One of the most important parts of your match day is stage planning. The stage plan will automatically separate shooters, before any shots have been fired. Stage planning is not easy. I still struggle occasionally, but over time I have learned to look for the right things and the correct process. Here are five quick tips to help your stage planning.
1. Walk the stage two or three times without air gunning or planning, just count rounds and look for target positions.
First, you should make sure that you know where ALL the targets are and count the number of rounds required to make sure it matches the stage description. No one wants to take the steep penalty of forgetting a target. Trust me, that doesn’t feel good… Also, remember not to airgun during this point of stage planning. Airgunning will create mud tracks in your mind of how you will shoot the stage especially if you don’t intend to shoot it that way. When you make your actual stage plan and step to the line, you run the risk of driving in those incorrect tracks. It is not easy to get out of worn tracks and create new ones, so don’t create the wrong ones to begin with by “shooting” a stage without a plan.
2. Look for shooting positions other than the obvious ones; consider the entire shooting area.
This is related to a couple of other tips, especially tip number 3, but is still very important by itself. See how far out of a port you can stand and see all the targets. Try looking under barricades instead of around them. Can you grab one or two targets on the move between positions? In a small shooting box, I recently shot three targets on one foot. I had the balance, and getting one foot in that small box was much easier than trying to squeeze in two. These positions are definitely not the right choice for a lot of stages, however many stages will have a better way to shoot them. The best stage plan changes from person to person because of their different skill sets, but it is up to you to find your best plan.
3. Look for targets visible from multiple zones in the shooting area.
Can you step out of a port just a little bit and see a target from another array? Maybe you can use the magazine for the close array to take that target as well. Maybe you take it on the move from the start position. Maybe you take it static from the start position or skip it and wait until the end of the stage. I won’t get too specific on what to do with the information you gather, but do know that knowing where each target is visible from is extremely important. It is the third most essential of these five tips for making a good stage plan, behind counting the rounds and looking for target positions. It is a vital part of the information that you should collect about a stage to use to develop your plan.
4. Try taking part of an array from one position and part from another, cutting out a reload.
Once you know how many targets there are and where they are all visible from it is time to start planning. Production, Limited 10, Single Stack, and even Revolver shooters are forced by the division capacity rules or the capacity of their gun to put targets in groups to be shot from one magazine and reload after that array. A speed reload, much preferred to the slide lock reload, must be performed when the chamber is still loaded. Often, to prevent reloading in the middle of an array or before a target is engaged with the correct number of shots, rounds are also left in the magazine. Using those remaining rounds to engage part of a 2nd array may mean that another full magazine can be used for the remaining part of the 2nd array and a entire 3rd array.
For example, at the 2015 Area 7 Championships, there was one stage that consisted of four arrays of three targets that were just about only visible through ports. At the buzzer I shot all of the 1st array, one target from 2nd array, and one target of 3rd array. Ten shots. I reloaded as I moved across the shooting area and took the other two targets in the 2nd array. Then, again as I moved down the shooting area I reloaded, posting up in a position where I could see all of the final array and the remaining targets of array three, and shot all of those targets from one magazine. Because I took those two extra targets at the beginning of the stage I stopped moving only momentarily to take a few shots through the small portals, and did ZERO reloading while static. If my feet weren’t moving, I was shooting. It allowed me to cut out the static reload at the end of the stage, saving me seconds.
5. Consider leaving targets that are visible for taking later when you will already be closer.
This tip may not apply quite so much to open shooters, but nonetheless is still relevant to a certain extent. Know how fast you shoot. You may be able to see 10 targets from the start position and shoot them from there, or you can start moving around the shooting area engaging targets from much closer. Why not skip all those targets and move to the first position during your draw? Moving between positions while you reload, making each shot easier and faster. Consider your skills, waiting just may be worth it.
If there is one thing that you take away from this article let it be this: stage planning is all about information. If I were to add a sixth tip, it would probably be to having a realistic knowledge of your skills and skill set. Information is key to stage planning. Make sure you know everything about the stage before you start planning. You should have the layout of the stage memorized by the time you make your plan. Know where the targets are, how fast the swingers move, and where all the targets are visible from. Then you should then use your knowledge to create the best stage plan possible. Keep these tips in mind, and make the most of your five minutes!