Steel targets are popular because you get immediate audible and sometimes visual feedback, and there’s no stapling involved. Steel targets range in price from around $100 to more than $1,000, and they come in all shapes and sizes. But they’re not all the same. Just because you can shoot a steel target with your .357 Magnum does not mean you should shoot it with your .300 Winchester Magnum.
For steel targets to be functional and safe, they should be made of high quality, through hardened – not surface hardened – steel. Hardness is critical because you need a smooth surface to generate predictable splatter. Soft steel develops craters and soon looks like the acne-riddled face of a teenager. When a bullet hits one of these deformations, it’s impossible to predict where the splatter will go.
A steel target with a BHN (Brinell Hardness Number) of 500 should be the softest used. For rifles targets, a BHN of 550 is a good idea. Steel targets that are angled down reduce the amount of energy the target must absorb and decrease the potential for target damage. This also directs the splatter and bullet residue toward the ground. Targets that bounce, wiggle or move when hit also help circumvent target face damage.
Heat and Speed
Bullets damage steel with heat, and the heat generated is proportional to the bullet’s speed. Ideally, when you examine a steel target that has been shot, all you should see is the splatter mark. Look closely and you might see or feel a small dimple at the center of this mark. If the dimple is more than about 1/8 inch in diameter, or if it stands out, you’re shooting the target at a distance that is too close.
To establish a safe distance with a rifle, fire a test shot from 150 yards and examine the target. If there’s only visual splatter, then move closer by about 10 yards and shoot again. Repeat the process until you see the dimple mentioned above. That will be just inside your minimum range for that rifle/ammo combination. If that dimple is apparent at 150 yards, you’ll need to back up.
Shoot Steel – Shoot Better
The immediate feedback you get when shooting steel is a tremendous training advantage. Not only will you save time walking downrange to check targets, but that immediate feedback also helps you learn. You can instantly evaluate the shot as opposed to trying to sort out your hits after the fact.
If you’re shooting at extreme range, the advantage is even more fabulous; no one likes to walk 1,000 yards to check a target after each shot. But steel targets are just as rewarding and beneficial to training when shooting handguns up close. When conducting speed drills, you instantly know if your technique is delivering results because you can hear the ring of the steel.
Kids like to see and hear things when they shoot, too. That’s why their favorite targets are balloons, rotten fruit and golf balls. With steel you never have to clean up the mess, but you still get the feedback to help youngsters have more fun.
Regardless of the steel target you choose, take care of it. Doing so will ensure your safety and your investment. Everyone likes to know when they get a hit, and in the long run nothing is more affordable for this purpose.
One of my favorite affordable steel targets is the MGM 8-inch Steel Challenge Plate. The 8-inch size replicates a big-game animal’s heart/lung area, and it uses its own frame and a 2×4 for support. It sales for less than $ 150.00 at www.mgmtargets.com.