Freeland man champions ‘steel challenge’ competition

Mike Gallion practices with his High Standard .22-caliber pistol in his private range behind his Freeland home. Gallion has bad vision but is an accomplished steel challenge competition shooter. - Justin Burnett / The Record
Mike Gallion practices with his High Standard .22-caliber pistol in his private range behind his Freeland home. Gallion has bad vision but is an accomplished steel challenge competition shooter.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / The Record

At his private range behind his Freeland home, Mike Gallion stares down the specialized barrel of his High Standard .22-caliber pistol.

His targets are small white-painted steel plates, placed in staggered positions about 65 feet away on posts about chest high. They are much smaller than those used in actual competition matches, but he’s made them that way on purpose.

Sucking in a breath, he rattles off a succession of blazingly fast shots and is rewarded with a nearly equal number of gratifying pings.

“The trick is to find your speed limit,” and then work to exceed it, Gallion said.

It’s a trick he’s learned pretty well. The nearly lifelong South Whidbey resident is undoubtedly the island’s quickest and greatest crack shot with a record in Steel Challenge competition shooting to prove it.

He’s also nearly blind.

Suffering from presbyopia, a condition in which the eye loses the ability to focus and makes it extremely difficult to see objects up close, Gallion is severely farsighted. His vision is roughly 20/400.

The condition forces him to wear three different pairs of glasses. It’s a hurdle few in his sport have to contend with — most of those who do well don’t wear glasses at all. However, poor eyesight hasn’t seemed to hurt Gallion’s record.

Since he started a little more than a decade ago, the 67-year-old has secured about 100 first place finishes — at least five of which are state championships — including a gold medal at an international competition in Holland this past May.

He has trouble remembering just how many competitions he’s won but if you really wanted to count them up, he has plaques and trophies on walls and tables scattered around the house.

“We lose track,” said Jennifer Kelly, Gallion’s wife.

She’s quite the sharp shooter herself, having recently taken first in the super senior women’s division in the West Coast Challenge in Piru, Calif. She concedes that Gallion is the far superior shooter, however.

Gallion is relatively new to competition shooting, but he’s always been a marksman. In his youth, he gained skill on his family’s Crawford Road farm by working to reduce the rabbit population.

Evening’s spent blasting rats with his buddies at Whidbey Island’s dumps no doubt added to his skill as well.

“That was one of the best Saturday nights you could have,” he said with a grin.

But the years have softened Gallion’s heart considerably when it comes to killing populous rodents.

While speaking outside his home, a large rabbit that appeared quite well fed hopped up to him, put its paws on his foot, and looked up expectantly for a treat. It got an affectionate rub between the ears instead.

Gallion didn’t get his start in competition shooting until the 1990s when he acquired an old .22-caliber pistol. It was missing a few parts and a friend helped him get it back together.

When they went to test it out at a range, he was invited to try his hand at steel challenge, which is kind of the drag-racing of the competition shooting world. Basically, competitors try to shoot the most targets in the least amount of time.

“It’s all about speed with a certain amount of accuracy,” Gallion said.

He accepted the offer and, to the dismay of his friend, won the match.

“He had a little trouble, I had a little luck, and I beat him. I don’t think he’s ever forgiven me,” Gallion laughed.

The rest is history. The sport quickly began to dominate Gallion’s life, and a few years later, Kelly followed suit, though she has other loves as well, such as playing music and gardening.

Today, they spend much of their time traveling to competitions around the country and in Canada and Europe together. Gallion can’t get enough of it and for Kelly, the sport offers the couple a common passion and a chance to do something together.

“If we didn’t shoot together, I don’t what we’d do because he sure won’t garden,” she said.


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