3. The Rules of the Game

This section briefly covers the basic rules for competition. Consult the USPSA rulebook (if you're in the US) or IPSC rulebook for additional details. There are differences between some USPSA rules and the IPSC (international) rules. A few of these differences will be noted. The IPSC rule book is available as Appendix A, and the USPSA regulations are available as Appendix B.


3.1 Safety and Disqualification

The foundation of practical shooting is safe gun handling, developed through training and practice. We don't care how fast you do it; we care how safely you do it. Failure to abide by the safety rules of the sport will get you disqualified: from the match, or worse, depending on the violation. Most clubs reserve the right to block a competitor from entering a match who simply cannot handle a firearm (or themselves) responsibly. New shooters are expected to be concerned with safe gun handling first and foremost. Careful practice will improve both your gun handling and your shooting skills.

All USPSA (and most IPSC) matches are run with a cold range. This means that all shooters will keep their guns unloaded, hammer down on an empty chamber, unless instructed to load by a Range Officer. Most clubs require eye and ear protection for all shooters and eye protection for spectators. Even if your club does not require it, use of both are strongly encouraged. If your club runs a 'hot' range (weapons loaded at all times) make sure that you understand and follow all of their safety regulations.

DISQUALIFICATION will result from:


3.1.1 The Safe Area

The safe area is a designated location somewhere on a cold range where you are allowed to handle, work on, or dry fire your firearm. You cannot handle ammunition in the safe area, and some clubs prohibit the handling of magazines in the safe area as well. When you leave the safe area, your gun is either holstered or bagged. Elsewhere on the range, you are not permitted to handle your gun except under the direction of a Range Officer. However, away from the safe area you can handle your magazines (speedloaders) and ammunition. This includes loading magazines and placing them in the carriers on your belt. Proper use of the safe area insures that there is no place on the range where you can handle both the gun and ammunition at the same time - other than on the firing line when it is your turn to shoot.


3.1.2 Range Commands

You should fully understand the rules for a particular course of fire before shooting it. Often the range officer will ask if you understand the course of fire. Once the Range Officer instructs you to load it is assumed that you have no questions. If you do have questions, ask them before starting the loading procedure. Better to ask than to receive unexpected penalties.

On the command 'LOAD AND MAKE READY' - the shooter will face downrange, fit ear protectors, glasses, etc., load handgun and make it ready. He will then take up the ready position for that stage.

After the shooter has assumed the ready position, the Range Officer (RO) will say 'ARE YOU READY?' if the shooter is not ready at this command, he should say 'Not Ready'. You may also hear 'Shooter Ready?' used in place of 'ARE YOU READY?', although it is not an 'approved' command.

If the shooter is ready, the RO will say 'STANDBY'. This will be followed by the cue to commence firing. The cue may be verbal, audible, visual, or self-starting. In most cases, the RO will sound the buzzer on an electronic timer which is the cue to begin shooting.

The competitor will then shoot the course of fire. When the competitor is finished, the RO will say 'IF YOU ARE FINISHED, UNLOAD AND SHOW CLEAR'. If you have actually finished the firearm is unloaded and held ready for inspection by the Range Officer. Self-loaders will have the magazine removed and the slide locked back. Revolvers will have the cylinder swung out and empty. The unloading procedure must be carried out with the muzzle pointed downrange at all times. If the gun requires that a magazine be inserted in order to drop the hammer, an empty magazine should be used, and it should be removed from the gun before the shooter leaves the firing line.

When the RO is satisfied that the gun is clear, he will say 'GUN CLEAR, HAMMER DOWN, HOLSTER' and the shooter will holster the handgun unloaded after pulling the trigger. The RO will then give the command 'RANGE IS CLEAR', and the targets can be scored and reset.

Practical Shooters are among the safest around. This is the result of our shooters' self control and our safety program. Mickey Fowler, one of the Nation's top IPSC shooters during the 80's, noted in an interview.

'I've shot hundreds of matches, literally, and I've never seen a bullet-related injury. Sometimes people sprain their ankles, but I've never seen a bullet wound. IPSC shooting has as near perfect a safety record as any sport could have. Obviously there is a potential for a great deal of danger in this sport, but the shooters adhere to strict safety rules and are disqualified if any safety rules are broken. I really can't think of any other sport that has as good a record as IPSC shooting.'


3.2 Unlimited? Limited? vs. Open? Modified? Standard?

Recently the USPSA instituted a Limited class which restricts the modifications allowed to a competitors' firearm. Essentially, Limited class includes all pistols that do not have optical or electronic sights, compensators, or ported barrels. Most common modifications to improve reliability and accuracy (trigger job, throating, lowering the ejection port, etc.) are allowed. For complete descriptions of allowed and disallowed modifications consult the USPSA rule book. All firearms that do not qualify for Limited class are in Unlimited class. The current Limited class equipment restrictions are included as Appendix C to this FAQ.

Under international (IPSC) rules Unlimited and Open guns are the same, free from restrictions. To be eligible for the Modified Division, a handgun in its ready condition (eg. cocked and locked) must fit in a box measuring 225 mm x 150 mm x 45 mm. As long as a handgun fits in the box any modifications are acceptable. In Standard Division any complete handgun produced by a factory in quantities of 500 units per year is permitted. The only modifications which are forbidden are ports, compensators, and optics. IPSC only permits extension magazines in Open Division.


3.3 Power Factor, Targets & Scoring

Success in practical pistol shooting comes from a combination of accuracy, speed, and power. These quantities are measured in different ways: points are awarded for hitting target zones and knocking down steel plates, time is measured with an electronic timer, and power is calculated from the velocity and bullet weight of your ammunition. All three scores affect the outcome of the match.


3.3.1 Power Factor

IPSC competitors are separated into two groups for scoring: Major and Minor power factor. The power factor is determined from the product of your bullet weight and the velocity of your ammunition. Competitors shooting Major power factor ammo receive additional points for peripheral hits on paper targets. In general, all pistols .40 caliber and up can make Major, and others (such as .38 super, 9x21/23/25) only make Major with handloads. The power factor of your ammunition can be determined using a weight scale and a chronograph.

POWER FACTOR is calculated from bullet weight and velocity:


bullet weight (grains) x velocity (feet per second)

--------------------------------------------------- =  Power Factor




MAJOR is from 175 up.

     200 gr. .45 bullet at 900 feet/second = 180 power factor.

MINOR is from 125 to 174.999.

     125 gr. 9mm bullet at 1000 feet/second = 125 power factor.

Ammunition must make Minor to be used in IPSC competition.

Caliber must be .38/9mm or higher, and 9mm Luger may not be scored as major under current USPSA rules. Outside the US, ammunition for the 9mm which makes Major may be used according to IPSC international rules. Outside of Unlimited/Open class .40/10mm has been deemed the minimum caliber permitted to score as Major.


3.3.2 Targets

There are several types of targets that may be used in IPSC competition: the standard cardboard IPSC target, the Pepper Popper, the US Popper, the 8' round plate, and the 6' square plate. All of the steel targets will fall when hit. The US Popper is a 2/3 scale version of the standard Pepper Popper shown below. The circular section is 12' across on the standard Popper, and 8' on the US Popper. Both Poppers are to be set so that they will fall from a hit at the calibration line (below the circle) from a 9mm factory load. Unless otherwise marked, all steel targets are worth 5 points when hit. 10 point steel targets are also allowed, but are rarely used. In the US, steel targets may be painted any color, but Pepper Poppers that are 'shoot' targets may not be painted black.


        * *

      *     *

     *       *

     *       * 

     *       * 

    *    ----*-------- circular section (8' or 12' diameter)

   *           *

  *-------------*  ----- calibration line (IPSC)

   *           *

    *         *     

     * ----- *    ----- calibration line (USPSA)

     *       * 

     *       * 

     *       * 

     *       * 

     *       * 

     *       * 

     *       * 

     *       * 

     *       * 

     *       * 

      *     * 



           POPPER (not to scale)





           *       *

           * +---+ *

           * | A | *

           * +---+ *         

           *   B   *


  *       /         \       *         Power Factor and Points

 *      /             \      *        ------------------------        

 *    /                 \    *        | Zone | Major | Minor |

 *   |     +-------+     |   *        |======================|

 *   |     |       |     |   *        |   A  |   5   |   5   |

 *   |     |       |     |   *        |   B  |   4   |   3   |

 *   |     |       |     |   *        |   C  |   4   |   3   |

 * D |  C  |   A   |  C  | D *        |   D  |   2   |   1   |

 *   |     |       |     |   *        ------------------------

 *   |     |       |     |   *

 *   |     |       |     |   *

 *   |     +-------+     |   *

 *   |                   |   *

 *    \                 /    *

 *     \               /     *

  *     +-------------+     *

   *                       * 

    *                     *

     *                   *




           standard IPSC target (not to scale)

The standard cardboard IPSC target (shown above) has 4 zones: A, B, C, and D. Targets scoring values for Major and Minor power ammunition are shown in the table next to the target. Normally the target is tan but white IPSC targets are used as 'no-shoot' targets as described below.


3.3.3 Scoring Methods

Three methods of scoring are in common use. They are:

TIME FIRE - You are given a stated number of seconds to complete the problem, i.e., draw and fire 2 rounds at one target in 5 seconds. The number of rounds to be fired and the time limit are set. You are penalized for late and extra shots, but not for misses.

COMSTOCK COUNT - Each target must have a stated number of hits on it, eg., 'Best two hits will be scored.' You may shoot as many rounds as you wish at each target; take as much time as you need. The clock stops when you are finished. An electronic timer records the time of each shot. If a target has less than the minimum required hits you are penalized 10 points each. So if it called for three holes and you have one, you get 2 x -10 or -20 points. In the case of a 10 point plate, a miss is worth -20 points. Your score is your total points (minus penalties) divided by your time for that stage, which is your 'hit factor'. Negative hit factors (due to negative point totals) are not allowed, so a 0.0 is the lowest possible hit factor. Larger hit factors are always better. Typically these numbers will run from 0.0000 to 10.0000 or higher.

LIMITED COMSTOCK OR 'VIRGINIA COUNT' - Places a premium on Gun Control. The number of required hits are specified and you may only fire that number of rounds, but you can take all the time you desire. As you cannot fire extra shots to make up for misses, each round fired must be accurately placed. It is quite possible to zero a Limited Comstock stage. Extra shots and extra hits are penalized. Again the score is divided by time to arrive at the hit factor.

'No-shoot' targets are designated by white standard IPSC paper targets. In the US, Pepper poppers may also be used as 'no-shoots'. These targets are typically placed near 'shoot' targets to increase the difficulty of the event. No-shoot and miss penalties can combine quickly. A common error is to fire two shots at a shoot/no-shoot target array, scoring one round on the 'shoot' target and one on the 'no-shoot' target. If Comstock scoring is used, both a no-shoot and a miss penalty are assessed - since there is only one scorable hit on the 'shoot' target. Thus the shooter has lost a total of 25 points: -10 for the miss, -10 for the no-shoot, and (effectively) -5 for the points an A hit would have provided. Using the same reasoning it can be said that misses 'cost' the shooter -15 total points, -10 from the penalty and -5 from the points not earned. Misses and no-shoots quickly decimate any earned points from other targets and are to be avoided at all costs. A slow hit scores higher than a fast miss - or worse, a fast miss and no-shoot.

Additional procedural penalties may be assessed for failing to follow the instructors for a given course of fire: engaging targets from the wrong shooting box, or failing to perform a mandatory reload. Most penalties are 10 points, although some are only 5 points. Course designers often specify how procedural penalties are to be given in the course description. Always read the course description carefully and ask the range officer any questions you may have prior to shooting the stage, to avoid unwanted penalties.

See the USPSA or IPSC Handbook for the complete rules for each method of scoring.


3.4 USPSA Classification and Ranking

USPSA currently recognizes 6 classifcations: Grand Master (GM), Master (M), A, B, C and D class. Members of USPSA are classified based on their percentage, which is determined from their performance on classifier stages. These stages are shot by clubs all over the US, using identical props and targets. The scores are mailed to USPSA and ranked. The shooter with the highest score is given a 100% on that stage, and all other shooters' scores are recorded as a percentage of the top score. For each USPSA member, the six highest percentages are averaged, and an overall percentage calculated. As new scores are sent in, a shooter's classification may improve. Classifications are only lowered in special cases (see the USPSA rule book for more details). The percentage limits for classification are:


     Grand Master ....  95%  to 100%

           Master ....  85% to 94.9%

                A ....  75% to 84.9%

                B ....  60% to 74.9%

                C ....  40% to 59.9%

                D ....  39.9% and below

Some clubs do not use national classifications, and prefer to have a club classification system. Usually a new shooter will shoot as 'Unclassified' for the first few matches until a class can be assigned. Outside the US different countries use a wide variety of classification systems.


3.5 Your First Match

WHAT DO THEY EXPECT OF ME? - SAFETY is the first concern in Practical Shooting. The match officers expect you and every other shooter to display the SELF CONTROL needed to handle your gun and yourself in a safe manner. These tips will help you understand how a match is run, your part in it, and what is expected of you.

WANT TO BE AN EFFECTIVE COMPETITOR? - Then relax and enjoy the fun. Banish all distracting thoughts of prize and place; you're challenging yourself. Don't try to shoot the other guy's match; set a speed that works for YOU. The one who makes the least mistakes fastest often wins. Set realistic goals. If you improve 5% each time out, if you learn something new from each match, you're a winner!

DO YOU MEET THE SKILL REQUIREMENTS? - Before appearing at a match ready to shoot, check to see if you meet the skill requirements. Many clubs require new shooters to pass a Shooter Safety Check before they can register for a match.

IS MY EQUIPMENT READY? - Make sure that all of your equipment is prepared and in good working order. Always take enough ammo - a good rule of thumb is take double the amount of ammo needed for the match, in case you end up re-shooting all the stages. For most local matches 150 rounds is an acceptable minimum to bring; 200-250 rounds is more common. Most matches require 75-125 rounds to complete. Bringing extra ammo allows you to keep all spare magazines (speedloaders) full for every stage.

TRANSPORTING YOUR FIREARMS - Generally speaking, if the gun and ammo are locked in the trunk, not accessible to the driver, there should be no trouble. To be sure, CHECK AND COMPLY WITH ALL APPLICABLE LAWS.


3.5.1 Registration

THE REGISTRATION PROCESS - Once you get parked, find Match Registration. Present your Safety Check or class card, pay your match fee and get a registration packet. If you are a new shooter at your first three matches, present your Safety Check card and tell them you're NEW. They will often mark your scorecards NEW to alert the ROs so they can assist you.

FILLING OUT THE REGISTRATION PACKET - The packet consists of a registration card and a set of score cards. Take the time to fill them out correctly and return that pen you borrowed. Tell registration if anything has changed from last time such as address or class. Note the SHOOTER NUMBER. That SAME NUMBER MUST APPEAR on every score card. That's YOUR JOB. To STATS you are a number on a score card - that how they call up your records. Check the boxes if you want to register for any special classes (Stock Gun, COP, Lady, Revolver, etc.)

MAJOR OR MINOR - Does the card show if you are shooting a Minor (.38, 9mm, etc.) or Major (.45, .44, etc.) caliber? The shooters doing STATS need that on the card to properly calculate your scores. If you leave it blank, they may score you as a Minor.

SCORE CARDS - One for each stage. Make sure that you enter the correct information. Write in your SHOOTER NUMBER and name.

SAFETY FIRST! CHECK OUT THE LOCAL RULES - If you are familiar with the club's safety policy, now is the time to put your gun and gear on. Local procedures for this will vary. If you are new, now is the time to check out the local ground rules. They should be posted. If not, or if you have questions, ask one of the match officers for a clarification. They will appreciate your responsible attitude (you've made some points). Some clubs will let you gear up at your car, others require that you use the Safety Area. In many places (eg. all of Canada) handling your gun outside of a safety area will get you disqualified from the match.

SAFETY FIRST! THE BASIC RULES - The Four Laws of Gun Control are the basis of gun safety. If you are ever in doubt about the right thing to do, apply the Four Laws. In addition, there are certain basic ground rules that will keep you out of trouble at an IPSC match:

(*) Once your gun is holstered, LEAVE IT ALONE unless you are on the firing line and a Range Officer is directing you. (See Safety Area for the exception.)

(*) Once your gun is loaded, always have the safety on unless you are actually shooting at a target. This is not required under the rules, but it's a good habit.

(*) Keep your finger OFF the trigger until your sights are ON the target. Get in the habit of extending the trigger finger. WHEN YOU MOVE, THE FINGER MUST BE OUTSIDE THE TRIGGER GUARD WHEN NOT ENGAGING TARGETS. A finger inside = Disqualification!

IN THE SAFETY AREA - The SAFETY AREA is the ONLY area of the match aside from the firing lines where gun handling is allowed. Signs should be posted that tell what the conditions of use are. If in doubt, ask. Some clubs allow dry practice here, some only permit checking of weapons. If your gun breaks, this is where you take it for field repairs. If George wants to show you his Blastatron 10, this is where he would do it.



You can wear your loaded magazines in pouches, but you cannot remove them while in the Safety Area. Gearing up in the Safety Area? Then uncase the gun keeping the muzzle pointed in the indicated safe direction. Check to make sure it's unloaded. Do this by racking the slide or opening the cylinder and inspecting. Then close slide or cylinder and reholster. Once holstered, leave it alone. Playing with your gun behind the lines will get you disqualified for unsafe gun handling.


3.5.2 On the Firing Line

SHOOTER STAGE INFORMATION - WHAT THE STAGE IS ABOUT - Find the official set posted in Registration or on the stage and read it. It will show how each stage is going to be run, and will have any last minute changes or corrections. You need this data to plan your strategy. (Got a strategy?)

HOW THE STAGE IS RUN - Two Range Officers will be running a stage. The Chief Range Officer handles the shooter, watches his gun, and prevents him from doing something unsafe. The Range Officer (Timer) runs stage administration: order of shooters, their job assignments, spectators, and target scoring. When you are shooting, the CRO will be watching YOUR GUN while the RO will be to the rear, watching for procedurals. When possible, both the Chief Range Officer and Range Officer will be certified RO's. At local matches often only the Chief Range Officer will be certified, and other experienced club members will serve as assistant Range Officers.

STUDY THE SHOOTING PROBLEM - You can learn a lot just by watching others handle the problem. Watch how they handle their guns, how they move, where they reload .. all the things that make up their game plan. What worked? What didn't? Study the Shooter Stage Information posted in the waiting area. The CRO will give a walk-through and briefing to each new squad of shooters. He will explain the course, his safety concerns, and other matters related to shooting the course. Now is the time to ask those questions.

HELP RUN THE STAGE - Practical Shooting is a cooperative sport. Our Range Offices are shooters - unpaid volunteers who've paid their entry fee and want to shoot the match, too. They need and expect your full cooperation in helping run the match efficiently. Time saved on any stage means that the overall match ends sooner. You can do your part by understanding the course of fire BEFORE you come to the line, and by doing your share of the jobs on the stage. The squad on line works the stage. Job assignments are announced by the RO. You'll work as:

BRASS PICKER - Gather spent brass and discarded magazines when the shooter has finished. Present these to him when he leaves the line. Well-organized shooters have their own brass bags to make your job easier.

TARGET TAPER - When the CRO and shooter finish inspecting a target, the CRO will tell you 'Tape it!' You then tape all the bullet holes in the target, check the target edges for any grazing shots (usually they leave dark bullet lube marks); tape these, then onto the next target. If you aren't sure that a target has been scored, ask. If you tape before the CRO scores, there will be a great mess, much unhappiness, and sorrowful words.

YOUR TURN TO SHOOT - COME PREPARED so when the CRO asks if you have questions, you know the answers. Whether or not your scorecard shows that you are a new shooter, the CRO will be happy to help you. He wants you to be safe, learn the game, and have fun. Prepared also means having enough ammo for the problem. If you run out in the middle, you're out of luck. Did you check each magazine to see that it was full? (TIP: DON'T put used magazines back into your carriers; only full ones should be there.) You'll forget this, and you'll find out.

YOUR SCORECARD - When you have finished shooting and been cleared, the CRO and you will inspect the targets. Stay 1 meter away from the target unless told differently. Do not touch the target unless you want it scored as a 0. If you disagree with the score, you may challenge it. You will get three opinions, which are final (RO,CRO, Range Master or Match Director). Check the scorecard carefully before you initial it. Once you and the CRO have signed it, it's a definitive document. It's a good idea to keep your own separate record of the score and times so you can catch any errors.

BREAKING DOWN THE MATCH - The usual procedure is to break down while the final scores are being calculated. All the shooters help break down. All the targets, props and gear are returned to their storage locations under the supervision of the Range Officers.

FINAL SCORES - When the gear is put away and STATS has finished scoring, the final stage scores will be posted for inspection and correction. Then STATS will calculate the match scores. The Match Director will announce the winners and present the awards. In the case of many matches you may have to wait several days before you are mailed final, verified results. No matter who took what home, if you learned something new, if you improved your skills, if you had fun doing it, you are one of the winners in Practical Shooting.


Last Updated: 01/13/97