Introduction to Competitive Steel Shooting

Whether you want to be the next Jessie Harrison or if you simply love plinking, just wait until you hear the targets ring! 

by posted on April 30, 2021
Steel Shooting Cingle003
Image copyright Scott Armstrong

The moment I became aware of the large group of men standing behind me, watching me, I felt nervous. I had signed up for a day-long event called “Intro to Sport Shooting” and steel shooting was the last class of the day. Because I was new to the sport, I needed some extra instruction, and was still at the firing line when everyone else was finished. There was a barbecue dinner planned for the students to cap off the day, and I was holding them up.

However, much to my surprise, right after I heard the ding! of the last steel target, everyone clapped! Some of the guys even came up to me afterward and congratulated me for hanging in there all day. I was the only woman shooting with them, so it really boosted my confidence and self-esteem.

Tresa Weaver image copyright Karri Wilson

Steel Shooting Basics
You can try out steel shooting at any range that allows it, where you can start shooting at steel targets instead of paper. If you are interested in kicking it up a notch and trying your hand at competitive shooting, the Steel Challenge competition might be for you!

Compared to other types of competitive shooting, steel shooting is great for entry-level shooters because it’s relatively simple, shooting at the same eight stages against the clock. Unlike International Defensive Pistol Association, you’re not running from spot to spot, hiding behind doors, etc., then shooting at the target. You stand in the “shooter’s box” and shoot five steel targets five times, keeping your best four times as your score.

Three target shapes make up the courses of fire: the 18” x 24” rectangle, the 12” round and the 10” round. Here’s how it works. Someone stands next to you, asks if you’re ready, then hits the buzzer on the shot timer—that’s when you begin shooting. The steel target marked with red paint or red foam is the stop plate—and you hit it last. The winner is the shooter with the fastest overall time.

Image copyright Scott Armstrong

The Lure of Steel Shooting
Jake Martens, spokesperson for the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA), says this type of competition is growing in popularity among women. “It mirrors the rising number of women who are purchasing and shooting firearms,” says Martens. “At the World Speed Shooting Championship the fastest shooter drew a gun from her holster and fired five rounds in less than two seconds.”

Competitors can shoot in either (or both) rifle and pistol divisions, and can compete with a .22-caliber firearm, which has minimal recoil. In most areas these days it’s easier to locate and purchase a .22-cal., not to mention .22 ammo is less expensive than other calibers. When shooting in the rifle division, a quick draw from a holster is not required; shooters start from a low-ready position. It’s less intimidating for competitors who are not familiar with drawing a firearm from a holster quickly.

Another advantage of steel shooting, compared to hitting paper targets, is the instant gratification. You know that you hit the target when you hear that steel go ping!

Pro-shooter Champion Jessie Harrison image copyright Karri Wilson

Steel Challenge World Speed Shooting champion Jessie Harrison says she enjoys the sport because she feels it’s one of the purest disciplines of shooting: combining speed and accuracy in a "stand and deliver” manor. There are no gimmicks or tricks to improve performance or score, just pure skill. “I definitely recommend Steel Challenge for women and new shooters,” says Harrison. “It’s less intimidating than other disciplines, since you aren’t shooting and moving. You get immediate feedback from the steel plates, and it gives you such a confidence boost hearing them ring!”

How to Get Started
There are about 270 affiliated Steel Challenge clubs in the U.S., in addition to state and local steel-shooting leagues. Just go to Steel Challenge Shooting Association (SCSA) to find a participating club near you.

Harrison suggests that if someone is just starting out and not quite ready for a steel match, start with a plate rack and try to shoot it clean (knocking down all the plates) in one pass. Once you clean it, back up five yards and start over. “Continue with this until you feel confident on steel, then find a local club that hosts a steel match and go shoot!” she recommends.

Advice From the Pros
Sandra Zettlemoyer is a competitive steel shooter, NRA Certified Firearm Instructor and A Girl and A Gun (AGAG) chapter facilitator.  She warns that it’s all too easy to become your own biggest competition. “You can’t let one bad stage ruin your entire match,” advises Zettlemoyer. “Put it out of your mind and move on. Concentrate on being able to walk that line of speed and accuracy.”

Image copyright Sandra Zettlemoyer

Zettlemoyer also noticed that some of the beginner competitors would get nervous when they heard the buzzer, signaling it’s time to shoot. “Some shooters hear the buzzer, panic, and forget the basics of shooting fundamentals. But try to keep in mind that it’s only an indicator to begin shooting.”

Harrison’s advice for new competition steel shooters is: “Keep a positive mindset, learn from mistakes and move on, and never quit!”

If you’re interested in steel shooting competitively, you can buy targets from X Steel Targets, Cheaper Than Dirt, Amazon and Midway USA.

To find a club in your area, go to and




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