At the Alexander City Shooting Club the rapid fire which can be heard on most days may confuse some into thinking that someone had brought a machine gun, but in fact it is Vance Williamson with his Ruger 10/22. He’s practicing for the SCSA Steel Challenge World Championship which started Thursday and ends Sunday.
Wiliamson lines himself up in the box and starts a bright-red six-second timer. His eyes are on the first target before the timer goes off. Beep ping ping - ping ping plunk. Five hits, no misses, 1.46 seconds. It’s called ‘drag racing with guns.’ Shooters have two judges at worlds because blink and you really could miss it.
Steel Challenge, founded in 1981, is judged solely on how fast a shooter can hit all five targets.
There are eight stages, each with their own creative name, Five To Go, Showdown, Smoke & Hope, Outer Limits, Accelerator, Pendulum, Speed Option and Roundabout.
On Wednesday, Willliamson was practicing Smoke & Hope, the fastest of the stages. For Smoke & Hope, two 18in x 28in steel targets stand on either side of a 12-inch circular stop plate.
In a match, the shooter races against the clock to hit the five targets, ending with the stop plate.
They will do this five times and the fastest four times are recorded and added together.
“If you’re really good it will take you 25 shots” said Williamson. “The FAA called me the other day because there was a sonic boom coming off my barrel.”
For Williamson, Steel Challenge is not just a passion, it’s also a calling. After an early retirement from the women’s shoe design business, he took up Steel Challenge, training under Birmingham shooter Robert Moore. He has since earned Grandmaster in many of the 13 Steel Challenge divisions. A division is the type of firearm used and Steel Challenge open to just about any firearm.
- Open (OPN)
- Limited (LTD)
- Production (PROD)
- Single Stack (SS)
- Iron Sight Revolver (ISR)
- Open Revolver (OSR)
- Carry Optics (CO)
- Rimfire Pistol Irons (RFPI)
- Rimfire Pistol Open (RFPO)
- Rimfire Rifle Irons (RFRI)
- Rimfire Rifle Open (RFRO)
- Pistol Caliber Carbine Irons (PCCI)
- Pistol Caliber Carbine Open (PCCO)
Williamson is certified as an NRA instructor and gives lessons to new Steel Challenge shooters.
“A lot of the best shooters want to keep the secrets to speed to themselves. I want to help the next generation of shooters.”
There are six classifications of shooters D, C, B, A, Master and Grandmaster. Bumping up is shooting a fast enough time to qualify for a higher classification.
There are also categories such as Lady, Pre-Teen and Senior.
Shooters only compete against others in their same division, classification and group.
“After every match shooters would frantically write down their scores and do the math to see if they bumped up.”
This napkin math to figure out your classification was unwieldy and Williamson thought there had to be a better way. His solution was to make a phone app which tracked scores and did the math for you.
“My son is an Apple developer, so I asked him if he could develop the app,” Williamson said.
For the Android app, he turned to his old friend Robert Moore.
“Robert had no knowledge of how to write an app but when I called him about my idea he immediately said he would learn how to make one.”
Now, thousands of shooters have downloaded the Match Tracker app.
“We have given away more apps than people have purchased,” said Williamson.
The proceeds from the app go toward shooting scholarships. When a junior shooter shows the right “attitude” as Williamson calls i, Match Tracker will sponsor them with a firearm or fund their entry into a match.
The app not only offers a quick way to compare times. It brought with it comradery. Williamson founded a shooting team based on the app. Unlike most teams, whose members are often among the best of the best shooters; the Match Tracker Team is open to shooters of all levels.
The team has 300 members from all around the world. Quite a few are from Tallapoosa County.
According to Williamson there are three requirements to join the Match Tracker Team. 1. Have a conversation with himself or be recommended by a member. 2. Be a current member of USPSA/ Steel Challenge. 3. Share the values of the other team members, most often a belief in God.
Christianity plays a big role in the Match Tracker Team. Written on the team jersey is “Luke 11:22” which Williamson purposefully does not write out.
“If someone asks me what Luke 11:22 is I won’t tell them, because I want them to pick up a Bible and read it for themselves.”
Luke 11:22 reads “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe.
Williamson and the Match Tracker team are competing in the Steel Challenge World Championship this week in Talladega.