Shooting Your First Steel Match
Club match shooters are some of the friendliest and most helpful folks you could ever hope to meet, and they’re always glad to help out a new competition shooter. Sure, every so often you run into a grouch, but believe me, they are few and far between! Over the last many years I’ve only met a couple of them, and that’s shooting matches all over the place, and just about every weekend! I’ve heard stories about some snobbishness in some of the shooting disciplines, but it’s just about unheard of in steel shooting. Everyone is helpful, and everyone wants you to do your best and have a good time. It’s not at all uncommon to see USPSA and IDPA Masters and Grand Masters helping brand new shooters and sharing in the fun as the new shooters improve visibly through the day.
For your first steel match, it’s not a bad idea to check with the club in advance and see if a draw from a holster is required. In true Steel Challenge it is required for centerfire guns, but at many club matches it is not, or they may have a centerfire draw class and a separate centerfire “Low Ready Start” class. Most, if not all steel matches do not require a holster for rimfire guns. Typically, the start position for rimfire will be with the muzzle pointed at a marker on the ground in front of you, or with the muzzle resting on a up-ended barrel.
If you have never shot in a steel match before, rimfire is a good place to start, even if you’d like to move to a centerfire class later on. It’s also a lot cheaper in terms of ammo, and you will definitely use some ammo, so bring plenty. If you figure a six stage match with five shot strings per stage, and five targets per stage, the absolute minimum amount of ammo would be 150 rounds. I would recommend an absolute minimum of 200 rounds, and you can easily run out when you cut it that close. Personally, I take at least 300 rounds per class, and even more if there are more than 6 stages. You can never have too much ammo! Too much to carry, maybe, but too much? Never happen!
Show up at the match a bit on the early side. This will give you some time to meet some of the other shooters, and perhaps have a look at the stages to see what’s in store for you for the day. Sign up early, don’t wait until the last minute. You can also make things easier for the signup folks by bringing the exact amount so they don’t have to make change. When you sign up, tell then that this is your first steel match, and you’d like to be squaded with some experienced shooters. Ask the signup person to point out the Match Director, and go introduce yourself to him. Tell him too that it’s your first steel match, and that you would appreciate his help to get you squaded with some experienced shooters for your first match.
After signup is completed there is usually a shooters meeting where the Match Director will explain the rules and details for the day. After the meeting everyone will break out into squads and head out to the stages to start shooting the match.
Remember, in just about every case, the matches are “Cold Range”. That means ALL guns (yes, even your concealed carry gun) MUST be unloaded unless you are in the shooters box, under the direct control of a range officer, and you have been given the instruction “Load and Make Ready”. All guns must be either holstered, in a closed and latched gun case, or in a zippered gun run with the zipper zipped closed. The only exception is if you need to work on your gun, you make take it to a designated “Safe Area” and work on it. It must be re-holstered or cased before you leave the Safe Area. You cannot carry ANY ammunition into the safe area with you, not in your pocket, not in the case, not on your belt – NO AMMO!
Make sure that you understand the 180 rule, and if you are unsure, ask one of the range officers to explain it to you. Basically, imagine standing in the shooters box looking down range. Hold your arms straight out to each side. That’s approximately the 180 degree line. You must keep the muzzle of the gun pointed down range in the direction of the targets and backstop berm at all times. If the muzzle should get pointed to where it breaks that 180 degree line you will be disqualified from the match. No refunds, either!
Where a new shooter can get into trouble with this rule is if they hold the gun to the side to rack the slide. That will get you a match DQ (disqualification) sometimes referred to as a trip to the Dairy Queen. If you have to have the gun to the side to rack the slide, turn your body 90 degrees so the muzzle remains pointed straight down range, then rack the slide.
Another way to get a DQ is from an accidental discharge, or firing a round over the top of the berm. If you keep your finger off of the trigger until the sights are on target, you should never have a problem with this.
When you get to the first stage, get your magazines loaded, if you haven’t already loaded them earlier. Hopefully you have five magazines. If you forgot and left your magazines in the case with the gun, ask the range officer if you can go to the line, under his supervision, and get the magazines out of the case. Next time remember to not put your magazines inside the gun case!
When others are shooting, be quiet. They don’t need any distractions. After each shooter has finished, the Range Officer will announce “The range is Clear”. Grab a spray can and head down range to re-paint the plates. Usually the plates get repainted after every shooter, and the shooters take turns doing the painting. DO NOT go down-range until you hear “The Range is Clear!”
When you are called to the line to shoot, bring your cased or holstered gun and your magazines up to the line. Step into the box, and wait for instructions from the Range Officer. At your first steel match it’s not a bad idea to let him know that this is your first steel match. That way he won’t assume you know what you are doing, and will usually be extra helpful. If you are unsure of the course of fire, or aren’t sure which plate is the stop plate, ask. Most of all, listen carefully to the range officer, do what he says (and ONLY) what he says. Don’t assume anything. If you are not sure, ask.
Most of all, shoot safely and have a good time! Always try to shoot only as fast as you can consistently hit the targets, regardless of how fast anyone else may be shooting.
When the match is over, ask the Match Director if they need any help putting the targets and target stands back into storage. It can be a lot of work to pack all of the steel and stands back into the storage shed. If a number of shooters all help, it only takes a few minutes. If more shooters would help after the match, it’s usually very much appreciated. It’s also a great way to say “Thank You” to the Match Director and the other volunteers that put on the match.