. Many of them safety oriented. (Keep your finger off the trigger, don’t break the 180, open and show clear, etc.) Those will get you DQ’d if you mess up. Forget your safety, and you’ll just lose a second. Which is no big deal in the beginning. You’re not going to be fast enough for that to make a noticeable difference. Avoiding a whole class of guns (with good triggers!) just to eliminate a second and a little bit of embarrassment on your first match is penny wise and pound foolish.

  7. avatarSilver says:

    Real men use the Wildey for IDPA.

  8. avatarKR says:

    For around $600-$700 you can get any of these: 1911 5″ steel framed single stack .45 ACP (STI Spartan is a best buy at $600), Glock 17 or 34 in 9mm, S&W M&P Pro 9mm, Springfield XD 5″ 9mm, XDm 5.25 9mm. All of these are good choices, popular with competitors, frequently seen in the “winners circle” at big matches. SIG and Beretta guns and generally anything with a DA/SA design – not as popular or as easy to run on match day.

    The mods that are really needed to any of those guns is to dump any factory Glock or 3-dot sights, replace with solid rear and fiber optic front (Dawson, Sevigny, Warren sights all popular), and upgrade the trigger to get it under 5 lbs with shorter reset. M&P Pro and XDM 5.25 may not need those upgrades but Glocks and older XDs definitely do.

    For all those choices you can build a gun good enough to win the Nationals for under $800, maybe less, and the base guns can be found for $500 or less.

  9. avatarhuck says:

    The definitive production pistol for USPSA is the Glock G34. No hammer and no safety are pluses in USPSA. As is the longer barrel, stock 3.5 lb trigger pull, and extended mag release. Add the fact that it’s relatively affordable ($700), shoots affordable 9mm ammo, and extra magazines (you’ll need at least 5) are $15-$20, it just can’t be beat.

  10. avatarTexan says:

    Thanks for a great post, Nick – lots of good info and links, I appreciate it.

    I love the fact that TTAG has a variety of articles, information, and comments for shooters of every level – some of them I completely understand and some are technically over my head but challenge me to research and learn more.

    Keep up the great work!

Leave a Reply

Please use your real name instead of you company name or keyword spam.