With a good handicapping system, differences in equipment and skill can be accounted for, allowing solid training for everyone. Steel targets provide instant feedback and are ideal for shoot-offs.
If any shooting activity can personify that famed Wide World of Sports cliché, “The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat” it is a hotly contested shoot-off event. Exchanges are decided in seconds with contenders standing just feet apart, guns blazing, doing everything in their power to put the other down. More than one shooter has buckled under the pressure, even those possessing reasonably calm nerves. Short of taking incoming, a shoot-off is likely the most stress a shooter will ever have to handle with gun in hand making it one of the best forms of stress-induced training. Why aren’t shoot-offs used more often?
The fairest system is “Round Robin.” Each participant will shoot-off against every other participant. Winning a bout—best two out of three, or whatever—earns one point. After every shooter has met all the others the points are added up and the most points wins. Ties are automatically decided as the two participants will have met each other and settled the issue. The biggest problem is that Round Robin can get unwieldy. The number of bouts needed is B = S(S-1)/2, so ten shooters would require 10×9/2, or 45 bouts. A two-out-of-three event will require 90 to 135 runs. Adding just two more participants to the list raises this to 66 bouts, requiring 132 to 198 runs.
Any pairing system that uses fewer bouts is a compromise, but can still determine the best shooter fairly. The “J” ladder is the best known, but suffers the same faults as any standard elimination system. The entry list has to be “square” with exactly four, eight, sixteen, etc. participants. If this exact number isn’t met, byes will have to be granted. Also, to keep things fair, shooters must be seeded by skill. Randomly seeding shooters could have the best shooters facing each other early, knocking themselves out of the race while a participant of lesser skill lucks out, gets paired with mediocre shooters, and skates to a second or third place finish. A bigger problem than the inherent weakness in pairing systems is the lack of training for participants. After a few events, with all participants from one training group forming the roster, the event usually has the same finishers.