The case for fault lines in IDPA

Yesterday, I mentioned that it was time for fault lines in IDPA. I opened up this discussion on my facebook page with some interesting results. If you participated in that Facebook thread, I want to flesh the idea out here and explain how we could use fault lines in IDPA while preserving the spirit of cover.

To understand the need for fault lines, we first have to establish that there is a problem with the existing system. For those not familiar with IDPA, the spirit of the game calls for shooters to use cover to shield their body from the threat targets. All of the shooter’s lower body and 50% of the shooter’s upper body must be concealed when engaging a threat target. Failure to maintain this level of cover will result in a 3 second penalty added to the shooter’s time. Currently, this penalty is enforced by the Safety Officer’s running the stage, who will generally look at the shooter’s foot placement relative to an invisible “cover line” and then make a judgement call as to whether or not the shooter was appropriately using cover.

2014 IDPA Nationals 852

The reason this is a problem is that it is an entirely subjective decision on the part of the safety officer; and the degree with which its enforced can vary from SO to SO, and in the case of this year’s nationals, from bay to bay. I am not trying to bag on the SOs at Nationals, or the match itself; I thought the SOs did a good job and each bay applied the rules in the same fashion to every shooter that came through their bay, however there were variances in how the rules were applied from bay to bay. You see variances like this at Nationals because the SO staff is pulled from across the country, meaning different clubs with different club cultures and ideas about what really defines cover will be running various stages. As a side note, I generally see less variance in cover calls at the S&W Indoor Nationals, which is likely because the SO staff for that match largely comes from the North East region and is fairly homogeneous.

Ultimately, this subjectivity is why it’s time for IDPA to begin using fault lines. The dirty little secret that no one talks about is that IDPA already uses fault lines it’s just that they’re currently invisible. Subjectivity in any sporting endeavor is a bad thing. If you look at the NFL or MLB, all of the major advancements in officiating have come in the name of removing subjectivity from important calls. Do referees and umpires still make mistakes? Certainly. Fault lines won’t prevent mistakes either, but it will make the job of judging a shooter’s use of cover much easier. “Your toe was clearly over the line” is a lot easier call to make than “your toe was past the edge of this barrel which is the invisible line of cover” – and it’s much harder for shooters to argue about objective calls than it is subjective cover calls.

Now, there are some objections to using fault lines, and I want to take the time to address those here. First, is the obvious and simplistic “there are no fault lines in the real world.” Yes, you’re correct, there are no fault lines in the world. Here’s another related fact: IDPA “cover” isn’t very real world either. As a community of IDPA shooters, we need to get over the notion that IDPA is tactical and accept that it is a game. Yes, it is more practical than USPSA or steel challenge, but it is ultimately just a game. Once we accept that, we can actually have a real conversation about improving the game.

It is possible within the framework of the game to use fault lines and yet preserve the intent of the rules; the utilization of cover, shielding your body from fire, etc. Fault lines allow for great creativity on the part of a stage designer. Whenever the conversation of fault lines comes up, everyone automatically assumes that they would be huge, generous lines that would completely eliminate the concept of cover. But that doesn’t have to be the case. It also ignores the reality of IDPA cover – if I’m using IDPA cover appropriately for a three target array, I can quite frequently see the entire array and engage it from the first “cover” position. Sometimes I have to shift my foot a few inches for the last target, but that’s rarely the case. So using fault lines becomes and exercise in stage design creativity, as mentioned above. For a three target array that you want to keep simple, you could place the fault line somewhere in the middle – making the first target slightly easier, and the rest fairly normal. Or, if you want to force a tight shot around cover, place the fault line close in to the shooter, making them using a more more “real world” style of cover by leaning as little of their body around the barrier as possible.

Here is the point, after over 800 words. You can absolutely use fault lines in IDPA and preserve the spirit of the game to use cover. A creative stage designer could even place forward fault lines in stages to prevent shooters from crowding cover. That’s really what I’m driving at here. The current system of cover limits both shooters and stage designers. Adding fault lines removes a huge part of the subjective nature of cover, and creates nearly endless possibilities for creative stage designers to challenge shooters’ abilities to get in and out of positions of cover. It allows SOs on the stage to focus on shooter safety, instead of watching them shuffle step around seeking the invisible cover line.

I understand there are objections to fault lines. And I know shooters will have comments on this post, and I welcome them. I want to start a real conversation about using fault lines in IDPA and how to successfully implement them, what objections people may have that I’ve not thought of. Please post your thoughts in the comments section.


  1. I agree, it would make for a more consistent application of the rules and eliminate the judgment calls the we all shake our heads and wonder about.

  2. I agree, people fault USPSA because they can allow stage design where the targets and shooting positions are out in the open, but often creative stage designed will use fault lines to make the shoot lean out from the wall.

    So instead of the normal one huge shooting area with only the targets on the sides requiring you to lean out like in USPSA, you can create several small shooting areas where the shooter always has to lean out to engage targets.

    1. I honestly think that most of the objection to fault lines in IDPA is because people aren’t thinking creatively. I mean, let’s say you’re a total cover nazi and want everyone to shoot with as little exposed body as possible. Fault lines let you do this. Or if you’re like me, and just want to shoot fast (for a wheelgun) and have fun: wide open fault lines. You can preserve the different regional flavor of matches while at the same time eliminating subjectivity.

  3. Honestly I see this having to be implemented from the club level up to HQ. I agree whole heartedly with everything you said, but the truth is, there are just too many hardcore or old school competitors, MD’s, AC’S, HQ that will disagree with you or us. IDPA is a lot different compared to USPSA solely becuase they are privately owned and kind of do, what they want to do. When something big happens in uspsa, the board is forced to act quickly by membership. I feel that they worry about membership more than IDPA, also the more serious shooters. Your average IDPA shooter is probably a sharpshooter who most likely doesn’t practice very often but enjoys shooting matches. An example being this past weekend at the OH ST match(which overall was a lot of fun), I was pretty much castrated for round dumping on a stage to setup a no cover reload and also for my salomon speed cross shoes(which the SO referred to as spikes and that I was a cheater lol). In all fairness, the last time we had a state match in ohio it was illegal to round dump and wear these shoes! They were upset that I did not shoot the stage like the average shooter… But in my opinion that is a good stage. Something not too challenging for a MM or SS, but a MA can run much quicker then the others. Anyway off track, explaining what I meant by the fault line comment. I think clubs would either need to start implementing lines or making walls/props that would block off the opportunity to not shoot from cover. It would need to get popular from the bottom up before HQ would ever do anything. I think another issue is that HQ does not believe a lot of the issues with membership are actual issues. They see there numbers in regards of membership and don’t see problems. But….. Membership is one thing, how about competing in major matches? I interestingly did not get into nationals this year with 32 pts accumaluted from last season and I shot around 23 worth of pts in matches this season and the thing I noticed is there is not a lot of people shooting major matches! And I know HQ doesn’t care that much about the guys at the top as they do their mean membership, but where did all your Pro’s go? I get it’s simply not for everyone but I remember the state matches from a few years back and previous Carolina cups and it was padded with people at the top of their game. There were amazing shooters at this year Cup, but I wouldn’t even consider it close to the super squads of old!

    1. You didn’t get into Nationals with 32 points? That’s kind of crazy, I wonder what it’s going to take to get into the World Championship next year?

      I agree in general that it would be a difficult change for a lot of the old-school IDPA membership, and I’m certain that people would rage quit the sport over it. But honestly, and I think most of us would agree on this – we’re playing the long game here. I like IDPA, and I want to keep shooting it well into my dotage, but I also realize that if I want to do that, we need to continually grow the sport. Obtuse rules and invisible fault lines don’t really attract people.

      1. Just as a point of clarification, Mr. Walla’s entry did not make it into the office until well after we started accepting applications. It actually came in after the match was filled.

  4. Adding fault lines in IDPA would detract from its primary purpose, which is to be Different From IPSC.

  5. Yes and I think that is part of the game! Fault lines I don’t think will add anything of benefit I’m looking more at the gun handing for safety anyway when I SO. I will call cover when it is obvious and way out. That’s me.

    1. That is one reason I tried to shoot IDPA and quit. You call it your way, the next stage the guy calls it his way. How am I supposed to know what the correct way is until I see him run some shooters. I think that is a perfect example of what Caleb is talking about.

  6. Interesting. And a common objection to fault lines is that you just set up once, at the fault line, and shoot all the targets in the array when ostensibly to maintain cover you should have to shuffle between every target. But nobody really does that. For an array where the targets are less than, say, 30 degrees apart, everyone just posts up near cover and shoots them all without moving.

    A fault line would just make this clearer and more explicit. Hmmm.

  7. Nothing can spoil a persons experience faster than believing that shooter A got special treatment, while they themselves did not. Further, it is human nature to want to blame others for our own shortcomings, It is also human nature to want our buddies to do well because of these factors I believe that anything that will remove doubt about the validity of a call is good. Subjectivity is not a good thing when Humans are involved.

  8. On balance an excellent discussion, and thanks Caleb. IMHO, you nailed it. IDPA is a GAME, and should have rules that conform to, and allow playing of, same. My hat is off to the S.O.’s who must walk the line between safe, efficient conduct of matches, and enforcing rules that are open to interpretation and if not enforced can lead to terrible consequences. I, for one, enjoy both IDPA and USPSA but for different reasons.

  9. From out of left field.

    If IDPA goes to fault lines the shooters who have never been taught how to use cover *might* get an objective lesson on how it’s done.
    As opposed to the subjective lesson about how cover calls work at their club.

  10. Very well said. I hope you’re sending this article to the IDPA powers-that-be!

    As a guy who spends a lot of time designing stages and SO’ing at our local club matches, I would love a switch to fault lines. Not only for the reasons you outlined above, but also because it’s easier for new IDPA shooters to work with.

  11. It would be a non issue if designers designed stages that actually reflected armed encounters.

    1. I’d get pretty bored of stages that consisted of frantically dumping 5 rounds out of a j-frame while dialing 911. But I’m guessing Marty thinks that “realistic” stages mean something else.

      1. That would be pretty lame for a whole match.
        But it’d be nice to have one every now and then.

  12. I would like to see a shooting organization without international pretensions, lacking an 80 page rule book, and without monied smart-ass compettion-queens cleverly gaming “the system”.

    No, never mind, they would just repeat the process that screwed up every existing group to date.

    1. You forgot to add in my opinion to “they would just repeat the process that screwed up every existing group to date.” There are some pretty fun shooting games out there. If you want to train self defense tactics you can’t do it in any game. Use the games to train gun handling and shooting skills, then train tactics outside of the game.

      Jack, are you the guy that sees a really good shooter and uses the subjectivity in the rules to try and take them down a notch instead of trying to bring your game up a notch? If so you are another reason I don’t shoot IDPA.

      What I like about IDPA is the focus on accuracy, and the short intense stages.

  13. They should have down range cameras on the ground at the center line of each target and call cover from targets that haven’t been engaged yet. Yes Pricey, but less subjective, but still a little bit.

  14. Fault lines? Something needs to be done as the variation in calling cover can be huge. I have seen shooters standing completely in the open without cover being called! The only issue that I would see is that on an “array” of targets, the “fault line” would have to move slightly with each target as you “slice the pie”. However, a fault line would be better than what is dome now. Of course, body shape also plays into this problem. Skinny vs. (Ahem) Not So Skinny can make calling cover a real problem. The club where I shoot the most basically gives you a warning call of “COVER” when the SO determines that you are violating the cover rules. IF you take a shot without adjusting your position or do not immediately move to a cover position, the SO will then give you a Procedural. Not perfect, but workable.

  15. One other thing, as at least You have acknowledged that IDPA is indeed a game, even if it attempts to mimic potential real life situations as best it can while maintaining safety. I think that we all understand that it can only do this to a limited degree. As such, I will again bring up the subject of KNEEPADS! Call them Knee Protection if you will. There are a lot of older shooters with BAD KNEES who simply CANNOT get down on their knees and/or prone SAFELY with a loaded pistol in their hands. Yes, you can wear the flimsy knee pads that fit inside 5.11 pants but they are too thin to be of much use. Again the argument is always, “Well, you won’t be walking down the street with the shell kneepads on.” Which is true. But my response has always been, “Yes, and I also would not be walking down the street with my “eyes and ears” on either, but they are required safety equipment for everyone shooting. (Nor with my pistol loaded with 10+1 but that is another issue of “the game”) Another argument, It will give the younger shooters an advantage? My response is, “SO WHAT?” If they are legal, you know that everyone will wear them if the stage requires it. And it will save MANY, MANY knee injuries or older folks simply quitting. IMO, it should be REQUIRED safety equipment for everyone on any stage that requires shooting from a kneeling or prone position. It would free up stage design as many clubs limit this type of firing position to accommodate their shooters OR make it the final firing position for SAFETY reasons (SO’s having to help shooter’s up and the greater potential for an AD/ND by a shooter trying to stand with a still loaded pistol in-hand, etc. NO ONE should have to risk the health because of this very enjoyable “game”.

  16. One more comment on “cover” and then I will leave it alone. While violators of the cover rule come in all shapes, sizes and abilities, IMO, one of the Biggest violator groups are actually the very GOOD, FAST shooters. Why? Because they are moving and shooting so quickly that it is virtually impossible for the SO to keep track (or sometimes keep up for that matter!) However, you Can often see it when you are standing back away from the action from a little distance. They will often shoot the first target of an “array” behind cover, but they often never really stop moving and by the time they are taking out the last target of the array, they are often already moving to the next shooting position and are actually exposed and NOT behind cover. I rarely if EVER see them called for a cover violation. Why? IMO, often because they are the best shooters in the club and no one wants to challenge them. AND because of what I said before about them moving so quickly that it is hard for the SO to really be certain, so, no call is made. How do you stop that? I’m not really sure unless IDPA is willing to spend beaucoup bucks on electronic type monitors of some sort, which I seriously doubt is likely to happen. On the other hand, IF IDPA, and even USPSA to some extent, ever want to become a truly legitimate “sport”, they will have to do those types of things.

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