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Fog! Hiking up to the AO.
Photo: Jeremy Bentham

Carl Taylor does it again with his 5th annual Steel Challenge, a long range precision match to benefit Camp Patriot, an organization that helps wounded vets get back outdoors and into nature for hiking, hunting, etc. This was the second Steel Challenge I have participated in (here is a link to my post about the 2012 Steel Challenge) in as many years and just like last year, it didn’t disappoint. One thing that was different this year was that the 12 stages were spaced out over two days to allow for ample time for all of the shooters to complete all of the stages. Last year night fell before some of the teams were finished and didn’t get to complete the match. They also decided to cut prep time town to only 1 minute and typical stages had to be finished in 6 minutes instead of 10 minutes which was the norm for the last 4 years. Too darn short if you ask me.

 

Day 1

We were split up into 2 groups and my teammate and I were assigned Stages 7-12 for the first day so we donned our packs and headed down the ridge for Stage 7 but was waved off due to fog. We worked our way down to Stage 8 and the fog cleared up enough for us to make out the targets so we gave the RO the nod to start. The one minute prep time came and went and I was still setting up when we entered our six minute stage time. My teammate was already calling out ranges before I had my AO drawn up and I realized that I had better get on the gun if I was going to have any chance at completing the stage. No time to judge wind, I placed the crosshairs in the center and hoped if I didn’t at least hit it I’d see where it went and know my hold over. No joy, no point on the 518 yard target. Moving on to target number 2, a plate at 823 yards where I started to figure out what was going on with the wind and starting to connect. On to target number 3 which was a mover at the same distance as target number 2. I just got on target and exhaled allowing the crosshairs fall into position and the buzzer cuts me off before I send the first round off. Wow! How could six minutes already have passed? At least my teammate was able to get all of his rounds downrange before we were out of time. No more messing around. I had better get it in gear or I was going to tank us. On to Stage 9.

Stage 9 had two targets at 635 yards and another little guy at 300 yards. I figured I’d start with the two targets at 635 yards so I could just move from one to the other and save some time, but the shooting position, shooting from a downed tree was just terrible. My teammate and I had decided beforehand that we would alternate who started first and this stage was my turn to start first. For the life of me I just could not get my rifle into a place where I could begin shooting and quickly realized that my teammate was already on target ready to spot for me and I told him to go ahead and engage the targets while I was still struggling to get in a stable place. Again, no joy and the time was just about to run out. I jumped up on the tree and walked over to the edge and leaned into a partial dead tree and took a shot at the 300 yard target and hit it just before the timer sounded, so not a total loss. We decided later that we’re bringing a tripod next year.

Morale draining…

On our way to Stage 10 the sky let loose on us which doomed me for the stage before the timer even started. What I didn’t realize was that water pored into my rifle and

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Shooters take cover from the rain.
Photo: Sylvia Owen

magazines causing an overpressure condition where the precisely crafted cartridges had less volume due to the water causing the rounds to rocket down the barrel at a much faster velocity that usual. Shooting off of a tall stump my first round sailed a half MIL over the top of the target due the increased pressure, ruining the new Lapua brass and blowing enough debris into the ejector hole that it was now stuck inside the bolt face which caused the ruined case to jam the rifle. I dropped the magazine, plucked the case out by hand, repeated the same drill and spent most of the time trying to get the next round to chamber and got off a hit. My teammate had a similar experience where the primer blew out and pinched the next round most of the way into the chamber requiring most of the stage’s time to dig out with a pocket knife. We were getting our butts kicked already and getting very little points. We packed it up and I fished a Ziplock bag out of my pack and put it over the muzzle of my rifle and headed to the next stage where I pulled out all of my rounds and dried them off as well as the chamber of my new 260. Pressing on my stuck ejector a bit with my knife also freed it up from its locked down position. It was now moving, but barely. It did cause a couple more feed issues here and there throughout the rest of the day until I was able to address it more throughly later that night.

Stage 11, Know Your Limits. We zeroed this stage last year since the given distance was 20 yards off so we made darn sure we ranged everything ourselves this year. First round hit. Moved to the next target and nailed it and decided to to run with the points. I did ask to attempt the rest for no score and wound up cleaning it which was very satisfying after the way the last few stages went. Feeling a whole lot better we started for the next stage.

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A team working through Stage 7.
Photo: Sylvia Owen

Stage 7 was a bit of rushed job since we had intended to show up and scout out the stage to get the lay of the land, study the wind, jock up magazines and just not be so rushed like some of the previous stages, but as soon as the RO saw us he starts going over the stage and telling us to get our stuff down. So I don’t even have my gear outof my bag before I’m in the bed of the truck trying to spot my teammate’s shots with his rangefinder while he starts engaging targets off of a box in the rear bed of the vehicle. The flow of the stage was to identify the 3 targets from 496 yards to 619 yards and shoot them from closest to furthest with out of order shots not counting. Despite the rush and running around like a crazy person trying to get my data book and dope squared away before our time expired we were finally getting into ourgroove and still managed to engage all of our targets…barely.

So by now we had figured out a few things about getting reset before leaving the last stage and being fully ready to go the second we arrived at the next stage. We also had all of our gear dialed in and dry. The new time restrictions were pretty tight so we had to be, too. Time to trudge on to the last stage of Day 1, Stage 12.

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A view through the tube on Stage 12. The Match favorite!
Photo: Sylvia Owen

Stage 12 was by far the best stage of the day, and by all accounts, the best of the match. After taking quite the butt kicking that morning we were happy to end on this one. The design of the stage was around a security detail that included 5 IPSC style steel targets in and around a Ford Explorer and a hostage target system that moved back and forth in front of the truck. You and your teammate would both begin with 27 rounds and would be shooting at the same time, each with your own RO and score keeper. It was fast an furious as you slung a torrent of high speed lead down upon the stage 410 yards below at the direction of the yelling ROs. During the action I just grazed a plate in front of the Ford Explored and watch the round crease the hood of the truck before disappearing into the engine compartment causing me to begin laughing so hard it was causing my crosshairs to bounce. We both hammered the targets and it was just what we needed after the morning we had. Everyone returning from the stage had a huge smile on their face as they made their way back down the mountain.

With all of the stages for Day 1 complete we headed back down to meet up with the rest of our crew and before long we on the patio of Maverick’s for was probably the best part of these matches, time with our crew where we went over our day’s experiences over dinner, cold beverages, and good cigars.

Day 2

Gear cleaned and functioning properly again, magazines full, and ready to step up to the line we made our way up to the rally point for the morning’s briefing and all spilt off to our second relay of stages.

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A team ID’s the targets of Stage 2.
Photo: Sylvia Owen

 

Stage 3 was standard fare with three targets at 609 yards, 685 yards, and 788 yards but you had five attempts to get to rounds on target before you could move on to the next target. Not too bad at this distance and we had a good shooting position, but the wind in this area is really difficult to call so it was a little more challenging than it sounds. To put it into perspective, Carl Taylor puts on a wind clinic here to train shooters how to shoot in tricky areas. Although I’ve never been able to make it, I’ve heard it’s excellent and at one point he pops smoke so you can see just how crazy the wind in the canyon is moving.

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A pair of shooters take aim from the boat.
Photo: Sylvia Owen

Ah, Stage 4, the boat stage. Same as last year. You both climb into a little fishing boat and engage 3 targets twice without being able to use the boat for support. The thing about shooting from a boat is that you and your foundation is moving, which sounds obvious, but the sight picture is pretty crazy. You basically need to get steady and wait for the boat’s yaw to walk your crosshairs onto the target. Just a fun little stage!

On to Stage 5, another mover stage that has a moving target that sweeps side to side down a road at 520 yards. We estimated* it was going about 3 mph and our 1.8 MIL holdover put us right on target. We really drilled the thing, but as matches tend to do, they teach you lots of hard lessons. This time I learned to pay better attention to where the RO says he can see the ends of the mover’s path down the road. So the shots I took beyond the view of his spotting scope did not count. I was a little disappointed my error eliminated some of our points, but still left very satisfied since I only connected once on the mover last year.

*It’s pretty amazing to have a PHD for a teammate. He figured out way to use the compass from his iPhone and a rangefinder to determine the speed and distance of the mover. The equations in his notebook look like when my 3 year old daughter knocks all of the magnetic letters off of the refrigerator on to the floor.

On to Stage 2 which was pretty much the same as last year, even with the same little target number 3 out at 725 yards that I danced all around last year and never connected with. Unfortunately for that target this year, we were shooting very well today and really tore this stage up. We really had to be tight today to try and make up for the comedy of errors from Day 1.

Feeling pretty strong we made our way down to Stage 6 and found ourselves shooting before we really wanted to. The new two day format had pretty much eliminated the long lines at the stages which has a tendency to catch you off guard. But we were much better equipped to snap into action after yesterday and we fell right into our groove. The real highlights of this stage was a steel IPSC target at 290 yards which you could summarily punish and have the extra time for target number 3 which was out at 1025 yards. My teammate and I both got first and second round hits on it last year with 308’s and figured no problem this year. But for me, it was not to be today. I really had no idea where I was hitting and after some review with my teammate we discovered some pretty unrealistic values from my ballistic app. Just as a side note here, I just received this rifle back from the builders* and put about a dozen rounds through it trying to hurriedly develop a load for it and had no real world data on it. We made some corrections and moved on down the line.

*A HUGE word of thanks for Mason and Evan over at Northwest Action Works for getting my rifle online before the match. These guys busted ass and made some extra late night trips to the range to get my rifle built and dialed in so I’d have it for this match. Great service from some great guys. Thank you both again!

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Teamwork: Unconventional shooting stage.
Photo: Sylvia Owen

A little bit of a hike later we found ourselves at Stage 1, the last stage of the match for us. It was a unconventional position stage where you had to engage multiple targets that required you to be pretty high up off the ground which calls for you to use your teammate for your shooting platform. Getting both of you into a position where you’re on target and timing your breathing, it’s all about teamwork and communication…and apparently the ability for your teammate to sit still and allow ants to attack and bite his hand while I was shooting. Thanks for taking one for the team!

Nothing left to do, we wandered back down to the main staging area where the BBQ grill was bellowing out the smell of lunch. A couple of chilldogs later we kicked back on our mats and waited for everyone else to finish while scores were being tallied up for the awards ceremony and the prize table was getting setup. We made a few notes in our log books and just enjoyed the rest of the afternoon with good people trading good stories, which in a lot of ways, is the best part of these matches. We were somewhat relieved to hear that we weren’t the only people who had a tough Day 1 and a lot of other teams fought through the same issues we did. In fact my teammate and I were stunned to find out that we had tied another team for 13th place, a far cry better than we did last year. I know that the above stage descriptions sound like we had lots of issues and were frustrated, and in a small part that is true, but the reality of it is we come here to test ourselves under adverse conditions against some of the best shooters out there to see how we measure up. We are all pretty much perfectionists and Type A personalities so we tend to focus on what went wrong instead of what went right. We’re not negative, we want to be better. All in all the entire match, even when fighting through the tough parts, was more fun than I can describe. We had our frustrations and out victories but we love every minute of it and kudos to Carl Taylor and everyone else who came out to make this such a great event.

2013 Steel Challenge

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