A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE "STEEL CHALLENGE" AND "SPEED" SHOOTING IN NEW ZEALAND
The Steel Challenge started in the US in 1981 and over the next few years migrated to NZ the first NZ Nationals are recorded as being held in 1987
THE US STEEL CHALLENGE
The Steel Challenge World Speed Shooting Championships are one of the crown jewels of the shooting circuit and the premier professional pistol competition in America. With more than 220 of the world's fastest shooters competing for over $390,000 in cash and prizes in 2007, it has found a permanent place on the shooting schedules of every major competitive shooter.
Founded in 1981, the first Steel Challenge saw just 70 shooters step into the shooting boxes of its now famous all steel stages. It was John Shaw who claimed the first title of "World's Fastest Shooter" along with his share of the $20,000 in cash and prizes. Since those early days the number of shooters has grown and the firearms industry has taken notice. Every major manufacturer participates in the Steel Challenge and the key to the success of the match can be found in the philosophy of its creators.
Mike Dalton and Mike Fichman, both accomplished competitive shooters, dreamt up the idea for the Steel Challenge as a way to expand the shooting sports.
"We founded the Steel Challenge out of our love for the shooting sports. We wanted a match that was challenging and fun but would also be easily understood by non-shooters who would see the competition and find within themselves a greater desire to join the shooting sports. We also believed that the sport needed a tournament that was media and spectator friendly", said Mike Fichman.
Their match design called for simple stages, or courses of fire, made up of just five steel plates. The steel plates would be of differing sizes and placed at various distances and angles to create a variety of challenges. The shooter would assume his or her position in the shooting box and, upon the beep of the timer, draw their pistol and shoot each plate with the fifth being a stop plate synchronized to the timer.
Each shooter would shoot the stage five times with the slowest time dropped. The score would be the combined time of the best four runs and that time added to the combined times of the other stages for a final match score.
"From the start we knew we wanted an easy scoring system that any spectator could follow regardless of their shooting knowledge. The structure of using the four best runs out of five allowed shooters the opportunity to recover and provided added drama for those watching", explained Mike Dalton.
Over the years the match has seen its fair share of drama as great champions have risen and fallen from one year to the next and sometime even within the course of a single match.
"We have watched world records set and broken on the same stage as one shooter followed another. We've seen great shooters collapse under the pressure of the match. And we have seen unbelievable comebacks", said Fichman. "The Steel Challenge has never failed to excite."
It is the tremendous sense of possibility that draws so many shooters to Piru, California, every August. Every shooter knows that this could be their year and despite falling short, they return the following year with renewed optimism.
In the winter of 2007, Dalton and Fichman sold the Steel Challenge to the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA), which is the national governing body of Practical Shooting in the US. Despite being a difficult decision, Dalton and Fichman thought only of the future success of the match and its dedicated competitors.
"The Steel Challenge is a natural fit for USPSA and we have put into place plans to both grow the match as well as the sport of Steel Shooting in general", said Dave Thomas, Executive Director of USPSA.
"One of our primary goals is to greatly expand the role of the Steel Challenge Shooting Association here in the US and internationally. But we knew from the start that USPSA would need to rely on the true Steel Shooting experts to help guide our efforts. That's why we asked Mike Dalton and Mike Fichman to remain on consultants and serve as Match Directors in 2008", continued Thomas.
Dalton and Fichman are regarded as two of the most accomplished shooting event organizers and promoters in the shooting sports and while the World Speed Shooting Championships are under 'new management', the legacy and vision of the 'Two Mikes' will forever be present on the Steel Challenge ranges.
SPEED IN NEW ZEALAND
THE COURSE(S) OF FIRE
In NZ the format is the same, your time is your score. He who has the least will win! 5 runs and keep your best 4 to count so the scoring couldn't be simpler. All penalties are +3 seconds to your time, max time allowed on a single string is 30 seconds. So you can see in practice exactly what you are capable of. This is markedly different to IPSC, where your score is a percentage of someone else's score.
Speed Shooting as it is known in NZ began in 1987 and has run ever since. The stages run in the states have changed several times & at one stage were changing every year so Pistol NZ decided to "fix" the courses that would make up the Pistol New Zealand Speed Nationals. The core stages shot in NZ have been Smoke & Hope, Five To Go, Showdown, Outer Limits and Roundabout. While Zig-Zag, Ultimate Option, Flying M and Pendulum have come and gone, Accelerator is in and Speed Option is back to having one plate as an "option" plate which is worth 2 seconds off your time if hit & no penalty for missing it. While the other stages have just been in or out, Speed Option has morphed from having an Option Plate, to no Option plate and now has gone back to having the Option plate. Outer Limits in NZ has no movement and shoot's 5 strings with a throwaway instead of the US 4, so our times are not directly comparable. You will also have noticed that NZ only shoots 7 of the current 8 "Steel Challenge" stages so again our times cannot be directly compared to what is being shot in the US. We are not currently shooting Pendulum. However you can see exactly where you stack up in all the other stages.
The Speed Nationals have been contested every year since 1987 but you need to look back to 2004 before you find someone other than Phill Brown winning the overall title. Actually Phill has won the event 11 times! Followed by "Buggs" Foster and Simon Leadley, with 3 apiece.
The numbers at the nationals (that I have records for) have sunk as low as 19 in 1996 and been as high as 70 in the mid 90's, the sport is currently on an upswing of popularity and last year had one of its biggest matches with 44 shooters competing at the 2010 Nationals.
Originally there was only the overall winner, now with the advent of Divisions within the shoot and Grades and Categories within the Divisions there are multiple titles contested every year, Cowboy, Junior, Senior, Super Senior, Ladies, Iron Sight Auto ("Standardish") and the list goes on. There is a place for everyone even Shot-gunners & .22s
Junior shooters are the future, without them we will just fade out. The best thing any of us can do is to take a young person shooting. Remember it doesn't matter which discipline they eventually go for just that we get some new blood.
Purchasing Steel Targets Or Traps for the Unwary
Purchasing a full or partial set of Speed Steel targets or just the humble "A" Zone IPSC centre, can be a daunting task and is certainly a major investment for any member or club. You do, however, gain something that will last a lifetime.
What do I need?
First decide whether you are looking to purchase a full or partial set, while its nice to have a complete set unless you have the facilities to hold a single stage per range i.e. that you have 7 ranges, you just don't need a full set.
A full set is 7 @ 250mm Dia, 17 @ 300mm Dia & 11 @ 450 x 600mm large rectangles. A considerable amount of metal! You can get by with much less; perhaps start with a single stage or a set that would allow you to do all the stages but perhaps only one or two stages at a time.
Don't forget you will need brackets on the back of the steel to attach them to your stands, you did remember stands didn't you? There isn't any standard stand design but they breakdown in to two types, those that are freestanding and those that are fixed into the ground. Usually they are constructed from 100 x 100mm wooden or approx 16mm round steel. Remember you will need to have the plates facing downward slightly to contain the splatter on the range you are shooting on, especially if you have a NDA range.
How can I minimize the costs?
Before you do anything make sure you are up to date with the rules and you are buying correct specification items, at this time I understand that the design of the Pepper Popper MAY be changed or deleted in favour of the Classic Popper. Make sure your not purchasing something about to (possibly) be deleted. Steel prices vary greatly and you should shop around. Dealing directly with a profile cutter is the biggest single savings you will make. Make sure the cutting is done under water as this will prevent the edges of the hardened steel being softened, sorry Bob and his gas-axe are a no no. Check out the members in your own club, a fitter-welder or builder will help the process along nicely. Pick up the steel yourself if you can or get it delivered to a local company and then pick it up. Once you have your steel paint it! especially etch prime the bracket and the back of the plate, keeps the rust at bay and you cleaner when you haven't used it in a while.
As a guide what should I expect to pay?
This is the hardest to answer as it depends on who you are dealing with and how much you are getting done, are brackets being added, freight can also be a considerable cost and should be specified in the quote you get, and of course you did due diligence and got at least 3 quote's didn't you?
As an example only of the approximate prices I would expect to pay, as at May 2011. I have listed some price ranges below, excluding GST but including freight FIS
$20.00 - $33.00
$24.00 - $37.00
$33.00 - $45.00
450 x 600mm
$90.00 - $130.00
As I said above this is a guide only on standard WEAR360 and is for the shapes themselves you would still need to spot weld a bit of pipe onto the back. Arrange stands etc.
Contact me and I will give you the contact details of the firms that I deal with so you can deal with them directly.
PNZ Speed Section Director
Remember, if you're waiting to hear that you hit the plate….it's too late, call a good sight picture and go on.