Steel shooting is perhaps the most giggly fun of all the action disciplines out there. It’s purely a game of no-limits, no power-factor super speed hosing. Or, at least that’s what it looks like to the casual observer. In reality, you can only go as fast as you can hit; the faster you go the more accurate you must be! Mike Dalton (who with Mike Fichman invented the Steel Challenge format almost 30 years ago) once told the author that the “World Speed Shooting Championship” should really be called the “World Plate- Shooting Championship.” This type of shooting demands smoothness, precision, and a relaxed but focused attitude. Steel shooting is fun as hell, but nothing if not difficult to master.
Because the targets seem big and the shooting fast, many steel shooters neglect accuracy as an important consideration in their ammo. This is a mistake. You cannot call your hits at speed unless your gun-load combination will keep all of your shots at least within half of the 8- or 10-minute area of your red dot at 40 yards. Outer Limits determines this match, and Outer Limits isn’t won with mindless hosing from an inaccurate pistol. Those plates shrink when the pressure is on.
Something For Everyone
Steel shooters have many equipment categories to choose from at the Steel Challenge. Open, USPSA Limited, Revolver Open, Cowboy Single Action (costumes required) and IDPA categories are all represented. For any category of gun and holster the same basic loading imperatives apply: lighter is better but slower is not. The Steel Challenge course currently uses timing microswitches on stop plates to register a hit and stop the competitors’ time. Muzzle to stop plate time adds up and could make a difference in a closely contested race. As well, really low velocity loads will slow you down by delaying the visual and aural feedback from hits on metal—or misses in the dirt. An optimal velocity for open guns in 38 Super or 9mm Para is around 1050 to 1100 fps with a 115 or 124 grain bullet. Such loads function reliably in lightened guns, develop enough pressure to work compensators and are not so fast as to mask the sound of bullet impacts with muzzle blast.
Our 115 grain 9mm round nose bullet, sized to .356”, is an ideal steel bullet for open category guns. Because it’s short and light, a fair amount of load experimentation may be required to find the most accurate combination for your particular pistol.
USPSA Limited and IDPA shooters have a home in Steel shooting, too. Stock, uncompensated pistols behave and handle radically differently with reduced loads, so some thought needs to go into load selection for steel with limited-type guns. With iron sights, you can only shoot as fast as the sights return from recoil and a stable sight picture