A preliminary challenge is a shooting challenge held before the competition officially begins. Since Season Two, Top Shot has held preliminary challenges to determine the members of the Red and Blue Teams. In Season One, the members of each team were determined by the producers of the show. Since Season Five was for the most part an individual competition, no Preliminary Challenge was necessary to determine teams.
- Main article: Sharpshooter Surprise
In Season Two, each contestant would use a Sharps rifle to shoot at a 10-inch target from 200 yards. In the end, the two closest shots to the center of the bullseye get to pick the teams. Jay Lim got to pick the Blue Team and Chris Reed chose the Red Team.
- Main article: The Gauntlet
In Season Three, contestants shot in pairs with a Smith & Wesson 500 Magnum at three different targets. Whichever of the pair could hit all of the targets before the other would become victorious and become a member of the Blue Team, while the loser joined the Red Team.
- Main article: Sweating Bullets
In Season Four, eighteen contestants competed in the preliminary challenge. Contestants used the M14 rifle to fire one shot at a target from 200 yards. Players were ranked by distance to the center of the bullseye. Odd and even ranks joined the Blue and Red Teams, respectively. The two farthest shots were eliminated.