Are All Steel Targets the Same?

Are All Steel Targets the Same?

(Photo courtesy of MGM Targets)

Are all steel targets the same? Well, if the they start with the same treated metal and have identical construction, then perhaps it’s time to compare prices, shipping and company reputation. But, before you purchase the reactive target you’ve been waiting for, here’s a little knowledge that will go a long way.

Steel, the iron-and-carbon alloy strong enough to relegate cast iron to backseat status, was first created nearly 2,000 years ago. Since the beginning, trace amounts of other chemicals have been added to the mix, an engineering alchemy, of sorts, tailoring the finished product to perform in specific applications. 

Add at least 10 1/2 percent chromium and it becomes stainless steel. With some manganese, molybdenum, nickel, chromium, vanadium, silicon or other elements—usually coupled with heat treating—the finished product’s properties change significantly, a versatility we rely on to this day. Gold was never really the goal, but there’s no denying the metallurgic pioneers struck figurative pay dirt.

The final products are all “steel” of one flavor or another, but the vastly different properties forced the Society of Automotive Engineers to concoct an alphamerical shorthand to accurately label each mix. The grades of interest to shooters fall in the 500 series—heat-resistant chromium stainless steel rugged enough to survive the rigors of mining and heavy manufacturing—and the slightly softer, chromium-nickel 300 family. The commonly used AR prefix stands for abrasion resistant.

Reactive steel targets are commonplace at many ranges, and prices have dropped to the point that any shooter can own one—or a few. They’re good old-fashioned fun, and we asked a pair of experts for advice on their care, feeding and making the right selection.

Selection for Rifles

“If you’re shooting high-velocity ammo—at or above 3,000 fps at impact—an AR500 steel of 3/8-inch thickness would be a minimum plate needed (at a 100-yard distance, minimum) to maintain the plate integrity, i.e. keep it from deforming on impact,” explained John Woller Jr., president of Viking Solutions in an e-mail. “We recommend that shooters set these targets at 100 yards minimum for the velocities mentioned above.”

“The steel shooters should insist on is something with a Brinell [hardness] rating of 495 or better,” Travis Gibson, vice president at MGM Targets and professional shooter replied. “If you ask a steel supplier about it and they don’t know what you’re talking about, keep shopping. Just because it’s ‘AR500’ doesn’t mean it’s high quality steel.”

“No welds,” Gibson added. “Heat kills the temper. If there are welds on the target face, it will break…it’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’” Bolts exposed on the target face should also be rounded carriage bolts, he explains, which reduce the chances of bullet fragments splashing back toward the shooter.

Selection for Handguns

For handguns enthusiasts, “….we use AR360 on our pistol targets since pistol velocities of most standard calibers are much lower than centerfire rifles,” Woller Jr. explained. Gibson, an avid 3-Gun shooter cautioned, “…personally, I do enough shooting of handguns, carbines and long-range-type rifles, I wouldn’t want to take a chance messing it up. I’d recommend just sticking with the ‘good stuff.’ Rifle-grade targets can be shot with pistols….pistol-grade targets can not be shot with rifles.”

Care and Feeding

Armor-piercing ammo should never been used with steel targets, according to Woller Jr. “We always recommend that you follow the safe shooting rules set forth by NRA/NSSF,” he adds. “Also, with the exception of extremely long-range shooting (greater than 300 yards), a steel plate should be mounted on flexible hangers—hooks, chains, rubber straps, etc.—to absorb and direct most the bullet energy downward, greatly reducing any chance of a fragment ricochet.”

Gibson concurs, adding the growing popularity of the MGM Targets Junior Shooting Camps, which began in 2008, highlights the safety record of steel targets when used properly. “Wear eye and ear pro all the time,” he adds.

Steel’s seemingly magnetic appeal with shooters was explained by Eliza Graves, brand manager for Champion, when her company introduced new line of reactive targets two years ago. “Interactivity is the name of the game when it comes to the range today,” she said. “Shooters want to have fun and improve their skills with immediate feedback. Hearing is believing with Champion Center Mass Steel Targets.”

Not all metal mixes are the same, even when it comes to the aluminum in ARs. I also interviewed a couple of experts in that field. The article is an interesting read found here. And thank you for visiting my modest blog and I hope you have a glorious day.