The challenge of a freestyle course of fire is to figure out the best way to shoot it, the fun comes from developing a creative plan that allows you to shoot to the best of your ability.
In Canada freestyle is the norm and gradually a set of techniques has been established. Most of these methods work just as well on box design stages as well.
I have tried to put them in order of importance and generally the first rules take precedence over the later ones but you have to be judge according to your ability.
Some of these guidelines may seem to be contradictory and like all rules they are made to be bent but I have found (as recently as the 96 US Open Nationals) that anytime I break one or more of these I end up regretting it. Yes you can be too gamey. As you get more match experience you will find which methods suit you best. You may even come up with a plan that is better than the big dogs used.
Do the least possible
If you do more than the minimum that is absolutely necessary to shoot the stage it will take longer. Try to move directly from the start position to get to the shooting, without any excess movement. If you can shoot without moving all the way into a door or port you will be saving steps. Don't stick your gun into ports, you just waste time moving it back out (and you may get a jam from rubbing against the props as well). Try to shoot from as few shooting positions as possible as it takes time to set up from each start and stop. Take the shortest route from position to position, every step you save is time saved. You can take this strategy as far as you can, it always works.
Closer is better
If you have to go by some targets during the course of fire and have a choice of where to shoot them, it is almost always faster, (a lot faster), and you will get better hits if you shoot them as close as possible even to the point of almost putting your muzzle right on the target. Sometimes, (actually, often) it may be faster to get closer to the targets even if you aren't required to, especially if the targets are partials. A few steps makes a big difference.
Don't gamble big for a small gain
Lots of times there will be opportunities to save time by taking a chance such as skipping a reload, running the gun dry, shooting a target from a difficult position or in between tight no shoots...make sure you gain enough to make it worth while. Most stages will factor between 5 and 7 points per second ( hit factor) so any gamble that could cost 10 or 15 points in penalties better save at least 1 1/2 to 2 seconds minimum. Skipping a reload and saving 1/2 a second and then doing a standing reload because you had to pick up a miss costs you a lot more. A miss on a difficult partial target shot when you could have moved a few feet to shoot the whole target costs 15 match points instead of saving 1/2 a second etc.
Shoot slower, move faster
This is as much a skill as a stage strategy but I find if I put it in my plan to shoot a little slower and try for A's and then plan to move in a much more aggressive manner it works out faster with better hits. When it's time to run, then plan to RUN full stride but watch the muzzle direction. Only shoot as fast as you can still score a minimum 90 to 95% of the available points.
Smooth is fast
If you watch top shooters they appear to move slowly but the times are deceptively quick this is because they are so smooth. They have learned to remove all extraneous motion and jerkiness. When you come into a shooting position plan to be smooth, know where you will put your feet so that you will be in position ready to see your first target and all the others you will shoot from this position. If you make your last step a large one it will settle you into place. As you plant your foot you should have your gun up and start to push out towards the target, complete the push out a smooth motion as your other foot lands in place. Practice this motion so it will be smooth when you actually shoot.
Be ready to shoot
A big time waster is to go into a shooting position and not find the first target you are going to shoot immediately. When planning your stage strategy be sure to note some point on the port, or near the shooting position you can use as a reference so you can line up on the targets as you enter the shooting position. i.e. if the target you are going to shoot can't be seen, pick knot hole,(or something), on the outside of the barrier that you can see so you will be able to have your gun in the right spot when you do get to the port.
If you can see the first target as you come up you should be able to line up on it so you can shoot as you come into the shooting position, if it's close enough you can probably hit it before or as you step in to stop.
Don't sit when you can stand
A lot of people will remain seated to shoot targets at a first position, if you are going to shoot more than one shot, then stand to shoot . You can shoot faster with better balance standing and you'll be ready to move. If you are picking up your gun, pick it up with the weak hand flipping it up into your strong hand grip while you stand up. If the first target is close, shoot it while you stand up. The same applies to all other weird start positions such as kneeling or lying down, if you are going to be running to a next position get up to shoot even if only to one knee. If there is more than one way to get up try them all before you decide which one you'll use.
You should be able to shoot to the direction you plan to move, or in the direction that makes it easier for you to get moving, and as you get more skilled target order will be less important, yet there will be times when you will be faced with targets at various distances or difficulty. I still find I can aquire the difficult target almost as fast, and when I shoot towards, and end with the easy target, I can speed up and still get good hits even to the point of starting to move while engaging the last target. ( set up 3 or 4 targets going from 5 to 15 yards away and try shooting near to far, and far to near and time it)
The inverse of this rule is true for some speed shoots where if you have a full or very easy target close to you it can be faster to shoot it first as you can almost point shoot the first shot picking up your sights or dot just as you fire.
When you will be engaging targets from, or going into an awkward position it's usually best to shoot the easy target first as you settle into a more stable stance.
When faced with multiple targets in a vertical layout I like to shoot from the bottom up as I can see over the gun better than below it. For square or circular target arrays I try to shoot in a C, starting at the bottom again, going to the side and then up and around in a smooth path.
If the targets are scattered about try and find a smooth way to go from target to target with some kind of flow to your movement, don't just jump back and forth from this target to that.
The less you move your muzzle around the better.
Free fire zones present a similar challenge with targets on both sides of you. Try to pick a target order that allows you to be smooth, shooting targets as close as possible with the least swinging from side to side while still moving forward.