Recently, I was fortunate enough to interview the first shooter to reach Grand Master in all 13 divisions of Steel Challenge, Daniel Mathias. While the sub-60-second (and possibly the sub-50) is being chased, Daniel took a different route and focused on the goal of ranking as a Grand Master in every division. Since Steel Challenge is all about speed, here is a quick interview with Daniel about competition.
Jeff Jones: First off, congratulations. It's quite an accomplishment.
Daniel Mathias: Thank you, I'm very fortunate to be the first one to accomplish this.
JJ: To begin, where are you from?
DM: I was born in Brazil and actually had my junior year of high school here. After that I visited to skydive and moved here in April 2017.
JJ: What was it that brought you to the states, skydiving?
DM: While skydiving is fun (laughs), it was for work. I kept applying to a multi-national company and after 20 or so applications, they hired me.
JJ: So where are you living now?
DM: I'm currently living in Noblesville, Indiana, with my wife of five years and my one-year-old son.
JJ: What training schedule do you have your son on?
DM: He's currently training on a soap bubble gun (laughs).
JJ: Okay, back to the shooting questions. When did you start shooting?
DM: In 2011 a friend took me to a range and we shot a semi-automatic pistol at bullseye targets. It was the first time I'd shot, and I enjoyed it, but I had other interests at the time.
JJ: How did you find about Steel Challenge?
DM: While in Terre Haute, there was a big gun store that I would drive by and I'd always been interested learning more about guns. Don Brannan with Pro TEQ has a new shooter course where he brings 10-plus guns, so students can experience different platforms. After that, I bought a Walther and started shooting bowling pin matches. I met a shooter from Riley Conservation Club who invited me out to shoot Steel Challenge, which I immediately fell in love with.
JJ: People want to know what your progression was to this feat. Can you share with us some of your journey?
DM: Well, in August 2017 I took the class with Don. September 13 I shot a bowling pin match, October 22 I shot a USPSA match and November 5 was my first Steel Challenge match.
JJ: Wait, you know the exact dates?
DM: Yeah, I have a habit of writing down stuff like this; I like to keep track of things, so I did it with shooting as well.
JJ: You mention three different disciplines of shooting. Do I need to ask your favorite?
DM: I like all types of shooting; however, being a father, I have to limit my time at the range. I decided on Steel Challenge as there are 13 divisions and I like shooting all types of guns.
JJ: So when was your first Grand Master, what division and how did that feel?
DM: It was in RFRO in November 2018, and it was the coolest thing ever!
JJ: What was the last gun to get you to 13 Grand Masters?
DM: It was Production, and before you ask, yes, getting all 13 felt better than getting the first one.
JJ: When did you decide to get all 13 divisions to Grand Master?
DM: Towards the end of the 2020 WSSC, I had about seven GMs and I decided to chase the goal of getting all 13. When I got home, I opened the safe and realized I didn't have all of the guns to be able to compete in all 13 divisions. Not long after, I purchased a revolver and a PCC. At that point, I had all of the guns that I needed.
JJ: Can you share any tips on how you accomplished your goal?
DM: Keep the platforms as close as possible, which allows for an easier transition from similar divisions. I also chose what I considered the harder divisions first—Open and Limited. This then made Carry Optics, Single Stack and Production divisions a little easier. What I also did was stick with a platform until I attained my goal. While I may have shot other divisions in a match, I made sure I was shooting the division I was working on at the time.
There are a lot of great shooters who can switch guns without issue, but for me, focusing on one at a time was the way to go. Also, being in the moment with my mental attitude was huge. Focusing on what needed to be done, which was shoot the best string I could shoot at that time. Lastly, I would not mix optics and iron sights in the same session. When I made this choice, I was shooting my iron sights like I was shooting a dot, which didn't work out well for me.
JJ: Great tips, but what would you say to the shooter who just shot four great strings and is on their fifth?
DM: Well, up until a year ago it was "hold my beer, watch this," and of course that didn't work. In the past year I've focused on what inefficiency can I improve upon on that last string, and try to squeeze an extra 0.10-0.20 out of the last string.
JJ: Daniel, thank you for this interview, it's a great accomplishment and I look forward to seeing you on a range in the future.
DM: Thank you and thanks to everyone (especially my wife) who has helped me get here.
If you'd like to hear more about this topic, Daniel Mathias was recently a guest on the Steel Target Paint Podcast, episode No. 70. You can find it on SoundCloud, iTunes and Stitcher.
Article from the January/February 2022 issue of USPSA’s magazine.