The Ins And Outs Of Shooting Steel Targets

steel target

Steel Target Fun
Almost anybody who has shot a handgun or a rifle has shot at paper targets of some type. They’re often the only targets allowed at indoor ranges, and they’re common outdoors too because of their low cost and the ability to take home your target to show off.

Shooting at steel targets

Paper targets are forever, or at least until they hit the trash can. This one has been on my safe for years.

But if you’re lucky enough to have access to a range that allows them, reactive targets are a whole other level of fun. Unlike paper targets that require you to get up close to see where your shots landed, reactive targets will give you immediate feedback. The most common, and my favorite, are targets made out of steel plates.
steel target shooting

You can get lots of variety in a practice or plinking session with just a few differently sized and shaped pieces of steel

When freshly painted, hits on steel are easier to spot than regular paper targets, and even unpainted or far away, the audible “ting!” is unmistakable even if it’s not knock-over steel (steel that falls down in some way after it is hit). Steel is also both more forgiving than paper – anywhere on the target counts – and less – you either hit the bullseye or you miss (hopefully into your safe backstop). All of those are reasons why steel is popular not just for practice and learning, but in competitive shooting too. Many of the action shooting sports use steel for all or part of their target arrays – most notably, Steel Challenge.

Steel Challenge stages are the same everywhere, but that doesn’t make them easy or boring.

If you have the opportunity to shoot steel for whatever reason, there are a few things you should keep in mind because shooting steel targets without the right safety measures could turn your day bad very quickly. The very hardness that makes steel a durable, interesting target is what can also lead to problems when bullets impact.

steel target shooting

This day-old bruise is the result of a pistol round ricocheting off steel about ten yards away. Now imagine if this person were kneeling instead.


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The first thing to keep in mind is that not all steel targets are created equal. You should make sure that the target is made from the proper strength material, like AR-500 steel, and that it is rated for the type of ammunition you are planning to use with it. Otherwise, the entire target may become curved or the surface may pit, which can cause bullets hitting it to ricochet into unplanned and unsafe directions, including neighboring ranges or properties.
Bullets can bounce back unpredictably even with appropriate steel in good condition, so it’s important to minimize ricochet potential as much as possible. Setting targets so that the flat surface is slightly angled towards the ground, and making sure you shoot from a safe distance also helps. I like to be at least 8-10 yards away for pistol, and at least 100 yards for most rifles, generally speaking. It’s also important that the mounting hardware for your steel target is also safe to shoot at, whether that means it’s something that can’t be damaged by a bullet impact or won’t result in an unsafe ricochet.
steel target

My practice steel from GT Targets hangs from brackets that help absorb the energy of each bullet impact and deflects bullets towards the ground.

While some will claim that eye protection is optional, not only is it mandatory when steel targets are on the range, they should also be a full wrap-around style. I like the ICE NARO from my sponsor, ESS, but there are many styles from different manufacturers in all price ranges that can also protect your eyes from both front and side ballistic impacts. The sunglasses you bought at the grocery store probably aren’t adequate; splurge and get some real eye protection, or even go cheap with safety glasses from the hardware store.
steel target

This is the style of eye protection you want around steel, so that bullet or fragment bouncing off steel can’t sneak in behind the lenses.

Now get out to the range and make some steel sing, then come back and tell us about it on our Facebook page!

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The Ins And Outs Of Shooting Steel Targets

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