Metal Plates (see Appendix B3) and things that use plates like various stars, racks and so on can be popular with stage designers and shooters alike so why don’t we see more of them in major matches? It’s simple: Range Equipment Failure (REF) and then the shooter gets to reshoot the stage costing the match schedule time maybe worse. A fellow RMI once told me that “The only use for a plate at a major match is to put food on.” He’s likely right.
If a plate spins, wobbles or whatever else when hit and doesn’t fall, REF. Shot hits a support and the plate falls, REF. Hit an arm on a star and one or more plates fall off…not a “lucky hit” but REF. Hit a plate on a plate rack and it goes down and pops back up? Well, it fell, it scored, but a lot of shooters seem to think it has to stay down or maybe didn’t see it pop back up so will waste time and ammo knocking it down again. Eventually they will complain about it. But that isn’t REF. It’s just another reason to not use plates at majors. ROs do need to watch plate racks for bounce so scoring can be done correctly (if it fell, it scored) and precautions should be taken to try and prevent bouncing.
Are plate racks, stars, etc. a lot of fun and challenging to shoot? Absolutely. But when you are trying to move a lot of shooters through stages on a tight schedule the number of REFs that generally occur with plates will just slow everything down, the schedule goes out the window, squads pile up, people get grumpy, maybe the RM ends up having to toss the stage, you get the idea.
About ten years ago I stopped by a major match on its last day and ended up jumping in to help with a stage that had a popular plate rack type device. I watched one poor shooter, who had a bad leg anyway, have to reshoot that stage several times all because the plate rack device was causing continual REFs. The rack was at the end of the stage and it was a ~30 round stage so the shooter ended up having to borrow ammo to finish the match (and he also got to run to chronograph again with the new ammo supply). Now, to be fair, some of these were because it wasn’t properly reset but a REF is a REF; it’s a reshoot, and it burns time. I was told that this sort of thing had been happening all match. Had I been the RM, I probably would have tossed the stage or left it in as an optional fun, not for match score stage; but that is Monday Morning Quarterbacking…way easier to make the call when it wasn’t my call to make. Definitely not throwing shade on the RMs for that match.
Every few years someone comes along and claims they have the perfect plate setup and not all that long afterward it is shown that they suffer from something or another that makes them a problem. Maybe someday the perfect solution will be found but I haven’t seen it yet. Everything works pretty well when it is new but shoot it a few thousand times, cover it with paint and grime, let it “weather” in the prop storage area, allow shooters to “fix it” and the warts start to appear.
Simple plates on stands, built properly, can be relatively immune to REF but it takes considerable setup work to ensure that a hit on the stand/base that the plate is sitting on won’t happen and knock the plate down. I find it amazing how often people will miss a large plate and hit a 1/2″ rod holding the plate (which is REF). One of the last times I saw plates at a National handgun match I had one on my stage. We put a piece of railroad tie in front of the stand to keep people from hitting it. Half-way through the second day we had to flip the tie over because people had missed the plate low so much they had shot a hole entirely through the railroad tie and we were starting to see reshoots due to stand hits.
Now don’t get me wrong. I really like these sorts of things in local matches. They add fun and flavor and most local matches aren’t on a strict time table. Simple plates on stands are inexpensive and easy to build in most any welding shop. They allow clubs that are just starting to have some steel to shoot at until they can build up a popper collection and give their stage designers some options.
Most local matches will also elect to not paint falling plates except maybe between squads so people don’t have to deal with messy painted plates. Unlike poppers, which can easily and cleanly be reset and painted between shooters, plates just tend to get messy. Both sides will get shot, both sides will get painted. The wet paint collects dirt/sand/gravel/grass/whatever and just end up being nasty to deal with. Depending on how they are constructed they can also be difficult to reset consistently.
A somewhat common misconception is that plates can be calibrated. Well, no. I don’t care what sort of adjustment mechanism there is on that plate…it’s a plate. Period. By definition, plates aren’t calibrated. Now, they certainly DO need to be adjusted so that they perform properly in the match if they are adjustable but they are not calibrated. Some rubber belting or carpet on that rack will help keep those plates from bouncing back up. But, don’t call the RM for a calibration on a plate. If it is shot and didn’t fall, REF, reset and the shooter gets to try again.
So, if you want plates at your major go right ahead! I suggest maybe you use them for some good BBQ, potato salad, beans and maybe a slice of pie.