One of the more frustrating aspects of the Freestyle rule, particularly for new stage designers, is trying to control shooter movement without breaking the rules. I’d bet every stage designer has designed some form of zig-zag type stage using a lot of fault lines thinking they will compel the shooters to follow the lovely path they created and the setup crew spent a long time spiking it down; only to see the shooters just run from shooting position to shooting position basically ignoring said lovely path. Might just as well positioned shooting boxes at each station and saved all that fault line and effort for other stages. Watch match videos from the most recent matches and you can see examples of this frequently. So, let’s talk about shooter movement and stage design.
Given the constraints of the Freestyle rule (1.1.5), we have to physically constrain shooter movement in order to control it. We don’t just get to create a maze of fault lines and tell them they have to stay within the lines in USPSA. And no, there is not a Level 1 exception for this.
We typically do this with barriers such as walls, barrel stacks and so on (2.2.3). You can also constrain movement using off limits lines (220.127.116.11) which can be useful in the right situations and in my opinion should be used sparingly and to solve a problem. They are especially useful where you need to allow RO staff to cut across a portion of the stage to stay behind the shooter such as with a u-turn type stage.
We also sometimes need to constrain shooter movement due for safety. Recall that distance to steel targets is 23 feet from a barrier or 26 feet from a fault line. If you are trying to squeeze a stage safely into a bay that extra three feet can be a pretty big deal, especially if there is a lot of steel down range and to the sides.
Real barriers are more visually interesting, and honestly, more appealing to a shooter as a stage they want to shoot than just a big maze of fault lines few will follow anyway. As humans we live in a three dimensional world and I believe that is part of why a maze of lines on the ground isn’t that appealing whereas the same maze created with 3D barriers of some sort suddenly is more appealing. If you are maybe designing for a match with spectators and/or video coverage; fault line only stages just don’t translate well because they are difficult for spectators to visualize and understand.
Now and then we run into folks that want to use rope lines suspended in the air like a fence as “fault lines” that also create a physical barrier. What almost inevitably happens is that shooters will start leaning against these to see more targets at some positions and suddenly your shooting area becomes rather plastic. This is one reason why these types of things are not allowed as fault lines. Fault lines per 18.104.22.168 are very well defined and a rope line fence doesn’t meet these criteria.
Another aspect of shooter movement is moving through portals such as doors/doorways. Doors are a useful prop and are commonly used in our sport as start positions and/or for activating moving targets. Remember that if you don’t want people to proceed through the door you need to have a physical barrier across the doorway. And don’t forget that fault line on the threshold if necessary for your design. Spring loaded doors tend to be a bad idea as they will inevitably close behind the shooter cutting off the ROs. More than one handgun has gotten knocked out of a holster or a hand by a spring loaded door so there is a safety aspect to consider as well. I recommend you always use at least a 3-0 (36″ wide) door to allow for shooters of all sizes. Be very careful when cabling a door as an activator as low cables can present a trip hazard.
Another common shooter movement challenge is the balance beam. Be very careful here as these can present a significant safety problem where shooters can slip off them and fall. There really isn’t a need to have these balance beams more than a couple inches off the range floor surface. Be sure the beam is wide enough for shooters without a gymnastics background to safely transit and something is done to ensure traction if it gets wet.
Stairs and ramps area also very common in our sport, especially in Multi-Gun, to get shooters up onto a raised platform and back down again. Ramps should be cleated (slats across the ramp for traction) or otherwise made non-slip. A fine layer of dirt or sand can be all that is needed to induce a slip and fall and we don’t want that. Remember that we shoot rain or shine (or snow for some of us) and design/build accordingly.
Raised platforms that shooters must transit need to be constructed such that a taller shooter won’t be above the top of the berms. We don’t want them up where they can catch shrapnel from adjacent stages. Know your range physical constraints. Again, as creatures in a 3D world using that other dimension and moving shooters upward a bit presenting a different view of things can be very interesting. Shooting downward can be an interesting challenge that is far too easy to overthink. It is a good practice to design such that the ROs do not need to transit the platform as this can be physically demanding and it can be very easy for the RO to interfere with the shooter while on the platform. The ROs just need to be able to observe the shooter and their firearm as well as see target engagement and so on; they don’t have to be right up on the shooter.
Carefully build in movement on your stage designs and you can do a lot to raise the quality and interest level of your stages.