There is an old saying “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should”. This applies to most things in life and stage design is one of those areas. Let’s dig in a little bit and discuss how this applies to stage design.
It is a given that we have a rather diverse population that enjoys our sport and, as match directors, range officials and stage designers we need to ensure that we are not making the sport less accessible, or fun for that matter, to anyone. My past stage design articles in Front Sight (now USPSA Magazine) often addressed stage design inequity in terms of physical limitations, most commonly height. If you have a high port and put out an “apple crate” for shorter stature folks to climb and balance on to attain access to the high port is this really the same challenge as a taller shooter has? Now if you make everyone climb a platform to engage targets that is more equitable (all other things being equal anyway).
Similarly, if you design a stage that requires lifting and swinging a large/heavy battering ram to open a door; don’t be surprised when a lot of older, younger, smaller folks are keeping the RM busy ruling under 10.2.10. If a substantial portion of the competitors are going to take the relief under 10.2.10, why even have that non-shooting challenge there at all? And if the penalty for taking the “other way out” is too low then everyone is going to take it so why have the challenge in the first place? Remember, our sport is about the shooting challenge.
If your stage has the strong potential of the RM needing to hand out a bunch of special penalties under 10.2.10 because folks cannot comply with the stage requirements safely, then that is likely a problem.
Similarly, if you design a stage with a lot of running over long distances between shooting locations, what you really have is a track meet, or maybe a biathlon at best. And that, on the surface doesn’t seem like a problem, if you have the bays that will allow it, but what about those who don’t get around all that well. Maybe uncle Joe has no problems shuffling around for your typical stage. He’s here for the fun, the shooting, and the social aspects of the sport. But the younger set decides they need more running in their stages and now uncle Joe isn’t having fun anymore. Maybe then he decides that he cannot play the sport any longer. This isn’t healthy for the sport.
Certainly, I could go on listing more examples and some of you likely have other examples that I haven’t recalled or even heard of. Be it young vs. old, tall vs. short, slim vs. circumferentially challenged, strong vs. weak, and so on. We get participants representing all of these groups and more.
These examples do serve to illustrate the problem. Certainly, mistakes can and will be made in stage design where these sorts of considerations were not taken into account. It happens, especially with newer stage designers, and many are accidental in nature. These sorts of things need to be addressed by the RM before the first shooters take the field in local matches and before the stage is even sent for approval for bigger matches.
But, as with much in life, there are those that decide, for whatever reason, to single out one group of shooters for special treatment. Years ago it was the folks that decided to paint popper faces red because all dots of the day were red in color and you could make life a bit more interesting for those shooting dots. I even saw pictures where someone painted fluorescent dots all over the face of a popper so it looked like it had a bad case of chickenpox; just to screw with the open shooters. These days we have a new division that seems to be catching more than its share of abuse and that is PCC.
Here’s the deal folks: PCC is here to stay. It is an official division in our sport and they only compete with themselves. It is also very popular and is bringing a lot of folks into the sport, and back to the sport. That can’t help but be good for the overall health of our sport. And yet some, probably school yard bullies in a former life, have chosen to single out the PCC crowd for special attention.
Furthermore, there is strong evidence that IPSC/USPSA was never intended to be a handgun only sport. To wit, an American named Rick Miller, was one of the 45 delegates who attended the Columbia Conference (so called because it occurred at Columbia, MO) where IPSC was founded stated:
“We decided to leave the word pistol out of the title because at some point in the future we may wish to promote practical rifle shooting.” Quoted in Guns & Ammo, Oct. 1976, and taken from the IPSC Columbia conference page, https://www.ipsc.org/ipsc/columbiaconference.php
We are continually fielding questions at NROI about if this or that is legal and, we are seeing more and more of these questions centered around PCC. We see stages pushing PCC shooters into very tight quarters making it harder for them to maneuver and making it more likely they will break the 180 or sweep themselves. We see stages that want PCCs to assume a different start condition (e.g. handguns are loaded, PCCs are unloaded) which isn’t even legal (188.8.131.52). And we see stages that attempt to force the PCC shooter to shoot one handed by various means (e.g. Rhodesian Wall).
When PCC was first announced as a provisional division a few years ago I recall hearing a lot of concern about what this would do to handgun matches. Will this eliminate facing uprange starts? Will this mean a steady diet of mini-poppers and small plates at long distances? Will this be the end of “house” stages? The answer to all of these has been “no”.
One has to wonder why all this energy is being focused on one group instead of being channeled into creating better stages for everyone? Sure, we can create non-shooting challenges that will make life difficult for just about any shooter. And sometimes even this is taken to extremes and we can create a match that isn’t fun for anyone…that might be fine for year one but how many people will sign up for year two?
Some call hardship on themselves by choosing that division: Single-Stack Major and Revolver Major spring to mind immediately. But they know what those limitations are and they choose to embrace them regardless of the stage designs they will encounter. And I am not saying we need to develop all 6 round neutral courses…although this can be an interesting challenge for a stage designer and it does tend to make other folks plan reloads a bit more.
At some point these sorts of things cross the line between accidental to being intentional. And, to my mind, that is when they cross over into the world of unethical stage design.
Any time a stage designer focuses on any specific group and starts building stuff to cause problems, potentially even inducing penalties for them we have a potential problem. This doesn’t mean you can’t challenge shooters as a stage designer…just challenge all of them more or less equally and do so safely.