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Viral Video: “Unplanned Targets”

Over the weekend this video has gone viral in the shooting community:

I wish this video was not out for public consumption as it does nothing for the general public but make action shooting sports look bad.  Some gun clubs that are more traditional may use it as an excuse to prohibit or place restrictions on action shooting sports.  The video is out in the public domain, and it will not go away so we need to address it.  The United States Practical Shooting Association is expected to issue a statement soon.

History of Safety

First I need to point out that all of the action shooting sports have excellent safety records.  Action shooting sports are those that involve time as a metric of scoring and in which the shooter engages a variety of different targets at different distances usually moving through a course.  There are several organizations that formally sanction these types of matches with different rules.  There are also many individual clubs that hold their own unsanctioned matches.  I am currently unaware of any fatalities that have occurred as a result of gunfire in the 40+ year history of action shooting sports.The injuries that occur as a result of gun fire have been competitors negligently shooting themselves in the leg when holstering or drawing, or through an arm or leg while moving.  These incidents are incredibly rare.  Most commonly injuries are those you would find in any other sport; sprained or torn muscles from rapidly accelerating and stopping, twisted ankles, scraped skin or lacerations from obstacles or the environment.  For comparison an average of 12 high school students die annually playing football, and that doesn’t include those permanently injured or disabled.

If the sport was not safe it wouldn’t exist.  Ranges would not allow it to be run.  Insurance carriers would not cover ranges or clubs that ran it.  The outrage inside the action shooting community is also evidence of how safe the sport is.  No one was hurt or killed here, and competitors and match directors are angry that this lapse in safety is giving the sport a black eye.  Competitors are motivated on multiple levels to make sure the sport is safe; the consequences for violating rules can be so severe and everyone involved wants to keep the sport going.

What Went Wrong

Understandably a lot of people are shocked at the video, and many do not understand why how it could occur.  As with any accident there are multiple factors at play.

The Range Officer:

The range officer (RO) needs to make sure the range is clear before the shooter loads and makes ready.  This is accomplished in two ways; visually clearing the range and loudly announcing to clear the range and yelling “RANGE IS GOING HOT!”   This gives anyone down range that was not seen the opportunity to speak up and stop the load and make ready process.  We don’t see the before portion in this video, but we have to assume that the range was not properly cleared.

ROs are humans and thus mental errors can occur.  Being an RO and shooting a stage well yourself are conflicting goals.  Putting mental focus and energy into one takes away from the other.  This is one reason major events have dedicated match staff that shoot the match before the other 200-400 competitors show up.  ROs at such events are assigned to one stage and only run that stage.  This significantly improves consistency and safety.  When they are ROing they can simply RO.

At club level events like this one appears to be, an RO might potentially be any other shooter that has minimal or no training as an RO.  Open-Squadding format matches where people simply go stage to stage in whatever order suits them means anyone can end up running the clock.  Note that I don’t know for certain if that was the case here.  When one is trying to shoot and RO at the same time, particularly as it gets later into the day people stop paying as much attention as they should.  In the summer months when it is hot and people get dehydrated and mental function decreases this can be even worse.  Having multiple sets of eyes checking down range is a good thing.

Vision Barriers and Walls:

The more vision barriers, walls, and props to shoot around the longer it takes and the more thorough the RO must be in clearing the stage.  At larger events with many competitors it is normal for there to be an assistant RO who ensures that these visually obstructed areas are cleared before the line goes hot.  The barriers themselves in this video make checking the range harder because at the front of the range they are not see-through.  This makes it more difficult for the RO to see down range from the start position.

Using see through barricades really mitigates a lot of this risk.  Another risk reduction factor could be simpler stage design; does making elaborate hallways and simulated rooms with multiple shooting ports really make the shooting more challenging or simply a memory game?  Setting all that stuff up makes everything harder logistically from running the stage right and clearing it every time, to getting to all the targets to tape and reset, to tearing the match down.  For a club level event without the right amount of experienced staff it may not be worth it.  Similar shooting challenges can be accomplished without stacking the barriers so deep or by offsetting them so it is easier to see down range.

The Guy Down Range:

The guy down range here is collecting brass.  His ear protection is too effective and he is unaware of what is going on around him.  He clearly didn’t hear the RO yell “RANGE IS GOING HOT”.  The fact the shooter got that far into the stage before the brass collector realizes there is shooting is amazing.  If your ear protection is that good, take it off between shooters when you go down range to help reset the stage.  Electronic ear protection is preferred so you can hear effectively at all times.  He was also not visually aware at all, presumably because he was so focused on his task.

Some people mentioned this jokingly that he was dressed as a no-shoot wearing a white T-shirt.   With mental distractions and visual obstructions I do wonder if this contributed to him not being seen.  We can see him earlier in the video through the snow fencing barricades. Earlier than anyone; RO, shooter, or camera man recognizes that he is there.  So in addition to displaying all your sponsor or favorite company logos brightly colored shooting shirts may serve an unintended safety purpose making you more visible to other shooters and match staff.

Conclusions

Range Officers need training and education in standard range procedures and how to deal with safety issues based on stage design.  Match directors should discuss specific safety issues with ROs.  Even club level events should have dedicated ROs assigned to each squad that rotate through the stages with the shooters.

Club level matches should strongly consider the cost/benefits of elaborate stages that have vision barriers in depth from a logistical and safety risk perspective vs shooting challenge reward perspective.  If it doesn’t dramatically improve the shooting challenges why not run something simpler that works with the time you have and manpower available?

Competitors themselves need to be situationally aware when resetting targets and going down range.  This includes having electronics ear protection or removing it, and noticing when other people are heading back up range.

Again, No one was hurt or killed.  If you’re running matches or ROing this is an opportunity to review your stage designs, props, and procedures to make sure it does not happen at your event.  Overlapping safety policies and procedures are key for avoiding injuries and fatalities on the range.


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