Your First USPSA Match
Every top shooter in the country today was once a beginner and arrived at their very first match with butterflies in their stomach and wondered what they had gotten themselves into.
The format of a typical match has not changed much since the sport was first founded. There may be some regional differences in how matches are run but this guide will give you a rough idea of what to expect and the meaning of some of the common terminology that you may encounter.
We will assume that you have completed a basic safety course and are familiar with the operation of your gun. You should be familiar with the basics of loading, unloading, magazine changes and drawing from a holster. If you are not proficient with these skills, then it is in your best interest to learn them before entering your first match.
This guide is not a substitute for a good safety course.
On the day of your first match you will need to have the following items with you:
Gun and magazines (ideally you should have at least 4 magazines)
Ammunition (typically 200 rounds will be plenty for a local match).
Holster, belt and magazine pouches (holster should cover the trigger guard).
Shooting glasses, ear-plugs and/or ear-muffs (preferably both).
Good boots or shoes that support the ankle, hiking boots or sporting shoes are both good.
A bag to cart all your stuff around and a bag to keep your used brass cases in.
Sun block and a pair of gloves.
Plenty of water or cold drinks and possibly a snack (the matches will often last several hours)
Always try to arrive early as this will give you time to walk around and examine the stages before the shooting starts.
If you plan to shoot with someone that you know then sign up at the same time as they do. Typically each match will use some kind of squads - grouping shooters together - and you will stay with that squad for the entire match and move from one berm to another to complete each stage. If you don’t know anyone at the club then mention this to the person doing the sign-up and they should be able to recommend someone to guide you through your first match. Every good club will go out of their way to accommodate new shooters so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
As you sign up, you will be assigned to a squad, and you will remain with those people for the rest of the match. Next you want to find the Safety Area and put on your holster, gun etc., you should ask if you cannot find it.
You may only handle your gun in the safe area, handling it anywhere else is against the rules.
Don’t handle ammunition in the Safety Area, this is against the rules.
Feel free to load your magazines wherever you want - but NOT in the Safety Area - so that you are ready for the start.
At the start of each match there will be a shooter’s briefing or meeting where the Match Director will go over any pertinent information that you may need, there could be some announcements of future matches for example. Once that is done, each stage will be described. This is called the Stage Briefing and will give instructions on the start position and the way that the stage is to be shot.
Each stage briefing will have several key points and they are listed below:
Comstock - Indicates that you can shoot as many rounds as you need to complete the course of fire or stage.
Virginia Count - You can only shoot the specified number of rounds, any more and penalties will apply.
Speed Shoot - It’s typically a fast stage with little or no movement required.
Medium Course - Not as fast as a speed shoot and may have 2 or more shooting positions.
Field (long) Course - These big stages can have upwards of 32 rounds and require multiple shooting positions.
Number of Rounds - The minimum (or total for Virginia Count) rounds that will be required for this stage.
Number of Points - The number of points that are available, typically this is FIVE times the number of rounds, a twenty round stage is typically worth 100 points.
Description - This describes what you will have to do in this stage, it will include the start position and certain targets that have to be engaged from specific positions, basically it is a guide to shooting the stage. Speed Shoots generally are more specific about the way they are to be shot, Field Stages are generally less specific.
Try to get near the front of the crowd while the briefings are being read so that you can hear what is being said and get a look at the stage. If there is anything that you are not clear about, then please ask the Match Director or the Range Officer for some clarification. There is no such thing as a stupid question.
Once that course description has been completed, all the shooters will move to the next stage and the entire process is repeated until all the stage briefings have been given. Then the Match Director will announce for everyone to break into their squads.
Find the squad that you were assigned to during the registration process and get to your first stage. Once you have made your way to the correct stage, the butterflies are doing acrobatics in your stomach but don’t worry, it’s going to be okay. Everyone is there to help, we all want your first match to be fun.
The walk-through is a vital part of the stage, this is the opportunity for you to walk through the course of fire as if you were shooting it. Leave the gun in the holster at this point, handling the gun without the supervision of an RO (Range Officer) causes a tremendous amount of excitement... but not the good kind. If you do this, you will suffer a match disqualification which means you will not be allowed to shoot anymore that day. As the squad arrives at each new stage, everyone is given a few minutes to look over the stage (as a group) and develop a plan. When you are the "on-deck" shooter, you will be given a few moments to privately walk through the stage and finalize your plan while the previous shooter's targets are being scored and pasted.
If you are unsure of the best way to shoot the stage - and bear in mind there may be many different ways to successfully shoot a stage - don’t be afraid to ask for help. We were all new at this once and everyone will happily offer advice. The trick, at least for the first few matches, is to keep it simple. Develop a plan that is simple and execute your plan correctly.
Once all the walking through is done, then it’s time to start shooting. There will be an RO (Range Officer) and a Score Keeper. These are usually people of have done a few matches and who are familiar with the rules. Some have completed extensive USPSA training to become Certified RO’s .
The Score Keeper will call out the name of the first, second and third shooter. The first shooter will be called the ‘shooter’, the second shooter will be called as ‘on deck’, and the third shooter will be ‘in the hole’. I think those are baseball terms but don’t ask me to explain them. The Score Keeper will repeat calling out the order until everyone has shot the course.
If you are called to shoot first, tell the Score Keeper that you would like to be moved down a bit in the shooting order. This gives you an opportunity to watch some other people shoot the stage, and perfect your plan, before it’s your turn in the spotlight.
There will be a Range Officer, Score Keeper, the current shooter and on-deck shooter that have important things to attend to. The remainder of the squad is responsible for ‘patching’ or ‘taping’ targets and re-setting steel (assuming that there are steel targets on the stage) once the active shooter has completed the course and the Range Office has declared the range safe to enter. Usually the squad will help the shooter retrieve his magazines once the course has been declared safe to enter.
Patching or Taping - grab a strip of the target pasters and, AFTER the RO scores the targets, you patch the holes. There is usually white tape for the no-shoot targets and black tape for the hardcover targets. Make sure that the tape is pressed down firmly.
Shooting - This is the stuff where you get to do your thing. You should be familiar with the standard range commands, such as:
‘MAKE READY’ (You may now remove the gun firm the holster, load it and re-holster, or prepare the gun as stated in the stage description. Double check your eye and hearing protection and get ready to shoot)
‘ARE YOU READY?’ (respond with a nod or yes, unless you are not ready and a NO should be spoken)
‘STANDBY’ (Simply a warning that the course is about to begin)
‘BEEP’ (Draw the gun and get to the shooting!!!)
Shooting, shooting, reloading and more shooting…
‘IF YOUR ARE FINISHED, UNLOAD AND SHOW CLEAR’. (if your are finished, you should remove the magazine from the gun, rack the slide to eject the round in the chamber and show the empty chamber to the RO)
‘IF GUN IS CLEAR, HAMMER DOWN’ (confirm that the chamber is empty, lower the slide and drop the hammer to confirm that it is empty)
‘HOLSTER’. Holster your gun and remove your hand from it, the stage is now officially complete.
By now you are out of breath and wondering if you screwed up or not. Do not worry about screwing up, as long as you are safe then no-one will laugh, we were all ‘newbies’ once. Do not try to set any speed records at your first match, the idea is to get comfortable with the gun, be smooth and, most importantly, be safe.
Scoring - The RO and Score Keeper will now proceed to score your targets - don’t worry about picking up your empty magazines, usually one your squad-mates will take care of that - you will get the opportunities to pay back this kindness later.
Follow the RO around as he/she scores your targets and look at where your shots are. If they are consistently too low, too high, left, or right then some adjustment of your sights may be in order.
The RO will call out the hits and misses and the no-shoots and the procedural errors that you had. The job of the Score Keeper is to immortalize all this data on your score card.
Check the score, make sure it is your card, and not someone else's, and make sure that the time and score are recorded correctly.
Preparation - Check the magazines that you dropped, determine if they need to be cleaned, and re-load them to be ready for the next stage. Cleaning your magazines is important because grass, sand etc. can work it’s way into the magazine and cause malfunctions.
Helping - Once you have prepared everything for the next stage, you should resume helping out with the pasting and setting steel. Helping out keeps the squad moving and prevents delays in the match.
At the End of the Match – This is where the gloves come out, the stages are dismantled and all the props are put away. Please help to tear down the last stage that you shot, if everyone does a little then no-one has to do a lot.
This scoring tablets will be synced, once everyone has finished shooting, and the scores will be uploaded to the Club’s web page. The link for our club is shown here: http://www.tbspc.org/matchinfo.html
Congratulations! You have completed your first and hopefully not your last USPSA match. The more matches that you shoot, the more your confidence will grow. At the start it is important to focus on the basics of Practical Shooting, don’t try to set the world on fire with blazing speed, just focus on safety, moving smoothly and hitting the targets.
Once the confidence has started to build then feel free to experiment with different techniques for shooting stages and for moving from one target array to another.
Your first match is like the first time you got behind the wheel of a car, there are all these knobs, levers, pedals and switches and it can all be a little overwhelming. So just focus on the simple things.
After a few driving lessons you were able to steer and use turn signals without conscious thought, but in the beginning you had to think about every action.
This is the same with shooting, thinking about each action will mean that it will take you longer to shoot a stage - and that’s okay - you are just at the beginning of your shooting. We were all beginners once, even the World Champions went through this same learning experience, if they can do it, then you can do it.