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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?

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  1. I always thought it would be a good idea to run IDPA with a class for newbies… it could be called “Run what you Brung”. Introduce new people to the sport with no additional equipment purchases other than their pistol, two mags, and their tried and true uncle mike’s holster.

    The need is to grow the sport so the common man can get into it easily. Gearing up to try something (especially in this economy) is a difficult choice to make sometimes. Guides like this one are a boon to us since they can help people understand the event for first timers. I had the heebie jeebies when I went to my first practical rifle shoot!

  2. Good post! As someone who’s also fairly new (been shooting IDPA and USPSA for 3 years or so now), it’s still fun reading others’ first impressions.

    For those who attend a “standard” outdoor match, plan on 5-8 stages, somewhere between 100-150 rounds. An IDPA stage can only have 18 rounds (minimum) to complete the course clean, but you may need more than that. Maybe figure 20 rounds per stage or so to account for any makeups etc.

    One thing that I’ve learned/noticed, is that provided you are a fairly competent marksman, the big performance breakthrough comes when you become truely comfortable manipulating the firearm and your body from shooting position to shooting position. Though less critical than in USPSA (which is more “run and gun”), a lot of the time I see lost is those that take a long time to get their sights on target at a shooting position, moving from position to position, and, like the author said, pieing around cover and reloads. You’ll see lots of folks that are deadly accurate, but are slower to move. As long as you’re in the -0 or -1 zones, it’s usually easy to beat them by being a bit faster. BUT, that is obviously slow and steady is the safest way to start out. Violating the muzzle safe zones (often “the 180”) will get you DQ’ed, or could get someone hurt. But once you’re confident that you’re safe, get your butt movin’ 🙂

  3. Something I’m sure you found, but didn’t stress. I was thoroughly intimidated by the hot shot shooters at my first match. But people couldn’t have been more patient, understanding, and encouraging. We ran a ton of people through in a 5 hour window (Staggered start times, so nobody had to wait more than an hour to shoot.) But other than expecting you to be ready when you were up, nobody was rushed or hurried. Super nice folks that made me feel welcome, even though totally outclassed.

    I’m pretty accurate, even if slow as molasses compared to many. Had several of the ROs tell me, “Nice shooting.” after a stage. That little bit of encouragement really helps.

    And nobody seems to care a great deal about who beat who. Seems more about competing against your own limits and abilities. None of that win at any cost crap that ruins so much competition. Seems as though an armed society truly is a polite society!

    Love it. Competed for my second year. League starts up again in September, can’t wait.

    • Spot on…to add, check out more than one club if possible. I began shooting last year and was quite nervous. Perpetueted by the cliquiness and environment of the the club I was shooting at. They just werent welcoming to noobs at all. Did some research and tried out another club and they are exactly as you describe. Our S/O’s are awesome and are willing to explain and encourage rookie shooters. No one cares what kind of equipment you have, if you have Gen 4, Tac 511 vest etc…just a good group of guys who love to shoot and have fun. Making friends along the way…

  4. Oh, yeah. For the ladies. My GF was the only female in our string. She actually went solo to a bunch of matches when I was out with an injury. She was treated with that same courtesy and equality that I experienced.

    She finished her first season in dead last overall, and still enjoyed it so much she signed up for the second season with eagerness. And yes, she’s improving. (Not a bad shot, but gets a little performance anxiety.)

    • For the evening I attended, the over all winner for the night was a female in ESP. Not sure what she was running as there were two groups and she wasn’t in mine.

      • If it was GA Firing Line, I was running a borrowed Colt 1911 in .45ACP. New gun to me, so I focused on the fundamentals and ended up doing pretty well. I should technically have been in CDP (the realm of the .45ACP) but I usually shoot a 9mm 1911 which puts me in ESP.

        Pretty cool to see a match I attended talked about on TTAG. BTW, we had 44 shooters this week which was an all-time record. It might be the single biggest indoor regular match in all of IDPA. New shooters are always welcome! Look up the range at

        • Yes it was GAFL. Should have dropped a reference. If on some twist of fate, I win, I will be sure to mention it.

  5. I’m confused. What about the XD kicked you into ESP? I would have thought that the XD would qualify for SSP like the Glock does. SSP may be more competitive, but when you shoot the IDPA qualifier, you will note that the par times for each level are shorter for ESP meaning that you have to shoot the course faster to qualify in the same tiers as an SSP person. I’m waiting for the Sig p226 SAO pistol to become available before I need to worry about ESP. Problem is that a proficient shooter can shoot a SAO faster than a Glock, XD, or M&P (or at least I certainly can) so I would not want to be running a striker fired Double action pistol in the same division as the SAO guys.

    I recently took an IDPA class. I was shooting my M&P. At the end, we did a simulated stage and the only guy who beat my time was running a Sig P226 X5 SAO gun.

    • This is a necro post, but per the more recent rules revisions the XD qualifies for SSP now as well. The previous argument was it was a “single action” gun as the trigger did not finish cocking the striker like it does on Glocks. They’ve since revisited the gear classifications.


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