“It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that [ping]…”
Oh, I got the ping, and now I’ve got a thing for Steel Challenge shooting! Coming in at #1 among only two women who used a centerfire pistol with iron sights (9mm, no scope), I might not have swept the field with my shooting prowess, but I definitely had fun and found out I really like shooting this event.
I set out recently on a quest to try all of the different styles of handgun sports, and am now placing Steel Challenge at the top, probably because, unlike Bullseye shooting, I can score relatively well with an off-the-shelf gun and no modifications. Of course, trigger modifications may come into play as I progress with my Steel Challenge skills, but you can shoot well and enjoy the sport with a standard, factory firearm.
My firearm of choice for this match was a Glock 34, which my awesome husband bought specifically for me to use at these events. It has a long barrel, which makes for less kick and more accuracy, and the trigger can be easily modified to get those rounds off much faster. Right now, I’m focused more on accuracy, so I’m not worried about speed as much; but then, without the speed, you won’t do well in the rankings, so the two go hand in hand.
Steel Challenge is an event where the shooter stands in one place, in a square drawn on the ground, in fact, and shoots at targets set up at various distances. The targets are generally ten-inch steel plates (although some plates are even larger). When said steel plates are struck by the beautiful brass of a bullet, they make a lovely “ping,” sounding a bit like wind chimes, and letting you know you hit your mark.
At first glance, the course looks really easy, since the target stands are set at pretty reasonable distances, some even only a few yards away. “Oh, that’s going to be easy,” I thought. And while it’s not hard, there are several factors that come into play to make this sport, as its name implies, a challenge.
Anyone with test anxiety may have a difficult time with Steel Challenge just in the fact that everyone else is watching you shoot. Unlike a shooting event where everyone is shooting at the same time, in Steel Challenge, only one shooter is shooting each stage, so all the other shooters in that squad are waiting patiently for their turn to shoot – and are watching everything you do. That can be a bit un-nerving for those of us who are new and maybe a bit self-conscious. And I was nervous. I didn’t properly seat my magazine twice and it fell out on the ground, which has never happened to me before; but I gathered myself together and pressed on, trying to put all of those observers out of my mind.
Another challenge for me was that since I was using a 9mm, I had to draw from a holster, which I wasn’t used to at that time. Only centerfire guns are drawn from a holster; rimfire shooters start from the ready position and do not use one. Most of my shooting time has been straight target shooting, where my gun can be laid on the table in front of me when it is not in use. And even at the Bullseye Match, the guns are laid on the table, so drawing and shooting from a holster – heck, even wearing one – was new to me. I felt like I was at the OK Corral, my hand hovering in mid-air near my holster, twitching, waiting for the buzzer to allow me to try to find the gun and draw it quickly and smoothly – which sometimes actually happened :0)
Also, it’s not the distance of the targets that makes it difficult to shoot the stages, it’s more the transitioning between them – trying to hit every target as quickly as possible, moving on to the next target, and remembering to shoot the stop plate last. Each stage has one target that is the “stop plate,” which must be hit only at the end. If it is hit before any of the others, there is a three-second penalty added to every unhit target – and seconds really matter in this game; in fact, tenths and even hundredths of seconds matter. Most stages can be shot in three seconds, or less, by those more experienced. Others of us, though, only dream about those times.
The Steel Challenge course I participated in consisted of five stages, each with four or five targets set up in various configurations and at various distances. Each shooter enters the shooting area (think batter’s box) and when the buzzer goes off, shoots through the course as quickly and accurately as possible. Then they show clear and/or reholster their gun. The same shooter shoots each course five times in a row, the highest score is thrown out, and the remaining scores are totaled. Lowest score wins.
Steel Challenge has many categories for shooters, which makes it easy to find your niche. The first division is Rimfire: any pistol firing .22 Long Rifle ammo, with either iron sights or optics. The next division is Centerfire: any pistol firing 9mm/.38 special ammo, or larger. Under the Centerfire division are several different categories, such as: Open (all legal firearms are allowed, scope or iron sights); Iron Sight (any pistol without optics); Production (any double action or safe action pistol on the USPSA Production gun list); Optic Revolver, Iron Sight Revolver; Cowboy Single Action; Steel Master (competitors with the lowest score in a combination of three categories); and Long Guns.
And while all shooters compete for overall placement in a match, according to the Steel Challenge Shooting Association website, participants may also choose to compete for category-specific awards. Those categories are: Lady, Law Enforcement, Military, Pre-Teen (under 13), Junior (13-17), Senior (55-64), and Super Senior (65 and older). Basically, if you can’t find your niche in Steel Challenge shooting, you’re just not looking hard enough.
So now I’m searching the websites and calendars for my next opportunity to shoot this fun sport. Next time, I will not allow myself to become as flustered with the audience and the time factor, will slow it down just a notch, improve my accuracy, enter both the Iron Sight and the Lady categories, and listen for that lovely ping when my brass finds its mark. Come join me!