26 September 2012

Behind the Scenes: Contagion 2012

I spent last week in the middle of final preparations for Contagion, a zombie-themed 3-gun event that I've helped staff for three years now. While most of our nearly 150 participants only see what happens on match day, there's a lot that goes into making the day enjoyable for everyone. For this particular shoot, core staff members work nearly year-round to put on each year's event, which is part new shooter day, part competition, and part costume party.

Contagion is a somewhat unusual event in that new shooters are not only accepted, but specially welcomed. While almost all shooting events and competitions are reasonably friendly to newcomers, few are targeted especially to less experienced shooters and fewer still are as "come as you are" with respect to gear. At the same time, we work hard to keep the course of fire interesting and challenging to regular competitors. More so than the other matches I'm involved in, our guests come with a wide range of ability and equipment and with them, a "wildcat rules" system that is specific to our event. This requires an immense amount of planning in course of fire design and match logistics to ensure a safe and fun day for both participants and staff. Individual stages are conceptualized up to nine months in advance to allow for time to refine what we will ask of each competitor and to buy or build necessary props. This year, our team put together everything from custom cut steel targets to miniature wooden staircases. In a nod to our zombie backdrop, a significant amount of art was also created for atmosphere, particularly for my Alice in Wonderland-inspired stage. For example, each of the playing cards presented as targets were set in large paintings of the Playing Card characters.

Stages may continue to be adjusted right up through the end of staff shoot, less than 24 hours before our guests arrive. Shifting targets or shooting positions aren't the only finishing touches to be put on a major shooting event, though. All of the other logistics you might imagine for a large gathering of people also must be arranged in parallel with the stage design efforts. Everything from making sure food and drinks are available to having extra porta-potties on site is important, as well as more match-specific considerations like putting together participant swag and prize bags and arranging for medics to be available for injuries from dehydration (common!) to the unthinkable gunshot trauma (thankfully extraordinarily rare!).

On the day of the event, most of our shooters primarily spend their time with the safety officers running each stage. However, they aren't the only people responsible for making the match run smoothly. The safety officers are supported by staff members who run food, water and other supplies so that the safety officers can concentrate only on running their stages safely and consistently. Stage staff and shooters are also supported by a dedicated administrative staff for smoothly-run registration and scoring, as well as senior range staff providing event-wide oversight and, if necessary, troubleshooting to make the day as seamless as possible to guests.

So next time you make it out to a match, thank the staff. They've put in more hours than just what you see on match day.