Steel Targets and Gun Range Safety

By John Farnam

Cratered Steel Targets
Steel Targets and Gun Range Safety
Defense Training International, Inc
Defense Training International, Inc

Ft Collins, CO –-( From a friend on the East Coast:

“Yesterday, I was struck in the chest by a large bullet fragment.

I was at a popular outdoor range. A shooter several meters to my right was shooting a 45 ACP pistol at a steel disk ten meters downrange.

This was quite different than the occasional zingers from small bullet particles. At home, I discovered that my skin had been struck hard enough to draw blood.

The offending steel target was badly cratered, doubtless by someone who shot a rifle at it.”

Lessons, that need repeating:

This happens many times every day! Sometimes injuries are serious. Shooting pistols at cratered steel targets, at close range, is a recipe for disaster!

However, some risk attaches to shooting any steel target, at any range.

  1. Everyone present must wear appropriate protective equipment. Baseball cap, safety glasses (with side protection), long-sleeve shirts, long pants. Short-sleeve shirts and shorts are not recommended on any range!
  2. Cratered steel targets are suitable only for rifle training at long range, fifty meters and beyond, although some well-designed rifle targets may be safely useable at closer range.
  3. Steel targets must be made of armor plate. Soft steel is unsuitable for target material with any gun, at any range.
  4. Steel targets used for pistol training at close range (five to fifteen meters) must be inspected regularly and be free from craters. Cratered steel pistol targets need to be pulled from service.

Steel targets often contribute to excellent training. I use them regularly!

However, they need to be well made and well designed and come from a reputable vendor. Even then, there is no such thing as “risk-free” training, as noted above!

Get hold of Steve Camp at Ravelin at [email protected] for the best in steel targets.


About John Farnam & Defense Training International, Inc
As a defensive weapons and tactics instructor John Farnam will urge you, based on your own beliefs, to make up your mind in advance as to what you would do when faced with an imminent and unlawful lethal threat. You should, of course, also decide what preparations you should make in advance, if any. Defense Training International wants to make sure that their students fully understand the physical, legal, psychological, and societal consequences of their actions or inactions.

It is our duty to make you aware of certain unpleasant physical realities intrinsic to the Planet Earth. Mr Farnam is happy to be your counselor and advisor. Visit:

  • 7 thoughts on “Steel Targets and Gun Range Safety

    1. I shoot steel exclusively when we train concealed carry classes and even for our rifle manipulation courses (50 yds and further). The craters shown are very dangerous and will cause an injury to shooters. I am glad this topic was presented as some of the other instructors had no idea that the craters could cause injury (they are young and inexperienced). Had one of the plates cratered and I pulled it out of service, They thought we could just “flip it over to the other side” and keep shooting it. Wrong! If the target no longer looks like it did when you bought it, replace it.

      One other policy to consider besides prohibiting the use of steel core or armor piercing rounds is high velocity handgun rounds. We prohibit .22 TCM and 5×7 handguns. These calibers, while small, produce miniature dimples at pistol ranges that lead to the targets warping over time. Another point, IF you have a target that is dimpled (not cratered) you can grind it off with an auto fender grinder to smooth the surface once again.

      Please inspect the targets each time you intend to shoot. Look for warping and flip the targets around occasionally so they last longer.

      Safe Shooting and thank you for bringing up this point!

    2. You should never shoot steel targets unless they are hung at the correct angle to safely deflect bullet fragments. Check out how Salute Targets hangs their gong targets.

    3. Some steel targets are also mounted in a way that can be very dangerous. I was hit by a good sized piece of a 9mm round when I was shooting at a steel plate suspended by chains. I was too close and shot before the target stopped moving so the steel basically slapped the bullet back in my direction.
      Now I only shoot at rigid, angled targets or targets that will fall when hit.

    4. Our range posted this policy to keep us safe and prevent the expensive targets from getting damaged.

      No XM193, XP193, X-TAC, M855, Steel Tip, Armor Piercing or Tracers on steel targets.
      They travel more than 3,000 fps and dimple the steel plates. Paper targets all ammo allowed.

    5. That target shown is a perfect example of a cold rolled steel target. In the shape its in is safe to use?
      Yes, as long as it is out at 50 yards or more. Some shooters are just bullet magnets. I kid you knot. I have two good friends and if anyone is shooting steel around them, they will get hit by a fragment. One will drive a 100 miles to a match, find out they are shooting steel and turn around and go home. Something else to think about, Bowling Pins,
      Great for matches and especially for hand gun matches. Do not! and I repeat; DO NOT! shoot bowling pins in cold weather (under freezing temps) that coating gets HARD! I took a 39 wadcutter to the gut off a bowling pin at 30 degrees. That bullet was the side of a silver dollar, it hit me flat and left a 4 inch bruise. Bowling pins and shotguns, same thing, but even in warmer weather, NO Shotgun loads smaller than 7.5 shot. I prefer #4 or larger pellets.

    6. Watch out for hickory trees, as well. My brother fired his flintlock pistol at (what I should have know was) a hickory tree. I’m not certain if the ricochet passed between us or slightly over our heads. But it hadn’t slowed down much since it left the barrel.

    7. You didn’t confront the shooter with the 45ACP shooting at the steel disc a few meters away ? He could kill someone with that ! I’m glad your OK !

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