Virtually everyone that participates in our sport of USPSA competition will shoot a lot more local “level I” matches than they will majors (level II or higher). Thus, we should view the local match as a training ground for higher levels of competition. Let’s take a look at some things we need to consider with this in mind.
Certainly, there are those that enjoy competing in our sport only at the local level and have no designs on moving up and competing at the major level. For them, the local match is likely as much a social function as it is competition, for others it is just a good excuse to spend a day at the range. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this; the crucible of major competition isn’t for everyone. In my experience these folks are willing to tackle just about any stage set for them. It should also be mentioned that for many clubs, the work crews that set the matches up and run them often come from this group of shooters.
Now and then I have heard it said that we are doing a disservice to the casual shooters by gearing our matches toward major match preparation. I would argue that providing more well designed stages that don’t rely on Level I exceptions to even be legal, along with a healthy mix of more difficult shooting challenges takes nothing away from anyone. Certainly, one does need to consider the audience and ensure that all stages are able to be completed by all shooters that normally attend the match.
It is just as important to consider athleticism and shooting ability as it is some aspects of stage design. For instance, a stage that requires a 50 yard sprint to the firearm from the start position is probably not going to be appreciated by the over 60 crowd who no longer get around like they used to. Similarly, a three string fixed time standards with time limits that only a GM level shooter could love will not be received well by the majority of those in attendance who only get a few shots off each string.
“But you said challenge was a good thing, right?” Yes, I did. But you also have to play to your audience. Keep in mind that our sport is about shooting challenges, not physical challenges. Attempting a fixed time stage where you barely get to engage one target before the time expires isn’t as much a challenge as it is a cold wet blanket thrown on enthusiasm. A steady diet of demoralizing stages will drive folks away; and that isn’t what we are after. When we set out with a goal to deadlift 300 lbs we don’t learn the basics of the lift and then immediately go for 300 lbs. We have to work our way up to it. If someone makes us go for that 300 lb attempt right out of the gate we are likely to be rather discouraged…if not injured. The same thing applies to most skills. Didn’t start out typing 70+ words a minute when you first sat at the keyboard, did you?
So what sort of challenges SHOULD we be offering at the local matches? Short answer: Shooting Challenges. Instead of offering lots of close, wide open targets with nary a no shoot or hard cover target in sight; start using partial targets covered with no shoots or hard cover and push them out a bit. Make folks have to lean a bit or otherwise alter their normal shooting stance to engage them. Offer plenty of opportunity to shoot on the move. This is a great one because those that aren’t comfortable shooting on the move can still engage everything from static positions, but those that can shoot on the move (or think they can) get a chance to really speed things up.
Design stages that require a stage plan rather than just a “see target, shoot target, move, see target, shoot target…” type plan. This generally means providing more than one way to shoot a stage. A good stage requires the shooter to consider their abilities, their division, and other factors in coming up with their stage plan. Then they have to execute that plan; and we all know how difficult that can be.
All of this falls into what we call the “shooting challenge”. It isn’t just about sight picture and trigger control; that’s Bullseye. It is also about shooting on the move, reloads, planning and executing that plan so that all the targets are engaged in the least amount of time. That, in a nutshell, is USPSA shooting. We owe it to ourselves, to our shooters and to the sport to provide high quality stages regardless of the venue.