Your First Match

Getting Started:

We're thrilled that you are interested enough in practical shooting to explore how best to get started. You are about to take the first step on an exciting journey to a new world of safe, fair, family fun with some of the greatest people you will ever know. 




It is important to have realistic expectations as you approach competitive shooting. Many people, but most especially those without a lot of shooting experience, make unreasonable assumptions about this game. 


Unfortunately, many people are exposed to shooting only on television or in the movies and they believe a lot of myths that are presented therein. Our heroes are shown hitting difficult targets at extreme ranges without seeming to aim. Looks easy. Anyone can do that. Even people with some shooting experience may fall into the trap of believing that tin can plinking or hunting has prepared them for competitive shooting. 


Practical shooting is an exciting, fun, safe sport. Like any sport, though, it takes time and effort to become proficient. Like any sport there will be times when your progress is rapid and it's easy to remain focused on your goal. At other times it will seem that you're not getting anywhere and it will be easy to become discouraged. Consistent practice will take you where you want to go 


USPSA membership does not include range or local club membership. In most cases you will be allowed to compete in local matches even if you don't belong to the local organizations. You will discover, though, that there are many advantages to belonging to a club in your area, if for no other reason than the camaraderie that exists among like-minded enthusiasts! 


Practical Shooting IS competition. Competition necessarily requires that there be more than one person taking part, so the first step is to locate someone near you with whom to compete. Fortunately, USPSA has nearly 400 affiliated clubs located in or near most communities in the United States so it shouldn't be difficult. Click on the "Match Schedule & Results " button on the left to find a club near you, then contact the local people and make arrangements to visit the club during a match or practice session. 


The local club leaders will be excited to see you and eager to answer your questions, but here are a few pointers to make that first visit a pleasant experience for all concerned. 


  • Do take and wear eye and ear protection. Your normal corrective lens or sunglasses will serve for your first visit. Inexpensive foam earplugs available at most sporting goods or hardware stores will suffice for hearing protection. Most clubs will have such items available for visitors, but having your own will simplify the process and ensure that you will be able to watch the match.
  • Don't assume you know more than you do. Use your first visit to concentrate on watching, listening, and learning. 
  • Many USPSA affiliated clubs require that new competitors complete a "safety check" before shooting an actual match. Some clubs will be willing to administer the chec k on the day you visit while others will require a stand-alone session at another time. 


Firearms & Holsters:

It may be that the firearm you already own will be just what you need to get started in practical shooting, but you may learn of other competitive opportunities that will give you that excuse you've been looking for to buy a new toy! USPSA has five competitive divisions, delineated by equipment rules. Unless you are blessed with more money than you need, we recommend that you don't rush out and spend until you've had the opportunity to learn enough about the sport to make an informed decision. 


Holsters must retain the firearm during any required movement, must cover the trigger of a holstered gun, must point to the ground when the firearm is holstered, and must be carried at belt level; shoulder holsters, fanny packs, et al, are not permissible at USPSA events. Further, ProductionDivision has additional holster restrictions. Go to our Rulebook, page 91, for more information about the equipment requirements of each division. 


Other Equipment:

Other necessary equipment includes spare magazines or speed loaders and belt mounted carriers. In most cases at least one magazine will be included with the firearm when you bought it, but having at least five magazines is desirable to be sure to get you through the various stages in a match. Magazines should be available from the gun manufacturer or from a variety of after market sources. 


We recommend three to four belt mounted magazine/speed loader carriers, depending on the divisions in which you choose to compete 



Most USPSA members reload their own ammunition, although some use factory loads. Reloading is common for reasons of both economy and performance. The desirability of reloading depends on the divisions in which you choose to compete and the caliber you select. The division choice frequently influences the caliber choice. The issues involved in caliber choice include magazine capacity, recoil, and the division rules.


For example, most Open Division competitors use .38 Super or one of its variants. Most firearms built to compete in Open Division require specific bullet weights and velocities to reach full potential so most Open competitors choose to reload.


Limited Division is dominated by the .40S&W cartridge fired in highly tuned firearms similar those found in Open Division, although they are less complex. Most Limited competitors also opt to reload.


Many who compete in Limited 10 (L10) Division use the same guns they use in Limited Division, but the division rules allow no more than 10 rounds in the magazine. However, a growing number of people compete in L10 with single stack 1911-pattern firearms in 40S&W or .45ACP. While most L10 competitors reload, it is more feasible to use factory ammunition here than in either Open or Limited.


Production Division provides a competitive venue for the box-stock firearms people typically purchase for self-defense. Most Production competitors use 9MM or 40S&W calibers. Because the power requirements in Production are less than those in the other divisions, factory ammunition is common.


The most commonly used calibers in Revolver Division are .45ACP and .357 Magnum. The recoil dished up by factory ammunition can be significant in a revolver, and most competitors find that there are combinations of bullet and powder that can be hand loaded to provide the necessary accuracy and velocities without the recoil (and cost!) of most factory ammunition. 


To participate in an IPSC match, you need the following: 

  • Safe and serviceable handgun in minimum caliber of 9mm. * Case or box to transport your firearm(s) in. 
  • Shooting glasses or polycarbonate lens eye glasses (cheap sunglasses are not a substitute for proper eye protection). Adequate hearing protection, many people are now wearing plugs and muffs to protect their valuable hearing. 
  • A safe holster that will cover the trigger of the handgun and safely retain the handgun. Muzzle of the handgun must point down and within 1 meter of the shooter when holstered. Tie down holsters and shoulder holsters are not allowed. 
  • A safe and functional belt holding the holster and magazine/speedloader carriers. The belt must be secured to the pants or shorts. For men the belt must be worn at the waist. Ladies may wear the belt slightly lower. 
  • A minimum of 3 speedloaders or 4 magazines (depending on capacity) for your handgun, and suitable belt carriers for same. 
  • A minimum of 200 rounds of suitable ammo. 


What Gun To Use:

First of all the gun must be serviceable and safe. We strongly recommend you start with the handgun you already have, if it is appropriate (double action revolver; double or single action pistol). It must be minimum of 9mm. You DO NOT need a custom or expensive gun to shoot this sport! Many people started with a box stock pistol or revolver, and have shot it for years. Ammo has to make a minimum power "factor" of 125,000. This is calculated by multiplying the bullet weight by the velocity. Almost every factory load in 9mm and larger calibers should easily make this factor. Ask any member or shooter at the match for further information regarding calibers, gauges, action types, etc. that are best suited to practical shooting. 


Safety First:

The following are safety rules that must be applied at all times during any match. Please read and follow these rules in order to make this and every match a saf e and enjoyable one for all of us.


The Four rules of Gun Safety: 






DO NOT ASSUME ANYTHING; If you have questions....Please Ask! 


If this is your first match, please walk, do not run. Go slow, be accurate. You will see shooters who move very fast, they have been doing this for years. Speed will come with practice and experience.


Think about what you are doing at all times. If you have questions, ask a Range Officer or the Match Director, they are always willing to help any any competitor, especially new shooters. 


Ear and Eye Protection Are Mandatory. This is for all participants and includes all spectators. 


Cold Ranges:

All of the clubs here in Indiana are "Cold Ranges", which means no loaded firearms and that the handling of firearms may only be done under two circumstances 

1. Unloaded in the safety area, muzzle point in the designated directions 

2. Under the direction of a Range Officer (RO) 


Please do not arrive on the ranges with a loaded firearm. You also may not "Gun Up" at your vehicle. Once you arrive at the range your firearm should be in a gun bag or case. If you are new to the range you will want to find a member there and ask where the designated "Safe Areas" are at. In this area is where you may handle your unloaded firearm, and only in this area unless you are under the supervision of a Range Officer. Ammo may NOT be handled in the safe area for any reason! You may handle ammo, magazines, etc anywhere else on the Range. 


When handling you gun, muzzle must always be pointed down range. It MUST NOT point further than 9 0 degrees from the median intercept of the backstop (180 degree rule). This rule applies vertically as well as horizontally. Before holstering an UNLOADED firearm, these safety rules must be applied: Revolvers: Cylinder empty, hammer down Semi Autos: Magazine removed, chamber empty, hammer down 


Finger must be kept OUTSIDE the TRIGGER GUARD when: Drawing, holstering, loading, unloading, Re-loading, correcting a malfunction or moving (taking more than one step or changing postion). In other words, finger outside the trigger guard except when sightes are on the target. 



DO NOT allow the muzzle to point at any part of your or others body. 


If you drop your firearm, STOP...DO NOT PICK IP UP! If you are under the supervision of a Range Officer they will take charge of the situation. If you are not under the direction of a Range Officer, notify one ASAP or find a Match Official. DO NOT PICK UP YOUR GUN! THIS IS AGAINST  THE RULES AND WILL RESULT IN YOU BEING DISQUALIFIED. Also you are NOT allowed to put your gun in its holster at your vehicle, this is not a Safety Area and will result in you being Disqualified as well.


Your First USPSA Match:

Every current shooter in the country today was once a beginner, everyone of them arrived at their very first match with butterflies in their stomach and wondered just what to expect. It is important that you let the Range Staff know that you are a new at competition shooting. Even if you have participated in other shooting sports (NRA Bullseye, Bowling Pin etc) it is important that you identify yourself as being new to IPSC/USPSA competition.


Most Matches will have a basic pre match basic safety course of some description, these courses will teach you the basics of loading, unloading, magazine changes, drawing from a holster etc.. If you have not completed such a course then it is in your best interest to do so before shooting in your first match. It is important that you show up prior to the shooters meeting and speak with Range Staff about this. This guide is not a substitute for a good s afety course. 


Before Leaving Home:

On the day of your first match there are a list of things that you will need to take with you, and some best practices: 

  • You know the times of the match, sign up, shooters meeting and match start. 
  • Directions, you know how to get to the range 
  • Gun and magazines, unloaded and secured before entering the range facility 
  • Ammunition (typically 200 rounds for local matches) 
  • Holster, belt, and magazine pouches 
  • Shooting glasses, ear-plugs or muffs (or both) 
  • A shooting bag, or box (container) to hold your equipment 
  • Appropriate apparel and footwear (Nothing offensive or objectionable, recommend against sandals) 


Always try to arrive early at the range. Please remember that the ranges are ran as "Cold Ranges" and you are not allowed to "Gun Up" in your vehicle. By arriving early this will allow you time to introduce yourself to Range Staff and walk around a nd get a feel for the stages. It will also allowyou to help the set-up process of the match, remember this is a volunteer sport. 


Signing up:

All matches will have a sign up before the match. This is where you will go to enter the match, pay your match fee and get your score sheets. If you are going to shoot with someone and it is advised that you sign up at the sametime. This is also a perfect time to let the person signing up shooters to know that you are a new shooter. 


Typically each match will use some type of squadding, grouping shooters together, and you will stay with that squad for the entire match and move from one stage to the next until completing the match. Don't be afraid to ask questions at this time, every good club will go out if ways to accomodate new shooters, so ask for help. 


Getting Ready:

Once you have signed up, you will receive your scor e sheets, there will be one for each stage. It is important that you fill them out completly and legible. You will enter you name, division, classification, power factor etc. These will be collected at the end of the day and someone will type all the information into a scoring program call EZWinscore and produce the results. It is important to know that each shooter is responsible for their own score sheets and the information including the scoring information is correct. 


Once you have your score sheets filled out you will want to find the Safety Area, this should be clearly marked. If you are unsure then you will need to ask a member of the Range Staff or the person at the sign up table where one is located. It is at the Safety Area you are allowed to retrieve your firearm from it bag or case and put on your belt, holster, mag pouches and holster your unloaded firearm. DO NOT HANDLE AMMUNITION IN THE SAFETY AREA.You are allowed to load your magazines, and handle ammunition anywhere else on the range, just not in the Safety Area. 


Match Briefing / Shooters Meeting:

Before the begining of each match there will be a brief shooters meeting and match briefing. The Match Director for the match will go over any pertinent information that you may need. After the meeting is concluded the squads will then head to the stage that they will start on. 


A Stage Briefing will be giving by the Range Officer at this time. The Stage Briefing will include several key points 


  • Type of scoring method, either Comstock, Virginia Count, Fixed Time 
  • Targets, type of number of them 
  • Minimum number of rounds needed 
  • The handgun ready condition (loaded, unloaded, holstered, on table etc) 
  • Time Starts, either audible or visual 
  • Procedure, explains the course, fault lines or barries etc 


At the conclusion of the briefing the Range Officer will ask if anyone has any questions, NOW is the time to ask them. If no one has any questions then it is understood that all competitors on that squad understand the course of fire. The Range Officer will then allow 5 minutes for the squad to review the stage. This is called the Walk Through, and is your opportunity to walk through the stage and try and figure out the best way to shoot it. DO NOT HANDLE YOUR FIREARM AT THIS TIME. It is important that if you have any questions, not sure of something, don't understand how a prop works, anything, that you ask at this time. 


After the 5 minutes Walk Through is complete a shooting order is then established. It is recommend to not be the first shooter, but to watch a couple of shooters before to see what is going on and understand how others are shooting the course of fi r e. 


For each Stage the Range Officer and Score Keeper will be running shooters through. The Score Keeper will announce the shooting order of the fist, second and third shooters. The second and third shooters are considered "on deck" and "in the hole" respectively. 


Shooting the Course of Fire:

It is now your turn in the rotation. At this time you will go to the pre determined start position (explained in the stage briefing). The Range Officer will give the approved USPSA Range Commands to: 


"Make Ready" - This command signifies the start of "the Course of Fire". Under the direct supervision of the Range Officer the competitor must face down range, or in a safe direction as specified by the Range Officer, fit eye and ear protection, and prepare the handgun in accordance with the written stage briefing. The competitor must then assume the required start position. At this point, the Range Officer will proceed. 


Once the "Make Ready" command has been given, the competitor must not move away from the start location prior to issuance of the "Start Signal" without the prior approval, and under the direct supervision, of the Range Officer. 


"Are You Ready?" - The lack of any negative response from the competitor indicates that he fully understands the requirements of the course of fire and is ready to proceed. If the competitor is not ready at the "Are You Ready?" command, he must state "Not Ready". It is suggested that when the competitor is ready he should assume the required start position to indicate his readiness to the Range Officer. 


"Standby" - This command should be followed by the start signal within 1 to 4 seconds. 


"Start Signal" - The signal (usually a beep from the timer) for the competitor to begin their att empt at the course of fire. If a competitor fails to react to a start signal, for any reason, the Range Officer will confirm that the competitor is ready to attempt the course of fire, and will resume the range commands from "Are You Ready?". 


At this point you are going to be shooting the course of fire. If you hear 


"Stop" - Any Range Officer assigned to a stage may issue this command at any time during the course of fire. The competitor must immediately cease firing, stop moving and wait for further instructions from the Range Officer. 


If this happen the Range Officer will explain to you the next steps to follow. This could be because of many things, a prop could have fallen over, an unsafe situation arose, or a possible violation of a rule etc. 


As you go through the course of fire and get to the end of it and have stopped shooting the Range Officer will give the following command:


"If You Are Finished, Unload And Show Clear" - If the competitor has finished shooting, he must lower his handgun and present it for inspection by the Range Officer with the muzzle pointed down range, magazine removed, slide locked or held open, and chamber empty. Revolvers must be presented with the cylinder swung out and empty. 


"If Clear, Hammer Down, Holster" - After issuance of this command, the competitor is prohibited from firing. While continuing to point the handgun safely downrange, the competitor must perform a final safety check of the handgun as follows: 


Self-loaders - release the slide and pull the trigger (without touching the hammer or decocker, if any).Revolvers - close the empty cylinder (without touching the hammer, if any). If the gun proves to be clear, the competitor must holster his handgun. 


"Range Is Clear" - This declaration signifies the end of the Course of fire. Once the declaration is made, officials and competitors may move forward to score, patch, reset targets etc. 


The Range Office will now proceed to score you targets. Don't worry about picking up your magazines or brass, follow the Range Officer and watch as he scores your targets. You are doing this to help insure the accuracy of your score, but to also see how you scored and where your hits are at. The Range Officer will call out your hits, misses, no shots etc. to the scorekeeperwho will talley your points on your score sheet. After this is done you should review your score sheet with the scorekeeper to make sure you agree with the collected information. You should be reviewing to see that there was a time recorded, and that your total number of hits, misses etc are correct. Once you have establish that it is correct then you will sign it. Once you have signed the score then that is your score and there is no going back to dispute it. 


At this point you should make sure that you have collected all your magazines etc and are now going to prepare for the next stage. Once you have cleaned your magazines if necessary and reloaded them it is time to help with restoring the targets and patching them for the rest of the shooters in your squad. 


Most matches are going to be a "Leave Brass" match. This means that during the match shooters are going to be leaving their brass lie. This is done in order to keep the match moving. After the match is over and the stages and props are torn down and stored is when the shooters should then go and collect the brass. 


At the end of the last stage your squad shoots you will be required to assist in "tearing it down". Basically you are helping to break down the walls , props, targets etc and helping to get them put away. Remember this is a volunteer sport and without volunteers there will not be very good or no matches to attend. 


Usually scores will be available for shooters to view in the next day or so and should be uploaded to the USPSA website or emailed out to the competitors. Some range also have their own website and will post scores there also. 


We look forward to seeing on the range!!!