Erik Berkeley, 17, and Zane Coffey, 18, traveled to Talladega, Alabama, at the end of September for the World Speed Shooting Championship with a goal to shoot their personal bests. And the current and former Borderites did just that.
Coined “drag racing with handguns,” “speed steel” shooting challenges competitors to hit five steel targets as fast as possible.
“It’s just something that kind of stuck with me and I enjoyed right off the bat,” Zane said.
Also called “action shooting” or “steel challenge,” the sport is divided into eight stages where the targets are placed in different formations and distances from the shooter, ranging from 21 feet to 105 feet. Competitors shoot each stage five times and add their top four times to get their aggregate score per stage. Then, each stage’s score is added together to determine the shooter’s overall score. The sport requires focus, precision and speed.
Zane placed sixth in the pistol classification and 15th in rifle, while Erik placed 12th and 22nd, respectively.
Since the sport is based around time, Erik and Zane can measure their improvements every match. They said they both shot personal bests at the world championships.
Erik hoped to shoot a 75 in the rifle but a torrential downpour during his stages caused his rifle to malfunction, and he said he got in his own head. “My mentality was not in the right place,” he said. “But overall I had a good match. I’m happy with how I shot.”
Both the boys agreed that mentality is key when stepping up to the spot to shoot.
“Before I shoot, I try to clear my mind,” Erik said. “I don’t think about anything besides that next shot. Just ‘don’t think about nothin.’ Streamline.”
Zane said he enjoys this type of single-purpose focus.
“The focus on the targets, and what I’m doing, is really enticing,” he said. “You don’t really get that other places.”
Zane said shooting well at the world championships made him realize he had a future in the sport. Seeing the high-level professionals in action showed Zane the level of competition he is not at yet, he said. “But I know I could get there at some point if I just keep practicing.”
Jim Coffey, Zane’s father, found competitive shooting eight years ago after tearing his hamstring playing soccer. He introduced Zane to it when he was just 10 years old. Since action shooting doesn’t involve as much physical movement, but still requires fast twitch muscles and allows for competition, Jim saw it as an enjoyable alternative. He didn’t have much experience with firearms before then; Jim was never a hunter and didn’t grow up around them, he said.
“I kind of stumbled into competitive shooting,” Jim said.
After a couple years of going to shooting competitions, Jim and Zane found Team Gotta at the Custer Sportsmen’s Club. Team Gotta is a program of Juniors Aim, a local shooting nonprofit organization.
Eight years later, Jim is now the head coach and general manager of the team, which consists of nine athletes and four coaches. All team members are from Whatcom County except for one, who is from lower B.C. and has been separated from the team since the border closed to nonessential travel, Jim said.
Zane, who graduated from the program this year along with another member, will be returning as an assistant coach. The team has had up to 20 athletes in the past and is currently looking for new members, Jim said. He said fifth or sixth grade is the optimal time for kids to join the program.
“That gives them the most time to achieve what they want by the time they are out of the program,” Jim said.
Many kids also come out just to learn gun safety, Jim said, and that’s the first thing they’re taught.
“We’ve had dozens and dozens of kids come out and go through the gun safety portion of [the program] and really have no interest in competing,” Jim said. “And we’re more than happy to teach the gun safety aspects and fundamentals of shooting.”
Others are enticed by the competition side of the sport and hope to stay in the sport as long as possible, like Erik and Zane.
Erik started shooting long range when he was 12 years old and after a year was introduced to speed shooting. He said he gave up long-range shooting this year because his schedule became too busy to shoot two disciplines. He also plays football and baseball for the Borderites. During baseball and football season, he leaves practice about 30 minutes early to head the range to shoot.
“I figured it out, but there’s wins and losses,” Erik said. “Sometimes you have to miss defensive or offensive practices, or hitting, but it doesn’t really mess up my schedule too bad.”
Zane focuses his time on shooting. Jim said Zane had a good demeanor and skill set for shooting at a young age. His first year on the team, he went to nationals when he was 12 years old as an alternate. In the next six years, Jim said Zane and his teammates won at least one national title every year.
But the sport is not all about competing. Jim said those into competitive shooting are like a big family and always there to help each other out, or just keep each other company.
“Every match I go to, I meet somebody new or see people from previous matches, who come up and say ‘hi’ to you and ‘good luck,’ and just talk about how you shot,” Erik said. “You can spend the whole day just talking to the same person you met at a match.”