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IDPA - Real Training for Real Survival of Crisis Situations

I have said in other parts of this site that the rifle is often the first gun of the survivalist, but in examining the most likely gunfight scenarios that a "civilian" will encounter, I found that nearly all of them fall within the ability of a well trained and well equipped handgun shooter.   The thing is that handling a handgun and the types of threats which one is likely to deal with while armed with only a handgun require a high level of training before a person is really competent to carry a gun day to day.  Getting good training can be costly and keeping skill up can be a challenge when there are few avenues in which people outside government can get quality handgun training.   IDPA affiliated clubs offer one of the best and most cost effective means of maintaining a level of competence that easily matches "professionals" who carry weapons in the course of their jobs.   One important factor you are probably going to be on your own with is concerning your local laws and practices regarding the use of firearms in self defense.  There are simply too few experts willing to tell the truth in these matters and bad advice can come just as easily from law enforcement and lawyers as it will from any stranger on the street corner.   This is something you will have to research on your own.  IDPA general rules of engagement will assume an overall standard which may or may not be consistent with your local laws.

The primary reason for this is that in all of the lower general threat level scenarios, it is impractical to carry combat capable rifles in your day to day life while the legal and moral requirements of a justifiable shooting dictate that such shootings will be done at relatively short range.  A primer on justifiable shooting is that the target must represent a known threat by demonstrating the ability and intent to inflict death or serious bodily harm.   Under these circumstances, you must be able to determine the activity of an adversary and the level of intent or ability of that person (or those persons) to harm you.   The term in survivalist circles most borrowed from military jargon in this regard is IFF (Identify friend or foe).  

Note that while IDPA shooting is not "super high speed", it does require a good base of knowledge and is not for the novice shooter.  Participants should have a basic knowledge of firearms operation and safety prior to attending a shoot as a participant.   A participant should have full knowledge of the controls on his or her pistol, be able to manipulate all controls with safety and confidence, along with being able to load and unload the weapon, clear jams, and change  magazines if the gun is an automatic.  

 In applying a realistic assessment of the most likely threats, we find these elements:

  1. Predators will almost always stalk a victim and take efforts to identify the likelihood of the success of an attack against a victim. 

  2. Predators will usually attack a suspected armed victim under circumstances where the intended victim is outnumbered.   That may be a situation that is orchestrated to this effect or one in which predators seize an opportunity.

  3. In an actual attack, predators will usually mask their presence and or intent until they are fairly close and they will attempt to surprise the victim. 

  4. The intended victim of a life threatening attack will most likely need to react quickly against multiple opponents at fairly close range.   

  5. Laws and social standards often prevent common citizens from openly carrying weapons, especially rifles or shotguns.   That means a survivor must consider the handgun to be a primary weapon most of the time and that handgun will likely be either concealed or small enough that it is worn unobtrusively.  

So the upshot of this is that training for these types of scenarios is probably going to be the most practical and worthwhile firearm training a survivalist can do.   Fortunately, most regions of the US and many other parts of the world have clubs and shooting leagues where you can do this sort of training.   Probably the most realistic and practical is IDPA.  Unlike IPSIC and other "combat sport" shooting leagues, IDPA stresses realism in the scenarios and has rules that limit the types of equipment that people will use.  That had been a problem with IPSIC where shooters who use high grade "race guns" and gear have such an advantage that the sport is not very practical.   Thus, IDPA has a cost advantage although dedicated shooters quickly learn to appreciate the difference in quality guns and holsters.   I find this environment to be extremely valuable in testing guns and equipment for real world practical use and evaluation articles on this site.  

IDPA scenarios are set up around real and potential real world situations.   In many cases, they are set up as a result of information gained from the examination of newsworthy events and case files from law enforcement encounters.  

While very similar to police training, IDPA is not meant to replace it although many law enforcement people supplement their professional training with participation in IDPA events.  

Participation in IDPA is non-political and not considered a paramilitary training activity under any current laws.   Paramilitary dress is discouraged and even law enforcement and military personnel who participate in IDPA generally do so out of uniform.   IDPA participants do tend to value privacy and personal rights and while the media is not barred from IDPA events, they do not actively look for commercial sponsorship.    Participant lists and contact information are generally closely guarded by club organizers and photographing events is by permission only with many participants wishing to maintain high levels of privacy (and a reason why most of the pictures in this section have been cropped to remove identifying information).   A large part of this stems from the necessities of security for IDPA participants who are in law enforcement and individuals in security professions including executive protection.   Participants tend to be middle to upper middle class with higher than average levels of education.  

Shooting is judged on what are considered the three major legs of the tripod of gunfighting skill.  This is accuracy, tactics and weapon presentation (speed).    Tactics are qualitatively judged in IDPA events by experts who usually have high levels of training and experience and various actions are assigned a point value in final scores.   Accuracy standards are determined by results on standardized targets with a standardized point system while speed is judged by timers recorded on timers that follow  a standard format.

Scoring is distilled into a time adjusted by accuracy and tactics.   Usually only the best two hits on a target are scored and there is no penalty for taking extra shots at a target although there are some limitations on the course structure which will penalize a lot of extra shooting.  Example, magazines in auto pistols are limited to ten shots regardless of what is natural for that particular gun; thus, there is no "pre-ban" advantage like you see in IPSC.   Also, the time it takes to change magazines is usually longer than the time it would take to aim shots more carefully.   On the flip side, the penalty for shooting inside the kill zone but outside the "5" ring (maximum value) may be less than the extra time wasted in careful shots, however, this will depend on your individual skill.  

Some basic points that can help you get a head start in IDPA shooting:

  1. Retention snaps, flaps and straps are not required for IDPA holsters, so use a holster that does not require a snap, strap or flap to hold the gun.   Most of the better shooters will use an open top belt holster since they are faster.   If you consider that unrealistic,  you can handicap yourself with a basic concealment method like wearing the holstered gun under an unbuttoned or unzipped vest or jacket.   Note that a survival holster might have a strap, flap or snap retention system, so you might want to use your judgment in being realistic about what holsters you pick for different situations.   We have found that the Bianchi UM84 holster system can be easily configured for IDPA use by removing the flap, but I would not personally like to wear it that way for day to day survival activities.
  2. There is no advantage at all in using a revolver in this shooting.  Most course structure will penalize the revolver because of slow reloading.  Likewise, most 9mm guns will not qualify on the power required for state and national level competition, but they are usually allowed in local club shoots.
  3. You get a magazine capacity advantage out of guns with a wide body magazine.  40 caliber will have a capacity advantage that translate to better scores although many courses will require a reload sequence although the most popular guns are 1911 pattern automatics with a limit of 8 shots.  Remember that 9mm will often not qualify for power factor unless you are using full power loads.  .40 caliber ammo can be "downloaded" to minimize recoil.  "Double stack" 1911 pistols that hold ten shot are plenty usable, but will generally be more difficult to shoot fast and accurate compared to something with lighter recoil.
  4. Reliability is paramount in an IDPA pistol.   The accuracy required for hitting the "5" rings on the targets is within the capabilities of just about any out of the box pistol, but many guns will not be reliable when brand new.  Your pistol must, above all else, be 100% reliable, but you can live with it being a little bit loose.  
  5. Gun handling can mean the difference between winning scores and bad scores.   Fast reloads and clearing jams are factored into the shooting scenarios.  You can practice this at home and know it will translate to better scores at the range.  Every IDPA shooter needs to develop fast reloading skills.   A very good shooter can clear jams fast enough that it is not a terrible penalizer. 
  6. Realistically evaluate your own skill in determining how you will deal with each scenario.  Remember that you can be penalized more for taking too much time than for less precision.  The art of this type of shooting often hinges on knowing when to take the careful shots and when to shoot fast.   Overconfidence or lack of confidence can cause you to misjudge how to best deal with a scenario in order to get the best score.   Many of the best scoring shooters may appear slow, but they save time in firing only the number of shots needed to score the targets without penalties.  Very fast shooters can still do well as long as they get decent kill zone hits.  

These pictures illustrate a typical string of fire on a qualification target.   The shooter is cued by a rangemaster who is using a shooting timer.   The rangemaster presses a button on the time and then the timer will beep after a random pause.  The rangemaster will usually hold the timer near the shooter's head so that the shooter does not miss the start beep.  After that point, it will trigger a stop every time it catches a vibration from the sound of a gunshot,  thus offering an accurate recording of the time on the string of fire regardless of the reaction time of the judges.   Winners and losers in competition are frequently determined by fractions of a second.  

This shooter demonstrates the common good form seen as a result of IDPA participation.   The great majority of shooters will use a two hand weaver style grip.   The picture at right shows a shooter in action with the most popular holster configuration.  A fairly high riding open top pistol scabbard with a slight forward rake to it.   Note how the shooter drops his opposite shoulder during the draw stroke.  The key to good times is a smooth flowing motion from holster to follow through. 

The results of one stage on the qualifier for state and national level competition.   This is considered a "clean" target.  All shots are either headshots or center of mass body shots.  Point value is 5 for center mass or head, 4 for the kill zone, 2 for peripheral hits.   For ease of scoring, the targets are marked in reverse point order and translated into a time penalty measured in seconds.   Center mass and head shots are zero deduction, kill zone is 1 point, peripheral hits are 3 points.   It is easy to apply this scoring system to three gun and tactical rifle shooting.  

The target to the left also shows what would be the result of standard "three second" drills.  A shooter stands seven yards (usually three long paces) from the target.  At the beep, the shooter is to draw and fire three shots only, two to the body and one to the head.   All shots must land within the five zones.  Note that the targets are gender and race neutral cardboard.   Shoot/No Shoot targets are interspaced on most scenarios to simulate innocent bystanders and or hostages.  They are often fairly clearly identifiable in being a different color or even clothed with identifying garments.   

Anatomical targets such as this one on the left are not encouraged by many ranges for normal use.  They are usually more costly than other targets and had been removed from many law enforcement training programs due to racial overtones.  

Events are usually scheduled around normal work hours and thus, tend to be on weekends.  You can find out more about IDPA by accessing these links.  

IDPA.com - The official website of IDPA.  It contains a wealth of information about the sport, contact information for local clubs and training events along with the sales of training materials like the excellent IDPA standard targets. 

IDPA pro shop - Direct link to the source for official IDPA targets which are probably some of the best cardboard shooting targets you can get for the money.   Competitively priced even compared to cutting your own out of appliance boxes. 

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Handgun training for the survivor

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