Skill Classification systems used by national level shooting organizations work. They are a reasonably good metric of skill among competitors. Equipment Divisions don’t matter that much. When compared to the shooter’s skill, the gear used has a negligible effect on score.

This outstanding writeup (“It’s not the Arrow, It’s the Indian“) by Ron Larimer of confirms this.

It’s not the Arrow, It’s the Indian
by Ron Larimer

Over the past 2 days I have spent about six hours analyzing the results of the IDPA nationals. I expected to be able to show that there was no difference between ESP (Enhanced Service Pistol) and SSP (Stock Service Pistol) equipment divisions, and that there was no reason for the two divisions. I expected a widening gap between CDP (Custom Defensive Pistol) and the other Auto divisions as the additional reloads made more of a difference. I expected to be able to show that the difference between SharpShooter and Marksman skill classifications was mainly accuracy, the difference between Expert and SharpShooter was mainly speed and the difference between Master and Expert was accuracy.

When I looked at the data, though… I didn’t see anything.


I always see something!

As I stared and sorted and ran statistics, I noticed that the curves looked the same… they were just squished because of the number of people shooting. So I plotted them based on the shooters percentile rank in the division and there was no difference! 10th percentile in ESP is 10th percentile in SSP is 10th percentile in CDP and the same holds true at the 20th percentile and 50th.

The only place that the division seems to make any difference is in the Marksman ranks where trigger control, recoil management and weapons manipulations might not be as well developed.

Even stranger, with the exception of Jerry, “Stock” Service Pistol beat “Enhanced” Service Pistol straight through the field!

Ok… The guns people bring to IDPA don’t seem to matter, but at least we still know that revolver shooters are more accurate right? After all they have to be because a missed shot means an extra reload… Right?


Um, no. The data shows the percentage of the overall score made up by raw time, points down, and other penalties that the gun makes no difference. The overall score is made up of the same parts and therefore revolver shooters can’t be more accurate.

Well maybe the idea that between classes there are noticeable difference in the focus on speed or accuracy is still true.

Um, yeah-ish? Unsurprisingly, it turns out that shooters in each level [Skill Classification] are just that much better.


As you move up the ranks each class gets between 15-20% faster, but at the same time they get increasingly more accurate. On average… DM’s 14% faster, but receive 43% few er points down than Masters. Masters are 19% faster, but receive 32% fewer points down than Experts. Experts are 13% faster, but receive 20% fewer penalties than SharpShooters and the gap between SharpShooters and Marksman is about the same.

Assuming the nationals required 180 rds, the average Expert would need to shave .39 seconds off each shot to be an average Master. .08 seconds will be gained in better accuracy and maybe .05 seconds can be gained in splits.

The other .25 second PER ROUND has to be made up in “non-shooting” skills including drawing, reloading, moving between positions and target transitions.

None of these skills require a range or live ammunition. If you want to get better at this game and you have a reasonable pistol, don’t worry about your gear. Continue to shoot what you have, and get out and practice your movement and weapon manipulation skills!