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IDPA Basics

IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) shooting is an action style pistol shooting game rooted in defensive and concealed carry style concepts. IDPA shooting was formed in 1996 in response to the evolution of USPSA away from practical and service style handguns and holsters (USPSA Production and Single Stack divisions were later formed in response to the popularity of IDPA). IDPA is scenario based shooting emphasizing concepts such as drawing from concealment, using cover, and engaging targets in tactical priority. It is important to note that, while the game is concealed carry and tactics based, the tactics themselves are very defined and rigid as far as how targets may be addressed and only strong side belt holsters are allowed. Though they are viable options for everyday concealed carry- appendix, shoulder, ankle, and pocket holsters are not allowed. Another speed vs accuracy game, an IDPA score is an adjusted time which reflects a shooters raw time plus penalties which accrue in the form of time added on top of the shooters actual time.

There are some key distinctions between IDPA and other styles of action shooting. The most apparent are the equipment restrictions which basically are in the interest of limiting the use of exotic or competition specific equipment. IDPA emphasizes scenario based courses, so they are usually highly scripted and rarely open for interpretation. Course descriptions generally set the scene (C-store robbery, carjacking, home invasion), and outline which targets to engage from where (shoot targets 1-3 from position 1 and then move to position 2…). IDPA courses of fire will never require more than 18 scored hits or more than 15 yards of movement to complete. The scoring system also places a larger premium on accuracy relative to other action shooting sports.

One of the beauties of IDPA is that it requires a fairly minimal set of equipment to play. First, one needs a safe and serviceable pistol or revolver with 3-5 magazines or speed loaders. Most current commercially available handguns will fit somewhere into a division. Next is a strong side outside or inside the waistband holster (please refer to the current edition of the IDPA rule book for specifics on this). Next is a magazine pouch for two, and only two, magazines. Shooters are also required to have some sort of a concealment garment. This can be as simple as an untucked shirt or an unzipped jacket, but most IDPA enthusiasts will use a photographer style vest. Vests adapt well to a variety of weather conditions and the canvas type materials lend themselves well to fast and consistent draws. Many shooters also find the many pockets of a vest handy. Finally, as with all shooting events, a quality set of eye and ear protection is required.

Typical IDPA stage

SSP (Stock Service Pistol)

One of the most popular divisions in IDPA. SSP pistols must be 9x19mm or larger in caliber, semiauto, magazines loaded to a maximum of 10 rounds and most importantly striker fired or double/single action platforms. SSP is also one of the most restrictive divisions as far as allowing accessories or modifications. The Glock 17/34, Smith and Wesson M&P, CZ-75, and Sig 226 are representative of quintessential SSP pistols.

ESP (Enhanced Service Pistol)

ESP is kind of a catch all division for pistols that don’t fit into SSP or CDP. ESP pistols are semi-auto chambered in 9x19mm or larger, limited to 10 rounds in the magazine, and have more lenient guidelines as far as allowing things like extended magazine wells and frame texturing. Pistols legal for SSP and CDP can also be legal in ESP. Quintessential ESP only guns are 9mm 1911’s, Browning Hi-Powers, or modified striker fired guns.

CDP (Custom Defensive Pistol)

Simply put, CDP is the 1911 class. Though not as popular as it once was, CDP is still a fiercely competitive division. CDP pistols must be 45ACP, and 45ACP only. They may only be loaded with a maximum of 8 rounds, and some minor modifications are allowed. While double action and striker fired 45 caliber pistol are legal in this division, 1911’s pretty much rule the roost here. While most 1911’s will fit in here, certain styles or configurations will not if they are over the weight limit, use a bull or weighted barrel over 4.25” or have a full dust cover. Other examples of CDP pistols are the Glock 21 and 41, Sig 220 and 227, CZ 97, M&P45, and XDM45.

CCP (Compact Carry Pistol)

CCP is a recent addition to IDPA shooting. It is basically ESP with barrels limited to 4.01” or less and magazines can be loaded with a maximum of 8 rounds. Most midsize carry guns fit well into this category. Examples of CCP guns would be the Glock 19, Officer size 1911’s, CZ P-01, HK USP, or the XDM 3.8

REV (Revolver)

All wheel guns fall into one Revolver division. There are two sub categories that differentiate between whether the use of moon clips is allowed. Moon clips are good-to-go in Enhanced Revolver and a no-go in Stock revolver. Stock revolvers must be 38spl or larger caliber while Enhanced revolvers must use 357mag or larger (and are also allowed to be a little heavier in weight). All revolvers must have a barrel length less than 4.25” in IDPA. The Smith and Wesson 686 and 625 as well and the Ruger GP100 are quintessential Revolver class guns.

BUG (Back Up Gun)

Originally BUG was a side match only division of IDPA not formally recognized in sanctioned matches. Due to popular demand, IDPA has amended the rule book to make BUG an official division. Guns suitable for bug competition fit into one of two sub categories: Bug Semi-auto and Bug Revolver. Semi-auto BUG guns must be chamber in 380ACP or larger, have a barrel less than 3.60”, be loaded to no more than 6 rounds, and otherwise be ESP legal. The M&P Shield, Glock 42 and 26, XD Mod 2, Sig 938, and Kahr K9 are representative of BUG semi-autos. BUG revolvers must be chambered in 38spl or larger, have a barrel less than 3.0”, be loaded to no more than 6 rounds, and otherwise be revolver division legal. Smith and Wesson J-frames and Ruger SP101’s are representative of BUG revolvers.


The beauty of IDPA is that it requires relatively little in the way of supplementary equipment. Besides the gun and hearing/eye protection, really all that is needed is a holster and mag pouch. The basic requirements are that they provide a smooth draw while securely retaining the equipment to the shooters waist line. While leather is popular, most IDPA enthusiasts prefer polymer holsters such as the Comp-Tac International or the Blade-Tech Black Ice because have a smoother draw and a longer relative service life. While both inside and outside the waistband holsters are legal, they must be strong side draw in addition to various other specifications. Please refer to the official IDPA rule book for exact legalities.


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