By David B.
First and foremost, a disclaimer: I am not, nor do I pretend to be, an expert on IDPA or handguns in general. What I am is a slightly obsessive dork. Talking to other people of the gun, I’m willing to bet that I’m not alone (just as I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing cable news channels would cut away to pictures of Charlize Theron each time Senator Feinstein launches into an anti 2A crusade). Being a reformed gamer, I started to obsess on what to do/not to do in preparing for the match in order to not entirely suck. So now that I’m on the other side of it . . .
I’ll share what I walked away with to equip other
physical specimens of masculine virility slightly obsessive dorks for their first IDPA match. I suppose it’s worth noting that my experience was at a weekly match held at a local indoor firing range for a couple hours each Thursday night.
The thing I obsessed most with, as I’m sure most do, is gear. If the autofill feature of Google is any indication, I’m not the first person in all of webdom to search the phrase “best equipment for idpa”. If you have a safely functioning handgun, 9mm or larger, or .38 or larger, you’re probably good to go with what you have as long as you have 3 magazines or speed loaders.
I gave my XD 9mm the night off from home defense duty and brought it along. The XD put me in the Enhanced Service Pistol division, which is less competitive than Stock Service Pistol. For just getting out and doing it, I don’t think anyone really much cared what division they were in. In this instance shooters were not separated by division, but sort of milled around amiably behind the firing line. For information on pistol divisions, check out the IDPA rule book. here.
For a holster, most competitors seemed to favor paddle holsters worn outside the waistband (OWB). All I had was my Max Tuck from White Hat Holsters for inside the waistband (IWB). Since 3 out of 4 stages started from concealment, I don’t think I lost much/any time on the draw.
There are literally loads of places to source holsters on the interwebz (or be all Fred Flintstone and swing by your LGS). A fellow competitor informed me of Old Faithful Holsters. They make a great product that can be had for not much scratch if you don’t mind turning a screw driver (pro tip: turn the screwdriver yourself, save the money).
Magazine pouches/holsters are the next piece of kit you’ll need. I rocked the XD Gear system mag pouch. It did what it was supposed to, no problems. It’s here that I’ll note that IDPA requires all weapons to be holstered without a magazine in. This means you’ll have your magazine knocking into your cellphone in your off hand pocket unless you have a 3rd mag pouch to keep it in. A lot of competitors had a single mag pouch they wore at the small of the back to keep their first magazine in. I will be following suit on my next trip out.
The other items you’ll need are your eyes and ears. It was about a 50/50 split between ear muff style and in-ear protection. So don’t feel like a dork showing up with your $10 Winchester passive ear muffs you bought at Wally World. I’m a bespectacled gentleman so I’ve got my eyes on when my eyes are open, so that wasn’t an issue.
You’ll need a cover garment. Skinny dudes tended to favor a baggier un-tucked T shirt draped over their weapon. While gentlemen (such as myself) who delight in discussions of sourcing the best barbeque seemed to favor RF’s favorite “shoot me first”
fishing tactical vests. I used a fishing shirt I had kicking around from a company fishing trip. It did the job. Several took the approach of using button down shirts they already had, I would encourage you to do the same.
A gun belt is a decent idea. My local range sells cheap 5.11 belts for about $15-$18 but I got by with the thick leather belt I usually wear with jeans. I probably will get a gun belt sooner rather than later. Ammo, if you call that equipment, is probably less important than it is in longer ranged shooting sports. In our match, all targets were 10-12 yards or closer. The scoring zones are pretty big. I used the Atlanta Arms reloads they sell at the range. I bought 100 rounds, but we only used 45 for the night over four stages.
So hopefully by now you’ve realized you probably have most, if not all you need to jump in so the next step is showing up. Before you show up, confirm when the new shooters briefing is and show up prior to that. Go ahead and figure that extra couple minutes to park, sign in, and sign the covenant not to sue (this actually takes a little while) they hand you with your score card. The briefing took us about 20 minutes. Most local clubs have a safety video on their website for new shooters. That’s a great place to start to speed up the briefing. They will go into detail on all of the details, potential “rules” for engaging targets, etc.
When you actually get on the range, they will walk you through each course of fire. IDPA can have rules for how you have to engage targets, but they are pretty good about explaining it to you if you need some extra coaching. Typically, they’ll put first time shooters in the back of the order so you get plenty of chances to see people negotiate the courses of fire prior to having to punch paper yourself. I’m not going to break down the stages of fire like Nick does with 3-gun, but I will hit on a couple things I took away from it.
If you’re not already aware, score in IDPA is calculated based upon your speed plus penalties incurred from accuracy/missed shots/ procedural errors. Lower scores are better. Between speed and accuracy, speed is slightly more important. As my first time firing under pressure, I was down a total of 29 points for the night. The gentlemen who ended up winning SSP that night (running a Glock 35) was down 30 points. His score was 62 and change, my score was 90 and change. I know I could have run faster if I had more confidence in what I was doing. Sure experience is the best teacher but there were some mistakes I made that you might be able to avoid.
The first was reloading. I had no issue dropping the mag and slamming a new one home, but each time I needed to reload I had about a second delay from visually recognizing my slide was locked back, and marrying that with the memory that more ammo was on my hip. My reloads probably took 3 seconds or so, the salty guys were able to anticipate the reloads and be done with it in around a second. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but on a stage that takes 20 seconds to shoot, that’s pretty big.
Using those times, that would equate to a 6 point difference on the night. What I will be attempting next time is attempting to count shots, by way of targets neutralized. It typically took 3 shots per target to neutralize them and with your 10+1 load out, that’s 3 targets plus 2 shots on a 4th target. Obviously if you miss and need more shots then you’re getting into pure shot counting territory. I’m not advocating this is a “better method” but it was just how my mind organizes numbers better.
The next thing I was guilty of was paralyzing myself with over-analysis. In the courses I was shooting, there was really only one way to shoot them that you could modify slightly. I got too technical. Try to see the “big picture” for the course and have confidence in your understanding of it. The second course featured firing from low cover where you would engage four targets, only two were visible from each side. I took too long peering around the barrel rather than just having confidence “there’s the first one, aaaaand there’s the second. Switch”.
I’m sure some courses of fire can be like long division, but in my city there are 4-5 matches a week and they are all held in similar venues which means they all are going to be similarly constrained. I won’t even pretend this is applicable to the larger outdoor matches, as I have no experience.
That’s pretty well it. Just go out and do it. Have a blast (then annoy your coworkers/spouse/kids with tales of how awesome it was.) Some miscellaneous stuff so you’ll be prepared when you hit the range: All participants are expected to “paste” the targets after the range is safe. There are a lot of eager pasters and very few holes to paste. By the end of the night this materialized into a game of seeing how many of the stickers you could discreetly place on each other.
Ask questions. Have fun. If you change clothes at work to go to an evening match, don’t put your clothes in the same bag as your bottle of Hoppe’s, regardless of if it is upright and the cap is on. Your pants will still smell like Hoppe’s. Somehow. They don’t tell you that on the IDPA website, but that’s why you’re reading TTAG, isn’t it?