Sometimes it takes some experimentation to find your passion. Eighteen-year-old Erik Berkeley of Blaine, Washington shot smallbore and competed in high power service rifle before discovering Steel Challenge.
“I was about six years old when I first started going to the range with my dad,” Erik said. He learned basic firearm safety target shooting with .22s before graduating in 2013 to NRA smallbore rifle shooting at 50 feet. Two years later, Erik began competing in High Power Service Rifle, attending the National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio three times as a member of the Washington Warriors junior team. “I shot it for four years and loved it,” Erik said.
Around the same time, he joined Custer Sportsman’s Club’s Team Gotta. This team focuses on speed steel shooting through the Scholastic Action Shooting Program, though members also compete in USPSA, bowling pin, falling plate and NSSF rimfire competition.
Steel Challenge is a time-based shooting sport that is much different than high power, and is the sport Erik focuses most on now. “You have five steel targets that are different sizes, from 10 inch round plate, 12 inch round plate, and an 18x24 inch plate. These plates are anywhere from 15 feet away to 105 feet away. There are eight different stages in steel challenge, and you shoot five strings per stage, keeping your four fastest times for an overall time for the stage. There are 13 different disciplines in steel challenge: Production, limited, open, carry optics, single stack, revolver iron, revolver optic, rimfire rifle iron, rimfire rifle optic, rimfire pistol optic, rimfire pistol iron, PCC iron and PCC optic,” Erik explained.
In the 2020 World Speed Shooting Championships held in Talladega, Alabama, he placed 12th in the rimfire pistol iron sight division, and 20th in the rimfire rifle iron sight division. Though he had hoped to perform better and endured some equipment difficulties, he is determined to attend the event in the future and to reach new heights.
Erik’s greatest individual achievement was earning the 2020 top junior title in the Area 1 Steel Challenge Championship. Area 1 covers Utah, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Alaska. He has also helped his team earn several team national titles.
Team Gotta claimed first place team in the rimfire pistol senior division in the 2020 SASP National Championships and second place team in the iron sight rifle senior division. Erik competed on both teams and came in 10th overall in the men’s category in both rimfire pistol and iron sight rifle. Team Gotta has a history of national wins, and for training accomplished shooters. In 2019 Team Gotta Maroon placed first in rimfire pistol, defending the team’s national title from 2018. Erik competed on Team Gotta Gold in 2019, which earned a third-place finish in rimfire pistol. The same year, Erik competed on Team Gotta Maroon in the rifle category, helping the team earn a national title.
Being on a team and interacting with other shooters is one of Erik’s favorite things about Steel Challenge and the shooting sports in general. “Everyone is really nice and is there to help you when you need it,” Erik said. Learning from other shooters is what has made Erik most successful, as well as maintaining a regimented practice schedule.
“My advice for people just getting into the sport is to just get out there and compete. If you don't know something, ask questions and people will help you. Another thing that will help you is to keep a practice schedule that will help you to get to the next level.” Though he also plays football and baseball, he has worked with his coaches to accommodate his shooting schedule. During the off-season he enjoys hunting and fishing, as well as volunteering in his community and at his local range.
Erik has a considerable support system which includes several sponsors: Tenex, Steel Target Paint, True Blue Gun Lubricants and Agency Arms. He competes with a Volquartsen .22 Scorpion pistol and a Volquartsen 10/22 lightweight rifle for irons and optics. He has more recently expanded into the Pistol Caliber Carbine class, and for any major match must have Arizona iced tea on hand.
His various trials in marksmanship have taught Erik considerable self-discipline and has shown him that it takes dedication to improve. He continues to work on his skills while balancing other areas of his life, aspiring to continue attending the world championships and to begin traveling to more matches across the United States.