Mastering Steel Challenge Stages: Outer Limits

posted on January 11, 2022

Outer Limits (SC-104) is the lone Steel Challenge stage which requires shooters to move between shooting boxes while the timer is ticking.

Outer Limits stage diagram
Outer Limits is the only Steel Challenge that has competitors moving from one shooting position to another, all while on the clock.

The shooting positions consist of three 48x48-inch shooting boxes spaced six feet apart at right, left and center. The target array is identical from both the right and left boxes. Right-handed shooters will start from the left-side box and engage targets No. 1 and No. 2, then move to the center box (while the timer runs) and engage targets No. 3, No. 4 and the Stop plate. Left-handed shooters will start in the right-side box, engage No. 3 and No. 4, and then move to the center box to hit No. 1, No. 2 and the Stop plate. The reasons for the different starting box positions for right- and left-handed shooters is simply one of safety. A right-handed shooter starting in the right-side box would have a difficult time preventing their gun muzzle from crossing the 180-degree line and receiving a disqualification, as they traverse the six-foot distance to the center box. The same holds true for southpaws starting from the right-side box.

Outer Limits shoots four strings and scores three. Even with fewer strings, it’s the toughest stage. The fastest peak time for those three strings is 11 seconds flat for Rimfire Rifle Open (RFRO), with the slowest being 15.75 seconds for Iron Sight Revolver (ISR). Approaching those times requires less thought on shooting and more thought about that six feet of movement. Another consideration is the position a shooter takes in the starting box, which is important.

Savvy shooters will position on the inside edge of the box to shorten the travel distance. Many will also stand at the rear of the box, to help overcome the natural tendency to move forward while making the move to the final box. From there, they invariably hit the outside target (No. 1 or No. 4) first, since the transition to the inside target (No. 2 or No. 3) puts the gun moving the direction they have to go. That’s the fastest way to hit those targets and exit the starting box.

This works well if a shooter hits that inside target. As a range officer, I’ve seen a number of shooters take that shot in haste, miss it, and find themselves halfway to the final box before they realize it. Their options are to backpedal into the box to hit the target and then head to the next box, or just eat the three-second penalty and keep going. It takes less time to do the latter than the former. This is one case where it makes more sense to just mutter, “Oh darn,” and keep going.

Steel Challenge competition
Master-class shooter, Rick Wynne, displays the proper “gun up” position while moving between the shooting boxes.

While moving between the boxes, an experienced shooter will keep the gun up and in the shooting position, with the finger outside the trigger guard. This can save one or more seconds on the first shot, as opposed to those shooters who lower the gun for the run, and then have to raise it up to find the sights and target.

Hitting the final box correctly is important, because a penalty is assessed if either foot is touching the ground outside of the box. With that done, most shooters will engage the inside target (No. 2 or No. 3) first before the outside target and then the Stop plate. It’s a big target, and if missed, it can be hit on the way back to the Stop plate from the outside target. Others, with steadier legs, might shoot from outside in to Stop.

Efficient movement between the shooting boxes, and establishing a solid shooting position in the final box are key to mastering Outer Limits.

Be sure to read our past breakdowns of the Five To Go, Speed Option, Smoke & HopeRoundaboutShowdownAccelerator and Pendulum stages. Learn more about Steel Challenge at

Read more: Results: 2021 Kentucky USPSA Section Championship


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