Plastic Steel Plates & Other New Shooting Gear, Summer Break 2017

By Tom McHale

The USCCA set up this Polymer Palooza course to help test out some new gear.
The USCCA set up this Polymer Palooza course to help test out some new gear.
Tom McHale headshot low-res square
Tom McHale

USA –-( One of the benefits of this adventure job is that you get to try out all sorts of new shooting sports gear.

As I write this, I’m in Appleton, Wisconsin eating some fine cheeses and wondering how the Packers are gonna fare this year.

In between servings, I had the opportunity to do a bunch of shooting with the folks from the United States Concealed Carry Association; they're headquartered up near here. Always on a mission to advance the cause of lawful self-defense, they brought our media crew together with some carefully chosen shooting industry vendors.

The idea was to get some quality range time in for multiple target engagement scenarios and kick the tires of some new gear in the process. Allow me to share a bit more about that.

Indoor Steel

Maybe I’ve been living under a worn out steel popper target, but I didn’t know about Newbold Polymer Targets. Self-healing targets aren’t new, and you can even find them at your local big box store. What is new is the concept of plastic “steel plates.” Shooting steel plates is fun. They fall over when you hit them, so you don’t need to squint at paper targets down range to see if your shot was successful. On the not so fun side, lugging them around causes hernias and probably bunions because they’re, ummm, really heavy.

I don’t know about you, but I have enough unplanned workouts in my life.

Bullets pass through the NewBold polymer targets yet still knock them down like plates.
KD-Pivot Plates : Bullets pass through the NewBold polymer targets yet still knock them down like plates.

That’s where the Newbold KD-Pivot targets shine. While they have a million designs of lightweight (7x lighter than steel) targets, the ones I got to play with were plate rack setups. The six-inch “plates” I used are designed to allow the bullet to pass through, but they also fall down when you shoot them with pistol rounds. You can certainly shoot them with rifles too, but they may or may not fall down as the higher velocity rounds tend to zip right through. Feel free to try with your rifle caliber – there's no harm in it.

The “plates” mount on brackets made of the same self-healing material. In fact, you adjust the fall sensitivity using bolts made of the same self-healing polymer. Any part of the system down range allows bullets to pass through without damage.

In fact, after a day of high-volume shooting, we found a couple of target mounts where 9mm bullets hit the balance bolts square on the head. The damage? Nothing. On one bolt, the bullet went right into the center of the head, passed down the length of the bolt, and zipped out the bottom with no damage at all to the threads. Keep in mind that the whole bolt is about the same diameter as a 9mm bullet. That's pretty cool.

If you want to set up a plate rack, just get some 2×4 segments and stick the ends into the new Alpha brackets. Those should be available right about the time you read this. Yep, you guessed it, those are self-healing too. There's also a new “T” stand setup on the way if you just want to set up single targets.

A 9mm passed right through this polymer "bolt" and came out the base without damaging threads. Cool. And indestructible.
A 9mm passed right through this polymer “bolt” and came out the base without damaging threads. Cool. And indestructible.

There's one more significant advantage over steel. You can shoot them at any distance, including point-blank range. Since the bullets pass through just as they would with a cardboard target, there's no fragmentation or splash as there is with steel targets. I'm anxious to set up a plate rack at my home range to practice speed shooting at short range.

There are too many varieties to talk about all of them here, so check out the company’s web site. While the KD-Pivot “plates” shown here need to be reset after they fall, you can use the same targets in a hanging scenario, so they move when you hit them then resettle back into place.

Eyes getting fuzzy?

As an aging shooter, I’m plagued with presbyopia, you know, the irrational fear of receiving gifts. Actually, it's a slight hardening of the lens over time that makes it harder to focus on things like obnoxious Facebook posts and handgun front sights. As a result, I wear glasses these days, but most of the correction is for close up stuff. Finding a solution for shooting glasses has always been a pain – until now. The folks at SSP Eyewear wanted to find a way to make affordable eye protection that solves the shooting problem for those of us who need reading glasses. If you need a little help seeing things up close, most glasses, whether prescription or drug store readers have the close-up correction at the bottom of the lens. That’s great for reading, but when you shoot handguns, you tend to tilt your head forward, so your eyes are looking through the tops of the lenses. That’s where the SSP Eyewear's Top Focal Lenses solution shines.

The correction zone in the lens is ground into the top area, right where it needs to be to provide perfect focus on the sights when in a shooting stance.

SSP Eyewear Top Focal Lenses : Mix and match correction strengths and locations on the lens to get the shooting eyewear solution that's just right for you.
SSP Eyewear Top Focal Lenses : Mix and match correction strengths and locations on the lens to get the shooting eyewear solution that's just right for you.

Going on a wild guess, I requested the 2.0 correction on my set that was shipped to the event. As advertised, they made my vision at front sight distance amazingly crisp and clear when I leaned my head forward into my natural shooting position, but the targets in the distance were a little blurrier than I would have preferred. Then, when I got home, I actually read the instructions. Guess what? Since the lenses are instantly swappable, you can put a top of lens correction in your dominant eye and a bottom correction lens in the other one. That turned out to be the bomb. When shooting, your dominant eye focuses on the sight while your support eye sees more clearly down range. When you need to do some up close maintenance work, use the non-dominant eye as a traditional “reader” glasses setup the correction in the lower part of the lens. You can order all sorts of combinations of lenses in different colors, different corrections, and either top or bottom correction placement.

The best part is that all this stuff is in the Amazon delivery options and two digit price range, unlike prescription solutions where prices are big enough to have their own gravitational field.

Walther Creed 9mm Handgun

Walther’s Creed handgun is a budget friendly offering that brings most of the classic Walther ergonomic features into an affordable package. It’s a 16+1 round, full-size handgun that carries an MSRP of just $399 (less $$ online). By simplifying the design, using polymer in creative places to reduce machining costs, and leaving out some extras like replaceable backstraps, they’ve been able to get the price down.

Walther's Creed Handgun retails at just $399. (Less Online)
Walther's Creed Handgun retails at just $399. (Less Online)

I shot about 200 rounds through it during our polymer palooza escapades with good result. It ran fine, and I had no trouble mastering the trigger on the pre-cocked double-action system. I didn’t have my scale with me, but the company advertises the pull weight at 6.5 pounds. It felt about right to me. During various stages of our bragging rights competition, I shot it two-handed, strong hand only, and weak hand only. I didn’t have any malfunctions unless I can find a way to blame my leaving a plate standing after I cleared my gun and showed clear to the Range Officer. Oops.

The folks at XS Sights provided Big Dots for the guns we used. I've always been a fan because the large front sight leaps into view with no visual confusion from similar dots on the rear sight. The rear is a “V” ramp with a white vertical line for more precise alignment.

While my single-day experience wasn’t a full evaluation, I had a good first impression of the pistol as a wallet-friendly alternative. I’ve got one coming in for a full test scenario, so more on that later.

Comp-Tac International Holster

I used a Comp-Tac International holster and Twin Magazine Belt Pouch throughout the event. The International is an all-Kydex OWB model and I really, really like it. The draw was slick, slick, slick right off the bat and the belt attachment was rock solid. Within the belt loops are internal hooks that tension the holster against the bottom surface of the belt. You slip the belt through the oversize loops (that can accommodate larger belt width too), when it’s in just the position you want, you hook the belt over those internal hooks and the holster if firmly anchored in place. It did not budge throughout the day. I’m anxious to try one of these on some of my heavier steel guns that tend to flop other OWB holsters around on the belt. The International comes with three different mounting options: belt loops, paddle, and offset belt loops. It's also easily adjustable for cant angle.

Comp-Tac's International OWB holster comes with three mounting options and all the adjustment you would expect.
Comp-Tac's International OWB holster comes with three mounting options and all the adjustment you would expect.

The Twin Magazine Pouch is also outside the waist band but mounts with slip on clips instead of closed belt loops. Each magazine pouch has two separate tension adjustments at the top and bottom so you can customize the magazine “draw.” The thing I liked best about these mag pouches is that they are separated by about an inch. That allowed me to mount the unit so that a belt loop was in between the two mag pouches. That kept the entire thing right where I wanted. Like the holster, it stayed put throughout the day.

I liked how the pouches were separated. That allowed me to mount on either side of a belt loop.
I liked how the pouches were separated. That allowed me to mount on either side of a belt loop.

Walker Silencer Internal Hearing Protection

I've been using Etymotic Gun-Pro internal electronic hearing plugs for the past couple of years. I love them not only for their great sound reduction features but for the very natural voice sounds that the system allows you to hear while still blocking dangerously loud noises. Last week, one of them died, and since they’re not easily repairable, I’ve been in a deep depression. They cost about $300 a set, which is fair considering how well they perform.

Walker's Silencer electronic plugs are close to half the price of other similar options.
Walker's Silencer electronic plugs are close to half the price of other similar options.

I had the opportunity to try an alternative, Walker’s Silencer internal electronic plugs. Unlike other models, these have a suggested retail of just $229.95, and they're available on the street for about $165. Additionally, they come with an on/off switch and volume controls. They still use #10 hearing aid batteries which have a limited lifespan once activated, but the switch saves some of that juice for when you need it during the batteries lifespan. They'll run continuously for about 80 hours, and the hearing aid batteries are dirt cheap.

These come with contoured foam in-ear plugs mounted on rubber outer ear fins. The rubber portion keeps the unit firmly locked in your ear. The set includes small, medium, and large rubber fins. I started with the medium and had a little soreness, so I switched to the small. That turned out to be the perfect fit, and from then on, the units were perfectly comfortable. The plugs did a great job of bringing the extreme loudness of the indoor range to comfortable levels. The Silencers pick up and even amplify safe levels of ambient sound so you can hear what’s going on. I found that voices were a little more subdued than I would like, but I suspect that’s because the Walker gear is probably optimized for the field. Since they pick up all the subtle background noises, they’ll make a great hunting solution. They were fine for range use too, just not quite as “conversation-optimized” as more expensive solutions.


Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon. You can also find him on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

  • 3 thoughts on “Plastic Steel Plates & Other New Shooting Gear, Summer Break 2017

    1. Machinists and home workshop hobbyists with metalworking lathes and milling machines and such, likewise have need for creative safety glasses to suit exactly what they do, and some safety glasses as described in this article can work for either in the workshop or out at the firing range as well. A little online searching will quickly find safety reading glasses that are bifocal – the large roughly 2/3rd’s upper portion of each safety lens is simply clear with no corrective reduction or magnification, so you can see everything the same as you would without glasses, and the lower roughly 1/3″ bifocal portion of the lens being the magnifying strength you specify, with the general magnifying range – measured as in all eyeglasses in “diopters” – being the same as found on typical cheap drug store / dollar store reading glasses (+1 all the way up in steps of .25 to an eye stretching +6 if you look online). Great for in the shop or at the range.

      I recommend anyone interested to read up on understanding eyeglass prescriptions, as it is pretty simple stuff for most basic prescriptions. Learn what “Sphere”, “Cylinder”, “Axis”, and “Add” mean and you will be well on your way to being able to order your own custom shooting glasses online at very low cost. If you see an eyecare professional as often as you should and therefore know that you do not have any astigmatism to deal with, you can simply ignore the “Cylinder” and “axis” sections on the ordering form as they are irrelevant. Ditto with “prism” as that is fairly rare. (People already wearing prescription eyeglasses will generally already know if they have any astigmatism or if they need some prism correction for one eye, although they may not necessarily remember the exact numbers they need.)

      I will give my own example – I have “chronic central serous retinopathy” in both eyes which means my eyesight is changeable over time. I have no astigmatism. I find that for the moment, +2.25 reading glasses work well for sitting at the computer, so that is my “sphere” number for each eye. To read small print and see other things closer up, like when I am in my little home workshop, I find +3.5 magnification to be about good for seeing small detail. (I also keep magnifying glasses scattered about the house and etc. as a matter of habit). The “Add” number is for the lower bifocal portion of the lens, and it is always a positive number _that is relative to the “sphere” number_ in an eyeglass prescription. So to get a bifocal strength that works out to my preferred +3.5, I take my “sphere” of +2.25 and see that I need to add 1.25 to it to get my desired +3.5, so 1.25 is my “Add” number on the online prescription section of the eyeglass ordering form. Sphere = +2.25 each eye, and Add = +1.25 each eye. This gives me my currently preferred +2.25 computer reading / workshop glasses with +3.5 bifocals I leave the “cylinder” and “axis” fields blank because I have no astigmatism, and neither do I need any “prism” correction, so that is as simple as that for my own needs.

      If you do have some astigmatism you will need to get those “Cylinder” and “Axis” numbers from your eye care professional. Ditto if you need “prism” correction for one of your eyes. I suggest simply telling the optometrist / optician exactly what you are up to – you might say custom _workshop_ or _driving_ glasses instead of shooting glasses if that helps to avoid any BS – and offering to pay cash for a simple eye exam to get your specific prescription numbers, *IF* they will give you a cash discount, and simply go elsewhere if they won’t. Last time I did this I paid like $30 and was out of there in about 10 or 15 minutes, no problem.

      This is how I get cheap but accurate eyeglasses that suit exactly how I do things without spending a lot of money. I have “outside / driving” glasses” which are my “shooting” glasses as well, and “computer / workshop” glasses as I described above. I thought perhaps someone out there could use this basic info to do the same for themselves, so here you go. In short, if you are paying more than $60 to $80 for a pair of bifocals to suit exactly how you do things, you are doing something wrong.

      ZOOM IN and OUT on your computer:
      If you are sitting at a PC / Windows computer, look at the “Backspace” key on your keyboard. Going to the left of that backspace key, you will see the “+” key, then the “-” key, and then the “0” key. In every internet browser and in most email (and other) programs, you can “zoom in” to enlarge everything for easier reading. Hold down either of the Control (Ctrl) keys and then hit “+” to zoom in / enlarge this window, “-” to zoom out / shrink, and “0” to reset your browser to it’s normal 100% view. Whenever I type into one of these tiny little comment text boxes, I always first hold down Ctrl while tapping the “+” key a few times to make everything HUGE, type in my little message, and then when I am done I hold down Ctrl and tap the “0” key once to reset the browser back to normal view, just for example. Try it!

      Here’s to clearly seeing what you clearly need to see! 🙂

    2. Tom,
      THANK YOU for the heads up for the SSP EyeWear as my old eyes are now getting MAJOR near sighted as the front sight fuzzily fades into oblivion. Laser sights are becoming a necessity but for a coming trial with these new spectacles. At least my far distance is still near at an optimum.
      As always, I enjoy Your articles with the latest new toys. Keep ‘um coming! DGJ

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