For many of us, shooting Steel Challenge is something new and we may not know the story behind it. We know there are eight official stages, peak times and a classification system for all 13 divisions, but we don’t know how it all happened.
I am by no means a historian of the Steel Challenge, nor did I attend the original event held in California. The likes of Kurt Grimes, Art Leach, Jim O’Young, and Greg Kerce can give you a much better history lesson, going all the way back to the start of Steel Challenge. Here I will go over some things about the origins and history that led us to the Ultimate Steel Challenge Match 2022.
Junior shooter Raegan Hearn scored a hat trick with high overall wins in the Rimfire Pistol Open, Rimfire Rifle Open and Rimfire Rifle Irons.
In 1981, Mike Dalton and Mike Fichman set out to create a viewer-friendly shooting sport. At the time, the Bianchi Cup was the most prestigious shooting event, and one of the most popular parts of this match was the Falling Plate event. The Bianchi Cup format features four separate shooting events combined into an overall match score: the practice event, the barricade event, the moving target event, and the drop plate event. What both Mikes noticed was that everyone watched and could relate to the Falling Plate event because it was easy to score, easy to watch, and made for an exciting shot.
They developed Steel Challenge around the idea of a shooting sport that anyone could understand and would be exciting to watch. The match itself lasted several days and had many different stages over the years, compared to the eight official stages we know now. Many stages were part of side matches at the event held in Piru, California from the start until 2011. The original matches were also set up with the goal of reaching Steel Master by filming the three games. At the time, these took place in Piru. It was necessary to shoot the Rimfire Match, which was held on Thursday only, and then competitors had to shoot two of the centerfire divisions in the Main Match on Friday and Saturday. At the time, firearms were basically an iron sight handgun and an optical sight handgun.
Josh Whittier, with a score of 110.66, was the runner-up in the Rimfire Pistol Open division.
It’s unclear when the final eight official Steel Challenge stages became the major stages we know now. This is what the USPSA purchased Steel Challenge from Fichman and Dalton in 2007, along with the official eight stages, name, logo, and rules. But what happened to all the other stages that have been shot over the years?
There have been several, but four additional stages that have been shot over many years stand out. Greg Kerce is the game manager for the First Coast Steel Shooters at Volusia County Shooting Range in Florida. He was a regular in the original matches and remembers the “retired” stages. Greg also likes to shoot a lot, so why not organize the “Ultimate Steel Challenge” match?
That’s exactly what he did. This year was the third game and took place from February 25 to 28, including the eight official stages, plus the four “retired” stages.
Steps “to retirement”
Triple Threat is just a pedal steel stage to the floor, fast and dirty. Three 12-inch round plates that measure 6 to 10 meters are spaced one meter apart; they are placed two feet, 3.5 feet, and five feet off the ground, with the stop plate 10 yards back and five feet high. Raegan Hearn, leading the way as a tough young competitor in Steel Challenge, clocked the best time of 0.89 seconds for all three shots at Rimfire Pistol Open, with a total time of 4.05. You might blink and miss it.
If you think it’s fast, wait to shoot Double trouble. It’s just two 12-inch round plates at seven meters. The bottom one is 2.5 feet off the ground and the top – the stop plate – is three feet. Your reaction to the buzzer is slower than firing on it. The best times in the low readiness splits were all under three seconds for four strings.
With a score of 111.24, John Bartus finished in seventh place for Rimfire Rifle Open.
One of the other retired stages included in the Ultimate Steel Challenge Match was the “Flying Mr.” This stage originally included movement, as well as having to knock a box off a ledge that was three feet above the ground with the firing hand before hitting the gun. This was changed at one point, removing the box, but there was still forward movement from a starting line to a forward foul line. “Flying M” was set up with the starting line and the front foul line three meters apart. There are two 18 x 24 inch rectangles 18 yards from the start line and 12 feet apart. There are two outer 12-inch round plates 10 meters from the forward fault line and the stop plate is a 12-inch round plate seven meters from the forward fault line. From the start line, competitors shoot at the two 18x24s then advance by shooting at the two outer round plates and then at the stop plate. This is a tougher stage than you might think, not just the short movement but the wide outside transitions are 30 feet side to side.
My favorite of the steps to retirement was “Zigzag”. Five 12-inch round plates are spaced three feet apart starting at 10 yards, 12 yards, 15 yards, 18 yards, and the stop plate at 20 yards. The plates are offset in height by 1.5 feet, two feet, three feet, four feet and five feet from the ground. It was an easy step to take too quickly, get sucked into what you thought was easy. Raegan Hearn again smoked fast throughout this stage with string times of 1.73, 1.74, 2.22 and 1.70. I shot this in 14.17 seconds from the case in Limited, 2.78 seconds from Gorka Ibanez. This is a stage that I would like to see come back in an annex match.
Ultimate Steel Challenge 2022 Ranking
- Open division General classification: Doug Koenig (123.54)
- Wear High Optics Overall: Clifford Pietruski (147.54)
- Open Top Rimfire Pistol Overall: Raegan Hearn (103.11)
- Rimfire Rifle Open High Raegan Hearn (103.58)
- Top Overall Rimfire Rifle Irons: Raegan Hearn (98.92)
- High Pistol Caliber Rifle Optics Overall: Jimi Soldo (117.76)
See full match results on the Practiscore website.
The Volusia County lineup and First Coast Steel Shooters have an incredible setup for Steel Challenge. All eight stages are permanently installed on the stand, sheltered with secure tables, benches and plenty of space for bags and competitors on each bay. The bays are separated on the other side of the beach with a parking area nearby. Members of Volusia County have access to the camps and there is no shortage of games during the week. It’s definitely a Steel Challenge shooter’s paradise, with the warm Florida climate, and conveniently located near the New Smyrna Beach, Daytona, and Ormond Beach areas. It’s also about an hour northeast of Orlando, so it’s easy to find flights to the area.
The range will host the Area 6 Steel Challenge Match, September 30 through October 2. Greg Kerce was one of the top competitors and is a semi-retired professional shooter who has done a great job building a solid Steel Challenge Club in Volusia County. . Be sure to register for the Area 6 Steel Challenge 2022 Championship. Visit scsa.org.
Article from the May/June 2022 issue of USPSA magazine.