At this point, maybe no one questions the two most recently-added divisions, but I’m old enough to remember when USPSA only had 6 divisions, before PCC and Carry Optics were added. I remember the debates and discussions about adding new gear specs to the sport for the first time in 15 years.
When CO was proposed as a provisional division, with no slide milling except for the optic and a 10 round magazine cap, it seemed like an interesting, but niche place to compete. You’d get a few die-hard enthusiasts, but otherwise it wasn’t that much higher barrier to entry. Since then, the changes to make it a high cap division and allow milling of the slide have made it very successful and popular. (Of course, none of these “CO” guns are remotely carry guns. USPSA had to be more tactical with its naming, but IPSC got it right, calling it Production Optics.)
At the club level, it’s become a very popular division, but still has yet to really attract the same level of heat at the National and Area level. If I had to guess, it’s because at the Top 16 level of competitors, the ones that want to shoot optics tend to end up in Open and the ones that want to shoot simple, minor guns end up in Production.
Of course, both Production and Open have the advantage of not having to gamble an Area or National title on a slide-mounted red-dot, of which even the best are only reliable for ten thousand rounds or so. If you were serious about shooting a CO Nationals, having 2 or 3 optics per gun would not be unreasonable, and at the very least I know I would be swapping to factory-fresh optics before the last practice session before leaving. And if you’re in that much money, once again it’s not that much further to just shooting Open, or playing it safe and sticking with Production.
That said, I think a “Production Optics” division is still a good thing for USPSA and IPSC, for the simple reason that I think our sport rightfully should be the crucible in which shooting gear is tested. There was a time when IPSC and USPSA were constantly pushing the limits of firearms technology and manufacturers were very interested in being perceived as good competition guns–not because they thought they could sell a lot of guns to competition shooters, but because the cachet of being the preferred gun at the highest levels of competition meant something.
We can see an example of this in the current craze among tactical gun influencers who are dropping their Gucci Glocks in favor of 2011s. Sure, part of the fad is just looking for The Next Big Thing, but the fact that Everybody Knows that 2011s are the premier race guns that have been winning “Ip-Sick” matches since Clinton was in office matters.
From what I’m hearing, the horse race is still on for who can make the best Production Optics optic. The last few years have brought forth a new crop of $600+ optics like the SRO and Sig Romeo 3 Max which have bigger windows, crisper dots, and longer lives. But nobody that I’ve heard has yet cracked the code on an optic that can stand up to 10-15k rounds, which is a very reasonable number for a Top 16 competitor to shoot in a year on a single gun in practice.
But when those optics start to be developed, you can expect that one of the talking points about it will be its success in USPSA/IPSC competition. The brochures and marketing videos will feature someone competing on a stage with walls and fault lines and cardboard targets, with an RO standing in the background holding a timer. Even though most customers who buy the optic will put less than a thousand rounds through it, knowing that it’s been battle-tested at the highest levels of practical competition will mean something.
And USPSA and IPSC should strive to be that testing ground, that gold standard. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. Not by being cozy with the sponsors, but by recognizing where the emerging trends are in shooting sports and then establishing a ruleset that allows would-be claimants to the title of “best in the world” to test their mettle and see who comes out on top.
Which brings us to PCC, the biggest shift in the sport’s history, more significant even than the introduction in 1992 of the first two divisions so that Limited was a refuge from the all-out gear race of Open.
I’ll admit, I didn’t like PCC from the start. It seemed like a gun that broke so many traditional elements of USPSA: no handling your firearm on your own, turn and draw starts, reloads on the clock, and so on. And then there was the idea that stages would be “dumbed down” to make them easier for PCC shooters. Of course, if anything at all, we’ve seen the stupid trend of stages designed to screw PCC in one way or another (possibly because for whatever reason, match directors and stage designers tend not to be PCC shooters).
What we’re left with is a new division that is still pushing firearms development in interesting directions. The industry has been trying to solve the problem of the best competition handgun for four decades now, but there’s an entirely new land rush for dominance in the PCC space. And when some manufacturer cooks up a better PCC mouse trap, the gold standard way of knowing it’s the best is where it stacks up at PCC Nationals.
For example, I will admit that I’m still shocked that blowback AR-pattern PCCs are still dominant, as far as I’ve seen. You would think that the technical superiority of a CMMG radial-delay or H&K roller-delay design would give real benefits on the clock and at matches. But the beauty of hit factor is it does not play favorites. Perhaps we’ll see a shift in that direction in the coming years, but then again perhaps not.
Of course, after a few years of fumbling around, it appears that USPSA HQ has gotten the idea that PCCs are fundamentally capable of different things and should be challenged–at the national level–by different things. It’s hard for shoulder-rifles to really set themselves apart shooting at 10-20 yard paper targets, but hopefully as PCC Nationals continues as a separate match that really puts those guns and their shooters through their paces, there will start to be real bragging rights to winning it. (And, of course, someone other than Max Leograndis will have to win one some day.)
In the mean time, PCC shooters can show up and compete on the weekends alongside pistol shooters with no problems, because club matches and Nationals aren’t the same thing. Having them run differently from Level 2 and above matches in a few keys ways is a good thing, not a negative.
And so these new divisions are good both for USPSA/IPSC, because we once again become the premier test where cutting edge developments in firearms are put to the test on the clock. The new divisions are also good for manufacturers who can compete on a fair playing field to see who’s the best. As manufacturer interest in the two divisions continues to grow, I fully expect the competition for the title of National Champion in each division to become more contested.
But by the same token as that being a good thing, maybe it’s time to put a few of the divisions out to pasture. After all, how’s an outsider to know the difference between Limited National Champion and Revolver National Champion?