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The death of Steel Challenge


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#1 Ben

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 04:02 PM

http://www.gunnuts.n...teel-challenge/

 

 

 
The death of Steel Challenge by Caleb •   

February 21, 2014

 

In its recent report to members, the US Practical Shooting Association announced that the Steel Challenge World Championships would be moving from its current location in Frostproof, FL to St. George, Utah for the 2014 match. Additionally, the Steel Challenge LLC will be absorbed by USPSA into one unified organization. Whether or not this will be enough to save the floundering match that was once the richest handgun tournament in the nation will remain to be seen.

Steel Challenge was created over 30 years ago in the vibrant (at the time) shooting culture of Southern California. Up until 2007, it was an independent match, not associated with any of the other major shooting sports. In the winter of 2007, it was sold for a considerable sum to USPSA, who took over the administration of the match. For the next four years it was largely unchanged, until in 2012 the match was moved from Piru, CA where it had been held for 30 years to Frostproof, Florida.

 

The first Frostproof match was a bit of a rough start. Participation dropped precipitously from the last match held in Piru, the traditional impact activated stop plates were abandoned, but for the most part the shooters and sponsors were happy with the match being held in Florida in November. After the match concluded, it was announced that the 2013 match would be moved to the middle of July, and bookened with the non-USPSA sanctioned ProAm match.

 

2013 was a rough year for Steel Challenge. The July time table saw terrible weather soak the shooters, and while organizers had hoped for an increase in attendance, it was down for the 2nd straight year in a row at the 2013 match. Media coverage was sparse, with few outlets reporting on the match, and even sponsors complained about the lack of representation in exchange for their sponsorship dollars. Steel Challenge was in serious danger. Add on top of that the 5 year contract USPSA had signed with the Universal Shooting Academy in Frostproof, and things were looking grim for the future of Steel Challenge.

 

Two straight years of declining participation in a match is a bad sign; especially at at time when ever other shooting sport is experiencing considerable growth. IDPA, 3Gun, and even NRA Action Pistol were experience major increases in shooter participation at their national level events, meanwhile the former crown jewel of the shooting sports was diminishing.

That brings things to where they stand now with Steel Challenge. Will a new location in St. George and new dates in June pump some much needed life back into this once great match? Or will the hassle of adding another city, another weekend to their travel plans put off the remaining 80 die-hard shooters that attended the match in 2013.

 

In 2010 and 2011, the last two years the match was held in Piru, there were over 200 entrants in the “Main Match” category. In 2012 in Frostproof, that number shrank to 132 entrants. In 2013, that number was down to just 104. That doesn’t tell the complete story though, because an single person at Steel Challenge can be entered in multiple divisions in the Main Match category. In 2013, the final year for Frostproof, there were approximately 80 shooters for the entire match. A World Championship match, formerly one of the most prestigious matches in the nation had shrunk in attendance size to the same as a well attended club level IDPA match.

 

What does the future hold for Steel Challenge? It appears that 2014 will likely be the deciding year. By absorbing the organizational structure of Steel Challenge into USPSA, this gives USPSA the ability to kill the match entirely if it doesn’t perform well in Utah. And perform well it must, because I don’t think the match could survive another year of falling shooter numbers and sponsorship dollars. If a new location and new dates can once again attract greater numbers of shooters, media, and sponsors, then perhaps we’ll see a renewed Steel Challenge.

 

As students of the history of the sport, and fans of the great shooting sports, that’s exactly what we’re hoping for. Perhaps USPSA will take a page from the NRA’s playbook, who have restored Bianchi Cup to its status as the most prestigious handgun tournament in America. It’s our hope that Steel Challenge will be able to shake off the last two years of missteps and once again be one of shining examples of what’s great about the shooting sports.

 

 


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#2 Kool Aide

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 04:10 PM

Universal Shooting Academy- helping  shooting sports Jump the Shark* since 1992!

 

USA is where IDPA announced the Tiger Team.

 

A great place to take a shooting sport to let it circle the drain.

 

 

*http://en.wikipedia....mping_the_shark


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#3 seanc

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 04:12 PM

Why did the match leave piru in the first place?   ca gun laws?



#4 Shiva Rudra

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 04:12 PM

Gee.  Wonder what would happen to the Kentucky Derby if they moved it from the first Saturday in May in Louisville,Kentucky to Elsmere, Nebraska in July?


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#5 Hans Gruber

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 04:15 PM

You know that Steel Challenge is in trouble when even Mike Dalton isn't even running a local SC match in Piru anymore.



#6 Ben

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 05:14 PM

Brian Enos wrote an interesting piece awhile back. I think there may be some stuff in here that points to why the Steel Challenge is in decline.
 


I’ll start out with some personal history so you know where I’m coming from.

When I began, my motivation was purely to master the art of shooting a pistol. It quickly became mastery of competition as well. My entire life was devoted to shooting. I lived and breathed it every moment of the day. After dinner, Rob Leatham and I would stand in the living room and practice mag changes for hours, racing against each other. For twenty years I’ve been practicing mag changes and I still learn each time. My family suffered as I basically came home from work and went into my gunroom and spent the rest of the night reloading ammo or working on my gun. I’m not saying any of this is good, it’s just the way it was. I think, at that time, the matches also reflected this passion. The sport was new; the only reason we were doing it was because we wanted to. We weren’t making any money and there were no sponsors. There were no classification systems at the major matches; all the big matches were heads up. As a beginner at our local club matches I entered in Master class. I didn’t want to win a "class"—I wanted to beat everyone. Rob and I would drive to the Southwest Pistol League in California to shoot a match that only had two stages, Double Trouble and Five To Go. The entire match was only 35 rounds! At that time all the matches tested shooting skills: the Bianchi Cup, the Steel Challenge and all the IPSC courses were strictly shooting skill oriented. Most clubs and organizations were run by top level competitors.

My first big out of state match was the Cota deCaza match in California in 1981. At the end of each day I rolled out my sleeping bag and slept on the ground next to my '69 Datsun 510. The match consisted of a Steel Challenge course, a PPC course, and a weird "created especially for the match" course. I shot it with my Colt 45, the only gun I had. I finished well and won a Bar-Sto barrel. I was so excited that I actually won a Bar-Sto barrel! It was at that match that I heard about the Steel Challenge from Mike Dalton. I couldn’t believe I was hanging out with Mike Dalton. He was a God. I returned home fueled by my big prize, determined to practice and go back to the Steel Challenge and kick some butt.

Mike Henry and I practiced in the desert shooting at paper plates stapled to sticks. We only had three target stands; steel targets were out of the question. If the course we were practicing had more than three targets, we would just set up the first three targets of the stage, shoot those for awhile, and then set up the next three to practice the last part of the stage. I went back to California and shot well, finishing 5th overall.

Soon after that Mike Dillon offered to sponsor Rob and I with 1000 lead bullets per month. This number quickly turned into all the bullets we could shoot. We were in heaven. We could shoot a lot of ammo. I approached a friend at a local gunshop about sponsoring me to go to the Bianchi Cup. He helped me out with the entry fee and I was off to the Bianchi Cup – a fully sponsored shooter. I think I finished twenty-first, I can’t remember for sure. I came away with a huge bunch of experience, determined to go back the next year and win the whole thing.
During the actual match I had an incredible experience. I was shooting the Mover Event - my gun was shaking and tracking poorly; everything felt like crap. Just before I started a string I remember thinking, "maybe you’re squeezing too hard, just relax your grip a little." The gun came out and tracked perfectly, just like it did in practice. I was seeing the sights lift, feeling the trigger; I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited when I came off the line I said to the range officer, "I’m going to come back next year and win this thing." He let lose a big belly laugh and made some comment like, "Yea, right kid." That evening I remember talking to Leonard Knight over a beer, telling him about the exciting realization I just had, how it was going to change everything about how I practiced and competed.

[Rant mode on.] These days the matches have more rounds on one stage than entire matches we used to shoot. Everywhere you go you see targets stuck all over the place just to get the round count up. Nobody wants to come to the match if you’re not going to be running around spraying bullets all over the place. I’ve watched guys capable of winning big matches shoot standard exercises—they have no basic shooting skills whatsoever. But yet they can win major tournaments because the matches no longer test shooting skill. Instead they test cranking rounds all over the place on easy targets.

And then we have the classification system, and the competitors misuse of it. Every match you go to you hear of this or that guy who’s sandbagging on a local level so he can stay in a class lower than he should be so he can win a gun at the next area match. It’s bullshit. It’s that spirit that’s killing the sport. I’m not bitching at shooters specifically. It’s the "American Spirit" that pisses me off— the spirit of mediocrity. It ruins everything. Most sports in the US eventually become "Americanized" and lose whatever passion they had. While IPSC outside the United States is far from perfect, at least they still design courses that challenge your skill level. In the United States it’s all about how many rounds we can squeeze into a match and in what order the "classes" go to the prize table.

Today, you’re lucky if you go to a major match and find one good course of fire. IPSC, as shot in the United States, is similar to International Skeet verses American Skeet. Let's look at what’s happened to two great sports, Skeet and Trap. In Europe you have some kick-ass shotgun sports, in the United States you have watered down versions of the original sport designed so you can sit on your couch and watch TV all day, practice the same easy targets every time you go to the range, and eventually you will shoot a perfect score. Twenty-five or one hundred straight. Who cares. At the major shotgun tournaments in the United States everyone is shooting clean scores. Why? Let’s take a sport that originally had extremely fast moving targets, started from a low gun position, and then cut the target speed in half and start the gun from the shoulder, just so it will be easier to shoot that 25 straight. Now we can watch more TV and still shoot that 25 straight. The guys who really do train shoot hundreds and hundreds straight. It’s the same in Trap, let’s cut the target speed in half, and decrease the angle of the target release to a point where it’s no longer a challenge just to hit each target, now the challenge is to not miss one out of hundreds. It’s pathetic. (If you want to try a tough shotgun sport, try wobble trap. That’s a sport even the best never master.)

At the modern day Bianchi Cup (where, unfortunately I had a hand in starting the trend) – the challenge is not to just hit the ten-ring like it was when the course was designed; but now the task, should you decide to accept it, is that you can never shoot a shot that isn’t a ten. If you do you may as well pack your bags and get on the plane. What started out as a great match twenty-five years ago with a stock gun is now a joke with the modern day "Bianchi Open Gun." Instead of the Bianchi Cup being the place to be in May, the only shooters who show up are Bianchi Specialists or old timers. It eventually kills the original intent of the Carnival Match. I’ve seen this happen to all the major matches. Bianchi Cup, Steel Challenge, The Sportsman’s Team Challenge, and The Masters. (What happened to the Masters is an even bigger bitch session; I’ll save that for another rant.) The Carnival Matches start out as a good idea, then after 5 or 6 years they deteriorate into a boring game of repetition. There are several reasons behind this. The first is that the courses of fire are never updated or changed to reflect competitor improvement in skill level. As soon as you know exactly what you have to do every time you go to the range, you can set about perfecting it. This starts the stagnation. Then we have to consider the temperament types of the competitors who are attracted to these events. Most of the Carnival Matches draw from IPSC shooters. Within IPSC shooters there are various types, some that prefer diversity and some that prefer repetition. The repetitive nature of all the Carnival Matches eventually draws shooters who excel at working out systems to effectively tackle those challenges. I am one of them. Most of my major wins were at Carnival Matches. After a few years of training by seriously motivated competitors, it’s difficult for the match to draw new blood; potential competitors are too intimidated by the evolved specialists.
The last problem is one of administration. Even if top competitors are involved in running the match, they resist change because of the "uncertainty factor." Once the match is established they are afraid the core group of shooters will stop coming if they change the course of fire. This seals the fate of the Carnival Match to the specialists.

I used to list the Steel Challenge as my favorite match, now I absolutely dread going because I know that I have to go to the range a week before the match, practice the same courses that I've been shooting for over 20 years, over and over until I’m so bored that I just want to go home before the match starts. Unfortunately, even in IPSC, this need to practice at the match is becoming more apparent. If you consider yourself a true IPSC shooter you should do whatever you can to encourage surprise formats and no practicing (other than a function fire range) at or near the match. The current state of affairs at the Bianchi Cup in Open class is ridiculous. Fortunately the stock gun rules are great; shoot the match with iron sights, standing. Now that’s a challenge. One that I’ve failed the last few years. It may be too late, however, to save a dying match. Today, the problem is the potential group of shooters the match draws from (IPSC) can’t shoot. The match intimidates the hell out of them. I think the same thing is happening in the United States in IPSC right now. If someone were to actually set up a good match with challenging courses of fire, nobody would come. The first thing they would want to know is—what’s the round count? Few care about the actual quality of the match, the stage design. It’s sad. I can practice an entire afternoon shooting at one single target. Does anyone know what I am talking about?

A major aspect of the Carnival Matches that eventually leads to their degeneration is the fact that at every one of them, eventually there is a "practice range." The "practice range" is the start of the decline of the match. Eventually, after a few years, if you want to win the match you have to go a week before the match to practice. Not many can afford that luxury. In the early years, we went to the Bianchi Cup and fired 192 rounds—the exact number required to complete the event. The last few years I don’t know how many thousands of rounds I shot at the practice range at the match. This year (2000) I was so sick of it that I nearly drove back home before the match started. No wonder I shot like shit.

Being an IPSC shooter, (and being OK with that label), my original attraction to IPSC style shooting was the diversity. That’s what I still love about the game. It’s the greatest sport in the world for the individual that enjoys that type of challenge. I love the idea of never knowing exactly what you have to do until you get there. You perfect your skills as best as you can, then go to the match and see what you’ve got. Understand that I am not talking about right or wrong, or good or bad; I am just talking about what I like.

I’ll end up with the topic of fully sponsored shooters. I am familiar with this because I was fully sponsored for 10 years. When I received my first big offer I thought it was going to be the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I could accomplish things I never thought possible when I had to work for a living. Before I accepted their offer I spent weeks thinking about whether it was the best thing for the sport. I had some thoughts on this subject because the military was already paying shooters to compete full time. When a sport hits this level it eventually makes it difficult for the non-sponsored competitor to win. I was greedy and I took their money. Not long after that a shooter approached me and thanked me for writing Practical Shooting, and then, with a twinkle in his eye said, "I’m happy for you that you are being paid to do what you love, but I couldn’t do it. I love shooting too much." He knew. Sponsorship is not what you think. As soon as you are being paid to do something you love, everything changes. If you haven’t been there I know it’s hard to believe. But trust me, it’s true. I clearly remember the determination and drive I used to have. I haven’t felt that in a long time. Not since I have been paid to shoot.

 


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#7 Dr. Yellow Visor Guy

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 05:40 PM

I think he may be on to something with the practice bay stuff

 

https://thesteelchallenge.com/

 

 

Schedule of Events:

Wednesday, June 18 – Saturday, June 21 – Setup
Monday, June 23 – Practice bays open @ 8 am, close @ 4 pm
Tuesday, June 24 – Practice bays open @ 8 am, close @ 4 pm
Wednesday, June 25 – Practice bays open @ 8 am, close @ 4 pm, Registration opens at 1 pm, closes at 4 pm
Thursday, June 26 – Rimfire Pistol Match and Staff Match 8 am – 4 pm, Shotgun side event will also be open during those hours.
Friday, June 27 – Main Match and shotgun side event 8 am to 4 pm
Saturday, June 28 – Main Match and shotgun side event 8 am to 4 pm, Awards/Prizes that evening, location TBD

 

$225 for one division, plus you'd have to show up 3 days early with a few thousand practice rounds to be as grooved in as the sponsored guys...

 

Or don't, and know that you're spending a lot of money just to show up, shoot, and get your ass kicked by the guys that did. 

 

Framed that way, I can see why many people wouldn't be super excited about it. 

 

That's a put-off. 


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#8 B_Seehawer

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 06:05 PM

Why is Utah the place to be and who stands to gain from it?

#9 Dr. Yellow Visor Guy

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 06:18 PM

Another thought - USPSA does pretty well. So does IDPA. What do these games have that steel challenge doesn't? (at least in any meaningful sense of the word)

 

Classifications.

 

$225+airfare+hotel is a lot easier to swallow if you believe you have some chance of "winning" in some sense of the word. Especially when the activity in question isn't quite as fun as running around squirting bullets all over.

 

People will shell out some dough to do something really fun, even if taking a competitive ass-kicking comes with it. I like steel shooting as much as anyone, but its not as fun as run n' gun stuff. 

 

Maybe part of that is because of the novelty aspect that Enos pointed out. USPSA/IPSC/IDPA stages have variation. Put something different, something novel in a stage, and most people's dopamine goes up. That's science and shit. Novelty=dopamine. Even when you aren't winning (because winning = dopamine), you're still getting a fix. Shooting smoke n' hope for the eleven bajillionth time and losing is a dopamine Death Valley. 

 

$225+airfare+hotel and no dopamine? Fuck that. 


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#10 seanc

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 06:51 PM

The entire match was only 35 rounds! At that time all the matches tested shooting skills: the Bianchi Cup, the Steel Challenge and all the IPSC courses were strictly shooting skill oriented. Most clubs and organizations were run by top level competitors.

 

I've only been shooting a couple years and this really contrasts from today.  Everyone gets sandy vaginas over short stages, fixed time courses, etc...in any match these days.



#11 Rob McD

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 07:15 PM

I blame 3-Gun.


Optics are for Open guns.

 


#12 Twinkie

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 07:36 PM

Great topic.



#13 ChipDouglas

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 07:50 PM

I like shooting Steel Challenge..


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#14 cpa5oh

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 09:11 PM

I can't imagine being interested in a sport/match where the courses of fire are exactly the same every match.  At least not for a long period of time.  As a new shooter of 2 years, I never even considered steel challenge because of that.  

 

I wonder how Enos feels about showing up the day before a USPSA major match and walking the stages over and over.  Nothing that can be done about that, I'm sure, but I don't like it...but I do it and imagine when I get good I'll do more of it.  



#15 snark

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 09:21 PM

Perhaps USPSA will take a page from the NRA’s playbook, who have restored Bianchi Cup to its status as the most prestigious handgun tournament in America.

Um, what?? Did I miss something? Is Bianchi now more interesting than watching paint dry?

USPSA probably killed Steel Challenge with the ultra-stupid separate-SCSA-membership required and trying to charge clubs mission-count that had been keeping the Steel flame alive for years on their own. Oh yeah, then that whole "Scholastic Steel Challenge" thing for Juniors except you couldn't shoot a .22 LR.

Use the rules. Don't DQ someone who doesn't do anything DQable. -- Da Beard.

 


#16 B_Seehawer

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 09:24 PM

I personally view Steel Challenge as a great way to gauge your performance under match conditions.

That being said...

I'm curious as fuck what Enos considers a "good" match

#17 Lowlife

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 10:45 PM

Could it be that the only ones who showed up to Piru-other than sponsored people-were locals? I'm sure there were a few people from out of state, but I never even considered going, and I have family in the area I could stay with. Why? I'm not going to dump a shit ton of cash into Kali compliant gear. I'm actually pretty proud of the fact that none of my favorite possessions are legal for sale in that state; not my CZ, my Baer, my truck or even my snowblower, mower or grill!

The only people who looked forward to that match were people within driving range who have been shooting it and getting great prizes for the last 20 years.

#18 Rob McD

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 11:38 PM

Its a shame. SC could have been a cash cow for the USPSA. I think they blew it, and it might not be fixable at this point.

 

My local club runs an unsanctioned match they call "Steel Challenge"  But they are not affiliated. They do not run the actual S/C stages.

They vary a little bit on the rules. Its a very popular match, its mostly shot by folks with .22's.

The real S/C doesnt get a dime from it and no shooters from this match pursue S/C anywhere else.


Optics are for Open guns.

 


#19 B_Seehawer

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 11:51 PM

You guys are lucky. My club has only done a shitty version of the River Rimfire Challenge.

At the end of the day, scores weren't counted and there were no winners.

I consider this an entry drug to idpa.

#20 foofighter

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 11:56 PM

Why is Utah the place to be and who stands to gain from it?

 

Everyone who doesnt like SC, as USPSA surely sent it there to die.






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