Competitive Shooting

Getting Started in Shooting Competition

Military soldier shooter aiming ar assault rifle weapon at outdoor academy shooting range

We must work to keep improving in areas which we wish to excel. Shooting and firearm handling is no different. If you get too comfortable, you stop growing. If punching holes at the range is getting too easy, or perhaps a bit boring, you should consider taking up the shooting sports. 

Competition shooting is a perfect way to take your shooting skills to the next level and put them into practice in a new way. There are tons of different types of competition shooting — all centered around different firearms and shooting styles — so there are plenty of options for whatever you’re into. 

Although these options may seem overwhelming and you may not know where to begin, read along as we take a closer look at some of the more popular shooting competitions and just what they entail.

Why Competition? 

Besides pure fun and enjoyment, there are a number of good reasons to shoot competition. First, the extra rounds down range will help you improve your overall accuracy. You will practice acquiring a fast sight picture and solid grip over and over. This repetition builds muscle memory and makes the movement natural. 

Similarly, you will polish and perfect your firearm handling skills. By continuously drawing, presenting, and reloading, you’ll become faster and more fluid. You will also iron out your malfunction clearance procedures. 

Nothing tests your guns and gear quite like competition. If things are going to go wrong, they will likely show up here. Mag drops into dust and dirt, speedy reloads, and timed fire often trigger malfunctions and parts breakage in guns that aren’t up to snuff. Tactical courses are especially hard on firearms and do a good job of simulating real-world conditions. 

The added stress and pressure from the timer and an audience will highlight any inadequacies you have in training. Whether you think you’re ready or not, when the buzzer sounds your adrenaline will start flowing. This is not directly analogous to a self-defense encounter, but it does give you a taste of how your body handles stress. It allows you to experience shooting in a heightened state of fight or flight (to a degree). The goal is to be somewhat accustomed to the feeling for an added edge should you ever be forced to defend life. 

rear view of girl shooting with gun in shooting gallery new shooter
Handgun shooting competitions can help you build valuable skills for concealed carry.

Finally, competition allows you to meet people with similar interests and experiences. In general, firearm enthusiasts love to help and teach each other. This is a treasure trove of information that you’d be a fool not to tap into. 

Handgun

If you’re an avid handgun shooter and want a shooting competition centered around the type, take a look at the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA). Dedicated to practical shooting applications such as moving through obstacles or shooting from cover, USPSA allows you to shoot both paper and steel targets. The goal is to shoot the fastest with the most accuracy. 

Different divisions based on the type of firearm and setup you prefer. There are also different power factor stipulations based on caliber. 

Popular Divisions:

  • Production – Factory pistols, iron sights 
  • Limited – Customized pistols, iron sights 
  • Open – Customized pistols, optics 
  • Carry Optics – Factory pistols, slide-mounted optic 

For those looking for increased training for concealed carry, the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) provides a competition that simulates daily life. You compete with a concealed carry setup with a pistol and a couple of spare mags in simulated active shooter scenarios. Pistols are a bit more limited than USPSA and typically must be drawn from under a cover garment. 

Long range Rifle target shooting at a gun range in rural Ireland
Long-range rifle competition is a great way to test your limits.

NRA Action Pistol is for the accuracy buffs. It requires shooters to engage steel targets out to 25 yards and paper targets out to 50 yards. The scoring zones are limited, with the X-ring on the farthest target being about 4 inches. Shooters are given a limited amount of time and number of shots to increase the pressure. Further, strings of fire are limited to 6 rounds, so revolvers are not disadvantaged. 

Rifle

If a rifle is more your thing, consider benchrest shooting. Shooters fire incredibly accurate rifles trying to produce the tightest groups possible. Rifles are fully supported by a benchrest, but the shooter must still aim and pull the trigger. This is not as physically demanding as some other competitions and may be good for those with physical impairments. 

With divisions spanning a number of different firearms and actions from high-powered rifles to air guns, Silhouette competitions are some of the most inclusive. It also does not allow/require any expensive equipment to aid in accuracy to be competitive, so it’s a much easier sport to get into. Shooters fire at animal-shaped reactive steel targets that fall down when hit, providing instant feedback many find more enjoyable than basic paper. 

For rifle shooters who really like to stretch out, Precision Rifle Series (PRS) competition is for you. This is a fast-paced competition with plenty of variation in the stages. Shooters use a centerfire bolt-action or semi-auto rifle supported with bipods or shooting bags to engage targets at varying ranges. This isn’t just standard prone shooting all the time; shooters are forced to shoot standing, seated, and kneeling, as well as running around, moving objects, and utilizing props like rooftops and vehicles as support. 

Shotgun

Of course, for scattergun lovers, there are the traditional shotgun shooting sports. Trap, skeet, and sporting clays all challenge the shooter to hit moving targets as they move through the sky or skip across the ground like a running rabbit. Obviously, this mimics the natural movements and skills used in hunting. The main differences between these events is the manner in which the target is presented. 

selective focus of man holding and fire shotgun in shooting range of gun shooting competition
Defensive shooting requires you to think under pressure. Adding a timer is a good way to up the stress.

In trap shooting, the clay is flung out and away from the shooter. Skeet shooters engage a clay that travels across the shooter’s position. Sporting Clays combines the two and adds clays that have been rolled or tossed up as well. 

For the modern shotgunner, tactical or action shooting sports provide additional defensive training. Like the defensive competitions mentioned before, these are all about running and gunning. Targets can be anything from stationary cardboard and clays to reactive steel and flying clays, so you must be on your toes. 

Given the differing targets and engagement methods, you must have birdshot, buckshot, and slugs on hand. Action shotgun competitions are just as much about the effective reload as they are the actual shooting. 

Other

Some shooting competitions require shooters to utilize multiple firearms. 3-Gun, 2-Gun, and USPSA Multigun have only grown in popularity in recent decades. These action shooting sports put shooters to the test by pushing them into several disciplines. 3-Gun requires shooters to engage targets with a handgun, rifle, and shotgun at varying distances. 2-Gun ditches the shotgun in favor of just a rifle and pistol. Only shooters who are proficient across platforms will take the lead. 

Similarly, Cowboy Action shooting utilizes varying firearms, just with an Old West theme. Single-action revolvers, lever-action rifles, and double-barrel coach guns are the tools of the trade. In keeping with the times, leather holsters and bandoliers are also prevalent, as well as period-appropriate clothing. Additionally, competitors select an old-timey name to use for scoring. 

Man holding henry lever-action rifle
If you want to step back in time, Cowboy Action shooting is a great way to go.

Rimfire competitions are a great way to get started in the shooting sports, especially if you’re on a budget. Not only are rimfire firearms less expensive, they’re also cheaper to shoot. You don’t need to spend much to make it through a match. Formerly run by the NSSF, Rimfire Challenge now has its own dedicated organization, the Rimfire Challenge Shooting Association (RCSA), in which shooters engage steel targets with .22 LR rifles and handguns. No holsters or special equipment is required, you just have to engage five to seven targets in each stage. 

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re looking to become the best of the best or simply want to fill an afternoon, competition shooting is a great way to improve your firearm skills. It may seem intimidating at first, but there are plenty of experienced competitors who would love to help you along. Start by finding a shooting competition that appeals to you and watch a match. When you’re ready, sign up to get out and take a shot. It’s ok if you fail your first time; you likely will. Just have fun with it. You will build skill as you go. 

Have you ever participated in a shooting competition? Which are your favorite to compete in? Share your thoughts and experiences in the Comment section. 

About the Author:

Alex Cole

Alex is a younger firearms enthusiast who’s been shooting since he was a kid. He loves consuming all information related to guns and is constantly trying to enhance his knowledge, understanding, and use of firearms. Not a day goes by where he doesn’t do something firearms-related and he tries to visit the range at least a couple of times a month to maintain and improve his shooting skills.

His primary focus is on handguns, but he loves all types of firearms. He enjoys disassembling and reassembling firearms to see how they work and installs most of the upgrades to his firearms himself, taking it as a chance to learn. He’s not only interested in modern handguns and rifles, he appreciates the classics for both historical value and real-world use.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (4)

  1. There was a time when I found it somewhat enjoyable… about 30 years ago. No one had a lopsided advantage over anyone else. Similar equipment, etc. You would win this month, and maybe I would win next month. I think we can all see those days are long gone. No longer can the occasional shooter that works 40, 48, 56 hour weeks expect to win. Too many folks that have turned it from friendly to ruthless. For those that enjoy it, drive on.

  2. OOPS ! The photo of a woman holding a semi-auto, with an instructor behind her, has the thumb of her
    support hand over the top of her gun hand and behind the slide. Good way to dislocate a thumb, when
    the slide cycles to the rear !

  3. Great article and nicely presented! I imagine you may hear some push back from the F-Class and maybe FTR folks for not mentioning them directly! LOL, you can please some of the people some of the time but not everyone all the time!
    It was a good introduction to a sport not as well know as the local range. Thanks for a good read!

  4. Wow I can’t believe youTotally Left Out F-Class Competitions. Including FTR….Get down Prone and try to put every round in the X ring at 1,000 or 600 yards! This will test your shills! Wind reading, reloading skills and much much more!

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