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A Look At Steel Targets

By ADMIN · Jan 29, 2016 ·
  1. ADMIN

    A Look At Steel Targets

    Cutting Methods
    There are three primary methods used to cut steel targets with manufacturers often advocating one method over another. Long story short, it is not worth your time obsessing about the cutting method employed by commercial target manufacturers. Below we provide an overview and the key considerations as you select targets for your needs:


    The most common cutting method, is Hi Def Plasma or underwater plasma. Depending on the level of the machine, it can be combined with Tru-Hole technology. This process is fairly fast and creates a surprisingly nice product. It is also the cheapest way to cut AR500 steel targets because of the availability of small plasma tables.

    However, not all plasma tables are created equal. According to Jake Vibbert of JC Steel, the smaller 4'x8' or 5'x10' plasma tables tend to cut a little slower and they are not quite as accurate when it comes to cutting shapes or making holes. Plasma tables can range from as little as a couple thousand dollars to millions of dollars depending on design, size, and capabilities.

    Another popular method to cut AR500 targets is with a laser - it cuts fast, and is very accurate. Some of the laser tables out on the market right now have some incredible capabilities. Laser tables are considered to be some of the most expensive.

    Finally, AR500 steel targets can be cut with a water-jet table. Water jet tables usually run a little slower, but can produce a good product. They can also be used to engrave designs on targets such as scoring rings. Water-Jet tables are not as expensive as the high tech laser tables, but usually more than the home variety plasma tables.

    The main difference between these three methods comes down to heat. Keep in mind that high heat compromises the hardness of the steel. Water-Jet tables do not create heat when the product is cut. Laser tables can cut very quickly minimizing generated heat. High dollar Plasma tables with the correct capabilities can also cut fairly fast keeping the heat down somewhat. Smaller and less costly home plasma tables cut slower and the heat stays on the edge of the target longer.

    This gets us to our next topic - our Heat Affected Zone or HAZ. The HAZ is the volume of material at or near the cut which properties have been altered due to the metal heating up. The HAZ on a target that has been cut via a water-jet table is zero. The HAZ with a laser is roughly 1/16". The HAZ with a quality Hi-Def Plasma table is roughly 1/8".

    A home built plasma table or hand cutting plasma tool/torch can have a number of effects on the plate due to varying HAZ - it would depend how long that particular person kept the heat source on the target’s edge. For that reason, you may wish to ask a few more questions before purchasing targets manufactured on home built cutting tables.

    The HAZ is considered a negative in the target industry because the HAZ has different metal properties than the rest of the plate - the HAZ basically softens the steel in the small area. As shooters we like to focus on the details, however the HAZ may not matter that much if at all.

    For example, when a 7mm bullet going 2800 FPS hits the very edge of a target that has been HD plasma cut, the edge hit will likely take off a small 1/16" chip out of the side of the target. But, when the exact same thing happens to a laser or water-jet target, the result is identical - the same 1/16" divot has been chipped off of the edge.

    The reality of the situation is that we are shooting a high speed projectile at a stationary target, and if it hits the very edge it is likely to chip irrespective of the cutting method because there is no material around the edge to support it giving it strength.

    Target Durability and Other Considerations
    AR500 is a very durable product, but like everything, it has its limitations. If you would like to have your AR500 Steel Targets for a lifetime, follow these basic guidelines for 3/8" Premium AR500:

    • Pistol rounds at 15 yards and further
    • .223 type rifles at 100 yards and further
    • .308 type rifles at 100 yards and further
    • 300 WM type rifles at 200 yards and further

    If these guidelines are followed, you should be able to use these targets with no damage to the steel. Speed is what hurts steel (or as some like to say – Speed Kills!). It is common to see a .223 round dimple AR500 at 100 yards because of the speed of the bullet upon impact. If possible, try to keep the bullet velocity at 2600 FPS or less when it impacts the steel.

    Consult the ballistics tables for your rifle, cartridge, and target distance to determine the expected velocity of your projectile hitting the target. Target life will also depend on the bullet composition. Armor piercing, steel core or steel jacketed ammo will destroy an AR500 Steel target in no time and can also create sparks which can start fires. If your bullet attracts a magnet, you should not be shooting them at steel.

    However, we can’t always adhere to the above guidelines so AR500 targets need to be viewed as a consumable (although it may take a really long time to run through a target). Our practice targets are hit thousands of times at close ranges with fast muzzle velocities and that bullet is basically a hammer compacting a very dense piece of steel even further. The more the steel is compacted, the more brittle the target is going to get and eventually the impact of the bullet will crack the AR500. Does that mean it is bad AR500? Absolutely not - it only means the life of the target (a consumable item) is now up.


    Steel targets are not the only consumable with a finite life span. The various hardware and mechanisms used to hang steel targets will wear out over time depending on construction and frequency of use. Keep in mind that as you select steel targets, the sundry target hanging hardware will likely need to be replaced so keep some extras on hand for periodic maintenance as required.

    One of the biggest questions for a new steel target shooter has to do with the thickness of the steel. AR500 targets are most commonly available in the following three thicknesses: 1/2", 3/8", and 1/4".

    • 1/2" is the most robust, strongest, and most durable. 1/2" is usually reserved for large caliber rifles, such as 338s, 375s, 300 mags, 7 mags etc. The 1/2" AR500 handles the energy much better than the thinner AR500 varieties.
    • 3/8" is the most popular. Anything in the range of 308, .260, .30-06, all standard pistol rounds are a perfect combination for 3/8" AR500.
    • 1/4" is popular for extreme long distance shooting (they are very audible), and some rimfire shooting like 22LR.
    Here are some general guidelines for extended target life:


    Common Target Designs and Applicability
    Steel targets come in just about every shape imaginable. Here are the most popular:

    • IPSC
    • Humanoid shapes (head, head and torso, upper body with arms, hostage/hostage taker)
    • Geometric shapes (circle, square, rectangle, diamond, etc.)
    • Animal shapes (birds, squirrels, wood chucks, coyotes, hogs, bears, etc.)
    As you can see targets come in wide variety of shapes and size. Similarly, there are an array of methods used to hang targets.

    • T-Post with Bracket
    • Target Hook
    • Conveyer Belt or Fire Hose
    • 2x4 Mount
    • Target Stands (rebar or pipe)
    Target manufacturers have also devised mechanisms so targets will react differently when being impacted by a bullet. Some of the most popular include:

    • Poppers
    • Flappers
    • Spring back targets
    • Pistol plate racks
    • Dueling trees
    • Spinners
    AR500 Reactive Springer Target (Woodchuck)

    AR500 Reactive IPSC Flapper Target (66% IPSC)

    AR500 Reactive Springer on 2x4 Post (8" Diamond)

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