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A Brief Guide to Race Guns

Target Shooting

A race gun is a type of handgun, shotgun or rifle which has been modified to improve its accuracy, reliability and speed. These types of guns are primarily used in real steel practical shooting and similar competitions for the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC). Race guns are based on common guns and modified to function at their best within certain requirements of weight, size and capacity. This article features mostly on the real steel side of competitive shooting, however, competitive airsoft shooting is becoming more popular - you can read about that further down in the article.


Typical modifications you would expect to see in a race gun include a match-grade barrel fitted along with a recoil compensator, optical sights, a tuned trigger, a match-grade hammer and sear and what is called “skeletonising”, or cutting out parts of the gun to reduce its mass.

The IPSC emphasises that complex modifications are not needed to start practical shooting, as most regular pistols are adequate. Changes are often better made as you need them, rather than to follow the fashions. To improve accuracy, the best modifications are good sights and trigger. Modifications to a gun that can help with control and handling include items like extended magazine releases, extended thumb safeties and enlarged magazine wells.

Some organisation bodies have also banned heavily modified race guns, as it turns the sport into a technology race rather than a contest of skill, no longer making it “practical” and applicable to real-life shooting. This banning is also done as an effort to encourage newcomers to the sport, reducing equipment cost and improving participation.

Race Gun with sight


The guns used in practical shooting are separated into various divisions, which have a set of requirements. For handguns, there are five divisions; open, standard, classic, production and revolver. Race guns are mostly used in the open division, where changes to the optic and electronic sights are permitted as well as ports and compensators.

For shotguns, changes such as attachments to the loading port floor plate and speed loading devices are permitted in the open division, and prototypes are also allowed. For shotguns used in the modified division, there are several modifications permitted, but often with restrictions in place, so players are not taking it to extremes. This includes no external changes to reduce recoil, but internal modifications can be made to improve accuracy and reliability.

For the rifles, the divisions are split into open and standard for both semi-automatic and manual action rifles. Modifications to rifles are most likely seen in the open divisions, such as optical and electrical sights, flash suppressors and vertical front grips.

Person Shooting Gun

Image Source: Kevin Tanenbaum

Practical Shooting

Practical shooting, the sport in which race guns are used, is a set of shooting sports. Competitors aim to unite the principles of precision, speed and power using a firearm with a minimum power factor to score as many points in the shortest amount of time. Scoring systems vary between organisations, but the time to complete a course is always measured, with penalties for inaccurate shots.

Shooters move and shoot between several positions, firing around obstacles and in unfamiliar positions. There are usually no standard arrangements for where targets are, and courses are designed, so shooters have to be creative when firing at targets. For more information on getting involved with practical shooting, head to the United Kingdom Practical Shooting Association (UKPSA) website.

UKPSA (UK Practical Shooting Association) was founded in 1977 to represent the IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation) in Britain and welcomes novice shooters who want to train at the courses and compete in practical matches. Practical shooting is the second most popular international target shooting discipline, with its appeal lying in the diversity of the courses and targets.

It’s worth pointing out, as many of you will be aware, that handguns are in fact banned in the UK with minimal exceptions in place for people that have been approved for ownership. This is why many practical shooting competitions that take place in the UK see competitors use air pistols with pellet ammunition. Additionally, there is also an organisation that supports and promotes the use of airsoft weapons in competitive practical shooting, this is the AIPSC (Airsoft International Practical Shooting Confederation). The AIPSC affords people the opportunity to take part in competition shooting whilst staying within the parameters of UK law. Similarly to real steel practical shooting, you can get started in competitive airsoft shooting with a fairly basic setup and then progress to more advanced equipment. Some custom manufacturers even produce replica race guns, such as Airsoft Surgeon and Armorer Works.

If you are interested in practical shooting and want to start out with some airsoft pistols, why not check out our catalogue here?

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