Random Sampling of Competitor Ammo: An Email Exchange with DNROI

Ben BerryBlog

What follows is an email exchange I had with Troy McManus, DNROI, ahead of the 2022 Carolina Classic. I don’t want to be accused of taking quotes out of context, so I’m publishing the entire exchange here for anyone interested to read and decide.

The first email was sent in my best hail-mary attempt to find a loophole around the rule requiring that “every” competitor’s ammo be checked via chrono. In practice, this mandatory requirement results in no time to for random re-sampling, thus making–in my opinion–chrono easy to game, if someone were so inclined.

Our original intent of this was to speed the match up by not requiring every one single-file through chrono, while also creating the non-zero chance that you could be sampled on any given stage. This proposal is far from perfect, but I thought it would be an interesting learning experience and hopefully be a stepping-stone to improving the process going forward.

I agree with Troy that the plain reading of the rules requires every competitor to be chronographed. If he had left it at that, this conversation would have been unremarkable. What made my jaw drop was him asserting repeatedly that cheating doesn’t happen, before finally admitting that people have come to chrono saying they’d submitting the wrong ammo and wanting to substitute it. In my opinion, it is in the public interest of USPSA members to know that the head of the rules-enforcement organization is confident that cheating of this kind is not a problem. As I say in my emails, I have no idea if it is or not. But given the current system, we have no possible way to know.

From: Ben Berry
Sun, Aug 28, 2022 at 11:50 AM
To: DNROI, Jodi, Kevin

Hi Troy, Jodi, and Kevin:

Talking with Mike Adams, who is Range Master for the upcoming Carolina Classic, we were discussing our proposed procedure for running chrono. Rather than having chrono be a stage in the match such that competitors always know when and where they will be tested, we were discussing a system to randomly sample competitors. The idea would be that a Chrono Officer would be on a golf cart, picking a stage number out of a hat, driving up to it, and whoever the current shooter was would have 8 rounds pulled from the mags used on the stage and told to report to chrono to shoot the rounds before the end of the match or shoot for no score. This accomplishes the goal of C2.30 (“ammunition be collected from competitors as randomly as is possible”).

We have written up the detailed procedure here [linked], but the above is the gist of it.

The clarification that we would appreciate from you is the following. Mike has pointed out rule 5.6.1 which states “One or more official match chronographs are used to assist in the determination of the power factor of every competitor’s ammunition.”

One interpretation of this wording would be “The power factor of every single competitor’s ammunition must be determined by one or more chronographs.”, in other words, stating that chrono is mandatory for each competitor.

A second interpretation would be more like “When the power factor of a competitor’s ammunition is being determined, it must be by using one or more chronographs.” with no stipulation that every competitor must be tested, only that for those being tested, a chronograph is required.

If the first interpretation is taken, then indeed, we need to chronograph every single competitor in the contest, even if the process is easy to cheat (with the notorious single magazine of “chrono ammo” you present when you know the test is coming).

Rule C2.29 can similarly be interpreted in two ways, one stating every competitor must be chronographed, or the other being simply how the initial sample should be gathered from each competitor, if they have been selected for chrono checking.

Our hope with trying this experiment of randomly selecting competitors for testing was to create the small but credible chance that the ammo on each and every stage could be the one pulled for chronograph testing, thus creating risk of knowingly using underpowered ammo on any actual match stage, where no such risk currently exists, save perhaps for the risk of a failed calibration. Although the current system of having chrono as a stage in the match, with ammo collected either at chrono or on the first stage of the match, is well known, it is also very easily cheated by a savvy competitor. Thus, we were attempting to experiment with ways to improve on the formula.

However, if in your opinion the rules do not support such a random sampling procedure, we will of course comply.

For the past three years, we’ve had competitors’ bullets collected on the stage immediately before chrono, which adds a little more uncertainty to the collection, but not significantly, especially now that it’s become the known pattern for our match. Rather than making sure you have your magazine of chrono ammo on you for the first stage, a hypothetical cheater would make sure to use full power ammo for the stage immediately before chrono at our match.

I sincerely ask for the clarification, not in the interest of skirting the rules, but hoping to find within the rules an interpretation that allows for trying to do the best job we can at running a match as robust as possible to cheating, in a fair way to all competitors.

Ben Berry

From: Troy McManus
Sun, Aug 28, 2022 at 9:47 PM
To: Ben Berry

The plain language in both rules does not allow for random testing of a few select individuals. The word “every” in 5.6.1, and the word “each” in C2 #29 are there for a reason, and neither one says “from selected individuals”, they say “competitor”. Your proposed method essentially states, in not so many words, that people are cheating at chronograph, which in most matches, isn’t the case. The rules allow for random sampling of both initial chronograph samples (picking up a magazine or two after a completed COF and stripping rounds out, for example), and random re-testing of competitors, again collecting ammunition in a method of your choosing. Rules included below, highlights are mine.



5.6.1 One or more official match chronographs are used to assist in the determination of the power factor of every competitor’s ammunition. In the absence of official match chronograph(s), the power factor declared by a competitor cannot be challenged.

Competitor Ammunition Collection and Storage

  1. An initial sample of eight rounds of ammunition will be collected from each competitor at a time and place determined by Match Officials. Match Officials may require that a competitor’s ammunition be retested at any time during the match and may collect further samples as necessary.
  2. It is recommended that ammunition be collected from competitors as randomly as is possible to ensure that the collected ammunition accurately matches the ammunition the competitor is actually using in competition.

From: Ben Berry
Mon, Aug 29, 2022 at 10:52 PM

I appreciate the response and elaboration. We’ll go back to our previous procedure of collecting the rounds on the stage right before chrono.

That said, I ask the following, not in the interest of trying to change your mind, but to understand what you’re saying better.

> that people are cheating at chronograph, which in most matches, isn’t the case.

How can you know if people are cheating or not? To put it another way, if someone were cheating at chrono, the way it’s currently run, how could you tell?

Also, you say most matches, but not all. Which matches do you suspect there to be cheating at chrono?

I am also curious about the larger purpose of chrono. Chrono can only catch two types of people. First, those deliberately shooting softer ammo, if by mistake they submit their “real” ammo and not their “chrono” ammo for testing. Second, those who are trying to comply with the rules but inadvertently load or buy ammo that’s below their declared power factor. In the current system, only the second group will ever be caught. If someone chooses to cheat, we make it easy for them to get away with it, but if someone inadvertently is shooting weak ammo, they are bumped to minor or no score. In other words, the current system punishes the well-intentioned and gives a free ride to those with bad intentions. Is such a system worth buying equipment for, staffing with volunteers, and taking up time that could otherwise be another stage in the match? Is a system of chrono so easily cheated meaningfully different from no chrono at all?

From: Troy McManus
Tue, Aug 30, 2022 at 7:46 AM
To: Ben Berry

When I say most matches, my assumption is that people don’t cheat, except where they are tempted to because there is no chronograph. My issue with what you proposed is it seems that you believe everyone cheats, and I get that feeling from this email too. The rules allow for random resampling if a range official suspects someone is using ammo other than what they turned in for chronograph. USPSA rules put a fair amount of responsibility on the competitor, and rightly so. Conversely, running a match under the rules is the responsibility of the MD, RM, and staff. As Jodi points out, chronograph isn’t just for checking your power factor, and is a vital part of any level match. I believe that most people that fail some part of chronograph or equipment checks on the stage are simply ignorant of the rule, not cheaters. Or, they are allowed to violate certain rules at their local matches because, “it’s just a local”. I’ve been told many tales of people having special chrono ammo over the years, but in my experience, that hasn’t been the case, although I’m sure there are isolated cases. I just don’t think it’s that widespread a problem. If it’s a big problem in your area, then I’d like to hear about it, and who.



From: Ben Berry
Wed, Aug 31, 2022 at 12:24 AM

By no means do I think that everyone, or even a majority, cheats. But I think that certain personality types, the Tony Cowdens and Kyle Soles and Paul Hendrixes (yes, I know they are all in North Carolina) of the world, who see how easily the system is gamed, ask themselves why not get an edge? I doubt anyone in the top 10% of the scores in each division is cheating, but I think somewhere there are the paper-GMs-who-finish-mid-B, or the too-clever-for-their-own-good guys who just enjoy pushing the boundaries to see if they’ll get caught.

But again, at the end of the day, if the point of chrono is, as you say, to primarily catch people inadvertently breaking the rules instead of deliberately doing it, is it worth the cost? On the other hand, if we can run chrono in a way that puts the small but real chance of the ammo from any given stage being collected for testing, isn’t that a greater deterrent? You wouldn’t have to actually catch anyone cheating to have deterred them.

> As Jodi points out, chronograph isn’t just for checking your power factor,

Agreed. I’d happily have a system for checking equipment before the match starts. Perhaps that way competitors inadvertently over the weight limit or not fitting the box, etc could fix the issue before the match starts. Having that part of the procedure be mandatory at some point during the match makes perfect sense to me. It just seems strange to give would-be cheaters a chance to keep a mag of chrono ammo on them and pull bullets from that on command when asked. That seems like the biggest, most exploitable opportunity in the rules as they stand now. I have no idea if anyone is doing it, but if someone wanted to, that’s where I would imagine they’d start.

> in my experience, that hasn’t been the case, although I’m sure there are isolated cases. I just don’t think it’s that widespread a problem. If it’s a big problem in your area, then I’d like to hear about it, and who.

Once again, if it were a problem, how would you know? If they followed their procedure of using special chrono ammo, they could do so undetected for years.

I have no idea if people in my area are cheating at chrono. I was hoping to implement a new system at this year’s match to be somewhat more robust to it, but the rules don’t allow that. So I couldn’t and won’t be able to tell if anyone is cheating.

I say all this not to drag my feet and resist following the rules as written. That’s how the rulebook today reads, and I’ll follow it to the letter. I just want to start the conversation about whether the goals the current rules are structured around accomplishing are actually the goals that are the most worth pursuing. I appreciate your time reading all this and responding.

Troy McManus
Wed, Aug 31, 2022 at 7:47 AM
To: Ben Berry

The point isn’t necessarily to catch people making mistakes, although that happens. There are a number of ways to collect chronograph samples, at least one of which I think Jodi mentioned, that provide for a more random ammo sampling than a group collection prior to the start of the first stage. Speaking of first stages, prior to the start, when the squad is assembled, is a prime time to do equipment checks such as distance from the belt, height to the belt, type of gun, magazine holders, etc.

We have caught people that have turned in, per their words, “the wrong ammo” when collected, and who tried to change the samples. That wasn’t allowed, and those people either went minor or sub-minor. Likewise, we’ve seen people use two different color bullets, and questioned that. Turns out, they were made by the same manufacturer and were the same bullet weight, but the competitor had decided he liked the green bullets better than the black ones. We did not openly accuse any of them of cheating at the match, because the end result was either no-score or a reduced score, or all good, and we had no way to prove that what they were saying wasn’t true or that they had deliberately brought two different loads in order to fudge at chrono. I suspect the latter, but without some definite evidence of cheating, it wasn’t worth the hassle.

Gaming isn’t cheating, and there is a difference. I don’t classify gamers as cheaters–I try to learn from whatever mistake I may have made in course design or setup that allowed the gaming and go from there.

Many matches run courtesy checks on equipment and even power factor prior to the start of the match. We have done this at Nationals for years and will do it again this year. We invariably find people that have magazines that are too long, or that are not making the power factor they expected, or are overweight or using the wrong gun for the division. Nothing in the rules prevents this, and it’s a valuable service to the competitors. It can be tricky to manage due to restrictions on the range such as start times or location of the chrono station, but it should be available at all matches utilizing a chronograph.

I would suggest coming up with a novel way of sampling ammo (you just have to sample everyone) if you are concerned that you won’t be catching the cheaters. But, I also don’t worry about it too much either.
If you aren’t happy with the current rules, you can always suggest changes or rewrites to your Area director, and he can then submit them to the rules committee for consideration.

Good luck with the match. I see you are listed as the chronograph officer. That’s an important part of any match and I hope it’s successful for you.
I am on my way to set up Carry Optics Nationals.