In USPSA we have two types of “lines” that we use to define boundaries on stages. Note that we differentiate between lines and other barriers like walls, barrels, and other physical barriers to movement. Lines are defined under 2.2.1 and subs as “Fault Lines” and “Off-Limits Lines”.
For our stage designs we define the shooting area using physical barriers (walls, barrels, etc.) and lines. But not all lines are the same so let’s discuss each type and how they are used.
Let’s start with Fault Lines as defined by 126.96.36.199 with minimum height requirements (0.75″ for hard surfaces, 1.5″ for other surfaces). The goal of these height requirements to allow the shooter to feel the line with their foot when they step on it. Obviously, it is possible to step over the line and not feel it but generally fault lines come into play more when attempting to shoot around obstacles requiring leaning to the side. Many shooters will choose to stand on the line to get every possible advantage. If we use lines that do not allow for tactile sensation such as paint or surveyor’s flagging tape we are creating a problem. The need to provide tactile feedback is why we differentiate the between line height between solid surfaces and loose surfaces. A 3/4″ thick line can quickly be covered and not visible in a loose surface. Even 1.5″ lines will quickly be covered on loose sand. It is up to the RO crew to maintain these lines so they present the same way to each shooter as much as is possible. That also helps ROs more correctly call foot faults.
While not specifically called for in the rules, it is generally a good idea to paint your fault lines a color that contrasts with the ground. If you are using wooden fault lines, a couple good coats of exterior grade house paint in a bright color will make your lines easily visible and will also protect them from the elements meaning they will generally last longer, especially if stored outside.
Basically stated, if you are shooting on concrete (e.g. indoors) then 0.75″ fault lines are okay. Just about anything else, you need to go 1.5″. Note that a LOT of the shooting boxes people create out of 3/4″ PVC pipe and four elbows, 1″ angle iron, etc. may not meet these requirements when used outdoors on the range.
The other type of lines are “Off-Limits Lines” are defined in 188.8.131.52 and are used to define an area of the range floor we wish to declare as off limits. This may be due to range conditions (e.g. mud hole) or for stage design purposes to allow shooters to perhaps shoot across or through the area but not move through the area. Range Officers are allowed to move through these areas and gaps in these off-limits lines specifically for the purposes of allowing RO movement are allowed . The Off-Limits lines are deemed to continue through these open areas. Shooters that cross these lines will receive a zero for the stage. This is NOT a DQ by itself.
While fault lines are laid directly on the ground and should be affixed with spikes or some other method; off-limits lines are required to be at least two feet in height and removed from any fault line by two feet. This displacement is usually vertical.
It is often tempting for stage designers to want to use lines to control shooter movement in various ways. While this can be done, it has problems. For instance, a zig-zag path defined by fault lines will be short-cut by savvy shooters who only run from spot to spot to engage targets. This means someone gets to lay down a whole bunch of fault line for no useful purpose. Off-Limits lines can be used to force shooters through the desired path but to what purpose? Make sure that what you are trying to make competitors do has a purpose in terms of a shooting competition. Just covering lots of distance does little more than take extra time and cause extra wear on the RO crew. Most shooters that are in reasonable condition won’t show appreciable fatigue over the short distances we can create in a pistol bay. This also can restrict freestyle because it defines a path to each shooting location essentially creating a box-to-box stage without the boxes. The bay space, construction time and materials can likely be put to better use.
One might think that a lot of fault line can be saved by using the “extending to infinity” provisions for side daily lines in 184.108.40.206 where the stage design warrants it; but this can lead to problems. Always use actual fault line where defining shooting positions. Asking competitors and ROs to visually extend a fault line is going to lead to disagreements and maybe arbitration and the stage could be removed from the match.
It is also useful to note the recommendations for rear fault lines at prone positions per 220.127.116.11. People have been hurt (including this author) by going prone on top of a fault line that was too close to a shooting position. Bruised shins make for an uncomfortable remainder of the match. If you cannot give eight feet of space between the prone position and the rear fault line, eliminate the rear fault line, if possible. If neither of these is possible then maybe the stage needs to be rethought.
Some clubs like to add a “DQ line” beyond the fault line when the fault line is in front of steel targets. Remember that you need to set a fault line at least 26 feet from steel targets so a shooter can fault the line and not receive a DQ for engaging steel. It is preferably to use a physical barrier in this case rather than a fault line but if a fault line is to be used then you have to have that additional distance. The rules do not specifically define a “DQ line” so it is neither required by the rules or against the rules so it is up to the RM to use them or not. If you are going to use them; they should be a different color from fault lines. The question of course is if you don’t have that secondary line, how do you know when a shooter faults the line when they have gone too close to the steel; hence, the desire by some to use them. Again, physical barriers are preferable.
Lines might seem like a simple concept but, in reality, there is a lot to keep in mind when designing and setting up stages. Follow the rules and everything will generally work out for all concerned.