Competition pistol shooters want a reliable, accurate pistol that they can take out of the box, load and shoot at the buzzer. We want a pistol that performs without the high expense of a custom gun but with all the features we expect in a competition gun, like a smooth, lightweight, crisp trigger, high-visibility sights and/or the option to mount a reflex sight, a ported barrel, a flared magazine well, grips that actually fit our hand, a short trigger reset—the list goes on.

So what should you look for in an action-shooting pistol? Start with the pistol requirements in your chosen competition discipline and then decide on the caliber. Better yet, do both at the same time since they are both connected. In the case with IDPA and other disciplines, the pistol needs to fit in the box, literally. According to IDPA rules, the pistol (with the largest magazine inserted) must fit in the IDPA gun box measuring 8.75 by 6 by 0.625 inches for Stock Service Pistol (SSP), Enhanced Service Pistol (ESP) and Custom Defense Pistol (CDP) divisions. If you want to shoot Compact Carry Pistol (CCP) or Back Up Gun (BUG) divisions, the box shrinks to 8.75 by 6 by 1.375 inches and 7.25 by 5.5 by 1.375, respectively.

For IPSC Standard division, the pistol must fit within a 225mm by 150mm by 45mm box. The rules for 3-Gun Limited and Tactical are nearly the same. Pistols must be chambered in any caliber larger than 9mm and cannot have any type of muzzle device or optical sight. These restrictions are easy to follow, offering a bunch of different options.

Next, figure out the caliber you want. “About 80 percent of the competitive shooters in the 3-Gun world are shooting 9mm,” noted pro shooter Todd Jarrett, “and 9mm is kind of the way to go across the board, but some shoot .40 S&W and .38 Super.”

Jarrett uses a 9mm and a .40 S&W pistol in 3-Gun competition. “If I have a lot of heavy steel targets to knock over, I’ll use my .40 caliber. If the match stages have a lot more paper punching, I’ll go with the 9mm, which also gives me an extra three rounds over the .40 S&W in case I need them.”

He shoots lighter bullets—155- to 165-grain .40 S&W—at paper, and for steel he’ll go with a heavier 180-grain bullet loaded to about 950 to 975 fps. Bob Vogel recommends using a heavier bullet over a lighter one because it shoots a little flatter and softer, as he explains in Panteao Productions’ Make Ready with Bob Vogel: Mastering IDPA. Vogel said, “With a 115-grain 9mm and 147-grain 9mm bullet, when both are loaded to a 130 power factor, the 147-grain is going to feel softer and more controllable, and you will shoot it more accurately.”

Scroll through the gallery above to learn about the  Smith & Wesson M&P9 Performance Center Ported pistol, as well as eight other competition pistol models that are not so well known but have won matches in the hands of accomplished shooters.

For more information about the competition pistol models seen in the gallery above, please visit the following sites.

Smith & Wesson M&P9 Performance Center Ported

Armscor Pro Match Ultra HC

Bersa Thunder 9 Pro XT

CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow Target II

Grand Power X-Calibur

Tanfoglio Witness Limited Custom Xtreme

Springfield Armory XDM 5.25

Taurus 1911

Taylor’s & Co. 1911 Black Rock

This article was originally published in “Combat Handguns” August 2016. To subscribe to that magazine, visit

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