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USPSA and IPSC are two acronyms you may have heard that represent the largest modern action shooting sports.

October 21, 2021

USPSA and IPSC are two acronyms you may have heard that represent the largest modern action shooting sports. Formed in 1976, the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) was created as a way for gun owners to shoot their everyday carry pistols against the clock. Though it originated in the United States, practical shooting spread quickly, and today over 100 countries participate. The United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) is the organization that runs events in the US. The motto for practical shooting is diligentia, vis, celeritas (DVC); Latin for “precision, power, speed.”

Though there are subtle differences in USPSA and IPSC competitions, these organizations are most often what people think of when it comes to run and gun shooting sports. Courses of fire are dynamic. You very rarely shoot them more than once. Targets used in matches are a mix of paper and steel, which can be stationary or moving. The variety in target difficulty combined with tests that require the competitor to shoot from multiple positions makes matches exciting.


Scoring is more complicated than fixed time events or steel shooting where your time is your score. In USPSA and IPSC each stage is worth a specific number of points. After a competitor completes a stage, the total score they shoot on the targets is divided by the time it takes to finish the stage. This establishes their hit factor. The competitor with the highest hit factor wins the stage and earns the total number of points available for that specific course of fire. The remaining competitors receive a percentage of the stage points based on their hit factors. Adding up a competitor's stage points for all their stage performances determines where they finish overall in the competition. Hit factor scoring can be confusing but the key takeaway is how competitors strive to shoot each course of fire as quickly and as accurately as possible.

At a typical match, you may shoot a 10–shot course of fire with steel that activates swinging paper targets. In another, you might have to figure out a plan to shoot more than a dozen paper targets through windows and doorways. There might be a course of fire that requires you to shoot with either your strong or weak hand only. Part of the fun of practical shooting is coming up with a stage strategy specific to your skill level and gear.


Like many other shooting sports, competitors are grouped into classifications based on their ability level. From D class up to Master and Grand Master, the classification system helps you establish personal shooting goals and gives you an idea of how you compare with other shooters. From matches at your local club, to state, area championships, and nationals, there are many levels to test your practical shooting skills. Every 3 years, the best competitors from around the globe compete for gold, silver, and bronze at the IPSC World Shoot.

The sport has evolved from simple carry guns to multiple divisions for different firearms and gear. The Open Division for “race guns” allows for compensators, red dots, and significant customizations. There's a division for single stack 1911's and another for those competing with revolvers. Limited and Limited 10 Divisions allow for customized iron sight handguns. The popular Production and Production Optics Divisions feature striker–fired and double–action pistols. These divisions make it easy to get started competing with firearms you can purchase at your local dealer. There's even a division for pistol caliber carbines too!


Interested in giving practical shooting a try? Some skills to practice to help you get ready for your first competition include learning how to draw from a holster and changing magazines safely and efficiently. You should also feel comfortable moving with a firearm by keeping your finger off the trigger with the firearm pointed safely downrange while doing so. Working on controlled pairs and the ability to hit a 10–inch target at 10 yards is helpful as well.

Though I enjoy many shooting sports, USPSA and IPSC are special to me. My first shooting competition was a local practical shooting match. It's easy to get started in USPSA with so many clubs around the country. has an easy–to–use club finder to help you find local events. Grab your eye and ear protection, head to the range, and watch one to learn more.

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