Going to the range can be a lot of fun; and for some, this may be the extent of their experience with shooting, and they may want for nothing more. For others though, including myself, the idea of testing out my skills by entering a competition is quite a tantalizing thought. I feel like every time I spend some time at the range, I get better and better. I can’t help but wonder how I would stack up if I actually decided to measure my ability against that of others. The biggest problem, however, is that I have no clue as how to even go about it.
It was recommended to me that I start out with a steel match, as those tend to be better for new shooters. Through some friends, I found out that a pretty notable competition was going to be right in my backyard, so to speak. I had been going back and forth a lot with regards to taking the next step with shooting, and this seemed to be the right opportunity for me to finally take the plunge. So I did it; I entered myself into the 3rd Annual PA State Steel Challenge on the weekend of July 9 and 10. I filled out my form and mailed it in; now I just had to figure out what in the world I needed to do in order to be prepared. Here are the seven things that I found to be most helpful in my preparation.
Step 1: Find a “Buddy”
I find that it’s much easier to motivate yourself and to learn if you have someone else going through the experience with you. When I am at the range, rarely do I see people there by themselves, so this seems to hold just as true with shooting as it does with other things. That being said, I would recommend getting one of your fellow range friends to enter the competition with you. For me, the choice here was obvious. My partner throughout life is my husband, and that’s definitely no exception when it comes to shooting. We began shooting together; we purchased our first handguns together; it was only naturally that we would enter our first competition together.
Step 2: Research Your Event
There are many different rules out there when it comes to the different shooting competitions. Obviously, about the worst thing you could ever do is to show up at the competition not knowing what is expected. There are several components of research that need to be completed to fully prepare you.
First, I checked out the website for the competition. I went directly to the Steel Challenge Shooting Associate Rule Book. Those 29 pages answered not only the questions that I had formulated in my mind, but others that I hadn’t even considered. I read through it twice just to make sure I didn’t miss a thing!
Next, I talked to some other shooters I know who had some experience in steel shoots. They were able to provide some pointers, set some expectations, and answer those questions still lingering even after reading the handbook. A good example: I had no idea how much ammunition I should bring; however, a friend who had competed last year was able to give me a good estimate.
Finally, I watched some online videos. I was easily able to find videos that competitors from the previous year had made and posted online. From this, I was able to obtain an idea of the setup of the course and the various stages. I will admit though, it also intimidated me a bit too. Everyone I watched did very well. Of course, I doubt many of those who fail to finish well are posting their videos online!
Step 3: Take a Training Class
I want to preface this by saying that I truly believe that anyone who handles a firearm should take a training class immediately when they begin shooting. That being said, if you have never taken a training class before, definitely participate in one prior to competing. Safety is taken very seriously during competition, as it should be. In fact, failure to exercise proper safety techniques could result in disqualification. I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in one on one training with Tori Nonaka of Team GLOCK just a few short weeks after purchasing my first handgun.
Step 4: Enter a Local Competition
In almost all areas, there are shooting clubs and ranges that offer small scale competitions on a regular basis. By entering into one of these, you can obtain the experience of competition without all of the time and pressure. It will also allow you to get accustomed to the range commands used in competitive shooting, as well as an opportunity to observe the endless safety precautions you need to be familiar with.
In mid April, I entered a bowling pin shoot in Manassas, Va., sponsored by a local gunsmith. As I stood and waited for my turn, I was unbelievably nervous to the point of nausea. When they finally called my name, I wasn’t even sure I would be able to follow through with it. There were six bowling pins lined up on a large table, 30 feet away. All six had to be knocked off as quickly as possible with as many shots needed. Your final score was based on the better of two rounds. Amazingly, my final score was somewhere in the eight second range; I won “High Lady!” There’s not much more of a confidence booster than that!
Step 5: Practice, Practice, Practice!
As in everything, practice is crucial. Once you are familiar with the rules and the set up of the stages, go to your local range and practice everything you are going to need to use at the competition. Personally, I am not very accurate when I draw from a holster. For weeks leading up to the match, I would draw, shoot once and repeat. I did this over and over again, focusing on increasing my comfort zone.
Step 6: Prepare in the Hours Before
There are two important things involved in this step. The first is obvious; have all of your gear together. You don’t want to forget anything crucial at the last minute, so make sure you pack it all up in advance. The second part might not be so obvious though. This comes from some advice that was given to me. Go to a nearby range a few hours before you are scheduled to actually compete. For most people, the first stage is where they take their first shots of the day. Sometimes, though, you need to shake off a little rust, or find your groove. If you go to your local range before heading to the location of the competition, you’ll have the opportunity to get off a few shots and maybe even relax your nerves a bit.
Sure, it’s a competition; but it’s your first. Most likely you aren’t going to come in first place; there’s a strong chance you won’t even finish in the top 50 percent. Who cares! It’s a giant step to make the decision to compete for the first time; that alone should leave you proud of yourself. This is going to be an experience to remember forever; make it a good one!
Just like at the bowling pin shoot, my nerves were getting the best of me as I arrived at the Izaak Walton League on the morning of July 10. I had my husband, Earl, by my side though, as well as Aaron and Tori Nonaka, all three of whom offered great support and advice to me. I’ll admit, I didn’t start out very well, and got frustrated early. Fortunately I had a wonderful group of people with me, who reminded me repeatedly just to go out there and take my time and have fun. After the first few stages, I began to feel more relaxed and it showed in my performance.
While my overall end result wasn’t the score I had been hoping for, I definitely gained a lot from it and feel much more comfortable about competing it again. Now that I’ve gotten the first major competition under my belt, I’m already searching for the next one to sign up for! If you are still considering whether or not to take the next step in your shooting, you will not regret getting yourself entered into a steel match!