Last week a forum friend invited me to shoot an IDPA match with him. It was about time I tried IDPA and getting to meet a fellow shooter who I’ve talked with a lot online is always fun. I shot the match and I’m glad I did, but I won’t be competing again. I’m sure most of you are thinking “Oh, so you sucked in your first match and are pussing out?” Not quite. I’ve always looked at USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association) as a game and IDPA as a more realistic way to stay sharp. I quickly realized I was mistaken.
Lean Out From Cover
Bad habits are easy to come by in shooting. Playing a game that reinforces those bad habits can get you killed. The first bad habit I’m going to address is how IDPA forces you to use cover. Don’t get me wrong, cover is good. How you use it is important though.
IDPA incorporates what they call “fault lines” into their game. If any part of your body, except your torso, crosses that line you get a penalty. Here’s how it actually looks in a video from Mike Seeklander.
You don’t even need to watch the video to see what I’m talking about. Looking at the main picture above we can see how he’s behind the cover line and leaning way over to get his shots. If someone is shooting at you, you want to have as much of your body behind cover, right? Let’s put this in a realistic scenario.
You’re in the mall when someone opens fire on the crowd. You take cover and engage the shooter. Well, you aren’t the only one taking cover and in all the scramble someone bumps you when you’re leaned out on your tippy toes trying to get a shot. Now instead of safely behind cover you’re flopping on the ground like a fish trying to scramble back into cover before you get killed.
Repeatedly throughout the match I saw people leaning on one foot trying to balance and shoot because that was the only way they could get a shot on the target without breaking the fault line. I had to do it myself. It was an incredibly unstable shooting platform. What’s one of the very first things you learn in shooting? A good stance. Does that mean in real life you’re always going to have one? Of course not, but I’m not going to intentionally put myself in a bad stance if I don’t have to.
The way I was taught by Paul Howe and his trained instructors gives you a much more stable and versatile shooting foundation. I could write a whole article on use of cover but the short of it is I expose a little of my lower body to gain a solid platform to shoot from. That platform let’s me shoot with greater speed and accuracy, while still leaving me mobile.
The other big problem with IDPA and cover is they force you to crowd it. It’s simply the only way you can bend and contort yourself to make the required shots in a match. Crowding cover will get you killed. Need proof? Here’s video of a Dallas Police Officer who crowded cover. He left himself no way out and paid the price.
The other big issue with crowding cover are bullet ricochets. A ricochet is just as deadly as a bullet fired on target. When crowding cover bullets can skip off the cover you’re using and right into you. I see examples of this most often when people take cover behind a vehicle. They get right up on it so a ricochet that would have gone over their head had they have been farther back now goes into their head. Here is a great article explaining this concept: http://www.combatshootingandtactics.com/published/the_myth_of_cover_07.pdf
Shooting On The Move
Another thing IDPA likes is shooting on the move. I’ve seen countless stages (I watch plenty of match videos) where the shooter is required to be moving while engaging certain targets, this was even in my match. The problem with shooting on the move is you aren’t going to be doing either very effectively. It’s just like when shooting from cover, having that solid foundation is incredibly important for accurate hits on target. When you’re shooting – you’re SHOOTING, when you’re moving – you’re MOVING QUICKLY to cover. Shoot or move, pick one.
Paul Howe, in his article ‘Training For The Real Fight’, had this to say on the subject:
“Reference shooting on the move. It is a skill that all shooters aspire to learn and spend a great deal of time and effort trying to master. I have never had to use it in combat. When moving at a careful hurry, I stopped planted and made my shots. When the bullets were flying, I was sprinting from cover to cover, moving too fast to shoot. I did not find an in between. If I slowed down enough to make a solid hit when under fire, I was an easy target, so I elected not to.”
Round count is limited to 10 rounds per mag. If they didn’t the ‘restricted’ states would be held to a disadvantage. It also forces reloads with relatively low round counts per stage. One thing I noticed in the matches was most people were gaming their reloads. By that I mean counting targets and rounds required on each verse mag capacity before the stage starts, and then firing extra rounds on targets to time their reloads.
From a game standpoint this makes sense. From a real life perspective its doesn’t. During a civilian defensive shooting it’s statistically unlikely a person will need to reload. Don’t rely on the traditional stats to protect you. Carrying a reload, learning to reload under stress and at inopportune times is important. If someone has it in their mind to take as much life as possible before they’re killed it is amazing the amount of punishment they can absorb and still keep going. If shots are missed or not vital hits you may well need to reload.
“In real life you would…”
When I’m new to something I like to keep my mouth shut and my ears open. When listening to conversations describing how a stage was designed and should be ran I more than once heard things similar to “Because in real life you would _________.” Comments like that can often be heard from USPSA detractors, because “IDPA is tactically based.” But those are also the same people gaming their round count and reloads. I think that’s what ultimately inspired me to write this article. Not to rip on IDPA but instead to make sure someone doesn’t confuse it with real training and tactics.
One of our stages was shot while sitting at a table. Our gun and all our mags was on the table in front of us. After shooting they called out my score and a procedural penalty. It was a simple stage so I was surprised to hear I had done something wrong. I was flagged for not wearing a cover garment. It was a hot Texas day and my cover was a black jacket, since no part of the stage involved going for gear on our belt I logically assumed my jacket wasn’t required. Nope. Them’s the rules. I overheard a competitor comment “This is why new shooters don’t come back to IDPA.”
What isn’t IDPA?
It’s not a supplement for practice or training and thinking so could lead you to develop some bad real life habits. First and foremost it’s a game, in most meaningful defensive facets, just like USPSA. Is that a bad thing though? Not necessarily. If you just want a game to play and you prefer the IDPA format over others then rock on. In any competition shooting, if you want to keep it real life relevant, then make sure you don’t confuse the two.
When I stated above that I won’t be competing again that doesn’t mean I won’t shoot another match, but I won’t be competing. Basically my hope is that a club will allow me to shoot the match the way I’ve been taught. I’d still like to get the practice shooting in scenarios I didn’t have to create. But I need to keep it relevant for me and avoid developing any bad habits at this juncture in my shooting timeline. I won’t be winning any matches shooting this way but that’s not my goal either.
If you’re a shooter looking to advance your skills through competition, make sure you establish your priorities going in and don’t confuse the two. Do you want to play the game or practice for real life?
In closing, here’s video from my match.