I am fairly dedicated to precision rifle shooting. However being proficient with a handgun is a requirement of my occupation. Keeping a high degree of proficiency can sometimes be difficult. In years past I have neglected my handgun skills (to their detriment) because I was too lazy to get out and train on my own. This year I was determined to change that. I coughed up the cash, joined IDPA, began a training program and started hitting the matches. Most IDPA clubs only meet once a month. Shooting twelve times a year is no way to stay at the top of your game, and I don’t really have the manpower at my disposal to go out and setup six stages of fire on a training day. I also have a desire to get my twelve year old son into pistol competition. In my opinion, IDPA is not a good way to ease him in. This prompted me to look at what other pistol disciplines my local range hosted.
When I looked at the calendar at our local range, Steel Challenge caught my eye. In a typical Steel Challenge match the stages consist of five steel targets of various shapes and sizes. The targets are arrayed in different orders. One of the plates is designated the “stop plate” and must be engaged last. The number of stages varies. The shooter will shoot each stage five times in a row. The stage is scored for time and the worst run is discarded. There are no targets that require pasting and the steel is only painted at the end of the shooter’s five strings. You can get a lot of shooting done in a little time.
The greatest attraction to Steel Challenge was that the rules are extremely simple. I didn’t have to learn a new shooting style that may contradict another discipline. The handgun and equipment that I used to shoot Stock Service Pistol Division in IDPA fit nicely in “Production” in Steel Challenge. Nothing new to buy is definitely a plus. Since there was almost no movement involved I got to concentrate on my draw and target transitions. Lastly, Steel Challenge has two divisions for .22LR handguns! The appeal of getting my son out to the range with our Ruger MkIII is huge.
After looking at all the benefits, I marked the date in my schedule. The morning of the match I grabbed my gun bag and headed to the range. I arrived just after setup, but with plenty of time to register and talk to other shooters. Although I have shot in more handgun and rifle matches than I can recall, I always try to sit in on the “new shooter” briefing. I had read the rulebook and watched a pile of YouTube videos prior to match day, so I had a pretty good idea of what was going on, but it is still worthwhile to hear how the individual clubs run things.
After breaking up into our squads, we headed to our respective stages. There, things became a blur of shooting, loading magazines and painting targets. One very important point is that while you are there to shoot, you need to work as well. No one there is being paid to run the timer, paint targets or keep score. It’s perfectly fine to stand by if you are the next shooter up, but if you aren’t “on deck” you need to be helping out. This makes things run much smoother and ensures that the other shooters get a chance to compose themselves before it’s their turn.
At this match, I chose to run my Gen 4 Glock 17. It is stock with the exception of the Glocktriggers.com Vogel Competition Trigger System. It is a supremely reliable handgun. I have run it quite a bit with the Federal American Eagle 147gr FMJ ammo. This is an important point to make because in order to do well at any match, your handgun has to function. A malfunction can cost you time on the clock, but a loss of confidence can also cost you. Since there were not a lot of shooters in attendance (due to Mother’s Day no doubt), I was allowed to shoot a second gun. I had also brought our new Ruger MkIII .22LR. I wanted to give it a try before I turned it over to my son in a match environment. To feed the Ruger, I brought along some Federal bulk .22LR that we had previously test run through it.
Steel Challenge is a fast paced sport. Since you run five strings of fire in a row, it is important to bring five magazines for your handgun. This prevents you from reloading your magazines on the line and forcing everyone to wait for you. It is also a good idea to verify that all of your magazines function properly prior to the match.
I was not surprised to see that my equipment functioned perfectly. I was overjoyed to find a handful of spare Mark III magazines at my local gun shop, so I had plenty to shoot with. However I neglected to pickup any type of magazine loader, so my the end of the match my thumbs were a tad sore. Some of the other shooters on my squad were not as fortunate. They had quite a few malfunctions. This again reinforced to me that less is more. Eschew modifications just for the sake of modification. Make sure your ammo is good to go and you will only have the shooting problem to worry about.
Overall, I had a blast. I am definitely addicted to the Steel Challenge format. I will still be shooting IDPA, but the pure speed of Steel Challenge has me hooked. If your local club has a Steel Challenge match, make sure you check it out.