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Your First Action Shooting Match Part 2: When you Arrive

By 31 August 2009 No Comment


Your First Action Shooting Match – When You Arrive

In part 1 of the this series we talked about some equipment choices for your first Action Shooting Match. In Part 2 we’ll talk about what you need to know and what to expect when you show up for the match.

Regardless of the specific competition that you attend, USPSA, Steel Shooting, IDPA, ICORE or otherwise each of the competitions are very similar in how the match is run, the safety rules, and the procedures that are followed. Many of the Action Shooting Sports have followed the safety rules and match command principles originated by IPSC, sharing a common ancestry. This commonality allows you to have a pretty good idea of what to expect once you’ve attended one organizations match, when you attend another organizations match.

Local matches that are not based upon a sanctioning organization may have their own variation, but the basic Safety Rules will always stand you in good stead and if you find that these Safety Rules are neglected or violated at a non-sanctioned match you may want to find a new match to attend.

Traveling to the Match

When you are traveling to your first match make certain that you are transporting your firearm according to your local and State laws. Action Shooting competitions are “cold ranges“, meaning that your gun is unloaded at all times unless you are under the direction and control of a Range Officer or RO. Generally, unless you are going to compete with a carry or duty gun plan on arriving with your competition gun unloaded, slide forward, hammer down, and no magazine, carried in a range bag or gun rug.

If you are competing with a duty or carry gun that will be loaded on your way to and from the match you’ll need to inquire beforehand about the procedure for unloading your gun on arrival to the range. Match Safety areas are not for unloading or loading your gun.

Arrive Early

Plan on getting to the match early. If you’ve never been to the range before you’ll want to locate the match signup area. Let them know that you are a new shooter and ask if they have a new shooter orientation or safety briefing. Usually the Match Director will give you a quick walk through and show you where the safety areas are located.

Safety Area
The Safety Areas are designated areas where competitors are allowed to handle their unloaded firearms. You must never handle ammunition in a safety area. The purpose of the safety area is to provide a safe place for the competitors to transfer their unloaded firearm from their gun bag or gun rug to their holster.

In most safety areas the competitor is permitted to oil or work on their unloaded firearm if they need to make a repair. The most important thing to remember is that no ammunition is to be handled in the safety area. Only the firearm. Generally, ammunition may be handled everywhere other than the safety area. Make sure you verify your local range procedures.

The only time that the gun and the ammunition are permitted to come together is under the direction of a Range Officer.

Once you have located the safety area, put on your holster and magazine pouches, and within the safety area un-bag your firearm. Verify that it is unloaded, and with the slide forward, hammer down and no magazine in the gun, holster the firearm. Do not use the safety area to unload a loaded firearm.

Long guns may have other requirements for transporting on the range such as bolt locked open and may also require a flag be inserted that indicates the firearm is empty. Check with the match officials.


The Four Cornerstones of gun safety are always in play. These simple basic safety rules apply at a match, at home, wherever and whenever you handle a firearm.

  • All Guns Are Always Loaded
  • Never Point Your Gun at Anything You’re Not Willing to Destroy
  • Always Be Aware of Your Target and Anything Behind It
  • Keep your Finger Off the Trigger Until You Are On Target and Ready to Shoot


The Action Shooting Sports are characterized by the addition of drawing from a holster and/or movement during the course of fire. When you add dynamic activities like drawing and movement additional rules must be observed.

The first additional safety rule is the 180 degree rule. Unless otherwise specified, the 180 degree on a course of fire is defined by an infinite number of lines parallel to the back-stop of the shooting bay. You must never break the 180 with the muzzle of your firearm regardless if you are shooting, not-shooting, moving, loading, unloading, or otherwise. If you break the 180 it is a match disqualification or DQ.

Keep the muzzle pointed downrange towards the backstop(s) as defined by the local range. If you have any question as to the 180, ask the Range Officer for clarification as there may be local rules that apply that reduce the safe fire area.

The second safety rule expands on Rule #4 as described above. Keep your finger off the trigger while performing any remedial actions such as loading, reloading, or unloading and while moving. The only exception is if you are actively engaging targets while moving which is a normal activity in Action Shooting. Guaranteed 99.5% of all Accidental Discharges (AD) are because the shooters finger was on the trigger when it shouldn’t have been.

The third safety rule is to never sweep or point the muzzle of your gun at any body part. There will be occasions when you might be required to open a door or perform some other action that if you are careless you could sweep your arm or other body part.

If an Accidental Discharge occurs it is a match disqualification. If an AD occurs as long as you were obeying the 180 rule and not sweeping yourself the round will harmlessly impact the berm in a safe direction.

Action Shooting Sports are extremely safe, and have an exemplary safety record. This is due to the safety rules in place, observing the rules and their enforcement.

Sign Up

All that’s left is to sign up and get your score sheets. Depending on the type of match you’re shooting, USPSA, IPSC, IDPA, ICORE, or SASS you’ll not have established a Classification. Each of these organizations have provisions to allow new shooters to compete unclassified. Locally created matches that don’t fall under a sanctioning body may or may not have classifications.

When you sign up you’ll have to decide in what division you want to compete. Many times your choice of equipment will determine the division you are allowed to compete in, but often you’ll have a choice of a couple of divisions. For an overview of the various divisions and classification of the major sanctioning bodies read the Games section.

In Part 3 we’ll talk about your first stage and the range commands.

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