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Your First Action Shooting Match Part 1: Equipment

By 10 July 2009 No Comment


Your First Action Shooting Match Part 1 Equipment

You’ve had your new gun for a little while and you’ve been going to the range shooting at a paper targets, you’re starting to get some consistent hits, but you’d like to do more. You’ve been reading the gun magazines or talking to other local shooters and you’ve heard them talk about Action Shooting competitions. You’re interested but you’re not sure where or how to get started or if you’re ready. Here are some tips to get you started in the Action Shooting Sports.

Likely your first exposure to an Action Shooting Sport will be a local Steel, USPSA, or IDPA match. Preparation for each is similar with only a few differences specific to each sport.

Choosing Equipment:

Choosing the right equipment to begin with will allow you to compete in several Sports using the same equipment. Later as you discover what you enjoy you will add to that equipment as you need.

Each sport has a place for the beginning competitor using basic equipment at reasonable cost.

Gun Choice:

Let’s start with gun choice. It’s likely that if you recently purchased or are planning to purchase a gun you’re considering one of the modern designs like a Glock, a Springfield XD, or a Smith & Wesson M&P. Each of these are very popular in Action Shooting competition and can be used in a variety of sports. These guns are most commonly used in the Production or Stock Service Pistol divisions. Read the article on “Getting Started in Production Division” for more details.

The dominant competition gun is the 1911 Government Model or a hi-capacity variation. Although the 1911 design is the most dominant, they can come with a price. Many if not most are highly customized and tuned, and cost many times what you will pay for a Glock, XD, or M&P.

There are some affordable exceptions available in the 1911 Single Stack market, notably Taurus, STI, and Armscor each offer reasonably priced models with many of the basic “custom” modifications included.

If you’re just starting out my suggestion is one of the modern designs, not only are they versatile in competition, but if you later choose to buy a 1911 or 2011 your M&P will always find a home in the nightstand or as a carry gun.

Plan on purchasing extra magazines, you’ll want at least 4 for Production, 5 if Single Stack 1911, and 3 for high capacity divisions. Buy quality magazines. Cheap is usually just cheap and will fail at the most crucial moment possible.

Belt, Holster and Magazine pouches:

The miracle of Kydex®. Kydex has taken the holster market by storm the past several years. Not all are made from actual Kydex, many manufacturers have their version of the material so I use the term generically.

These “plastic” holsters are heat formed around gun model specific molds and may use either a screw tension, a trigger retention, or other retention system. Models are available up to Level III retention for law enforcement or civilian carry.

Kydex style holsters are very popular in Action Shooting Competition and come at affordable prices starting as low as $15 up to about $75. You can choose a belt mount or a paddle style and in some cases a kit that has both. Make sure you purchase a holster specific to your model gun. Stay away from the generic one-size-fits-all-poorly, especially the nylon “pouch” type holsters.

Along with the Kydex holsters are the magazine pouches made from the same material. You can choose between single or double mag pouches, and mounting systems. Depending on your choice of gun belt, a quick lock or paddle style mount will make it easier to attach all your equipment.

Buy a quality gun belt. A good gun belt is reinforced and stiffened to properly hold your equipment. Essential to a good draw is a good belt. You can have the best holster but if your belt doesn’t hold it in place when you draw you’ll have lost all the advantage the holster affords you.

If you want a belt that you can use in competition and double as a daily wear a “Instructors” style belt is a great choice. Wilderness Tactical is one manufacturer as well as Blackhawk and Uncle Mikes.

You can also use a competition style rig such as the Safariland or the CR Speed belts. These consist of two belts, an inner belt worn through the belt loops and an outer belt that holds the equipment and attaches by Velcro® to the inner belt. The nice part is your holster and mag pouches stay on the outer belt.


Most of the Action Shooting Sports require movement so a good pair of shoes are important. You want an athletic shoe or a boot that are lightweight and have a semi-aggressive tread. A good example is a pair of Nike Sharks. Most of the time you’ll be shooting on dirt, gravel or grass. You want to be sure you have good traction. If you’re shooting indoors on cement you may want a less aggressive tread but you’ll want the traction.

Dress for the weather conditions. Don’t wear a full camo-commando Ninja outfit, you’ll be out of place in most situations. There are some specialty competitions where camo is appropriate but not at your local Steel, USPSA, IPSC or IDPA match. Rude, offensive T-Shirts aren’t appropriate either.

Cargo style pants or shorts are popular because the extra pockets come in handy when picking up brass and empty magazines. T-shirts, Under Armor®, Polo, are all popular style shirts. A custom or semi-custom shooting shirt such as those made by TechWearUSA are popular in USPSA, IPSC and Steel matches. They are made from a moisture-wicking material and lightweight.

A baseball hat is a good idea, it not only protects you from the sun, but also helps deflect ejected brass from hitting you in the face.

Range Bag, Hearing and Eye Protection:

A small or medium size range bag is essential to carry your unloaded gun to the range and to carry your ammo from stage to stage. Soon you’ll accumulate a collection of “stuff” that you’ll drag around with you as well.

Eye protection is mandatory in the Action Shooting Sports. When shooting at steel or targets at close ranges, dirt, gravel, pieces of jacket or lead get thrown and you will get hit. Usually no harm but if you caught a small piece in your eye it could have serious consequences. The Rudy Project are not only popular but they sponsor a shooting team. Oakley have long been a favorite and frequently sponsor matches around the country. There are many choices and solutions for prescription needs as well.

Hearing protection can be as simple and inexpensive as a set of foam ear plugs or as sophisticated and expensive as electronic muffs that cut off high-decibel sounds while amplifying normal conversation.

In Part 2 we’ll talk about Range Safety and what to do when you arrive at the match.

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