Tips for Beginning Competitive Pistol Shooting

Tips for Beginning Competitive Pistol Shooting
Tips for Beginning Competitive Pistol Shooting

So, you have seen the videos on YouTube of the incredible speed and accuracy of the world’s best pistol shooters, and you want to be like them? Me too. How do we begin our journey?

Enter a competition. Don’t feel you are quite ready because of your marksmanship skills? Enter a competition anyway. I am not suggesting that if you are weak in gun “handling” skills you should endanger yourself or others, but if you are simply concerned that you will not shoot well or get a good score; you are probably correct, but no worries! Shoot anyway!

When I compete in any match, be it IDPAUSPSA or simply a falling plates match, I attend with the attitude of having fun and sticking to fundamentals. I have never won a match or even been in second place. I am OK with this because I enter with a proper & positive attitude. I never mention to others that I am a shooting instructor; I humbly identify the best “old-timers” that know the game inside & out and request that they critique me. Most of them provide me with excellent and positive advice, and I don’t have to shell out the hourly fee I require of MY students! ;-)

Some of the tips I have learned from them seem obvious, but let’s take a look at two of them. One strategy is to NEVER MISS. For example, in USPSA, the shooter wants to hit the “A” zone, which is the small center area of the chest and head cardboard target. This strategy is to take as much time in competition as necessary to get ALL “A” zone hits. If, in a stage with 15 people, the winner’s time is 13.21 seconds, 5th place is 21.87 seconds, 14th place is 42:33 and YOUR time 118.89 seconds, but you have ALL “A” zone hits; you can walk away from the stage happy. Even though speed is an important factor in these matches, be patient … it will come. After 2 or 3 matches, you will no longer take 9 times longer than the top shooter. After 10 matches, you might only be 3 times slower, but still with all “A” zone hits. You will find that you are no longer in last place, which feels great (from what I have heard).

So, you have competed in a match and are having fun laughing at yourself and about all you have the opportunity to learn, right? This brings us to the second big tip.PRACTICE. As we know, proper practice makes perfect. Shoddy practice makes shoddy, so make sure your practice follows the proper fundamentals.

You can do much of this practice at home without live ammunition. Drills that require you to draw, acquire target acquisition, press the trigger, acquire a new target, press, remove your finger from the trigger, move to a position of cover, lean out, acquire the target, press, change magazines and then acquire another target and press are very valuable. Set up a “stage” in your house, with targets placed on top of the TV, on the stovetop (when it is turned off) and by the front door. Make sure your pistol is unloaded and no ammo is in the area. Next, recheck your pistol and your magazines & make sure they are not loaded. Yes, I know I repeated this. Run through this stage 10 times, which will probably take you less than 10 minutes. Do this every day for a month and you will improve surprisingly quickly.

Practicing on the range with live ammo is also important. Most small-town competitive shooters that win matches are shooting 500 to 3000 rounds a month in practice, some many more. This obviously can be expensive, so most competitive shooters reload their own ammunition. With my progressive reloader, I am able to reload about 500 rounds per hour at a cost of about $6.60 per box of 50 in .45ACP. This means that for $100 a month, I can shoot about 750 rounds rather than 200 to 250 rounds of factory ammunition. This is not enough to make me a competition winner, but it makes me much better than the 98% of pistol owners that shoot less than 50 rounds a year. Brian Enos’ website offers excellent advice for those considering the purchase of reloading equipment. I know him to be fair & honest; he will not advise you to buy junk you don’t need.

There are many more tips and drills for improving your competitive shooting skills. You will learn many of them while competing and from the comments that will be posted below. For now, remember not to miss and to practice. Simple? Yep. It works!

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Shepard Humphries is a former Police Officer, having served in Investigations, Patrol and SWAT as a sniper team leader. Shepard resides in Jackson Hole Wyoming where he operates several small businesses including an executive protection firm and two firearms related businesses, the Jackson Hole Shooting Experience and Counter Violence Institute. Known as "The Millionaire's Shooting Coach," Shepard provides shooting instruction, consultation and public speaking services in Jackson and where clients beckon. You can view his training site and contact Shepard at Shoot In JH.
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The Other Brother Daryl

My local range offers IDPA matches. I have mentioned to them that an IDPA primer course would be beneficial to those unfamiliar with it, as I am, even though they might have years of shooting experience under their belts.

Apparently, the local club does have a video to watch, representatives to talk with, and the opportunity to watch matches in progress. There are also different levels of expertise awarded as one moves further into the sport.


Hello other brother … I still say, “Go for it!”  Just go slow, but participating is the best way to learn … just remember, for the first time; walk – don’t run.  🙂


I have been wanting to compete in the local IDPA matches.  I guess it would be best to compete with my EDC but I don’t think they allow IWB holsters wich is what I usually use.  However I would prefer to use my new 5″ 1911 which would be fun and provide better accuracy.  Is it possible to compete with two weapons that would most likely be in the same class as my EDC is a .45 with stock sights.   Or should I use the 1911 to compete but do all my actual training with my EDC?


Depending on where you are located inside the waistband holsters should be allowed although it depends on which type they are.  If it is reasonably easy to reholster you pistol with your type holster then this is really the true meaning of IDPA.  IDPA like many sports have the die hard competitors and then like the author says there are those like him and myself. I shoot because I enjoy it.  Try a match no matter what you shoot.  If it is a good IDPA club there will be folks more than willing to help.  Try more than one if available in your area.  There are three different matches within an hours drive of where I live and two of them are exellent for new shooters.  One of them is not.  So if you encounter a bad situation don’t give up.  Try another.  Most IDPA shooters are more than willing to help.  Try both your pistols at different times.