Practical Pistol Matches on an Indoor Range



I got a wild hair to write down my experience in running an indoor match for the past two years. I will add as I get time. Feel free to post any questions or things you want clarification on or feedback. Hopefully this helps someone else out. It's a little late, so spelling and grammar might have to be corrected tomorrow.


Just over two years ago, I proposed starting a practical pistol match every week at the indoor range that I work at. We were all pretty new to the range (it had opened a few months earlier), and thankfully the range manager at the time gave me the go ahead to give it a try. I wanted to put down a brief overview of how it has gone, lessons learned, and ideas for stage design and prep, scoring, introducing new shooters, and any other tips and tricks picked up over time. I don’t profess to be an expert, just someone who has a passion for improving my own pistol shooting, and has very much enjoyed the experience of running a shooting match. Hopefully someone else looking to give this a try will find something of worth here.

Brief History

I want to put this up front, not to try and self-aggrandize myself, but so that you have an idea of exactly what experience I have, and what sort of weight my options should have. Basically I want to show that I’m not the end all be all of shooting practical matches inside, but I am not a complete novice either.

Our first match consisted of myself and two shooters, both top level USPSA (GM) shooters from the local area. I had been to the affiliated USPSA matches outside before, but was still fairly unfamiliar with the culture. I designed the match very much around the ‘self-defense’ skills, and it was incredibly basic. Every stage was shot from a single booth at 1-2 targets that I got from our stock. It was difficult to score, and after each stage, I had to bring the targets back to the booth to score, then send them back out. Looking back at those first couple matches, I’m sure podcasters feel the same listening to their first shows; sort of embarrassed. Nevertheless, they were encouraging, and the group of shooters grew slowly but surely. Eventually I purchased a hundred USPSA cardboard targets, target tape, a CED7000 shot timer, and we started scoring time plus across the board. A couple months into the match, we started going downrange to set-up and score. That quickly turned into setting up stages downrange with movement forward, backward, and laterally. Props like 55 gallon buckets, walls made of heavy duty plastic stapled to 1X2s, knock down targets, and doors were incorporated. Our attendance went up to over 25 on a good night, but usually between 15 and 20. After an incident where a shooter caught a small piece of lead from a bullet frag coming back, the matches were shut down. It was a big let-down, and everyone was very disappointed, myself more than anyone. I believe that on closer examination, our insurance for the range had been specifically written to only cover shooting downrange from the booths, so that was that.

After a period of time, I proposed starting the matches again, only this time with the restriction of shooting from the booths only. That was very difficult, mostly because we had such a good thing going, and the stages seemed boring and repetitive, similar to the early stages. Then I got the idea of shooting steel challenge. Those are almost all shot from a single position, and it would be something new to try out. I got a local guy to make some steel plates, hangers, and a way to hold a tire around the plate to catch lead fragments. This was to prevent hits on the fire sprinkling system above the range. That has been a big hit, and incorporating those with USPSA cardboard made it feel a bit more like it had been. I have been slowly brining in the 55 gallon barrels, use of no-shoots, and setting up stages where targets are visible from a variety of positions (we have been incorporating some lateral movement to take advantage of shooting between lanes), to bring into play what I think is the best part about USPSA-stage planning and decision making. I will usually try to make people decide between taking harder shots (smaller visible areas, no shoots, etc.) and having to move to additional positions for a wide open shot. That has been very popular, and there are so many options that I will have plenty of designs to use for the coming months.

New shooters: I have found that you need to have a time set aside to run through an orientation for any new shooter. I broke it down very simply and focused on safety, and range protocol. I would emphasize that there were three priorities for the evening. Number one was safety and was the one I was most concerned about. Two was having a good time, and three was doing well. Never let a lower-priority supersede a higher one. I would mention that there were people there who had been shooting matches like this for a long time, and to not expect to shoot at their level. Only go as fast as you are totally comfortable and have full control and awareness of where your gun is, where it’s pointed, where your trigger finger is, etc. There is a balance between being too lax with safety and DQs, and intimidating people to the point where they don’t feel like they are able to shoot, or don’t want to come. I always clarify what exactly constitutes a DQ (gun out of the holster when not shooting, 180, finger on trigger, ND, etc.), and explain this is a no compromise situation. Also, a DQ does not mean we hate you, or don’t want you to come back (usually), but a high safety standard is kept to avoid all accidents. Yes DQ-ing people usually sucks, especially a new person, but I have found if they are aware of the standards and reasons beforehand, and the situation is handles correctly, most do come back again. One time a long-time shooter went off on a guy that was brand new and shooting his first stage. He broke the 180, but was nowhere near flagging another person (he had the gun lowered with his finger off the trigger). I wasn’t on the range and wasn’t RO-ing him, but I guess it got to the point where he didn’t come back for over a year. He eventually came and shot a few more times, but didn’t become a regular. I think you get a sense of how comfortable and competent a shooter is pretty quick. I know the people I’m really going to have to watch, and possibly have my hand up ready to stop a gun barrel from coming past the 180, and those who are very aware of what the gun is doing. One of the greatest experiences I have had with this match is watching a new shooter become one of ‘the regulars,’ who can handle a gun, knows what they are doing, and begins building friendships with others there. I have more pride in those people that I had some part in bringing them into the world of practical shooting and seeing them develop as a shooter, increase their skill, and meet new friends who they would never have even known existed otherwise. Dealing with new shooters is the most stressful (and probably dangerous) part of the match, but seeing them improve is also the most satisfying. One person in particular bought a gun for him and his wife with part of their tax return. They both came to a match, and eventually he got into USPSA in a big way, with a full rig, membership, became an RO, and has been to various local and state-level matches in the region. There are many others, and I consider them my friends as well.

Stage Design: I never stop thinking of new stage and prop ideas. Especially with our restrictions, if you can’t come up with new material on a regular basis, you are going to burn out your regular shooters, and that is going to make keeping a club solvent very difficult. I passed out surveys to everyone one week, with a series of questions about what they wanted to see at the match. Make it fun for people. If you have a group that likes just burning down a 10 hit factor stage, don’t forget to include that. Do your shooter like steel? Multiple shots on a single target?, difficult angles and shooting positions?, memory stages?, long shots?, SHO/WHO?, standards? This is not to say you don’t have the full complement of challenges regularly, but make sure you are making the matches enjoyable, whatever your club finds that to be. On the other end, don’t be afraid to push people with shooting challenges. You will always hear complaints when they see far targets as one example, but still use them, but in the right amount.

Make sure you are challenging the range of skill levels by not making them too easy or difficult. I have made stages that I really liked, but for a newer shooter, I can’t imagine they were incredibly fun. The real challenge is to have a match that both the GM and D-class people can walk away from feeling glad they spent the time and money to be there. Not every stage has to appeal to everyone, but every skill level should think that overall the match worked for them. I am happy to share any ideas I’ve had in more detail if there is any interest. In general, unless you are shooting some sort of standards stage, or steel challenge, I consider it a failure on my part as the designer if every single shooter runs the stage in the same way. Just tonight we had a stage that I saw almost everyone shoot slightly different. Most of the higher-end guys shot it similar, but there was still variation, and across the board there were very different plans. After shooting through it, most were wanting to try it again, which we did. That was, for me, the sign that it was a good stage. Finally, I have had great success using par time stages occasionally. It presents a new challenge, mixes things up, and can be a lot of fun, especially when you have people who are trying to really compete head to head against each other.

Scoring: In my opinion, I should just have one sentence here saying “use practiscore” and be done with it, but my now you have seen that I am much more long-winded than that. I have a scoring template that I have modified over the years, but have moved away from. Anytime you use paper, you add time on the back end to score and tally everything. Especially when the match gets bigger, that is a significant chunk of time. Using practiscore makes it possible to see the results the moment the last shooter is scored. That has been really nice to be done with scoring at that point, and the shooters like pulling the match up on their phones while still there with the group to compare, trash talk, etc. There are specific ways to use it to score various types of stages, and I have found ways to get it to work no matter what I was trying to score. I think almost everyone would benefit from at least trying practiscore out.

Prep: My one piece of advice for preparing for a match is: do it earlier than you think you need to, and prepare for more than you think you need to. You also want to delegate to others certain tasks that you can hand off to others. Don’t forget the shooters when you are looking for help. Most people come expecting to at least help with scoring, taping, and resetting targets. I honestly couldn’t do these matches if I wasn’t getting help from the regular shooters. They are a huge help, and you will quickly identify those you can count on. Keep in mind that they are there to shoot first, and are paying for the chance to shoot the match. Don’t take advantage of those willing to help by asking more than is fair.


Bird's Eye View
Thanks for taking the time to post this over here. Great lessons learned and good to point local range-owners to for feedback that YES it's actually possible to do cool things with that boring indoor range they're trying to keep busy.


No problem. That was my main goal-to show what can be done on an indoor range, and to not limit yourself without at least approaching the range owners/operators about expanding the activities on the range. I'll try to find some videos of what we are doing, as well as what we used to do before we were restricted to the booths only.
Good post. I know USPSA doesn't like stage guns like IDPA or 3-Gun do but starting off a stage with a Bill Drill with say a revolver or non=standard pistol (CZ, Browning Hi-Power...) is a good way to shake folk up out of the usual match ruts.


That's a good point-and I have actually done that sort of thing in the past. I would have one of our range demo guns as a stage prop gun. A good way to have something different on a stage.


A lot of the USPSA classifier stages could be easily run on an indoor range without a lot of props -- those CoFs are a great way to build and test basic skills and are simple to set up.

Don't get all elaborate about your stage design unless you have a cadre of people you KNOW are going to be there to help set up and tear down. If you are not SURE you're going to have enough help for that, keep the stages simple.


Our IDPA club (and the USPSA club, but I don't go to that anymore) are entirely based on an indoor range. For decades. It's pretty much the only place we shoot. We even ran an Indoor Nationals series some years back. Indoor has one awesome advantage over all others: it is inside. Not just the weather, but lights. You should do low-light courses regularly, as it's hard to do outside, and is a good skill to test.

We do have access to a place without lanes (basement, below the normal shooting lanes, is an open range) but if not I'd think in front of the booths would work fine. Not sure I get the value anyone (even the insurance company) gets from keeping them in booths.

Orientation should happen for ANY club match, regardless of type or location. Ours does a pretty thorough half-day one. It helps.

Good design helps with people trying to break 180°. Just think about where they move, etc. Another thing is to give them reminders; if they might sweep too far over while moving, put a cone at the far side of the range that is 15° inside the safe area, to attract the eye and keep them from maybe going past it. Also, place spectators for safety. If someone will move or rotate so they might mess up, stick everyone on the other side, etc.

Plastic drums are the best starter prop. Stack them for posts, etc. If you can hang things (get wires in the ceiling), tarps are awesome for walls, etc. Can even sacrifice one to shoot through it if you need to.

If you have steel, get some chipboard 4x8 panels and lean against the wall as spall shields or you will destroy the concrete eventually.

Make everyone help set up, tear down, and reset between shooters. We have a signup where every member has to run or be an official helper with TWO matches each year. It's plenty of people, but it also means that we're rarely hard up for backs to haul things, etc.

Organize. Things like having a little toolbox for each range (we have two) with clipboard, pens, timers, spare batteries, etc. helps save time and keep accountability we got all the stuff out, and back.

Odd the fragment coming back caused such heartache. I see that everywhere (indoors and out, rifles, shotguns, and handguns), so it's not unusual and is why everyone has eyes on, anywhere on the range.


Looking for indoor stages already designed. Anyone have anything they'd like to share or suggestions? Thank you.

Nate Osborne

Staff member
@GreenOps unfortunately I never saved my stage designs. I would draw them up for the week, then throw them away. In hindsight I should have kept them, but with everything else happening while running the match/taking it down at night I never did. If you want some ideas for stage design I'm happy to either talk you through what I was doing, or draw out a few basic designs that I remember using. PM if you are interested.
I have been Running indoor outlaw matches for the last couple years and actually have most of the sage designed and stage briefing images. If every one would like i would be more than happy to share them.


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I’m the MD of the local IDPA club, I use Trident Stage Designer and save all my stages.
The ones people really like gets noted.
Trident Stage Designer has thousands of stages on there plus you can build your own...$10 a year