The Sportsman’S Team Challenge
Reaches Its 30-Year Anniversary
By Shari LeGate
We’ve all had defining moments. On an individual level, those moments don’t happen very often, and they rarely happen on a mass, grand scale affecting an entire industry, but is exactly what the Sportsman’s Team Challenge did. The significance the STC made on the shooting sports is felt in competition shooting today.
The STC had a lot of firsts. Designed to promote the shooting sports and for television, a championship round is shot with the top scoring three teams in each class shooting the same course of fire to determine the winner. A format the Olympic shooting sports later adopted with some modifications.
It was the first event broadcast on national television on then-new ESPN cable network. Over it’s 10-year run on ESPN, the STC sometimes preceded an NFL game exposing millions to the shooting sports.
In the late ’80s, there were few serious shooting competitions. Action pistol was still in its infancy and the STC inspired the movement towards those action-oriented fun events we see today. The STC was the first event to have a non-endemic sponsor in Chevrolet, spawning “Chevy Truck Shooting Sports America.” It was the first to offer substantial prize money and there are a dozen more firsts.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the STC was created by the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s Bob DelFay and Doug Painter. Debuting in the late 1980s, the STC team format included handgun, rifle and shotgun events designed from the ground up to emphasize fast-paced, instinctive shooting where timing and strategy were as important as being a good shot.
With an overall cash purse of more than $100,000 and the winning team taking home $30,000, the event brought in Rob Leatham, Michael Plaxco, David Tubb, Doug Koenig, Jerry Miculek and some of the other great shooters of the day.
But this was a different type of competition than what these guys were used to. It wasn’t specialized for just one discipline. The participants needed to be proficient in all three disciplines. To even the playing field more, three different classes—Open, Sportsman’s and Industry—separated the pro shooters from the others.
There are three clay target events and three steel target events, which is why being proficient in only one discipline will leave you standing in the dust.
The 3 shotgun events are shot with a 12 gauge. The preferred gun is an over/under to minimize the chance of a jam or misfire and only 2 shot shells can be loaded at a time.
Flurry Event: Five computer-controlled traps throw 50 clay targets from 35 yards toward the shooters who are standing in side-by-side shooting cages. The initial flurry is 5 clays at once, followed by one about every second. Coming at you pretty fast, teamwork is essential with this event. One gun always has to be loaded and the shooter ready to fire, while the other two are loading. Synchronization and communication with other team members is critical. Get out of sync, targets fly by untouched or two shooters shoot the same target.
Mixed Bag Event: Twenty-five pairs of clay targets are thrown from 5 to 8 machines in a sporting clay type scenario. Simulating bird-hunting situations, targets are thrown from unknown traps. The 3-person team stands in shooting cages side by side with traps 30 to 50 yards away. One shooter shoots calling, “Pull,” while teammates call out the target’s launch point.
Flush Event: The reverse of the Flurry event, 5 traps throw 50 going away clays at different angles and height at 1-second intervals. There are crossing, straight away and rising targets. Like the Flurry, one team member not loading fast enough or shooting out of sync causes multiple misses.
The 3 different stages comprising the Pistol event include the farthest left targets of 4- to 6-inch
round targets (left) for the .22 rimfire. The big plates in the center are the variety of size and
shape target plates for one of the centerfire stages and in the far right are the 4-inch square
Team Smith & Wesson shooting the Mixed Bag at this year’s event included (left to right) Doug Koenig,
Jerry Miculek, Trevor Koenig. Trevor is keeping an eye on the tower trap located behind the shooters
to be ready to call out when a target is released.
Timed rifle and pistol stages add the pressure of a ticking clock. In Open/Pro Class, the team is allowed up to 1 minute, 30 seconds, while the other classes have 2 minutes, 30 seconds.
Rimfire Rifle: These rifles are pretty tricked out as there are no weight or stock restrictions. Each team member is allowed to start with three 10-shot magazines already loaded. There are four banks of 10 steel aperture targets at 45, 60, 75 and 90 yards. The shooters stand side-by-side, shooting off-hand. Rifles are unloaded and placed on the table in front of each shooter and when the timer sounds, the shooters pick up the rifle, load and start shooting. Depending on the team strategy, the shooters can all shoot at the same bank of targets or shoot assigned banks. No limit on shots fired, and once all three magazines are emptied, a shooter can reload magazines until time runs out.
Pistol: Three stages within the handgun event combine 48 metal targets with two banks of centerfire and one bank of rimfire targets in the context of a team relay race. Each target is worth 2 points and 1 bonus point is awarded for each bank of 12 targets knocked down for a total of 100 possible points. Athleticism comes into play in this event as the shooters have to run to their shooting positions, control their breathing and hit targets.
Each shooter has unlimited magazines, but since this is a timed event, hitting the target as quickly as possible is the key. For the centerfire stages, calibers range from 9mm to .45. Different size targets and distances are used in each stage. The .22 rimfire stage uses 4- and 6-inch round targets. The Action Pistol stage is a variety of steel target sizes and shapes and the Long Range Centerfire stage is 4-inch square targets.
Shooters stand at the starting table a few yards behind the shooting stage tables holding the guns and magazines. The first shooter starts the timer and runs from the starting table out to the shooting table, loads and shoots.
After hitting all the targets or running out of ammo, the gun is cleared (slide locked back), placed on the table and the shooter runs back to the starting table and tags a teammate. He runs to the 2nd stage shooting table, repeats the process, runs back to the start table, tags the 3rd team member who then runs to the last shooting table, knocking down the last set of plates. All shooting is done off-hand and standing.
Combo: One team member uses a .22 rifle and the others use .22 handguns. As in the rifle event, the team shoots simultaneously knocking down 50 round aperature targets from 25 to 80 yards ranging in aperture size from 2 to 4 inches. In addition, some targets are not in view until a clearing target is knocked down prior to hitting the “real” target. Spare magazines may be loaded for the rifle and pistol shooter by the other teammate only after the original rounds are expended.
Team Smith & Wesson Doug Koenig and Jerry Miculek (above) shooting rifle at this year’s event. Doug shoots a
Volquartsen topped with a Leupold scope. In 1997, USA Shooting sent an Industry Team comprised of (below,
left to right) former team members Carl Bernosky, Richard Aitken, Lones Wigger and our own Shari LeGate coaching.
Over the years, though, the STC has hit a few rough spots. Its popularity, industry participation and prize money dwindled. Various organizations took turns running it, but failed to bring it back to its former glory. Champion shooter Doug Koenig took over last year with a passion and vision to rebuild it.
“The STC is my favorite match of the year,” Koenig said. “It’s dear to my heart. It’s a different type of event. It’s not like the high-pressure matches we compete in, where everybody is super focused, straight-faced and you need special guns. At the STC, you can use whatever’s in your gun safe. This is a different atmosphere. It’s fun, it’s family oriented. We’ve got great shooters here and yeah, everyone is here to compete, but because they’re working together as a team, two minutes after they walk off the line, they’re talking, laughing and smiling.
There were teams from all over the world shooting in this year’s match. There’s a loyalty for the STC, because it brings in new shooters and promotes all the shooting sports.
The biggest challenge is industry participation. On the 30th Anniversary, the only Industry team was Team Smith & Wesson. STC changed the perception of who and what we are as a sport, creating a new image. It would be a shame for this match to disappear into the archives because the industry has forgotten about it.
Sportsman’s Team Challenge