Advanced Stage Writing Outline

A SASS Seminar by Chuckaroo SASS 13080

Web Address  Take Link To Chuckaroo's SASS Classes
rev. 11-27-11

Proper stage design can make or break a match. Safety, timing, flow, target placement, shooting sequences and the

Cowboy fun factor can be controlled, and you can be a hero.

We Will Cover

                        Safety can be controlled by proper stage design.


                        Transferring the stage writers “Intent” to paper.


                        Controlling the time of a stage, for balance between other stages.


                        How to avoid posse questions after the stage has been presented.


                        Keeping the shooting order simple.


                        A target matrix to give you un-repeated sequences for over two years.


                        Category friendly stages.


                        Shotgun target placement for different shotgun types.

                        Use of props.

                        Make it spotter friendly.


                        Keep it cowboy.


                        Use of movement.


                        The flow of the stage.


                        Use of targets.

                        Target choices.

                        Do’s and Don’ts



Before You Start Writing, You Need To Know The Following


                        The Range 

                                    Berms, surface, depth, width, terrain

                        Available Rifle & Pistol Targets

                                    Type and number

                        Available Shotgun Targets

                                    Types, number

                        Any Non-SASS Range Rules

                                    Local rules for that range


                                    Type and quantity available

                        Long Gun Rest types

                                    Tables, animal type rests etc. and quantity

                        Should be RO I and RO II Qualified

                                    And have the SASS Match Directors Guide (Match Design)

            What to use for preparing your stage write up.

            Obviously, using a computer is the most popular way to prepare stages. However, doing them long hand on paper is just

            as good, only slower. And there is no spell check!


            Word processors and graphic programs provide plenty of flexibility. For our purposes here, we are using a word processor.

            How you put them on paper is your choice.


            A fancy stage paper looks great but, in reality, the shooters could care less. They want to SHOOT!

Remember, you are writing stages for people that are short, tall, young, old,

and in some cases, have disabilities. Your stages should reflect old west adventures or situations.



            WHERE TO START


            Decide which berm area you are going to write the stage for. Range condition or design may have limitations or aspects that require

            consideration in stage design. I prefer to start with a blank, standard format. STAGE LINK 1

            Select the number of targets for the rifle, pistol and shotgun. Normally, but not always, I prefer the same number of rifle and pistol targets.


            Select the placement of the targets. It will be partially decided by any uneven terrain, holes or safety considerations for the particular

            range or berm area you are using for that stage. STAGE LINK 2


            The location of the rifle, pistol and shotgun targets will correspond to any movement you will have. My preference is to have only the

            targets you are shooting at in front of you, on stages that have movement. It is far less confusing to shooters and gives the stage a

            bigger look. On stages that are stand and deliver, it is not an issue.

            Design movement to flow smoothly, flow downrange, and in a big match, flow toward the unloading table. A second choice for flow

            would make it possible for the shooter to retrieve their long guns on the way to the unloading table. Either of these will save time,

            without rushing the shooter.


            If possible, use target bases of different heights, it will provide a good visual look and variety. Do not place all targets in a line.

            It is boring and splatter from a target can hit the edge of a target next to it and cause forward splatter. Place targets at varying distances.

            Even a few inches or a foot or so can make a difference. Target bases that are stacked or in a clock configuration

            can add variety as well.


            Stages that have permanent building fronts may also dictate the placement. Store fronts or permanent stage fixtures are great but they

            can limit your stage design. When using large props, like store fronts, consider where the spotters will have to be in order to safely

            spot for the shooter. Pic1, Pic 2, Pic 3, Pic 4  Pic 5

            (When designing a permanent store front, make it as flexible as possible. Try to create as few “blind Spots” as possible.

            Remember, you need to accommodate three spotters, a shooter and an RO through a variety of movement during many

            different scenarios. You are also trying to accommodate young, old, short and tall shooters).


           Place props, position markers and shooting positions.


            Select the shooting order of the firearms. This will correspond to the flow of the stage design. Remember, do not end with the rifle.


            There are more choices here than you would think. Especially if you split the pistols, split shotgun rounds, or add a return for a reload in a

            rifle or pistol.


            Select the target shooting order. This is, in my opinion, the most important factor to the stage.


            After the stage description is read by the posse leader, everyone is concentration on the shooting order. And they will continue to do that

            until they have moved on to the next stage. They are remembering it because they are spotting and because they are going to shoot it.

            A confusing order will not be fun.

            A popular view has been to mirror the rifle sequence with the pistol sequence. This is easy to do and easy to remember for the shooter.

            It is also easy on the stage writer. STAGE LINK 3


            (Available to you, will be a matrix of shooting sequences. The sequences are listed by the number of rounds, on a number

            of targets. As an example, the matrix may be titled “10 Rounds on 5 Targets”. All of the sequences are different ways to

            shoot 10 rounds on 5 targets. If you have a club that shoots 6 stages, 9 months of the year, there are enough shooting

            sequences to last over 4 years without duplication a shooting sequence. The sequences are symmetrical and can be used

            in a left to right or doubled by going right to left.)   MATRIX


           Write the narratives for the stage.

                        Include the title if desired.

                        Write the story line. (Shorter is better than longer)

                        Round count.

                        Placement or staging of all guns.

                        Use of props.

                        Shooter Ready Starting line.

                        Placement of hands.

                        Description of the Shooting order

                        Avoid using named shooting orders, especially at shoots that will have competitors from out of town.

                        (a Nevada sweep may be the only exception) And when you do use a named sequence, also describe the sequence

                        in the stage description. I cannot tell you how many versions of a Badger Sweep I have seen.

                        There are no official sweep names anyway. What might be a Lawrence Welk Sweep in New Jersey may not the same

                        order as it is in New Mexico.


                        Although P1 and R1 describe the first target on the left, reading a stage as “shoot P1,P1, P2, P3, P3" does correctly give

                        the target order, it can be confusing. To someone that is wearing ear plugs, does not have the stage drawing in front of

                        them and due to the crowd, cannot see all of the targets, it is going to generate questions and cause confusion.

            Other stage directions

            As a writer, you must put your intentions for the stage into words, in such a way that everyone will understand your intent. Writing

            must be very concise. It should detail the exact staging location of all firearms. If it is the intent of the writer to have the rifle on the

            right side of the buckboard, then is should say that. If it says “In the buckboard,” then it can actually go anywhere in the buckboard.

            If you do not want the shooter to start with a hand on their pistols, you must be specific as to where they go.

            “Both hands flat on the table” will do that.


            Scenario Format

            You can use a variety of stage writing formats. The important part is that all information is included in a easy to read design.

            Be consistent from stage to stage. Using a set format will make it easy on the RO to answer questions like

            “What is the line”, “How many shotgun?” and "Where are my hands?”



                        The placement of targets can control the amount of time it takes to shoot a stage.

                                    *Separating targets will slow a stage down.

                                    *Dump or multi shots on a target will speed things up.


                        Target placement will effect some shooting styles/categories differently.

            *Classic Cowboys will be faster on two shotgun targets that are next to each other.

                                    *If the targets are separated, they will be more even with a pump user.

            *Gunfighters like left and right alternating targets. Others will be slowed down by the same target arrangement.


                        Target positioning can cause safety problems

                                    *Harsh angles make splatter harder to contain.

            *Splatter from a target, next to another, may come forward, stagger the depth of the targets that are next to each other.

            *Low targets, close to the shooter could cause some unwanted ricochets over berm areas when the target is missed.


            With target placement and movement downrange, you can use the rifle targets again for your pistols. This is good for an easier

            set up and for clubs on a smaller target budget. Pic

            STAGE FLOW

                        Can effect right handed and left handed shooters differently.

                                    Movement right to left, is generally easier on left handed people and vice versa.


                        May cause safety problems

                                    Movement on rocky, unstable or uneven ground can be unsafe

                                    Placement of long guns, when a shooter moves forward, needs to be safe


            Keep movement laterally, toward the unloading table, downrange or so a shooter can retrieve their long guns on the way to the

            unloading table. Pic


            It is very important for each stage to take approximately the same amount of time for a posse to shoot. Preventing back ups is

            very important to shooter satisfaction.


                        Slows a stage down

            *The slowest gun, for most shooters, is their shotgun. Stages, with more than 6 shotgun, should be avoided.

            *Any reload will add time. Keeping it to a single round adds the variety without causing a big delay. Do not combine a

              reload with anything else that adds time.

            *Movement adds time. Keep it simple and limit the number of shooting positions if there are other things like a reload or

              difficult prop procedure.

                                    *A back and forth target sequence takes longer than double taps etc.                   

                                    *Resets, if you have a lot of target resetting, like poppers or a Texas Star. 

            *Complicated shooting sequences. Especially when there is a different sequence for each gun (not a good idea).

                                    *The transfer of a prop from shooter to shooter, like a bar apron. Have extras!


            Speeds a stage up

            *Multiple hits on the same target are faster. A 5 shot pistol dump is even faster. If you have a slow stage for other reasons,

              this is a good way to make up time.

            *Stand and deliver stages (no movement) are quick but not ideal for Cowboy Action junkies.

                                    *Poppers that reset from ropes or lever.        

                                    *Rifle and pistol targets that are close together.

                                    *Simple shooting sequences. Easy on the brain.

                                    *Rifle and pistol shooting sequences that are the same.


            STAGE WRITING DO’S


            There are only so many ways to shuffle the gun use order. Try not to repeat the same order as much as possible.


                                    Rifle, pistol, pistol, shotgun

                                    Pistol, pistol, rifle, shotgun 

                                    Shotgun, rifle, pistol, pistol

                                    Shotgun, rifle, pistol, pistol, shotgun

                                    Pistol, pistol, shotgun, rifle, shotgun

                                    Rifle, shotgun, pistol, pistol, shotgun 

            Shotgun pistol, pistol, rifle, shotgun

                                    Shotgun, rifle, shotgun, pistol, pistol, shotgun


                                    Pistol, rifle, pistol, shotgun

                                    Pistol, rifle, shotgun, pistol

                                    Pistol, shotgun, pistol, rifle, shotgun

                                    Shotgun, rifle, pistol, pistol, shotgun

                                    Shotgun, pistol, shotgun, pistol, rifle, shotgun


            Whenever possible, mirror the pistol sequence with the rifle sequence.

            If the rifle is a double tap sweep left to right, then make the pistols a double tap sweep left to right. This tip alone will make your

            shooters come back next month. Target sequences, that are symmetrical in some way, are easier to remember. Try not to call

            everything some sort of sweep. Out of town folks may not understand.


            A stage that has the rifle left to right, one pistol right to left, another pistol Nevada sweep and the shotgun

            center - center - outside - outside is NOT fun. It will result in multiple procedurals. And, it will make many shooters

            decide to stay home next month


            Use variety in stage design.

            Different shooting orders, target set ups, props, movement, round counts, bonus targets and non standard target choices.


            Consider shooting categories when selecting shooting orders and gun placements.
                        Splitting pistols is fine, but it does handicap gunfighters.
                        Side by side shotguns are more difficult to use from a vertical position.
                                The point here is to not over do it.


            Have Cowboy Action like throwing a knife, lassoing a bull etc., before the buzzer and off of the clock.

                        Keep the time assessed on the stage to the shooting portion of the game. It is the act of throwing the knife that is fun,

                        not how quick you did it.


            Whenever possible, design the stage so that is ambidextrous for left and right handed shooters.
            The ability to stage long guns on the right or left is a plus. Dual straw bales or gun rests are a welcome site to lefties.
Shooters Choice


            Anticipate potential questions.

            The three most often asked questions on the stage are “What is the round count?”, “What am I supposed to say?” and coming

            in a close third is “Where can my hands be?” Place these items in bold print and in the same place on all stage sheets,

            so they are easily found.


            If your description of a stage generates questions from the posse, it will add time to the stage. So, address items in detail.

            Where, when, which direction, how and how many.


            Ask yourself, “What is a shooter, that wants to push the envelope, going to ask?” Then cover that in your stage description.


            Keep shotgun rounds no more than 6 and do not do that on more than half of the stages.

            Four is ideal but a few 6 shot shotgun stages are OK. This is easier on young folks, seniors and the ladies as well as a

            big time saver.


            Have most stages (but not all) with the pistols back to back.

            It is a lot more difficult to remember the stage direction, if the handguns are separated. This makes a stage fun for the Gunfighters

            and easier on the memory for the rest of the folks. An occasional split handgun stage is great for variety only.


            Be specific on gun staging. Be equally specific as to where they go when you finish with them.

                        This is important when pistols are staged outside of the holsters. In this case, if the intent is to holster the pistol when finished,

                        say “Holster the pistol and.....” If you do not want to create a procedural trap, let the shooter have an option of putting the

                        handguns in the holsters or putting them back on the prop.


            On a stage with a building front, design the stage so that spotters can safely see the targets.

                        Design movement so that you do not create a safety problem with spotters getting ahead of the shooter. The RO needs to be

                        able to account for everyone on the stage. If there are blind spots, extra caution must be applied.


            Have the shooter say a short line before the buzzer to indicate when they are ready.

            This is a real time saver! At a big shoot, have the line posted at the actual starting position for the stage. Pic

            If you have a fragile prop or target, have spares handy, on that stage.

            Throw in a bonus target for variety.

                        Make it a bonus if hit, nothing if missed.  Although it is a misnomer that a miss is not the same as a miss, it really is.



                        Do not have the shooter climb under or over a prop.

                        Do not have the shooter go up or down stairs during the stage.

                        Do not have the shooter shooting in a prone position.

                        Do not have shooters use a keeling position during the stage.

                        Do not have a shooter shooting from an unstable prop, like a platform suspended by chain or on springs.

                        Avoid a five shot pistol reload. At the most, load one more rifle or pistol round. This is very time consuming.

                                    At a major match, it alone, could cause a back up.


                        Do not have shooter movement up range.

                                    It is to easy to break the 170 when coming back toward your posse. Pic


                        Avoid the use of painted lines or "Boxes" where the feet must cross or be between or behind. It will cause problems.  If you place a prop or obstruction
                                   (so the targets cannot be seen), that the shooter must reach before shooting, there is no need for this procedural; trap.


                        Some movement with a rifle (with the hammer on a spent round), is OK but discouraged.

                                    It is a safety in the making. You will answer 20 posse questions about how they are supposed to do that properly.


                        Do not make the stage a marathon run.

                                    Movement is part of the game however, short distances are better on the shooter, RO and spotters.

                                    Usually a few steps is all you need to inject Cowboy excitement.


                        Do not design complicated shooting sequences.

                                    It will cause procedurals, and lots of questions. This can really slow down a big match. It has the potential of adding

                                    10 to 20 minutes for a posses of 20 to complete a stage. At bigger matches, this will cause a back up and ripple

                                    effect to the stages before it.


                        Do not combine two or more things that slow a stage down.

                                    Example, don’t have 8 shotgun rounds combined with a reload of any type.


                        Do not have an uneven number of shotgun targets.


                        Never have a shooter lying down with holstered guns.


                        Never design a stage that can jeopardize a spotter or posse worker.

                                    Everyone should be visible to the RO. This is a challenge on some building fronts. If there is no way around it,

                                    specific safety warnings should be included in the stage description.


                        Do not end a stage with the rifle, especially if you are shooting it through a store window or doorway.

                                    Many timers will not accurately pick up the shots from rifles with lighter loads.

                        Do not design a stage where “Luck” will have an effect on the time it takes to shoot the stage or change the difficulty of the stage.

                                    For example, drawing an Ace from the deck should not allow the shooter to skip a target, shoot an easier target

                                    or an easier target order.

                        Do not have a different shooting sequence for each gun.

                                    It is not necessary and will cause procedurals.

                        Never permit drawing or holstering a pistol, from the shooters leather, while seated.

                        Do not require a hand off of a long gun to a posse worker in the course of the stage.

                                    This action is potentially unsafe and puts another person partially responsible for the shooters time on that stage.

                                    A long gun handoff, under the stress of the clock running, puts a non shooter into the position of contributing

                                    to the possibility of a dropped gun or 170 violation. Pic



                        * Simple everyday items can make excellent props. They also provide a place for the hands to be prior to the start of the stage.


                        * Consider yard tools as farm tools. Rakes, a wheel barrel, shovel, pitchfork, spade, saw, picks, rope, buckets, lanterns and

                           hammers make great props and something that is readily available.

                        * Additional household items are equally attractive for props. Pots, pans, plates, barrels, boxes, straw bales, cards, poker chips,

                           dice, card table, chair, wash pan, musical instruments, whiskey bottle, shotglass, dinner bell, fake dynamite, money and

                           money bags, saddlebags, coffeepot and water bucket are all easy to obtain and inexpensive.

                        * As your club grows, it can make or purchase additional props like, store fronts, portable split rail fence sections,

                           saddle for horse etc..


                        * When constructing a permanent store front, consider the safety of the building. Also consider visibility for the spotters and RO.


                        * Do not use props that are real heavy, sharp, will get in the way when dropped, make the shooters hands wet or are

                           easily broken if dropped.



                        It is best if the writer is there for the actual match set up. It can be a little difficult to put all of the set up and target placement

                        intentions on a piece of two dimensional paper.


                        There is a general consensus that closer targets are more popular than targets that are far away.

                        Bigger targets are preferred as well. But, you must work with what your club has. Make the best out of the targets on hand.

                        If your targets are on the small side, you should bring them in closer. Please review the guidelines in the SASS Match Directors

                        Guide, available on the SASS web site.



                        Have your target set up so they visually look good. A shooter WOW! is always a compliment. Pic 1  Pic 2  Pic 3

                                    Use different bases that are not all the same height. Pic  
                        Vary the distance of targets. Next to each other in a row is not eye catching. Pic


                        After you complete the writing, review each stage.

                        Double check for potential safety issues.


            Double check details.

                        Round counts, placement of all firearms, starting position (including the hands), where to put empty firearms, spelling,

                        grammar, props needed, target placement, safety concerns and flow through the course of the action.


            Put the stage away for awhile, then return to it with fresher eyes.

                        Have someone else look at them, they can spot some of the obvious things that you have somehow overlooked.


                        Have stage movement go toward the unloading table.

                        Design the flow so the shooter can retrieve their long guns without walking back and forth, it will speed things up.


                        Resetting targets takes time.

                                    Sometimes it is quicker to use reset cables instead of walking downrange to do the reset.


                        Use a consistent form design for every stage and include,

                        The stage title and round counts at the top.

                        A layout of the stage with the targets and major prop placement along with the location of staged guns.

                                    The story line (keep it fun but brief).

                                    Rifle, Pistol and Shotgun round count and staging location.

                                    Shooters starting position and hand placement.

                                    Any verbal.

            Preferably a ready to shoot start line.

                        Avoid lines in the middle of the shooting sequence.

                                    Finally, the shooting sequence. Show the shot placement under each target.

                                    STAGE LINK 3

                        Consider the use of alternative targets for variety.

                        Use a balloon for a bonus shot or a special home made target. There are a variety of reactive targets available.

                        Everyone likes that instant gratification you get when something else besides a ding happens!


            Alternative to word processor

                        Power Point or graphics program  Stage 4  Stage 5