Handgun competitors from across Canada — and some from other corners of the world — descended on a secluded property west of Calgary this week to take part in the International Practical Shooting Confederation Canadian championships. 

"It's great, it's really great. It's hard. I've got really tough competition in my standard division," said 55-year-old Colleen Piper, the top female shooter for her division in Alberta. 

The sport involves navigating a series of courses, ducking, running, bobbing and weaving as you shoot a handgun at targets, reloading your weapon as you go. Approximately 380 competitors were on hand for the nationals. 

Safety

Competitors are judged on accuracy and speed, but safety is a primary concern.

"If you do any small safety infraction, you're stopped, you're unloaded and you don't get to compete the whole rest of the match," said Piper. "It's very safe."

Frank Vaas is the man in charge of ensuring safety is front and centre in people's minds. He's the range master for this competition. 

IPSC handgun shooting competition

Competitors fire at targets as they move through stages on a course. (Dennis Genereux/CBC)

"We just don't tolerate any infractions at all when it comes to safety," he says. 

Competitors that run afoul of the safety rules — which include pointing your gun in the wrong direction or having your finger on the trigger while reloading — are knocked out of the competition.

Despite the safety measures, the issue of firing guns can be a polarizing one. 

"The people that are against it, I don't think really understand what we're doing," said Piper. "We really notice that a lot. Now we're starting to get the exposure and people are starting to realize that this is a great sport to be in."

Canadians and Americans

Ben Stoeger travelled from the U.S. to take part in the match, even though he can't take the title. He's won the U.S. nationals five times. 

"What I like to do, to improve myself, is to travel around and shoot other countries' matches, because every country is a little bit different," he said. "So if I want to learn myself and get better and grow, then I have to travel around to other countries."

IPSC shooting competition

Range officers keep an eye on competitors to ensure they follow the rules and the safety procedures. (Dennis Genereux/CBC)

He said the separate elements of the sport are relatively simple, but when they're put together with the pressure of a timer, it can be a challenge. 

So how do the Canadians compare to their cousins south of the border?

"Of course, in the U.S. we have a lot of shooters, so it's tough to compete with us."

With files from Julien Lecacheur