I have been shooting in IDPA competition since 1999, which was shortly after IDPA came to Michigan. Although I never have shot at a National Match, I participated in every Michigan state championship but one from our very first state match, put on by my own Linwood-Bay Sportsmans Club. I'm not a gamer--nor am I a great shot. My involvement in this sport has been primarily from the perspective of defensive experience with my real-world carry gun. That's why, in the years since I started shooting IDPA, I have noticed a trend that bothers me. That trend is the habit of making nearly every stage into a single shot-string of 18+ rounds. Experiencing this mostly at the local match level, I have encountered it at state championship matches here, too. While technically legal under the rules, this phenomenon seems to violate the entire defensive basis of the sport: "To provide shooters with practical and realistic courses of fire that simulate a potentially life-threatening encounter..."
To start with, 18+ round scenarios are not at all typical of real-world defensive situations. They frequently direct the shooter to follow a complex pre-choreographed path, shooting only certain targets in certain ways from each position. Woe to him who forgets which side of the barricade from which to shoot T4, or who forgets that T3 is to be shot on the move to position three even though it is in your sights from behind cover at position two! Procedurals will abound, not from any mis-read of the targets as you see them, but from forgetting the dance steps! I have had SOs actually tell me with a straight face that these memory exercises are a test of the shooter's situational awareness, but they are really just the opposite! A well-designed stage will naturally flow--if cover is there, the shooter should gravitate to it, any target visible should be taken as soon as possible with only the obvious criteria of tactical priority and sequence driving their order. Do you think that you would be capable of much more in the stress of a real-world shoot-out? Eliminating the 18 round strings would go a long way towards eliminating the need for such elaborately choreographed scenarios.
Notice that I mentioned the frequent requirement to leave cover and shoot targets on the move, targets which could be taken out from behind cover. This goes hand-in-hand with the extended-string scenarios in my experience. Shooting on the move is an excellent tactic that does indeed need to be tested in IDPA. Why couple it with such a screamingly counter-intuitive--and potentially deadly--idea as leaving cover to run a gauntlet of bad guys?
Another unreal aspect is the need to think out your shots in advance so you don't find yourself using the last shot in your gun to hit a target that triggers a mover. The deeper into a long string of fire that this happens, the more a shooter needs to pre-plan his reloads. Folks with non-standard capacity guns (like my 7+1 SIG P239 in SSP) are more likely to get bitten by this, I admit, but is it realistic to plan to reload in a gun fight a dozen rounds ahead of yourself?
Why have these 18+ scenarios become so popular? The answer I get whenever I complain about them is invariably "Trigger time!" I understand the time constraints that match directors are under and their desire to give everyone a lot of shooting opportunity. There are other ways to do this, though. One time-honored method is multiple runs through the same short scenario--freestyle, strong-hand and weak-hand. Rather than stop, clear and make safe, score and tape between runs, time can be saved by having the shooter immediately return to the start point and reload, saving the clearing and scoring for the end. Another method is breaking an 18 round string into two or three timed sub-strings. Requiring an off-the-clock reload-with-retention between segments would add practice in this skill in a more tactically appropriate manner than doing so in the middle of a timed string. Procedurals could be invoked for improper reload or failing to use cover even though the timer was stopped, keeping the stage that much more realistic.
What IDPA has devised as a limiting condition has become a standard operating procedure, it seems. This is as foreign to probable real-world scenarios as are the more imaginative aspects of cowboy action shooting! In the real world, we conceivably could be called upon to neutralize two or three bad guys while backing up from point-blank range to obtain cover at seven yards. Isn't that infinitely more likely than the possibility that we will be called upon to shoot nine different targets from three different positions while dancing for fifteen yards?
I know that variety is the spice of life. I wouldn't presume to say that the 18+ string should be forever banished from IDPA--as good an idea as that seems to me--but can't we make it a rare touch of spice, rather than an unfailing standard activity? I humbly beg you match directors out there (you know who you are, I hope) that we get back to the roots of defensive shooting in IDPA.
This article was originally printed in the IDPA Tactical Journal, Second Quarter 2005
(Update, 2020: I've now been away from IDPA for over a decade. While my thoughts in my 2005 article are still valid in my opinion, I can't say that the situation in IDPA hasn't corrected itself in the interim. So please take my comments here with a grain of salt, if needed. )
copyright 2005 by the author, all rights reserved