Competition is different from carry.


So, I got to shoot an IDPA match at the range ten minutes from my house today. It was a rare treat for me, as I’m in the National Guard and our drill weekend just happens to normally be the first weekend of the month. This month it’s the second, so I got to go throw some lead downrange and fellowship with other shooters. Despite the twenty degree weather, there was a really good turnout of around fifty people. And a good number of first time match shooters also.

One of the reasons I enjoy IDPA over Steel Challenge, USPSA, etc., is that at the local level matches there is no money or trophies involved. It’s just a lot of fun, and all the shooters are pretty laid back and relaxed, so it’s always a good time. It’s a great place for beginning shooters to get a grasp of tactics and running their gun.

One of the things I don’t like about IDPA are some of the rules. The order of engaging targets, how many rounds must be put on each one, etc.. I understand that it’s a game, and that they try very hard (and do a very good job) of making a stage something you may encounter in “the real world” when they design them. But some of those rules…

I shoot IDPA as a skill builder. I don’t pay any attention to my scores or times. I’m there to push myself through scenarios as I’d handle them in real life. Much to the consternation of some of the other shooters. For instance, in IDPA, dropping live ammunition, be it a partially empty magazine or live revolver rounds on the ground, results in a procedural penalty, adding time to your run. I shoot a revolver in IDPA, because, well, I like to shoot revolvers. I also understand that in the real world getting an empty or partially empty gun back into the fight as quickly as possible is important. So I don’t mind ejecting a loaded round to hasten my reload, knowing I’m going to take a procedural error time hit for it.

Today I had a range safety officer suggest that, when I unload my revolver during a reload, I catch the empties in my hand and put them in my pocket. His reasoning, and very sound from a match rule perspective, is that in doing so, if I have a live round or two left it won’t be counted as a procedural. I thanked him as I was genuinely grateful that he took the time to share this tip with me. And promptly proceeded to incur another procedural on the next stage.

Back in the bad old days when police officers carried revolvers, they were trained to put the empties in their pocket. This misguided training practice ended when too many cops were being found dead with empty brass in their pockets. Under stress, you revert back to your training. It’s not like a Disney movie, where the lovable bunch of talentless misfits pull it all together and defeat the twelve time running state champs. In reality, you’ll go back to training and muscle memory. Provided you don’t vapor lock entirely. So when police trainers realized officers were taking the time to put their empty brass in their pockets, during a gunfight, they changed the way they trained.

Which brings me, finally, to the point of the title of this post. Beware that what you practice in matches (training) doesn’t trip you up in real life. As I said earlier, there is no money to win in an IDPA match, nor trophies to take home. Shoot in them. Enjoy them. But know that habits you develop in order to win bragging rights about having the best time/score may cost you in blood on the street.

All of the shooting sports present opportunities to sharpen your skills. If you’re intent on becoming a world class match shooter, then by all means do whatever you need to do to come out on top. If you’re a carry permit holder, or otherwise carry a gun for a living, understand that there will be a tradeoff on both equipment and tactics going from the range to the street. You may be going from a nineteen round 9mm on the range with four extra magazines on your belt to a seven round .380 as your everyday carry weapon. An extreme example, but get the point that adjustments will have to be made.

Whatever you decide, get out there and practice!


The Tactical Pirate

View posts by The Tactical Pirate
President and lead instructor. Follow me on Twitter, and check out our blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top