IDPA vs USPSA – Beginner’s Guide

Alfred Mendoza

Participating in competition shooting could help shooters have an enjoyable and challenging way of improving their shooting skills. In the US, there are two big practical shooting groups that you can join. 

Our team spent hours of research to help you have an informed decision in choosing between the IDPA vs. USPSA.

The United States Practical Shooting Association conducts competition shooting more on technicalities and freestyles. 

The International Defensive Pistol Association is a defensive shooting competition that stages more real-life scenarios. The IDPA scoring is straightforward, while USPSA scoring is somewhat complicated. 

The USPSA competition needs more round count compared to the IDPA competition because the stages are longer. The match is more centered on the technicalities like speed and accuracy.

IDPA vs. USPSA: How Do They Compare?







General Breakdown

General Breakdown

What is IDPA?

The International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) is a group that facilitates a shooting sport based on real-life encounters and self-defense. Before IDPA, there were no shooting competitions where it uses a concealed carry holster. You will notice that the stages are more centered on actual situations that you can encounter. 

Real-life scenarios on the stages could be like convenience store robberies, carjackings, and some real crimes you can normally see on the news. The IDPA match frequently requires the participant to act fast and shoot in unusual positions.  

What is the USPSA?

The United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) is a group that facilitates a practical shooting competition based on technical shooting. It is affiliated with the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC). The USPSA match has been a training ground for techniques and equipment in the shooting range. 

The scoring on the USPSA is more complicated because the power factor of the ammo used is also considered. The course of the competition is freely designed, allowing the participants to develop their critical thinking.

Head To Head Comparison

Head To Head Comparison


Both governing bodies promote safe competition, so there is no room for violators that may risk the organization and the participants. Both matches require ear and eye protection throughout the competition as part of safety rules. We all want our human senses to work and function very well at the end of the game. 

Disqualification on the match will happen when the conduct compromises the safety of everyone. Running with your finger placed on the trigger, not keeping the gun down range, and flagging people with your gun are some of the examples of safety violations that may kick you out of the match. 

Age Factor

Age is one factor to consider when you want to try joining the competition because there are many risks associated with gun handling and gun ownership [1]. The age of the participants will determine which category you will fall into. The categories on both matches are as follows: junior, senior, super senior, and distinguished senior members.  

The youngest participant in the junior category for shooting USPSA should be 18 years old. In IDPA, the youngest age allowed to participate in the junior category is 12 years old, both on the first day of the match. Minors are allowed provided that the parent or the guardian is present in all the stages.


Since the IDPA match is mainly in self-defense scenarios, the game’s flow will focus on real-world self-defense. Other competitors must shoot from three to twenty yards and need to charge firing points at awkward positions. Reloading should take place during the match, behind the cover. 

On the other hand, the USPSA competition is more freestyle and technical. Every USPSA stage has a designated box or line to move and engage targets, unlike in an IDPA target. Shooting positions are not necessary, but in particular shooting, it is highly encouraged. Target points are based on as and when visible.

Game Structure

The game structure of USPSA consists of Match Divisions and Match Categories. You cannot choose in which USPSA divisions you will compete because it all depends on your ranking.

In USPSA, the club compares the score for the shooter to be classified on the match they are going to enter next.  

In IDPA, the game structure is based on the current classification and production division they plan on competing. The competitors must be in good standing to qualify in a certain division. Range officers must recognize the regular divisions. The reclassifications must be entered into the database a week before match completion.

Game Structure


IDPA has an easy and quick method to classify the shooters. The competitors are subdivided into classifications based on their skills to compete with their peers. The classification per club level is as follows: Novice, Marksman, Sharpshooter, Expert, and Master. 

The USPSA classification is based on the progression of percentage scores when they hit a specific stage. The percentage score is equivalent to a division like a revolver division wherein you can compete. The highest classification is the Grand Master, and the lowest is D. Reclassification, moving down, and flagging systems are also included in the competitive shooting classification. 

Firearms & Equipment

In IDPA vs. USPA, the gun and equipment used in the competition shooting have similarities and differences. Both IDPA and USPSA need holsters, magazines, and ammo for guns. For USPSA, our team recommends you to use what gun you are comfortable working with. You can also use a pistol-caliber carbine and race guns for USPSA competitions.

On the other hand, IDPA competition requires concealed carry guns and stock guns like a custom defensive pistol and enhanced service pistol that can work well for you. IDPA is not just a whole game, but it teaches you to prepare for any situation that you will have to draw your everyday carry gun.

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Shooting Stage

For USPSA, since the courses were designed freely, the USPSA target is typically in different ranges. The earned points are dependent on the accuracy in shooting the steel targets. The reloading is easy, and reloading with cover is not necessary. In USPSA, there are no rules on which target to shoot first. 

The shooting stage of IDPA centers on real-world scenarios. The reloading on IDPA consists of three types; reload from slide lock, with retention, and tactical. The pressure is really on because the competition is not just a game, but it teaches you to be alert and attentive.

The defensive nature of IDPA teaches you to shoot targets with the greatest threat.

Shooting Stage


IDPA’s scoring is easier compared to USPSA. The course of fire depends on factors such as the range of the target and the level of threat. The range officer will take the time you completed the stage and then add the time based on your accuracy. The accuracy of your shot will define what score is added. 

USPSA, on the contrary, has a complicated scoring because the hit factor is the basis of your score. By hit factor and power factor means, take the number of your points gathered, subtract the penalties, then divide it by the time you completed the stage. 


Before joining a competition, our team suggests you ask the match director if the game is exclusive for either IDPA and USPSA members. For local matches, especially those new to competition shootings, membership is not required. 

The IDPA membership allows the associate to compete in official sanctioned matches, join clubs, view the results and scores through the member database. To shoot in a USPSA match, membership is not required. However, if you want to join the major matches like sectional and regional matches, you should be a member. 

Game Length

The game length for USPSA is longer compared to IDPA. Multiple courses and stages for the USPSA matches made the game length longer than other competition shootings. The general courses have short courses that need to shoot 12 rounds, medium courses with 20 rounds, long courses with not more than 32 rounds to complete. 

For IDPA, the stages that will determine the game length are the scenario and standard stages. Both stages will define how quickly and accurately you will finish the course.

Advice on IDPA vs USPSA for Beginners

Advice on IDPA vs. USPSA for Beginners

New shooters should have a good time and progress after finishing a competition shooting. A good way to start shooting is by competing. If you want a competition that is based on tactical training, USPSA can be your training ground. Since USPSA rules express a freestyle game, the freedom of solving problems in your way would be both challenging and fun.

For other shooters that are more interested in the rules and instructions on how to shoot the stage, several divisions from IDPA could be ideal. If one of the reasons you will join a shooting competition is to train for various realistic aspects, IDPA is a good launching pad.


IDPA is more practical compared to USPSA. The IDPA stage provides the shooters with a realistic and practical course of fire. The competition will give significant improvement on your skill in the shooting and help you survive life-threatening encounters. After all, this competition can be not just a sport but can be your training platform for future use.

Yes, both require a balance of speed and accuracy. The balance of speed and accuracy results in high stage scores on the IDPA scoring system. The scoring system will define who is the stage winner and will move on to the next classification.

In USPSA, the game will largely be dependent on the nature of the obstacle. A balanced speed and accuracy will help you complete the course.

Both IDPA and USPSA allow the shooter to carry accessories like optics depending on your participating division. For IDPA, the Speciality Divisions allows it and mounted lights, single stack, activated lasers, and other firearms not fitted on other divisions. 

On the other hand, there is a division designated for optics in USPSA. This division allows the shooters to carry optics and other accessories in the shooting competition, even in a local match and local club.

Yes, you are required to bring eye and ear protection when playing in either competition. Both IDPA and USPSA participants are required to use such safety protections to avoid any potential risks. 

All shooters on the range are prone to bullet fragments, and the firearm’s sound is loud. It would be very risky to join a game without eye and ear protection. The worst case is to be disqualified if you are not using eye and ear protection.

IDPA caters to old people better. Since the game allows more room for error and could be at your phase, shooting with IDPA is better. The USPSA’s scoring is also based on hit factor and power factor, so it would be challenging for older people to compete. In addition to this, the race guns and pistol caliber carbines of USPSA matches could be challenging to work with for older adults.

IDPA vs. USPSA: Which Is Better?

In IDPA vs USPSA, both competitions are beneficial and can bring significant improvement. However, IDPA is better than USPSA. We are not saying that USPSA is not good for improving your skills in shooting enjoyably. Other shooters prefer USPSA because the technicalities you can learn in the competition will help you become a good shooter. 

However, IDPA will develop your shooting skills and give you ideas on real situations. In addition to this, the competition is full of thrill and enjoyment. Gun sport is more realistic and practical for the best shooters and beginners.



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