Posted By: Zak Smith on April 3, 2023

In the mid 1990’s, David Kahn developed the idea of the “Keneyathlon.” There isn’t much history of it publicly available, but as far as I can tell, it sort of fizzled out in the mid to late 90’s. Jeff Cooper discussed it in some of his Commentaries in the mid 90’s. When Dave Wheeler moved to NM in the late 90’s, he adapted the concept to his new property, which he dubbed the “Blue Steel Ranch”, and named it the match the “Steel Safari.” The Steel Safari debuted in 1998. The first time I heard of it was in the early 2000’s.

The concept in those early years was rudimentary but also a type of challenge that didn’t exist anywhere else. The shooter was to follow a hiking trail and periodically come across a shooting station at which he would have a limited amount of time to complete a “hunting-related” shooting challenge. This would involve orienting one’s self to the stage, locating the targets, ranging, and shooting them. At that time, some points were given for locating targets, and additional points for hitting them and only one shot was allowed per target. Stages might have, 1, 2, 3, or more targets. In the early days of the Steel Safari, the hot setup was a Remington 700 with a fresh barrel (300 Win Mag, .35-06, 6.5-06, 308, and 7mm RM were common choices). Scopes were often Leupold Mark 4 with MOA turrets and a mil-dot.

The Steel Safari was an “underground” match, in that you had to know someone who knew Dave to shoot it, in those first years. After the 2007 match, Dave announced that it was the “last Steel Safari” because it was too much for for one man to set up the match (true!). At that point, he handed the match over to us. Dave passed away last year and was truly one of the old-school shooters and gunfighters.

Sometime around 2010, we changed the match format from a two-day format to a three-day format in order to allow more than about 40 shooters. This expansion let us get closer to 90 shooters max, with an average turnout of around 75. The change also allowed us to increase the stage count to over 25 stages. We also standardized the stage descriptions/formats to always have 6 engagement, either a 2×3, or a 1×6 stage setup. Stages remain bind, and the “staging area -> shooting spot” format goes back to how Dave ran it in the early 2000’s.

Over time, as equipment got better and the shooters got better, we’ve continuously expanded the difficulty of the match. At the Steel Safari, you really have to be good at the fundamentals and the subtleties of field rifle shooting. There are no shortcuts– it’s just you, the shooting spot, and the timer– do the best you can. There’s no team to help you, no “wind bitch”, nobody to watch shoot it ahead of you. It’s the pure essence of field rifle shooting.

The 2023 match is coming up in about 8 weeks. Match information and sign-up is here: