Training with steel targets is an indescribable feeling. There's something about that satisfying PING that makes you want to keep shooting. For the first five years of my shooting career, I only had restrictive public ranges at my disposal. These ranges limited target construction to paper or cardboard—materials very limited in their functionality and variety. Shooting became, well, boring. After joining a private club and getting my first taste of steel I was absolutely hooked. As time went on, I realized that not only did the different targets provide variety, but they broadened my training opportunities and skillset in at least five ways.
1. Increased training environments
Rolling hills and dunes can often make setting up targets a bit difficult. Many shooters will combat this by placing stands further from the backstop. This is dangerous, as it increases the chance of a bullet ricocheting off of the ground and landing somewhere unintended. Using a steel target that hangs from a stand like the Allen's EZ AIM shooting system allows us to use more of the range, and to do so safely. This setup allows pistol shooters to practice unconventional positions, and allows the rifle shooter to learn their dope for unknown distances. Overall, equipment like this gets you more usable space and ensures that rounds don’t leave the range.
2. Increased rounds downrange per session
If you're like me, you practically have to make a deal with the devil to get in a few hours of range time. In a typical two-hour range session I can run through just about 100 rounds, with the largest time eater being the required ceasefires to tape a target or fix it if the wind knocks it down. Wilson Combat makes a nifty little steel target that is scoreable in an IDPA manner, which I have been beating the heck out of lately. Using one allows me to keep shooting without having to stop once to repair or even paint. I have found that I have been able to get nearly twice as many rounds downrange when compared my sessions using conventional cardboard. This target is also rifle-rated, making it large enough for 500-yard engagements, or small enough for closer ranges by using the scoring rings. It’s not uncommon for me to bring this as my only target when I’m shooting both rifle and pistol on the same day.
3. Precision Practice
Steel is often thought of as "hit or miss" type of shooting. However, targets with moving parts change the way we address our practice. One of my favorite targets for this is the Birchwood Casey Hostage Silhouette. This product consists of a 66-percent IPSC-style target with a swinging paddle over its shoulder. The impacts on this area are not only audible, but the target stays on the opposite side when struck. This allows you to confirm your hit should you not be able to follow through and watch it happen on impact. I've used this target for both precision rifle shooting as well as defensive pistol practice. While the typical goal is to hit that paddle without hitting the main steel body, you can reverse your objective to cement in the idea that if you miss your target you very well can hit something else. This adds a little bit of accountability training to those who intend to carry a gun.
4. Opportunities to hit moving targets
Bullets pass straight through paper and cardboard, leaving them completely stationary after impact. While this makes life simple, it isn't realistic and only hones your ability to shoot with unlimited time. Targets like the Shooting Made Easy Handgun Spinner absorb that projectile’s energy and transfer it into motion, creating a rotational scoring plate. Once it gets going, I like to reduce the number of turns it rotates in between follow-up shots, and work towards hitting while it is spinning faster. This also makes a great long-range target for pistol-caliber carbines as it starts to build the fundamentals for establishing a lead.
Steel targets have gotten me to the range when I otherwise wouldn't have gone. Shooting that same old .22 has certainly lost its appeal, however if a new reactive steel target comes on the market your better believe that I'm quick to dust it off. Champion Range & Target has an ever-changing line of auto-resetting pop-up targets that range from basic diamond shapes to T-Rex and Velociraptors. Every time they release a new one, they get my money and I get an excuse to send a brick of .22 downrange. This variety helps me get back to firing line and back to basics…and that has a value all its own.
Regardless of your discipline there are steel targets out there that meet your needs and can enhance your training experience. Steel targets make a great addition to any home range and for the most part can be left out in the elements, eliminating the need to set-up and break down every time you want to shoot. Steel will also pay for itself in time, as the one-time investment will eventually be eclipsed by the cost of buying paper time and time again. Take a look at some of the targets mentioned above and breathe a little life into your worn-out training sessions... PING!