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  1. #1
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    Default Want to Safely Shoot Steel Targets

    I got some 3/8 steel from a buddy that I'd like to use for targets but I want to do so safely. I'm looking for design suggestions and thoughts on caliber limits, minimum distances, and any ammo concerns (i.e. is regular FMJ ball ammo OK?).
    On TV (Outdoor channel and such) I've seen poppers, plates hanging from chain and/or thick rubber belts, as well as hung by a bracket on a post with a slightly downward angle. Some of these guys seem to shoot pretty close to the targets which makes me wonder if there is some kind of special steel/ammo relationship going on. Any first hand experience would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks.

  2. #2
    NES Member 55_grain's Avatar
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    100 yards or further for rifle rounds to limit slugs bouncing back at you. .30 cal FMJ will destroy your plate pretty quickly at this range.

    Make sure your plate is hanging straight, or slightly angled towards the ground, so you don't skip bullets off onto houses downrange.

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    Try not to shoot FMJ at steel, has a habit to ricochet back at you, SP or HP is best, take a peek at this video and the target was 1000yds away. Seriously, I have seen FMJ at 100 yd steel targets to return a piece of jacket, not the best choice.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ABGIJwiGBc

  4. #4
    NES Member Andy in NH's Avatar
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    Action Target put this out a few years ago:

    RULES FOR SHOOTING ON STEEL TARGETS:
    * Always wear wrap-around eye protection and proper hearing protection.

    * Always wear a hat with a brim large enough to protect the front of the head and face.

    * Long pants and long sleeves are recommended.

    * Always use high quality steel targets specifically designed for heavy duty use.

    * Never use steel targets for purposes outside their scope of design.

    * Never use ammunition that exceeds the target’s scope of design.

    * Minimum recommended distance with a handgun and standard lead ammunition is 7 yards.

    * Minimum recommended distance with a rifle is 100 yards unless using our specific rifle targets.

    * Minimum recommended distance with shotgun slugs is 100 yards.

    * Maximum ammunition velocity is 1,500 fps for handgun targets and 3,000 fps for rifle targets.

    * Never use armor-piercing, steel-core, or other hardened ammunition.

    * Never use steel shot, pellets, BB’s, or other air gun projectiles.

    * Spectators must also wear proper eye and ear protection and must remain at least 10 yards from the target.

    * Never shoot on steel targets that have been damaged or deformed in any way.
    From an FBI Training Bulletin:

    There are many steel targets on the market allowing for a wide range of firearms training techniques. However, many of these targets do not provide adequate protection from bullet splatter so accidents can occur. It is important that the user know what factors make training on steel targets as safe and effective as possible. When shooting steel targets, a “splatter zone” appears. This zone is the area in which the great majority of bullet fragments eventually wind up. The total amount of splatter in this zone is primarily dependent on the following four key issues: 1) Angle of deflection, 2) Target hardness, 3) Bullet design and 4) Target placement.

    ANGLE OF DEFLECTION
    The type and design of a steel target determines the angle of deflection. As the bullet shatters on impact, the majority of the fragments spread out at 20-degree angles from the plate surface. This area, which forms thin triangular shapes to the left and right of the target, is referred to as the “splatter zone.” It is not a safe place to be as a full 95% of all bullet fragments can end up here. The remaining area, including the shooter, is referred to as the “safety zone,” and receives only a small portion of bullet fragments. Although the safety zone is not absolutely safe, with proper protection, normal training can be carried on without undue risk.

    TARGET HARDNESS
    The hardness, or tensile strength, of a target measures the amount of force that can be applied to the steel before deformation or damage occurs. Hardness is most commonly measured by a Brinell number ranging from 150 on the soft side, up to 700 on the hard extreme. While the average target is made of the cheaper steel with a Brinell number
    of 265, some targets have a Brinell number over 500 and can withstand repeated .308 rounds without deformation or damage. Intuitively, it is apparent that a harder steel target will last longer. More importantly, a harder steel target is actually safer. In repeated testing, hard targets produced very consistent splatter patterns and returned little or no
    bullet material back to the shooter. Softer targets deformed sooner and often resulted in extremely unpredictable splatter patterns. Specifically, many fragments were larger and traveled in virtually every direction, effectively rendering the safety zone non-existent. It is recommended, therefore, that steel targets be made of the harder steel. Initially they will be more expensive, but, based on longevity and safety, they will be more cost effective in the end.

    BULLET DESIGN
    A high quality, higher power factored ammunition is essential to reduce splatter. Simply stated, to minimize the size and pattern of splatter, drive the projectile harder. Consequently, a lead bullet with a low velocity is the worst option for steel target training. For safe training, it is recommended that only higher power factored bullets be used. A desirable round to produce consistent splatter is a jacketed hollow-point with a velocity of 1225 fps. Another issue is the “correlation factor.” This generally refers to how well a bullet holds together to give controlled expansion and penetration. In the case of steel target training, the best bullet is a frangible style round. The high velocity, frangible design of such bullets creates a predictable shattering effect on impact.

    TARGET PLACEMENT
    Even with the best targets and bullets, training can be dangerous if targets are placed incorrectly. Metal targets should not be placed parallel to each other with out a barrier between them. Splatter from one target could ricochet off another target (secondary splatter), and return to the shooter. Metal targets that are used in a grouping pattern
    should be staggered so as not to be in the 20 degree angle of deflection splatter zone of another target. Placing plywood to the sides of each target easily solves both of these problems. Because the wood is soft, it will absorb the splatter and not cause dangerous secondary splatter. The wood will, however, need to be replaced frequently to be
    an effective barrier. Another cause of secondary splatter can be large rocks or concrete. The best surfaces are made of sand or fine gravel. If concrete is used, it should be covered by wood or pea gravel.

    OTHER SAFETY ISSUES
    Since splatter can only be minimized and never totally eliminated, proper eye protection must be mandatory on all firing ranges. Eye protection should be OSHA tested and have side protection built in. Long sleeves and hats are optional but recommended. Instructors and observers should stand behind the shooter and obey all safety precautions as well. In short, training on steel targets can be safe if done properly. Buy your targets from a reputable manufacturer, use high quality ammunition, place targets correctly, and take proper safety precautions.
    This is one of my 100 yard rifle plates. I don't remember what grade steel it is, but .30-06 makes a small divot in it. Multiple hits from .308 and 5.56 (non green tip) only scratch the paint. If any round catches an edge, it will scallop out a small crescent.



    These are pistol targets. They work well for shotgun (anything except slugs) also. I've shot FMJ (up to .45 ACP) at them without a problem.



    When I shoot steel, eye pro is mandatory. I don't shoot pistols closer than 10 yards and rifle closer than 100 yards.

    I've seen people hit with splatter at competitions before, drawing blood, but it was always due to poor placement or poorly maintained targets.

    There is always some risk in shooting at steel, but I think the benefits of training on steel can balance those risks, so long as you take the necessary steps to mitigate the hazards.


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  5. #5
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    When they are shooting at really close range they most likely are using frangible ammo.
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  6. #6
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    Shoot Lead only. No jacketed. You still might get hit from time to time as the steel wears and divots appear. usually it's no big deal. Make sure you wear safety glasses.

    I put several thousand rounds of 250 grain .45 Colt on steel every year as SASS shoots with little or no problem.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by bullseye View Post
    Try not to shoot FMJ at steel, has a habit to ricochet back at you, SP or HP is best, take a peek at this video and the target was 1000yds away. Seriously, I have seen FMJ at 100 yd steel targets to return a piece of jacket, not the best choice.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ABGIJwiGBc
    Not sure if it matters, but they were shooting Iron in that video not Steel.

  8. #8
    NES Member Supermoto's Avatar
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    The kind and quality of the steel makes the biggest difference, Once the steel gets chipped or puck marked then it becomes dangerous. You can predict where the splash back will go on smooth steel. I have used fmj, jhp and lead on steel, with no issues, its the steel not the ammo. The problem is the jackasses that tear up close pistol steel with rifles
    http://www.northeastshooters.com/vbulletin/signaturepics/sigpic296_3.gif

  9. #9
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    Andy in NH,
    Did you buy those targets or make them yourself?

    My buddy doesn't know what kind of steel the 2 pieces he got me are, but he thinks he can get his hands on some AR400. I was thinking about having him weld some chain on the back side just above the center line so the plate will hang at an angle to the ground.

  10. #10
    NES Member Andy in NH's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gimlet View Post
    Did you buy those targets or make them yourself?
    I bought the target shapes, but made the stands that hold them up myself. (Except for the full sized popper in the middle - the whole thing was a purchase)

    At the time I built these, I was competing in man vs. man steel shoots where the steel had to fall down to be counted (not just hit as in some competitions), so I made my steel in order to practice that.

    In hindsight, I should have made them so that they didn't fall - much better for training. I can set the mini poppers so that they won't fall, but I need to redesign the round plates.

    I'd suggest not putting your steel on a chain. It will swing around too much to safely make multiple hits on the steel.

    There are plenty of places on the web to look at steel target designs and get ideas of your own.

    Have fun and stay safe!


    I live vicariously through my own memories.

    Is the boy you were proud of the man you are?

    Any fool can be uncomfortable in the field.

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