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Lessons Learned from a Major Steel Challenge Match

Posted by Jeff Jones on 4/6/2018 to Firearm Topics
Lessons Learned from a Major Steel Challenge Match

I just finished competing at the US Steel Nationals and wanted to relate my thoughts and experiences. It was a rollercoaster weekend filled with seeing friends, awesome strings, personal bests and broken guns.

Major matches are a lot of fun. You’ll get to meet people you’ve heard of or met online, see old friends, and see some great shooting. They can also be stressful, but remember, the stress you feel is the stress you put on yourself. 

Here are a number of things that I want you to think about when you shoot a big match:

You Are There to Shoot

Socialize when you are not shooting. This doesn’t mean turn into a hermit at the match, ignoring everyone until the session is over. What it does mean is you need to be prepared when it’s your time to shoot. I tend to start my mental preparation two shooters before it’s my turn (when I’m “In the Hole”). I’m running the stage in my head, visualizing my hits at speed. When I’m on deck, I’ll stand lined up with the shooter in my start position. When I hear the beep, I run through the stage as my final prep before getting into the box. When I am done shooting and reloading, then I’ll socialize, paint and cheer people on.

Reload Your Gun, Reload Yourself

After shooting, get your magazines reloaded, then reload yourself. Take a nibble of something and a small drink. The goal here is to never feel hungry or thirsty during the session. Grapes and watermelon are great because you get both substance and liquid in a bite-size form. I always have shelf-stable fruit cups (mandarin oranges are the bomb!) in my cart as well. They provide something for your stomach, some liquid, and a little sugar to pep you up. Whatever you eat or drink, don’t overdo it. If you are shooting an afternoon session, don’t eat a big lunch. You have to eat, but I suggest eating ½ of what is provided. If they are serving burgers/hotdogs, don’t eat the bun.

Stay Focused

Stay in the moment. When I shot my PCC, every stage, every string I was focused on that task and set 5 personal bests and bested my previous best match time by over 6 seconds. When I was shooting Accelerator in RFRO I was thinking about the prize table and shot my worst score ever for that stage. If you find yourself losing focus, stop and tell the RO you need a second. Do whatever it takes (within reason) to get yourself focused on that stage, that string, and then make ready.

Don't Let Bad Strings Derail Your Performance

How many times have you shot 2 or 3 good strings only to have misses or makeups on strings 3 or 4? You can’t let this bother you, you still need to get 4 good strings in for your score. We strive for that “blind squirrel” run at the end, putting up the best time we’ve ever shot. It’s nice when you can do this, the pressure is off, and you don’t care if it’s a bad time. When you don’t get that run, you still need 4 goods ones, ignore the bad string and shoot good strings to finish the stage.

Overcome Broken Equipment

You need to have your gun running in excellent condition going into the match. Things happen and guns break and when this happens, you need to be ready to deal with it. Tell the RO you are having gun problems and need to fix them. If you have the time, get to a safe table and analyze. If it’s a quick fix, fix it and get back in the game. If it’s not and you have a backup, switch to that gun. If you can’t fix it and don’t have a gun, I’ll make a gentleman’s bet that someone will loan you a gun so you can finish.

Don’t Look At The Scores

How you shoot should not be changed by how your competition shoots. If you see someone put up a great time and you say to yourself “I have to shoot faster now”, my question would be “why weren’t you planning on that to begin with?” Don’t focus on your competition, focus on yourself. Shoot YOUR best match.

I shot my best match at the US Steel Nationals in PCCO, 73.45. My best prior match was a 79.95. Had I looked at the scores before I shot I would have seen the leader at 71.95, 8 seconds faster than my previous best. I believe I would have never shot that 73.45 had I known what that leader scored.

Reconsider Shooting Multiple Guns

I had multiple friends shoot 6 guns at this match and many of them shot 2 guns per session. I find shooting multiple guns in a session exhausting. Shooting one gun per session allows me to stay focused on that gun and have some downtime until the next stage. On a squad with 10 guns, if you’re shooting 2, there’s little time to relax. I’ve also found that when I shoot 1 gun per session, I shoot my best, and this is why I went to the match. I realize that you may travel to a match and want to maximize the value by shooting multiple guns. Next big match, why not think about maximizing your results with fewer guns.

Set Goals

Setting a goal gives you something to strive for. A goal should be something that pushes you. “I’m going to finish the match” or “I’m not going to DQ” are not good goals as you should be doing this already. Find something that pushes you, but is within reach.

I shot PCCO, RFPO, RFPI and RFRO. I set goals of top 10 in each division. Here were my results

PCCO – 3rd

RFPO – 50th

RFPI – 8th

RFRO – 20th

I achieved 2 of my goals, but I learned more from the goals I didn’t achieve.

Have Fun

I don’t think I need to explain this one.

Major matches are a great experience and I highly recommend shooting them. There are still spots available at the World Speed Shooting Championships, get signed up and I’ll see you there.

Until next time, remember, One Shot, One Steel


Jeff Jones is a 3-way GM in Steel Challenge and 2017 Florida State Champion in RFPO. He easy to find, look for the black safari hat with the Steel Challenge logo on the back and the TK logo on the front. He’s always happy to talk about shooting and TANDEMKROSS. If you see him at a match, stop over, introduce yourself and ask him your questions.

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