Run and shoot? Or just shoot?

USPSA matches frequently have stages which can be shot many different ways. It’s a thinking game almost as much as a shooting game. What is the best way to shoot this stage? And the best way depends on the shooter. Can they easily make long distance shots? Can they run and stop quickly? Can they shoot better over or under obstacles?

One of my biases has always been to run to a set of targets and shoot them from close up rather than shoot from a distance. I consume time running but I can shoot a lot faster and get better hits when I am close to the targets. But there is a tradeoff. If there is only one target then almost always it is going to be better to take your time and make one or two carefully aimed shots rather than run 50 (or more!) feet to hit a full sized USPSA target. So how do you know when you should run and when you should just shoot?

I’ve always just sort of guessed and sometimes had dramatically great results. So much so that I have had better scores than Master class shooters and the shooters who followed me would shoot it “my way” rather than the way others had been shooting it before me.

But how can one know which is the better way, without shooting the stage both ways, rather than relying on intuition? I decided to do some tests. I reserved a bay at the local indoor gun range and placed a bunch of USPSA targets at the end of the range. I then moved back various distances and tried shooting the targets various ways.

In each test I shot carefully enough to get all A-zone hits.

At 15 yards I found I could run to about one yard away from the targets and then get a single shot on the first target in about 3.5 seconds. The second shot on a target required about 0.20 seconds. As I moved parallel to the target line the transition to each new target required 0.40 seconds. From 20 yards the run time was about 4.4 seconds with, of course, the same splits on the targets as I moved parallel to the target line.

From a low ready position at 15 yards it took me about 1.3 seconds for the first shot with splits of about 0.55 seconds regardless of whether it was the same or a different target. From 20 yards it was about the same acquisition time for the first target but with splits of about 0.95 seconds.

I also tried shooting at the same time I moved toward the targets. This took much longer than either of the other methods.

From this information I made a spreadsheet that allowed me to explore the decision as to run and shoot or just shoot. The results surprised me. I expected that at greater distances it would be require more targets to make it more worthwhile to just stand and shoot rather than just shoot. But that wasn’t the case.

At 15 yards I should run and shoot if there are five or more targets. Otherwise I should just stand and shoot. At 20 yards I should run and shoot if there are only three or more targets.

It turns out the time to run goes up linearly with the distance but the additional split time (compared to shooting from one yard away) goes up at a faster rate. I was going to extrapolate from these two data points to different ranges but with the split time varying in a non-linear fashion I need more data to be able to do a proper extrapolation.

9 thoughts on “Run and shoot? Or just shoot?

  1. joe:

    all that makes my head hurt.

    what if the “targets” were shooting at you as you ran toward them over open ground? what do the “utilities” become in that situation.

    i love ipsc and uspsa and all that, but, this seems to be left out of things. better i think, to find a big rock or some other feature of the “terrain,” and shoot from there. with a rifle. from a minimum of about 400 yards. with a steady rest and a good aim.

    john jay

    p.s. what you do is wonderful sport, and the participants are genuinely quite athletic. but, i would regard getting that close to anyone, under any circumstance, as a major failure in tactics and situational awareness. having said that, you possess a wonderful skill set should you find yourself in such a pickle.

  2. That’s a pretty darned cool analysis you’re working on, Joe! It would be great to have some empirical data to base your shooting strategy on in IPSC, rather than SWAGs.

    When I was shooting IPSC regularly, I remember a few situations on longer shots, where A and B class shooters wasted a lot of time trying to connect with targets at 50 yards or so. There wasn’t an option to run up on these, either. It’s definitely worthwhile to practice a bit at those longer distances, even if the “tactical know-it-alls” dictate that “If you engage a target at 50 yards or so, you’ll never be able to claim self defense.” Oh really?

  3. That’s an interesting and potentially valuable way of looking at the problem. As such, you should spend a few more minutes editing the post.

  4. So if we are at 20 yards and we assume there is 4 targets, is it better to run all the way in, or run to 15 and shoot from there? Is there a time penalty to stopping short?

    • With data specific to me it appears it is about break even. To run all the way in would require a total of 6.35 seconds. If I shoot from 15 yards it requires 5.15 seconds. I probably can come close to moving the 5 yards and start shooting in the 1.2 seconds.

      But I’m not sure. I would have to try it and see.

  5. Doing enough practice to determine your own split times (at what ranges), target-to-target times, reload times, and movement times is what makes this useful.

    Back when it didn’t hurt when I bent to pick up brass (and us poor Aussies were allowed standard and extended magazines) we had a rule of thumb whereby “par time” for most IPSC courses of fire was one second for each target.

    Doing an analysis as discussed here usually indicated which solution to the shooting problem would gain the tenths that separated the top stage finishers.

    Unfortunately, stage designers here now seem to be affronted by any shooter that finds an alternative solution to the problem than what they envisaged. Stages are so bound by procedural restrictions as to have only one solution, and even IPSC rules are being changed to support this. As an example, shortcuts over a fault line to the next shooting position appear to be explicitly forbidden now (IPSC Rule 2.2.1.5), where it used to be “shoot while faulting = penalty”.

    • Interesting. The courses around generally here give a lot of leeway as to how you may shoot it. They are total absurd if you want a reflection of reality but most of the time it is, “Shoot the targets as they become visible while being careful to not break the 180.”

      • Oh, the local designers pay lip service to General Principle 1.1.5 (IPSC is freestyle …) – it is just that in practice, the stages are replete with targets that can only be seen from one position, walls and fault-lines that direct the shooter into a single path, and tiny designated shooting positions that force run-stop-shoot style on everybody.

        The only way IPSC in Oz is better now is that everyone is pretty darned good at reloads – with .gov mandated 10 round magazines, we do a LOT of reloading … and get off my lawn.

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