Getting Started

Interested in getting started in USPSA?  There are just a few things you need to know for your first match.  Read on to understand the basics!


Let’s take a moment to talk about the most important aspect of all competitive shooting: Safety.  Everything we do in USPSA revolves around safety.

LOADED FIREARMS: If you carry a gun, please stow it or unload it PRIOR to arriving at the range.   USPSA events are strictly “cold range” (NO loaded firearm) events, and that includes the parking area.  We cannot risk competitor safety or the impeccable safety reputation of our sport to an accidental discharge at a match that injures someone.  The ONLY time you may have a loaded firearm at a USPSA match is while completing a course of fire under the direct supervision of a safety officer .  If you inadvertently find yourself on a range with a loaded gun, please find a safety officer immediately and they will escort you into a bay to unload.

UNLOADED FIREARMS: There are designated safety areas at every USPSA match.  These are the ONLY areas where handling of unloaded firearms is permitted.   This area is where you’ll take your unloaded gun out of your bag and put it in your holster before the match or put it back in your bag after the match.  If you have to work on a gun during a match, you can do it here, but there is NO handling of ammunition or loaded magazines in designated safety areas.  Loaded magazines can be on your belt while you’re in the safe area, but they must stay there.  Think of it this way: you CAN handle ammunition any place you CANNOT handle a gun and you CAN handle a gun the only place you CANNOT handle ammo (the safe areas).    Easy stuff, right?

Moving on!

So you’ve decided to shoot at a USPSA match.

When you get to the match, you can put on all of your gear at your car EXCEPT your gun. Then you can proceed to the designated safe area to un-case and holster your gun.  Remember, you can have loaded magazines in the safe area, but you CANNOT handle them there.  Violating this rule will result in a match disqualification.  Safety first and always.

Some clubs require first time shooters to attend a new shooter briefing or short class before the match.  Check with your local club for details on that. There will be a shooters brief or safety brief for all shooters right before the match.  After that, shooters will head to their respective starting bays.

Most local matches are between 4 and 8 “courses of fire” or “stages”.  Competitors are split up into “squads”, typically with the number of squads equaling the number of stages.  Depending on how you sign up, you’ll either pick a squad at registration time, or you’ll get to pick your squad the morning of your match.  Hopefully you’re shooting with someone you know, but if not, you’ll have new friends by the end of the day, I guarantee it!

Every stage starts with the range officer reading the Written Stage Briefing out loud to the entire squad.  This stage briefing tells you where the start location is on the stage, what the start position is (hands at sides, hands at surrender position, etc), and what condition your firearm must be in (loaded/unloaded, on a table, etc).  It will also tell you scoring parameters for the stage (we won’t get into the specifics, but some stages are “shoot ’til you hit ’em all” and some specify a number of rounds that may be fired without penalty). Once the written stage briefing has been read you’ll have a few minutes to walk the stage and get your plan together for how you’re going to engage the targets.  Remember, you cannot unholster your gun during this walk through…”air gunning” only.


When it’s your turn to shoot, you’ll proceed to the designated start location and wait for instructions from the Range Officer.  DO NOT un-holster your gun until you are told to by the RO, as people may be downrange setting up targets, etc.

The first instruction you’ll be given by the Range Officer is this:  “MAKE READY”.  This command tells you it’s time to unholster and load your gun (unless the stage calls for an unloaded start).  Once you’re ready to go, you’ll assume the correct start position as defined in the stage briefing.  The RO will then ask you “ARE YOU READY?”  You are not required to respond to this command.  “No response” is considered a “yes” just the same as saying “I’m ready” or nodding your head.  It’s your choice.  The next command you’ll receive is “STANDBY“.  This tells you that the start buzzer will follow in the next few seconds.  Once the buzzer sounds, the shooting begins! There are a few important safety rules to remember while you’re shooting.

  1. There is an imaginary “180 degree” line that is the boundary between “uprange” and “downrange”.  This line generally moves with you as you move through the course of fire.  Pointing your weapon “uprange” of the 180 degree line is a serious safety violation and will result in match disqualification.
  2. Anytime you are moving and not actively engaging targets, your finger MUST be *visibly* outside of the trigger guard.
  3. When you are reloading, your finger MUST be *visibly* outside of the trigger guard.
  4. Generally speaking, you may NOT holster a loaded handgun except at the initial “make ready” command.  When you finish the course of fire, listen for and follow the RO commands to unload and re-holster your gun.
  5. If you hear the command “STOP” from the RO, cease movement and shooting, face down range with your gun pointed into the berm and listen for further instructions.  It could be something simple like a steel target that fell prematurely, or something serious like someone down range or you have committed a safety violation and are being stopped.

When you have completed the course of fire, the RO will say “IF YOU ARE FINISHED, UNLOAD AND SHOW CLEAR”.  At this point, if you are in fact done shooting, remove the magazine from your gun (or moon clip for the revolver guys), lock the slide back and hold your gun so that both you and the RO can view your chamber.  Once you have both confirmed that your gun is unloaded, the RO will give the command “IF CLEAR, HAMMER DOWN AND HOLSTER” (or “IF CLEAR, CYLINDER CLOSED AND HOLSTER” for revolver guys).  At that point, you can close your slide, point your gun into the berm and pull the trigger to drop the hammer or striker, then put your gun back in your holster.  The course of fire formally ends when the RO gives the command “RANGE IS CLEAR”.  At that point, you can proceed down range with the RO and the scorer to score your  targets.

Congratulations, you’ve shot your first stage!

After you have completed all of the courses of fire in the match you can proceed to the Safe Area to “un-gun”.  Sometimes an RO will let everyone in the squad bring their gun bag to the berm and he will watch each person show an empty gun one last time and then bag their gun.


After the match, please find out if you need to help tear down the stages.  If everyone pitches in, this goes quickly and everyone can get home.  This is really important!  99% of the time, it’s fellow competitors that volunteered their time to put the stages together.  Make sure you help them put everything away.  It’s just the right thing to do.

So there ya go!  You’ve shot your first match!  Scores are usually posted within 24 hours.  Ask someone “in the know” where to look for those scores.  Most clubs are posting them to the Practiscore website nowadays.

We hope that after your first match, you’re hooked.  This is a great sport full of awesome, helpful, friendly people.  Don’t hesitate to ask lots of questions along the way.  The information provided here is just the tip of iceberg, but the best thing to do is to learn as you go.  To learn about the different divisions (which are determined by what kind of gun you’re shooting, how many rounds of ammunition you can load, and several other factors), read on.

Let’s talk briefly about the different divisions within USPSA.  Before you fire your first shot, you’ll need to know which of these divisions you want to compete in.  As you read this list, you’ll start to see how the competition is different for each division.

A. Production Division:  This division requires a basically stock semi-automatic handgun like most Glocks, Springfield XD/XDms, S&W M&Ps, Sigs etc.  There is a published list of approved handguns on the USPSA website.  Production shooters are limited to 10 rounds in each magazine at the start of a course of fire.  Restrictions exist for holster/magazine placement on the belt, permissible firearm modifications, etc.    Many new shooters will compete in this division because it allows them to be competitive with a “stock” firearm they already own.  No fancy race holsters are allowed in Production.  A standard leather or Kydex holster attached to the belt is a great start (and no drop-leg holsters are allowed unless you’re active LEO or MIL and then you need to speak the MD for approval).  You’ll want to start with at least 5 magazines in total.  A 32 round stage with some steel targets on it can eat up ammunition fast, and nothing is more frustrating than running out of ammo before  running out of targets.  🙂

B. Limited Division:  Limited division competitors do not have an ammunition capacity restriction (though there is a 140mm magazine length restriction).  Magazines may be fully loaded, and some magazines will hold as many as 21 rounds!  Modifications to Limited guns are much less restrictive.  Things like magazine wells and thumb rests are allowed.  No ported or compensated barrels or optics are allowed in Limited Division.  “Race-type” holsters like the DAA Racemaster and the Ghost are allowed.  Magainze and gun location on the body are relaxed.

C. Limited-10 Division:  Same as Limited division, but with a 10 round magazine restriction.

D. Open Division: The “almost anything goes” division.  Magazines up to 170mm in length are allowed and some configurations will hold as many as 29 rounds!  Ported/compensated barrels and red-dot type optics are permitted.  These are the “Formula One” guns in the competitive handgun world.

E. Single-Stack Division:  For 1911 style single-stack guns.  Any caliber 9mm or above is allowed.

F. Revolver Division:  Self-explanatory.

Other Equipment: You’ll need a belt that attaches securely to your body.  It should make use of the belt loops on your pants.  You’ll also need a holster that securely holds your firearm and fully encloses the trigger guard.  An Outside-Waist-Band holster is not required, but is strongly recommended.  Magazine pouches should hold your magazines securely on your belt.  You’ll be running with your gun, so everything needs to stay where you put it.

It’s rare that a local match will require more than 200 rounds of ammunition.   If you bring 200 rounds you should be fine (unless you’re prone to missing alot, in which case use your best judgement!  🙂 )

And of course you’ll need good, impact rated eye protection at all times when you’re on the range and hearing protection too.

Power Factor:  – Let’s get nerdy for a few minutes.  There are two different ammunition “Power Factors” that affect how a competitor is scored.  These are called “Major” and “Minor” and they are based on a simple calculation of bullet weight and velocity.  Minor PF can be thought of as a “handicap” that’s applied to your score for using low-recoil ammunition.  It is applied by awarding fewer points for certain hits on paper targets.  Major Power Factor competitors avoid this handicap.  Well go over the Power Factor for each division in a moment, but first let’s look at how it’s calculated:

The calculation is this:  (bullet weight x velocity in FPS)/1000 = PF.   A value of 125-164.9 is a minor power factor round.  165.0 and above is major power factor.  Power Factors less than 125.0 may not be used for scoring competitors.

Let’s look at a few examples:

– A 165 grain bullet going 1000 FPS has a PF of 165 and would be a major PF round.

– A 124 grain 9mm bullet going 1010 FPS per second would be minor power factor at 125.2.  You have to push a 9mm at 1331 FPS to make major power factor.  Many Open division shooters do this.

– A 200 grain bullet only has to go 825 FPS to make major power factor.  ((200 x 825)/1000=165)

So how is Minor Power Factor used as a handicap?

For Minor Power Factor, on a standard paper (cardboard) target with A,B,C and D scoring zones, the point values are as follows:

A zone = 5 points
B zone = 3 points
C zone = 3 points
D zone = 1 point

For Major Power Factor, on the same target, the point values of each zone are:

A zone = 5 points
B zone = 4 points
C zone = 4 points
D zone = 2 point

As you can see, B/C/D zone hits get one less point for minor PF than for major PF.  Each division makes use of Power Factor just a little differently, so let’s look at that:

Production Division:  ALL production shooters, whether they’re shooting a soft 9mm hand-load or full-power factory .45 are scored using Minor PF. As such, most Production competitors use 9mm rounds making between 125 and 135 PF.  Why battle recoil when there’s no benefit for doing so?
Limited/Limited-10: Competitors using 9mm/.38 are scored using Minor PF only.  Competitors using .40 or .45 can be either Minor or Major PF.  Most competitors in these divisions shoot Major PF, otherwise they lose a point for every non-A zone hit compared to their competitors.
Open: In Open division, the calculation is king.  Any caliber 9mm or larger can be either Minor or Major.
Revolver: Any caliber 9mm or greater can be either Minor or Major, however for Minor PF, 8 shot revolvers are allowed.  Major PF is restricted to 6 rounds (you could use an 8 shot revolver for Major PF but could only fire 6 shots before reloading).
Single-Stack: 9mm/.38 is Minor PF only.  .40 and .45 can be Minor or Major.  Minor PF guns can be loaded to 10 rounds, Major PF only to 8.

You’ll declare whether you’re Major or Minor PF when you register for a match.  For club monthly matches, it’s an honor system as there is typically no Chronograph stage at these matches with which to calculate power factor.  If you hand load, you probably know how fast your bullets are moving, so you can make an accurate declaration.  If you’re shooting factory ammo and are shooting in a division where Major PF is available, you’re probably safe to declare it.  Most factory ammo is fast enough or close enough to be Major.  At major matches like State/Sectional/Area/National championships, your ammo will be tested by match officials using your gun, so you need to know your power factor before attending one of these matches.  If you declare Major but only make Minor PF at the Chrono, they’ll just adjust your scores accordingly.  There is no other “penalty” for being wrong.  If your ammo doesn’t even make power factor, you’re “competing for no-score”, on other words you can shoot, but you are not in the competition for score.

That should have your head pretty full of information for now.  If you’ve read this far, you have all the info you need to shoot your first match.  Only thing left to do is to register and get out there and do it!

Good luck!