AR500 steel targets, everyone has heard the name at this point, most people have shot at them, and some people own them. Who actually knows what AR500 means, raise your hand? Crash course here folks. AR500 is a hardened steel that is commonly used for targets, armored applications, truck plows and in mining. It is tempered and designed to be abrasion resistant, which makes it ideal for high wear applications. With a high Brinell hardness number (BHN)between 516 and 540 usually, AR500 steel is perfect for targets because of its functionality and safety.
By providing impact resistance, bullets are more likely to hit a flat surface on the target and follow usual ricochet patterns. When softer steels are used and deformations occur, there is a much higher possibility for an unusual bounce back that could cause injury. On top of providing the safety that many shooters are looking for, ShootSteel also provides the durability necessary for the range. It is important to note when selecting a target material that a higher BHN is not necessarily better. Many times, an extreme increase in hardness will only make your product durability worse instead of improving it as the steel is more brittle. This occurs predominantly in rifle shooting vs handgun due to its velocity and power upon impact as well as variability of ammunition.
Many workshops have the tools to manufacture steel targets out of hardened steel, but it is important that this be done correctly so as not to affect the composition of the target. For instance, water jet cutters or laser cutters are preferred, but plasma cutters can be used. In contrast, angle grinders or normal welding damages the hardening. Hardened drill bits are also needed to cut holes in hardened steel targets. The required thickness of the target depends on the distance intended for shooting, steel quality, caliber, bullet type, and bullet speed. High velocity rounds (and hardened core bullets) more easily penetrate steel targets, meaning that faster bullets even of relatively small calibers or diameter are more likely to punch through a target. Manufacturers recommend at least 1/4″ thickness (6.35 mm) with 500 Brinell value for pistol shooting with common calibers such as 9 mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP, with a safety distance of 10 yards (approx. 10 m). For rifle shooting, manufacturers recommend at least 3/8″ (9.525 mm) 500 Brinell steel, and different distances according to what caliber is used. For calibers like .223 and .308 at least 100 yards are required for long target life. For larger and faster calibers such as 22-250, 30-06, 300 Win Mag or .338 Lapua 200 yards or farther is recommended. Nevertheless, the targets can often be shot at from much closer without any problems, provided proper angles are maintained.
Now in regard to bullet splash or spalling; this is another reason that there are distance guidelines set up by companies when shooting their steel targets. Splash and spalling are different concepts here, and we should take a moment to define them. Bullet splash is exactly what it sounds like. If a soft object hits a hard surface fast enough, it’s going to create a ‘splash’. Like a water balloon against a wall, you get small fragments shooting out perpendicular to the impact surface. When a bullet hits a hard surface such as steel, the much softer bullet will fragment and send bullet fragments off in different directions. The only difference here is that a bullet travels so fast with so much potential energy, that those shards are still deadly dangerous.
Whilst bullet splash occurs on the side of the impact, spalling occurs on the opposite side. Spalling is the fragmentation of the target caused by the impact of the projectile, not fragmentation of the projectile itself. Spalling is not caused by the bullet penetrating the target, but the target deforming in a way that allows the rear of the target to fragment. Spalling carries similarly dangerous energy to that of bullet splash, and was a key tactic used in early tank warfare. “Squash rounds” were specifically developed to maximize the effect of spalling and to neutralize the crew of enemy tanks by fragmenting the inner walls.
The last safety aspect of steel targets that we need to discuss is ammo choice. The gold standard is frangible ammo. Frangible ammo is a training round designed to disintegrate into dust when they strike a hard target. Manufacturers make modern frangible bullets with a powder metallurgy, pressing and “sintering” metal that is formed into fine powder. This means that bullet splash is vastly less dangerous, as the pieces lose energy faster and are much smaller. Ricochet is also effectively eliminated. Frangible ammo is not cost effective for everyone, however. The main things to consider after this are
- Don’t use steel core or armor penetrating ammunition.
- Use the softest round you can reasonably fire from your gun (solid lead is ideal)
- Don’t use a cartridge that has excessive speed (22-250 is a target killer)
These will ensure long life of your target, as well as increase safety for you.
What does all this mean to someone like you? Just a normal guy looking to shoot some steel on public lands or go to a competition and shoot something other than paper. Well what it means is that just in the same way that you don’t skimp on the guns that shoot the bullet, you shouldn’t skimp on the thing that effectively disables the bullet from affecting you the shooter or your bystanders. Along with safety eye wear and a medical kit on hand, keeping the bullets from coming back to you in the first place is key to staying safe. Making sure that you trust the company that makes the targets is a great way to start, and ShootSteel is a company that you can trust, whether it is the target or the hangers. They are made by shooters for shooters and test their product relentlessly. For instance, all of their targets are precision cut using a CNC Laser in order to reduce any heat affected zone leaving you with the most durable and longest lasting target on the market.
The regular 10” circular steel target that ShootSteel offers is a great option to get you started, as they store easily in a vehicle, aren’t terribly heavy, and can a durable target for hand guns, rifles, and even shotguns, depending on the distance and ammo used. These targets are nothing fancy, just a piece of steel that rings and moves when you shoot it. Buying a few of these and some target stands is a great way to quickly set up a fun range day without stressing about how to transport a ton of steel as well as your gear and ammo.
The 12” Colt Speed Plate is a great option for rifle shooters wanting a fun reactive target to shoot at that sets itself up. This particular reactive target flips back and is automatically reset by a spring. They were not designed to be shot with handguns as the base can direct bullet splash back at the shooter. If using with handguns they must be used at a minimum of 25 yards. This ends up being a great option for rifle shooters, because you can shoot the target, see and hear a hit, and then have the target set itself up. No walking back and forth unless you want to, and at 100yd+ that is no fun to do all day. Remember when we talked about their extensive testing? During their testing of the competition they found that some used mild steel bases. The bullets splash will possibly cut through these cheaper target bases. This is obviously not ideal for when you have the target fall down, but also it can change the ricochet pattern of the target and could potentially alter it in a way that is dangerous to you. Like I said before, not a thing to skimp on.
ShootSteel also has a static IPSC style torso target, it is cut specifically for 1/2” mounting hardware, so carriable colts can be used to mount it to a 2×4” or steel post. These are a great way to practice for USPSA shooting as you can worry about hits on target plus speed and dial the accuracy in later. Oh, and all that taping is a thing of the past with a large IPSC style target. These are beefy targets and you might need help setting it up if your stand is very high, but the ability to zip through a USPSA stage and hear all your hits is a great training tool.
The key with steel targets is in the mounting. You can buy the cool steel targets and have the gun ready to go, but how to do you safely and securely hang the heavy targets up? That’s where the innovation comes in. ShootSteel has really knocked it out of the park with the improved static hanger and static target stand. For $112, you have a surprisingly low-profile target stand system that uses a standard 2×4”. Stands and mounting hardware can really add up, and this is a smoking deal for high quality equipment. All of this can go into the back of your truck, get pulled out with one hand even, and set up. The target stand comes with holes set up so you can drive stakes into the ground and secure the target against rifle rounds and magnum pistol rounds. Don’t wiggle the stakes loose though, pull them out with a claw hammer or by hand. ShootSteel has even designed a patent pending hanger for use on 1.25” steel posts used in construction.
For $26, you have a laser cut hanger, that attaches to all of their targets (obviously), but the kicker is that this hanger is designed specifically to attach to these posts and not rotate or wiggle around. They have made cuts in the sides of the hanger to slip right over the posts and make sure that the hanger is extra secure. I prefer to use these posts over 2×4” since they store easier in the back of a truck, are generally harder to shoot and can hold very heavy targets. The static target stand doesn’t necessarily need to be secured with stakes, but when shooting heavy rifle loads at this target, you might want to go ahead and do it since it’s a long walk back to the target! With the steel post method, you are already at the 0-yard line, why not just secure it once and go shoot.
Check out their website http://www.shootsteel.com, they have many more products that are really interesting, including full man size steel targets, 50BMG targets, interesting target stands and bundles of targets and stands to get you set up quickly. They also have a caliber guide to help you select the type of target that most fits the calibers you plan to shoot. This is definitely a place to spend a bit of time so that you don’t damage your investment or potentially injure yourself.
ShootSteel has a lot of innovative and wonderful products for sale, and the owner Evan Moyer stands by his product, they warranty all of their products regardless of whether they are a wear item such as a target, or a welded item such as a mounting bracket or target hanger. ShootSteel strives to offer the absolute best in class products, as well as a top-notch customer service experience. They are made in Minnesota, order steel directly from mills that rigorously test their metals and make certain that you have the highest quality target that money can buy.
Shooting steel targets is easily the most fun you will have shooting reactive, especially compared to shooting paper or even Tannerite. Make sure you do your research, stay safe, and have all the proper equipment. Get your gear, set it up and have a blast shooting and enjoying the quick hit calls and reactive targets.