The Rimfire Report: Rimfire Steel Challenge Basics

    The Rimfire Report: Rimfire Steel Challenge Basics

    Rimfire Steel Challenge has been of my favorite firearms sporting events over the last 10 years. I attended my first Steel Challenge completion back in 2012 and since then, I’ve come to not only love the sport for its fast-paced shooting style, but also for how much it has improved my shooting performance. I compete in a variety of disciplines in Steel Challenge but at the top of my list is Rimfire Steel Challenge. It’s inexpensive, easy to get into, and doesn’t require a lot of gear to enjoy. Had it not been for this fact, I probably would have been turned off by the sport pretty early on so today I’ll give you guys a quick overview of the basic equipment you’ll need to participate in a Rimfire Steel Challenge competition for the first time.

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    The Rimfire Report: Rimfire Steel Challenge Basics

    My friend Christina Stiehl participating in her first official Steel Challenge Match (Smoke & Hope)

    The Rimfire Report: Rimfire Steel Challenge Basics

    I want to get this tiny little extra section out of the way first to dispel any fears first-timers or newcomers might have about “competing” in a Rimfire Steel Challenge competition. When I compare Steel Challenge to any other discipline of shooting competition, I always fall back to my first experience and just how easy it was to get into. Most of this was due to the fact that I felt very little pressure at the range to actually “win.”

    From what I’ve seen over the last decade, people who shoot Steel Challenge are extremely friendly, welcoming, and happy to bring others into the sport at any level of experience and skill. This is something that I’ve only ever experienced with Steel Challenge and I still feel like it is easy to get into even if you want to just join the competition for fun and use yourself as the sole unit of measurement for improvement. If anything, Steel Challenge serves as somewhat of a gateway drug for other shooting competitions because it’s fun, inexpensive, and your mom probably doesn’t want you to do it.

    The Rimfire Report: Rimfire Steel Challenge Basics

    The stage “Accelerator” being shot by my friend with the stop plate visible in the background painted with a red post to serve as a visual indicator of what to shoot last.

    Learn the Rules… By going to a competition

    The rules of Steel Challenge are fairly simple but looking at an SCSA (Steel Challenge Shooting Association) rulebook on the subject is really boring and dry and who has time for reading these days anyway? The rules you’ll need to memorize are very basic and can be picked up by just watching other competitors closely.

    Basically, you’ll need to follow the basic rules of gun safety and also know two simple things. Number one, don’t start shooting until the shot timer beeps, and number two, always shoot the stop plate last. That is a bit of an oversimplification but aside from two small examples, the only course of fire for Steel Challenge is “shoot the stop plate last.” The stop plate is usually painted red and the best thing about Steel Challenge is all of the stages are standardized and never change. Very simple.

    If you really want to be a good boy scout, you can always look up a local match and go to observe, just don’t be surprised when the competitors start asking you why you’re not participating – we love newcomers. If you like good ole’ physical reading material, the SCSA has a nifty pre-formatted letter that you can fill out to request the latest printed version of the SCSA rulebook. There is also a digital version of the same rulebook that is also free.

    The Rimfire Report: Rimfire Steel Challenge Basics

    I recently had a friend visit from out of town who was interested in the sport but was somewhat trepidacious of participating in a gun competition. Instead of making her read a rule book, I took her to the range a day early and gave her a basic rundown of the rules and procedures, and loaned her one of my own firearms for the event. Now she is hooked. Don’t be afraid to ask a friend to take you to a match.

    Basic Equipment

    Rimfire Steel Challenge can be broken up into two basic categories – Rimfire Open, and Rimfire Iron Sights. The same rules apply to both pistols and rifles and basically boil down to whether or not you want to shoot with iron sights. For your first match, I’d highly recommend shooting irons, simply because it further reduces the cost to participate and I also think it’ll give you a greater appreciation for red dots if or when you decide to switch over to that division. With that being said, what do you need to participate in this event?


    First, you’ll need a semi-automatic rifle or pistol. My personal recommendations for basic rifles would either be the highly venerated Ruger 10/22, or the much more modern Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22. The 10/22 is a far more common sight and you’ll find a good mix of competitors using them with or without extended magazines and with or without optics. Those who choose to field an M&P 15-22 rifle almost exclusively use 25-round magazines and red dot optics.

    For pistols, I personally use a Ruger MKIV Lite with a Trijicon 2.5 MOA SRO red dot, and an Allchin Gun Parts 22 Rim-fire Rifle Compensator. The compensator isn’t for the stout recoil of the .22LR cartridge but rather for the shot timer which can have trouble picking up rimfire pistols and rifles on some occasions. This setup can be greatly reduced in price by eliminating the compensator and red dot optic and sticking to the Rimfire Pistol Irons division.

    My personal Ruger MKIV Lite with a Trijicon 2.5 MOA SRO mounted to it.

    The Rimfire Report: Rimfire Steel Challenge Basics

    An example of an M&P 15-22 Sport being used alongside a C-MORE sight.

    The Rimfire Report: Rimfire Steel Challenge Basics

    Pictured is a highly customized 10/22 Carbine being used by a Grand Master level competitor.


    Each of the 8 official Steel Challenge stages features 5-targets, and you’ll shoot each of the stages your match director has selected five times each (each time you shoot it is referred to as a “string”). There is no limit on magazine capacity in Steel Challenge but there is also no real advantage in having more than 10-rounds.

    All 5 strings are shot back to back so if you’re shooting a pistol you’ll need to bring at least 5 total magazines with you (less if you’re competing in the Open division and have access to higher capacity magazines). If you’re shooting a rifle, you can either field five 10-round magazines or any combination of magazines that you’re comfortable with at any capacity. You can get away with just two magazines provided you have someone assisting you with reloading your spare mags as you use them, however, this is not ideal.

    The Rimfire Report: Rimfire Steel Challenge Basics

    Typical magazine loadout. Having a 6th spare mag ensures I can still make a quick reload in case one starts to malfunction.

    To sum this one up more clearly, if you’re shooting rimfire in Steel Challenge, just know that you’ll need a minimum of 25-rounds to complete each stage. If you’re confident you’ll have 100% accuracy, you can theoretically get away with only shooting 200 rounds of ammunition across all 8 stages (about $30 worth of ammunition). I typically bring three 100-round bricks of CCI 40-grain Mini-Mags with me to each competition regardless of which division I’m participating in.

    The Rimfire Report: Rimfire Steel Challenge Basics

    Other Gear

    Lastly, Rimfire Steel Challenge is ultra-simple in the gear department. All you need is eyes and ears. You are not required to draw from a holster, reload magazines from belt-mounted magazine carriers and you also don’t need a high-end race gun to have fun or even do well. You’ll of course want to bring basic safety gear like eyes and ears. The only other piece of gear you’ll want to bring for basic Rimfire Steel Challenge is a carrying case (soft-sided or plastic is fine).

    The Rimfire Report: Rimfire Steel Challenge Basics

    Add ammo, eyes, and ears and this is basically all you need to compete (patch optional).

    Rimfire rifle shooters are allowed to transport their firearms around in carts, provided they have a chamber flag but this increases cost and isn’t best practice for newcomers to the sport so I’d recommend using a simple soft-sided gun case with clear markings for which end of the case the muzzle is on – this will eliminate any embarrassing disqualifications during your first match.


    I absolutely love the Steel Challenge competition scene. I love bringing new people into the sport as well and seeing them catch the bug of competition shooting which leads them to other disciplines. I’d love to get you into it. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me in the comments or on any of my social media pages and I’d love to help you get into your first Rimfire Steel Challenge competition. Thank you as always for reading The Rimfire Report and TFB, we’ll see you next time!

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