Though the sport is nothing new, more and more shooters are getting involved in competitive shooting. If you’ve ever wondered what’s involved in competitive shooting, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve done our best to answer your questions, from how it all got started centuries ago to how you can get started on your own competitive shooting journey now.
Grow the sport, be kind, and have fun.
This is a big article! Be sure to use the internal navigation links below for quick access to each section.
What is Competitive Shooting?
History of Shooting Sports
Competitive Shooting Organizations
Guns Needed for Each Discipline
Gear and Accessories Needed for Each Discipline
Ammo for Each Discipline
Terms and Vocabulary
Rulebooks and What They May Contain
How to Get Started
Tips for Your First Match
What is Competitive Shooting?
Competitive shooting is just as it sounds, shooting on the clock with points in place and against other shooters. The idea of practical shooting sports in a competitive sense isn’t a very weird idea when we truly think about it. Since the beginning of time, men have been practicing their marksmanship skills both for firefights and to impress others.
We now have rule books, gun ranges hosting their own matches, and private land becoming national-level match settings for precision shooting. Not only do shooters use competitive shooting as a way to compete, but also as a way to practice their craft and test their equipment. While military shooters have their own arenas to shoot within, military shooters are now using the civilian competition world as a playground to hone their skills.
The competitive shooting world involves any firearm you can think of, at any distance—pistol, carbine, 22-inch bolt guns, long-range .223 gas guns, .22 bolt guns, lever guns, revolvers, all of it, with distances from a short pistol bay all the way to two miles. Competitions range from honing hunting skills and gear to shooting fast and pushing down steel with a pistol. Many of these matches also involve a prize table and trophies.
Competitive shooting isn’t just for the United States, though. It’s growing in other countries as well. United States shooters are traveling all over the world to shoot competitively and vice versa with others coming here to shoot. Some countries are even using our newly designed disciplines and starting their own matches in their countries under our name, i.e. National Rifle League Hunter matches are now being shot in South Africa.
All fun and games aside, the continued growth of shooting sports is needed. Competition shooting helps educate newcomers to firearms in a safe and fun manner. This, in turn, helps firearms owners continue to improve the handling of their own firearms.
History of Shooting Sports
Competition shooting started much earlier than when the United States began participating. According to the 1995 USA Shooting Media Guide, it dates all the way to before the 10th century when the Greeks held Military training. This led to the very first shooting clubs begun by the Germans in the 14th Century, with events often held on holidays.
Today, Germany still holds an annual festival called the Schützenfest where marksmanship competitions are held with dancing and beer to celebrate the great sport of marksmanship. This may remind you of the term the “schützenschnur” which is the German Armed Forces Badge and a badge that many American Military folk work to earn. This can be earned both when they are serving overseas in Germany and when German Military personnel come to the United States to hold the event. It involves shooting many different firearms such as the G36 rifle and P8 pistol. It often involves fitness tests as well such as a ruck march or a swim.
Fast forward to the 1700s when frontiersmen and Indians were in many arms fights on the plains, this is where the United States started to participate. The war on the plains caused frontiersmen to start practicing their marksmanship. Shortly thereafter hunting shoots were held, which involved prizes for the winners. Sounds a lot like today, huh? Now it is more about making an impression. Even in our movies, there are scenes of old-school western cowboys showing off their skills to impress others.
When we truly think about where marksmanship comes from, the Military is often mixed in from the beginning. Just as the Greeks held target shooting for their military in the 10th century, think about our civilian matches now and the qualifications of the Military. They are very similar. Many of our precision rifle matches incorporate teh prone, kneeling, and standing have the prone, kneeling, and standing positions. What does the Military do in their firearm qualifications? They shoot prone, kneeling, and standing. The marksmanship world is a large mixture of history and we would be sheltered to think that the United States is the only one participating in these great sports.
There are many different disciplines within shooting sports, and many of these disciplines even have sub-divisions under them. It can get pretty overwhelming pretty quickly. To make this a little easier, we’ll cover the major disciplines and a definition of each. Within these disciplines are organizations that have taken them over and given specific rules to each. That will come later.
Traditional marksmanship matches are often bullseye-type shooting. This means that the shooter is in a static position and aims at a bullseye or circle anywhere from 25 yards away with a bullseye pistol to 1000 yards with an iron-sighted rifle. A maximum time is allotted to complete the course of fire (COF). You will see this type of shooting in the Olympics a lot. These static positions often start with something called “belly shooting” which is a slang term that competition shooters use to describe a shooting discipline that is only prone type shooting. Other traditional positions are sitting, kneeling standing.
Organizations within this type of discipline are the National Rifle Association with their NRA high-power and the sub-division F-Class. Also, the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) has a lot of military folk shooting as it awards marksmanship badges to wear on the military dress uniform. These matches are often held inside a bay-type range or on a flat range with a berm and paper targets.
Example of an NRA Highpower Rifle Stage: Stage 1: Offhand (Standing) Slow fire (10 shots in 10 minutes), 200 yards
Scoring is done after each of the stages are complete and the target and impacts can be seen. This score ranks shooters and how many impacts were in the X-ring. For example, a score of 450-10X is an overall score of 450 pts with 10 in the X ring.
Practical Precision Bolt Gun/Gas Gun
Currently, the discipline of Practical Precision long-range shooting is growing immensely. The idea behind this is to engage far steel targets with each target being a certain amount of points. The shooter often uses props to build a position on and shoot off of those, though some stages can be only prone. Most bring long bolt guns in larger calibers with scopes that are capable of high magnification. However, these competitions have different divisions based on the firearm type.
For instance, the Precision Rifle Series (PRS), which is an organization within this discipline, has a division for “gas gun” only. This means that those shooting a gas gun, not a bolt gun, will still shoot the same course of fire, just in a different division against other gas guns.
Then, there are gas-gun-fueled organizations, such as Quantified Performance (QP). The concept with QP is essentially the same, shoot at far steel targets under time. This organization is geared towards having the gas guns come out and compete but they do have an “open” division allowing any type of gun including bolt guns to compete.
The basis of Practical Precision in general though is to build solid positions on weird props and hit far targets. These matches can be held on a field piece of land or a square range with far distances.
Example of a practical precision stage: This stage will be shot within 90 seconds and 10 rounds maximum. From the prone position, the shooter will engage five targets near to far with two hits on each. Hit or miss move on. Target 1 is 450yds, Target 2 is 575yds, Target 3 is 680yds, Target 4 is 710yds, and target 5 is 985yds.
This is the largest discipline in the competitive world as far as participation numbers and general knowledge of the sport. This discipline is what the often heard about United States Practical Shooting Sports Association (USPSA), International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) 2 Gun, and 3 Gun type matches fall under. It takes a lot of speed, well-placed shots, and strategic movements throughout a stage to be truly competitive.
USPSA and Multi-Gun type matches run similarly with the stage allowing the shooter to decide how he wants to engage his targets. IDPA is a little different in the fact that it is meant to be a self-defense type of match. Therefore there will be a stage plan that must be followed or points will be deducted. While most of these disciplines seem pistol-specific, many pistol-forward disciplines also allow Pistol Caliber Carbines (PCC) to shoot next to the pistols but in a different division.
Example of a USPSA stage: The shooter starts with heels on marks, hands relaxed at sides, and pistol loaded and holstered. There are 12 USPSA metric targets, four steel poppers, and two steel knock overs. The shooter engages all targets as they become visible from the shooter area.
This is where the shooter’s stage plan comes into play because it is then on the shooter to walk/run within the shooting area to engage the targets as fast as they see them, and in an order that doesn’t waste time.
These challenges go in line with practical precision matches but are more geared toward the sniper craft. Many of the engagements will be far distances with a rifle, with some stages being pistol-only due to snipers needing to shoot handguns effectively as well as rifles. Many civilians come out to shoot these due to the courses of fire being close to the practical precision format.
The difference between a sniper challenge and a normal practical precision match, though, is the physicality and the specific knowledge needed. Often there will be ruck marches throughout the match and all gear is taken on your back. There are also “stalks” like snipers would do, crawling through the brush undetected and land navigation with only a pen, paper, and a compass—Sniper Craft stuff.
Example of a Stage: Shooters are given a range card of the area forward of the shooting position, citing major terrain features and manmade objects on the range. Targets are near the objects and no laser range finders are allowed. Shooters run to their shooting position and engage as many targets as they can using distances to the manmade objects. The primary shooter will engage torsos and the secondary shooter will engage targets that are diamonds. Two points for the first round, one point for second and third round impacts.
While these matches fall under a large organization, The National Rifle League, it is important to make note that this is a specialty type of precision rifle match. Many precision rifle matches will give the shooter a match book with ranges and the course of fire. This is basically your playbook for how you will attack the stage. Due to this playbook, many will shoot the stage the same way.
NRL Hunter is a totally different type of match. This match is made for hunters to use the firearms and gear that they would bring on a hunt and put them to the test competitively and without a match book. Each stage is a blind stage, meaning that you have no idea where the targets are, their distance, or what you have to shoot off of until the clock starts and you are running onto the stage. The rifles have to be under 16 lbs and all equipment needs to be stored on your back throughout the match.
Example of a Stage: The shooter will engage four targets, two coyotes, and two deer within two positions. On the beep, the shooter runs to the blind stage where there will be a marker for each position. Two more markers indicate the lines of fire and where the targets will be. On getting to the stage the shooter looks around to see how to shoot it and what to use to shoot off of. Next, the shooter sets down the pack and rifle to find and range the targets. Then, pick up the rifle and tripod, depending on the stage, and engage targets.
Engage each target scoring two points for first-round impact and one point for second-round impact. If missed both times, move on to the next target. You have four minutes. BEEEEEEEP.
Extreme Long Range
Extreme Long Range (ELR) matches are mostly belly shooting and engaging steel at very very far distances. Practical shooting can push out to 1600 yards, ELR-type matches will push out much further, such as two miles. The firearms for these matches have long barrels and shoot a large, often-reloaded cartridge such as 375 CheyTac. They also have a huge bipod with large flat feet for stability. Magnification on the scope will push into the 30x.
One type of match that is popular within this discipline is the King of 2 Miles. The organization that runs most ELR matches is the Extreme Long Range Shooting Organization. These matches will take place on a large piece of land, due to the distance needed.
Example of a Stage: ELR matches are organized by targets more so than stages. Each target will have a certain number of opportunities to impact that target. The scoring goes by hits, not where it hit, due to the target being a large piece of steel. One cold bore shot is included in your attempts.
Fitness Shooting Challenges
Fitness is half of being competitive. If you can move fast without getting winded or tripping, you can engage targets more efficiently. Many clubs have taken note of this and host run-and-gun type matches. Often this is with a rifle and a pistol with a lot of running from stage to stage. The Tactical Games organization takes fitness shooting challenges another step further, holding CrossFit-type matches with pistol and rifle thrown in.
Example of a Stage: The shooter runs to the target line and engages paper targets, first with a rifle, then with a pistol. The shooter then completes an 800m run, farmer-carrying weight at the last 100m of the run. At that point, the shooter engages the targets again with rifle and pistol. After that, the shooter drops the rifle and does hand-release push-ups, then runs to the targets again to engage the targets with the rifle. Various strength challenges follow, such as carrying another weight and jumping over a bar. This battle goes on for 12 minutes and is scored by the time taken to complete and the impacts on target.
Cowboy Action Shooting
This type of competitive shooting involves lever guns, revolvers, costumes, and old western sayings. For real. It is a fun discipline and allows folks to bring out their older-style guns while dressing for the part. Oftentimes a range will have a mock town set up just for the Cowboy Action Shooting matches. To win these matches you have to shoot fast and well, which pushes shooters to load light loads of ammunition for less recoil.
Example of a Stage:
Why would anyone be afraid of an old pig?
Pistols are loaded with five rounds each, holstered with hammers on empty chambers. A rifle is loaded with 10 rounds and staged against the far right side of the fence with the hammer on an empty chamber. A shotgun is staged against the left-hand side of the fence, open and empty, and you have four rounds on your person.
Start at position One with a pistol drawn (not cocked) and pointed at the cowboy. When ready, say, “I ain’t afraid of no pig!” At the buzzer, shoot the left cowboy five times and holster.
Move to position two, pick up your shotgun and shoot the poppers from left to right. Set the shotgun back against the fence, action open and cleared.
Move to position three and pick up your rifle. Shoot the squares three times each, in any order, and put the tenth round in the pig (There is a five-second bonus if you wiggle the pig’s tail). Put the rifle back against the fence, action open and cleared.
Move to position four. After stopping draw your last pistol and shoot the cowboy five times. -Prepared By Chuckaroo SASS #13080
Competitive Shooting Organizations
The competitive shooting industry is made up of businesses just like any other industry. These businesses, or organizations, take certain disciplines within the shooting sports world and make them their own. Each organization has its own rules, own matches, own standings on the scoreboard, and own prizes. Below are the organizations you will often see within the shooting sports world and what types of matches they hold.
Guns Needed for Each Discipline
Ah, the firearm, which is second to the most important part of competitive shooting—the first most important part being you, the shooter. If there is anything that needs to be said when it comes to choosing/building a firearm within each discipline, it is don’t be afraid to bring what you already have, or borrow. A GrandMaster within USPSA actually reached GM in USPSA with a stock pistol. He didn’t need a super souped-up race gun, he just needed to be focused and good at the sport, and put a lot of dry fire time in.
The goal is to ensure that your firearm meets the division rules set forth by the organization/match that you are competing in. If you have a certain type of pistol or rifle already, compete in the division that your firearm already fits into.
Action Shooting Pistol
Pistols within competitive shooting sports can range from a stock Glock with iron sights to a souped-up open-class gun with a side charging handle, optic, and really light trigger. The trick is to know what can be modified and what can’t. Sometimes flared magwells are not allowed, sometimes any modification to the slide is not allowed, and sometimes only grip panels are allowed to be changed. It all depends.
In USPSA specifically, if you have an Iron sighted Glock you will be shooting within Limited Division. Which is the most popular for new shooters anyways. A stock Walther PDP with a Red Dot—Carry Optics Division. A souped-up 2011—Open Division.
Multi-Gun Shotgun and Rifle
Shotguns and Rifles within the action shooting sports world also fall under division rules. For instance, an 18-inch .223 rifle with a simple red dot and no magnification will be in a different division than a rifle with an LPVO that goes up 10x magnification. The shotgun will be the same. In many open classes there are semi-automatic shotguns with a red dot, in other classes, there is a pump iron sighted shotgun.
Precision Rifle Bolt Gun/Gas Gun
Precision guns should have a higher magnification scope, a bipod, at least an 18-inch barrel, a good trigger, and a comfortable stock/chassis. For bolt guns specifically, depending on weight restrictions, most will have at least a 20-inch barrel and will be shooting a larger caliber such as 6mm variants. Many do custom guns. However, if it is your first year of shooting, it is recommended to shoot both factory ammo and either a factory gun or what you have already.
Many companies are pushing out total precision rifle builds such as the Daniel Defense Delta 5 and the Sig Sauer Cross, both in 6.5 Creedmoor which is a very popular round. If you do want a custom firearm, do some research on popular gunsmiths. They don’t have to be local (shipping a firearm isn’t as hard as people think) they just have to be good. Beware of gunsmiths who have created an LLC and call themselves “experienced” without having real tools and experience— which can lead to the loss of thousands of dollars. Research online forums and groups for good smiths.
As for the scope, it should be adjustable and go up to high magnification. It should also be First Focal Plane (FFP) meaning that the reticle gets bigger and smaller as you zoom in and out. This keeps your zero at any distance. Many shooters use Mil-Radian (MRAD) scopes which is a type of measurement. Shooters are moving away from the scopes that are in Minutes of Angle (MOA). Some popular scopes in the precision rifle world are RAZOR HD GEN II 4.5-27X56 FFP and the Leupold Mark5 HD 5-25×56.
Bipods need to connect to your current rail system, ARCA, M-LOK, 1913 and the bipods should be able to adjust to different heights quickly and easily. Popular bipods in the precision world are the Thunderbeast Arms Corporation (TBAC) Bipod and MDT Ckye-Pod.
Scope Tip: When reading scope names there will be a lot of numbers in the name and it can be confusing what it means. For example RAZOR HD GEN II 4.5-27X56 FFP. The first two numbers are what magnification the scope can adjust to. For the Razor, the scope can be adjusted from 4.5 power all the way to 27 power. The last number after the “x” is the size of the objective lens. This objective lens is 56mm.
Gas guns need a lot of the same accessories and build as the above bolt guns. To add anything, focus on having a good barrel and a good trigger within your gas gun build. The big thing when it comes to these builds though is if you are just starting out, stay away from the adjustable gas systems. Shooters like to use adjustable gas blocks because they can adjust how much recoil is being felt. However, they cause malfunctions, a lot, even with experienced shooters. So just go for the standard gas blocks.
To find good guns for precision gas gun matches try searching “Designated Marksman Rifle” or “Precision Gas guns”. Due to gas gun matches being based on time, such as how Quantified Performance scores theirs, it is important to have a quick-to-deploy bipod such as the Harris S BRM 6-9″ Bipod.
Gear and Accessories Needed for Each Discipline
General Shooting/Every Discipline
For shooting in general and especially outside there are certain things that you will want to have with you at all times. This first list isn’t discipline-specific but will help you stay focused on the match and not be uncomfortable.
Most matches will not prepare lunch. This means that you will probably be shooting from 8 am to 3 pm with only what is on you to eat. Be sure to bring some granola bars or a small sandwich. Having powder electrolytes to mix in your water halfway through the day will help maintain focus. A lot of competitive shooters like to use Mountain Ops products that have included vitamins and caffeine or other power drink powders.
Sunscreen/Hat/Wet Weather Gear
Some firearms training courses even require this. The sun will bother you during the match, especially when looking through a sight, so a hat is best. Wet weather gear, at least a light rain jacket, is always good to have. Not only does this cover your body, but your belt that has ammo and gear on it that you may not want to get soaked.
A lot of ranges require eye protection and will kick you off of the range if they don’t see you wearing it. It’s best to bring clear eyewear if you are new to shooting. As far as ear protection goes electronic ear pro is best when it comes to matches, as it allows you to hear other people and the timer while still muffling the shooting around you. For protection that goes inside the ear, in-ear OTTO Engineering NoizeBarrier Micros are a favorite, and for over-the-ear, Peltor Comtacs are popular with Noisefighters Gel Pads installed. Sometimes over-the-ear pro can get uncomfortable while wearing all day.
Pro Tip: When shooting indoors it is best practice to have over-the-ear protection due to all of the echoing within the range. Some even wear both in-the-ear and over-the-ear protection when shooting in an indoor range. For outside, in-ear protection performs great and doesn’t get in the way of your cheek pressing up against the stock of a gun.
Action Shooting Sports
Action Shooting Sports such as USPSA, IDPA, and Multi-Gun involve specialty competition gear. This means putting your battle belt and high-level retention holsters away. The belt needs to be a properly-fitted, very rigid belt to hold up the weight of magazines and your firearm when running. The holster needs to be fast to draw and not a high level of retention due to the gun being drawn already when on the move. Magazines need to be quick to draw and retention is often not worried about. Put all of this together and you have a speedy competition-specific setup.
Note: While the above often holds true for most action shooting disciplines, a higher level of retention for pistols and magazines will be needed when it comes to matches such as the Tactical Games where the shooters stow their pistols while running and lifting heavy things during the stage. During USPSA the gun is often already drawn when the running begins, making a quicker-drawing holster more practical but still safe.
Some websites that are good to start perusing through are below. This will get you more into the competition equipment mindset.
- Ben Stoeger Pro Shop — USPSA, IDPA, 3-Gun Gear, Guns, Parts
- Shooters Connection — Competition Shooting Supplies
- Double Alpha Academy — dedicated to the promotion of IPSC, USPSA, and Steel Challenge competition shooting
Bag to Carry Gear Throughout the Match
Different disciplines require different ways to carry your gear throughout the match. In the action shooting sports world, many shooters have a rolling cart that they use to carry their firearms and gear. This holds true especially in the Multi-Gun discipline due to how many different firearms and ammo have to be carried to each stage. In shorter one-day matches that only involve a pistol, you can get away with an over-the-shoulder range bag. For pistol, a medium-sized square bag with enough pockets for your mags, ammo, and specialty items will fare fine at a quick 6-stage USPSA match. Bags like the Vertx COF Light Range Bag or the First Spear Sherpa are good options for this.
Due to having to go to the safe table to holster your gun, and not being allowed ammo at that table, a separate small bag for pistols is often appreciated, such as a Magpul DAKA bag. This can be put into the main range bag and taken out when going to the safe table to holster your gun, keeping the ammo away from the table.
The belt is the foundation of the competition belt setup. Due to the large amount of movement and weight that will be on the belt, these competition belts are heavier and more rigid than what you are used to. They also need to get tight to your body to ensure that it stays in place while moving.
It will be an inner belt, all velcro, and an outer belt, often no buckle but instead a keeper that will keep both inner and outer belts together. The belt will not have webbing as your pouches will mount in a clamping style rather than a weave-through. The thickness and rigidity allow for the belt to be pushed away from your body enough to get your hand in there to draw magazines or the gun.
Remember, speed is the name of the game here. An example of a quality competition that is very popular is the Black Scorpion Pro Heavy Duty Competition Belt. The Black Scorpion website also shows examples of the whole belt set up including mag pouches making getting getting started in the sport with the right gear really easy.
The Holster and Hanger
The goal of the holster in action shooting sports is to allow the gun to be easily and quickly drawn with one move. This means that retention is going to be a lot different than most know. In the tactical world, we have holsters that have level 2 or 3 retentions with multiple steps to get the holster out, such as pressing a button while drawing or pushing a hood out of the way.
Competition holsters have retention that is based on adjustable tension holding the gun in. This can be done by a screw knob or a lever. While this adjusts the tension, it does not keep the gun from entirely falling out as a hood or button would. Basically, the shooter will adjust the holster tension to be as tight as possible when doing their stage walk-throughs. When the timer is about to go off and the stage is about to begin, the shooter will adjust the lever up, allowing a little less tension, enabling the shooter to quickly draw the gun when the buzzer goes off. The shooter then beings to move throughout the stage and the pistol is already drawn.
An example of a competition holster that uses two tensioning knobs instead of a lever is the BOSS Dropped & Offset DOH Holster by Ben Stoeger Pro Shop.This comes with both the holster and the hanger. You will need to select your firearm type, right or left-handed, offset length which means how far you want the holster off of your body (go standard if you don’t know), and the type of belt mount (if mounting to the normal competition style belt that we talked about prior, choose standard).
New Shooter Tip: This type of holster will need to be ordered for the specific firearm that you are shooting in the match. If you aren’t quite set on your firearm yet and just starting, stick to your normal tactical-type holsters and then decide. This will save you money, holsters aren’t cheap.
As always, check the rulebook for holster rules as specific organizations such as USPSA, IPSC, and IDPA will all have different rules of what is approved and what isn’t.
The hanger is just as important as the holster. The hanger is an attachment to the holster that puts the holster at the right arm length and draw angle. You want this hanger to allow the gun to be as natural as you can. That is why most hangers have curved slots where you can adjust how the holster is mounted: up and down and right to left. Also, there are spacers that push the holster out from your body a bit, almost as your arms lie out from your body naturally. There are a lot of good YouTube videos on how to find your proper draw point.
The Magazines and Pouches
Magazines are about speed as well. Many will install base pads onto their magazines that allow extra rounds such as a +3 basepad. This allows for fewer reloads. Remember though, this is only allowed in certain divisions within the discipline. Shooters will also install a flared magwell onto their pistol or rifle allowing for easier reloads.
As for the pouches, these will often be plastic-type pouches, not fabric. Plastic allows you to adjust the pouch just as you would a holster, at an angle that suits your reloads. Often shooters will adjust their magazine pouches at a pretty noticeable angle and not all pouches will be at the same angle due to wrist angle at certain parts of the body.
Something that’s really competition specific, is some shooters even use really strong magnets as a magazine pouch. They simply slap and unslap the magazine from the circle-shaped magnet. No pouch. An example of this is the Black Scorpion Universal Magnetic Magazine Carrier. Some shooters love it, some hate it because the magnet can be too strong or ammo inside the magazine will get dirty due to no pouch. As always, all of this equipment stuff is a personal preference.
You will want at least five magazines for your pistol and always bring one more than you think you may need when you are actually shooting the stage. If a magazine drops during the stage it is more conducive to just load another mag that is already on your belt than to drop down and dig for your magazine. Doing that can be unsafe, waste time, and a magazine may cause malfunctions.
A lot of shooters like to have a magazine loader such as the UpLula Universal Pistol Magazine Loader. Reloading magazines needs to be done quickly so that you can go help to reset the stage and start mentally preparing for the next stage. A lot of shooters like to use hand chalk to improve their grip on the pistol especially when sweating. Tools are also needed, especially when running red dots, as they can come loose. This means that you will want to have an Allen key set, a rod to dislodge a round or case if needed, and other various things such as a rag, sharpies, and any cleaning tools you may want.
IDPA and MultiGun Specific Gear
The gear listed above stands true for most Action Shooting Sports but there are some differences that should be specifically brought up pertaining to the IDPA and MultiGun Disciplines
Due to IDPA being more of a self-defense type match, they try to make the matches realistic. This means that instead of an outside belt and holster, the holster, gun, and magazines need to be concealed. You will need either a pancake-style holster or Inside-the-Waistband (IWB) style. A lot of shooters like to use their normal IWB carry belt and a Raven Concealment Holster outside the waistband (OWB). A cover garment is used to cover the OWB holster, gun, and magazines, such as a fishing jacket or long flannel shirt.
MultiGun involves a lot of running with guns that are currently not being used. For instance, a holstered pistol but using a rifle during the stage at the time. This is why an active or passive retention system is needed on the holster, different than USPSA with no retention. A lot get by with a competition holster with a hood such asCandG Holster with a rotating hood added. Chamber flags will also be needed to show the rifle empty. Chamber flags are not needed for IDPA/USPSA-type matches.
Below is a video from the National Shooting Sports Foundation on What You Need To Start Shooting 3-Gun
Precision Rifle Shooting Sports/Field Matches
Shift your focus to the long guns now. Precision rifle involves knowing your Data On Previous Engagement (DOPE), making a stable position to shoot off of, seeing and knowing the range to the target, and having the ammo to get you there.
A ballistic solver may be the most important thing to have at a precision rifle match. This will give you the data that you need to know to properly engage a target based on environmentals and distance to target. Many shooters use an app on their phone such as the Hornady app and put their bullet and gun information into the app which then generates data.
Others use something called the Kestrel. The Kestrel 5700 is an all-in-one little tool that can measure wind speed and altitude, holds all of your firearm info, and does the math to give you your data based on different ranges and angles. It can even tell you your holds when it comes to moving targets. Basically, the precision rifle game requires you to know your elevation and windage throughout each stage, and that cannot be done with a proper ballistic solver.
A place to Write Data
Now that you have the data to put on your scope throughout the stage, you need a place to write it down as you probably won’t remember what to dial for six different targets under all of the stress. There are a couple of options for this. A wrist coach is one option, just like in football where players can see their plays on their wrist, you also can write a card with your data and slide it in there. Others simply wrap masking tape around their arm and write the data on there. Some shooters buy an accessory that is a small board that clips to the gun and use a dry-erase marker to write each stage’s DOPE. The cheapest/easiest option that top shooters still use is masking tape around the arm and using a sharpie to write data down for each target.
Binoculars are a must when attending a precision rifle match. They allow you to look at the environment through something with a wide field of view before actually getting on the stage. When shooting a precision match you often cannot get on your gun until the stage starts. This means that you cannot find targets, see the environment moving such as the wind and grass, or see other shooters’ impacts/misses. It is imperative that you find and know your target array before getting on your gun. Find binoculars that will be okay getting dirty and wet and that have some magnification but still a wide field of view. Some popular binos that are great in precision rifle matches, including field matches, are the Vortex Razor HD 12×50 and the Maven C.4 18×56.
The binos need to be mounted to something stable to get proper use out of them, not just handheld. To do this the binos should be able to be mounted directly to a tripod. This involves adding a couple of things to the binos. First, a universal stud. This stud screws into the binocular body itself. Many don’t notice that binos even have this hole inside them. This stud will then fit into an adapter. The binocular adapter can be taken on and off the stud and can also be taken on and off of your tripod if ARCA compatible. Many precision shooters have one stud per binocular and just leave them inside the bino. They then purchase one adapter per the number of tripods that they own.
Now, the rangefinder. Dependent on the style of the match there won’t always be a matchbook with ranges given to you. Therefore, you have to find the ranges yourself, often on the clock. This means that you will need a proper rangefinder. This can be handled in two ways: a rangefinder with a small field of view that is used on top of your binos, or a set of binoculars that has a rangefinder built in. This rangefinder needs to get accurate ranges past 1000 yards and also be able to withstand the elements. An example of a popular rangefinder is the Vortex Razor HD 4000. A popular rangefinding binocular with ballistics included is the Sig Sauer Kilo 3000.
Pro Tip: Only using a rangefinder without binos isn’t ideal. The small rangefinder often does not have a wide enough field of view to actually find the targets to range them. For example, an NRL Hunter stage will not tell you where the targets are exactly. You will have to find them and range them yourself.
The tripod is used both to look through your binos and also to shoot off in some cases. In a lot of field matches you will need to shoot off of a tripod. In some precision matches that don’t involve field shooting you usually will have other props to shoot off of or they will provide a tripod.
Knowing if you will need to shoot off of it will help determine what kind of tripod you get because some tripods are stronger than others. The tripod also has to have enough leg sections that adjust so you can go from standing all the way down to sitting and have the tripod match that height.
Next, the tripod head needs to be able to loosen and tighten, allowing for rotation of whatever is connected to it. The tripod head needs to be able to move your binos while the legs stay planted. There are two examples of different tripods below to show this.
The tripod also should be ARCA compatible, which is another attachment type just as 1913 Picatinny or M-LOK is. ARCA enables you to quickly attach and detach things from the tripod, including binoculars or your firearm if it has an ARCA section rail.
Shooting bags are paramount when it comes to precision shooting. In prone, you will often use the shooting bag as a rear support on the stock of your gun. It helps control recoil and stabilize the gun. The gun already has a bipod in the front, so a bag in the back will make it rock solid. When shooting off of props such as a tree, your rear bag will now serve almost as a universal bag. Shooters will put that same bag that they used for the rear of their gun and now use it on the tree, since the bipod can not be used to stabilize the gun. The bag essentially makes a cushiony place for the gun to rest on the tree. Shooting directly off of the tree with no bag will not work as well as there is nothing to create a stable platform and accept the recoil.
There are many different sizes, shapes, and fill weights that these bags come in. It is really shooter preference however you want the bag to be stable but still moldable meaning that the fill weight can’t be too much or the bag will not be moldable.
Pack to Carry Gear Throughout the Match
With all of this gear, you need a way to carry it throughout the match. Many matches in Precision Rifle have such a large area of shooting that you often will not be able to go back to your truck during the match. Many shooters have started using the same packs as hunters use outdoors. There is enough room for ammo, a shooting bag, other gear, and often a spot for your tripod to slide into on the side of the pack.
During the matches, shooters often just rest the gun over their shoulder pointing to the sky when walking from stage to stage. However, some shooters do clip it to their pack. You want a pack that isn’t too big as you will be rucking it around but also not too small. So a midsize day pack for hunting will work fine.
A shooting plate is an accessory that will help with shooting off of a tripod. However, it shouldn’t necessarily be your first purchase. It is often seen in field-style shooting matches. Instead of mounting your gun directly to the tripod you will first put the plate onto the tripod, then a shooting bag on the plate, then your firearm on the shooting bag. This setup makes a wide and stable platform to shoot off of. A popular shooting plate is the Abel Tripod Table. The ridges around this table specifically help to keep the bag from slipping off.
The only thing needed on your body during a Precision Rifle match will be your backup magazines. Some shooters keep their Kestrel on their belt or inside a pouch, so a specific belt is not needed in this sport. It’s preferable to keep your belt minimal so that you can get into weird positions.
Bring at least three if not four magazines to Precision Rifle matches. This allows you to have one magazine on the stage, one on your belt, and one or two in your pack still loaded. It also allows you to have backup magazines in case one magazine breaks, which can happen.
Pro Tip: Mark your magazines individually with numbers. I like to put my initials on them as well. This will help you discern your magazines from other shooter’s magazines, and if a magazine fails you will know which one not to use going forward because it is marked a certain number.
Chronographs are imperative to Precision Rifle shooting. Oftentimes the match itself will supply a couple of chronographs to check each shooter for velocities. This is important with the rules in place on limits of the ammunition that is allowed.
While these Chronographs are supplied, they won’t be there when you as the individual shooter are trying to collect data for your match. Bringing your own chronograph helps you know your specific velocity in the environment that you will now be shooting in. The environment and velocities in a temperature of 15° F Nebraska match will be different than a temp of 85° F in the high desert of Utah.
A sling can be used to carry your firearm through the match. It may be required during specific stages that require you to shoot offhand with the use of a sling.
It’s good to have a rod for removing stuck casings or bullets. If this happens your match is pretty much done unless you can get that bullet out of the barrel, and not many people carry these on them. Due to these matches being in the field, bring proper cleaning equipment. Bolt guns can be super sensitive when it comes to sand and dirt.
Gas Gun Matches
Precision Gas Gun matches that are geared toward people bringing out their gas AR-15/AR-10 build will use a lot of the same equipment as above because many of the stage designs are the same. It is worth noting, though, that Gas Gun can require a lot more reloading. This means a lot more magazines on the body and a firearm that allows quick reloads and has a flared magwell. Gas guns also get a lot dirtier than bolt guns so cleaning tools should definitely be brought along. Malfunctions can be prevalent at a Gas Gun match due to a lot of shooters doing home AR builds and not getting them right.
Ammo for Each Discipline
Action shooting sports revolve a lot around 9mm 115/124gr both in pistol and pistol caliber carbine. In rifles for multi-gun competitions, competitors will be shooting .223 55gr/77gr dependent on the distance. While most ammo such as 9mm and .223 seems like it would impact the same, it very much doesn’t. Therefore, before going out to your match ensure that your pistol or rifle is zeroed for the ammunition that you will be shooting in that much. Your zero will be different with different ammunition.
Same goes for shotguns. There is some specialty ammunition out there such as the Fiocchi 3-Gun Miculek Legacy ammunition designed by Jerry Miculek, the King of all things shooting. Before the match, though, no matter what ammunition you choose, you should be patterning your shotgun and seeing what ammunition your shotgun likes. Buy one box of a couple of different things first to test your spread size. As always, Google is your friend. Many forums have information about your firearm and what ammunition works with it.
While a lot of what was just stated for Action Shooting Sports goes for Precision Rifle as well, precision stuff can get a little more complicated. If it is your first year with your first gun, stick with factory ammo. There are a lot of factory match ammo types that professional shooters win matches with, so don’t get worried that you have to immediately start learning how to reload your custom ammunition to participate in Precision Rifle matches. However, it would be good to start asking questions about ammo types, what works and what doesn’t, and how to get started. Precision shooters are full of knowledge and put a lot of work into loading custom ammunition tuned to their firearms. As a matter of fact, probably three times the time it takes to shoot an actual match is put into loading the ammunition for it, so it is a big commitment.
Terms and Vocabulary
Flat/Square Range: This is the standard public range that people see. There are berms and each berm is often 100m apart. There are no elevation changes.
Field Match: These matches are usually held on much larger ranges that allow for different direction shooting and elevation changes. More often, though, they are held on personal property such as a corn field or ranch.
National Level Match: This is often a two-day match held by a national-level organization. These matches are held in different parts of the country and have a prize table or payout. Each match will usually go toward a series standing. The expectations for these matches are good R/O and a well-run match.
Outlaw Match/Non-Sanctioned Match: These are matches that do not fall under a larger organization. However, the course of fire may mimic a sanctioned match. Say it is a USPSA-type match but the USPSA does not recognize this club. The match held by that club is a non-sanctioned match. Sometimes clubs also make up a type of match, such as a team pistol match, and it is simply a fun club match that doesn’t follow any national level match rules—that would be an outlaw match.
Mikes: “The shooter had two Mikes.” This means the shooter had two misses on the target. It could be that they impacted the white of the target or missed the target entirely.
No shoot: “The shooter had two Mikes and a no shoot.” The shooter had two misses and impacted a no-shoot part of the target.
2Alpha, Charlie, Delta: This is what will be said when going through the targets after a shooter shoots a USPSA stage. They are the zones within a USPSA target and each impact in these zones is a certain score dependent on which zone is impacted.
Hit: This will be said when a round impacts steel. The shooter will shoot, and the R/O will say “hit” or will not respond, meaning you missed the steel.
R/O: Range Officer. Each stage usually has one or two R/Os to help run the stage.
Safe Table: During an action shooting sports match there will be a safe table near a berm with a sign saying “no ammunition.” This is the only place where you can holster your empty gun before the match. No ammunition is allowed on the table.
Stage: Matches are made of stages. Each stage will have a round count, points, time allotment, and different course of fire. For example, in precision matches, a one day match will consist of 10 stages.
Division: This is the type of firearm and limits that you will compete against. In USPSA, this includes the production division, carry optics division, etc. In NRL Hunter, you have Open Light, Open Heavy, etc.
Classes: This is a step away from a division and is instead a classification. Usually, this is for young guns (shooters under a certain age), ladies, and Law Enforcement/Military. So shooters will have a division and a classification sometimes, but not all the time if they don’t fall into those specified areas.
KYL/TYL: KYL and TYL plate racks. “Know your Limits” and “Test your Limits.” This is a plate rack that has a row of targets, each getting smaller as you go to the next target on the rack— same distance, but different sizes of targets. In the Precision Rifle Series organization there used to be a KYL stage in which if you hit the first target, and decided to move on to the next smaller one and missed, you would lose your points for that first made target. Now, it is a Test Your Limits type stage, just testing how far you can make it on the rack.
Hit to Move ON: Often stated in Precision Rifle, this means that the target needs to be hit to move onto the next target in the stage. If you miss you have to keep shooting at the target that you missed.
Plate Rack: A rack with steel plates on it. All targets on the rack will be at the same distance but some will be of different shapes or sizes.
Back-up Target: Sometimes match directors will put up two steel targets on one pole. This is just in case one target falls down during the match, the other target can be used. Both targets should NOT be engaged.
MD: Match Director. While each match is under an organization, oftentimes that organization will have different match directors that run the match. This is usually the owner of the land or range. The MD will set the course of fire including targetry, prizes, finding R/O, etc. There can be good match directors and bad ones and oftentimes this will decide whether competitors have a good time or not.
PF: Power Factor—Bullet Weight (gr), multiplied by Muzzle Velocity (fps). In both Precision Rifle and USPSA/IDPA there will be a PF. This is to set a standard in the type of ammunition that people are using and keep the match fair.
CoF: Course of Fire. This will be how you will shoot the specific stage or the rules about that stage. Sometimes this comes in a match book for Precision Rifle type matches and other times during action shooting sports, it is on a piece of paper at the stage.
Flagging: A big safety violation in the shooting sports community. Flagging is pointing a firearm at anyone in any way and will lead to a match disqualification.
No Shoot: This is the white part of a target within the action shooting discipline such as USPSA. The white part is not meant to be impacted and if it is that is considered a “no shoot” as far as scoring goes.
AD/ND: Accidental Discharge/Negligent Discharge. This means that either the shooter accidentally discharged a firearm, could be due to firearm malfunction, or was handling the firearm in a negligent way. This can lead to either a stage disqualification or a match disqualification.
Stage DQ/Match DQ: Disqualification (DQ). Certain safety violations will lead to either a stage DQ, meaning a zero on that stage, or a match DQ. That means that you pack up your gear and are no longer allowed to shoot that day.
KIM stage: Keep in Mind Stage. This is a sniper concept. If the stage is a KIM stage it will be a memorization-type stage.
Squad: This is who you will shoot the match with and is only there for match flow purposes, it will not impact your scoring. Dependent on the type of match it can be 10-18 people. You will walk through the match as a squad and your squad will be shown in Practiscore. Other divisions and classifications are free to squad together. In some matches, the Match Director will put new shooters in a squad with experienced shooters to help them through the match.
Practiscore.com is going to be your google when it comes to competitive shooting. It allows you to search for available matches by club, event, or even location within the United States. Practiscore will also be your main point of communication when it comes to updates to the match such as sending out a match book, being approved to squad, or if there are changes in start times. The match director will send all of this information out by PractiScore to your email.
The first step to using PractiScore is to create a profile. Every match that you sign up for will be saved to your profile, including how you placed. Other shooters can be searched for and this information seen as well. Not only does it allow you to track your matches and find matches, but it allows you to have a one-stop shop calendar. This calendar populates any matches and events that the clubs that you follow have coming up.
It is free to sign up for and use on the website. There is an app for your phone that allows you to dive deeper into specific stages and shooters called PractiScore Competitor. The app costs $9.99 but is totally worth it as it is more user-friendly than the standard PractiScore app.
The standard with scorekeeping at matches across the competition world is that each stage will have a tablet that is linked to PractiScore. As the shooter engages targets and completes stages the tablet will be updated by the R/O with each individual target and points awarded. This score immediately gets pushed to PractiScore.com.
After the match, the MD will finalize the scores and upload them onto PractiScore. This is why it is imperative that the shooter knows how to use PractiScore and can log in properly. If the score shows something different than what you as the shooter actually shot, there could be a mistake. There is usually an arbitration period to talk to the MD about the issue.
One reason that this method is good for scorekeeping is that it also shows how many times a score has been edited. This makes cheating really hard to do considering it is tracked and displayed by an online website.
Rulebooks and What They May Contain
Organizations within the competition shooting sports will often have a rulebook listed on their website. Since there is money on the line with match fees and money prizes, written rules make each match fair and competitive. These rulebooks will have Need to Knos to ensure that you and your firearm don’t have any rule infractions.
This is a big one. With many organizations, scores are not counted toward an overall season standing or classification rating if you are not a member of the organization.
For example, in the action shooting sports such as USPSA, a yearly membership fee is required to give you a shooter number. When signing up for a match, this number will need to be input into PractiScore. After the match, your score will then be pushed to that number and towards your classification (A Class, B Class, D class, etc.). If you are not a member, that score for that match will be only for that match and not used for anything higher.
In the Precision Rifle world, while there are no classification levels, there is a season finale and season standings. If you are not a member say of the NRL Hunter organization, that score for that match will not go toward your season standings. That can hurt not only for the loss of a score but also for the loss of a match. Some organizations have a required number of matches that need to be shot to even be qualified to shoot a finale.
Limits for the Firearm Within Your Division
Oftentimes in competition shooting sports, there are limits to what your firearm is allowed to have on it, weight limits, ammo limits, etc. These will be listed by division within the matchbook. It is imperative to know this or else you and your firearm could be disqualified before even shooting the match, with no refund.
For example, in NRL Hunter matches there are weight limits within each division. In Open Heavy division the rifle has to be under 16 lbs, in Open Light the rifle needs to weigh under 12 lbs, and in Factory Division the rifle has to be under 16 lbs and cannot be modified by how the rifle would come from the factory. This specific rule will have a lot of debate so in the match book it is broken down into a lot of detail of do’s and don’ts. The rifles are weighed and checked onsite, so be sure to check that your rifle is in compliance before the match.
In the action shooting sports world, such as USPSA, there are divisions such as Production and Carry Optics. In the Production Division, sometimes called the “stock” division, the magazine capacity is limited to 10 rounds and the gun must remain mostly stock. This means no modifications and the gun has to be on the approved production gun list so it is imperative to check the rule book before going to the match.
In the Carry Optics Division where the red dot shines, magazine limits are limited by length, not capacity. Exterior modifications such as an integral compensator are not allowed on the pistol. Stippling and serration modifications are allowed.
Scoring varies by discipline and is often a weird tricky math equation that figures out why someone places first over someone else. For example, the Precision Rifle Series Organization states this in its rulebook for scoring.
“PRS points for the field are figured using the following formula: Shooters score / winners score x 100, rounded to 3 decimal places.
You received 89 match points.
The winner received 105 match points.
Therefore; (89 / 105) * 100 = 84.7619 rounded to 84.762 PRS points”
Another example is from USPSA. Within this organization, they have stages called “classifiers.” These classifier stages are scored differently than all other stages and relate directly to your classification within USPSA such as C Class or D class. An example of that scoring system is below according to the 2019 USPSA Competition Rulebook.
“Grand Master 95 to 100%
Master 85 to 94.9%
A Class 75 to 84.9%
B Class 60 to 74.9%
C Class 40 to 59.9%
D Class Below 40%
Your percentage is based on your scores as they relate the average high scores on file for a particular course of fire.”
Read the rulebook and know your scoring system, technology and R/O’s can make mistakes and it is only on you to notice it and bring it up during the arbitration period.
How to Get Started
Congratulations! If you read this far you are already way ahead of your peers in knowledge within the competitive shooting community. Now, let’s get to a match and put it all together. Before attending your first match you will want to do two things.
- R/O a Match
The best thing to do is to first join a Facebook group within the organization/match type that you want to compete in and/or your local range that holds competitive shooting matches. Sometimes local ranges make their own shooting calendar with events just in that state. Minnesota has one called “MN Shoot Schedule” and populates in Google.
Once you’re in the groups do quick word searches such as “new shooter”, “matches near me”, “rifle build”, “gear” etc. This will show you posts that already have a lot of comments and help. If that doesn’t get you comfortable to attend a match go ahead and throw up a post offering your time.
Searching things on YouTube also helps. Look up “USPSA Stage” or “Precision Rifle Stage.” The results will give you videos of people actually shooting the entire stage and will probably lead you to other helpful videos. Even searching “MultiGun Professional Shooter” and things along those lines within your discipline on YouTube will direct you to media from great shooters.
All of this will help to get your feet wet by attending a match, not necessarily shooting it. A big thing within the shooting community is giving your time. You can do that immediately by helping R/O or just being a helping hand at the match. This will show you how the match flow works and helps you meet local shooters. Everyone is very kind and welcoming. Remember, more shooters within this community are always welcome. Grow the sport.
Tips for Your First Match
- Squad with the right people. Squad with those who are better at the sport than you. This will only help you get to that level. Ensure first, though, that these are respectful and fair competitors.
- Take criticism. This is your time to get better and those who criticize are only there to help you succeed. Again, competitors want more people in this sport or the sport will go away. The more that others can help each other succeed, the more fun and participation there will be.
- Don’t be afraid to finish dead last. Seriously. In my first match, I finished second to last. Others within the sport have done the same. The goal of the first match is to finish the match and not have any safety infractions.
- Treat the Range Officers with respect. This is imperative to being a good sport. Those R/Os are volunteering their time, often for free. Don’t be rude to them, it will get noticed. Don’t be afraid to continue to R/O throughout your competitive career, that gets noticed as well.
- Be safe. Competitive shooting sports entail a level of responsibility. You are holding a firearm and surrounded by many people. Focus on being very safe in your first match and take it slow.
- Worry about YOUR match. This comes down to the mental game within sports. A really good shooter and podcaster that preaches this is Steve Anderson, a GM in USPSA. Worry about your match and focus on the positives after each stage. This will allow your brain to repeat those positive things.
- Take notes/keep the match book. Take notes of what you see good shooters doing throughout the stages. You can work on this at home during dry fire or at the range. Also, keep the match book. This will allow you to go back and have stages already created for you that you can practice. Jot down some equipment that you see that you like as well.
- Don’t worry about sponsorship yet. Don’t fall into the hype that surrounds competitive shooting. You will often see sponsorship jerseys and other shooters talking about their sponsors during matches. Shoot matches for yourself first. If you ever get sponsored that will change the competition world entirely as it will turn into you shooting these matches for other people and you will come second.
- Be courageous. Doing a new thing isn’t something that should be easy, especially when it comes to the high level of competition that shooting sports are. Be courageous throughout your entire match and after.
- Grow the Sport. This is the most important. We would not have shooting sports if it wasn’t for those supporting it. Let’s face it, there isn’t as much support for firearms in general right now, let alone competing with them. Grow the sport, be kind, and have fun.