Introduction To Competition Action Shooting

Competitive Shooting Overview – Action Sports

When someone says “competitive shooting,” you probably have an image in your head of what that looks like. What you might not know is that competitive shooting can encompass many different sports with a wide variety of equipment and goals. For the purposes of this post and the next, I’m going to broadly distinguish between “action” sports and “precision” sports, although there are many that have elements of both.
Action shooting sports are all about running, gunning, and shooting fast. That doesn’t mean that a competitor doesn’t have to hit her targets, but it does mean that speed is an essential component of doing well as defined by the sport’s rules. These sports also generally require the shooter to move around with a gun in order to shoot all of the targets. Scoring is normally calculated as a combination of the amount of time it takes to shoot all of the targets and whether or not those targets have actually been hit (and where).
One of the most popular action shooting sports is USPSA – United States Practical Shooting Association – and it’s best known for being a “freestyle” pistol game where competitors can choose how they want to shoot the targets in each segment (called a stage) of a competition (called a match). The guns used range from the handguns you see on the counter at your local shop to specialized custom pistols that might even have electronic optical sights on them. I’ll talk more about gear specifics in later posts, but for now, here’s a video of what you might expect to see at a USPSA match:

A common counterpoint to USPSA is IDPA – International Defensive Pistol Association. IDPA is very similar to USPSA, but it has more of a focus on self-defense principles and requires competitors to follow rules that dictate target engagement order and use of cover to ‘hide’ from targets. Shooters also have to hide their guns under a vest, jacket, or long shirt. Many IDPA matches can be shot indoors because the rules are a little friendlier to available setups, like this:
While USPSA and IDPA use a lot of paper targets, they also use reactive steel targets that fall over or make a loud “ting!” when hit. If you love nearly-instant visual and audible feedback, then Steel Challenge, also known as SCSA, might be for you. Steel Challenge has almost no movement and can be shot with a variety of guns, including .22lr rimfire pistols and rifles. It also has a number of set stages that are seen at nearly every official Steel Challenge match. These qualities make it both a perfect beginner sport and a perfect sport for speed demons to do things like draw and shoot five steel targets in under two seconds.
Pistols aren’t the only guns used in action shooting sports. There are rifle and shotgun-only matches that follow similar rules, as well as those that require competitors to use two or more guns in a stage in “multigun” or “3-gun” matches. 3-Gun (using pistols, rifles, and shotguns) includes both matches of a more modern bent like 3-Gun Nation or USPSA Multigun matches, as well as a somewhat unlikely sport that also has a huge number of competitors and uses single action revolvers, pump shotguns, and lever-action rifles, while wearing history-inspired costumes: Cowboy Action Shooting, sometimes known as SASS or Single Action Shooting Society.
There are many other action shooting sports out there, and I’ve entirely skipped over many of the “outlaw” games that have elements of what I’ve described above but operate under ‘house’ or ‘league’ rules that are specific to a smaller organization and have either been created from scratch or are unauthorized modifications of another group’s rules. Outlaw shooting sports range from an entire class of multigun matches (basically everything that isn’t 3-Gun Nation or USPSA Multigun) to unique matches that might only be found at one range in the entire United States, such as this all-steel run-and-gun match at the Deadwood Boys range in Piru, California:
If your idea of competitive shooting involves hitting small targets under difficult conditions, you’ll need to come back for my next post. And if you’re looking for more information about any of the ones I have mentioned, please speak up. I’m going to be exploring all of these sports and would love to hear what you’re most interested in learning.
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