Local matches are the first step in the USPSA shooting experience. New competitors arrive knowing only what they may have seen online or what a friend has told them. They bring whatever firearm they might have and enter the match with some trepidation, hoping to learn as they go. Wonderful! But what about the match staff? How do they prepare or deal with these new competitors?
In my experience, there are different methods used around the country. It ranges from “nothing in particular” to formal new competitor classes. The specific methods used are dependent on the nature of the matches (are the stages built on match day or in advance), the administrative make-up of the match staff (is it a one-person show or is it a managed group effort), and the facilities available at the venue (clubhouse, multiple bays, etc.).
From a USPSA/NROI point of view, it is difficult to propose a single solution or recommendation due to the wide variety of local conditions listed above, but I can offer suggestions for best practices. Let’s first consider a range of approaches, from minimalist to highly organized.
- No orientation at all. Although rare, there may be clubs who do nothing at all with new competitors. I suggest this approach is questionable from any perspective and does not particularly display a welcoming atmosphere for the new competitor.
- Minimal introduction. This approach would squad the newbie with an experienced competitor who will provide assistance during the match. It is beneficial to inquire about the new competitor’s shooting experience, the type of firearm and holster he/she intends to use (in the correct division), and the level of hands-on experience and knowledge of that firearm.
- Basic orientation. Your PractiScore match registration page can be set up to include a drop down mandatory check box to identify as a new competitor before match day, with instructions to arrive early for a briefing. The MD or RM perform or assign an experienced Range Official to conduct a basic introduction, which would explain the safety rules and associated penalties, demonstrate the range commands (hopefully the correct ones), review the competitor’s firearm and equipment, and give a brief explanation of stage conduct and etiquette.
- Orientation and live fire check. This option adds an important additional level to the basic orientation. The competitor will perform a short live-fire exercise to demonstrate safe gun handling. See below for details.
- Formal orientation class. Some clubs have sufficient staff, classroom space and shooting bays to conduct a more formal orientation. It may take several hours or perhaps all day and may include a lunch. More on this later.
From my perspective, option #4 should be the minimum for all clubs. It only takes about twenty to thirty minutes, provides a welcoming atmosphere, and reduces the competitor’s anxiety (I remember my first match nerves). The most important part of that option is the live fire check. Let me explain the process I have used for many years. All you need is one target downrange. Keep it simple – no hardcover and no more than ten yards. The check is done in two parts and explained to the competitor just as you would in a written stage briefing (WSB).
WSB #1 – Virginia Count, two shots only, facing downrange with wrists below belt, handgun loaded and holstered (adjust as needed for PCC). On signal engage target with only two rounds. Give the competitor the range commands and closely observe the gun handling. Does the competitor appear familiar with the gun and its controls? Does the competitor appear confident or is there hesitation with every step? Is the handgun holstered in the correct condition (safety ON or decocked, etc.)? Is “the finger” disciplined or does it have a mind of its own? Once complete, you should have observed about 90% of what you need to see to confirm the competitor and firearm are fine to proceed.
WSB #2 – Virginia Count, four shots, facing downrange with wrists above shoulders. On signal, engage the target with only two rounds, then perform a mandatory reload, then re-engage the target with only two rounds. Once complete, you should now have observed 100% of what you needed to see.
In most cases the competitor is now approved to shoot the match (and has learned how to paste targets). You may need to do some follow-up correction or assist with technique problems. Do that right there or at a suitable safety table. Occasionally, you may decide that either the firearm or the competitor have demonstrated safety problems to an extent that immediate correction is not possible, and the competitor will not be allowed to shoot the match. In those cases, it is always good practice to give the competitor whatever information and advice he needs to correct the problem in order to return for a later match.
The Full Monty – Over the years, I have participated in or observed a number of highly organized, in-depth new competitor orientations. Last year, I observed such an event at the East Huntingdon Sportsmen’s Association, near Pittsburgh, PA thanks to USPSA MD Roger Elder. They have been hosting a springtime annual half-day event for some time. Due to COVID, the attendance was less than the usual forty attendees, but they were still organized into groups which rotated through the different stations in turn. Each station was scheduled for about 35 minutes.
Station 1 – General knowledge of how matches are run:
- When and where there are club matches in the region
- How to register for matches and find match results
- Typical match fees and ammunition requirements
- The need for volunteers
- How to enter scores into the PractiScore scorekeeping software
Station 2 – Equipment and divisions:
- Various firearms and associated equipment on display
- Determined each individual’s correct division for the equipment they brought
Station 3 – Rules and scoring:
- Common safety and competition rule violations were discussed and demonstrated on a bay
- Targets and scoring were explained
Station 4 – Role of the Range Officer:
- Range commands and a live fire demonstration of the process of shooting and scoring a stage
- Eye and ear protection was required, safety glasses and ear plugs were available
When all stations had been completed, lunch was provided and all attendees had the option of shooting two stages under typical match conditions.
Congratulations to the East Huntingdon club for their excellent, proactive approach to new competitor orientation and recruiting. Scheduling the event prior to the start of the busy match season was perfect. I also extend my gratitude to Roger Elder and Ron Rodgers for inviting me to shoot their match after the event.
In closing, I suggest you may want to review your own protocol for new competitors and consider if you have the potential to modify and/or improve your current process. The safety benefits speak for themselves.