Shooting Steel Targets Safely
Steel targets are extremely fun, but can be dangerous when used incorrectly.
Shooting steel targets is incredibly fun and satisfying. The “ping ping” of ringing steel is much more enjoyable than punching holes in paper. It provides an audible response to your shooting so you know which shots hit and miss.
It really is difficult to fully describe how fun shooting steel is with just words. The best thing is to ring some steel yourself and get addicted.
However, shooting steel does have some safety risks, so it’s important that shooters use steel targets within certain parameters to avoid injury.
“Is everyone stupid? Maybe.”
Always use eye protection
When shooting at steel within pistol distances, bullet shrapnel will spray back at the shooter. They’re super small flecks that aren’t painful, but very occasionally, they can draw blood. Not a big deal for skin, but it could cause problems if it hits your eye.
Shooters should wear eye protection no matter what they’re shooting at though.
Weaker steel can bend and deform, causing divots which can fling larger chunks of metal back at the shooter. That’s why it’s important to use properly rated steel for the type of firearm you are using, and at the proper distances.
AR500 is the widely accepted safe steel for centerfire calibers, though rimfire calibers can shoot weaker steel.
Distance to steel based on caliber
All reputable steel targets will tell you what distances and what calibers the steel is rated for. Shooting a centerfire rifle at a steel at close distance will deform the steel, rendering it unsafe, and will fling large fragments back at the shooter.
As a general rule, non magnum centerfire pistol calibers should be shot at a minimum of 7 yards, and non magnum centerfire rifle calibers should be shot at a minimum of 100 yards.
Heavier steel can be used at different distances, though the closer you are, the less life the steel will have.
Make sure the target has some give and/or is angled downward
For steel targets that aren’t knockdown targets, the target needs to set at an angle to deflect the bullet fragments downward, and/or the targets need to have some swing or give to them.
Reputable steel target manufacturers will sell target stands that put the target at and angle, and/or will have springs to give the target some swing to make the target last longer.
What’s your favorite steel target?
Written by Brian Purkiss - always a student, sometimes a teacher.
I don't consider myself a competition shooter - I think of myself as a performance pistol shooter. I am all about performing at as high of a level as possible. Towards that end, I am obsessive about learning how to perform. I spend a lot of my life learning from the best across the entire firearms world and even into other areas of performance and other sports. I am a USPSA Carry Optics Grandmaster, currently working towards my second GM title in the Open division.
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