Shooting a Different Division to Hone Specific Skills? (Part 1)

To date, I have shot Production 100% of the time throughout my USPSA career.  However, for the last two years I have been kicking around the idea of shooting some Limited on the local level.  This year, I’ve finally decided to act.  I believe the timing (now) is right for a few reasons.  I’m in a bit of a training rut at the moment, and I don’t like that.  More so, I believe it is about the fact that I’ve been at a skills plateau for at least six months.  I need to change something up in terms of training, both to keep it interesting, and to try to break through my current plateau and further develop certain skills.  Also, I have a significant hole in my major match schedule right now, so I will be able to spend at least a couple months concentrating fully on Limited, and still have time to get back into the Production mode hard before Nationals.

The idea to shoot Limited first appeared in my head around six months after I started to gain some proficiency in Production.  As I improved in USPSA, I also noticed something else happened that I didn’t really expect at the time: my IDPA game was also rapidly improving… while not practicing specifically for IDPA at all!  Since then, I’ve thought about the reasons for this, which I will outline below.

It is important to note that for the near future, my primary goal is still to be the best Production shooter I can possibly be.  The foray into Limited is designed to improve my Production game.  So… how, exactly would that be accomplished by shooting Limited?

As we know, the scoring models between IDPA, USPSA minor, and USPSA major require different levels of accuracy to score an acceptable number of points.

  • IDPA: Most accuracy intensive.  Every non-zero point down is a hefty half second (and may soon even be a much heavier one second) penalty.  It is sometimes hard to visualize how a “time plus” scoring model and a hit factor scoring model can be compared to each other, but for our purposes here, suffice it to say that the current scoring model makes every IDPA stage into something that would be considered a “low hit factor” stage in the USPSA hit factor scoring system.  On a low hit factor stage, normally, points are at a premium.  On the vast, vast majority of IDPA shots, if you call a -1 or worse, you can make that shot up in under half a second and help your score.  At the top levels of the sport, the match winner is either also the most accurate, or is very close to the top in this metric, usually well above average vs. the rest of the field.
  • USPSA minor: A very nice balance between speed and accuracy.  As we know, the hit factor changes based on stage design, but on a stage of average hit factor, usually, the time value of a C turns out to be about .2 seconds.  That is my “rule of thumb” on most stages.  Rarely if ever will you be able to call a C with enough certainty to take another shot guaranteeing an A and help your score.  To score well, you better be shooting a lot of As, doing it pretty quickly, and not taking a lot of make-up shots, because the time really starts to add up fast if you do.
  • USPSA major: You get four points for a C. Combine this with zero or one reload per stage (in Limited and Open), and the hit factor goes up.  As the hit factor goes up, time becomes an ever more valuable quantity.  Make-up shots are likely only going to help you if you need to correct a complete miss.  Making up a C will hurt your score virtually 100% of the time, even if you connect on an A.

Prior to starting USPSA, I only had exposure to IDPA.  I was pretty good at IDPA, having won nearly a dozen Level 2 matches by then.  Yet I classified as “B” out of the gate in USPSA.  What gives?  As we know, this is not uncommon at all.  The scoring model is the primary reason.

IDPA!
Me with IDPA gear

The scoring model dictates how you must prioritize different elements of the game in order to perform at a high level.  In a “low hit factor” scoring model such as that in IDPA, points dominate the list of things that you must execute well in order to put down a competitive score.  Therefore, that tends to be the focus of competitive IDPA-exclusive shooters.  They shoot great points, and sometimes other elements of their game are suffering, even if they don’t realize it.  That was me.

Enter USPSA:  My first few USPSA matches (like many folks do when they start) were shot with my IDPA gear, with the magazines topped off, putting me in Limited minor with an M&P 9mm and 17 rounds in the gun.  Soon I got a double belt and 5 magazine pouches, and switched to Production.  I was green.  And I was doing a number of things that in retrospect are actually quite entertaining to see on old video now:

  • I had heard that “if you aren’t shooting on the move in USPSA most of the time, you are hurting yourself”. Well I “shot on the move” alright, often doing “the IDPA shuffle” on target arrays that would have been much more efficient to post up on.
  • Reloads that I thought were on the move were really not. I was leaning out of position during the reload, but I would finish the reload before I really started moving.
  • And last but not least: I took make up shots… lots of them.  My point totals in the scoring stats looked great.  I shot 3 A’s on multiple targets per match.

Furthermore, I found that my “good” classifier runs were landing in the 75% range.  I was shooting good points.  I just wasn’t fast enough.

Moving Reload
Moving Reload

I quickly learned that to compete at a higher level in the USPSA match, and to score better on classifiers, everything had to be faster.  For classifiers in particular, I had to make very significant improvements in the draw, transitions, and reloads.  For field courses, I had to improve the efficiency of movement, my ability to reload on the move, and my acuity for breaking down the most efficient way to shoot complicated stages.  I started practicing specific drills designed to improve each of these elements, and improve, they did.  My classifier scores and local match combined results positioning started creeping up.

And then, something I had not really anticipated at the time happened:  When I went back to shoot IDPA matches, I was actually far better at IDPA than before.  I hadn’t forgotten how to pull the trigger when I had to, so I didn’t really lose anything in terms of ability to shoot lots of zeros on demand in IDPA.  From USPSA, I returned with new faster technical skills, and a new understanding of how and where you could apply those when breaking down a stage.  I could see places in IDPA to gain time that I simply didn’t really see (and could not have executed on anyway) prior to training for a USPSA Production GM card.  My overall practical pistol shooting game was improved by learning the skills needed to compete well under a different scoring model; one that put a heavier value on time than anything I had been exposed to before.

And so, that brings me to the present.  As of today, I have not shot a single match of any kind under the major scoring model; however, I believe the same exact concepts will apply.  I have a good idea of how I should score shooting Limited major competently against my hierarchy of local shooters, and I believe that to get there, I will need to focus and improve on peripheral elements of the game that are not stressed as hard by the minor scoring model: very efficient movement, really pressing the limits of shooting on the move, and shooting in and out of positions very aggressively to score well, for starters.  If I can be forced to further develop these abilities shooting major, I anticipate that they can be successfully translated back to gains in Production.  Just like gains in Production translated to improvements in IDPA.  I intend to find out over the course of the next few months of practice and local matches.

8 thoughts on “Shooting a Different Division to Hone Specific Skills? (Part 1)”

  1. I’m am advocate for certain divisions helping you focus on different aspects of shooting. I did the opposite transition. I started in Limited and was quite the hoser. One simply would say “Well just stop hosing”. For whatever reason I just couldn’t do it. I had to have things like Minor PF scoring and 10+1 round limitations to force better fundamentals on me. With all the bells and whistles of a limited gun, I was able to be more sloppy and still do well on the local level. Grip? Who needs grip when you have a gas pedal. Reloads? Who needs to practice that when you have a magwell. Hot dog down a hallway. All in all I’m very pleased about what my time in Low Cap has taught me. I’m a true believer it has helped my fundamentals as a competition shooter.

  2. I fully agree the change can definitely help tighten up you grip, and make your shots more intentional right out of the gate, the extra rounds can allow you to be more aggressive to shoot earlier in positions and move out of position earlier. Those extra rounds can allow you to concentrate on your movement more instead of reloading every step. I learned a LOT shooting open, even though I was terrible at it. I’m glad to see you staying in production. Great article and good luck with the limited play!

  3. I recently switched from many years in Open division to Production. Turns out I really can’t shoot. The Open platform covered a lot of my weakness. Eventually, I will probably return to Open, but I should know how to shoot gooder by then.

  4. I shoot limited…coming from an IDPA background. I started USPSA shooting great points with slow times. When I really start pushing speed alpha-mikes start showing up. My shooting coach has recommended a dot for practice in the off season. He said it really helps you to learn to see the sights faster and see what you can get away with speed wise. Hopefully I can pickup a gun with a dot and give it a go.

    1. A dot improving your iron sight speed doesn’t make any sense at all to me, but after this post I’ve received that kind of feedback several times. I’m almost interested enough to try one. I’d have to buy a Tanfo GT since the 2011’s are literally ergonomically unshootable for me, at least as set up for a right hander.

    1. Hey Kelsey,
      I am using a Tanfo Limited .40 with the usual internal work, and my Production-legal belt. Therefore the ergonomics were very similar in terms of the gun and the location of all the gear.

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