2018 Steel Challenge Results

The 2018 Steel Challenge World Championship is officially in the books, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that a cast of familiar faces has once again dominated the leaderboard. The Top 3 in Open are all previous champions, finishing 1st-3rd in this order: KC Eusebio, BJ Norris, Max Michel.

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Your First Match

I often recommend competitive shooting – specifically action pistol type matches – to anyone with a CCW.  Even so, there is always apprehension in people’s eyes.  What will they encounter?  Are they good enough?  Will they be laughed at?  Judged?  Yelled at?  With that in mind, here is a brief synopsis about what you can expect at your first match.

ricky bobby i want to go fast

First things first, you should show up early, find a range officer/safety officer or the match director and let them know this is your first match.  Expect them to give you a safety briefing.  In fact, most sanctioning bodies, such as IDPA or USPSA, have specific requirements for such safety briefings.  While safety is paramount at any match it should be your only concern at your first match.  You will have fun, I promise; but safety first.  You will likely be doing task and maneuvers that are new to you, all while holding a loaded hand gun.  Ensure you do it safely.

Don’t worry too much about gear; you can shoot what you have, provided you own a holster.  The mags can go in your back pocket.  I am planning on writing a post on beginner gear just too illustrate how cheaply you can get started.

Your first match experience will likely be similar to everyone else – mine was.  I showed up cocky and confident and left humbled and craving more.  If you have never shot a match before you might be surprised how quick some of the other competitors can be!  Don’t try to equal their skills, you will only do worse.

For example; my first match was an IDPA Classifier and I was supremely confident I would burn it down.  When it was all said and done, I had rushed, made stupid mistakes and even had a few misses.  I finished as SSP (and ESP) Sharpshooter which wasn’t bad but I was less than 2 seconds from Expert; had I shot to my skill level the misses likely wouldn’t have happened and that alone would have gotten me to Expert.  My cockiness got in the way; the experienced guys went fast, I wanted to go fast!

Even with my mistakes, I did some things correct.

As I mentioned above, I arrived early and immediately let everyone know I was a new shooter.  Doing so allowed me to quickly identify the proper people to talk with and ask questions.  There were 3 other new shooters that night and after completing registration, they pulled us aside for a 30 minute safety briefing.  If you read the rule book(s), none of what they say will be new or shocking.  Muzzle awareness, keeping your finger off the trigger during reloads, keep the gun in the holster unless directed to Load and Make Ready, where is the safe area and what is it for, etc.  It is all basic stuff, but they take it seriously!

After we got our assignments I began to load mags while waiting my turn.  Being an IDPA Classifier I knew the course of fire and had dry fired it once or twice, thus I felt prepared. What I wasn’t prepared for was jitters as it came closer to my time to shoot.  I became nervous because of match pressure.  I have written about it before and I feel it is worth repeating.  Match pressure is real and it brings stressors into your shooting you just don’t get on a square range.  If you want to read more about it, I suggest you give this a quick read: match pressure.

When the night was through and we were tearing down the stages I realized how much I had learned in a few hours and how much fun I had.  I was able to identify specific areas to improve on and came to terms with my own short comings.  It was a pivotal experience in becoming a better shooter.  It was FUN!

We can always improve our skills, but first we must identify those areas that need improvement.  A match is a perfect way to identify weaknesses and improve.  I recommend everyone go shoot a match, especially if you possess a CCW and chose to carry a gun for self-defense.  Even just one match will open your eyes to weaknesses and just how much fun you can have with a handgun.

Oh, and for those worried about being made fun of – Fuhgeddaboudit!  No one laughed at me, and short of a club composed of nothing but assholes, no one will laugh at you either.

The Folly of Chasing Gear – Competition Version

In the last 18 months I have changed my competition gun 3 times while chasing the elusive “perfect” pistol so allow me to spin you a yarn on what not to do.

First, I must note that I am FAR from the first person to write or talk about this subject.  Ben Stoeger had a Podcast about it and the guys at Triangle Tactical have warned against this more times than I can count. But I can be stubborn and had to learn these lessons hard way.  It is my hope that you are not as stubborn as I am, and that you won’t repeat my mistakes.

Oh the circuitous path I took.

When I started in competition I wanted a gun that would work for competition, but also work as a defensive weapon.  With that fallacy firmly in mind I went out and bought a Glock 34 – a fine competition gun by the way –  then I sold it almost immediately for the XD-9 Tactical I wrote about in “My Time With An XD”.  With my “competition” gun on hand, I geared up with a Comp-Tac International Holster, a cheapo mag pouch and a 5.11 Belt from Bass Pro Shops.  The gun worked fine (the cheap mag pouch – not so much) but after a few matches I had a nagging “what if”; a “what if” that was only fueled when I got to dry fire Ben Stoeger’s Stock II and then shoot both a Stock II and a SP-01 that belonged to other people.

IMG_4830It was with dreams of greatness that I sold the XD and proceeded to buy a CZ P-09. (the one in the photo)  I had decided that I “needed” a DA/SA competition gun and already owning a 2nd generation P-07 I knew of CZ P- series awesomeness.  Truthfully, deep down I knew I would end up with a metal gun, but I wanted to prove the DA/SA was something I could master and compete with first.  What better than the bigger brother of a gun I already owned, right?  It didn’t take long to fall in love with DA/SA and prove to myself it was the way I wanted to go.  Thoughts confirmed, I pulled the trigger (pun intended) on a Tanfoglio Limited Pro.

In all of that swapping and monkey motion I learned some valuable lessons.

Losing money (gun) – I liked the XD, but it was never going to be what I really wanted.  I knew if I fell in love with competitive shooting I would want a metal gun. I should have bought the CZ P-09 first.  That would have given me a chance to run a DA/SA at the high round count class with Ben Stoeger and I would have ultimately saved money.  I don’t regret buying the P-09; but I do regret the money I spent “learning” the XD, only to part ways with it 9 months later.

Losing money – ancillary equipment – You just changed guns?  Great! Now you can buy a new holster, spare parts, sights, trigger job, extra mags, and grip tape.  If you are really lucky, your existing mag pouches won’t work (read: Tanfoglio Large Frame) and you get to modify what you have or order new ones.  If there is a shining spot it is the fact you can re-coup some of that gear cost by including it in the sale of the gun.

Ammo “wasted”?–  It is nice to say we learn from every round shot, but wouldn’t it be nice to do that learning on a platform you will keep?  Then you gain both the knowledge, as well as trust in the platform.  I put about 1k through the P-09 before I moved to the Lim Pro and while I love the P-09 and plan on keeping it, it would be nice to have that ammo back to live fire practice with the Lim Pro.  This desire to have the ammo back is an order of magnitude greater when thinking of the XD.

Tracking Improvement –  I am better now than a year ago, but I know it is not all the gear.  I will proudly admit a 44 ounce gun with a 2.5# trigger is amazing and make for easy controlled pairs, but I must also admit that much of my improvement has been due to a refined trigger control, more efficient movements, and seeing what I need to see.

To better illustrate, you can’t go back and start over with your beginner skill level every time you change gear.  As you run and learn your new gear you are also adding to your current skill level.  The simple fact is the improvement you realize from the gear change is over-stated in your mind.

Rebooting, again and again –  Oh, you have your mag changes down to 1 second?  Great!  Now change platforms and tell me what happens!  Every time you change gear, you back up some and have to relearn draws, mag changes, transitions, and on, and on.  Sometimes it is small – like going from the P-09 trigger to the Lim Pro and sometimes it is brutal.

Pick a gun and stick with it – It seems that in most cases this is the best bet.  But as with most things in life, there are concessions to be made.  If you are starting out with a Ruger P89, you would probably benefit more from a gear change (update?) than someone starting out with a Glock G17.  Similarly, if all you own is a G27 then by all means shoot it while planning for an upgrade; but I suggest staying with a G22 or G35 so the familiarity remains.

Are there gains to be made by changing gear?  Sometimes; but, first you need to evaluate your current skill level against the gains you will realistically see in the near term.  I have dry fired an awful lot this year, likely enough to be a high A class in USPSA, but I am not because most of my dry fire time was spent learning new gear and not refining a specific skill.

My advise?  Decide if what you currently own will work and be realistic about it.  A Glock 17 will take you to Grand Master in USPSA and Distinguished Master in IDPA, where as a Hi-Point probably won’t.  If you want something better that’s fine, but I suggest you shoot what you have and save up to get what you really want the first time to minimize the re-learning.  Bouncing around only waste time and money.

If you don’t want to listen to my experience, that is also fine; I just ask you withhold your shock when you look back and realize the money and/or ammo spent.

Lest anyone think this applies only to competition shooters, I have done CCW swapping as well; but that is a story for another day.

Student or Dry Fire Hero?

Dry Fire. It is both proven to work and often misunderstood. It applies to competition and to concealed carry skills. Many swear by it and some (foolishly) scoff at it. Many times we hear people mention dry fire without actually explaining what it means so let’s get on the same page with regards to what dry fire is and isn’t.

Maggie Reese

Simply put, anything you can do to practice with your firearm that doesn’t require live ammo can be performed in dry fire. Dry fire is NOT aiming at the TV and pulling the trigger. It is not lying in your bed and aiming at the ceiling. You can use dry fire to improve your trigger with the proper regime. Check out the White Wall Drill for more information.

  • Want to get your draws smoother – practice in dry fire.
  • Want to speed up your reloads – practice in dry fire.
  • Want to improve transitions – practice in dry fire.
  • Want to improve recoil control – LIVE FIRE, NOT DRY FIRE!

Dry fire allows us to work on a great many skills without expending any ammo or driving to the range. However, dry fire is not a replacement for live fire.

I dry fire roughly 4 times a week for 30-40 minutes per session. Some will see that as a lot and some will see that as too little. In all honesty, I should be dry firing more to achieve my personal goals in competition. Although with those dry fire sessions, I try to get in one live fire session a week. This isn’t always possible but it is important. It keeps your dry fire honest. It is really easy to fall into the trap of dry firing exclusively and becoming a dry fire hero. In all likelihood, you go to the range and realize the skills are not as polished as you thought.

You might have a sub 1.0 second draw time in dry fire but if you have never got up on the 3 yard line and actually practiced it with live ammo and a timer, you don’t really know. Likely, you won’t be as fast; your conscious mind (see, there it is again) will take too long getting the perfect sight picture vs an acceptable sight picture.

It is easy to dry fire your way to speed, but you must still look for every weakness in live fire and find a way to execute it better. If not, you will be quick in your dry fire dojo but in live fire and/or a match, you will be stuck at your current level.

Don’t mistake this to mean dry fire isn’t important; because it is.  Dry fire without live fire confirmation, in the form of mini-drills against a timer, will not take you to the level you desire.

Are you a competitive student that looks for ways to improve using both dry fire and live fire or are you a dry fire hero; burning down drill after drill in your basement but never verifying a thing at the range?

Are you overlooking some easy improvement in the name of a quick dry fire par time?

Where are you and where do you want to be?

Mitigating Match Pressure

Today’s subject is a brief discussion about match pressure. If you shoot competition, you already know match pressure is real. So how can we control it?

Shelley Rae on the move

You dry fire frequently on a regular schedule. You exercise before live fire to get your heart rate up. You feel prepared to handle the match stress. However when you get to the starting box and the RO says “Shooter ready”, you get nervous, jittery and fall apart. Your heart rate quickens and your palms sweat. Unless you are a top shooter and/or have years (decades?) of experience under your belt, it will happen to you.  So what are we to do?

The reason is simple to diagnosis and hard to correct. You are over thinking and your conscious mind is tripping you up. Yes, the physical effects are caused by adrenaline and body alarm response but those are driven by your brain. You are your own worst enemy at the start of a stage. You work through different scenarios in your head; the “what ifs”, the good and bad from your last stage, how you are going to attack the stage and then you heard the magic words: “Load and make ready”.

“The consciousness of self is the greatest hindrance to the proper execution of all physical action” – Bruce Lee

It is my hope that most of you will find nothing new about this phenomenon. If you are a member of the Brian Enos Forum (and you should be), then you are likely aware of Mr. Enos’ competition beliefs but he is not alone.  USPSA Grand Master, Steve Anderson, has a wonderful podcast that is almost exclusively about the mental game. Let us not can’t forget Olympic Gold Medalist Lanny Bassham and his book, With Winning in Mind.

Of course reading their works, their “Zen” if you will, won’t do much on its own.  You need something to drive your focus when you are in the shooters box. Something you can take with you to both dry and live fire practice. What that “something” is will be up to the shooter. For instance, I focus on my breathing and try to listen to the surrounding noises and activity when awaiting the glorious sound of “Shooter ready – Standby”. If at an outdoor match, are there birds chirping? Are there leaves rustling? Try to focus on something that YOU can use to help calm the conscience mind.

I will admit that this is not as easy to do as it is to talk about. When I manage it effectively, my speed and accuracy are at their peak; but when I fail to manage it, my times suffer and I make mistakes. Those mistakes are not a negative as long as you recognize each failure and learn from it. That is the key! Anyone can recognize they made an error but those who can use that recognition to learn will get better and ultimately quicker. You must never see your errors as a failure but as declaration of a weakness. An identification of where you need to practice.   Ironically, this applies to life in general and not just shooting.

Another thing a person can do, which I have used with success during the stage, is to view each shot as the only shot.  “Issha Zetsumei” is a Japanese phrase that literally means “one shot and expire”.  It points to the fact that each shot should stand alone.  Do not worry about your score!  Focus on the front sight. Press the trigger. Watch the front sight rise. Repeat. Don’t shoot faster than you can see, but at the same time, only see what you need to see.

So there you have it.  If you want to control match pressure you have to learn to control yourself. Shoot your game and let everything else go. The score will take care of itself based on your level of skill.  Don’t shoot faster than your ability and don’t shoot slower than you need.  Shoot your game, shoot at your level and have fun.

And most important, remember to have fun. After all, it’s just a game.

2014 Steel Challenge Results and numbers

Steel Challenge wrapped up over the weekend, and the good news out of the gate is the match had much better attendance than I’d anticipated. It did well enough that we will likely see a 2015 match, which as I’ve said before is a good thing for the shooting sports. Here’s a by the numbers look at the divisions:

  • Open: 60 shooters
  • Limited: 32
  • Revolver: 13
  • Production: 18
  • Single Stack: 6
  • Total centerfire entries: 129

SteelChallenge2012_TopNav_01

The overall winner and Open champion was Max Michel, Dave Sevigny won Limited and Steel Master, Phil Strader won Production, and Jessie Duff won high lady.

In terms of attendance, this match was an improvement over 2013 in Frostproof; although it was a little bit behind 2012’s Frostproof match. For the sake of comparison, I’m only comparing centerfire entries. The 2014 match added rimfire rifles to the entry list (which is pretty cool, actually) so their number of rimfire entrants was reasonably impressive, 74 shooters across all rimfire categories.

To take a balanced look at the match, it’s good that attendance was up, although a savvy eye would note that not by much and that entry fees were cut drastically. There were complaints from the shooters that the targets weren’t reactive enough, and it was difficult to differentiate a hit on the steel target stand from an edge hit on the steel plate itself.

Not having been to the range myself, I can’t comment on the facilities or the awards ceremony, but I would welcome emails from anyone who was to [email protected] – or just leave a comment. I’m curious because I believe that “feel” is important to big matches, and that World and National matches should feel special.

The question behind all of this remains: is this enough to save Steel Challenge? I’ve been reading USPSA’s tax returns lately, and the National level matches are the biggest single thing they spend money each year, even more so than payroll. Is the juice worth the squeeze? Obviously, USPSA would never stop running the USPSA Handgun Nationals, but for only 130 shooters, does it make sense for them to keep putting on a World Steel Challenge every year? Or would it make more sense to move it to a bi-annual event, and let the Titusville Steel Nationals be the “big” annual steel match.

The sport of Steel Challenge likely isn’t going anywhere. Shooting steel is just too much fun. I’m glad to see that the WSSC improved attendance over last year, because if they’d had less than 100 shooters at this match, I would have put a nail in the match’s coffin. I think the match is on life support, and that the 2015 match will need to continue the pattern of growth. For my part, I’m going to do everything in my power to make it to Steel Challenge in 2015.

What if they held a world championship and no one showed up?

The World Speed Shooting Championship, aka Steel Challenge is happening this weekend. The last time I was able to get numbers, there were fewer than 30 entrants in the match. Report from the “on the ground” indicate that there isn’t even a super squad.

Randi Steel Challenge Day 3

I’ve talked about how USPSA is killing Steel Challenge, and the reports I’ve been hearing about the match in Utah aren’t filling me with lots of confidence. Let me be absolutely clear: Steel Challenge is an important match, and an important part of our sport. We should be trying to preserve it, not banish it to die in the desert; which I suppose an improvement over dying in the swamp.

Here’s the thing. The last two years for Steel Challenge saw declining attendance and sponsorship. I believe that 2014 is the make-or-break year. If there are fewer than 100 shooters at the main match, USPSA should just pack the match up, and sell it to someone who cares about it, so they can begin the process of growing it back. It’s a sad testament that the best Steel Challenge-Style match right now is the US Steel Nationals held in Titusville, and not the “world” championship.

I’m not in Utah this week. I’ll be reporting on the match with updates from friends and shooters who are in attendance. If you’re at Steel Challenge this week and would like to share your thoughts, email them to us at [email protected] and I’ll publish them as we go! Can Steel Challenge be saved? This is where we’ll find out.

The death of Steel Challenge

In its recent report to members, the US Practical Shooting Association announced that the Steel Challenge World Championships would be moving from its current location in Frostproof, FL to St. George, Utah for the 2014 match. Additionally, the Steel Challenge LLC will be absorbed by USPSA into one unified organization. Whether or not this will be enough to save the floundering match that was once the richest handgun tournament in the nation will remain to be seen.

Steel Challenge was created over 30 years ago in the vibrant (at the time) shooting culture of Southern California. Up until 2007, it was an independent match, not associated with any of the other major shooting sports. In the winter of 2007, it was sold for a considerable sum to USPSA, who took over the administration of the match. For the next four years it was largely unchanged, until in 2012 the match was moved from Piru, CA where it had been held for 30 years to Frostproof, Florida.

The first Frostproof match was a bit of a rough start. Participation dropped precipitously from the last match held in Piru, the traditional impact activated stop plates were abandoned, but for the most part the shooters and sponsors were happy with the match being held in Florida in November. After the match concluded, it was announced that the 2013 match would be moved to the middle of July, and bookened with the non-USPSA sanctioned ProAm match.

2013 was a rough year for Steel Challenge. The July time table saw terrible weather soak the shooters, and while organizers had hoped for an increase in attendance, it was down for the 2nd straight year in a row at the 2013 match. Media coverage was sparse, with few outlets reporting on the match, and even sponsors complained about the lack of representation in exchange for their sponsorship dollars. Steel Challenge was in serious danger. Add on top of that the 5 year contract USPSA had signed with the Universal Shooting Academy in Frostproof, and things were looking grim for the future of Steel Challenge.

Two straight years of declining participation in a match is a bad sign; especially at at time when ever other shooting sport is experiencing considerable growth. IDPA, 3Gun, and even NRA Action Pistol were experience major increases in shooter participation at their national level events, meanwhile the former crown jewel of the shooting sports was diminishing.

That brings things to where they stand now with Steel Challenge. Will a new location in St. George and new dates in June pump some much needed life back into this once great match? Or will the hassle of adding another city, another weekend to their travel plans put off the remaining 80 die-hard shooters that attended the match in 2013.

In 2010 and 2011, the last two years the match was held in Piru, there were over 200 entrants in the “Main Match” category. In 2012 in Frostproof, that number shrank to 132 entrants. In 2013, that number was down to just 104. That doesn’t tell the complete story though, because an single person at Steel Challenge can be entered in multiple divisions in the Main Match category. In 2013, the final year for Frostproof, there were approximately 80 shooters for the entire match. A World Championship match, formerly one of the most prestigious matches in the nation had shrunk in attendance size to the same as a well attended club level IDPA match.

What does the future hold for Steel Challenge? It appears that 2014 will likely be the deciding year. By absorbing the organizational structure of Steel Challenge into USPSA, this gives USPSA the ability to kill the match entirely if it doesn’t perform well in Utah. And perform well it must, because I don’t think the match could survive another year of falling shooter numbers and sponsorship dollars. If a new location and new dates can once again attract greater numbers of shooters, media, and sponsors, then perhaps we’ll see a renewed Steel Challenge.

As students of the history of the sport, and fans of the great shooting sports, that’s exactly what we’re hoping for. Perhaps USPSA will take a page from the NRA’s playbook, who have restored Bianchi Cup to its status as the most prestigious handgun tournament in America. It’s our hope that Steel Challenge will be able to shake off the last two years of missteps and once again be one of shining examples of what’s great about the shooting sports.

Steel Challenge Georgia State Match

20140203-095830.jpgThis weekend Georgia held it’s state level Steel Challenge match and I went to observe my first shooting match, ever. I was welcomed, in typical southern style, by Brooke and Dave Sevigny, also known as members of Team FNH USA. They were wonderfully helpful in explaining how the process works and introducing me around. For top ranked shooters, these two are so lovely and humble, further solidifying my belief that gun folks are a special breed.

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