Here’s a list of common questions and answers to help quickly orient new shooters to the IDPA sport. This is not exhaustive information, and many rules will have exceptions outlined in certain courses of fire. If you have further questions, consult the Official IDPA Rulebook or ask one of your local safety officers.


The official IDPA rulebooks are linked here for convenience. But new shooters should skip over them and go straight to the Frequently Asked Questions below.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you want to see what IDPA is about, visit one of the local clubs. Matches are free for spectators, so drop on by and ask questions!

If you want to participate, the requirements are fairly simple. You need:

  • Stock handgun and holster.
  • Several magazines or speedloaders. Three magazines is enough to start with in most semiautomatic divisions.
  • Concealment garment capable of concealing your holstered firearm, e.g. vest, jacket, or even a T-shirt if you use an IWB holster. NOTE: IDPA does not care about printing. If your holstered gun is printing through your shirt, but is still covered, that's fine.
  • 50 rounds of ammo is typically enough for a local Tier 1 match.
  • Match fee (typically $15 - 20).

The biggest thing to know coming into a match for the first time is do not handle your firearm without safety officer (SO) permission/supervision. This is a common cause of disqualifications (DQ's) among new shooters. So please leave your handgun holstered, bagged, or cased when you arrive, and talk to a safety officer for further instructions.

IDPA stands for International Defensive Pistol Association. IDPA is a practical pistol-shooting sport designed around self-defense scenarios using common conceal-carry type firearms and equipment.

Visit these links for more information about IDPA.

Most people who say that don't have much of an idea of what IDPA is, and have some incorrect ideas based on Hollywood movies and popular TV shows. It is not a high-pressure head-to-head tournament, and most competitors are casual and laid-back. After observing a match, new shooters are often surprised and say, "Okay, maybe I can do that after all!"

It's also helpful to think of IDPA as a form of training, instead of a competition. Each match provides different scenarios that will train different skills far beyond shooting at a sheet of paper from a static firing line. Use IDPA to hone your skills, learn how to move and shoot, and turn the fundamentals into muscle memory. IDPA--and any other shooting sport--will turn you into a better shooter, even if you don't think about it as a competition.

But most of all, have fun. Yes, there's a match ranking at the end of each IDPA match, but to many IDPA participants, the rankings aren't that important as long as everyone is having fun.

  • First, always observe the Four Rules of Gun Safety:
    1. Always treat every firearm as if it's loaded.
    2. Keep your finger off the trigger and out of the trigger guard until you are pointed at a target and have made the decision to fire.
    3. Do not point the muzzle at anything you do not want to destroy.
    4. Be aware of your target and what's beyond before making the decision to fire.
  • Do not handle your firearm without a safety officer's (SO) supervision or instructions. Keep it holstered, bagged, or cased until the SO gives you the "Load and Make Ready" command. If you need to handle your firearm at any other time, check with an SO first. NOTE: This is a common cause of match disqualifications (DQ's) among shooters who are new to IDPA.
  • Observe the 180 rule (and muzzle cones, if applicable).
  • Do not step beyond the stage boundary after the SO gives the "Range is Hot!" command! And wait until he gives the "Range is Clear!" command before stepping forward to check targets or sweep brass.

Participants must select a division, which depends on what type of firearm they use. The most common division is Stock Service Pistol (SSP).

Complete descriptions can be found in the Equipment Division Appendix. But here's an overview:

  • Stock Service Pistol (SSP): Typical unmodified full-size semi-auto pistol that is striker-fired, DA/SA, or double-action only. Division capacity is 15.
  • Enhanced Service Pistol (ESP): Similar to SSP but allows for certain modifications, as well as single-action firearms such as 9mm 1911's or the CZ-75. Division capacity is 10.
  • Conceal Carry Pistol (CCP): Small-framed pistols designed for easy concealment such as the Glock 26 or SIG P365. Division capacity is 10.
  • Custom Defensive Pistol (CDP): For handguns chambered in .45 ACP. Typically 1911's, but includes other firearms such as the Glock 21. Division capacity is 8.
  • Carry Optic (CO): Handguns equipped with a red dot or similar sight. Division capacity is 10.
  • Back-Up Gun (BUG): Small pocket-carry handguns such as the Glock 42/43 or the Ruger LCP. Division capacity is 6 for semiautomatic, 5 for revolvers.
  • Revolver (REV): For revolvers. Division capacity is 6.
  • Pistol Caliber Carbine (PCC): For long guns chambered in pistol cartridges.
  • Not For Competition (NFC): Anything that does not fit a division, such as rimfire pistols, highly-modified guns, etc. NFC shooters are allowed to participate but will not be entered into the final scores. NFC is often used by kids who want to try IDPA with a rimfire pistol, injured shooters who cannot handle the recoil of typical handguns during their recovery, or shooters who want to do something different and use a gun that is not IDPA legal. NOTE: It is up to each Match Director to approve NFC entries so check with your MD first.

Division capacity determines the amount of ammo you load into your magazines. For typical holstered starts, you will also have one round in the chamber, meaning your first magazine can have one extra round above division capacity.

Note that ALL of your magazines must be loaded to the same round count (unless otherwise specified in the course of fire). This means you must load down to the smallest magazine if you are using a mix of magazines with different capacities. For example, if you have both 7 and 8 round magazines for a 1911, you must load all magazines to 7 rounds if you are using the 7-rounders.

  • SSP: 15 rounds
  • ESP, CO: 10 rounds
  • CDP: 8 rounds
  • BUG-Semiautomatic: 6 rounds
  • BUG-Revolver: 5 rounds
  • REV: 6 rounds

A Procedural Error (PE) is a penalty that is assessed due to not following the course of fire or equipment rules. Each PE adds a 3-second penalty to your score. Common examples include:

  • Not engaging targets in tactical priority.
  • Dropping a loaded magazine during a reload.
  • Crossing a fault line while firing.
  • Not loading your firearm to division capacity.
PE's are typically no big deal and most shooters get them. In some of the more difficult matches, it's really a competition to see who gets the fewest PE's!

Unless specified otherwise in a stage's course of fire, IDPA observes the 180 rule. Imagine a line parallel to the trap or berm. If your muzzle breaks that line at any point, that is a safety violation resulting in a disqualification (DQ) from the match. This includes up! So be very careful if you like to reload while pointing the handgun upwards, as you are likely to break the 180 rule. In addition, pointing up is NEVER acceptable at an outdoor range.

The most common situation resulting in breaking the 180 is stage design that requires the shooter to move uprange, e.g. retreating to a more distant shooting position. Make sure that you keep the handgun pointed downrange REGARDLESS OF WHICH DIRECTION you are moving or facing.

Some ranges or courses of fire may use something more constraining than the 180 rule. When this is the case, orange cones will be set up to show you the limits. If your muzzle moves beyond the orange cone, you will be DQ'd.

Nebraska's three IDPA clubs all observe cold ranges. This means no handling of firearms without a safety officer's supervision and instructions! Failure to observe this rule will result in an immediate match DQ.

In short, do not handle your firearm until the range officer gives you the "Load and Make Ready" command. Keep it holstered, bagged, or cased until then.

Some ranges may have a designated safe area where you can handle your unloaded firearm. You may bag/unbag here, clean your gun or check for red dot function, and so on. Please check with the local match director or safety officers to see if a safe area exists. NOTE: Ammunition is NEVER ALLOWED in safe areas.

DQ's occur due to safety violations (most often breaking the 180 or handling a firearm without SO supervision). If you are DQ'd, you will not be allowed to complete the match. However, that doesn't mean you have to go home. Feel free to hang out, watch and learn, and help reset targets.

DQ's are only for the current match. So our advice is to learn from your mistake and come back next time. It's sometimes joked that there are two categories of IDPA shooters: those who have been DQ'd, and those who haven't been DQ'd yet.

An IDPA Safety Officer (SO, also called a Range Officer or RO) is an individual certified by IDPA to act as a match official at IDPA matches. They know the format and rules, they can answer any questions you have, and, most importantly, they are responsible for running the match in a smooth and safe manner!

In addition, there is also a Match Director (MD) who organizes the match, handles administrative duties, and acts as the Chief Safety Officer.

The classifier is a standards skill test which will establish your skill level for scoring purposes. Classifications are on a per-division basis, so for example you may be a Sharpshooter in SSP but a Novice in Revolver.

IDPA recommends members to participate in a classifier match at least once per year. If you want to participate in a Tier 2 or higher match, you must be classified in the division you will shoot in. (If you are not an IDPA member, then this doesn't apply to you, though you are still free to shoot at local classifier matches.)

Most classifier matches use the 5x5 Classifier, which is short and quick. It involves four individually-timed strings of fire, and the easiest way to load is with five magazines with five rounds in each. The stage description and scoring are available in this document.

The IDPA classes are:

  • Master
  • Expert
  • Sharpshooter
  • Marksman
  • Novice

IDPA membership is not required for Tier 1 or club-level matches. However, you must be an IDPA member with a current classification to participate in Tier 2 or higher matches.

IDPA memberships can be bought at the official IDPA website. Once you become a member, enter your official IDPA member number during match signup and your match and classification history will be recorded at IDPA.com.

Yes. The 2023 IDPA Rulebook allows competitors to use a weapon-mounted light if the course of fire does not prohibit it. Also, some stages may use low-lighting conditions where a light is recommended or even required.

Handheld flashlights are also allowed.

In general, no. IDPA is designed around common stock pistols. IDPA allows for certain minor modifications in some divisions, but highly-modified or "race" guns are not allowed in IDPA.

If you'd like to use a race gun, talk to your Match Director (MD) about it. He may allow you to register under the Not For Competition (NFC) division.

For specifics, please check the division rules in the Official IDPA Rulebook as well as the Equipment Appendices.

IDPA scoring is a mix of raw time plus penalties due to poor accuracy. So both time and accuracy are equally important. If you are new to IDPA, focus on accuracy and don't worry too much about speed. Speed will come later. As one local participant once said, "You can't miss fast enough to win!"

Targetbarn.com has a good article on IDPA scoring, complete with pictures. Here's their page: https://www.targetbarn.com/broad-side/idpa-scoring/

For exact information and current rules, consult the Official IDPA Rulebook or ask a local Safety Officer. We'll be happy to explain the scoring system to you in person before your turn in a match.

Scenario stages use Unlimited Scoring which means your round count is not constrained. You may fire extra shots to try to improve your score if you have misses or poorly-placed shots. The only cost to you is additional time and ammo.

Standards stages may specify Limited Scoring. With limited scoring, you are constrained to a specific number of shots. Make-up shots are not allowed! If you fire extra shots in a limited stage, the penalties will add up very quickly. So it's best to slow down, concentrate on accuracy, and make your hits count.

Scenario stages are meant to replicate some kind of practical defensive shooting situation. Scenarios will often place you in the position of defending yourself from burglars or zombies, or even from alligators or other wildlife! Scenario stages use unlimited scoring and typically require a concealment garment.

Standards stages are more of a skills-based stage to train and test the shooter's performance in specific techniques. They often use limited scoring and often don't require a concealment garment.

IDPA scenario stages require the shooter to follow Tactical Priority when engaging targets. Not following tactical priority is a common cause of procedural errors.

If you are engaging targets from cover, Tactical Priority means you must engage them in the order they become visible. This is often called Slicing the Pie. If you're not sure what this means, ask a local Safety Officer and they'll be happy to demonstrate.

If you are engaging targets and you are out in the open, Tactical Priority means engaging them from near-to-far. Targets are considered the same priority if they are within two yards of each other in distance.

During a match, you will hear the Safety Officers shout out the official range commands. Here's the list of commands:

  1. Range is hot! Eyes and ears!
  2. Load and Make Ready
  3. Are you ready? (If no response, shooter is assumed ready)
  4. Standby (shot timer will start in 1 - 4 seconds)
  5. Finger! (Called if your finger is on the trigger while moving or reloading. Two finger calls results in a match DQ.)
  6. Muzzle! (Means you're getting close to the 180, so watch yourself!)
  7. Stop! (Whatever you are doing, immediately stop and wait for instructions from the safety officers.)
  8. If finished, unload and show clear. (Make sure the SO can visually inspect your chamber to confirm the firearm is unloaded.)
  9. If clear, slide forward or cylinder closed
  10. Pull the trigger (Not required for revolvers)
  11. Holster
  12. Range is clear!
Some targets may have some areas blacked out with spray paint. Black paint is hard cover. Any shots that hit hard cover are treated as a miss.
Those are non-threat targets, or hostages. Don't shoot them. Each hit on non-threat results in a 5-second penalty to your final score.