Competition Pistols for Self Defense: Are They Any Good?

Any gun can effectively be used for self-defense, whether it’s a competitive weapon or not. It’s still a gun, and the bullets it shoots will still injure or kill an attacker. Even a single-shot .22 can deliver a fatal shot in a combat situation.

What’s important to note is how effective both the pistol and the shooter will be in a combat situation based on the TYPE of competition. This, above all other elements, will determine the effectiveness of a competition pistol and the shooter when confronted with a lethal threat.

Both the gun and the user apply different techniques in their chosen sport which may or may not be effective when defending your life.

Here’s what you must know when it comes to using a competition pistol for self-defense.

are competition pistols good for self defence

Are competition pistols good for self-defense- factors to consider?

The short answer to this is yes. Having a gun when defending your life is far better than not having one – even if it’s your competition gun. As discussed above, bullets will incapacitate an attacker should they be shot. This is not a straightforward answer as it will significantly depend on some critical factors.

  • The caliber of the weapon
  • Ammunition type
  • The capacity of the weapon
  • Speed of the weapon
  • Type of competition the gun is used for
  • Sights and optics 
  • Modifications to the gun 
  • Trigger pull weight 

Weapon caliber – the most critical consideration 

Caliber is the size of the bullet, and this will be the essential factor in this discussion. Large caliber competition weapons will be significantly more effective in self-defense than smaller caliber guns. 

This is simply basic ballistics. Larger caliber bullets are heavier and will deliver enough stopping power in one or two shots to either seriously incapacitate an attacker or kill them outright. For example, using standard ball ammunition, a 9mm, .45, or 40 caliber competition pistol will deliver far more lethal damage in fewer rounds than a .22 target pistol.

Using smaller caliber weapons may require more than one shot to inflict enough damage to stop an attack. 

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Ammo types – competition v self-defense

The other aspect here is the TYPE of ammunition being used in competition. Suppose you are using custom-made ammo that allows you better control or greater accuracy in your chosen sport. In that case, under-powered rounds will be less effective against an assailant than complete power carry rounds.

Even a full-power factory ball will deliver more stopping power than customized rounds. A real good idea here is to have a magazine available loaded with full force rounds regardless of the caliber. This will give you a potent defensive option should you ever need it.

However, there is another aspect to this that needs evaluation as well. Many competition guns have been ‘powered down’ to accommodate more accurate or faster shooting rounds depending on their competition.

This can often mean that slide and recoil springs have been cut down or had their power reduced to match a lower-powered round. Firing full power rounds through a gun with a modified recoil system could damage the weapon due to excessive pressures. 

In addition, if you aren’t used to shooting full-power rounds, control and muzzle management could be compromised at the exact point where that’s the very last thing you need in a life and death situation!

Weapon capacity – where more is better!

In competition, mainly where the magazine capacity may be limited under the discipline rules, a low capacity gun is a distinct disadvantage in combat—having more rounds at your disposal in a high-pressure environment. 

If you are doing a discipline that limits magazine capacity, you should have one or two mags with higher capacity on standby should you ever need to use that gun in self-defense. 

While you could land shots on target under competition conditions, having limited rounds in a combat situation would negatively affect your confidence. You would constantly be counting rounds fired and how many you have remaining.

Single-shot pistols would not be a great option for obvious reasons.

Speed of the weapon

Combat pistols generally have a high rate of fire, while competition weapons usually do not. This will affect the ability of the gun to deliver a higher volume of fire on the target should it be required in a self-defense application. In IPSC style competition, a competition pistol would be set up for a fast rate of fire, while in a target environment, they would not be.

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How range rules and practices could negatively affect your reflexes

Because a combat situation is highly stressful and, the calm, collected environment of, say, target competition disappears in a flash when the reality of life and death sets in.

Many shooting ranges have specific rules on how guns may be handled and pointed when reloaded. As a rule, you have to have the muzzle pointing down at 45 degrees or the ground while reloading. This is, of course, for safety purposes. The drawback is that if you do a lot of shooting where these rules apply, this behavior becomes your ‘go-to’ reflex when shooting.

The two main issues are that you are looking down and losing vision and field view of your target, and your muzzle is also not online with your attacker. Taking your eyes off your opponent in a gunfight could be the last thing you ever do!

Another big problem is that gunfights are highly fluid, and standing still while reloading could be fatal. When bullets are flying at you, you need to be very mobile and reload and shoot on the move. 

The type of competition you do could affect your self-defense proficiency.

This is why IPSC style shooters tend to be more proficient in self-defense situations as they are used to the fluidity and movement while shooting and reloading. Plus, when they are moving and reloading the muzzle, the eyes are on the target and not drawn away to focus on the action of releasing and then reloading a magazine.

Although combat shooting still has rules and the shooters also wear eye and ear protection, the simulated reality of IPSC is far more aligned to an actual life combat situation than most other forms of competitive shooting.

On the other hand, Target shooting is a calm, focussed environment with very little noise and single deliberate shots.

There is a VAST difference in the controlled environment of the target range and the loud and volatile battleground of combat.

Lastly, as Bruce Lee so famously said in Enter The Dragon, “Bricks don’t hit back.” Even in highly stressed competitive environments, no one is shooting back at you, and that makes ALL the difference in the world!

Sights and optics in competition vs. combat 

Most competition pistols have some enhanced optics added for improved accuracy and alignment. RDS and other optical sights, even telescopic sights for target weapons, are often found on competition pistols.

While RDS or laser sights are helpful in a combat situation, telescopic sights may not be. Should you need to remove them to defend yourself, you may find difficulty in target acquisition with iron sights on your pistol. If your self-defense occurs at night or in a dark light environment, your ability to successfully land shots on target could be more hope and pray, and that is not where you want your mindset to be!

cleaning rust with vinegar

Maintenance, performance, and modifications 

Many competition pistols are fine-tuned for performance and require regular maintenance. This means that you need to use your comp gun to defend yourself, and it should perform without issue as most comp shooters keep those guns in outstanding condition.

In addition, competitive pistols are often modified for speed, accuracy, manageability, and ergonomics. These types of modifications can either hinder or help a shooter to defend themselves. For example, a specialized grip on a .22 target pistol may not be the best, while combat grips on a .45 for IPSC would be of value.

Why the Trigger Pull Weight could be a problem 

Guns designed for self-defense have heavier trigger pulls than those used for competition. The lighter, fine-tuned trigger gives the shooter supreme control over precisely when the weapon will fire, delivering greater consistency and accuracy.

While this may seem a positive element, consider the reality of combat. Your heart rate is up, and adrenaline is spiking! Your hands are sweaty, and your brain is spinning at 300mph. A light trigger pull can lead to accidental discharge as the pressure exerted under stress could easily be far more than the trigger weight requires to fire under competition circumstances.

Combat pistols have a heavier trigger pull designed to avoid precisely this and give the shooter more control in a situation where sweaty hands and tension in the body are high.

Most law enforcement agencies demand heavy triggers as standard issues to avoid civilian casualties by accidental discharge. A heavier trigger pull also reduces the risk of discharge should the attacker manage to grab the gun in an attempt to disarm you.  

If your finger is on the trigger when that happens, there is every chance that the gun will fire and could strike you or a bystander in the process. If the fight is in your home, bullets can easily penetrate walls and other light structures and injure other people in the house.

Storage and access 

For most competitive shooters, regardless of discipline, those weapons are often stored safely out of reach under lock and key and only really retrieved when used. This makes them inaccessible at worst or would take time to recover and load. 

In a stressful situation like self-defense, this can mean the difference between surviving and succumbing. Many competition weapons are stored in safes and in customized locked cases which further delay the time to retrieve, load, and bear on an assailant.

Carry, or home defense weapons are usually easily accessible and would be far quicker and easier to access and utilize when your life depends on them.

Depending on where and how your competition pistols are stored could make them useful should the need arise.

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A Wrap-up on Competition pistols for self-defense

Considering all of the factors, the bottom line is that competition pistols could be used for self-defense IF need be.

The real question is, why would you want to?

Would you use a hacksaw to cut down a tree? Or an ax to hammer in nails? You could, of course, but it would be inefficient and frustrating, not to mention time-consuming!

Could you use your stock standard Glock or 1911 for competitive shooting? The answer is yes, of course, but why would you?

While you would get shots on target and deliver a reasonable performance, you would certainly not rank in the top 10 or score highly in your discipline.

Having a gun that isn’t suited for the job you want to do with it will result in an adequate performance but not a match-winning one. The simple fact is that factory standard pistols would work but no nearly as well as guns customized for the specific application.

This would apply to your training as well. A shooter that competes well at 50yds with a .22 would be hard-pressed to land accurate shots on a moving assailant, especially if they were receiving return fire.

The Right Tool for The Right Job

 While we can agree that pistols adapted for competition could indeed be used in self-defense, there is a lot to consider before doing so.

Strategically, your racehorse should be used for racing and your workhorse for work. The same would apply to your competition and carry guns. In a country where legal ownership of different firearms for different uses is guaranteed, rather have the right tool for the right job.

By the same token, invest in training and education that gives you both skillsets needed to perform in either situation. Should you need to defend your life or make the National IPSC team, you have the right mindset and tools to do both successfully.

Having self-defense or carry a weapon while knowing you have competition guns as a backup should you need them is probably the optimal position to be in.

Consider the impact of using ammo not suited to a competition pistol, modifications made that could impact its effectiveness in a gunfight, and the influence your competition behavior could have on your ability to respond effectively to a lethal threat.

Doubts could arise as to whether the pistol itself could do the job effectively; the effect of the grip, caliber, and magazine capacity all weigh against using your competition pistol for self-defense.

The Final Word 

When all is said and done and regardless of what pistol you use, it’s ALWAYS better to have the gun and not need it than need the gun and NOT have it.

Take the time to invest in proper self-defense training, read, learn, watch and study from professionals in their fields so you can reap the benefits of the mass of good information out there while developing and honing your skills in your chosen field of competition.

That way, you can perform in competition, and should the need ever arise, you will have the right skills and mindset to survive a combat situation and live to shoot another day!

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