Conventional Handgun Competition

Competitive pistol shooting in America began in earnest when Congress established the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice (NBPRP) in 1903. The NBPRP added pistol matches to its schedule in 1904. In 1936, the National Rife Association (NRA) conducted its first National Championships, leading to its role as the current governing body for precision pistol shooting in the U.S.

 Pistol competitions may be held indoors or outdoors. The Standard National Match Course consists of 10 rounds of slow, timed and rapid fire. This is done at 50 yards for slow fire and 25 yards for rapid and timed fire. 

The typical course of fire for pistol competition is a "3-gun aggregate." This is fired with .22 caliber rimfire, an unspecified caliber centerfire, and .45 caliber handguns. However, it is not necessary that a competitor own three different guns. As in most tournaments, they may enter and fire only one or more stages of the aggregate. Many competitors entering the complete aggregate own only .22 and .45 caliber handguns since the .45 caliber may be used for the centerfire stage.

Getting Started

One of the best ways to get started is to attend a match to see firsthand if this sport is for you. The Coming Events section of Shooting Sports USA magazine lists all upcoming NRA-sanctioned tournaments. Attending the tournament as a spectator will allow you to observe how it is conducted and to talk to the sponsor and the competitors. You will see a variety of equipment in use, giving you an excellent opportunity to gather information.

If there is a shooting club in your area make arrangements to attend one of its practice sessions. This will afford another opportunity to talk about equipment and you may have an opportunity to shoot one or more brands of handguns which will help you to decide which is best for you.


This is a sport in which a novice may begin with a very minimal equipment investment. One can start with a .22 caliber rimfire handgun (either an autoloader or a revolver), and eye and ear protection. A 20X to 30X spotting scope will prove handy, as it will allow you to see your shots on the target in order to make sight corrections. They come in various price ranges and, as with all optics, you get what you pay for.


Match grade ammo is available commercially and costs more than standard loads. These are manufactured under higher standards and is more accurate for competitive shooting. Many competitors handload their own ammunition (excluding .22 rimfire), as it is cost-effective and allows loads to be "customized" for a particular gun.

Further Information

National Rifle Association Headquarters
11250 Waples Mill Road
Fairfax, VA 22030
Phone:  800-672-3888 or (703) 267-1451

(Material courtesy of National Shooting Sports Foundation)