Compete in IDPA, Build Practical CCW Skills

Become a better handgunner with International Defensive Pistol Association competitions.

posted on February 14, 2023

I’m guessing you probably own a defensive handgun, and may even have a concealed-carry permit. But how often do you actually go to the range and practice shooting? And when you do, do you simply stand in front of a target and poke holes in paper? 

If that describes you, a good way to get out of that shooting rut and become a better handgunner in the process is to compete in International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) competitions. I took my own advice recently, attending a one-day introductory IDPA clinic at the Ashland Lake Gun Club in north-central Ohio.  

“IDPA competitions are aimed at concealed-carry holders, the main goal being to test the skill and ability of the individual shooter, not equipment or gamesmanship—so no competition-only equipment is permitted,” said Andrew Miller, one of the Range Safety Officers providing the three hours of morning classroom instruction. “In other words, handguns and other equipment designed with no concealed-carry application are not permitted in this sport.”

One of the unique aspects of IDPA is that it is geared toward the new or average shooter, yet is challenging and rewarding for the experienced shooter. The sport was developed so that practical gear and practical guns could be used competitively, and that a person could spend a minimal amount of money on equipment yet still be competitive.

According to the IDPA headquarters in Berryville, Arkansas, their various competitions make up the fastest-growing shooting sport in the U.S., with some 25,000 members from all 50 states and more than 400 affiliated clubs. Membership also represents over 70 nations worldwide. What makes the sport so attractive to many handgunners is that there are separate divisions of equipment and classifications for shooters. Firearms with similar characteristics are grouped together, and people with similar skill levels compete against one another.

Attending the Ohio clinic that mid-April day were 28 shooters, mostly men and a few teenage boys—fathers and sons—but one husband-and-wife team was also present, Joel and Meghan Hanna, who both hold concealed-carry permits.

“We’re here to become better, more responsible shooters,” said Joel. Meghan, a stay-at-home mom with four young children, has had her concealed-carry permit for several years but has yet to carry. She said that she wanted to “become more comfortable using my handgun, and then possibly get into IDPA competition as a result.”

Another gentleman said that he was attending the clinic because he is a member of his church’s security team and felt a responsibility to become more proficient with his concealed-carry firearm, and was looking into IDPA competition to help him do that.

After the morning session and lunch, we moved from the classroom to the outdoor handgun range and were greeted by no fewer than 19 range Safety Officers. Easily identifiable in their red shirts, some of the instructors had printed on the back of their shirt the following humorous reminder: "Don’t Shoot STAFF." They spent the next hour making sure all shooters could safely draw their firearm from a holster—finger off trigger—and put shots on target. We also practiced safe reloading and moving while shooting, then advanced to the afternoon’s scenarios.

The scenarios were examples of shooting situations that you might encounter during actual IDPA competition. The various “stages” simulated self-defense, real-life shooting encounters. Shooters were required to engage multiple targets, shoot hostile targets while not hitting hostages, shoot from cover, shoot while moving, and to safely open doors and shoot from doorways. Because this was a clinic, no scores were kept, but you were timed to increase the psychological pressure. The idea was to simulate the adrenaline rush a shooter experiences in an actual shooting situation.   

One thing you should be prepared to do when attending an IDPA clinic or competition is learn the rules of the game. IDPA has many rules, the rulebook stretching some 40 pages in length. And the rules must not only be learned but put into practice while on the range.

For instance, when I was first learning pistolcraft many years ago, I was taught that when moving rapidly between cover to always keep the muzzle of my handgun pointed up, toward the sky. I quickly learned that doing so in IDPA competition earned me a DQwhich I found out does not mean Dairy Queen, but rather a disqualification.

It’s tough to teach an old dog new tricks, but the safety reasoning behind the rule is sound. “An errant shot from a handgun pointed skyward on an outdoor range would send the bullet a mile or two away, landing who knows where,” said Han Sim, a range Safety Officer. “But by having the gun pointed downrange, an errant shot goes into the bullet backstop and no one is hurt.” 

That rule is just as important when shooting IDPA competitions on an indoor range. No one wants to be remembered as “that guy,” the one who shot a hole in the ceiling.  

Gary Kaleta, an experienced IDPA shooter, attended the clinic with his teenage son. Asked what he enjoys about shooting IDPA competitions, he had this to say:

“I like the challenge,” Kaleta said. “At a range where you are only permitted to stand and shoot, you can only get so good. IDPA competitions challenge everything you thought you knew about handgun shooting. It will make you better...”       

For more information about the International Defensive Pistol Association or affiliated shooting clubs, competitions or clinics in your area, go to


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