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Choosing A Competition Pistol

Competition Shooting
choosing a competition pistol

Guest Writer: Kenzie Fitzpatrick

Choosing a pistol for competition shooting is an adventure. It takes time to find out which division you enjoy shooting in. You’ll also need to pick a gun set up to be competitive in it. The journey of choosing a pistol is a process you want to be patient in. As always in the shooting sports industry, borrowing and trying a variety of guns and gear is a great start before committing and investing in your own.

Before choosing a pistol for competition, there are some considerations you’ll need to know before diving into the competition. Choosing a pistol for competition includes more than just the gun purchase. Here are some additional things to think about before investing:

Investment Strategies

Determine your budget for a pistol to shoot in competition. Is this a starter gun for you or are you looking to make a long-term investment into pistol competitions? Some of the best shooters in the world shoot budget-friendly firearms like Glocks, Caniks, HKs. An expensive gun doesn’t necessarily translate into shooting better. The other thing you’ll consider when it comes to a gun price is that the pistol isn’t the only cost. To set yourself up for competitive shooting you’ll need to create your full budget. Starting with the amount you allocate for just the pistol is key to building your dream rig.

Competition Pistol Accessories

a photo of a female shooting a competition pistol outdoors

A good gun belt and a custom holster can make a huge difference in your performance at a competition.

Competition Holsters

One of the first pieces of gear you’ll need to purchase is a holster custom fit for your firearm. We’ll get into the types of pistol competition divisions and disciplines below. Understanding the division and discipline you shoot in will help you determine your holster options. 

There are different retention levels when it comes to gun holsters. This is because a holster designed for USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association), needs less retention than a holster designed for 3 gun shooting. In USPSA, pistols are never going to be re-holstered hot. Nor are pistols left in the holster while running to a position.

In 3 gun competitions, holsters need the highest retention possible. You may not draw your pistol until after climbing up and over an A-frame. After crawling through a tube and you might re-holster it hot. Many disqualifications happen at shooting competitions because pistols come out of their holsters. These disqualifications happen when guns fall on the ground loaded or unloaded. For this reason, a holster with a hood is highly recommended for 3 gun shooting.

Gun Belt

Not all pistol competitions require the use of gun belts. GSSF (Glock Shooting Sports Foundation) doesn’t allow for any drawing from a holster or belt. However, you can use a gun belt to transport holstered firearms from stage to stage at a match. SCSA (Steel Challenge Shooting Association), for example, doesn’t require you use gun belts or holsters in almost all of their divisions. However, be aware that some divisions do. So, choosing a division/discipline will help you understand what type of gun belt to purchase. 

If what you choose to shoot does require the use of a gun belt, make sure you purchase something sturdy.  It needs to be capable to hold up your holstered pistol and full magazines in their pouches. 

Additional Magazines

Depending on the division and discipline you choose to shoot in pistol competitions, the number of magazines needed to shoot a competition can vary from 3-5. I highly recommend buying at least 5 magazines for any pistol you choose to shoot. That way you’ll have enough to shoot a stage and have spare magazines in case of malfunctions. 

Magazine Pouches

In addition to magazines, you need magazine pouches to carry your magazines on your body. You’ll also want to purchase at least 5 magazine pouches, if not more. Buy accordingly depending on the division and discipline you choose to shoot.

Pistol Sights

Most stock firearms have basic front and rear sights that are perfectly functional, but not as desirable as aftermarket sights. Choosing a division, no matter what discipline you choose will be instrumental in whether you choose to shoot with iron sights or a red dot.

There are a ton of options when it comes to aftermarket iron sights. Those include adjustable sights for windage and elevation, a variety of fiber optic colors, circles, triangles, and more. Customizing sights that you can see, pick up quickly, and aim fast with will give you a competitive edge. 

If you choose to shoot using a red dot, you have to set your pistol up for this. The slide of the pistol needs to have a place to attach the mount for the dot to it. Some guns like the Walther Q5 pistols, the MOS Glocks, and the latest from HK are ready for optics. However,  many pistols will need to have the slide milled and machined to mount a red dot on it. 

Competition Ammunition

a photo of federal brand competition ammo

You’ll want to choose economical ammo to practice with at the range, and high-performance ammo for competition.

Ammunition cost and availability is an important consideration in choosing a pistol for competition. Choosing the caliber you can afford to buy practice and competition ammunition for is also something to budget for. Practice ammunition and competition ammunition have differences such as different bullet grain weight, velocity, and many other specifications.

If the gun you choose is something you have to custom load ammunition for, factor in a budget for reloading supplies. Be aware custom reloading can have a high-cost upfront. However, it becomes a lower cost over time when you’re reloading your own ammunition. 

Backup Gun

Unfortunately, this is something to consider as you start competitive shooting. Most competitors have a backup gun ready to go in case of catastrophic gun failure. While many competitors have the same exact gun set up and ready, some matches will allow for the use of another type of gun that is permissible to shoot within the same division. 

Types of Pistol Competitions

a female competition shooter running at a gun range

Ready to compete but unsure where to start? Check out the different types of pistol competitions in the list below.

Understanding the types of pistol competitions will give you an idea of how to get started. The best place to start is by choosing a pistol for competition. 

SCSA (Steel Challenge Shooting Association)

This is one of the easiest and best places to start when it comes to getting into competitive pistol shooting. Choosing just one pistol division to compete in to start with can be difficult because it’s a lot of fun to shoot. If you have more than one pistol, this is a great shooting sport to try your hand at different divisions to see what you enjoy the most! 

The rulebook for SCSA is the place to start when learning what is and isn’t allowed in each division.

Pistol divisions for SCSA

GSSF (Glock Shooting Sports Foundation)

The only pistols GSSF allows competitors to shoot are Glocks. So if you’re a Glock fan, these competitions are a great place to start in the world of pistol competitions. As always, start by reading the GSSF rulebook. While there are many divisions to shoot in GSSF matches, the main pistol configurations are as follows:

USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association)

The USPSA competitions are the place to go when you’re ready to shoot and move. USPSA will test your ability to shoot moving targets, knockdown steel, shoot two shots as fast and accurately as possible, and more. Because USPSA requires the use of a proper belt, holster, specific mag pouch setup for some divisions, placement of magazines, and more, spend some time reading over their rulebook

USPSA Divisions:

• Carry Optics Division

IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association)

This is a great sport for working with your concealed carry handgun. You wear concealed carry garments, reload behind cover and concealment, and test your self-defense skills. Be sure to read the rulebook as a general starting place in shooting a match.

There are different target designations for stages where there are threat and non-threat targets so you learn how to think and react under pressure. Just like any other pistol competition, there are many divisions to shoot in. So your concealed carry pistol choice may already fall under one of these divisions. If not, you may choose a concealed carry gun that fits one of these criteria. 

IDPA Divisions

3 Gun Competitions

For shooting 3 gun competitions, the pistol is just one aspect of meeting division requirements. There are several organizations/rulesets that govern 3 gun matches. These include United Multigun League (UML), 3 Gun Nation, USPSA Multigun, and you may see others run with Outlaw rules and more.

Buying Your Competition Pistol

a photo of a competition pistol being shot at a gun range

You may find the perfect gun for you already exists, talk to other competitors before you make purchase decisions.

There are a variety of pistol competitions to choose from. Finding what you enjoy shooting is the key to having fun on the range. As always, I recommend borrowing guns and gear. Ask other competitors and try as many guns as possible before making a decision. Don’t forget to ask questions about what works for long time shooters. Do remember that what works for others may not work for you. Be sure to test your grip, ability to function the firearm, and more when choosing a pistol for competition.

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