Over the past six years I have truly been blessed to meet so many great people through the shooting sports. There has been a lull in shooting major matches since the World Speed Shoot. In addition the club that got me into shooting Steel Challenge, which has hosted some of the largest level I and level II matches in the country suddenly called it quits. This has spurred me and several others to get back to why we compete, it is not only winning (that is fun too!), but to spend time with our friends. Some we have known for many years and I always look forward to meeting new ones out on the range.
A couple weeks ago Chris Barrett and myself decided to meet up at a range we don’t shoot often, it has been three years since I last shot there. I texted one of our Steel Target Paint team members Teddie Gartman and he brought two of his kids. When we arrived, it reminded me of the days of when the Steel Target Paint Shooting team first started. A small local match with friends and family. To my surprise, I saw Allan Owens, one of the OGs of Rimfire in the North Atlanta area and first members of the Steel Target Paint Shooting team.
The first match I shot with him six years ago he had to meet the person who barely edged him out. This time was truly amazing. Alan was there with his amazing wife Diana, their daughter and their three grandkids. It was inspiring to see three generations of one family enjoying a Sunday afternoon at the range. Not a single person without a smile on their face.
Each of us looks for something out of the shooting sports. Some of us are ultra competitive and want to do our best at every match we shoot. For some of us it is about connecting with our families. Some of us like to spend time with our friends. After all, I have never met a stranger out on the range. There is something for everyone. If you are waivering about taking someone to the range, just go ahead and do it. I have not walked away from a range session thinking, “I wish I didn’t do that”.
Growing up I had a coach who told me, “It is only when you are mentally prepared then you will be physically ready to play.” The year I heard this our basketball team went undefeated for the year. There is a direct correlation between preparation and success. It may have sounded corny, but we had the same game ready music. We erupted onto the floor listening to “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N Roses. Every time I hear this song I flash back to a simplier and but yet more competitive time in my life. Basketball was a way of life for the majority of my younger childhood. We would ‘shoot hoops’ five days a week. We knew if we were not practicing our shot, someone else was. This was also the time in my life when I was in the best shape of my life. Before we could get physically ready, we had to be mentally ready.
A couple of weeks ago I shot with Chris Barrett at his range getting ready for the 2021 season. As Chris stepped into the box on our first stage, Five to Go, I gave him the make ready command. As he unbagged his Magnum Research Switchbolt he took several dry-fire strings. Each time he ran the stage he would pull the trigger when the sight was on the plate and he said “Bang”. I started laughing and I stopped him. He said what. I said are you saying “Bang..Bang..Bang..Bang..Bang?” He said yes and we both starting laughing uncontrollably. After we composed ourselves I asked him why. He said that it helped him mentally prepare to shoot the stage.
As I got into the shooters box next, I took my normal dry fire sight picture as I always do. Then, I created my own new sound effect, “Pew..Pew..Pew..Pew..Pew”. Everyone started laughing. I have found a lot of value in taking a dry sight picture on every stage. What I have told students over the years is I want my subscious to see last is perfection. I dry fire the stage at the speed I intend to shoot it. I have done this for years. What I have added is a deliberate trigger pull on each target with a sound effect. Through reflection a dry sight picture is probably not enough to mentally prepare. Doing all of the steps including adding a noise to mimic the shot of the gun may help, even if it gives me the slightest advantage.
Last weekend, after employing this technique, I shot a personal best of sub-7 seconds on Pendulum. Did the extra “pews” help? Was it because my mental preparedness was better when the timer went off? Or maybe I just got lucky.. hmm. Something to consider on your next range trip.
My wife and I are extremely fortunate to have two amazing daughters. Over the years, the amount of time it takes them to get ready for anything has grown significantly. Admittedly, I appreciate their willingness to put themselves together before going out of the house, but 2 hours seems a bit excessive. Over the course of time, they have developed a strong level of discipline to be on time, even when others are not. This takes a lot of discipline to plan ahead with the end goal of a departure time in mind.
This same level of discipline is as important on the range. When working with a couple of shooters in the past couple of weeks a trend has emerged which is tough to break, you have to have Visual Discipline. You have to ensure the dot is on the target before you pull the trigger to get your hit. If your eyes leave the target before the shot has broken, your odds of missing the target exponentially increase. Have you ever noticed when you are driving and you look down to the right, the car goes to the right? If you are gazing out the window to the left while behind the wheel you get a lot closer to the solid line? This is not a coincidence. The gun goes to where the eyes go. If you focus on the dot or front sight in Steel Challenge everything is where it needs to be when you pull the trigger. You are able to call your hits better, why? Because you are actually looking at the sights.
If you are someone who cuts their eyes to the target and you miss on the leading edge of the target, this is because you have switched to a target focus. You are subconsciously expecting the sights to be there, but it is not. This is why I reinforce you have to keep your index and move your upper torso, driven by your legs all together as one unit. Some people have asked for some clarification based on my ‘handsy’ comment on the podcast. If you drive the gun with your hands you will lose stability. You may get away with it for a short while, but as with anything else, if you apply more speed or pressure to anything you will find the weakness.
You know who you are. Just because you can point shoot a couple of targets and get some success does not mean this is a high percentage play when shooting. Sometimes you can get the false sense of security by getting a couple of hits… If you want a higher percentage play.. you paid good money for that dot or front sight, use it. Steel Challenge is about control. If you want to score well, remember you have to have Visual Discipline.
Just a few thoughts the next time you are out on the range.
Recently, I wrote a blog post discussing shooting segmentation and the batching process that can happen when shooting. Let’s spend a few minutes and discuss the segmentation part of shooting. I was recently training with someone who was at a plateau shooting Steel Challenge Stage Outer Limits. The first shot was assertive and towards the center of the plate every single shot. The second shot on Plate #2 was a little bit more sporadic, but was hitting the plate 95%+ of the time. There was a brief pause after the shot was fired which included a slight delay until either an audible ring or enough time for the brain to process the sights were in the right location when the shot was fired. The third, fourth, and fifth shot were at an acceptable pace. The overall times were right around 4.00 seconds a string. This is a high Master level shooter on all of the other stages, with some in the Grand Master time range.
My job, as a coach, was to identify their shooting tendency and provide them with a way to correct it to become more effective and more efficient. I shared with this person they were hesitating on plate #2 and I asked if they knew that they were doing this. They said that they could feel from time to time they were. I then walked through the psychology of shooting this stage and the fear of leaving the first box and going to the next and not missing the second plate. I told them I wanted them to speed up the second shot and not think about it being the second shot on Outer Limits, but a second shot on any other stage where you see the dot on the plate and pull the trigger. What happened next was interesting, but not all that uncommon. They shot the first shot slightly more aggressively .10 seconds faster, the back shot was much faster and .93 seconds total time on the first two shots. This pace is in where the top third of most Grand Masters in Rimfire Rifle Open are logged. Then they shot plate #4 aggressively, they were not stable into the box and it took 3 shots to hit plate #4 before they finished off with plate #3 and the stop plate. Total time was 4.25 seconds with two pickup shots.
This is where shooting segmentation comes in. Just because you push the pace on one shot, this does not mean you push the pace on all of the shots on the stage or array. You segment your cadence on each target giving each one what it needs. You can’t treat every single shot the same or batch them together. When you watch the top shooters in the sport, they do not shoot all targets at the same speed, there is variation because every target needs its own sight picture and discipline. If your transition from box #1 to box#2 is assertive, but in control and you hit plate #4 99+% of the time, you may not need to speed this shot up.
After reviewing some video, they were able to make the correct adjustments and were shooting in the 3.5-3.6s when they put all of the steps together. If you are not getting the results you are looking for on a stage, with a particular division, step back and look to see where the time is to be lowered. Just shooting everything fast is not the recipe for success. Sometimes you have to break down each shot and transition to find it. Keep this in mind the next time you go to the practice range and find your time!
It has been an interesting experience these past two weeks, there are babies on the “farm”. As some of you may have heard over the past couple of years, my wife and I made a decision to move to the country to have property to have a shooting range. What I did not expect was my wife to want to satisfy her youth fantasy of having a goat farm. Admittedly, I did not get it for a while.. until the last couple of weeks. A year and a half ago I took my wife to buy her first two Nigerian Dwarfs – blue-eyed with a great pedigree. As the goats settled in as young kids, my wife had plans to breed the goats to have babies and she would sell some to offset costs. As of three weeks ago, we had a total of ten goats without selling a single one. I talked to my wife and she said our first two goats were pregnant and she would sell some to offset costs. I skeptically raised an eye-brow and went back to a project I was working on.
As with many of you reading this, 2020 has been filled with fun and excitement. My mother-in-law was at and end of life situation and my wife went to spend the last couple weeks with her in North Carolina, which I strongly supported. Reality quickly set in there were two pregnant goats on the farm and the last time we had our own child I woke up with nurses looking at me. That’s a story for another time. Where I am going, I am the least prepared person to deliver babies and to care for them. The one thing that went well is both goats waited until the week my wife came back to have their babies. The first goat, Bonnie, had three healthy babies; two girls and one boy.
Watching the baby goats and the new mom interact was magical. The babies knew right what to do. They knew where to go to eat. They made noises to indicate to the mom they were hungry and she would walk right over to feed them. This made me reflect on my high school psychology classes thinking about Freud’s Id, Ego, and SuperEgo. As I remember it, the Id is the part of our personality from birth. It is the unconscious pleasure principle looking for immediate gratification of needs and wants. If we don’t get them, it can turn into tension or anxiety.
In the last two years I have been fortunate to work with shooting students from all over the country. One of the promises I make to each and every one of them is we will find out what their Shooting Tendency is, and put a plan in place to mitigate it. What I have found is the majority of people have an issue with their Id. How many times have you seen a shooter shoot a string of 1.55 on Smoke and Hope and they try to shoot the same exact time and they end up shooting a 1.50 or a 2.20 because they had a couple of misses? If you ask them, 95% of the time, they will say they were going slower or the same speed. Remember, the Id is the unconscious mind so we do not consciously tell ourselves to speed up, but we do it anyway. For the purpose of this discussion, I am going to call this concept the Foster Reflex.
In the past I have addressed part of this discussion with the insatiable need to go faster. This remains true, but this is the conscious coefficient of the shooting equation. The Foster Reflex is the unconscious coefficient. I have not met a shooter on the range who was not competitive and wanted to score well, this is the desire part of the Id. Because this is unconscious, we need to now focus on conscious strategies to mitigate our unconscious.
What strategy do we employ to help this? Read the The Edge and the Targeted Edge Dial articles. Going to the range is much more than producing empty cases.
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.
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
It has been humbling to see all of the Falcons out in the wild! Get yours today at:
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:
Gun or ammunition failures
Poorly setup targets or targets themselves
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.
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!
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.