Five Benefits Of Designing Stages At Your Local USPSA Match

Here are five reasons why you should volunteer your stage design experience at local USPSA club matches.

posted on September 14, 2023
USPSA Stage Design 1

When I started competitive shooting, like many others, I showed up to the match, paid my money, shot the match and left. For the first year or so, I never had any thoughts about what it takes to conduct a match. As first-time competitive shooters, our focus is mainly on the actual shooting, rules, equipment, safety, etc. I’m sure this is probably the norm for many new shooters (and some veteran shooters as well).

Several years ago, we had a change in match directors at our local club. We desperately needed stage designers to sustain our monthly matches. This was when I got into stage design and building. Designing stages benefits the club, sure, but did you know that it can also benefit you as a shooter? Hopefully, this article will help shed some light on why it can be beneficial to help design and build stages for your local club matches.


USPSA is a volunteer sport. Without volunteers, most matches would never happen. Designing and building stages is one of the most essential parts of making your local match happen. We have seven to eight folks who regularly help set up stages on a monthly basis at our club, but some clubs have even less than that.

We usually have anywhere from 30 to 50 shooters each month at our local match. If you have a monthly six-stage match, this isn’t nearly enough people for long-term sustainability of the match. Things happen in life, and some months we have a couple of people who cannot help out for various reasons. This is why having people “shadow” stage designers or prepare as backups to build stages will ensure that the club will always be successful. Our other stage designers must step up and build extra stages when people are gone; for this reason, having a rotating group of 10 to 12 people who build stages helps take the load off of everybody. The great thing about this is most match directors don’t care what kind of stage you set up as long as you follow the rules and make sure it’s safe. You can set up an eight-round short course or a 32-round long course—help is help.


Shooting, reloading, movement and stage planning are all important parts of shooting a USPSA stage well. One thing I noticed when I started building stages was how much I didn’t know about shooting a USPSA stage.

Stage design is not just about drawing something and then putting it on the ground. There are a lot of things you have to consider before and during the process. You have to know the basic rules of stage design to make a legal stage (180-degree line, minimum distances, target placement and presentation, no-shoots, etc.). You are constantly walking the stage, checking and rechecking for anything you missed. While doing this, whether you know it or not, you are learning how to visualize the stage, how to look for places to blend positions, where you can push speed versus accuracy, and how to stay safe shooting the stage. I not only learned more about the rules, but also learned more about stage planning, shooting positions, and how better to move throughout the course of fire. Just designing and building stages made me a better shooter.


Everybody has aspects of shooting that they are good at and some they are not so good at. Why not design a stage to your strengths? Now, this doesn’t mean that if you are a pistol-caliber carbine shooter, you should create your stage with four-inch square steel targets at 50 yards (while legal, you may not have friends afterward). But, there’s nothing wrong with playing to your strengths in your design. On the flip side, most of us have much we can improve on in our shooting. Why not use the stage to work on some of your weaknesses when designing and building a stage? Maybe you have trouble moving up range, shooting partials, transitions, swingers and so forth. You can add these challenges into your stage design to force yourself to work on these weaknesses while under pressure of the timer.


USPSA is always in need of fresh ideas to make matches better and improve the sport. The great thing about stage design is that each individual has their own “flavor” of what they like and what they think makes a good stage. Having a variety of stage designers at a match gives the shooters different challenges on each stage. As you improve at stage designing, you may even progress to building stages at larger matches. Match Directors of State, Area and National matches often solicit stages from stage designers from all over. I was lucky enough several years ago to have one of my stages used at the Florida State Match, and I can say it feels amazing to have your stage used at a state-level competition. By putting work into USPSA, you will help make the sport better and also improve it for future shooters.


The last benefit to designing stages, while not the most important part, can’t go without mention. Our local match, as I'm sure many others do, provides a free match slot to anyone who designs and builds a stage. Why not do it if you can save a couple of hundred bucks a year to put towards ammunition, travel or whatever else you need?


So how do you get started in stage design? The first thing to do is contact the Match Director at your local club. They will likely fill you in on how the club deals with stage design and building and inform you of the process. Next, go to the USPSA rulebook and read the section about course design. You want to make sure you are designing legal stages. After checking out the rules, I recommend connecting with someone who has been designing stages for a while, and knows what they are doing to help mentor you along the way. Gaining insights and feedback from somebody knowledgeable will put you ahead of the curve and set you up for success. You could even sit down with a stage designer, watch them design a stage, and help them build them for a few months just to get started. Doing this will give you a good idea of the process and time it takes to learn how to design stages.

If you don’t want to start right off designing your own stages, you can find many ready-to-go stages on the USPSA website or with IPSC/USPSA Facebook stage design groups. You can also search online for USPSA stages, then choose one and start building (make sure to give credit to the original designer).

Once you are ready to begin designing your own stages, you’ll need to decide what you will use for laying out your stage design. A free online program like PowerPoint or Sketchup, or you might want to purchase a hands-on kit like 3D Stage Builder. Start experimenting and figure out what works for you. Good luck and have fun with it.

Hopefully, this article will push some of you to get started in the stage design aspect of USPSA. Maybe one day, we will see your name on a stage used at a State-, Area- or even National-level match.

Article from the September/October 2023 issue of USPSA’s magazine.


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