What's Practical Shooting?
There are a number of different practical shooting sports, each with its own set of rules and method of scoring. Some fall under national or international organizing bodies such as USPSA (which is the U.S. arm of IPSC), IDPA, and ICORE. In all cases, practical shooting requires a combination of speed and accuracy - with each discipline placing its own emphasis on the balance between the two. In a match, competitors shoot several courses of fire (or stages) in which well-defined targets and barriers are set up within a specified area. Competitors are timed and scored for each stage and these two quantities are used to determine the relative performance of each shooter.
National and international organizations usually have a method of classifying or rating shooters based on their performance on specific stages (known in USPSA as classifiers). Classifications are used to both monitor the shooter's performance over time, as well as to group shooters of similar skill levels together for competition purposes - e.g. at a match, awards may be given to top shooters in each class. In addition to classification, competitors are also grouped into divisions according to the equipment used. The specific divisions and the equipment allowed in each may be different for each practical shooting discipline. Basic equipment, common to most practical shooting sports, are discussed below.
The above information is meant to give the new shooter a quick glimpse into practical shooting. The best way to really learn "what is practical shooting" is to watch or shoot one of the regular matches at a local club (see links above). There you will find many helpful, friendly shooters who are quite eager to "show you the ropes" and guide you through your first match. Come out and join the fun!
Equipment requirements vary depending upon the practical shooting discipline. In most cases there is a minimum caliber requirement (e.g. 9mm, .38 special) as well as division-specific requirements such as the type of sights (e.g. iron vs. electronic sights), the action (e.g. single vs. double action), the type of holster and ammunition placement, etc. In USPSA, there is a division for just about any safe combination of equipment provided it meets the minimum caliber requirements.
Basic equipment for most practical shooting disciplines includes:
Before purchasing even basic equipment, it would be beneficial to seek advice from experienced shooters at a local match. As mentioned above, there you will find many helpful, friendly shooters who are quite eager to offer advice and answer questions regarding equipment.
The primary concern in any practical shooting discipline is safety. For this reason, USPSA matches strictly adhere to a well-formulated body of rules (USPSA Rulebook) designed to ensure the safety of competitors and spectators, alike. For example, matches are conducted under conditions of what is called a "cold range" - meaning competitors are not allowed to handle their firearms or ammunition except (separately) in specified areas, and all firearms must remain unloaded except during a course of fire while under the supervision of a USPSA certified Range Officer (RO). Further, the RO is charged with the task of ensuring that the competitor closely follows all safety rules during the course of fire - if the RO observes a safety rule violation during the course, the competitor will be stopped and may be disqualified from completing the match.
These are but a few examples of the safety measures encompassed by USPSA rules. A complete understanding/appreciation would (at a minimum) require careful analysis of the entire USPSA rulebook. Suffice it to say for our purposes here, that USPSA shooting is firmly based in strict attention to safety and has enjoyed a remarkable safety record as a result