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IDPA shooting competitions are a kind of practical shooting sport that have become wildly popular since their inception in the 1990s. But what, exactly, is the IDPA? And what makes these competitions different from other shooting sports? 

What is IDPA Shooting?

IDPA stands for International Defensive Pistol Association. It was founded in Texas in 1996 by Bill Wilson, Ken Hackathorn, and John Sayle. The group felt that the world of shooting sports was lacking in practical applications. It was their feeling that anyone could be a decent marksman under repetitive scenarios, like general target practice or even in other timed events. 

To solve this issue, Wilson et al developed a style of shooting centered around “real life” self-defense scenarios where an individual might be compelled to use their weapon. It incorporates a general rule of thumb when involved in a shootout, which is that you should either be firing or hiding. Shooters are faced with still and moving targets that they must hit from various distances and angles, availing themselves of cover when necessary and reloading under pressure. 

Competitive Nature of IDPA

IDPA sets itself apart from other shooting competitions because it addresses the psychological element needed to fire a weapon under immense pressure. You are expected to remain calm, follow directions, and make tactical decisions under stress. While other shooting sports may test speed and accuracy, they lack the need for strategy and quick-thinking. IDPA has a few other benefits that make it one of the most effective types of shooting competition for those looking to refine their handgun skills:

  1. You learn what weapons are best in certain situations. When faced with various scenarios and attempting to be fast and accurate, you may discover that your weapon of choice is not actually very good. IDPA competitions can help you learn more about your firearm and decide which is the best for a wide variety of real-life applications. 
  1. You learn to adapt quickly. In IDPA shoots, you will not only be expected to deal with a variety of dynamic courses, you will also need to deal with weapons malfunctions in a timely manner. Knowing how to address issues like this quickly and calmly can be invaluable. 

Equipment for an IDPA Match

Weapons and Holsters

One of the key elements of IDPA-style competitions is the weapon you use. The founders felt strongly that firearms and their holsters should be limited to those you would commonly use for self defense. Customized weapons, quick-draw holsters, and handmade ammunition are never used in IDPA matches, since this allegedly makes the competition more about equipment and less about skill. For this reason, too, the ammunition capacity is limited and alterations to shooting gear are strongly regulated. 

Holsters must be worn on a belt that uses all but two of the belt loops. They must hold the weapon securely enough that the wearer has no worry of losing it during everyday tasks. Except for working law enforcement, the holster must be concealable. Ankle, shoulder, and cross draw holsters are not allowed. 

Other Equipment Needed for an IDPA Match

  • Ammunition and ammunition carriers
  • 3 or more magazines or speed loaders/ moon clips
  • Eye and ear protection
  • A concealment garment

Divisions in IDPA

There are currently 9 divisions recognized by the IDPA, each with its own restrictions regarding max caliber, weight, dimensions, and capacity. IDPA members are provided with updated rule books which provide the latest requirements for gear.

How are IDPA Matches Scored?

The targets used in IDPA matches are typically made of cardboard and in a humanoid shape (i.e. with a head and shoulders). There are scoring zones perforate into the surface, specifying how much to subtract from the overall score.For example, the area inside the head and in a circle approximating the location of the heart are marked -0, meaning no points will be deducted from the shooter’s score. Only the best shots are scored unless otherwise specified. 


There are four categories of penalties in an IDPA match that result in seconds being added to the shooter’s overall time:

HNT: Hit on Non-Threat

If the shooter hits a target designed to be a non-threat (usually a cardboard figure with both hands raised), he or she will incur a 5-second penalty for every shot in that scoring zone.

PE: Procedural Error

PE penalties are assigned when a shooter fails to follow directions given for a particular course. This includes shooting targets in the wrong order and safety issues, like stepping over the foot fault line under cover or leaving ammunition behind. A 3 second penalty is given for each PE.

FP: Flagrant Penalty

This is one step above a PE and is given when the shooter’s error gives them an advantage of more than 3 seconds. 10 seconds are added, for example, if a shooter completely disregarded safety officer instructions. They may have shot with two hands instead of one, or utilized more magazines than allowed in that match. 

FTDR: Failure to Do Right

This is the most extreme penalty given in IDPA matches, resulting in 20 seconds added to the overall time per infraction. As the name suggests, FTDR penalties imply a shooter acted in a way that was unsportsmanlike. These are a rare occurrence, since getting one basically ensures you lose the match. They are most often given in cases where a shooter intentionally broke IDPA rules to gain an advantage of at least 10 seconds. In all other cases, a PE or a FP should suffice. 

How To Find an IDPA Match Near Me

You will need to become a member of the IDPA prior to competing in a sanctioned match. Current membership prices are very reasonable, at $50 a year or $135 for three years. Once you join, you can use the IDPA website database to search for a club near you.

Inner10 hosts regular IDPA matches in Omaha. These 1.5 hour-long matches are high-energy and great fun for all skill levels. Visit our website to sign up for our next match, and be sure to register your participation on the IDPA website as well. 

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