With 23,900 members and 389 clubs, including those in more than 50 foreign countries, the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) is truly international. The IDPA was designed as a practical shooting sport, a sport in which the skills used on the playing field can help in real-world life-or-death situations. The sport is geared for the average Joe or Jane. It is unpretentious in that competitors compete using common, everyday service pistols and revolvers, and gear like holsters and magazine carriers that you would conceal carry with. In short, the gear a competitor would use for concealed carry is the equipment IPDA competitors use.

Diverse & Friendly

IDPA's 6 Shooting Divisions

Over 2,400 matches are held each year by IDPA-sanctioned clubs. IDPA’s only requirement is that a club must run six matches per year. The sport has evolved from the tan-vested shooters of yore. Yes, competitors still wear tan vests, or any concealing garment for that matter. It is part of the practical aspect of the sport, as is drawing and firing a weapon from concealment.

When I spoke with IDPA Executive Director Joyce Wilson, she explained the demographics of IDPA are changing with nearly 10 percent of membership being women. “IDPA is experiencing unprecedented growth with the increase in firearm sales to first-time buyers,” Wilson explained. “This sport is uniquely positioned to help new shooters develop good gun handling skills. Although it is a sport, the rules require use of cover and drawing from concealment just as you would use in a real-life situation.”

IDPA is also incredibly friendly to first-time participants, of which many are women. Many clubs have introductory classes on IDPA and teach competitors how to draw safely from a holster and reload. IDPA’s sweet spot is still men ages 35 to 64. This demographic makes up 70 percent of the association’s card-carrying members. For any new or novice shooters interested in joining, all you need do is ask, and plenty of members will offer advice and assistance.

Match Play


A typical match is fired from 3- to 20-yard distances and divided into stages. Each stage takes on a specific scenario that you might encounter in the real world. Of course, there are no rules in real-life deadly encounters, but with the IDPA, like for any shooting sport, there are rules. Competitors shoot against the clock. Accuracy and speed are key and test every shooter’s skill set. Competitors may shoot using cover or from behind a vehicle. Stage scenarios are designed to push a shooter’s accuracy skills. It also helps if you are dexterous, but my no means do you need to be triathlete to compete.

“Our most popular division by far is Stock Service Pistol,” said Wilson. “The Smith & Wesson M&P and Glock 17/19 are the most popular guns, with 9mm being the most popular caliber since 9mm is a cheaper to shoot right now compared to .45 ACP or even .40 S&W.”

There are six divisions in IDPA: Custom Defensive Pistol (CDP), Enhanced Service Pistol (ESP), Stock Service Pistol (SSP), Stock Service Revolver (SSR), Enhanced Service Revolver (ESR) and Back-Up Gun (BUG). Each division is based on the type of pistol a competitor uses. The full rules can be found on the IDPA website, but as a general guide line think of CDP as allowing any semi-auto .45 ACP pistol like a 1911 Government Model. An ESP pistol is a 9mm or larger automatic, double-action/single-action (DA/SA), striker-fired or single-action (SA) pistol, including 1911 in 9mm, a Springfield XD-S, a Smith & Wesson M&P and others. SSP pistols are 9mm caliber or larger automatics with a DA, double-action-only (DAO) or striker-fired trigger system. Wheelgun shooters can use any .38 Special caliber or larger that uses rimmed ammo without moon clips. ESR revolvers may be .357 Magnum or larger and may use rimmed or rimless cartridges.

BUG’s In!


BUG, or back-up gun, is the newest division in IDPA, with the first event of its kind being held at S&W’s shooting facility in Springfield, Massachusetts. The match completely filled up with competitors plying their skills with compact semi-auto pistols and revolvers. In BUG, the maximum barrel length is 3.8 inches for an auto and 3 inches for a wheelgun. The rules are still a work in progress.

Parting Shots

The point with any IDPA match is each competitor enters on a level playing field with no equipment advantages. Leave your tricked-out race gun at home when you compete at IDPA. IDPA is also very receptive to member input and using the experience of members to influence the direction of the sport at the local club level and across the country. Members have a chance to voice their opinions. The IDPA is a great venue for new and experienced shooters to test their shooting skills in a safe environment.

For more information, visit or call 870-545-3886.

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