Youth Shooting Sports: A Parent’s Perspective

Thirty-eight years ago, I pulled the trigger on my first gun; it was a bolt action Rimifre Rifle.  The loud crack of the bullet leaving the rifle and then hitting the intended soda can lit a spark inside of me, which has developed into a burning passion in the Shooting Sports.  My father was a skilled marksman who has a training heart with a “Safety First” mantra in everything we explored while growing up.  Steel Challenge is a great place for new shooters and youth shooters to begin their shooting career.  Some of us haven’t left.  Why Steel Challenge? Shooting sports such as USPSA’s owned Steel Challenge has a low barrier to entry to get your younger family members involved in competitive shooting.  Recently, I had the opportunity to meet an amazing young man. His name is Tucker, and he is 9 years old.  I squadded with his father Andy Browne at a tier 1 match in Tennessee.  Tucker was enthusiastic about shooting, had lots or questions, and loved to spray targets with Steel Target Paint.  Tucker did not shoot this match but was in attendance because his father wanted to gauge his interest and readiness to attend his first match.  Shortly after meeting Tucker, his father reached out to me and stated he had successfully shot his first match.  I sat down with Tucker and his father to answer some questions many of us, as parents, have about getting their children or younger family members into competitive shooting. 

USPSA: Andy, you are a competitive shooter, can you tell me where your home range is and what involvement do you have in the sport?  IE Match Director for X, you shoot Steel Challenge, etc.

AB: I am currently a member of the Steel Target Paint shooting team and compete in Steel Challenge competitions.  I also serve as the match director for Dead Zero Steel Challenge, at the Dead Zero Shooting Park in Spencer, TN, where we host monthly matches along with hosting the Tennessee State Steel Challenge Championship this year. 

USPSA: With the lack of matches being held, I traveled to Tennessee to shoot a local match with you, and I met your son Tucker.  How old is he, and what is his interest in shooting?

AB: Tucker is 9 years old, and he is interested in all things shooting.  He has started competing in some of our local Steel Challenge matches and shows a great deal of excitement about the shooting sports.  Tucker came to watch me at some matches and really expressed an interest in competing.  He saw my teammates Steve Foster and Chris Barrett at a match and he was completely hooked.  After that match, he shot some of the rifles used by the team, including Larry Joe Steeley’s JP GMR-15 PCC and Vanessa Foster’s CWA Rimfire pistol.  The level of excitement he showed me after that match let me know that we were on the right track to getting him involved in competition.

USPSA: Why do you think he is so interested in shooting?

AB: I have been involved in shooting for over 40 years, so Tucker has been exposed to shooting his whole life.  We have spent many days as a family at the range having fun.

USPSA: Tucker – Why are you interested in shooting?

TB: I like shooting guns and being able to go shoot with my dad.

USPSA: Tucker – what is it you like most about the sport?

 TB: I like to get to shoot and try to get better every time I shoot.

USPSA: Tucker – What do you like least about the sport?

 TB: There isn’t anything that I don’t really like about shooting.

USPSA: Andy, why are you supporting him in his pursuit of shooting?

AB: Part of my job as a dad is to support Tucker as he chases dreams.  His interest in the shooting sports is something that is easy to get behind since it such a positive activity.  This also allows me to spend time with him as he grows. 



USPSA: What are your goals for him in the sport? We should talk about the ease of shooting Steel Challenge with the family atmosphere.

AB: The number one goal I have for Tucker is for him to enjoy shooting.  If he isn’t having fun, then he is free to walk away from it.  I have been this way with him through other sports he has been involved with.  I want him to feel excited for every match he attends.  Now, on the competitive end, I would love to see him become one of the next rising stars in Steel Challenge.  This particular sport has so many talented young shooters, and they will carry the sport for us as the next generation.  Getting Tucker involved in Steel Challenge was a pretty easy decision since it offers very few barriers to entry.  We also have a great group of local shooters that include entire families.  The environment at Steel Challenge matches is like a family gathering.  I also liked the fact that there is not much movement involved in Steel Challenge stages, something that allows young shooters to better focus on safety and shooting fundamentals.

USPSA: Let’s talk about the different divisions in Steel Challenge.  Which do you think is the best to start him off with?  What would your advice be for other parents who are looking to get their son/daughter/niece/nephew involved in the shooting sports?

AB: We started Tucker off in RFRO for a couple of reasons.  Our Magnum Research Switchbolt rifles are lightweight, so even smaller folks can handle them well.  The rimfire platform also has very little recoil, so it helps keep him from feeling like his rifle is beating him up.  The use of an optical sight helps with the overall learning curve of picking up speed in the stages as a new shooter. 

For anyone who is looking to get a youngster involved in the shooting sports, I would tell them to not feel intimidated.  Even if you do not have personal experience, there are very capable shooters at the matches that will gladly help a young shooter get started.  Patience seems to be abundant at matches, particularly when young shooters are involved. 

USPSA: Are you concerned at all for his safety shooting at the age of 9?

AB: We exposed Tucker to firearms at a young age so that we could start to build healthy respect for them.  With the many safety features built into Steel Challenge matches, we have been very comfortable with getting Tucker involved.  Tucker had to show me that he could safely handle a firearm, clear malfunctions, and shoot with reasonable accuracy before he was able to shoot in a match.   

USPSA: For our readers who are considering getting a young person involved in shooting, what gear do you recommend for a new shooter and why?  IE Guns, glasses, ears, etc.

AB: One of great things about Steel Challenge is the ease of getting started.  As I mentioned, Tucker is using a Magnum Research Switchbolt rifle, and it has been great.  We have six magazines that he uses for matches: one for each string and a spare.  Something to consider with young shooters is their physical size and how a firearm or accessory will fit them.  This has been something that was challenging with Tucker when we were working on hearing protection.  The “in-ear” hearing protection proved to be uncomfortable for him, so he has settled on a traditional style of ear muffs.  Since being comfortable is important, you will want to get feedback from the young shooter on their hearing protection.  Pro Ears most likely offers hearing protection that will work for both your budget and the shooter’s comfort.  Comfortable eyewear is also an important consideration.  Tucker had received a nice pair of shooting glasses from his grandparents at Christmas, so he was ready with those.  Comfortable footwear is another consideration since the shooters will be on their feet quite a bit.  Also, remember to bring snacks and drinks to the range.  This helps keep your young shooter fueled up throughout the match.

USPSA: Anything other recommendations you would like to share with our readers on getting younger people involved in the sport?

AB: It is imperative that we pass the shooting sports on to our younger shooters.  If you have a young person who is interested, give them all the help you can.  If you are unsure about how to get them involved, reach out to your local club, and I am confident you will find them to be welcoming.  All of the local clubs I shoot at go to great lengths to help youngsters or new shooters get going and feel comfortable. 

USPSA: Tucker – what message would you send to others who are not certain about shooting that are your age?  What would you tell them to give them confidence?

TB: I would tell them to concentrate on being safe and get started.  I would also tell them to start with the smaller caliber guns and then work on the larger guns.  It helps confidence by remembering that it is not about winning, it is about having fun and being safe.

The Flight of the Falcon

In the spring of 2016 an idea emerged to design a rimfire compensator, which was effective, has a cool aesthetic, and would be a value for most shooters.  I have never taken a concept and brought it to market, but despite the perceived complexity, I knew it was something I wanted to do.  I will save you from the mundane details of finding partners with design/machining capability who had the same passion as I did around this project.  I approached Todd at Wiland USA and he was excited about the opportunity.

We agreed to the terms of our partnership in the project and the creative juices started to flow.  In the spirit of sharing some perspective without giving away trade secrets, I will walk you through some of the design and trial phase.  We set a time to talk through an initial design with the list of characteristics I would like to see and below is the first sketch of one of the concepts for the Rimfire compensator.  I was enthusiastic the design I had in my head was starting to actually materialize. 

The next iteration after resolving some of the dimensions of what will work with the most barrels out on the market was key.  Afterall, as a competitive shooter I wanted to make sure I did not ‘feel’ the compensator at the end of the gun.  Too many times other designs feel ‘clunky’ when starting and stopping guns as we make hard transitions.  The next step in the design phase was to incorporate the rest of the list of the design elements.  Initially, the front of the compensator did not have the extra 45 degree cut and Todd drew it up with it.  It was a great example of collaboration.  It was lighter at the end of the gun where it matters most and it had the styling cues of a fighter jet.  Below is the next working design.

The top port went from an elongated hole to a key styled hole to create a progressive gas escape pattern pushing down on the front of the gun harder.  We then smoothed out the key-hole design to create a better functional aesthetic with a ‘tear-drop’ style top-port.

Shortly after we polished up the design we had to actually make one to see how the Two-dimensional drawing would translate into a Three-dimensional part people would get excited about.  Thorugh the use of a 3D printer, our drawing became a reality as seen below.

The first time I saw it, I wanted to shoot it so bad!  Afterall, we had to test our design and move the project to the trial phase.  Not knowing if the 3D generated prototype would take the pressure of a high-velocity round, we agreed to make two working compensators out of aluminum for proof of concept and design.  Todd at Wiland USA created the first two;

The machine work was amazing, especially for two ‘one-offs’.  Todd asked me for my logo and where we think it should be placed and I told him it would be great to have on the compensator, but I wanted it discreet, which was an important branding decision.  For these two he powder coated them and engraved my logo.  It was at this point, the reality of bringing this project to fruition was upon me.  Words cannot describe how I felt.

After I received the two prototypes I immediately went to the range.  I put the compensator on the lightest handgun I could find to see how it reacted.  The testing exceeded my expectations – it was flattest shooting Ruger 22/45 lite I have ever shot.  Below is a picture in the dark to get a flavor for the compensator in action.  You can see what is left of the fireball coming out of the top of the gun with residual fire and gas escaping from both sides of the gun.

Now the tough part came, what do we name our new product?  After a lot of brainstorming, we chose the Falcon because the compensator mimics the downward force of the bird when attacking its prey and no creature on earth can match its speed.  This speaks to how stable and fast the gun transitions, its effortless.

After 9 full months of successful testing and over 40K rounds shot through the new Falcon Rimfire Compensator, it was now time for full production and bring our product to market.

Here is a summary of the specifications of the compensator:

  • Anodized 6061 Aluminum – for minimal weight at the end of the gun for fast and easy transitions
  • Progressive port with proprietary angles and chamber to increase down force at the end of the gun – keeps the lightest of guns flat
  • 45 degree side ports for stabilization and sound for timers to pick up
  • Chamfered rear for included O ring timing and mounting
  • Aggressive 45 degree cuts on the front of the compensator not only for aesthetics, but to reduce weight at the end of the gun for fast and easy transitions.
  • Aggressive and aesthetically pleasing style unlike any other compensator out on the market
  • 1911 style crown – well because it’s just cool.
  • Designed and Manufactured in a state of the art facility right here in the USA
  • MSRP $50

It has been humbling to see all of the Falcons out in the wild!  Get  yours today at:

https://wilandusa.com/steve-foster-shooting-sports-falcon-22-compensator/

Thank you for your support!

See you out on the range soon!

Steve

Where is the Dial again?..

Recently, I posted a video on the Steve Foster – Competitive Shooter page on facebook (also found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-To_zIg8I8 ) talking through my thought process of shooting my CWA Rimfire Pistol Open gun on a plate rack.  In the last few months I have been trying to ‘push’ my Targeted Edge Dial a little too hard with my pistols.  I believe, this is a direct result of all the time I have been putting in with my Magnum Research Switchbolt and JP PCC.  The Edge for each of these guns is different and I need to do a better job remembering this when I get to the firing line.  Of all the tools I have in my bag and out on the range, the Plate rack is setup exactly the same and it can be measured equally, every time.  When I am struggling to shoot with the fundamentals of marksmanship, I turn my attention to the plate rack and it ‘settles’ the Targeted Edge Dial to the appropriate percentage.

My GT Targets plate rack has six 8” plates and when I shoot it at 12 yards away, I know I need to have a proper sight focus to make my hits.  From time to time, I can get away with an occasional target focus, but this is not a consistent way to shoot.  As I walk through in the video, I need to be able to know where my Edge is of my capability to shoot a good time.  I know my 100% is in the 1.80 second range, needless to say, I don’t go into the first string trying turn my Targeted Edge Dial to 100% or greater.  I start at ~ 85% to get my hits and then turn my dial to the appropriate % to start to push the pace, but remain in control as I demonstrate in the video.


There has been a lot of discussion and personal reflection in the past couple of weeks around how to shoot well and my video sparked some discussion around does my Targeted Edge seem different from day to day or match to match.  First, let me share some reflections and opinions of what can influence the Targeted Edge as well as subconscious shooting:

  1. Gun or ammunition failures
  2. Poorly setup targets or targets themselves
  3. Impact of shooting a major match – without a lot of major match experience

First, gun or ammunition failures can be more than a distraction and something, which can be frustrating.  When shooting speed competitions such as Steel Challenge or Rimfire Challenge you need to be shooting in the subconscious.  As we have talked through previously, subconscious shooting is always faster.  Anything that interrupts this information flow effectively, slows down the process whether we know it or not.  As the range command is given, “Are you ready… Stand by..” if you are wondering if your gun will go bang, you will not be able to let your subconscious take over.  Now, you are thinking about the gun running and looking, feeling, or trying to be proactive with anything, which does not seem right.  This takes attention away from what you are here to do.  Your Edge has not changed at all, but your ability to perform at the Targeted Edge has changed.

Similar to gun or ammunition failures, poorly setup targets or targets with exposed hangers can have the same impact on a shooter.  With an exposed hanger, if you call a shot high and you don’t have a second validation of an audible ring or a clear ability to see a hit you question your ability to shoot which results in double tapping a target you have already hit.  Some are particular to how stages are setup in Steel Challenge competitions because we rely on doing the same thing over and over again.  In a recent match, I missed the stop plate twice on Five to Go (both strings with make-ups) because I was relying on my natural swing of my body and gun and I was shooting just over the top of the target.  After the second string I realized the Stop plate was 6-8” low, I made a mental adjustment and followed-through with eye on the sight, on the stop plate without missing the remaining three strings.    Needless to say, my second and third strings were slower than where I like to shoot in a match, but I knew I had to “dial” things back to shoot more consciously to score well.  My 4th and 5th strings were back in the 85-90% range.


Lastly, shooting at a major match or traveling to a new club can increase the ‘nervous’ feeling we have while shooting. In my experience, this is when the Foster Effect rises to the surface.  I have to reassure my 85-90% times are good enough and trying to shoot 110% strings on my first string of my first stage is not a recipe for success.  After all, I have a tried this numerous times without success.

In summary, our shooting Edge does not change overnight, but it can change with time and practice.  Therefore, the Targeted Edge Dial does not change either.  What does change is the mental influence we allow to impact our shooting performance.   If you feel the Edge has changed for you in a division or on a stage, a match is not the place to make this determination… it is to be questioned and validated on the practice range.

See you out on the range soon!

Steve

The Difference 6 months can make..

The intent of this article is to provide some insight of where hard work, training and dedication can take you in Steel Challenge.  I have been fortunate to work with many competitors across the country to help them identify their Shooting Tendencies and put actionable plans in place to help them grow in the sport to reach their goals.  Steve Cooper is a competitor from Florida who was at a plateau in his shooting and wanted to make an investment to take his game to a whole new level.  Steve is the eptimoe of the type of shooter I like to work with; he takes the sport serious, willing to make the investment in his development, and not afraid to be a good student.  As a baseline to his progress for the past 6 months, below is his classifications and percentages in Steel Challenge as of January 30, 2020;

As you can see from the above, Steve is a solid shooter with two Master Classification times in PCCO and RFRO.  While on the range Steve asked me an interesting question.  He said, “so, do you think I can be a Grand Master by the end of the year?”  I think it is important to manage expectations, so my reply was, “if you practically apply what we are doing this weekend and put in the time and dedication, it was possible.”  Below is a table of Steve’s classifications taken on July 7, 2020;

I admit when I pulled his classification times I was surprised he made Grand Master in four different divisions, I was expecting two.  Based on our time together and his progress, I wanted to share a little bit of insight of his journey and hopefully inspire others who are headed down the same path.  Here is our interview together, I hope you enjoy and find some inspiration and motivation through his words!

How long have you been shooting for?

I am a slightly older guy (60+- years old) that had never shot competitively until about 18 months ago when some friends introduced me to Steel Challenge.  I immediately fell in love with the sport and started shooting once a week on average, either at local matches or practicing. After about a year of this routine I was able to pick up enough tips and pointers from fellow shooters to achieve master classifications in both RFRO and PCCO.  I was thrilled with this progress but really wanted to step up my game some more.

What are the three keys to your shooting improvement in the past six months?

Six months ago I decided to find a coach. I was lucky enough to get a weekend of training with Steve Foster at his home range in Ga.  Steve is not only one of the best Steel Challenge shooters in the world but also a very talented teacher. He has a great eye for catching the things that need to be improved upon. For me at that level, the things I needed to improve were very basic. They included stuff like keeping my eye on the sights, stance, grip,

movement and footwork on Outer Limits, and going “one for one.”  The concept of going “one for one” and the “Targeted Edge” is something Steve talks about a lot. I made a list of about 5 or 6 of these basics and had it with me each time I shot. For the next several months, I would refer to the list at every practice session or match to make sure I was incorporating the changes into my shooting. I worked until all the things on my list became a part of my subconscious so eventually I no longer had to look at it.

What have you struggled with the most while training these past 6 months?

The thing I struggled with the most is probably the most basic thing of all: keeping my eyes on the sight and going one for one.  If I am shooting well, I have a tendency to believe that I am a better shooter than I actually am. I will get over confident and start shooting beyond my capability. When this happens I cut my eyes forward to the next target before I have a good sight picture on the target I am shooting, Basically, I start to push too hard and my level of accuracy goes down the drain. Steve calls this “shooting over the Edge”. 

Did you ever find yourself at a plateau? If so, how did you get past it?

Yes! It seems like every level of improvement is followed by a plateau. This may be because of the struggle stated above or it may be something else altogether. I see a lot of people go through the same thing. For me the key to getting past this is to not get frustrated.  Keep shooting and practicing the basics. Shooting a stage over and over will eventually get your body to react faster and your times should start improving again. There is no substitute for putting time in at the range.

What advice would you give to new shooters of the sport who would like to become a Grand Master?

My best advice to someone wanting to shoot at that level would be to find a mentor or coach already at Grand Master level. I realize this may be difficult for many people; but I 

believe it is critical. Practicing doing something wrong is no way to get better. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good shooters out there that are happy to give advice and that’s great!

But it wasn’t until I had a Grand Master level coach watch and correct the things I was doing wrong that I was able to turn the corner. Would I have ever been able to make Grand Master

without this coaching? Maybe, I am not sure.. One thing is for sure: it would have taken a very, very long time. It took me almost 6 months to unlearn most of the things I was doing incorrectly!

What are your goals for the next 12 months?

My goals for the next 12 months are to continue to get my times down and percentages up, to hopefully become a more competitive GM, and make it to a few major matches.  

I would also like to make GM in RFPO.

I hope you took something away from Steve’s words and it will make you think about your own training and path you are on!

See you out on the range soon!

Steve

Out of control does not mean fast..

Being out of control while shooting does not mean you are shooting fast, you are just out of control.  I have found my fastest stages while shooting I have experienced a sense of calm and clarity.  If I could tap into this pace of shooting at will, I would be a much better shooter.

I share this reminder on the heels of a training experience and match experience where this concept kept popping up.  When you are practicing, we have to focus on The EDGE and have command of the Targeted Edge Dial.  How do we ever expect to execute the command of the Targeted Edge Dial in a match if we can’t do this in practice?  As an insight into training, I always write down my times.  I use this as an accountability tool.  Just because you shot one string in practice on Five to Go of 1.75 seconds doesn’t mean you are going to go out and shoot four strings of 1.75 ea totaling 7.00 seconds.

This past weekend was an exercise of “dialing” things back.  The West Florida Steel Challenge Championship hosted at the Wyoming Antelope Club in Clearwater Florida is the most challenging venue I have ever shot at.  All of the range bays have concrete walls and ceiling, which is a requirement because of the neighboring airport.  The lighting is challenging to see targets past 15 yards whereas lighting outdoors even on a cloudy day is much easier to see the plates.  There are gaps in the ceiling, assuming for ventilation, which casts rays of lights down in front of the shooter.  Even the smallest smoke emitted from the end of the muzzle makes a curtain you can barely see through.  The other anomaly is the acoustics of the shooting environment.  There is a significant echo when you pull the trigger making it impossible to listen for hits in the plates. 

Having shot in these conditions before it is an exercise in turning the Dial way back.  With this in mind, I could not help but push the pace on certain strings and was quickly reminded these are unique shooting conditions.  Mentally, this did take a toll on my mental state fighting my Foster Effect on every single division, every single stage, every single string, and every single shot.  This type of shooting is something I need to work on throughout the year.  On the heels of a sub-60 performance and a 40.8 second 6 stage local match, my goal was to match this time. These conditions are just not the same and therefore I should not try to shoot as they were.  After my first string at a 70% performance it was a swift reminder we did not have the same conditions.  It was very challenging to dial my strings back to a level I have not shot at in a couple of years. 

The result of ‘dialing’ things back resulted in 4 Championships.  I admit it was not as clean as it could have been.  I lost the dial on my Rimfire pistol open gun on one stage and despite making a concerted effort I had to ‘eat’ a miss on this stage and it cost me first place in RFPO as well as Title of Steel Master.  For me, this is a great reminder every string and stage is equally important.  My mission as I hit the practice range this week is to now ‘dial’ things back up to where I was prior to this match and instill confidence in my ability.  I share this experience with you as some insight of my thought process and the importance of control.  I hope this helps just one of you, it will be worth the time to document my thoughts.

I hope to see you out on the range soon!

Steve

Shooting Segmentation, it’s not all the same..

In my professional life, I have situations that arise where there is not a one size fits all solution to every problem.  When interacting and leading people, they are each unique in their life experience from how they grew up, religious beliefs, race, gender, age, etc.  Every single person has a story and it is important to understand their perspective before you are able to effectively communicate and address situations as they surface.  As my good friend and colleague often says, “where would the fun be if everyone was the same.”

Shooting is very similar; rarely do we find two targets, which are the same on the gun range when shooting Steel Challenge.  Every shot has its own timing, its own sight picture, and its own trap when going fast.  There is a phenomenon, which happens where a shooter tries to shoot all targets the same way.  Batching is the process where you shoot all of the targets at the same exact speed regardless of distance, size, or overall difficulty and/or apply the same speed increase to all targets instead of one in an array.  As an instructor, we see this happen when people focus on practicing a first shot in Steel Challenge, Rimfire Challenge or SASP.  There is a lot of focus on the first shot and we often times see a speed increase of 10-20% on this one target.  Then, if we start the student on the full array the Batching process happens and they start missing other targets because they are applying the same assertive speed to the other targets.  We must remember each shot has its own sight picture and requires a different amount of focus. Shooting Segmentation is the process of treating each target differently with its own sight picture and speed.


Another example of Batching is shooting Trap.  Early on, my mentor, said I had the “Pull/Bang” issue.  It took me a bit to figure out exactly what he was saying.  If I am standing at station #3 in Trap and I have a straight away bird it is a pretty fast shot and it is fun to see the pigeon disintegrate as close to the Trap house as possible.  If I am standing at station #5 and I have a hard right angle bird, this is one of the toughest shots in Trap and it takes approximately 3x-4x the amount of time to swing the gun to the right to get out in front of the bird to get an acceptable break. As a shooter Shooting Segmentation is key, each clay pigeon has its own sight picture and unique time to move the gun to pull the trigger.

The next time you are on the range, break down your array in which targets require more time than others.


See you out on the range soon!

Steve

The next 405 days..

The World Speed Shooting Championships (WSSC) concluded on May 19th 2019.  Being exactly 1 second from a World Title, I knew I needed to build a plan to shoot sub-60 seconds to have a chance at a world title in 2020. Immediately following this match gave birth to the plan below, Road to 60 seconds (or 59.95):

StageStage #DivisionPersonal BestPeak TimeRoad to 60Avg String
5 to GoSC-101Rimfire Rifle Open8.2910.5             8.00            2.00
ShowdownSC-102Rimfire Rifle Open6.327.5             6.25            1.56
Smoke and hopeSC-103Rimfire Rifle Open5.257             6.00            1.50
Outer LimitsSC-104Rimfire Rifle Open10.4411.5             9.65            3.22
AcceleratorSC-105Rimfire Rifle Open7.729             7.80            1.95
PendulumSC-106Rimfire Rifle Open8.469.5             8.00            2.00
Speed OptionSC-107Rimfire Rifle Open8.129.5             8.00            2.00
RoundaboutSC-108Rimfire Rifle Open6.437.5             6.25            1.56
Total Time61.03                 72.059.95

Starting on the left, the first column is the Steel Challenge Stage name, followed by the Stage Number, Division, my personal best times from classification, the peak times for 2019 (at the time), the stage times to shoot sub-60 (in this case 59.95), and finally the average string times needed to shoot sub-60.  Please note times are rounded to the nearest hundredth.

The weekend after the match, I sat down with Chris Barrett and his dad and I said, “we need to talk about something.”  “Steel Target Paint needs to be on the top spots of the podium in 2020 at the next WSSC and here is the roadmap to shoot sub 60.”  We all started to smile and reviewed the road map of how we were going to make this happen.  We first had to assess the times to make sure they were reasonable and we agreed they were.  We thought about moving some times around from bucket to bucket, but agreed the goals and plan were solid.  Then, we went to work.  Every practice session was calibrated by the ability to hit these times.  For me, I knew I had to be stronger on Outer Limits because this was my largest gaps in time and so this is what I did.  I studied every movement, broke out the video camera, and examined every nuance of the stage.  Footwork is only part of the success of the stage, albeit an important one.  The rest, well, I have left some tips on the podcast and on some of my other blog posts for consideration.

Below is a summary of the Road Map to breaking 60 and my stage times from Saturday 6/27/2020 at the Little River Sportsman’s Association in Valdosta Georgia.

I knew I shot the match pretty clean only taking 2-3 makeup shots into my score, but I was not ready for what the ‘pad’ revealed.  I thought it was 60 seconds or maybe a hair under, but a rush of emotion hit me when it displayed 58.42 seconds.  Admittedly, I immediately validated all stages were scored and there were not an errant time.  Needless to say, as of the writing of this post, 58.42 seconds is the new watermark for Steel Challenge.

Words cannot express how grateful I am for the loving support of my family and sponsors who have helped me reach this goal.  It was all that more special because I was shooting with friends and my oldest daughter Vanessa.  My message from this experience is if you build a plan and put in the work, great things can happen.  Additionally, now that I have been here, I know the path and it will be easier to find my way back.

A quick gear review:

Steel Target Paint

ELEY Force

Magnum Research Switchbolt

Powder River Precision Trigger

Tandemkross Fireswitch, takedown knob, and Kross pins

Vortex Razor 6 MOA

Hunters HD Gold Velocity eyewear

SteveFosterShooting Compensator – manufactured by Wiland USA

SteveFosterShooting Bolt stop pin/buffer

Pro Ears

CelCal Cerakote Basepads

Hogue rifle bag

Transported on my Range Tactical Gear Cart

Targeted Innovations Magazine caddy

See you out on the range soon!

Steve

Sometimes you need to take a close look at things..

Back in 1995 I turned 18 years old and I had aspirations of conquering the world.  First of all, I have always wanted a corvette, so I found one!  You know, it was a status symbol people around the immediate area recognized success with.  There was a 1976 Corvette sitting at a mechanics garage with a for sale sign on it.  I must have driven past the car 100 times on the way to the local place to eat during the summer, Rudy’s.  This car was a unique color being a brown and gold two-tone finish.  One day, I had the courage to drive into the establishment and started to look around as if I was an expert car guy.  The Paint was in great shape, the fiberglass was all solid, but the interior needed some long overdue loving.

After peaking through the windows, a burly guy came out and asked if he could help me.  I said I was considering buying a corvette and I have seen this one sitting by the road so many times and wondered why it had not sold yet.  He said that the interior needed to be replaced, but the engine was where the value was.  It was a 350 bored out, cam, blah blah blah.  I sat in the car and started it for the first time.  It started quicker and more effortless than any other car I have ever placed a key in the ignition of.  You could clearly tell there were a lot of ponies under the hood that wanted to get out to run.  He said he dyno’d the car and it made over 400hp.  I asked him how much he was asking and he said he just dropped the price down from $7500 to $5000 but he needed it gone.  I told him he was a little strong on price and I would offer him $3500.  He politely said no.  I told him to take my number down and call me if he changed his mind. 

A month went by and the phone rang at our house.  My mom answered the phone and said some person wanted to talk to me.  It was the owner of the Corvette.  He said that if I got down there today with $3500 it was mine.  I had to talk my dad into driving me down, but he reluctantly did.  He got out and said it was the ugliest color combination he had ever seen.  I told him, we could change all of that!  I drove the car home and as I type this you can’t get the smile off my face.  When we got home, I told my dad he should drive it, it had a ton of power.  He said those cars do not make much power.  I told him to stand back and watch.  I dumped the clutch and pressed on the gas and after burning the tires in 3rd gear I let out of it.  All I could see in the rearview mirror was my dad holding his head with his hand and shaking his head.  I made a victory lap and said, that was cool huh?!

The next day I brought the car out of the garage to wash and wax the car.  While washing the car I started to notice the minor imperfections of the paint here and there, definitely did not see this when I first looked at the car.  With every motion of the soapy rag I found every single nuance in the paint and fiberglass.  It was not perfect, but it was still amazing!

A few weeks ago I was training a student who is a Grand Master in multiple Steel Challenge divisions.  On the surface they were a bit intimidating to watch from 7 feet away.  As we started to document our string times, evaluate his match and stage management we started to see all of the slight imperfections.  As I shared with him, we all have a Shooting Tendency and we needed to figure out what his was.  It was important to spend the time and effort to look closely at his total shooting performance so we could identify these areas of opportunity and make them better. 

The next time you are out at the range practicing, think about how you are practicing and critically look at your shooting performance to see where you have opportunities to improve.  If you do not look at how you are shooting, it will be challenging for you to get better at the pace you would like. Sometimes you need to take a close look at things.

See you out on the range soon!

Steve

Suggestive Shooting…

It was not too long ago I was offered an opportunity to open a new facility with my current company.  The plan is for a largest facility in our network, with state of the art automation, and industry leading processing.  This new location was 45 miles further than my current drive so my prized pickup truck which gets 13.9 miles per gallon would have to be parked in favor of something with better fuel economy.  After doing some searching I landed on a Toyota Camry XSE which is a little sporty but would realize 33 MPG on the highway.  It was at this point in time when I did not recall seeing many Camrys out on the road.  After I made my purchase, I was driving down I 75 in Atlanta and I saw one.. two.. ten.. twenty Camrys in a 10 mile stretch of interstate.  Were they not there before or did I not notice them?  I think the answer is they were always there but the power of suggestion unconsciously made me aware to look for similar Camrys on the interstate.

 

Last night I concluded a training session with a new student.  This student is a fellow Grand Master in Rimfire Rifle Open (RFRO) and Pistol Caliber Carbine Open (PCCO).  After doing some analysis of his match scores and times we setup Outer Limits to gain the most improvement.  I shared with him at the beginning of the session everyone has a “Shooting Tendency” and we would find out what his was, identify it, embrace it, and make improvements.  Being a top tier shooter his Shooting Tendency was a little bit more difficult to figure out, but through observation and discussion he was able to put into words what I was seeing.  On the first plate all of his shots were within a 1” circle 2/3rds up the plate.  After the first stage worth of shooting I had him put a round on the far plate dead center.  I did this because sometimes people would sight their guns in at 10 yards not realizing the bullet was still climbing.  As he fired the test round it was a bullseye on plate #2.

 

My next observation was he was missing the back right plate (the 18” x 24”).  After watching his shots several were just off the left side at 9 O’Clock.  His Shooting Tendency is he was not pulling the trigger when he needed to.  It was a slight delay from when his eyes saw the dot on the plate to when this message went to his brain, to when the brain sent a message to his trigger finger to pull the trigger.  It was very interesting to watch in person.

 

The interesting part of the training session was when I told him I would shoot the stage and it was an exercise of knowing where your Targeted Edge Dial was and when to turn it.  My first string was at my 85% at 3.55 seconds.  I then told him I would turn my dial to shoot a 3.25-3.3.  Sure enough, I shot a 3.27 but something interesting happened.  I missed the back right plate in the same exact location he had.  Right off the plate at 9 O’Clock. I told him I was going to name this, maybe after him, but I wanted to write this up for some time, so here I am.  I then loaded my next magazine and said I would back my dial back to a 3.50 second run.  This next string was 3.58 seconds and you would not believe it; I missed the back right plate in the same exact spot.  I would wager a paycheck you could cover his misses and my two misses with a quarter.

This phenomenon is Suggestive Shooting.  We consciously tell ourselves not to do something and our subconscious overrides our actions while shooting.  Some other examples of this are:

  • I always don’t shoot well if I start on Smoke and Hope.
  • I won’t shoot well if I don’t practice once a month.
  • I won’t shoot well at a larger match because I have not shot a major match in 3 months.
  • Hey Steve, why do you shoot pendulum that way, aren’t you afraid of missing plate #3? No, because I have not missed plate #3 in a year.  Then I proceed to miss plate #3 in the next Three out of Five strings.
  • I will shoot well if I only shoot one gun per session.
  • You have a squad that is not shooting well at a major match after a long break due to COVID 19 and you tell yourself to shoot your match and then you go to the shooters box and lose your fundamentals of shooting on the first string.
  • Etc

 

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and they told you not to say something or a word and at a later point you say it anyway.  Then you are dumbfounded you said what you were not supposed to say?  You work hard at consciously telling yourself not to do something and your subscious does it anyway.  There is not a magic pill that I have found.  It is something you have to be aware of and find strategies to mitigate Suggestive Shooting.

 

See you out on the range soon!

Steve

Sometimes I don’t think things all the way through…

In 1997 I saved up $5k while I was going to college working 60 hours a week with a full time course load.  There was nothing I wanted more than to buy a new car; it was a status symbol.  I had a well running car and it was fantastic in the snow, but it was not nearly as cool as a new one!  My dad and I walked into a Chevrolet dealer to look at some great deals on corvettes.  This is one of the car buying regrets I have in my life, I should have bought that 1996 Green Convertible.  However, my dad did drive home in a 1996 White Corvette, it was slightly used with just a couple miles on it.. what a deal.  I took the more practical approach and went to the Mercedes dealership.  I know what you are thinking, how was this practical?  Well, they also sold Subaru, which I heard great things about.  They were All Wheel Drive, with decent performance, and had a great aesthetic to them.  I remember seeing this shiny white Legacy GT with awesome rims and I knew I had to drive it!  As you can imagine, one test drive and my “wanting it” quickly turned into “needing it”!  We sat down, did the paperwork, and I was driving home in my new $27K car.  How could life be any better?!

 

Unfortunately, despite being all-wheel drive it was a horrible car to drive in the snow.  It only took my first winter in upstate New York before I found the ditch doing 360’s down the middle of Interstate 81.  Shortly after this roller coaster ride, I decided to upgrade the shoes and spent $1k on the best snow tires on the market.  Despite my investment, the car resembled the handling of a rear-wheel drive car and it was not suitable for the amount of driving I was doing.  I did not have the car longer than 18 months before I traded it in on an all-wheel drive SUV.  I lost a significant amount of money on the trade.

 

This experience reminds me a training session I did with a first time student.  We had documented strings and total stage times faster than they have ever shot before.  They were insistent on taking some first shot practice shots.  I told him I advised against it because although we broke down his strings into opportunity of where he could make up time, I stayed away from the first shot.  I shared with him I believe the first shot to be sacred and if it took a little extra time to get it, we would make it up on the other plates.  Too often, I have seen people push the first shot too much and strings of fire have gone down in flames because of it.  He said that he appreciated my perspective and he was going to do it any way.  I then shared with him that was fine.  I then wrote down on a piece of paper what was going to happen as if I was Miss Cleo.

 

After approximately 40 draws to the first shot he was able to reduce his first shot time by .15 seconds.  I asked him if he was ready to shoot a ‘stage’ worth of strings to see if his practice had paid off.  He said absolutely.  As the timer went off, the first shot was blistering fast as I saw a puff of smoke just over the top of the first plate, he hit the second plate, and then fired two more shots at the first plate before he hit it and proceeded to go one for one on the last two plates.  He shook his head and then I asked him if he had this out of his system.  He laughed and said that he did.  String #2 was reminiscent of String #1, but with one less make up shot.  String #3-#5 were identical, the first shot was .1 slower than what he was running prior to the practice and went one for one.  The total stage time was 3 seconds slower than his personal best he just shot prior to the first shot practice session.

 

He turned around and I told him I wrote down a prediction on a piece of paper.  He asked what it was.  I told him I predicted how he was going to shoot after the first shot practice.  I opened the paper and I said on the first couple of strings your first shot time was going to be slightly faster but he was going to have make-up shots.  Then on last couple of strings he was going to slow back down to make sure he went one for one, but the total times were slower than what he was running prior to the first shot practice.  Was this sorcery?  No.  As I explained, for some reason when we shoot, we tell our brain we want to do one thing fast and all it registers is we need to do everything fast.  If we tell our brain we want to move our Edge Dial from 85% to close to 100% or more on the first shot, we turn the dial for all of the shots on a string.  An experienced shooter can turn the Edge Dial, shot by shot or even the arrays on the stage.  As we work on strings of fire, I prefer to turn the dial for the whole stage at a time, but still maintain 85% on the first string.

 

As with my big first car purchase, you really need to think through what is going to happen after you lay out that kind of money and really think about what is going to happen next or down the road.  You have to look past what is going to happen after the first plate.  By focusing only on the short-term benefit, it can have long-term detriment.  Think about this the next time you are out on the range working on your Edge.

 

See you out on the range soon!

Steve