Picking A Steel Target

If you're here, you're probably interested in breaking into the world of steel targets.  Steel has a whole mess of benefits over paper or other types of targets.  The audible and visual elements add excitement, and training value to your range day, and when used correctly, they can last a life time.  That said, there are a lot of options, so here's some info to help you choose.

Quick Pick for free hanging targets

  • AR400: Light use
    • Non-magnum handgun and rim-fire rifle at 12 yards
  • 3/8" AR500: Standard use
    • Non-magnum handgun at 12 yards
    • Magnum Handgun and Shotgun pellet at 25 yards
    • Shotgun Slug at 50 yards
    • Non-magnum rifle at 100 yards
    • Magnum rifle at 250 yards
  • 1/2" AR500: Heavy use
    • Any Handgun at 12 yards
    • Any Shotgun at 25 yards
    • Rifle (non-magnum) at 100 yards
    • Magnum rifle at 200 yards
    • Big stuff (.50 BMG, etc.) at 1000 yards
  • 1" AR500: Yikes
    • Same as 1/2" but Big stuff (.50 BMG, etc.) at 250 yards
  • AR550: Same as AR500 at equivalent thickness with slightly better pitting resistance

More info

Type of Steel:

Steel targets come in a few varieties of material, and the most common varieties you'll see are AR400, AR500 and AR550.  Mild steel is sometimes used but isn't ideal.

Mild steel is common in everyday applications so folks may have some lying around from other projects. It *can* be used as a target with some pistol rounds but It really isn't ideal, and will wear out much more quickly than any of the other steel types mentioned.   This means it will get pitting and/or holes which make it more likely to lead to a ricochet.  Center fire rifles will punch right through it.

the AR series of steels are the ones which should be considered target quality steel.  The 'AR' stands for 'Abrasion Resistant' and the following number is the nominal Brinell Hardness Number (BHN). 

AR400 can readily be used with non-magnum handguns, and rim-fire rifle. If you plan on using center-fire rifle or magnum handgun you should jump up to AR500.

 AR500 is the most commonly used steel type, and 3/8" is the most commonly used thickness.  The composition of the material and its hardness make it good up to a bullet impact velocity of 2,800 feet per second (less for small rounds like .223/5.56), and impact energy of 3,000 foot-pounds.  This allows use of most calibers at appropriate distances. 

Damage is done to steel primarily in the form of pitting from heat caused from impact, and additionally in the form of bending/denting by the energy of impact.  The heat is primarily increased by higher impact velocity, so the faster the bullet is going, the more likely you'll get pitting.  Pitting is best resisted with a higher hardness rating.  Bending and denting is caused by the round's energy on impact.  It can be better resisted with thicker material.  Even if energy on impact is kept below the recommended 3,000 ft-lb, steel plates will still bend over the course of thousands of rounds.  Reversing the side you're shooting helps to even this out.  Take an in depth look at this stuff in here.