IDPA offers some different shooting tests and the nationals offer some challenging stages for all skill levels. If you are planning to go this year, here are several observations and tips you may find helpful.
Equipment, Pistol, Magazines, Ammunition, and Clothing
One question you must ask yourself concerning equipment is just how much you wish to carry or haul around. The minimum you need is your hydration, ammunition, a cleaning kit, and a folding chair or stool. Many competitors use small folding sport or gardening wagons available from a variety of sources to carry their equipment. I’ve found these to be particularly handy and worth the expense.
Pistols occasionally break—typically at the least opportune moment. If you can afford one, consider a spare pistol with the same or substantially similar configuration as your primary pistol (ensure it is division legal). If that’s not possible, bring critical spare parts (exactly what spare parts depends on your particular pistol). You should also have a spare holster, magazine carrier, and extra screws/nuts for your carry equipment. Bring extra magazines as well.
Bring at least 100 rounds of ammunition over what the match requires to ensure you have enough to cover re-shoots. If you reload your ammunition ensure that they make power factor for your division. Examine every round of ammunition and ensure there are no obvious flaws. It is also a good idea to run them through a case gauge or to remove the barrel from your pistol and drop every round into the chamber and ensure it head-spaces properly. This could prevent a time eating mis-feed in the middle of a stage.
Never make any changes to your equipment at the match unless you are absolutely forced into the change due to an equipment malfunction. Make any equipment changes you wish at least 3-4 weeks prior to the match. If you make changes, then practice, practice, practice so that you absolutely have the changes wired into your pistol manipulation skills well before match day.
I once decided that a great way to carry a flashlight was in a dual, magazine/ flashlight belt pouch. I then proceeded to shoot some local matches with the new equipment configuration and tried to reload with the flashlight rather than the spare magazine several times. It took quite a bit of dry practice before I absorbed the new changes.
In the middle of a stage the sudden realization that your front sight is no longer on the pistol can be disconcerting. Between stages or during a break in the match, go to the safe area and re-check your equipment and brush out your magazines. I’ve had front sight screws and holster screws loosen that were easily found and remedied before they caused any problems.
Dress for success. Proper clothing is part of your match equipment and you will shoot a better match if you are comfortable. Don’t forget to pack your concealment garment or vest. It’s part of your equipment and required for shooting the match. IDPA will conduct the Nationals regardless of weather conditions so bring your rain gear and something to protect your range bag if rain is in the forecast. The central Texas weather for the 2016 Nationals provided both rain and shine with temperatures well into the 90’s. Stage 2 had a low light segment that was dark enough to cause a lot of problems for the shooters who shot the stage later in the day or when it was overcast because many competitors did not have clear glasses or flashlights in their gear bag.
Stage Planning is one of the most important skills for a successful IDPA competitor. The 2017 IDPA Nationals offered challenging, yet achievable stages for shooters at all skill levels. IDPA rules permit a group walk through of the stage where all competitors are allowed to examine vision barriers and cover fault lines for each target array. During the group walk through, shooters can view each target from every shooting position including kneeling or prone positions.
As you do the walk through, count the targets and determine exactly where they are located with respect to each shooting position. Some stage designs require you to follow a specific path and shoot from specific positions, others do not. This is the beginning of your stage plan. Determine where you must physically go in order to shoot all the targets and continue building your plan.
For example, Stage #2 (Collapsed Mine, see figure below) of the 2016 Nationals required the shooter to enter a door and then presented the option of entering the mine (moving to the right) or going to the left and addressing those targets. Given the target layout, the optimal approach depended upon in what division the competitor was shooting. For revolver shooters, clearly the best course was to enter the mine first and then reload en route to the first window. Shooters in SSP and ESP found going initially to the left was the best approach.
Plan your entry, examine the shooting positions, and plan your exit for each shooting position. Practice getting into positions and leaving positions and being ready to fire an accurate shot. If you are only moving a few feet then keeping the pistol in a firing position (i.e. mounted) is fine. If you must move more than a few feet then dismount the pistol (muzzle awareness at all times) and run normally to the next position mounting the pistol as you cover the last few yards. This enables you to enter the position with the pistol ready without the additional time spent if you had waited until you came to a complete stop to bring the pistol onto the target.
Plan your shots, know when your pistol will run dry, and plan your reloads during the walk through. Know how many targets you must engage from each position and where you can reload in preparation for engaging the next set of targets. Many shooters run dry and then waste a second or more pulling the trigger, realizing their slide is locked open, and then starting their reload.
IDPA rules require shooters to remain within the cover fault lines when reloading and clearing a malfunction. However, if the shooter runs the firearm empty in the open, the shooter may reload in the open and continue engaging targets as needed or move to the next shooting position. In stages with cover or concealment, shooters may reload standing still or on the move at any time, as long as they are not exposed to targets that are not fully engaged during the reload.
In the picture below I am performing a reload on the run to the next shooting position. The stage design designated the low wall as contiguous cover. If you can perform your reload while moving along a single contiguous piece of cover to the next shooting position, then doing so will save time. However, this must be done with your on-demand skill level in mind while being aware of the muzzle direction at all times.
When you have your plan developed, quickly walk the stage as many times as you can while visualizing each action you must take at every shooting position and the movement and actions you must take as you transition to the next position. As other competitors begin shooting the stage, continue to visualize your plan and confirm its viability as you see the other competitor’s performance. If you realize that your plan requires slight modification, then once again mentally review your plan with the modification. By the time you are the on-deck shooter, ideally you should have the plan nailed down to the point that you can mentally walk through the stage with your eyes closed.
As you step up, take some deep breaths while you are making ready. If you have visualized your plan effectively, you can probably shoot the stage almost on autopilot without conscious directed thought. The conscious mind should be detached and observing without judgment. If you make an error, correct it and move on. Don't try to change your plan as a result of an error – instead get back on track and continue with your plan. I’ve frequently seen shooters who make a mistake on a stage then try to speed up to make up the lost time. That rarely works; more often the shooter ends up dropping more points (and thereby adding more time) than they would have if they had simply continued shooting the stage according to their plan.
Learn to trust your sights and call your shots. When you finish shooting a target don't stand there and admire your hits, MOVE on to the next target! If you chose to engage targets on the move, typically it's faster to move slowly as you leave a shooting position and engage the targets then sprint to the next shooting position. The stage layout may dictate otherwise.
For many stages, you do not have to be at arms-length from cover to stay within the cover fault line. This is often more efficient when you have to go to another shooting position because you didn't waste time moving forward to cover and then retracing those steps as you move to the next shooting position. Try not to extend your pistol past the cover or through openings. The time you spend pushing your pistol past cover is also spent pulling it back as you leave the shooting position. Don't duck back behind cover during a reload for the same reason.
Efficiency and Props
Occasionally, stages require the competitor to deal with an object or prop at some point. In the IDPA National stages often require the competitor to deal with a prop at the beginning of the stage. In 2016 for example, the Big Rocks of the Pecos (Stage 11) required the shooter to start with a full-size pick axe held in both hands. Competitors had to drop the pick axe, draw, and move forward to engage targets. The manner in which they dropped the pick was the shooter’s option as long as they did not hit a Safety Officer. Dropping it your path of travel was not a good idea, so some shooters tossed it forcefully off to the side and then drew their pistol as they moved forward.
Shooters with a better plan held it on their holster side with one hand near their holster and simply dropped it and then drew their pistol. The difference between the techniques is the extra time spend extending your arm to throw the pick and then retracing that path as you move your hand to the holster to draw. I video recorded several competitors and the time difference on average was .50 - .75 seconds between the two techniques.
The picture below shows a competitor dealing with a stage prop. The shooters had to start seated on the bucket with the gold pan held in both hands with thumbs on the pan. This competitor extended his arms as he tossed the pan forward rather than dropping it or tossing it to the side with his left hand. Extending his arms took .20 seconds to complete before he began reaching to draw his pistol. These fractions of a second don’t seem like much; however, over the course of a match, this extra time will add up.
You should shoot a local match the week prior to the nationals to ensure your equipment functions and set yourself mentally. The IDPA Nationals are just another match; however, a big difference for many people between a major match and a local match is their mindset. Some competitors get themselves so worked up that they a mistake. Then they mentally screw themselves into the ground and make a mistake on the next stage and thereby starting a downward mental spiral. You must be able to recover from a mistake and maintain a positive attitude throughout the match. If you have a problem on a stage, before you move one to the next stage go to the safe table, remove your equipment, and take a short break. Then put your equipment back on and move on to the next stage. This helps you to mentally reset, put your mistake behind you, and get a fresh start for subsequent stages.
Shooting the IDPA Nationals is a great experience. You get to see some of the best shooting talent in the world, shoot some of the best stages in the shooting sports, meet wonderful people, and ideally learn something as well. If you have never participated in the IDPA Nationals, I highly recommend it.
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