Browsing through the Brian Enos forum, I found an interesting "Rules" discussion which explored the "end of COF" question. Specifically, is it legal to bag your pistol rather than to return it to your holster?
The consensus that I found seems to be that the competitor is required to holster, but as a courtesy the RO may allow the pistol to be returned to a "bag" instead.
Here's the text of the rule in the 2008 rule book:
184.108.40.206 If the gun proves to be clear, the competitor must holster his handgun.In club matches, such courtesy seems to be taken for granted. The pace is slow, the level of "Gentlemen's Agreements" is high, and range clearing time is usually improved by providing such courtesies. In fact, to insist that the handgun be holstered rather than bagged (returned to a non-holster carrying article) might lead to a heated discussion of the proprieties, slowing down the match and generating bad feelings.
However, at Level II and higher matches, it is a common understanding that competitors come to the line ready to shoot, which includes the pistol in the holster, and leaves with the pistol returned to the holster. Before the competitor comes to the line he is expected to remove his pistol from the bag and holster it at a safety table. This presumably speeds up the time spent on the stage for each competitor, and reduces the presumptuous administrative burden on the RO. (The RO would need to pass off the bag to the scorekeeper, to keep this hands free, and there is often a time lag while the RO reminds the scorekeeper that the bag must be passed to the RO, and then to the competitor, to complete the stage.)
I note that it is most often the Open Division shooters who bag guns; Limited competitors may bag between stages, but Production and Limited 10 / Singlestack competitors more often do not. I suspect that distribution of bagging/non-bagging practices is influenced by the weight of the handgun and the retention reliability of the holster.
For example, when I shoot an Open gun from my USA holster, I will always bag between stages. The pistol is heavy, the skeletal USA holster always makes me wonder whether the lock-knob is properly locked for retention, and I might knock the pistol out of the holster by the natural swing of my arms as I walk.
On the other extreme, a small polymer pistol (Production Division) in a Forbus holster doesn't weigh much, doesn't significantly stick out from the hip, and may be carried all day without much discomfort.
There are some considerations which are implied in the two approaches:
This is usually assumed at club matches, if for no other reason than that many smaller 'local' clubs don't always have safety tables available on every bay. In order to move the handgun from the bag to the holster, it may be necessary for each competitor to walk a significant distance from the stage bay to the safety table. That time requirement may require some stage time if a competitor fails to leave enough time before his turn to shoot, to prepare for the next stage. The Range Officers are usually members of the squad.
In a large match (Level II and above) then number of competitors per squad will probably be higher than at a club match. The pressure to reduce stage-clearing time per each competitor is greater; seconds per competitor do count when there are several hundred competitors who need to shoot a dozen or more stages in a one-and-a-half or two day match. The RO staff are dedicated, assigned people who are not competing during the match. (Typically Staff is allowed to shoot the match the day before the start of the match, and bagging standards may be relaxed because, in the RO match, the RO staff are often members of the squad.) Because the labor burden is so heavy for the individual staff member, any procedure which limits the number of extra duties for the staff is encouraged; officiating at a major match is usually physically exhausting, and the standards of performance are very high.
The problem with the difference in priorities between a Club Match and a Major Match is that those who almost always compete only in Club Matches may have some ingrained assumptions. Here, the important assumption is that the 'courtesy' of allowing the competitor to come to the line with a bagged handgun is a common right, even if the rules don't actually support it.
When a club shooter competes at a Major Match, he may not realize that the rules are changed. After all, we shoot with the same rules at every match. The Club Shooter has not been trained to the higher standard of enforcement.
Why are we even talking about this?
In the actual events, Club Shooters are often confused by the different etiquette which is required at Major Matches. This is not only frustrating, but may reduce their level of satisfaction of the Major Match experience.
Even experienced shooters may forget that the level of readiness is increased at a Major Match.
It may be worth the effort to ascertain before the match what the expectations are; usually, a Major Match will provide a handbook for competitors which includes these expectations. Look for phrases such as "Competitors will come to the line ready to shoot", indicating that your handgun will be in the holster, you will have your magazines loaded and placed in magazine carriers, and you will have both eye and ear protection in place, or ready to wear.
Any competitor who is not ready to shoot will be sent back and the next competitor in the squad will be called to the line while the others prepare their gear according to the requirements.
It isn't personal, it isn't a case of the Range Officers being "Range Nazis". The competitors are only being required to abide by the rules of the game, in the strictest sense, for the sake of getting through the match according to what is probably a very tight match schedule.
If you didn't know that before, you know it now.