Our rules basically state that they don’t exist; yet, matches wouldn’t go very far without them. People complain about their cost, after all, you buy nice ones that are mostly straight, mostly dimensioned appropriately, we seem to never have quite enough of them to start with and then people cut them up and shoot them to pieces. Alas, they are the unsung heroes of our sport; I give you, the lowly target stick.
Rule 9.1.7 says that targets sticks aren’t hard cover and they aren’t soft cover. In short, they don’t exist for scoring purposes. But just because they don’t exist per the rules does not imply there aren’t some things to know about them.
Most target stands use the standard “1×2″ type target stick which isn’t really 1″ x 2″ because lumber dimensions are based on cut size, not planed and sanded size. Buy some rough sawn 1″ x 2” lumber and it probably won’t work in your stands. We won’t get into why lumber is labeled weirdly because that’s out of our control but, in a word, tradition. Some use “lath” which is the same width as a 1×2 but much thinner and left rough sawn. Lath is typically nailed across studs and covered in plaster to form a lath and plaster wall…which is a dying art form in and of itself. In many parts of the country you just flat out aren’t going to find lath at the lumber yard. And, if you use it in a target stand meant for 1×2 lumber it will rock back and forth in the breeze causing a need to wedge it in place. Lath also tends to not hold up as well from hits…at least in my limited experience with it.
The lifespan of a typical target stick isn’t really very long at an active club. They get shot up rapidly and soon fuel the warming fires at chilly matches. A few things will help them last longer though.
The RO’s best friend, Duck Tape, is well known for making target sticks last longer. If you know a stick is going to get hit a lot, like on a swinger, drop-turner, or drop-out target, give it a wrap of duck tape and it will last a lot longer. A bundle of splinters held together with duck tape will still hold a target a long time, even on a swinger. It will at least get you through that squad and you can then change it out between squads. A savvy RO crew will already have spares cut to length and wrapped with duck tape ready go.
Another thing that helps target sticks last longer is to not trim them for the targets being set out, especially if precipitation is in the forecast. Leaving the sticks above the top of the targets will help support those target bags and keep from curling the targets quite so badly.
The ever shortening target stick is a well known phenomenon also known as “hey, we got any long ones around here?”. Typical lumber yard 1×2’s come in 8 foot lengths, many people think ALL our targets need to be hung at 5 foot at the shoulder (not a rule!) so now you have a bunch of 5 foot sticks and a bunch of 3 foot sticks. Unless you do a lot of low targets, those 3 footers go to waste. So a lot of clubs cut the 8 foot sticks in half and get a bunch of 4 foot sticks. That’s all well and good if you set your targets at 4 feet to the shoulder but if you are setting up a classifier or other stage that needs 5 foot at the shoulder, you have a lot of unsupported cardboard above the stick. This is going to curl and cause trouble, even without adding in precipitation. And, a lot of classifiers do specify five feet at the shoulder. What to do?
A better solution, but it takes planning and someone willing to do it, is to buy 10 foot long 2x lumber (2×4, 2×6, 2×8, 2×10, etc) and rip it to size on a table saw. That gives you two five footers when cut in half and, as long as you don’t buy #1 lumber and can actually be cheaper than buying 1x2s in bundles. And, as a plus, most lumber you buy at the lumber yard or home improvement store is already kiln dried, at least to some extent, meaning warping of your cut sticks will be minimal. But, it does take work. I’ve seen more than one club that invested in a small table saw set up with a rip cut blade just for this purpose. Small table saws can often be found on garage sales or online sales for a good price. Keep them out of the rain and they will do the job for a long time.
Now that we have the sticks taken care of, let’s talk about how we use them and store them. If a stick lives for several matches before being turned into fire wood it is going to collect a lot of staples. Combine a whole bunch of staples with only one leg in the stick along with splinters and someone is going to need a band-aid or two. Often, as both ends collect too many staples they can get hard to get into the stands and sometimes even harder to get back out.
There are three general schools of thought regarding staples and sticks. One school says ignore the problem, the second says you must pull them all out and the other says to drive them all in with hybrid variations of those three major themes, of course. Those that choose to do nothing are easily spotted at matches sporting either rather well abused work gloves or new band-aids and blaming their poor match performance on the same.
The drive them all in crew, being an ingenious lot, have sometimes devised wondrous devices to aid them in their task. Two or even four steel pinch rollers set properly such that you pull the stick through will do the trick. Or go really crazy and power one of the rollers and the job gets super simple. Shooters can be an inventive lot. Or they just use a hammer.
The pull them all out crew is also easily recognized because they all carry multi-tools and will carefully groom each stick as it is removed at tear down with loving affection. Okay, maybe not the loving affection part.
So whose problem is it to make sure there are enough usable target sticks at the match? Well, I’m not going to take sides on this one for your specific club, but if I were forced to do so, I’d say it is the same person or group that also makes sure you have enough paint of the right colors and enough cardboard targets. It’s all just supplies, but it seems like no one really wants to deal with the sticks. I’ve stood around at matches, and not just local matches, while we wait for someone to run to town and plunder the home improvement store for sticks so we can finish setup. And the day drags on. I even had one MD tell me that “If you buy too many new ones everyone will just use the new ones and not use up the used ones so they can just figure it out.” Well, yeah, because your used ones are a hazard with all the staples and splinters and there aren’t enough of those to start with.
The fact of the matter is, penny wise and pound foolish comes into play at some point. When we produce a match we need to put a product on the ground that the shooters will find challenging and enjoy shooting. That requires a setup crew and I’ve never met an MD that had too many people helping with setup. Fact of the matter is folks, if your match setup always turns into a giant cluster with people trying to tape/nail/screw together short sticks to get enough up to hang targets on; you aren’t doing yourself any favors. Setup crews generally are volunteers and they are giving up their time to help put the match on the ground. If setup is a chore and is too frustrating they will choose to not help with setup. And those cobbled together sticks rarely last very long. One good hit and they blow apart and NOW what are you going to do Mr Cheapskate MD?
This isn’t to say we need to waste sticks but come up with a reasonable management plan and stick with it. Got a big match coming up? Great! Got Sticks?
A bit of ownership is required here and a club with a defined group of members responsible for managing supplies gets to spend more time shooting on match day than scrounging around and/or running to town for supplies on setup day. Pure and simple.