When I first got into this sport longer ago than I care to admit (okay, 2002), retrograde stages, aka “retreat stages”, that is moving from down range to up range, really didn’t show up very often. I suspect they were around but I didn’t see one until around 2005/2006. Nowadays, we often find them in most majors and a lot of club matches have taken to using them as well. They do present a unique challenge to the shooter and are a unique problem to solve. Let’s dive in and take a closer look at some things to consider when designing retrograde stages.
When we are talking about a true retrograde stage, we are talking about a stage where the majority, let’s say around half or more, of the movement is retrograde. Stages requiring ducking in and out of shooting positions with short bits of retrograde movement aren’t really true retrograde stages for the sake of this discussion.
Designing a retrograde stage can be a bit more involved than just designing a normal anterograde stage and moving the start position to a down range location instead of an up range location. Certainly, many simple stages can be done this way but there are some gotchas to watch out for.
A potential benefit, especially for local matches, of using retrograde stages is that you can shoot a well thought out stage both directions as two different stages by simply moving the start position. Anterograde requires one stage plan and retrograde an entirely different stage plan so it really can be considered to be two stages. If you are limited on bays, props or setup crew this can be a big bonus for a local match. You do need to work out the squad schedule but that’s not a big deal…usually.
First thing to think about is obstacles that might impede safe retrograde motion by the shooter or the ROs (We will discuss RO’ing a retrograde stage in part II). Stage designers and builders often put barrels, doors, stacks of tires, tables, chairs, wall supports, off limit lines, whatever in a shooting area for various reasons that might make sense in an anterograde type stage but become a big safety concern in a retrograde stage.
Navigating around an obstacle when we are moving forward and are using our peripheral vision for collision avoidance is something we learn to do at a very young age around the time we learn to walk. A couple crash and burns into the coffee table or ottoman usually does the trick. We do it without thinking about it, usually. Most of us don’t have eyes in the backs of our heads and moving backward over a long distance isn’t something most of us do very often unless we do a lot of ballroom dancing or similar activities. The point is, moving around obstacles and such while going backward isn’t natural for us. Add in the fact that we are concentrating on target engagement, which by rule is occurring in front of us and it is pretty easy to see why there is a safety concern. So, for a retrograde stage we want to ensure there is a clear path back up range. Doors simply aren’t an option because how is the RO going to keep the shooter in their vision and stay up range if there is a door there? If the RO has to open the door then this is really an RO trap; just say no. Steps or ramps up to raised platforms might be okay, depending on how they are implemented.
Now, this does not mean that all retrograde stages have to be in a straight line. Moving retrograde through a “shoot house” type stage is certainly something that can be done. But, and this is a really big BUT, you have pay very close attention to how the ROs are going to run this stage safely and keep the shooter and their firearm in view at all times. That can get a bit tricky in retrograde so pay attention to this. And you really want to make sure you are never allowing the opportunity for the ROs to get down range of the shooter. Caution during design and setup with enough time doing troubleshooting once it is on the ground will be important here. Probably not worth the time investment for a local match but might be for a major.
Steel targets can also present a bit of a challenge, especially if they are activators. It is fairly common practice to use a popper of some sort to activate one or more other targets like swingers, drop-turners, bobbers, max-traps, clam shells, and so on. To keep the paper from being shredded by splatter and to maintain safe distances to steel from the shooting positions the activating popper is often further down range. While it isn’t a great idea, it is common for stage designers to expect that poppers that activate things will have been engaged from up range in a anterograde stage and thus become less concerned about safe distances to steel further down range. This can get you in trouble especially if your target is a disappearing target (no FTSA, no misses as long as it is activated) as a shooter might decide to activate further down range and ignore the disappearing target itself. We now have a illegal presentation and a potential safety issue. Thus, while we should be taking proper care for steel placement always; this becomes even more of a problem in a retrograde stage. Offer that popper down range from an early position on a disappearing target that won’t ever be available by the time anyone gets there and you won’t need much tape so why did you bother? Make sense?
Even steel targets not used for activation can be a problem for many of the same reasons mentioned above.
As you design the stage make sure the shooter has something to do at the start signal at or very near the start position. What you are doing is buying some time for the savvy RO to get back up range in order to gain some separation between themselves and the shooter. If you don’t have something for the shooter to do, you are only testing the sprint speed of the RO and the shooter and all too often the shooter will win and the RO will end up down range of the shooter. Definitely not what we want.
Will your stage procedure work? If you are thinking anterograde and have a shooter carry something in one of their hands and dump it somewhere, will that still work in retrograde?
And finally, what happens to your design if a shooter decides to leave their gun holstered, runs back up range at the start signal, and shoots it as an anterograde stage? Does anything break? Especially at the local level with new shooters that haven’t had experience with retrograde stages this is very much a possibility that needs careful consideration.
One stage design that presents both anterograde and retrograde in the same stage is the so called “U-Turn” stage where the shooter usually starts moving anterograde, moves laterally down range for a short distance, and then returns up range moving retrograde. These can be tricky to RO and the stage designers need to keep this in mind when designing these stages. You might need to allow for an RO safe passage through the middle of the stage so they can stay up range of he shooter as they move laterally and stay up range of them as the move retrograde. You can help this transition by giving the shooter plenty of targets to engage as they transit across the bottom of the “U”. Placing them so the shooter has to slow down, or even stop, for them gives the ROs time to get into place to work the shooter back up range. Take some extra time to ensure your stage can be run safely.
Retrograde stages are a part of our sport and aren’t likely to be going away any time soon…and for good reason. They can be an interesting puzzle for the shooter to solve.
Coming up in Part II we will talk about working as an RO team on a retrograde stage and then in Part III we will offer some retrograde stage designs and discuss those designs including all the stage types mentioned above.