New Shooter Guide

TCSL welcomes new shooters to IDPA!

Tri-County Sportsmen’s League runs monthly IDPA matches on our pistol ranges. These matches are usually on the 4th Saturday of the month. We hold matches from March through October, so please remember to dress appropriately for the weather. These matches are open to the public. To learn more about IDPA, please visit the official IDPA site.

IDPA is a Safe and Fun shooting sport where practical defensive equipment is used in simulated self defense scenarios.

This an action shooting sport the is designed to help keep shooters keep practiced and proficient in defensive handgun skills.  Our matches consist of at least 4-5 courses of fire (or “CoFs” as they are called).  These are a series of simulated defensive scenarios that let you shoot at targets at typical defensive distances.  

Drawing From Concealment

Since IDPA simulates real world self defense situations, including concealed carry, some, or many of the CoF’s will begin with the gun concealed. The draw on those stages will be made from concealment. If the shooter chooses not to draw from concealment, a Procedural Penalty will be given.

These courses of fire will let shooters:

  • Draw from “concealment”

  • Shoot while moving

  • Use appropriate cover while engaging targets

  • Shoot from kneeling or prone positions

  • Shoot at “moving” targets

  • Practice emergency (slide lock) reloads

  • Practice tactical (loaded chamber) reloads

What to do when you show up for a TCSL IDPA Match:

  • Sign in at the scoring desk (located at the Pistol House)
  • Feel free to bring guests and friends.  All are welcome to watch – but all need to sign in at the scoring desk.
  • Please let them know you are new shooter, and we can give you a quick tour / walkthrough on how the matches work.  There will be an equipment check at this point too.
  • Pay for the match.  Matches are $20.  Of course, guests and friends are free.
  • Proceed to the designated Safe Area and gear up. 
  • Your gun can only be removed from bag in the Safe Area.  DO NOT HANDLE AMMUNITION IN SAFE AREA.
  • We offer burgers, brats, hot dogs, grilled chicken, and other refreshments for your enjoyment.

The Shooters’ Meeting and Walk Throughs:

  • ALL SHOOTERS MUST ATTEND THE SHOOTERS’ MEETING held at the beginning of a match. Each shooter will be briefed on general and special safety rules or concerns. The shooting stages will be described and special instructions for the stages will be given.
  • What do you want from IDPA, and what relevant experience have you had?   During the Shooters’ Meeting, tell the Safety Officer what you hope to gain by shooting IDPA. Also tell the Safety Officer what relevant shooting experience you have had. This will help him/her tailor the introduction to your needs.
  • At the end of the New Shooter’s Introduction, the Safety Officer will ask you if you have any questions. Please ask your questions. We are more concerned about safety than we are about going over something again in a different way to make it crystal clear. At the beginning of each CoF there is another opportunity to ask questions. Please ask your questions.
  • Be sure to attend the ‘Walk Through’ for each stage you plan to shoot so that you understand the ‘Course of Fire’
  • Help pick up brass and tape up targets between shooters
  • Stay behind safety benches (or the Safe Line) when the range ‘goes Hot’
  • After shooting your stages, please thank the SOs and other organizers putting on the match (admittedly, this is optional)
  • Proceed to Safe Area to stow your gear
  • Stay to the end of the match or show up early – We’re always looking for volunteers to help setup or tear down the staging gear (targets and props).

REMEMBER: TCSL IDPA events will be run on a COLD range.

  • This means that your gun must be empty (unloaded) everywhere on the range. 
  • You CANNOT have a loaded magazine in the weapon nor a round in the chamber! 
  • You may load magazines anywhere except the SAFE AREA. 
  • Please be sure to follow these rules – failure to follow this rule could get you disqualified from the Match

What if I come to the range with my CPL and am carrying hot (i.e. loaded firearm)?

If you have a Concealed Pistols License and are carrying concealed when you arrive at the match please find the Match Director or an IDPA Safety Officer. Tell them you need to unload and proceed with the SO to the Safe Area. You can unload at the Safe Area under the SO’s supervision.
  • Please remain unloaded until you are finished shooting the match.
  • Then, if you wish to load up before leaving the range, again, find the MD or an SO, proceed to the Safe Area and reload and holster.
  • This is one of only 2 exceptions to the rule regarding not handling ammo in the Safe Area. The other exception is if your firearm jams during a Course of Fire and the firearm cannot be unloaded on the line. In this case, the SO will take the jammed firearm and proceed with the shooter to the Safe Area to attempt to clear the weapon. If the firearm cannot be unloaded, then an attempt should be made to make the firearm as safe as possible and the shooter advised to go directly to a qualified gunsmith to remedy the problem.

What Equipment do I need?

  • Service type pistol or revolver of 9mm/.38 special or larger caliber. If your handgun is suitable for self-defense use, it will probably be competitive for IDPA matches.  Autoloaders can have a 5″ barrel or less and must fit in the IDPA “box”. Revolvers can have 4″ barrel or shorter. 
  • Practical concealed carry type holsters are stipulated for IDPA use. A common service pistol or revolver such as a Beretta 92F, Glock 17/22, Sig 226, Colt 1911A1, S&W 686 or Ruger GP-100 carried in a common pancake style holster is all that is needed to be competitive in IDPA matches.   The holster MUST cover the entire trigger guard and be worn on the firing hand side of your body – line the holster up with the seam in your jeans or further back is fine.)
  • You should also bring 3 magazines (or 3-4 speed loaders) and two magazine holders for your belt.
  • A well constructed Gun belt. 
  • Concealment Garment
  • Eye and Ear protection. 
  • At least 150 rounds of ammunition

Basic Skills:

There are a few basic shooting skills that the new shooter should know or be learning. Shooters should have the following basic knowledge and skills in order to safely shoot in our matches:

  • Gripping the firearm with the trigger finger OUT of the trigger guard

  • Controlling the muzzle of the firearm at all times, keeping it down-range

  • Loading and unloading the weapon safely

  • Drawing from the holster and re-holstering

  • Sight picture, how to align the sights

  • Trigger control, how to squeeze the trigger

  • Reloading the firearm (loaded chamber reloads and slide-lock reloads)

  • Moving with a drawn firearm (finger off the trigger, muzzle down-range)

  • Range commands and procedures

How is an IDPA Match Organized?

  • An IDPA match consists of several “Courses of Fire”, also called “CoFs” or “Stages”. 
  • Each CoF is run by a Safety Officer. The Safety Officer is there to see that the stage is run safely and consistently for all shooters. The Safety Officer’s commands and judgments are final.
  • Each CoF is setup on a separate range to contain the bullet’s trajectory and provide a safe backstop for the bullets as they pass through the targets.
  • A single CoF may have several starts and stops, these are called “Strings of Fire”, or just “Strings”. Each string is started with a “beep” from a timer and ends when all the targets have been neutralized (or when the shooter decides to stop shooting). The timer actually “hears” the gun shots and records the time from the beep to the last gun shot. The total time it takes to complete a stage is your score, but the time is adjusted for accuracy. That is, poor accuracy adds time. The lowest total time for all stages is the winner of the match.

Safe Firearms:

The Safety Officer may ask to see your firearm. He/she will give you specific instructions on how to hand it over. The Safety Officer may give the firearm a quick safety check to see that the gun functions properly, including any safety mechanisms built into the gun. You may not shoot a match with unsafe equipment or firearms with safety device intentionally disabled.

Holster Safety Check:

The Safety Officer will want to see your firearm as it sits in the holster. He will be checking for safe holster design, and to see whether the trigger is completely covered when the gun is in the holster. You may not shoot a match with unsafe equipment.

Muzzle Control:

The Safety Officer will explain what is meant by muzzle control. The muzzle must point in a safe direction at all times. This includes during the draw, when shooting, when moving, when doing reloads, or when clearing a malfunction. If the muzzle of a shooter’s gun sweeps the shooter, past a person, or up-range, the shooter will be disqualified on the spot.

Straight Finger:

The Shooter’s finger must NOT be inside the trigger guard UNLESS the sights are aligned on a target. When the gun is drawn and the shooter is not immediately firing, the trigger finger must be straight and clearly outside the trigger.

If the shooter has his/her finger inside the trigger guard and is not immediately shooting a target the Safety Offices will yell “FINGER”. If the shooter does not immediately remove his/her finger from inside the trigger guard the shooter can be disqualified.

Negligent or Accidental Discharge:

Any time a shooter’s gun goes off and the muzzle is not pointed directly at a target, it is considered a Negligent Discharge (ND). The shooter may be disqualified from the match for a ND.  NDs can be dangerous, and the shooter responsible for a ND is grounds for a match disqualification.  Remember – unsafe gun handling will get a shooter DQ’ed from the match.

Dropping Your Firearm:

If a shooter’s gun is dropped on the ground, DON’T TOUCH IT.  Only the Safety Officer may pick up a dropped gun. The gun will be made safe and returned to the shooter, and the shooter is disqualified.

Hot and Cold Ranges?

A “HOT” range is one where the shooter’s guns may be loaded at all times. This is not unusual since IDPA simulates concealed carry type situations.

A “COLD” range is one where the shooter’s guns are not loaded until the shooter is at the firing line of a shooting stage. The shooter must show the Safety Officer that the gun has an empty chamber and empty magazine well at the end of each stage.


The standard IDPA target is made of cardboard and is roughly a man sized silhouette.

The target has four scoring zones on it, marked with perforations in the cardboard. 

There are two traditional ways of distinguishing threat and non-threat targets. The CoF description will show how to distinguish between them.

Typically it takes 2 shots to neutralize a target, however the CoF description will advise how many shots are required for each target. The shooter is penalized 10 points or 5 seconds for each threat target that is not neutralized.

Sometimes the targets are steel targets, or some other target. The CoF will explain which things are targets, and how to neutralize them.

Use of Cover:

Because IDPA simulated real world self defense situations, the shooter must make use of available cover and concealment.

Both the shooter and targets may have cover or concealment (soft cover) in a CoF. If the target has “Cover”, it is considered that bullets will not pass through. Any holes made in the targets by the shooter’s bullets after passing thought cover are not scored. If a target has “Concealment” or “Soft Cover”, holes made in the targets by the shooter’s bullets after passing through concealment will be scored.

The shooter must make use of available cover when shooting targets. That is, more than 50% of the shooters torso must be behind cover. Failure to do so will result in a Cover Penalty. The shooter will receive one verbal warning, the word “COVER” will be yelled at the shooter. If the shooter then gets behind cover no penalty is awarded. If the shooter continues to shoot and not move behind cover, a Cover Penalty is given.


Most CoFs require movement, and some require shooting on the move. The shooter must pay extra attention to the direction of his/her muzzle, and keep his/her finger OUTSIDE the trigger guard. The Safety Officer will keep up with the shooter’s movements, and the shooter must be aware of the Safety Officer’s presence, and safety. 

Failure To Do Right

Within IDPA there is a Failure To Do Right (FTDR), penalty. It is only given in those rare instances where a shooter tries to circumvent the rules or intent of IDPA. For example, a shooter is purposely loading 14 rounds into his/her magazines, instead of the maximum of 10 would get a FTDR. A FTDR is a 20 second penalty for that stage.


Within IDPA there is a Procedural Penalty. It is given in those instances where a shooter does not follow the CoF description, or does not use cover, etc.

For more information about the IDPA program at TCSL – download the informational flyer (2 pages):

Do you have any questions?

Please contact:

Earl Austin

TCSL IDPA Match Director