Over the course of the past five years, I have been managing IDPA Practice matches on Monday nights under Team Trainwreck and Premier Action Shooting Sports.  One of our primary goals is to promote IDPA shooting.  On my web site I have posted different articles or links for information about IDPA from myself and others.  Along with this information I have listings about expectations for new shooters (which are expected of all shooters as well) and help on what the shooter should be aware of and understand before coming to an IDPA match.  The most important factor in all of these articles and lists is SAFETY.  I have copied the New Shooters section from Team Trainwreck here at the end of this article and will refer to parts of it in the article.  IDPA matches are fun and great practice and training venues, but remember, this is done with live ammunition and we are all shooting with real world guns that are shooting real bullets.  This is not paint ball, air soft or laser tag games.  We are shooting the real thing so SAFETY has to come FIRST.

As Safety Officers and Squad Officers (SO) for the matches, we see a lot of things happen with all levels of shooters.  As a new shooter you go through a first time shooters orientation with a couple of the Safety Officers which is geared to the requirements for safe handling of your guns on the range.  This orientation covers items such as what the SO is watching for in safety from the shooter, their expectations of handling their gun and how each instance is dealt with for range commands.  These same requirements are expected to be followed by all shooters both new and seasoned at these matches.  However, at times we find shooters of all levels that may not handle their guns in the manner expected by the SO and we have different levels of correction that is applied.  What I want to cover in this article are the basics of what is expected and then show some of the more common causes of many of these infractions on the safety requirements that we see during the matches themselves.  The goal is to raise each person’s awareness and understanding of what causes these problems and offer methods to prevent them.  By doing this we want to eliminate those actions that prevent us from being safe and make the shooting environment for all persons a safer place.





As noted in our shooters information page and is highlighted in our safety review is the range is operated cold.  This means no loaded guns except when instructed by the SO on the firing line.  You may not remove your gun from the holster or display it in any manner except when on the firing line and directed by the SO.  Now for the most part this is not a major problem we see.  However, we do occasionally catch someone, taking out their gun to show someone the great new sights they just got or whatever.  Regardless, this is not allowed.  It will get you a Disqualification (DQ) which means you cannot shoot that night.  The other time we see this is when someone first arrives and is putting on their holster and gun with people down range from them.  This is not allowed.  You must come down range past all persons before performing this action.

The next topic is muzzle direction.  During the safety review we go over where the muzzle can and cannot point.  This is an indoor range and as such has a much more limited muzzle direction that most outdoor ranges have.  The only safe direction is straight down range into the bullet trap.  You will notice we have concrete floors, concrete cinder block walls and steel deflectors with concrete ceiling.  All of these will deflect and bounce a bullet.  Therefore, our range requires the muzzle to be pointed down range.  Many outdoor ranges have a 180 degree rule.  We can’t go that far because of the environment we are shooting in.  Therefore, we stress a much more stringent muzzle direction requirement.  Now for some folks, police and military particularly, they have been trained to point their muzzle down when moving or not shooting and we understand why they train that way.  However, in our case we can’t allow that so we have to help those with that training to work on their muzzle direction control when shooting our matches.

The next item we stress is the indexing of the trigger finger.  We require if you are not shooting or pointing at the target that your trigger finger be indexed alongside and above the trigger guard.  That means if I view your grip from the opposite side you pull the trigger from that I can’t see your finger covering over the trigger guard.  It should be above the trigger guard.  One reason is as the SO, it makes it easy for us to tell if you have your finger on the trigger from either side.  Also, if you were to slip and fall, the natural reaction to grip tight may cause your trigger finger to go inside the guard and pull the trigger causing a round to be fired.  That is just not safe.  So we stress that one a lot.  If transitioning from one target to another, we don’t ask this.  We only ask it when you are moving from one position to another or loading and unloading your gun.

The third area we find unsafe gun handling is during the loading and unloading of the gun.  This is where one of the new shooter requirements we have is for the shooter to be familiar and trained on using and handling their gun before coming to an IDPA match.  Shooting in competition is not the appropriate time and place to learn how to use your gun.




So let’s talk about what we as SO’s have experienced on safety issues, what we find is the cause and how we can help you prevent these from happening in the first place.  One of the most common issues is with new shooters and it affects them at all stages and parts of the match… NERVES!  You don’t normally shoot from a holster draw, while moving, around corners, through windows and doors, you don’t normally worry about how many rounds, reloads, which order, carrying babies or any other numerous distractions.  On top of that you worry about not shooting good, you are afraid you will do something stupid or dumb and the list is almost endless.  Well, we can’t take away the nerves, but we can help you manage them and after a while they will not be the problem.  So listen to the SO carefully.  Do not get in a hurry, when you are on the firing line, you own the range.  It is yours, so take your time and pay attention to the SO.  Breathe and stay with the moment of what is happening right now.  We have folks who want to rush to see how well they shot, pick up their dropped magazines and bullets, holster before clearing or just get frustrated and start getting upset with how they did and not pay attention to their gun, muzzle or finger.   If you find you are having problems managing what is going on, just STOP and wait for the SO or ask them for help and directions.  Regardless, during these times manage the muzzle direction and your finger off the trigger and above the guard.

First one when you arrive at the gun range.  There are two major ways for getting holstered up safely to be ready for the match.  One that many of us use is we do it at home, unload and holster our gun before coming to the range.  Now this is a personal choice and requires you to understand the laws for carrying and transporting a gun.  For those of us who have a CHL, it is a common way to do this.  The other is to bring your gun in a bag or case, come into the range, find an open range with no one down range and holster your gun.  The problem here is many of you come to the range while we are setting up the stages or people are walking around the stage to figure it out.  Therefore, you must go all the way down to the front of the range at the bullet trap, inform anyone you pass that you are going to holster your gun and make sure no one is in front of you.  Then make sure it is unloaded and clear.  Once it is holstered you may not take it back out to inspect or show.  It must remain holstered except when on the firing line and as directed by the SO.

Next is when you are on the line as the shooter.  You will be directed by the SO to face down range, load and make ready.  Here you will unholster your gun and load it to the directions of the SO and then reholster it.  During this time we have seen some people with their trigger finger inside the trigger guard.  Again, index your finger and load the gun without the finger near the trigger.  Point the muzzle down range in a safe direction.  Next is when reholstering your gun, slide your vest back with your elbow or back of the hand but DO NOT FLICK your gun barrel to move the cover garment out of the way.  We see people use the gun barrel as a tool to move the garment out and unknowingly point their gun toward the back where people are standing.  Be mindful of how you move your cover garment back and holster your gun with the muzzle under control and finger out of the trigger guard area.


When you are done shooting and ready to stop, listen to the commands from the SO and execute them when the SO says to.  They are UNLOAD and SHOW CLEAR, we see the magazine is dropped and chamber empty.  Then we say SLIDE CLOSED or similar and you drop the slide.  Then HAMMER DOWN, which means pull the trigger with the muzzle pointing DOWN RANGE.   Then holster.  Then we announce RANGE is SAFE.  We see many shooters and mostly the more experienced shooters go through the whole unload, slide, hammer, trigger and holster before we actually get to see the empty chamber.  If you do that, we will ask you to again, open the slide and you do not close it until we say so, then drop the hammer and holster.  This is our last check to see it is empty and when you pull the trigger, you are taking the responsibility that the gun is unloaded.  If it fires, it is a DQ and you will be disqualified from shooting anymore that night.  (NOTE: we understand the new IDPA rules by the Tiger Team are making changes to these commands and responsibilities)

Alright, between loading and unloading you are shooting.  What are the safety problems we see there and what are their causes and corrections.  One of them is shooting from behind a barricade.  IDPA says you have to have 100% of your waist down and 50% above your waist behind the cover.  That is draw a line from you to the cover to the target and that is your line.  What we see most people do is they are too close to the barricade, reaching past it with their gun and arms to shoot.  Many try to lean against the barricade, but notice these are light cardboard covers and move if you lean against them.  At home on a real wall this works but even there it is not a good idea because someone on the other side of the wall hiding can then grab your gun and arm.  What you will see most advanced shooters do is stand back from the wall, just within touching distance.  When we extend our arms to shoot the muzzle does not go past the wall.

What is the difference in these two positions?  The difference is when you have to move from this location to the other side of the barricade.  If you are reaching past the barricade you cannot move to the other side unless you do something to not hit the barricade.  We see people point the gun down to the ground or up to the ceiling and then back out forward to the next target on the other side.  You just violated the muzzle direction rule.  It must ALWAYS point down range.  You just pointed it at the floor or ceiling.  We have seen some people pull their gun around and point to the side and then go back forward to get around the barricade.  Again you just violated the muzzle direction rule by pointing it at the wall and not keeping it down range at the bullet trap.

If you are farther back and not sticking your gun past the barricade and then move to the other side, you can just swing you gun pointing straight down the range, move over to the other side and you are already lined up on the next target to shoot.  Some people just pull the gun back into their chest, still pointing down range and then push back out to the target to shoot.  Either of these two cases the muzzle is always pointing down range while you are moving from one side to the other.

Another barricade moving issue is when you move from one barricade to another say across the room.  Regardless of which way you are moving you have to still maintain the muzzle direction.  If moving sideways, depending on whether you are right handed or left handed, it is easier to keep the muzzle down range going one way and harder the other.  For a right handed person moving to their right is easy as your natural grip will point the gun down range.  For a left handed person moving to the their left is easier.  If you have to move the opposite direction then holding the gun muzzle down range is not as easy.  We see many people point the muzzle towards the wall and coming close to breaking the 180 degree rule which would be a DQ.  So if the stage lets you make a choice on which side to go to first, picking the correct side to fit your grip makes it a lot easier to be safe.  This same rule also affects doing a reload as well.  So think ahead on how you will move and how it affects you handling your gun in a safe direction.  Reloading on the right side for a right hander is easier than doing it on the left side.  The reverse is true for a left handed person.

Moving backwards can happen a couple of ways.  If shooting while retreating you are shooting down range but when you complete the shot on the target and you head for the next position, you still have to manage your muzzle direction while moving to the next position.  You may continue to just back up or turn and move.  Here again depending on if you are right handed or left handed and where your next position will be, affects how you choose to move and handle your gun to manage the muzzle direction.  So think ahead, talk to the more experienced shooters and learn from them.

When you approach a barricade from another position, the same first item we talked about comes into play again.  Do not crowd the barricade.  Control the distance so you are in cover but shoot from behind the cover including the gun.  If you do this at the first position and again at the next position, it will make it easier and faster for you to move to each position AND make it safer.

OK, we covered moving above to control the muzzle.  However, if you are not shooting while on the move, you are not pointing the gun at a target.  During the time you are not shooting we require your finger off the trigger and not covering the trigger guard.  If you are moving and should slip or trip and fall a natural muscle reflex for people is to grip and if you have your finger on the trigger or even outside but over the trigger guard, you could pull the trigger and fire the gun.  Not safe for you or the rest of us.  So as the SO, we want to see your finger up and indexed along side of the gun so we can see through the trigger guard.  Seems simple but during the match a lot of things are not simple.

So why is it not so simple?  Well, I brought it up at the first part about how we normally shoot.  Unless you are already a regular IDPA type competition shooter, most of your shooting time has been static standing still at a line.  Your muscle memory knows what to do there.  Adding in a new situation to shooting, doing things you have never done much before, under the stress of competition and all the rules makes it hard to keep it all together at first.  We see some shooters who get frustrated at how they shot or make a mistake such as shot the targets out of order which is a procedural.  We even see folks trying to do the unload and show clear get in a hurry or nervous, have trouble holding the slide open and start moving their gun around in an unsafe manner.  Regardless of the reason, if you find you are getting nervous, fumbling with the slide or magazine and such just stop, take your time and talk to the SO.  Tell them you are nervous and they are not going to rush you.  They are there to help.  So let them.

This is all new so you have to understand and accept you probably are not going to be the fastest and most accurate shooter tonight.  The more experienced shooters you see shoot 1,500 to 2,500 rounds a month and practice dry fire shooting.  You are not going to match them tonight.  So don’t put undue pressure on yourself.  You will get there, but not all at once.  Talk to the more experienced shooters, they love to help, offer advice and feed their egos.  So let them and enjoy the learning experience.

I hope you will review this article and let it help guide you to be more at ease in shooting IDPA matches and be safer.  Read and understand the IDPA rules, practice safely at home dry firing and be comfortable and knowledgeable using your gun.  Know your equipment to load, unload, practice doing a magazine change as well as drawing and holstering your gun.

Above all be SAFE and ENJOY your time on the range.

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