Stand by! BEEP!
Whether it be the growl of the old speaker style timers or the modern piezo driven squeal, it all means the same thing; time for the fun to start! Or, for many of us, “Stage plan? What stage plan?” Regardless, it is the signal from the RO that it is your turn to draw/retrieve your firearm and get to shooting.
The rules specify, across all our disciplines, a delay of 1 – 4 seconds between the “Stand by” command and the start signal. Incorrect delays before the beep can be considered RO interference and be the basis for a reshoot, depending somewhat on circumstances. If you feel you interfered with the shooter follow the standard RO interference procedure.
Fast beeps (delay less than 1 second) can startle the shooter into action so need to be avoided. Fast beeps happen. Fatigue sets in and your timer button finger gets a bit heavy, the brain fades out in the heat, whatever. We’ve all done it and we will all likely do it again. If the shooter starts let them go and if you feel you interfered, ask when they are finish just as with any other interference situation. If they don’t start, reset them and try again.
Long beeps (delay greater than 4 seconds) are also a problem because by then the shooter is probably wondering what the heck is going on. Long beeps may occur because the shooter started leaning or moving in some other way and so the savvy RO just held off hitting the start button waiting for the shooter to settle, the RO got distracted, or for a variety of other reasons. Remember…timers on instant! Long delays prior to the beep are really best handled by resetting the shooter, going back to “Are you ready?” and hopefully getting it right this time. If you are the CRO for the stage, you may need to help newer ROs realize the issue and help them find a way to make it work for them.
In an interesting juxtaposition; USPSA insists that we vary our cadence between Stand By and the start signal, even between strings for a multi-string stage, and we spend a fair bit of time covering this in the Level 1 RO course. In Steel Challenge, we ask that the RO use the same cadence for every string on a stage for a particular shooter. Cadence can vary between shooters but should not vary between strings for the same shooter.
I got to shoot my first Steel Challenge match in several years not long ago and I was amused by how difficult it was for me to keep the cadence consistent between strings. Years of training, and teaching, meant my natural tendency to vary the cadence kept trying to take over. But I beat it doing the same thing musicians do to control the beat…counting.
One…one thousand…Two…one thousand… and so on. Or use “Mississippi” if you wish. If you are a musician or have at least a somewhat reasonable sense of rhythm (Navin R. Johnson’s of the world, you know who you are, need not apply) just count…One…Two…Three…and so on. Whatever works best for you.
In this way you can be consistent, or varied, as the task at hand calls for.
For whatever reason, and I’ve performed enough informal research to believe this, our natural tendency as humans is to use a two second-ish delay. It is amazing how consistent this is. I’ve sat with a stop watch and watched ROs run shooters and those that do not vary their cadence are shockingly consistent at around two seconds. There are people who are slower or faster than this but, taken as an average, it is around two seconds.
Okay, so what about folks that can’t hear the beep? Some of the newer timer models use a tone that is so high it falls within the high frequency loss of many of our more seasoned competitors, those that served in the military (Thank You!), or who for whatever reason just have high frequency hearing loss. Some folks have tinnitus and the ringing makes it hard for them to discern the time beep.
There are also competitors in our sport who cannot hear any timer with hearing protection on, or are profoundly deaf. What to do with those folks? It is quite simple, really. If you position your finger on the start button and use the body of the timer to tap the shooter on the shoulder this, if done properly, will start the timer at the same instant the shoulder tap is accomplished. Shooters that need the tap generally are used to it and have practiced with it. Most will tell you about it beforehand.
A common issue with timer use after the beep is to leave a finger on the start button and accidentally restart the timer during the course of fire. This leads to an unreasonable stage time and then a reshoot, and probably an unhappy competitor. It is good practice to train yourself to remove your finger from the button once you start the shooter.
Another common issue is not pointing the timer at the shooter properly. All timers have a microphone that picks up the shots on the front of the timer. This generally needs to be aimed at the muzzle of the firearm in use. PCCs, especially when shot through a port in a solid wall, may not be loud enough to trigger the timer if it isn’t aimed properly. Even then, sensitivity may need to be adjusted. If this is the case, I recommend multiple timers be used on a stage rather than continually adjusting one timer. Holding the timer over the top or underneath a solid wall can help as well. Rimfire rifles in Steel Challenge can also be not loud enough for timers to pick up shots reliably unless adjusted. This is something that is best tested and dealt with before the shooters arrive, if possible. And, again, a second timer may be appropriate.
We have come a long, long way from the days of the whistle, stop watch and stop plate. Knowing your timer and how to use it properly is a basic RO skill. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to show you how to properly use a timer you are not familiar with.