It may be Smith & Wesson's house, but when it comes to the signature stages of their big matches on the 'public range', it's Chad Barber's house.
For five years now, CWO3 Chad Barber of the United States Coast Guard has been given the biggest and most coveted range on S&W's indoor facility to do with as he likes. And the result has been some of the most visually interesting and technically challenging stages of their IDPA events.
Chad Barber (r) confers with the assistant match director, Terry Burba, about the flow and timing of Barber's stages. Slow moving stages can kill a match but that's not a concern for Barber who knows how to drive shooters through his stages to keep his part of the match on time. Photo by P. Erhardt
Now in its 17th year, the Smith & Wesson IDPA Indoor National Championship is hands down the most popular match in IDPA and routinely sells out in a matter of minutes, making it a popular match to work as well.
Match staff are drawn from the surrounding New England area IDPA clubs which have a reputation for putting on big matches and, of course, that classic Yankee work ethic.
So, you can assume that the informal competition to put together the best stage at Smith & Wesson is pretty fierce. You can also assume that coming into 2014 Barber is the four-time champ of this informal contest.
His stage design for this year is the walk off winner, making him the five-time champ.
Called 'Mike's Blind,' the stage is an elaborately decorated duck hunting themed course of fire.
Barber pulled out all the stops to set the stage for a day of duck hunting during the Smith & Wesson IDPA Indoor Nationals. The 4' x 6' blind even comes with a wheelchair ramp waiting to be deployed when Team S&W's Trevor Baucom shoots the stage. Photos by P. Erhardt
There's a duck blind (obviously) and decoys. There's a hand painted marsh. A canoe loaded with hunting gear. Yellow 'Posted' signs, ingeniously used to indicate outer left and right shooting boundaries. And there is a giant blue tarp representing the body of water shooters are hunting over.
And because this is IDPA, and bad guys are kind of a necessity, a boat of no-goodniks passes by from right to left downrange. Barber even gave the boat waves to cut through on the way by.
Activated when the shooter pushes the blind's shooting slot door forward, a duck boat of bag guys speeds by before triggering additional targets on the stage. Photo by P. Erhardt
Everything about this stage screams duck hunting, and shooters have Mike Irvine to thank for it.
While covering one of Barber's stage designs at a previous Indoor Nationals for Jim Scoutten's Shooting USA
, Irvine made an offhand comment about ducks being the only thing he'd be able to hit on the water themed stage.
Barber, who grew up duck hunting, turned the comment into a full-blown stage scenario for this week's championship. An homage, if you will, to fellow duck hunter Irvine.
For his part, Irvine has helped by contributing some new decoys. There was even talk yesterday that a MOJO motion decoy was on its way to Springfield as a final touch.
Competitor response to the stage has been as expected...impressed. Everybody migrates to the 'public range,' which is located just off the showroom, to see what Barber has come up with - and what they'll have to face. Because the range's rear wall is glass, shooters also go to watch their fellow competitors in action. This is particularly true when the sport's top guns take to the range.
This spectator aspect of the stage has a lot to do with its coveted position in the course of fire, as well as why Smith & Wesson hands it over to Chad Barber to do his thing. Judging by the amount of filming that takes place in this part of the facility, S&W is clearly happy with that decision.
In fact, yesterday afternoon Smith & Wesson's President and CEO James Debney visited the stage and personally put a few rounds down range from the duck blind. It's safe to say that the stage design met with the CEO's approval.
James Debney, S&W's President and CEO, chats with his 'shooting coach' Brian Steskla after taking on the the duck hunting stage...twice. While IDPA competitors are only permitted to shoot the stage once, when you're the boss of one of the manufacturing world's best known brands you get to enjoy certain privileges. Photo by P. Erhardt
And it's also safe to say that, as far as the 'public range' is concerned, it's still Chad Barber's house...Debney can have it back after the competition.
- Paul Erhardt, Editor, the Outdoor Wire Digital Network
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