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Steel Challenge Shooting Advice

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Shooter ready? Stand by…”


Before you know it, five or more shots have rang out at the five steel targets of varying shapes and sizes around you. Yep, as many bullets as the gun can hold—five targets.

Sounds easy, right? What’s the catch?

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The catch, is that you've got to shoot those five targets fast. Really fast. The more bullets you use, the more time gets racked up on your score.

Oh, and in addition, while you can shoot those targets in any order you would like to, one of them will be marked with something (usually an orange flag of some kind) to indicate that it is the “stop plate”.

Hitting the stop plate will stop the timer and end your run. If you didn’t shoot the other four targets before hitting the stop plate… oh well, better luck next time.

What do you need to shoot a Steel Challenge?

Actually the largest investment in shooting any individual match is the cost of the ammunition. Buying in bulk or reloading your own (my preference) is a way to keep costs down but other than that all you need is a gun, five magazines, a holster and a gun bag, pouch or case of some kind.

The average amount of ammunition you will use during any given match is usually around 250-350 rounds.

That’s assuming you will not hit the target with every shot and that you are shooting the five different stages that can make up any Steel Challenge match. If you shot an average of 5-10 shots per run and you shoot five times per stage (hence the 5 magazines), that’s 25-50 rounds per stage x 5 stages = 125 - 250 rounds of ammo shot. Always better to have a little more—just in case.

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Actually, it sounds kind of nerve wracking. Where’s the fun in shooting this?

The fun is the exhilarating excitement that comes from having to shoot quickly and accurately. It does not matter in the slightest if you are shooting your first steel match or your fiftieth—everyone has a good time. Beginners should not expect to shoot fast by comparison to veterans of the sport, only to look at their last time as the number to beat. Challenge yourself and don’t worry about what times/scores other shooters are getting.

How does it all work so I don’t feel intimidated the first time I step up to the line?

Steps involved for steel challenge competition

The actual steps involved for your run are not complicated at all. Just remember that everyone here has had a first time at the shooting line. The first thing that is going to happen is that you will get squadded along with a group of shooters who are usually close to your level of experience. The number of shooters in the squad will depend on how many people have signed up for the match that day. This squad will be your little family for the entire match as you all travel from stage to stage to shoot your runs. This family is your greatest source of information, rules that might be specific to the particular range you are shooting at, as well as a great opportunity to see what other people are shooting, their gear and why they use what they use.

So the match has started and the rotation is coming around to you.

What you are going to see is that systematically, shooters will get called up to the line for their run at the five steel targets, while the next person up is announced as being “On deck” and the person following that shooter is indicated as being “in the hole”.

This way it gives you the mental preparedness to realize when your turn is coming up without having to remember who shoots before you. The shooter up at the line will place his/her cased gun down on a table provided and when the line is announced as “hot”, unpack the unloaded gun and five loaded magazines, or unpack five loaded magazines with the unloaded gun already in a holster at the shooters side.

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The shooter will be given a moment or two to ready themselves and also take a “sight picture” which means they are allowed to draw their unloaded gun and aim at each of the targets in succession to get a feel of what the aiming will be like from target to target.

This is an important step for any shooter, being that each stage will feature different sized and shaped steel targets, at varying distances from the shooter, to contend with.

When all is ready, the range officer—armed with a shot timer—will ask the shooter to “load and make ready”. This command instructs the shooter to load the gun with one of the five magazines, holster the gun and put their hands up into the surrender position (open hands up on either side of the head).

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The range officer then asks “Shooter ready?”, at which point if the shooter is NOT ready, this is their only chance to say so, and then announces; “Stand by” at which point within 1-2 seconds the shot timer will beep and the shooter is to draw their gun and start shooting. After all five targets are hit, for as long as it took to end with a hit on the stop plate, the first run is over. Magazine is withdrawn and replaced with a fresh one and the process starts again from the surrender position.

After five runs, your turn is over. You will be told; “If finished, unload, make safe and show clear” or something along those lines.

Basically, you are to carefully unload the gun and prove that you have unloaded it by afterward drawing back the slide and showing the range officer that the chamber is empty. Some RO’s will also ask you drop the hammer by pulling the trigger to further prove that the gun is empty. Depends on the particular range.

Your turn is over! That’s all there is to it. You go back into the rotation and once everyone in your squad has had a turn, it’s off to the next stage with a different configuration of targets and you do it all again.

Shooting steel challenge is great fun for any shooter and can really help build some of the important fundamentals of shooting such as stance, grip, trigger control and learning to acquire proper sight pictures. Most local ranges have some form of Steel Challenge competition on a regular basis and any of them would love to have you come down and shoot or feel free to observe so you can see it for yourself. Go shoot a steel challenge—now.

Before you go make sure to bring all the necessary gear with you, take a look here: Range Essentials


About The Author

Richard Bogath is an NRA certified firearms instructor, certified hunter instructor, youth league pistol coach, professional hunting guide, published author, writer for several online publications about firearms, blogger, lecturer and proud dad. When not performing any of these fun activities, he is a successful e-commerce business consultant.