Recently, I wrote about various 'action shooting' sports in Canada; this post is all about IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association), and my experiences with it in southern Alberta. I'm interested in hearing from people who shoot in other provinces to see how their experience compares.
IDPA is an American sport and is based on the notion that competitors are practising for real-world concealed-carry shooting situations. In Canada, civilians own guns as sporting goods, not weapons, so concealed-carry may need some explanation. In the US, some people carry a firearm hidden under their jacket, so they'll be prepared in case they encounter a hostage situation or an armed carjacker. How that sounds to you may indicate how much you'll like shooting IDPA.
Let's me take you through a typical IDPA match day. Match day usually starts with setup, and shooters arrive early to help. Whomever volunteered to be Match Director has drawn a handful of stages, often from a book of standard designs; each stage design shows where targets, stands, walls, etc... are to be located. Our local range has a couple of garages full of walls, target stands, and fun props so we get started dragging out what we need to get the stages built. A typical stage might have a few walls, a couple of stacks of plastic barrels (as vision barriers), and maybe five to ten targets; we usually set up four stages in the morning, change them around a bit at lunch, and then shoot again in the afternoon.
Before shooting, we 'gun up' in a designated safe area, and our equipment is checked by a Safety Officer. He checks to ensure that our style of handgun meets the rules, that our gun is safely holstered, and that our firearm is properly concealed (usually beneath a long jacket or shooting vest). Shooters are assigned to squads, with friends usually squadding together. For today we're broken into four groups of eight people, with each squad starting on a different stage.
Our squad starts with a stage briefing; the Safety Officers describe the tactical scenario we are facing: “You are leaving a restaurant with your wife and children. A crowd of punks is hanging out in the parking lot and as you approach you see they are armed. They point their guns at your family and you defend yourself while moving back towards the restaurant.”
There are six cardboard targets on the stage, each representing a dangerous punk. There is a plywood car that can be used for cover, and a wall and doorway act as the restaurant. My job is to eliminate the threat while moving between cover and the doorway. Each target needs at least a couple of hits to score.
We're ready to shoot! In alphabetical order I'm first, so I stand in the designated starting area. Nervous! First stage of the day, first guy to shoot the stage (most likely to screw up, forget about a concealed target, etc...). I face downrange, the Safety Officer behind and slightly to my right. From this moment until I unload at the end of the stage, he keeps both eyes on my gun; if I even think about doing something unsafe, he'll stop me. In all of the shooting sports I have tried (pretty much all of them), the Safety Officers are competent and quick; IDPA is no exception.
The SO orders me to load and make ready. I draw my trusty Glock 17, insert a magazine, and rack the slide. With a round in the chamber, I swap the magazine for another with 10 rounds; I'm now 'loaded to division capacity', meaning that my gun is full of ammo, a requirement for most IDPA stages. I holster, and pull my jacket over my gun (because it's concealed-carry, right?)
The SO asks me if I'm ready, tells me to stand by, and the timer beeps in my ear. I draw and move to cover behind the (plywood) car. As I work my way around the car, I engage the cardboard targets as I see them, one at a time. The strategy required in IDPA is that I face my cardboard opponents in a sensible way; I can't just jump up and run at them (yelling 'covering fire!!'), I'd lose points for bad tactics. One at a time, I fire on the cardboard targets around the car, reloading as necessary, and then moving back towards the restaurant with my invisible family under my wing. I hit the last target from the doorway. The SO asks me if I'm finished, and orders me to unload and show clear. I drop the mag, rack the slide, and dry-fire into the dirt to show him I'm safely unloaded. I holster, and we go look to see how well/badly I did. Accuracy and time combine to give my score. I suck (sun was in my eyes).
My squadmates take their turns, and when we've all shot the stage we pack up our lawn chairs and range bags, and move to the next stage. At the end of the day we put all the equipment back in the shed, scores are tallied by computer, and we make our excuses (sun was in my eyes in both directions...).
IDPA is cool because it's a day movin' & shootin' outdoors, which is often enough. It's also a rare glimpse (for a Canadian) at the tactics of an impromptu gunfight. For some IDPA enthusiasts, the practical use of a firearm as a weapon makes perfect sense, and of course you should practice those skills. IDPA is slower and more thoughtful than IPSC or USPSA, with more emphasis on good form and practical/tactical aspects; Where other shooting sports reward outright athleticism, IDPA is a little more measured.
IDPA is not for everyone, for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that because of the interpretation of rules and tactics, the scoring can be a little vague (was I hidden behind that plywood car, or was my butt sticking out...). Other sports are strictly about time and accuracy so perhaps the scores are easier to compare. More importantly, some people don't enjoy IDPA because the American mindset simply doesn't make sense. Why would I have a gun in my belt at McDonalds? Can't we settle all this peacefully over a Shamrock Shake?
For some shooters, IDPA has a distinct advantage over IPSC; most clubs will allow you to shoot a match without taking a training course (IPSC shooters need to take the Black Badge course). Often, you can just show up on match day, pay your thirty bucks, and shoot. Easy and informal.
If you haven't shot IDPA, start with YouTube. Go from there to watching a match at your local range (free and easy). When you're ready to have a go, all you need to shoot is a handgun, holster, a couple of magazines, and mag pouches. Oh, yeah, and a long jacket to hide your gun!
See you at the range! Glenn.