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My first ever IDPA practice

Just one of many realistic scenarios practiced at IDPA matches...or not.

The International Defensive Pistol Association is the governing body that oversees the sport of realistic defensive pistol shooting. Founded in 1996, IDPA has more than 20,000 members worldwide and focuses on helping average, everyday shooters become better at gun handling, marksmanship, and concealment.

I was drawn to IDPA after realizing my own gun handling skills and shooting accuracy under pressure were seriously lacking. While IDPA is nothing like a real world defensive encounter (is anything?), the sport focuses on individual improvement. Unlike some other competitive shooting styles, IDPA isn't about having the best and most expensive equipment. People often compete with their everyday carry guns and holsters, which I really like, and customized "competition-only" firearms and gear are prohibited at matches.

Mike Benedict, owner of Talon Tactical and vice-president of a local private gun club, has been kindly mentoring me as both a firearms instructor and an IDPA shooter. We've spent hours in the hot Georgia sun over the last couple of months, running IDPA-style drills and working on my holster draws, reloading technique, and trigger control. My shooting has improved tremendously since I started working with Mike, and I'm proud to wear his awesome handmade holsters and belts, the best I've ever used. (If you'd like your own, visit his site through the link above or contact me for pricing.)

Mike is also the founder of the local IDPA club and has patiently and persistently invited me to their regular Thursday evening practice sessions. The stars finally aligned this week and I was able to fit it into my schedule.

Driving to the club, I was a teeny bit nervous. My shooting has improved a lot over the last year but I'm still not even close to where I want to be, skills-wise. However, it's been my experience that people in the gun culture tend to be helpful and kind, especially with anyone who openly admits to being a total novice at some (or all) aspects of shooting. There are unpleasant people at shooting ranges, sometimes, but they're the exception. Most of us love the sport and enjoy helping others learn to do it better and more safely.

Once I got to the match, it was clear that I needn't have worried a bit. Everyone was friendly, if watchful, and we wasted little time on small talk. After quickly reviewing the scoring and timing protocols, we established an order of shooters and started running what Mike called a "V-Drill." Three humanoid targets were set up in the shape of an inverted V, with two in the back and one a few yards closer in between them. The drill was to place one shot on the front target, two shots on one back target, two shots on the other back target, and one shot on the front target again. The shooting was timed and began from an OWB hip holster. (IDPA rules require concealment, but the group uses "summertime rules" for when temperatures are regularly in the upper 90s, as was the case yesterday. As fall approaches, we will practice drawing from concealment, usually some kind of light jacket or sweater that must be held aside during the draw.)

To my great surprise, I wasn't terrible at the drills! I might not even have been the worst shooter in the group. Everyone was friendly and helpful, chatting between drills. My times and accuracy improved as I practiced, and it was inspiring to watch the better shooters expertly place their shots in quick succession. I studied their draws and trigger techniques, absorbing as much as I could to try on my own at my next range session. After a couple of hours, everyone finished shooting and we enjoyed grilled bratwursts and coleslaw in the cooling evening air.

As when starting any new activity, a little nervousness about attending your first IDPA practice is probably going to happen, especially if you're entirely new to the world of competitive shooting, as I am. But I can't recommend it highly enough. The group I shot with yesterday runs all kinds of drills, sometimes from concealment behind barrels or wooden panels. They even have a plywood "car" for shooting through carjacking scenarios and other situations drawn from news headlines and actual crime scenes. While this is no substitute for real world experience (nothing can be!), it will definitely refine your gun handling and drawing skills, as well as improve your accuracy under the (very slight) pressure of being timed and observed.

My local IDPA chapter has competitions on the last Sunday of every month. I can't make it to this one due to scheduling constraints, but I've put next month's meet on my calendar--in permanent marker. And in the meantime I'll be running more drills with Mike at the club. Maybe I'll even get to try out that fancy plywood car.

To find your own IDPA chapter, go to

Many thanks to Mike Benedict and the Deliverance IDPA club in Jasper, GA for their warm welcome and endless patience.