Introduction

Over my years as Match Director at East Huntingdon I’ve been contacted by many people asking questions about getting started in USPSA.  A couple years ago I started collecting these questions and answers with the intent of creating a “Getting Started” page on our website and this is the result.  Hopefully your questions will be answered here.  If not, email me at r_elder@verizon.net.

My most important suggestion to you is GET STARTED NOW.  There is no reason to wait for an orientation class or to find a training class.  If you’re reasonably competent with a firearm and have the basic equipment (listed below) just go to a match, tell the person at registration that you’re new, and shoot the match.  Many, many people have done just that.  If you’re still reluctant, take your eye and ear protection and go watch a match.  Tell one of the competitors that you’re interested in getting started and prepare yourself for a firehose of information.  Don’t wait, get started.

Roger Elder, USPSA Match Director, East Huntingdon Twp Sportsmen’s Association

The Basics

The United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) is a national organization with a large number of affiliated clubs scattered across the country that run matches using the USPSA rulebook.  East Huntingdon Twp Sportsmen’s Association (EH) is one of those clubs.  This link will take you to the USPSA website.  If you click on the “What is USPSA?” button you can watch an introduction video that covers the basics.  You can also find thousands of videos on the internet of people shooting stages by searching for “USPSA”.

Basically, USPSA is a sport in which you compete with live ammunition to shoot cardboard and steel targets set up in what is called a “stage”.  The cardboard targets have zones that allow the targets to be scored, rewarding the competitor with more points for better accuracy.  Knocking down a steel plate also earns points.  The competitor’s attempt at the stage is timed and the ultimate goal is to obtain the highest “hit factor” which is simply the total points earned divided by the time it took to shoot the targets (points per second).

Everybody in the match shoots the same stages, regardless of their skill level or the type of gun they use.  Shooters are classified by their skill level (D, C, B, A, Master, Grand Master), allowing scores to be compared within a given class.  There are 8 different divisions for the type of gun being used.  They range from Production division, which is intended to be off-the-shelf guns; to Open division, which is for highly customized guns.  A pistol caliber carbine division (PCC) allows the use of rifles shooting pistol ammunition.  Most semi-automatic handguns and revolvers will fit into one of the divisions, allowing competition against similar gun types. Other equipment (holster, magazine holders, and belt) will vary from simple leather to various combinations of aluminum and plastic.  For those getting started the general concept is to shoot what you have and have fun doing it.  As you get deeper into the sport you can choose to upgrade to competition oriented equipment or stick with the basics and enjoy yourself.

Our matches have people that range from “just started shooting” to “been doing this for decades”.  Safety is rigidly enforced, which results in a very safe shooting environment for everyone.  You’ll find the people to be friendly competitors that will answer any question you have and will do what they can to help you succeed.

You don’t have to join anything to shoot in a USPSA Level 1 match.  Level 1 matches are local matches like the ones EH runs once a month.  Level 2 (state and section championships), Level 3 (Area championships) and the National championships require a USPSA membership (which is just a matter of sending them $40 per year).  Anyone can go to a Level 1 match, pay the match fee (typically $20), and shoot the 5 or 6 stages they offer.  A typical match uses up about 150 rounds of ammunition.  The club’s Match Director will typically place a new shooter with someone to help him get started, so it’s best to tell them you’re new at registration.  At East Huntingdon, I require new competitors to go through a Safety Check before being allowed to register.  This is an opportunity for me to talk about safety rules, identify common problems, and get a warm fuzzy feeling that the person is capable of safely handling a firearm (helps me sleep at night).  The Safety Check takes about 15 minutes and can be completed just prior to the match.

EH runs a New Competitor Orientation class every March to kick off the season.  It’s not necessary to attend the class, but it’s a very good way to come up to speed quickly on rules and typical guns and equipment being used.  There are currently 8 clubs in western Pennsylvania that offer monthly USPSA matches.  You can shoot one or sometimes two matches every weekend at one of the clubs if you’re willing to travel. Some people shoot every weekend and others come out a few times per year.

I highly recommend you take a look at the EHPS website, particularly the USPSA Match Policies at EHPS and the Useful Links pages.  I’ve also listed information on all of the active USPSA clubs in the Western Pennsylvania Section, below.

Why people participate in this sport varies by person of course.  I do it because I like…
– Competing.
– The mental challenge of figuring out how to efficiently shoot a stage.
– The physical challenge of learning to move fast yet smooth.
– How it develops my gun handling and shooting skills.
– Learning how my guns work and the challenge of keeping them working.
– Learning how to build ammunition that works well in my gun.
– The people I’ve met and the friendships I’ve developed.
– The inclusiveness; young, old, guys, girls, black, white, blue and white collar.

When you go to any match your gun should be unloaded and in some kind of case or gun bag.  There cannot be any dummy rounds, empty cases, snap caps, laser sighting rounds, etc. in the chamber.  There should be no magazine in your gun.  You cannot wear a second gun at any time during a match.  You can do concealed carry with a loaded gun to the range, but when you get there you must immediately find the Match Director and ask him where you can unload your carry gun prior to the match.

The USPSA Game in a Nutshell

A match is a collection of stages designed to challenge the shooter.

Each shooter engages all targets on each stage to earn stage points.

The basic principle is to equally evaluate power, accuracy, and speed.

  • Higher power gun increases points available on a paper target.
  • Higher accuracy earns higher points on a paper target.
  • Higher speed earns points faster.
  • Hit factor (points per second) determines overall stage points relative to the best shooter of that stage within a division.
  • Cumulative stage points determines match winner within a division.

Most stages are freestyle – shoot it however you want within safety rules and stage procedure limitations.

Standard exercise stages are used to measure specific skills.

Classifier stages allow comparison and recognition across the USPSA membership.

SAFETY is the primary concern – unsafe acts result in match disqualification.

Required Equipment:

  • Eye & Ear protection
  • Handgun or PCC – 9mm or larger
  • Holster – must cover handgun trigger
  • Magazines and pouches – enough to shoot a 32 round stage and some extra
  • Ammunition – I suggest 200 rounds for a match, but you will likely get by with 150
  • Chamber Flag for PCC

Optional Equipment:

  • Shoes with good grip
  • Range Bag
  • Something to keep you hydrated

Match Registration

The Practiscore Match Management website is the software used for advance registration and squadding at East Huntingdon and most other clubs.  You need to be aware that USPSA matches are in high demand. Most clubs use Practiscore to pre-register for matches and in many cases it is the only way to get into a match. At EH, match registration opens one week prior to the match on Sunday at 6:00 PM, and closes on the Friday prior to the match at 8:00 PM. Other clubs have different pre-registration periods or offer no pre-registration.

The general registration process is provided below.

  • Go to practiscore.com.  To use the website you will have to create a Practiscore account.  It’s free and easy and well worth the effort.
  • Find the link for Upcoming Matches, or just Matches (there are a couple different displays used by the website).
  • Many matches will appear in a list, you will need to refine the search using one of these methods (there’s probably more).
    • If you’re looking for an East Huntingdon match, just type EHPSA into the search box.
    • You can click the boxes for Pennsylvania, USPSA, and Level 1 and you will get a shorter list sorted by date.  Look through the list until you find the match you’re looking for.
    • You can also use the map to navigate to Pennsylvania and zoom in until you find a green circle on the map.  Click on the circle and some teardrops will appear that you can click on then use the link for that match or use the Club Link to see all matches for that club.  I suggest using the Club Link.
  • Eventually you will get to a list of active matches at a club and it will show you what matches are OPEN (you can sign up), or if is says CLOSED it will tell you the date and time that it will become OPEN.
  • When you click on an OPEN match, it will open the registration page. At the top of the page you will see some general information on the match.  It’s a good idea to read through this.  Below that you will see several blanks for your name, email address, member number (use NA if not a USPSA member), and there will be boxes to click for the Division, Power Factor, Class, and any Categories that apply to you.  Fill out the form and click the Register button.
  • You should see a Thank You message and a listing of the information you entered.  You should read through that list, make any corrections, and click the Save button.  You will see the information update.
  • Scroll down the page and you will see the squad listings.  It will show which squads are full and which have openings.  You can also see the names of the people that already selected a squad.  Assuming they’re not all full, click on a squad to join, and then click the button that says Yes, Squad Me.  If all of the squads are full, you can try later to get into a squad. You’re not done yet.  Scroll to the very bottom of the page and click the Select Squad button.  If you skip this step you will not actually be assigned to the squad.
  • Note that you can be registered in a match but not able to get into a squad because they are all full. Generally speaking, you will not be allowed to shoot the match if you were not able to select a squad because oversize squads result in long total match time. You can take the risk and show up at a match in hopes that there is a squad opening due to a no-show.
  • You’re done.  You should get an email that confirms you signed up and a link to your Personal Match Management Page. You can use that link to quickly get back to your registration page.
  • If you go back into Practiscore.com (anytime) you will see the match you signed up for in the Upcoming Events list.
  • If something comes up and you can’t come to the match, or you want to change squads, shoot a different Division, or whatever; you can go back into Practiscore.com and click on the match in the Upcoming Events list, or use the Personal Match Management Page link in the email.
  • Most clubs will close registration prior to the match day. You will not be able to change your registration information after the close time, but you can submit a Request to Withdraw. You can change most of the information on the scoring device on the day of the match if you need to change things like Division, Power Factor, etc.
  • If you can’t go to the match, click the Request to Withdraw button, put something in the message box about why you’re withdrawing, and then click the Yes, Withdraw Me button.  That will send an email to the person handling registration for the match.  It probably won’t happen right away, but you should get a response that says you have been withdrawn from the match.

Payment of the match fee is made at the club on the day of the match.

Note that there are lots of clubs and lots of options for setting up the Practiscore registration page.  The process I’ve described above is what we use at East Huntingdon.  Registration at other clubs may work a little differently.

Match Results

Final match scores can also be viewed on the Practiscore Match Management program and on the USPSA website.

  • Go to practiscore.com.
  • Assuming you created and account, when you log in you will find a listing of Recent Events.  Click on the match in the list and the scores should open.

If you didn’t create a Practiscore account, you can find the results at the USPSA website.

  • Got to https://uspsa.org/.
  • Click on the link for Results.
  • In the View Results by Club box, enter the club name or club code, and the year of the match.  Our club name is East Huntingdon Sportsmen’s Association.  The club code is WPA-07.  If you just type WPA it will list all of the Western PA clubs and you can pick the one that applies.
  • Pick the match you’re interested in from the list.
  • The scores should appear.
  • This process gets a little easier when you log in as a member because you can click on the Your Match Results link and get to the list of all matches you have shot.

Typically, the results will first appear on the Practiscore website.  There may be a delay before they appear on the USPSA website.

Match Scoring

The Practiscore scoring app (available for IOS and Android) is used to record the scores during the match. The scoring tablets are provided by the clubs.

Using the scoring app is fairly straightforward and can be easily taught by a fellow competitor or match official.

If you’re a member of USPSA, there are a series of videos on the USPSA website that show how to use the Practiscore scoring app.

If you’re not a USPSA member, there are several (somewhat dated) YouTube videos that can be viewed.  I suggest you simply have someone show you how to use the app.

Firearm Division Summary (see rulebook Appendices D1 through D8 for details)

Division Gun Action Scoring Magazine Limit
ProductionDA or Striker Minor10 rounds
Carry OpticsDA or StrikerMinorMax length (141.25 mm)
Single StackSAMinor / Major10 / 8 rounds
LimitedAnyMinor / MajorMax length (141.25 mm) Max length (171.25 mm) for single stack gun
Limited 10AnyMinor / Major10 / 10 rounds Max length (141.25 mm) Max length (171.25 mm) for single stack gun
OpenAnyMinor / MajorMax length (171.25 mm)  
RevolverRevolverMinor / Major6 / 8 Rounds
PCCAnyMinorNo limit

 DA = Double Action, SA = Single Action, PCC = Pistol Caliber Carbine

Active Clubs in the Western Pennsylvania Section

Hollidaysburg Sportsmen, 9:00 AM, 1st Saturday of month, advance registration permitted. Located near Hollidaysburg.

Gem City Practical Shooters, 9:00 AM, 1st Sunday of month, advance registration required. Located near Erie.

Pardoe Sportsmen’s Association, 9:00 AM, 1st Sunday of month, advance registration permitted. Located near Grove City.

Pitcairn-Monroeville Sportsmen’s Club, 9:00 AM, 1st Sunday of month, advance registration required. Located near Pitcairn.

Lawrence County Sportsmen’s Association, 9:00 AM, 2nd Saturday of month, advance registration required. Located near New Castle.

Clairton Sportsmen’s Club, 9:00 AM, 3rd Sunday of month, no advance registration. Located near Clairton.

Castlewood Rod & Gun Club, 9:00 AM, 4th Saturday of month, advance registration permitted. Located near New Castle.

East Huntington Practical Shooters, 9:00 AM, 4th Sunday of month, advance registration permitted. Located near Scottdale.

Questions/Answers

  1. Is there an age restriction?

    There is no age restriction in USPSA, young and old compete together. My policy at East Huntingdon (and it’s likely a legal requirement) is that a parent or guardian must accompany anyone under 18. I personally think age 12 provides a desirable level of maturity, but I have seen younger people compete without any problems. My only concern, regardless of age, is that the shooter act safely and responsibly.
  2. I am a long time pistol shooter who is looking to get started in some action style matches such as USPSA or something similar. I found your email online listed next to the “clubs that have matches” that are near me in Pittsburgh; I was wondering how I could get started shooting at your club for these action style matches.

    In this area, the season generally starts in March and finishes in October.  My club (East Huntingdon Twp Sportsman’s Association) conducts a New Competitor Orientation Class in March.  Note that this isn’t a “shooting” class, it’s an introduction to the sport from a rules and equipment perspective (there is an opportunity to shoot some).  I highly recommend the class if you can make it, but taking the class is not necessary to begin shooting in USPSA.  The Western PA Section of USPSA has eight clubs that host matches and you can simply go to any match and tell them you want to get started.  The Match Director at the club will assign you to a squad with experienced shooters and you’ll be off and running.  The Orientation class gives you a quick start, but ultimately you will learn the game from fellow competitors.

    There’s a company called NiftyBytes that developed a software product called Practiscore that has been a godsend for many shooting sports.  Originally, they wrote the Practiscore app that we use to electronically score our matches, then that was extended to other types of matches.  The data from the matches can be used to submit match results to the sponsoring organizations (like USPSA).  Over the last couple years they have also gotten into the match scheduling, signup, and results process.  Match organizers post matches on the Practiscore.com website and people can then sign up for the match.  When the match is over you can view the results at the same website.  When you first go to the site it will make you register before you can do anything, but it’s easy and free and has become an important part of match management at most USPSA clubs.  With the popularity of the sport growing, registering in advance on Practiscore.com is often the only way to get signed up for a match before it fills up.
  3. I’m interested in shooting USPSA, and it looks like your club is the closest to me.  I live in Morgantown WV, about an hour south of your range.  I see that PA and WV are actually in different USPSA areas, and I don’t know if that’s an issue.

    There is no problem crossing Area or Section boundaries to shoot matches, in fact I highly encourage it.  There are several people from WV that regularly shoot our matches.  One of the nice things about USPSA is that it’s a national sport and all clubs are required to follow the same rules.  I have shot matches in PA, OH, VA, IN, KY, IL, MI, UT, and MN and I have never had any issues.
  4. I don’t currently reload ammunition, so I wanted to ask if there’s recommended ammunition, or if there will be suitable ammunition in 9mm available at the match?

    We don’t sell ammo at matches.  I didn’t reload my first year and just bought whatever ammo I could find, usually at Walmart.  There are some on-line sales of “competition ammo”.  T1 Ammunition, Atlanta Arms, Precision Delta, and Universal Ammo are a few of those companies.  I’ve never used any of it, so I can’t offer any opinions on price or quality.  My suggestion is that you buy the cheapest ammo that will work reliably in your gun.  You’ll typically need about 150 rounds to complete a match, but I suggest bringing 200 rounds.
  5. I am looking forward to attending my first match.  I plan to practice this week so I can get a little more familiar with what I’m supposed to do.  I have 4 questions for you.
    1. How many rounds should I practice with in a single session?
    2. How many rounds do I bring to the match?
    3. What’s the limit I can fill my magazine up to? I’m going to use my Smith and Wesson MP9 which has a 17 round magazine (I got 2 of the magazines for it). Can I fill it up to the whole 17 or am I capped to 5 or 10 rounds at a time for each one?
    4. How long will the match go on Sunday?

    Hmmm practice, what a novel thought … I do recall doing that awhile back.  How many rounds you shoot in practice is pretty much dependent on your budget.  When I practice I usually go through a couple hundred rounds in a session.  That’s about the limit of my attention span, after that I just make noise.  Actually, live fire is a bit over rated for developing the skills used in USPSA.  Some live fire training is necessary, but dry fire will develop skills much better, at practically no cost, and at any time you want to do it.

    If you like to read, go to Steve Anderson’s web site http://www.andersonshooting.com/ and buy one of his books (he’s written several).  He’s not the only one that has written about dry fire but he’s probably the best known.  There’s also a ton of gadgets on the market to help you dry fire, but it’s really as simple picking a target (like a wall switch) and practicing movement in various directions followed by aiming at the target and squeezing the trigger a couple times (the trigger doesn’t have to release the hammer so no need to constantly re-cock the gun).  Obviously you need to be real sure that there is no live ammo anywhere near the gun or magazines when you do this.  You can practice drawing from the holster, picking up a gun from a table, reloading (changing magazine) on the move, etc.  The things that makes a good shooter in USPSA is superior gun handling skills and the ability to develop and execute a stage plan.  Hitting the target is important, but they’re pretty big and not usually very far away.

    A typical local match in western PA is 125 to 150 rounds, but they can go as higher.  I like to keep the round count at about 125 for matches at EH, so I’d say 150 is the minimum you should bring to a match at EH and I suggest 200 rounds.

    Generally speaking, a USPSA stage will require somewhere between 6 and 32 rounds (many are 32).  The number of rounds permitted in your magazines is dependent on the division you choose to shoot.  A 9mm M&P fits best into the Production division where you would shoot against other off-the-shelf guns, but Production division limits you to 10 rounds in a magazine. That would require you to have at least 4 magazines to complete a 32 round stage and it would require you to perform at least 3 reloads as you shoot a 32 round stage.  Reloading is one of those skills that develops over time but it carries with it an increased risk of violating safety rules if you haven’t practiced it.  There are many things to learn about the action shooting game and reducing the number of reloads allows you to focus on other skills.

    I recommend you shoot your first matches in Limited division because you can load your magazines to capacity.  That would get you 34 rounds, which should work with your 2 magazines and limit you to only one reload.  That said, I would suggest at least 3 magazines because it provides extra rounds for make-up shots and provides a lot of flexibility on when you have to do your reload.  As you get more experienced (and become totally addicted to the game) you can always buy more magazines and shoot in Production division if you want.  I shot in Limited division my entire first year before switching to Production, then to Single Stack, and I’m now shooting both Limited and PCC.

    You should plan to arrive about 8:00 AM.  That will provide time for us to complete the Safety Check and you can walk through the stages and talk to other people before the match starts.  Shooting will start about 9:00 AM.  How long it takes to get through all of the stages is very dependent on how many people attend the match.  Attendance has been very high recently, so a typical match will finish about 12:30 PM.  Most clubs (including EH) allow you to shoot the match again on Sunday afternoon.  Since there are typically less shooters in the afternoon it will take less time, usually finishing by about 3:30 PM.

    EH sets up the match at 9:00 AM on the Saturday morning before the match.  When we’re done, we have lunch (provided for free) and then we shoot the match (for free) on Saturday afternoon.  It’s a great time to learn how the stages get built, talk to experienced shooters, and then shoot with those same people.  Since there are typically only 10 to 15 people it’s much less hectic and easier to take the time to ask/answer questions.  You can also shoot once or twice on Sunday if you want to.  Of course I get a little free labor from you, but trust me it’s well worth your time/effort if you can fit it into your schedule.

    By the way, when you go to any match your gun should be unloaded and in some kind of case or gun bag.  There cannot be any dummy rounds, empty cases, snap caps, laser sighting rounds, etc. in the chamber.  There should be no magazine in your gun.  You cannot wear a second gun at any time during a match.  You can do concealed carry with a loaded gun to the range, but when you get there you must immediately find the Match Director and ask him where you can unload it prior to the match.
  6. I’m looking to join a USPS a league. Is there anywhere I can go to see the requirements and recommendations to join your league? Also is there any practices that I could just come watch and get more details?

    Just so we don’t get off on the wrong foot, USPSA isn’t a league.  It’s a national organization with a large number of affiliated clubs scattered across the country that agree to run matches using the USPSA rule book.  This link will take you to the USPSA website.  If you click on the “What is USPSA?” button you will see an intro video with some general information.  Don’t be overwhelmed by the high-level shooters and expensive equipment in that video, there’s a wide range of skill levels and equipment used.  Just about any gun (9mm and above) can be used with just about any holster that covers the trigger guard.  The general concept is shoot what you have and have fun doing it.  Our matches have people that range from “just started shooting” to “been doing this for decades”.  You’ll find them to be friendly competitors that will answer any question you have and will do what they can to help you succeed.

    You don’t have to “join” anything to shoot in a USPSA Level 1 match.  Level 1 matches are local matches like the ones East Huntingdon runs once a month.  Level 2 (state and section championships), Level 3 (Area championships) and the National championships require a USPSA membership (which is just a matter of sending them $40 per year).  Anyone can go to a Level 1 match, pay the match fee (about $20), and shoot the 5 or 6 stages they offer.  The Match Director will place a new shooter with someone to help him get started, so it’s best to tell them you’re new at registration.  At East Huntingdon, I require new shooters to go through a Safety Check before being allowed to register.  This is an opportunity for me to talk about safety rules, identify common problems, and get a warm fuzzy feeling that the person is capable of safely handling a firearm.  The Safety Check takes about 15 minutes and can be completed just prior to the match.

    East Huntingdon (EH) doesn’t offer regular practice sessions.  We run a New Competitor orientation class every March.