In the first part of this series we talked about some of the design considerations we need to be concerned with when creating retrograde, aka “retreat” stages. In this installment, we will talk about some considerations ROs need to be aware of when tasked with running shooters through a retrograde stage.
When I first got my RO certification in 2003, we were still teaching ROs to stay close to the shooters to control them. This was based on the way our sport had been before freestyle really took over and dynamic movement in about any direction became a reality in most stages. Sticking close in a stand and shoot stage is advisable and generally safe. Sticking close in a retrograde stage is NOT advisable for many reasons not the least is safety.
You may hear it said that a retrograde stage cannot be a safe stage. Balderdash. There is nothing inherently more unsafe about a retrograde stage then an anterograde stage as long as the stage is designed properly (see part I). However, the ROs working a retrograde stage do need to have a solid understanding of how to work retrograde stages and a good plan for how they will handle that particular stage worked out among themselves.
Generally, in a retrograde stage, as an RO you want to maintain enough separation between you and the shooter to allow you to stay in control of them with your voice, and to see their firearm, yet allow you to stay up range of the shooter as they move through the course of fire. Often this means you want to put the assistant RO (aka score keeper) further up range than the RO with the timer to keep them out of the way. Running into your fellow RO and landing in a heap on the ground is embarrassing at best and the shooter is probably going to have to reshoot.
How much separation is necessary? Simple answer, “enough”. Longer answer is it depends on many factors including your physical abilities, stage design and even how fast you think the shooter is. You do need to keep a visual on the shooter and their firearm. The assistant RO should also be able to see them to watch for foot faults, target engagement, and all the things assistant ROs are supposed to be doing. A properly designed retrograde stage will allow for this.
A properly designed retrograde stage is also going to give the shooter something to do (e.g. engage targets) at the start signal allowing the timer RO to retreat. The assistant RO should already be somewhat up range at the start in most retrograde situations. Sometimes, if the stage design allows for it, the assistant RO can even be at the rear fault line. At the start the timer RO can retreat most of the way to the rear and just allow the shooter to do their thing, under careful observation of course.
As an RO, especially if you are the CRO, it is a very good idea when you first get to your stage to spend some time with your RO team talking about how you are going to run the stage. Have one RO act as the shooter and you and the other ROs work through how to run them. If time allows, each RO should act in all roles (shooter, timer RO, assistant RO). Look for potential obstacles that will impede your rearward progress. If they are significant and are of a concern, call the RM and discuss what you can do about them. Remember to think about both right handed and left handed shooters. For left handed shooters you are going to be on their other side, does that change your retreat route?
It is especially important in a retrograde stage to keep the stage floor clear of things that shooters and ROs might trip over. Keep rocks and other debris out of the shooting area. This is especially true on harder surfaces where loose brass can lead to treacherous footing. I’ve watched a discarded loaded 12 gauge slug drop a shooter to the ground on a raised platform with a wood floor. That was my any my RO crew’s fault as much as anyone else’s because we should have been keeping the floor clear.
A common mistake any time the timer RO is keeping separation with the shooter is not being in place to pick up the last shot. This has become especially important with the addition of PCC to our sport as these tend to be very quiet and picking up the last shot somewhat more difficult. This just means that the timer RO needs to pay attention and close the distance as the shooter reaches their final shooting position. You should know which targets have been engaged and thus, be able to ascertain where the final position will be. Don’t allow yourself to become lulled into the notion that just because everyone else is ending over there that every shooter will do thusly. About the time you start taking this as a given, some bright soul will decide they have the better plan and end up where you don’t expect them.
For stages that involve both anterograde and retrograde movement, such as the so called “U-Turn” stages some choreography may be necessary. Let’s take the instance where the stage is a large U shaped stage. The start position is on the left leg and the shooter will finish up on the right leg after moving laterally across the bottom of the U. We will have a diagram of this sort of stage in Part III.
Often the best way to run these types of stages will involve three ROs. The Timer RO will start the shooter then move over to go part way down the right side of the “U” as the shooter moves down range. The two Assistant ROs will work the shooter most of the way down the left side of the “U” then the Assistant RO on the inside will move through an RO safe passage in the center as the shooter moves laterally and join the Timer RO moving with the shoot back up range. The RO safe passage will need to be somewhat up range from the bottom of the “U” to keep the RO up range of a fast moving shooter. Ideally there should be plenty of targets for the shooter to engage as the go across the bottom of the “U” to slow them down and allow the ROs to get into position.
These days, every shooter seems to have their own personal videographer. Retrograde stages, and most especially “U-turn” stages are not good places for videographers. My rule when CRO’ing a stage is that the videographers stay behind the rearward most RO. If that rearward RO happens to be standing at the rear fault line, then the videographers need to stay back there as well. No bit of video is worth someone getting hurt.
Retrograde stages are a part of our sport and they aren’t going away. The can be a lot of fun to shoot and work as an RO. Just prepare properly and it will be fine.
In Part III we will present some example stage designs and discuss them from a design and an RO standpoint.