If you are a new gun owner or just getting into shooting sports, you may be surprised to know that there are recreational shooting activities to fit every level of hobbyist. Recreational shooting offers gun owners both practical skills and hours of enjoyment.
Finding a recreational shooting activity that you enjoy will ensure you frequently train with your firearm, sharpen skills, and develop muscle memory—all of which you want to do to become a well-rounded shooter. Perhaps one of the best benefits of recreational shooting is meeting and bonding with fellow firearm owners. Many of them will enthusiastically share their knowledge and breadth of experience with you.
International Defensive Shooting Pistol Association
Some of the most fun but practical shooting events for people interested in the field of concealed carry handguns are matches sponsored by the International Defensive Shooting Pistol Association (IDPA). IDPA matches are sponsored across the U.S. at local gun ranges. IDPA matches offer functional training aimed at people who carry a gun for everyday use.
There are IDPA matches for every level of shooter from novice to master. There are also divisions for practically any kind of concealed carry pistol, so long as it remains mostly stock.
There are five divisions of IDPA shooting:
- Custom defensive pistol division
- Enhanced service pistol division
- Compact carry division
- Revolver division
- Backup gun division
Since IDPA competition emphasizes handguns that are used for everyday carry, IDPA competition does not allow heavily customized weapons. Although some of the IDPA rules are flexible, ported barrels, weighted grips, magazine wells, tungsten guide rods, and other devices that would make your gun highly customized are not allowed. Again, the emphasis here is on everyday carry pistols.
Semi-automatic pistols may be single action, double action, or Glock Safe Action™. 9mm is a popular cartridge among competitors and is the smallest caliber that can be used in semi-automatic pistols. However, larger calibers such as .40 S&W, 10mm, and .45 ACP are allowed, too, with there being very few restrictions on caliber.
For those who favor wheel guns, revolvers have their own divisions too. A .38 special is the minimum cartridge allowed, but those with more powerful calibers such as the .357 magnum, .41 magnum, and .44 magnum are also allowed.
If you are new to IDPA shooting, in addition to a reliable handgun, you’ll also want to get a good and reliable holster. An interesting thing about IDPA shooting is that, since it emphasizes practical shooting, both inside the waistband (IWB) and outside the waistband (OWB) holsters are permitted. In other words, you are encouraged to wear a holster that you would use for everyday concealed carry, such as a sturdy Kydex holster.
IDPA matches utilize different scenarios for each match and are scored based on accuracy and time. The time allowed for each match depends on your level, with the novice level being allowed the most time and the master level being allowed the least amount of time.
IDPA stages might include shooting from a seated position, shooting from a vehicle, shooting from a kneeling position, or shooting from behind cover. The possibilities are endless, and that’s part of the fun. You never really know exactly what your stage will look like until you show up and walk through the course.
Another practical, but fun, recreational shooting event is 3-gun shooting. As the name suggests, 3-gun shooting consists of three shooting events that include pistol, shotgun, and rifle.
If you have a competitive edge, are looking for a challenge, and want to become proficient with three different classes of firearms, then 3-gun shooting might be for you. The 3-gun event can accommodate any level of shooter, from the novice shooter to the expert.
Since 3-gun also emphasizes practicality, tactical-type weapons are utilized in this type of competition. This usually means rifles or carbines that are chambered in .223 with 18-20 inch barrels and 30 round magazines.
Pistols are usually of the semiautomatic variety, with 9mm being a popular caliber, but also .40 S&W, .45 ACP, and .357 SIG are seen, among others. Again, you’ll want to have a reliable holster and magazine pouches to ensure your stage goes smoothly.
Most competitors use shotguns that are pump-action or autoloading with a variety of chokes and loads. Both slugs and shotshells are authorized for 3-gun competition.
The divisions in 3-gun make it well-suited for practically any level of shooter. You may compete in the entry-level Limited Division, the more advanced Tactical Division, or the expert level divisions such as Heavy Metal, Open, or Outlaw Open.
The best benefit of 3-gun is becoming a well-rounded shooter in each of the three different types of firearms that one might use in a defensive situation. However, the atmosphere is one of competition and fun that will only serve to improve your skills.
Similar to IDPA, 3-gun competition courses vary widely. Some may include clay pigeons, steel and cardboard targets, pop up targets, and anything else that the match organizers may choose to include. Targets can be anywhere from 1 yard out to 500 yards. Whatever the course, you’re sure to find it far more exciting than your average day at the range.
Bowling Pin Shooting
We’ve covered two of the more practical types of recreational shooting, but if you’re looking for something more light-hearted and fun, then perhaps bowling pin shooting is more your speed.
Bowling pin shooting consists of using a firearm to knock bowling pins off a table.
Although traditionally higher caliber handguns are used (to ensure the bowling pin is knocked off the table), some competitions allow .22 LRs, pistols, shotguns, or rifles/carbines.
A typical bowling pin competition still consists of handguns chambered in large calibers such as .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and 10 mm, since these have the power to effectively knock bowling pins off the competition table.
However, if using a large caliber handgun is a bit intimidating to the beginner, some competitions allow the use of handguns with calibers as small as .22 LR or 9mm. In these competitions, the goal is usually to simply knock the bowling pin over, rather than completely clear it from the table.
Still, other competitions allow for the use of a shotgun or rifle to clear the bowling pins.
Depending on the type of competition, different classes of firearms and calibers may be used to achieve your goal.
A standard bowling pin setup consists of either five pins placed on a waist-high table three feet from the rear of the table or three pins on a waist-high table with two pins on a second shelf placed above the table. The goal is to knock over or clear the table of all the pins and to do so as quickly as possible.
Whether you decide to try your hand at IDPA style shooting, 3-gun, or bowling pin shooting, you’re sure to find an event that will test your skill, accuracy under pressure, and competitiveness—all of which will contribute to you becoming a better, more knowledgeable shooter.
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