JAG and I shot a local Steel Challenge match a couple of weeks ago, our first in many years. We then shot another last weekend. They were a lot of fun and I thought this would be a good time to go over some of the benefits of shooting a match like this.
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Accuracy is the single most important part of shooting. Once you are accurate, speed is nice to have. You can of course practice these things on your own, but if you are looking for sports that might help you along, Action Pistol is great for accuracy, and Steel Challenge is great for speed. A combo of the two provides you with a lot of benefits. Though I have categorized Steel Challenge here as a speed event, make no mistake, it is accuracy that wins it. If you miss a plate, you are unlikely to make it up in time to win. The best strategy is to plan on going one for one on every target.
I shot Steel Nationals once, over 10 years ago, and surprisingly, won one division and came in second in another division. That is likely the only national title I will ever hold, but I’ll take it. I did not shoot steel again until a few years ago when my BJJ school hosted Royce Gracie for the weekend. Royce likes to shoot so after the mat work was done, we went to a local steel challenge match. Until these last two matches, that was the extent of my Steel Challenge experience.
SCSA, or Steel Challenge Shooting Association, has a pretty straightforward ranking system, but back when I shot nationals, it didn’t exist so I went into these matches unclassified. After the two matches, I am now classified as a master, which like Action Pistol, is a pleasant surprise.
Steel Challenge is great for stand-and-deliver-type shooting, and the fact that everyone is watching you only helps in that regard. Most people find that they get nervous when they step into the box to shoot, and that is half the reason to shoot it. When you first look at the fairly large targets used in steel matches, you think it might be hard to miss them. Once you are standing in front of them though, you start to wish they were bigger and closer! It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is to miss a target on any steel stage. If you plan to hose, you will pay for it. Instead, plan to shoot 1 for 1, and work on doing it faster each time.
So, how do you do it faster? For starters, you don’t need center hits, a hit anywhere on the plate is good, so see what you need to see and no more.
Call your shots. If you wait for the audible confirmation that you hit, you will be too slow.
Once the sight leaves the target, drive it hard to the next target but make sure your eyes get there first. If your eyes do not get there first, you will likely overswing the target, or dawdle getting to it. With your eyes locked onto the next target, your gun will snap to it much faster and cleaner.
Close transitions are relatively easy, but with wider transitions, make sure you are moving from the lower body and not just pivoting at the waist. Your shooting structure should remain as solid as possible, and your legs and hips should do the fast movement to get you to the next target. This requires a somewhat relaxed stance and the ability to lock and unlock your knees as you may need to. Mine never actually lock while I’m shooting, but that is the sensation you may feel when using them to move and stop laterally.
Finally, unless you plan to specialize in steel challenge, don’t shoot too much of it! The old saying that you are what you eat applies to shooting. You are only as good as the targets you train on. If you focus on steel too much, like you must do to earn a GM card in any sport, then you are really learning the sport more than anything else. If you want to hit real-world targets, too much steel shooting will make that tougher.
Just like your body learns and remembers the recoil of whatever you shot last, it also learns and remembers the target size and difficulty. If you blaze on big targets all the time, you will find it hard to make hits on realistic sized targets on demand (with unconscious competence).
Here is a video of me shooting Pendulum. Not my best stage, but certainly not my worst. You can see how going one-for-one is the way to go. Also, my draw to the first shot is a bit slow here, as you really need to confirm the sight on that first far target. Still, that’s an area I could definitely improve. If you haven’t tried Steel Challenge before, give it a shot. You won’t regret it.