Sorting Out The Various IDPA Divisions

Practical shooting competitions serve the same purpose for the armed citizen as the original Olympic games did for the armies of ancient Greece. It’s a great way to hone your skills without worrying too much about death or grievous bodily harm. There are many different types of practical shooting competitions using many different guns, but today, we’re going to focus on one sport, and look at the guns used in the various IDPA divisions.

IDPA is short for International Defensive Pistol Association. The founders of IDPA felt that the dominant shooting sport at the time, the United States Practical Shooting Association, or USPSA, had strayed too far from the original intentions of the sport. Jeff Cooper (he of Gunsite and Scout Rifle fame) created the first practical shooting sport as a way to see what worked and what didn’t work under the stress of competition. However, the sport soon became more focused on the sporting elements rather than the practical elements, and thus IDPA was born. 

Fast Facts: IDPA Divisions 

  • Classifications sort out the competitors. Divisions sort out the guns they use.
  • IDPA Divisions separate guns out by size and common design features.
  • Competitors shoot in Divisions, but compete against others in their Classification. 

Walk into any gun store, and you’ll soon find out that pistols come in all shapes and sizes. It stands to reason that someone shooting a heavy, 9mm pistol with 10 rounds in the magazine is going to shoot faster and more accurately than someone of equal skill who’s shooting a small pocket pistol that holds just six rounds. By that same token, a more-skilled and more-experienced shooter will shoot better than a lesser-skilled shooter using the same exact gun. 

This is why there are both IDPA Divisions and Classifications. An IDPA Division is a way to group common guns together. An IDPA Classification is a way to group competitors of equal skill levels together. Competitors are sorted out by running each of them through a standardized test called a Classifier. IDPA Divisions are formed by comparing the features and size of the competitor’s guns. There can be up to eight different divisions at a match, which are as follows. 

CDP: Custom Defensive Pistol

The natural home of the 1911. Pistols in Custom Defensive Pistol are limited to pistols in .45 ACP shooting full-power ammunition, and they can hold a maximum of eight rounds in their magazine. You’ll occasionally see someone shoot a Sig Sauer P220 or other such gun, but the division was created to cater to shooters who prefer the full-sized 1911. 

Stock Service Pistol

If it’s full-sized and has a striker or a decocker, chances are it’s an SSP Gun

SSP: Stock Service Pistol.

If it’s on the hip of a law enforcement officer, chances are, this is the IDPA Division where it belongs. Features of pistols in this division include striker-fired or DA/SA actions along with accessories and modifications that are commonly used on defensive pistols. These are features such as better sights, new barrels and smoothing out the trigger. Be careful with the aftermarket modifications, though. The rule of thumb for this division is, if it seems like a modification best-suited to gaming the system, it probably is, and shouldn’t be added to your gun. 

ESP: Enhanced Service Pistol

Enhanced Service Pistol

CZ75s are inherently cool. Therefore, they are used in the ESP Division

Also known as where the “Cool guns” come out to play.While the name on the gun might be the same as the guns used in SSP and they still start with 10 rounds in the magazine, that’s where the similarities end. Guns in this division are usually customized Glocks or Sig Sauer P320s in 9mm caliber, with many different aftermarket parts designed to enhance their accuracy and performance. Typical enhancements for this division are new triggers, extended magazine releases and safeties as well as reshaped grips and add-on magwells for faster gun handling. 

CCP: Compact Carry Pistol

If the CDP division is the natural home of the 1911, this is the natural home of the Glock 48, Sig Sauer P365 and other compact single stack 9mm pistols. Pistols in this division are usually chambered in 9mm, start with a maximum of 8 rounds in the magazine and are smaller than either SSP or ESP guns. You can modify guns in the CCP division in the same way you can modify guns in the ESP division. So, your aftermarket magazine baseplates and cool gun slide cuts will feel right at home in this division. 

CO: Carry Optics

IDPA created this new division for people who use red dot optics or lasers on their carry guns. A typical pistol in this division conforms to all the rules for the Enhanced Service Pistol, except it has a red dot or a laser attached, making the “cool guy” gun even cooler. 

REV: Revolver

Like to watch old episodes of “Highway Patrol?” Think that gun design peaked when the Colt Python was introduced? Then do we have an IDPA Division for you! The revolver division is broken down into two subcategories, Stock Service Revolver (SSR) and Enhanced Service Revolver (ESR). SSR is where you’ll find guns loaded in .38 Special and reload from speedloaders, while ESR is home to larger caliber revolvers that use moon clips. 

BUG: Back Up Gun


Is that a BUG gun in your pocket or are you just happy to be at the match?

This is the IDPA Division for all those pocket guns out there, and it’s broken down into two subcategories. BUG-S is for semi-automatic pistols chambered in 380 ACP like the Ruger LCR and the Smith & Wesson Bodyguard. The BUG-R division is home to all manner of snub-nosed revolvers in 38 Special. While the BUG Division is an official IDPA Division, it is only required to be a part of the very top, national-level matches. All other matches can include it at their discretion. Be sure to check with your match director if you want to compete in this division. 

PCC: Pistol Caliber Carbine

This Division is also a new addition. It’s tailored for guns like the CZ Scorpion, Ruger PC Carbine or any one of a host of AR-style guns that shoot pistol calibers such as 9mm. Modifications such as red dots and optics are allowed in this division, but guns with pistol braces are not. 

This should give you a good idea which IDPA Division is best for your carry gun of choice. There are plenty of other rules to watch out for such as no use of compensators except for PCC and no use of appendix holsters, but the entire IDPA rulebook is available online for you to peruse at your leisure. 

Should you shoot IDPA? In my opinion, I think anyone who is truly serious about armed self defense and the concealed carry lifestyle should compete on a regular basis. Some of our nation’s most-elite soldiers understand how a practical shooting match can improve their ability to make the shot when it really counts, and if it works for them, it will probably work for you as well. 

Which IDPA Division is best for you? 

I suggest starting out with the one that most closely matches your concealed carry gun of choice. For most people, this will be either be Stock Service Pistol (SSP), Enhanced Service Pistol (ESP), Compact Carry Pistol (CCP) or Carry Optics. Chances are, gear you use to carry your gun around with you every day will work fine in these divisions, unless you carry in an appendix holster or some other method which doesn’t play nice with the IDPA rulebook

No matter which of the various IDPA Divisions you choose, you’ll be part of a sport that is exciting, rewarding and fun. More importantly, it helps train your body to perform well under stress when your life is on the line, something very few other sports have going for them.