Competition will test your skills and introduce you to people who can help you improve. Oh yeah, and they are a lot of fun.

Handgun Competition

A shooter who wishes to advance in his or her gun-handling skills will find action-pistol competition an excellent way to achieve that goal. For a fairly modest match entry fee (less than the cost of a case of beer in most places), a shooter will be able to draw from the holster, engage multiple targets with rapid fire, shoot on the move, master quick reloading and execute other advanced techniques that are not allowed on a commercial indoor range. The three most popular action-pistol organizations for semiautomatic shooters in the United States are the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA), the United States Practical Shooters Association (USPSA), and finally, the Steel Challenge Shooting Association (SCSA). Regardless of where you live, the chances are excellent that one or more gun clubs will be hosting these matches within a one-hour drive.

Semiauto Pistol Competitions

IDPA: The IDPA is loosely based on actual self-defense scenarios. The target array may include buff-colored cardboard silhouette targets with embossed scoring rings or steel targets that must be knocked down. Some silhouette targets may actually be in motion when the shooter engages them, either swinging or on runners crossing the line of fire. Shooters may be required to engage these targets with a two-handed (freestyle) grip, or their weak or strong hand. There are a number of sometimes confusing penalties, but the game is otherwise simple, since shooters are told what order to shoot the targets in.

USPSA: The USPSA offers similar target arrays, simpler rules, and doesn’t dictate the order the targets must be shot in; many advanced shooters prefer this.

SCSA: The SCSA offers a different target array, with five metal targets, each in various sizes and at various ranges. Shooters only have to “ring the steel” to score. And all shooting is done from one position. You don’t need expensive equipment to compete in any of these events, but eye and ear protection are mandatory. A strong-side holster and magazine pouches for two or more magazines are required. As for the gun, any 9mm or larger caliber can play.

Revolver Competitions

While semiauto handguns are the more popular choice for action-pistol games and competitions, there is no shortage of alternative events for revolvers, and even a few exclusive clubs.

USPSA: The United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) has a revolver division, for 6-shooters in the Major Power category. The Minor Power category allows up to 9-shot revolvers—although only 8 shots are allowed before reloading.

IDPA: Competitions in the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) allow 6-shot revolvers in 4.2-inch barrel lengths or shorter in two categories. Stock Service Revolver is designed for a Power Factor of 105, and a minimum caliber of .38 Special, with speedloaders. Enhanced Service Revolver requires a Power Factor of 165, allows reloading with moon clips and predominantly features .45 ACP and .40 S&W.

Steel Challenge: The Revolver Division of the Steel Challenge allows .38 Special and higher caliber revolvers, using iron sights only (an additional Open Class allows more options like optical sights and ported barrels) and has no restrictions on the number of shots in the revolver.

ICORE: The International Confederation of Revolver Enthusiasts (ICORE) is similar to USPSA. Matches are timed to hundredths of a second, and involve various targets, such as steel targets to ring or knock down as far as 80 yards, paper targets at 50 yards and closer (including inside 3 yards), and swinging and moving targets. Accuracy is paramount: Missing the 8-inch A Zone on a paper target incurs a 1-second penalty, missing the 12-inch B Zone loses 2 seconds, and missing the C Zone (and the whole target) is a 5-second penalty. ICORE allows virtually any revolver including .22 LR—which only needs to hit steel targets, not topple them—with a required Power Factor of 120 (excepting .22 LR), and includes Open Class (which allows optical sights, muzzle ports, and moon clips), Limited Class (moon clips only; no ammo capacity or barrel length restrictions) and Classic Division (for 6-shooters with speedloaders).

Cowboy Action: Some Old West aficionados compete with modern reproductions of mid-1800s handguns, rifles, and shotguns in Cowboy Action Shooting. Single-action handguns dominate here, in .38 Special, .38/40, .44 and .45 caliber. CAS matches are often hosted by the Single Action Shooting Society, whose membership equals that of USPSA, IDPA and ICORE combined. Competitions are electronically timed, with targets scored for additional penalty time. The biggest difference: Competitors must adopt a “Western” alias for their scoring moniker, and period costumes are encouraged—and sometimes mandatory. Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) events are as much a social and costume event as they are about shooting, with guys talking clothes and gals talking guns, and everyone having fun no matter which part they enjoy.