What is Steel Challenge?

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“To promote safe, fair, and fun participation in steel shooting competition for members of all ages and skill levels, through effective leadership, education, communication, and administration.” – That is the mission statement of the Steel Challenge Shooting Association. From the above statement, note the words, “…all ages and skill levels…” – It denotes that the Steel Challenge is an avenue for all firearms owners to have shooting experience.

Before we delve further, let me first introduce you to the Steel Challenge. If you followed my last write-up –Why shoot Competitively? You’ll remember I stated that there are lots of shooting disciplines for you as a new shooter with competitive shooting. Well, one of the competitive shootings is Steel Challenge which I promised to probably write about first. So, let’s run through what you need to know about the Steel Challenge.

The Steel Challenge

The steel challenge is a speed shooting competition governed by the Steel Challenge Shooting Association (SCSA) which consists of eight standardized stages with steel targets in three sizes:

● Small circular

● Large circular

● Square target

And that is the overview of Steel Challenge. But you need to know more, like the history (how it started), the stages, requirements for participation, and many more

The History…

Steel Challenge was founded by Mike Dalton and Mike Fichman in 1981. In its first-ever challenge which also took place the same year; seventy shooters competed. Since then, Steel Challenge has grown to be one of the largest professional shooting competitions in America. The challenge had more than 220 competitors from around the world in 2007 which happened to be the same year Fichman and Dalton sold the steel challenge to the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA). Ever since 2007, USPSA has been organizing the US National Steel Championship yearly.

The Stages…

The steel challenge is a speed shooting event that consists of a defined number of stages or what we refer to as courses of fire. The pistol shooting action match competition is shot from a stationary position at five static steel plates per stage. The steel plates range in size from 10”(25cm) round plates to 18×24”(45x60cm) rectangular plates. The challenge has eight stages in total which are:

  • Five to go
  • Showdown
  • Smoke and Hope
  • Outer Limits
  • Accelerator
  • Pendulum
  • Speed Option
  • Roundabout

All stages have competitors fire from square boxes of an average of 1×1 meter measurement. Each stage is unique in its design and offers a different challenge to the shooter. But one thing is common; there is one plate in every stage which is designated the ‘stop plate’. As a shooter, you’ll be engaged in timed strings of fire, which consist of successfully hitting all five plates with the last one being the stop plate. For each run made, only one hit per target is required. Though, you are permitted with an unlimited number of rounds – This sounds perfect for a new firearms owner. You will be given a maximum of 30secs for a run while you’ll be asked to stop and reload; should you reach the 30seconds limit.

How Will You Be Scored in Steel Challenge?

Your time is your score. Your score will be based on the total time it takes you to engage and hit 5 steel plates. If you don’t miss, you’ll engage 5 strings of fire for a total of 25 rounds per stage. There are four primary plates and a one-stop plate set up in different arrangements across the stages. So, from your five strings of fire shot, the best four will count toward the match performance i.e., the slowest hit is thrown out. Awesome isn’t it? So in the end, all scores are added to obtain your total match time. Note that the stop plate must only be shot at the end of the string.

Bothered By Experience?

Are you wondering if you’ll be able to compete in steel challenge because you just got your firearms and you have no shooting experience? Well, and good, steel challenge got your back. Do not forget the words “…all ages and skill levels…” from the steel challenge mission statement. So I’m telling you – Steel challenge is an exciting shooting discipline that combines speed and accuracy in a fun format that can be enjoyed by almost anyone at any level of experience. So to say; it offers a port of entry to the pistol shooting sports and it is an excellent starting place for young or beginner shooters. So you see – you fit in.

Permitted Handgun Caliber and Ammunition

  • All ammunition used in steel challenge must be safe, serviceable, and appropriate for the firearm being used.
  • Minimum cartridge for center fire competitions (38 special/9×19)
  • Rimfire firearms must be .22 Long Rifle (.22LR) only. No powder-less cartridges
  • 150-200 rounds per gun
  • Hearing and eye protection
  • No multiple-projectile or magnum loads allowed.
  • The Pistol Caliber Carbine Divisions (PCCI/PCCO) have a maximum velocity of 1600 feet per second

The Range Commands

In steel challenge range, the Range Official (RO) will direct you with the following command:

  • Make Ready: Hearing this, you should face downrange, prepare your handgun and assume a low-ready position or a surrender position depending on what class you are shooting.
  • Starter Ready: Unless you aren’t ready, you don’t need to respond. No response indicates that you are ready to proceed.
  • Stand By: When you hear this, know that the RO will initiate the shot timer immediately. Within a second to four random delays, you’ll hear the audible start signal and you should begin the stage immediately.
  • Prepare for your next string: This is an optional command to indicate that you should prepare for the next string of fire, which will revert again to “shooter ready?”
  • Unload and Show Clear: This will come after completion of your final string of fire, you should drop the magazine from the gun, eject any chambered round, lock the slide in the open position and visibly show the RO that the firearm is clear and safe. In case, you are using a revolver, you must present the firearm with the cylinder swung out and empty.
  • Range is Clear/Safe: This declaration indicates that all firing has been ceased on the range so to allow steel shooters to move down-rage safely

Safety Rules…

All over the world, the safety rules for handling firearms are practically the same. For an exclusive write-up on the safety rules, kindly refer to the general safety rules I outlined in one of my write-ups – Why Firearm Safety is Important and 5 Rules to follow.

So now that you know that being a new firearms owner doesn’t stop you from participating in Steel Challenge, visit the steel challenge official website and search for a club near you to join in the fun.

Regardless of your shooting background or skill level, you will definitely walk away smiling and fulfilled after shooting a Steel Challenge Match.

Even the aged, handicapped and the disabled are considered in Steel Challenge. Indeed,! This competition provides a level playing field for shooters of all backgrounds.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to leave comments, questions and suggestions below.

Have a Great Day! five-charlie-bullet



4 thoughts on “What is Steel Challenge?”

  1. Hi Chuck. Firearms are always an interesting topic. I live in Australia where we have different requirements than yourselves. I can’t recall any gun clubs in Sydney, but there must be some.My only experience with guns was in the Cadets at school (a 303 rifle and on farm holidays. I can see why the Steel Challenge would be a great way to enjoy guns and a great way to follow guns. I would think whilst there are several skill levels the top levels would command a very high level of skill. Thank you for sharing. You have educated me with a better understanding of gun use.

    • Hello Stephen,
      I know that there alot of shooting sports affiliations that are worldwide….but I don’t recall seeing any matches in Australia? How are your gun laws there?
      To get to the upper levels of any sport takes a lot of training and practice. There are some professional shooters out there shooting a couple of thousand rounds every week just in practice,
      Thanks for reading and replying…much appreciated.
      Have a Great Day!

  2. This looks exciting. Since it is for all ages and skills I would love to try it out. Any recommended place to buy the gun and ammunition?


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