This month, I got to explore the world of IPDA from an insider's perspective. Our readers consistently pose the question of whether competitive shooting has value in law enforcement. In order to answer this question, I spent some range time with Jordan Hall, a rising star in the world of IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association).
I've known Jordan for several years and he comes by his shooting talent honestly. His mom is a shooter too, although her strong suits include competitive diving and endurance sports. His dad is John Hall, retired ABC Agent and a non-uniform operations expert. John and I have done some concealed carry seminars together and he is the “go to guy” for this subject matter. Like any dad who is a firearms instructor, his son came with him to range days.
Jordan has been competing IDPA for almost 10 years now, earning a World Title at 18 years old. He's also captured other coveted titles, consistently scoring high in multiple states. Jordan's sponsorship includes Houlding Precision Firearms Inc. (houldingprecisionfirearms.com), LR Stone's in Fresno (lrstones.com) and the 14th Canadian Infantry Brigade. The equipment, entry fees and materials to compete are expensive and sponsorships are critical. The ammo expense can be astronomical.
I’ve been on the range with Jordan before, but this time we had a chance to compare what we do side-by-side. I came with the perspective of a police officer; his perspective is from competition.
International Defensive Pistol Association is a relatively new shooting sport. The competitions are designed to simulate real or likely encounters. Competitors can compete with their concealment or duty equipment, using stock firearms.
IDPA answered several concerns of the long standing form of defensive firearm, the International Practical Shooting Confederation. The IPSC predates the IDPA and its original charter is similar. IPSC was formed to give shooters a platform to promote practical marksmanship. Practical marksmanship differs from static courses where the target occasionally moved, but the shooter never did.
I'll have to point out the first major difference between competition and police training, hoping that your department training and competitive shooting don't differ. If the department training and qualification mean that officers stand at the 3-, 5- and 15-yard line and shoot a timed sequence in a two dimensional way, there is a difference, and it's the wrong area to deviate. This kind of training or qualification is excellent for defending against cardboard targets that wait for officers to shoot them. If this is appropriate for the agency's most likely threat, continue the practice.
Two other differences then I'll move on. First, training (including remediation) and qualification are two separate, equally important, events. Second, all qualification should be pass/fail. Competition doesn’t have qualification, unless it is a competition that moves a shooter up the classification ladder. Agencies must document all events as training or qualification, including the outcome of these events. This is not only the way to make the program legally defensible; it maintains a standard set by the agency.
The reason qualification should be pass/fail is to protect the officer. It doesn't establish a hierarchy of abilities in a world where coffee cups have disclaimers stating that the contents are hot. In a pass/fail world, the officer either meets the standard, or he doesn't.
I was around when IPSC shooting was young and enjoyed matches where accuracy and speed were in high regard. IPSC matches use targets that resemble torsos. Competitors negotiate obstacles, move from shooting position to position and usually have a mechanical challenge or obstacle during a stage. Mechanical challenges are things like levers that must be moved to expose a target.
IPSC began evolving from a viable defensive practice to more of a spectator sport as it gained broad recognition. The IPSC competitions today use equipment that is generally too expensive for the average shooter. After a while, they quit resembling what most of us picture as a defensive handgun. The holsters are unlikely candidates for duty or off duty use. In fact, the IPSC holsters used now are mere platforms that allow for quick presentation. They are not concealable, nor do they protect the user from gun snatches.
Jordan uses an STI Edge, a high capacity version of the M1911 design. The premium features on an STI Edge like serrations and a funnel shaped magazine well are standard. It can be used for duty, although I recommend the ST Tactical 5.0 model. STI guns are top shelf, but they are viable for EDC (Every Day Carry).
IDPA competitions use stages which are separately timed and scored portions of the match.
I’ll say a few more things about IPSC, and then we'll move on to IDPA. IPSC is a tremendous sport. It is exciting to watch. I love to see the athleticism of the competitors. I wish I could even remotely shoot like that. IPSC has significantly advanced the firearms industry the same way Formula Racing has advanced the auto industry.
There is some overlap in IPSC and IDPA competitions. For example, my two favorite shooters, Jerry Miculek and Rob Leatham have both captured USPSA( United States Practical Shooting Association, the US organization of IDPA, which has similar rules) enough times to wear a groove up to the podium. Both have competed in IPSC, with Leatham capturing the World Championship six times and Miculek dominating the revolver competition with authority. Could Miculek or Leatham prevail in an actual encounter? Absolutely.
Jordan and I set up some targets and discussed how we would run through these scenarios. On a simple barricade setup, Jordan ran right up to the barricade and started firing. I noticed a couple of things right away. I wouldn't have just run up to the barricade. Instead, I approached it slowly, using the barricade to conceal my movement, yet allowing me to align the visual edge of the barricade with the potential target. Instead of finishing against the barricade, I was several feet from it. From my perspective, I could see the target and they couldn't see me.
When we did a quick recap, Jordan told me he didn't have concerns about the condition of the range floor. An officer doesn't have someone rake or clear potential obstacles, let alone the fact that targets don't shoot back.
I noticed another thing: Jason exposed his whole chest from cover when engaging the target. He explained that one must have 100 percent of the lower body behind cover but 50 percent of the upper body can be exposed. In my line of work, some exposure is inevitable, but 50 percent is a no-no.
When Jordan was reloading, I noticed he looked at his gun, losing visual contact with the target. Although this is a common practice for any shooter, we work hard to train officers not to do this. However, both of us tended to bring the gun closer to our core, which is the way to go.
IDPA rules encourage shooters to start and finish their reloads behind cover. I am a little partial to doing all of my police business behind cover.
IDPA scoring penalizes heavily for failing to neutralize the target. Based on accuracy, the score is translated into the amount of time it takes to complete the stage. I'm not sure how long it took to evolve this system, but any outside observer can see that it really reflects the skill level of the competitors.
Why do I encourage law enforcement officers to compete, even if it’s in “closed” matches? Simple: Trigger time. The more time behind the trigger an officer has, the more time they will have to practice target focus, picking up the front sight and smooth gun presentation.
Although I have recently become a convert to XS Sight Systems on my Glock, I have always used black front sights and black rear sights, without any outline or dots, until tritium sights became popular. Jordan, and many shooters, prefer “black-on-black” also. Jordan dry fires. I am an advocate of dry firing, dry magazine changes and using Blue Guns (blueguns.com) to practice presentation. If there are squad sergeants reading this, each one of these drills are appropriate for a pre-shift training. How much does Jordan dry fire? He works on trigger skills for hours, at least twice as much as I prescribe for new shooters. How much should officers dry fire? Even 15 minutes per workday can add to their overall improvement is just a few weeks.
When I practice dry fire, I set my black sights onto a white background, unless I'm training with an M16 qual target, which is smaller and causes the shooter to work hard on placement. Jordan uses black outline sights and shots on a black outline sight. Regardless of the method, the amount of trigger presses a shooter makes directly affects the level of shooter competence.
When I asked my firearm instructor friends about IDPA and police work, most agreed that practice included a lot of gun handling, which is always good. John Hall commented that a shooter competent in gun handling can be conditioned to move tactically. The gun handling and quick target acquisition can take more practice.
If one asks around, the biggest complaint about IDPA is usually “gaming”. In Jordan Hall's words, a competitor will do “...whatever it takes to win...” This is not a commentary on the scruples of the competitors, it is about winning over what police firearms trainers might consider “tactical”. I have the same mindset, but my version is “...whatever it takes to safely make it home...”
Although competing at Jordan's level can get expensive, IDPA was designed for the average shooter with average means. It is an excellent way for shooters to inject a little stress into handgun training. If you're thinking about practicing for the next local match, I recommend it.