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The 2009 Steel Safari was a tough match with tough competition. Although there was overall a little less wind speed than in '08, the wind changes made up for it. With a few procedural tweaks to ensure fair competition and less confusion, shooters were put to an extremely tough mental, physical, and marksmanship challenge. The competitor who had the skill, preparation, and luck locked down the match title.

The Steel Safari is a non-standard contest that examines practical rifle skills, including target recognition, range estimation, wind doping, trail skills, and marksmanship. Dr. David Kahn's Keneyathlon ("hunters test") is another of this type of hunting match. However, these skills are not limited to hunting. Matches such as the Practical Rifle Team Challenge (NM), International Tactical Rifleman Championship (WY) and various Sniper Challenge matches around the country approach the same format from a practical or tactical point of view. In both cases, the crux is target location, ranging, and making first-round hits in field conditions, while moving through the natural terrain. This is worlds different from both Bench-Rest and NRA High Power Long Range.

A true field match with no "square-range" in sight, competitors may need to use improvised and non-standard shoot positions to make shots.
The concept of the Steel Safari is fairly simple: competitors follow a marked path through the desert to different shooting stations, where they have five minutes to locate, range, and engage steel targets at a variety of distances. Despite this simple general description, there are a host of individual skills that a competitor must master to place well at this match.

2009 was the second year that the Steel Safari was under new management. In 2008, Mike Kolar, Michael Field, and Zak Smith (author) - all Steel Safari veterans - took over the match from land-owner Dave Wheeler. The match is a lot of work to set up: too much for one man to do himself. The match is too good to let die, and we are committed to keeping this match going for years to come. As staff, we are ineligible to shoot for score since we know the locations and ranges of all the targets in the courses of fire. Like 2008, the 2009 Steel Safari was run under the banner of Colorado Multi-Gun (CMG). CMG was formed in late 2005, and the first major match it presented was the 2006 Practical Rifle Team Challenge.

The ability to efficiently visually locate and range targets in the field is critically important to success at the Steel Safari.
The match consists of two day-long field courses through the desert terrain of New Mexico. Both the North course and the South course each follow paths approximately 3.3 miles in length starting and ending at the "front range", and looping around the rim of different parts of elevated terrain features. Each course had ten shooting stations spread throughout its length. At each station, the competitor would have six target engagements to complete. These target engagements would take the form of either six targets visible from one shoot position or three targets to be engaged from each of two shoot position up to about seven meters away from each other.

Given a proven match format and feedback regarding the changes we made in 2008, we made few changes for this year. We improved the route flagging to aid navigation. We moved the majority of shoot positions to provide a different perspective on target placements, and we moved many of the targets to both simplify target location and change stages. Finally, we increased the mean target distance by increasing the range of some longer-range targets. The furthest shot in the main match was increased to 1045 yards. As last year, each station had six targets and we established ten shoot stations on each field course. This yielded a total of 60 engagements per field course, or 120 for the entire match.

Shooters are staged on the K.D. range for the LRSM, engaging targets during their turn from 400 to 1000 yards.
The "Long Range Side Match" (LRSM) is an optional exercise held on the Friday before the main match. The LRSM has traditionally been a known-distance (KD) test with limited round-count and some know-your-limitations (KYL) aspects. This year we expanded the LRSM by adding a 8-round "speed shoot" on targets from 400 to 700 yards, for a total of 18 engagements.

Due in part to the photos I took at the Blue Steel Ranch during practice and prior Steel Safari matches, demand for this match was high. The 2008 match had been very well received with minimal "forum" advertising, and excitement on internet forums like SnipersHide was high. The match filled to its 30-shooter limit within about ten days. This year we had about a dozen would-be shooters on the waiting list, and about a third of those got slots. In the end, we had 31 competitors including representatives from TAC PRO Shooting Center, CS Gunworks, Newman Precision, Thunder Beast Arms, Big American Man, and J.Dustin/Legacy Sports.