IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) Review

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.


Crowding Cover

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:


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

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.


The Rules

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.


7 thoughts on “IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) Review

  1. This opened my eyes about these shooting classes. I had always thought they were studied ways to improve your shooting as well as protecting yourself. I guess it boils down as to whether you want to play their games or prepare for real life. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.


  2. Thanks for your thoughtful analysis. I perfer appendix carry, but in uspsa I use an owb holster at 4 : 00. Dry fire is the best I can do.


  3. Great write up. I agree with you that there are a lot of different reasons why gaming is gaming, and defensive shooting is defensive. The reason I’m going to be choosing USPSA when the time comes is because A) It doesn’t try to be defensive. It is what it is, and doesn’t try to be something else. B) Because I can shoot from AIWB concealed in Limited division if I want too. Look forward to talking to you more on p-f and addicts.


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, you missed the part where it was a game completely and utterly.

    *New shooters crowd cover. Sounds like you’re complaining about rookie mistakes you made.
    *Yes sometimes you have to lean out. Its a compromise as a game to take human judging on cover calls out of the game.
    *So you called for not wearing cover and you’re griping about it? Did you miss everyone else shooting with cover and cover as a fundamental rule? I shoot in Central Texas. You take the cover off when not shooting. This is not difficult.
    *You’re griping about uniform round count? Seriously?
    *Shooting on the move is fine. Its something else to do. I’ve stood up in a dumpster and shot a cup of beer too.


    1. Under the last heading ‘What isn’t IDPA?’, please re-read the first paragraph. I think you may have also missed the part where I specifically said I didn’t write this to rip on IDPA.

      As for the rest it seems you may have taken this article rather personally. I merely pointed out things I noticed, like the rules. You don’t seem to disagree with the majority of my points you listed. It appears you’re just upset I mentioned them.

      I’m not sure what dumpsters and beer have to do with IDPA but it sounds like you may want to reevaluate your hobbies. Alcohol and guns, don’t mix. If for no other reason than you’re wasting beer.



  5. So the writer shoots one single solitary match and then proceeds to judge an entire international shooting sport shot in multiple different countries on three different continents based on that one single match. Call me crazy but that seems like not nearly enough experience to write an honest evaluation on the entire sport.

    Some of the gripes the author has sound like issues with how that one club runs matches or with the individual stages themselves. For example: Crowding cover is a common rookie *mistake* (and something I see in IPSC barricades all the time), not a required tactic. The cover garment penalty sounds ridiculous and is likely an issue with one pedantic SO or MD. Other gripes like limited magazine capacity sound like the author hasn’t quite thought things through. How exactly is forcing people to practice their reloads a bad thing? And yes, some people game stages. It’s a game, they’re people, it’s kind of difficult to stop that from happening. Blaming IDPA for it seems a bit strange.

    Bottom line is that like any other action shooting sport, how stages are designed and how the matches are run has a large impact on what the match will feel like. A single match won’t give you enough exposure to evaluate the sport in its entirety.


    1. Hi Tony,
      While this may have been my first match I am very familiar with the sport. I’ve been following it for several years. What I wrote about won’t change with shooting more matches, they are the facts of the sport.

      First, these aren’t gripes. I simply wrote about my experience and how it was or wasn’t relevant to my focus on real life training. You picked the crowding cover example. That is something I’ve seen required to make shots in many matches I’ve watched across the country, not just in mine.

      The cover garment penalty is what is it. I didn’t complain when I got the penalty and didn’t gripe in the article, as I said above, it was part of my experience. I also didn’t gripe about the magazine capacity restrictions either. I pointed out it was part of the game and explained why. At no point did I say it was even bad. In fact, the specific point I made was practicing reloads you aren’t expecting under stress is a good thing.

      I didn’t fault anyone for gaming it. I did point out the irony in gaming it while still claiming it’s real life relevant though. I personally don’t care how people shoot it. As I said in the article “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.”



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