“Beware the man with one gun, for he probably knows how to use it.”
Most of us in the shooting community have heard this quote at one point or another, and I firmly believe in this philosophy. As a law enforcement officer, I’m essentially limited to one gun choice for work. More importantly, I’m cheap.
When I was first starting in the realm of competition shooting, I wanted one gun that would mirror my duty/everyday carry and give me access to as many competitions as possible while still being competitive.
I focused on the major three action shooting sports available to me: USPSA, IDPA and Three-Gun. I had a couple of additional considerations for competing in the NRA Tactical Police Competitions and Police and Fire Games, so I’ll include those as a bonus to those that may be in the first-responder/military/guest shooter of these two competitions.
I am an avid reader and rules nerd by nature. I guess it is the investigator in me, but I love being able to take a set of rules and dissect them to squeeze out every bit of advantage or “secret” I can find. Finding out what modifications would work in all three competitions was shockingly difficult.
Finding solutions that worked in both USPSA and IDPA is where I spent most of my time, frustration and research. I finally settled into the “factory” divisions of these organizations, and I will first address how to make your “factory” pistol compliant with both USPSA Production and IDPA SSP, then address Three-Gun concerns at the end.
I will not pretend to know every possible rule carve-out or scenario; there are experts in these organizations that far exceed my knowledge and experience. Part of the fun of shooting is endlessly debating the rules (at least to me), so here is my contribution to the ongoing great equipment debate!
My Glock 34 in Production and SSP Legal configuration. Upgrades include: grip tape, Zev Tech Ultimate Standard Fulcrum Trigger package, Warren Sevigny fiber optic sights, stainless guide rod, 13-pound recoil spring, OEM extended magazine release and slide release.
The factory guns fit mainly into the categories of USPSA Production, IDPA SSP and Three Gun Tactical/Limited (3 Gun Nation Practical/Factory). There are many great choices from Glock, Springfield Armory, Smith and Wesson, Walther, CZ, etc.
The first step is to make sure your pistol is on the approved USPSA Production list; IDPA has no such list and leaves it up to you to ensure that your pistol has an annual production of 2,000 units or 20,000 units for discontinued models.
The second step I would recommend is to take some time to read the many blogs that have been done polling competitors at the national championships to find the most utilized gear. As of now CZ and Glock are topping the Production and SSP charts. For my purposes, I chose the Glock 34 as it allowed me to mirror the Glocks I carry for work and be competitive in each of the above-named divisions without fear of being “outgunned.”
I will soon be switching to the Glock 34 in the M.O.S. configuration as it additionally gives you the option of competing in the USPSA Carry Optics Division if you throw a red dot on your slide and comply with the rest of this guide utilizing the Three-Gun magazines I recommend later. I can then jump in and out of this division by merely adding or removing the red-dot.
This M.O.S. platform can also be turned into a USPSA/Three Gun Open configuration but will require heavy modifications to be competitive, such as changing barrels to shoot 9mm major, muzzle brakes, magwells, etc. This is not the most popular choice for Open but does give you some flexibility if you ever want to go that route.
Caliber and ammunition
USPSA Production and IDPA SSP are all scored minor, so as long as your ammunition meets the 125,000 PF (velocity X bullet weight), you are good to go. You will see no benefit in shooting a caliber larger than 9mm in these two divisions or Three Gun Tactical/Limited.
The 147 grain 9mm ammunition is commonly thought to provide a smoother “push” recoil impulse and is a popular choice among competitors.
USPSA Production and IDPA both limit you to 10 rounds maximum in your magazines, so capacity is not an issue for the common full-sized firearms. The difference between the two organizations is the allowances for modifications such as weighted baseplates and grip tape.
USPSA is more lenient, provided the firearm and magazine fit inside their box and the entire configuration is no more than 2 ounces heavier than the stock weight. IDPA will allow you to add up to 1 ounce of weight via an aftermarket magazine over factory or 1 ounce to your magazine base pad as long as the entire setup weighs a maximum of 43 ounces and fits in their box.
The easiest answer is if you choose to add a base pad or use aftermarket magazines make sure they are no heavier than 1 ounce over factory to comply with both organizations. Popular basepads include options from Shockbottle and Springer Precision; both are compliant with the above rules.
Most people will consider this the most important component of their firearm, and this is the area you can get into trouble with the fastest at the inspection table. Any trigger modification that is external is a no-go, i.e. visible set screws that limit pre- or post-travel, nonfactory trigger shoes etc.
There are many great options out there, and I utilize a Zev Tech Standard Fulcrum Trigger. Zev Tech limits pre-travel by welding a tab on the unexposed trigger bar and limits post-travel via a set screw in the rear trigger housing, again not externally visible.
Several manufacturers will say right in their descriptions if they are Production and SSP Legal. If they are using a stock trigger shoe or trigger and their magic is located inside the gun, you are good to go. Otherwise, use caution before buying.
Most people like a supergrippy, custom stippling job on their gun. Production allows for stippling or grip tape pretty much all around the grip portion. Unfortunately, SSP only allows stippling on easily replaceable grip panels or back straps.
The easiest way to avoid any chance of controversy is nonpermanent grip tape in the “safe” areas. This is most easily defined as only the grip portions with nothing outside the grip, i.e. trigger guard areas, or outside your hand on the frame or slide.
Several manufacturers make precut grip tape, which is easy to apply. You can also hit your local hardware store up for a roll of skateboard tape and custom make your own wrap if you’re so inclined.
You may replace your barrel with an aftermarket barrel as long as it is the same caliber as your original firearm’s caliber and the same style of barrel, i.e. no adding a bull barrel to your nonbull-barreled firearm.
SSP prohibits the use of inner/outer belts, and belts must be no wider than 1.75 inches or thicker than 5/16 and fit through all but two of your belt loops.
The simple solution is to get an inner/outer belt and use it in Production and Three Gun and then just use the inner belt for IDPA. There are also inner/outer belt options from companies such as CR Speed Belts that would allow the outer belt to be used in place of the inner belt for IDPA.
Belt setup for Production.
Inner Belt used for IDPA SSP.
If the manufacturer of your firearm makes factory extended control, such as magazine releases or slide stops, you may switch your controls to those options at will with the IDPA caveout that the magazine release may not be oversized in diameter or extend more than 0.2 inches from the frame.
Any after-market controls are prohibited. After-market bolt-on accessories like thumb rests are also prohibited.
Add-on magwells or external flaring of the magwell is prohibited in both divisions.
This is the area that is wide open. Strikers, springs, trigger bars, etc., are all approved for use, so feel free to change to aftermarket variants.
The guide rod is where IDPA will differ slightly from USPSA. IDPA SSP limits your exchange of the guide rod to no heavier of a material than stainless steel, so tungsten guide rods are a no-go. Pick a stainless rod if you decide to change this to keep in compliance with both organizations.
USPSA and IDPA do not allow disabling factory safeties in Production or SSP.
You may change sights freely as long as no aftermarket machining is required to install the new sight and they are the common notch and post style. Fiberoptic sights by Dawson Precision and Warren Tactical (Sevigny models) are popular.
Finishes and milling
Fancy aftermarket finishes or engravings are allowed, provided they give no competitive advantage. No nonfactory slide lightening or nonfactory cuts are allowed.
Production allows for drop offset holsters, but SSP excludes them for male shooters. SSP has numerous additional restrictions that I will spare you.
Find a holster advertised as SSP compliant, such as offerings from Blade-Tech or Comp-Tac, and you will be compliant with Production. Holsters must also be located behind the hip bone.
You will need three magazines for IDPA, and having five magazines for Production is common. IDPA has more magazine holder restrictions than Production. Tension screws must require a tool to operate, must cover at least 2 inches of the magazine and may not have an open front to name a few.
Find advertised SSP legal magazine holders, and you will also be Production compliant. Keep in mind both organizations require you to retain these magazines behind your hip bone, so push those holders back.
Positioning of the firearm and magazine carriers behind the hip bones.
If you follow this guide, everything you modified on your pistol for Production and SSP will be legal in all the major Three Gun competitions for Tactical/Limited. To be competitive, you will need some additional modifications to your pistol.
You will want at least three magazines with extensions or factory extended magazines all measuring no more than 140mm in length, such as the Taran Tactical extensions or the Magpul factory 21 round magazines. These are the magazines you would utilize in USPSA Carry-Optics.
I would also consider a retention holster as a common DQ in matches is when a pistol pops out while doing all that Three Gun moving around. Lastly, many competitors utilize magwells. They are easy to take on and off with a few screws, so it’s easy to remove when you switch back to Production or SSP.
Same Glock 34 from above, now Three Gun ready with addition of magwell and extended 140mm magazine.
Bonus: NRA TPC/Police and Fire Games
This is a small percentage of shooters, but if you ever find yourself involved or invited to shoot in one of these events, everything in this guide for modifications will be compliant with the NRA TPC and most Police and Fire Games.
Typically, the Police and Fire Games utilize the TPC rule set or some version of USPSA Production or IDPA SSP. NRA TPC requires you to utilize your standard capacity magazines, and your trigger pull may not be less than 3.5 pounds. I alter this by simply taking my reduced power ZEV striker spring out and putting a slightly heaver spring in to comply.