A Primer on Action Shooting sports like 3 Gun, IPSC, etc

Competition Shooting Run Down

Action shooting is growing quite a bit in popularity. Shooting sports, in general, have become a major focus for guns and gear manufacturers with gear dedicated purely for competition becoming quite common. Here are the three most popular action shooting sports in the United States. This is a general run down and overview of the basics of the systems. The rule books for these sports are often close to 50 pages. This should give you a decent idea of the competitions out there though.

IPSC Handguns

IPSC, or the International Practical Shooting Confederation, is one of the oldest action sport shooting sports in the world. The initial founding of IPSC was to form a sport based on defensive shooting skills. However, it quickly grew into more into a purely sport competition with little to do with actual defensive shooting. IPSC was formally founded in 1976 when shooters gathered from around the world to formalize the sport of practical shooting. Legendary shooters like Jeff Cooper and Jack Weaver were early acolytes, with Cooper serving as the first IPSC President.


All formal action shooting sports owe IPSC a bit of a thank you for blazing the way. IPSC’s history of combat shooting has helped shape the rules for all shooting sports to follow. IPSC is built around full sized handguns with 9mm being the smallest acceptable round. Scoring the sport is based on both speed, accuracy, and weapons power factor. Power factors range between minor and major with 9mm being almost always minor and 40 and up being major.

The scoring system is named Comstock after it’s inventor Walter Comstock. The rules are simple. Get as many points as possible in the shortest amount of time possible. Shooters can take as much time as they like to finish a match and fire as much as they like. Targets used include both IPSC standard and metal ‘poppers’. The IPSC Classic is scored like this,

Major Zone Minor
5 A 5
4 C 3
2 D 1

Matches are broken down into stages and at the end of every stage, the score is calculated by dividing the shooter’s points by their time.


Open – Allows for nearly any upgrade imaginable, including optics and muzzle devices. Only real restriction is a magazine length under a 170mms.

Standard – This class allows highly customized handguns with the restrictions on optics and muzzle devices.

Production – A very simple division designed for non-custom firearms. This class is for out of the box guns and limit customization to only a few external upgrades.

Classic – This class is designed for the 1911 single stack firearm. Most external cosmetic upgrades are allowed. Magazines are restricted to 8 rounds for major and 10 rounds for minor.

Revolver- For the cowboy in all of us the Revolver class allows double action revolvers and are limited in design. Revolvers can utilize moon clips for faster reloads.

USPSA Handguns

The United States Practical Shooting Association falls under the IPSC banner and is considered the American option for sport shooting. Like IPSC there are a variety of classes and divisions, and different guns fall into different categories. The USPSA divisions and firearms categories are slightly different from IPSC rules.


Major and Minor power factors are still a consideration for scoring.

USPSA also uses Comstock style scoring, but also allows the use of Virginia count, Fixed Time, and the new Time-Plus scoring method.

Virginia Count – Shooter has unlimited time, but a limited number of shots. There is also a required amount of hits per target.

Fixed Time – Shooter has both limited time and limited numbers of shots with each target having a stipulated number of hits.

Time Plus – Time plus is more popular with multi-gun matches. Is disregards minor or major power factors. Only hits are counted, and there are no scoring zones on the target. Competitors compete for the fastest times with time added for misses and penalties.

USPSA uses the classic IPSC target, as well as a Metric target, poppers, and steel plates. Like IPSC hitting a metal target is always five points the metric targets are scored as follows.


Major Zone Minor
5 A 5
4 B 3
4 C 3
2 D 1


Open – Essentially anything you want on a gun including optics, recoil compensators, ‘gas’ pedals, tricked out triggers, barrels, and sights of all kinds. These are custom made ‘Race’ guns.

Limited – Limited allows almost all modifications except for optics and muzzle devices. Limited 10 is the same division with 10 round only magazines.

Production – Production guns are basically stock firearms without many modifications accepted. All production handguns are scored as minor regardless of caliber. Both automatics and revolvers can be used.

Carry Optic – Carry optic is a new, not widely adopted class. It’s essentially production class that allows optics. The optics are limited in in size.

Single Stack – Single stack is for the 1911 fan. It only allows single stack 1911s and practical holsters.

Revolver – Revolver class is for six shooters and a variety of modifications are allowed. The prohibited mods include optics, compensators, and ported guns.

Multi-Gun Shooting (3 Gun)

Multi-gun shooting is a style of competition that is an overarching name for 2-gun or 3-gun competition. Unlike USPSA or IPSC there are dozens of 3-Gun leagues each with unique rules, and classes that are mostly similar. USPSA runs some of the larger 3-Gun matches and has set the rules many leagues follow or adopt to match their weapons. Each weapon is dedicated to their own class. We’ve discussed pistols above, so let’s look at rifles and shotguns.

Scoring – Scoring in multi-gun is either done with Comstock or Time Plus. Time plus is the most popular in 3-gun because of simplicities sake. Targets are quite varied and can be IPSC classic, Metric targets, steel plates, poppers, and clay pigeons. The wider variety of targets is why Time Plus is typically the most popular way to score.


Open – Open division allows the use of multiple optics on a single weapon, bipods, and muzzle brakes of any size and shape.

Tactical – Tactical rifles limit the shooters to a single optic, and there are no bipods allowed. Muzzle devices can only be an inch in diameter and 3 inches in length.

Limited – You are limited to a single non-magnified red dot sight and bipods are a no go. Muzzle devices are limited to 1 inch in diameter and 3 inches in length.


Open – Open division allows optics, muzzle devices, and speed loaders for integral magazines and even detachable magazines. Magazines can only hold 10 rounds when the match starts, but after the start signal more can be loaded. Bipods are allowed and the shotguns can be completely custom guns. Guns can be semi auto or pump action.

Limited/Tactical – This division restricts the use optics, speed loaders, muzzle devices, and bipods. This is an iron sight only comp where only tube magazines are allowed. Semi auto and pump guns are allowed.

Heavy Metal – This class only allows pump action, tube fed shotguns. 9 rounds are only allowed at the start signal. No speed loaders, optics, muzzle devices, or bipods allowed.

USPSA has a variety of different divisions that fall into a variety of classes. The classes are,


Open Handgun

Open Rifle

Open Shotgun


Limited Handgun

Limited Rifle

Limited Shotgun


Limited Handgun

Limited Rifle

Limited Shotgun

Heavy Metal Tactical

Limited 10 handguns

Iron sighted rifle

Heavy Metal shotgun

Heavy Metal Limited

Limited 10 handgun in 44 caliber

Iron sight rifle in major caliber

Heavy Metal shotgun

Action Shooting

Action shooting sports are an extremely diverse and dynamic sport. It’s grown so much it’s gained its own television show on the Outdoor network. The pots are getting bigger, and the competition is getting fiercer. The sport itself is growing, and this was evident at Shot Show 2017 more than ever. It’ll be interesting to see just how far they will go.

Brandon Maddox :