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IPSC shooting disciplines: handgun Divisions – Choosing a gun!

IPSC shooting is a purely technical high-performance sport for ambitious marksmen where a fraction of a second can prove crucial. Therefore, IPSC can be seen as the supreme shooting sport discipline. The shooters have to merge athleticism and maximum precision into a winning combination. Thereby the dynamic shooting sport considers all the different shooting disciplines: handgun, rifle, shotgun and action air. Click here for an overview and more information on IPSC shooting.

Passionate full power handgun shooters can enter up to 5 different Division depending on the type of gun used. Besides full power handguns, IPSC sport shooting with small-caliber pistols using .22 long rifle rimfire cartridges as well as airsoft pistols is also becoming increasingly popular. No matter which Division you will enter, the right choice of gun is absolutely crucial. So, choosing a gun plays an important role for the sportive success. The following cases of handguns are currently allowed in IPSC sport shooting.

Tori Nonaka shoots in an IPSC match
Sports shooter Tori Nonaka in action. The dynamic IPSC shooting sport is attracting more and more women to its ranks.

IPSC shooting with handguns: Open Division pistol

Pistol for the IPSC Open Division
The Open Division is known as the king's class of IPSC shooting. There, marksmen utilize quite expensive and extremely well-crafted competition pistols.

These are the quite expensive, extremely well-crafted competition pistols in the "Formula 1" Division with single-action triggers, extended 170 mm magazines with capacities up to 28 rounds, illuminated dot sights and compensator systems. There are no limitations in term of trigger weight, though safety and reliability are always top priority. The major power factor is no less than 160, and the minor power factor a minimum of 125 factor points. The minimum bullet caliber, case length and bullet weight are 9 mm, 19 mm and 120 grains, respectively, so that the typical calibers here are the 9 mm Luger (9 x 19 mm), 9 x 21 IMI, .38 Super Auto, .38 Super Comp., .38 Super Rimless or 9 x 23 mm Winchester.

At the last IPSC World Championship, the 17th World Shoot 2014 in Florida, the international confederation decided, on a trial basis, to reduce the major factor in the Open Division from 160 to 150 factor points. Although these new rules initially apply only in Germany, the lower 150 factor might be introduced in other countries as well. Up to now, it has proven difficult to mass produce 9 mm Luger factory-load ammunition within safe gas-pressure limits that achieve a factor of 160 reliably when fired from a variety of guns and barrel lengths. The new 150 factor might now finally mean that a manufacturer can offer factory-made 9 mm Luger Major ammunition straight of the box.

Marksmans in IPSC Open Division with the race gun SIG Sauer X-Five Open 
Open Division: Known as race guns, firearms like the SIG Sauer X-Five Open offer ambitious shooters a host of custom options.

Thus the handgun Open Division attracts sport shooters who enjoy firing exclusive and heavily upgraded pistols. The rulebook permits several add-ons and performance-enhancing modifications to the sports firearms. In this IPSC division not only the pistols as well as the rate of fire are out of this world, and the expenses are on the higher end of the spectrum. A good example: The SIG Sauer X-Five Open race gun is an outstanding handgun engineered specifically for the Open Division.

IPSC handgun categories: Standard Division pistol

Handgun for the Standard Division in IPSC shooting sport
In the Standard Division of IPSC shooting with handguns, marksmen take up single-action pistols in the caliber .40 Smith & Wesson.

This Division consists primarily of single-action pistols in the .40 Smith & Wesson caliber with double stack magazines, 5"/127 mm barrels and open sights, which, when empty, cocked and secured, have to fit into a case measuring 225 mm (length) by 150 mm (height) by 45 mm (width). And yet, as the past has shown, it is possible to win matches even with the relatively tame firing characteristics of the "minor" caliber 9 mm Luger.

Here, too, there are no special requirements in terms of trigger weight. The major power factor bottoms out at no less than 170 and the minor power factor by 125 factor points. The smallest caliber for the major rating, which is best for scoring the most points, is 10 mm (.40"), which is why the .40 S&W cartridge sets the standard.

IPSC shooting with handguns: Classic Division pistol

Pistol for IPSC Classic Division
The Classic Division is the most recent IPSC handgun Division. And it is all about the classic Colt Government 1911-A1.

"Back to the roots!": This most recent IPSC handgun Division is home to the classic Colt Government 1911-A1 in all current varieties of makes and models with a single row magazine, 5"/127 mm barrel and open sight. This classic pistol conceived by John M. Browning was the weapon of choice in the IPSC's formative years. There are no limitations with respect to trigger weight. The major power factor is at least 170 and the minor power factor is 125 factor points. The smallest caliber for the major rating, best for scoring the most points, is 10 mm (.40") which is why the .40 S&W or .45 ACP are used as well as the 9 mm Luger.

As in the Standard Division, the rather exotic bottleneck .357 SIG cartridge is an allowed caliber for major rating, as long as the required minimal factor is achieved. This exemption was extended to December 31, 2017. The box dimension rule explained for the Standard Division also applied to the Classic Division.

Pistols for the IPSC Production Division

This Division, which now has the most participants, is the domain of the common 9 mm Luger "service pistols" à la Beretta 92 FS, CZ75/CZ SP01 Shadow, GLOCK 17, Heckler & Koch USP/P30/SFP-9 or SIG Sauer P226/X-Five Allround with open sights. The usual distinction between major/minor calibers and associated ratings does not apply here. So only a minor power factor of 125 applies, which is achieved by conventional factory 9 mm Luger ammunition fired from typical barrel lengths.

A trigger weight of at least 2270 g is stipulated along with a maximum barrel length of 5"/127 mm. Only 15 cartridges are allowed, regardless of the original magazine capacity. Minor modifications are allowed. All authorized gun types are listed in the continuously updated "IPSC Production Division List".

GLOCK 17 Gen4 service gun for IPSC Production Division
IPSC Production Division: The set of rules is tailor-made for double-action service pistols. Here to see: GLOCK 17 Gen4 in 9 mm Luger.
Beretta 92 FS in 9 mm Luger for IPSC Production Division
The Beretta 92 FS in 9 mm Luger is the civil version of the U.S. Army's service handgun "M9" – ideal for the IPSC Production Division.

IPSC shooting with handguns: Revolver Division

The starting field in the Revolver Division is relatively small, but it is breathtaking to see how fast the shooters reload their revolvers with clips or speed loaders. The IPSC Revolver Division is definitive home to the legendary US manufacturer Smith & Wesson, because these revolvers offer good value at an affordable price and come factory equipped with a good double-action trigger. Moreover, this particular brand offers a wide selection of retrofit/tuning accessories.

Major: 170, minor: 125 factor points. Here, too, favorites are revolvers in pistol calibers 9 mm Luger and .45 ACP, because the half-moon of full-moon metal clips can be reloaded very quickly. Only open sights are allowed and there are no limits on cylinder capacities, but a maximum of 6 shots are allowed to be fired before reloading.

IPSC Revolver Division shooter Sascha Back
IPSC shooting in the Revolver Division: Motion study with IPSC marksman Sascha Back.
IPSC marksman Sascha Back reloads his revolver
IPSC Revolver Division: It is really breathtaking to see how fast the marksman reloads his revolver.
IPSC Revolver Division shooter Sascha Back in motion
Only open sights are allowed and there are no limits concerning cylinder capacities. However, a maximum of 6 shots are permitted to be fired before reloading.
IPSC shooter Sascha Back is getting ready to fire
IPSC Revolver Division: The major power factor is at least 170 points. The minor power factor is 125 points.
IPSC marksman Sascha Back stands ready for the shot
The marksman Sascha Back stands ready for the next shot in the IPSC Revolver Division.
Handgun for the IPSC Revolver Division
The IPSC Revolver Division is definetly the home of the legendary US manufacturer Smith & Wesson with its superb revolvers.

Further handgun Divisions in the IPSC shooting sport

Pistols with shoulder stock and optical sights: Although the international confederation assigns the two handgun divisions currently listed to the rifle rules, they are mostly welcome extensions for IPSC Production Division shooters who outfit their 9 x 19 mm service pistol with modern chassis so as to be able to fire them from the shoulder like a rifle. This type of carbine conversion system with plastic or light metal housings and shoulder support includes, for example, CAA Roni, FAB Defense KPOS or HERA Arms Triarii. Only a minor rating of 150 power factor points is stipulated. Optical sights, compensators, gas discharge holes and bipods are allowed in the Open Division.

Pistols with shoulder stock and open sights: Here, the same handguns with open sights are used, but accessories such as compensators, gas discharge holes and bipods are not allowed.

Ruger Mark III Target and Ruger 22/45 Lite Blue in .22 l.r. for IPSC shooting with small-caliber pistols
IPSC shooting with small-caliber pistols: The Ruger Mark III Target and the sportive model 22/45 Lite Blue are sport pistols in the caliber .22 long rifle.

Small-Caliber Pistol Open Division: Dynamic sport shooting with small-caliber pistols is becoming increasingly popular because the low-recoil guns and low cost ammunition make them ideal for training and promoting young involvement (in accordance with national laws of firearms). Genuine small-caliber pistols and large-caliber pistols with small-caliber conversion systems and illuminated dot sights must have a minimum trigger weight of 908 g. Maximum magazine capacity is 10 cartridges. Either standard .22 long rifle ammunition or the fast HV (high velocity) version can be used.

Small-Caliber Pistol Standard Division: In the Standard Division, the same rules apply to guns with open sights. In addition, maximum gun weight is 1400 g and the sight line must not exceed 220 mm.


The 18th IPSC World Championship will take place in France from August 27 to September 3, 2017.

We will be reporting live from this flagship event in the world of dynamic sport shooting. Click here for a schedule and all the details.

Visit the International Practical Shooting Confederation website to learn more about the dynamic shooting sport IPSC.

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