Students tape paper targets at Gunsite Academy, Paulden, AZ.
What are you hitting downrange?
We talk a lot about the guns we shoot, the holsters we carry them in, and the ammo that flies through them but rarely do we talk about the targets we're shooting at. That being said, I think it's important to do so for several reasons.
Targetry is more than just something to aim at downrange, it's a vital part of firearms training and shooters can get more out of range time utilizing the proper targets. While there are many different types out there, the top two are steel and paper.
Both have strengths and weaknesses and work better for different tasks, so using them appropriately will make you a more well-rounded shooter overall.
Here's what you need to know about both types of targets before your next range day!
The vast majority of shooters use paper targets since you can find them in most places you buy ammo and they are extremely cheap. They also vary immensely; from simple, old school Bull’s eyes and silhouettes to complex drill-based and even game series' targets.
Some targets can be printed at home, including drill-based targets like Dot Torture. Paper targets are cheap, if not free, which means shooters on any budget can utilize paper targets effectively.
Another great thing about paper targets is the ability to replicate the size and shape of an opponent, especially vital areas, in great detail. This gives shooters realistic training standards to practice proper shot placement and establish it as a training precedent. Targets like the Modern Warrior T1 are an exemplary example of a realistic training target.
Paper targets are also great for precision shooting because you can see and have a living record of your shots. If you're pulling low and left, you can see the error, learn from it, and work to correct it. This also makes paper targets perfect for zeroing optics of all kinds.
That being said, they do tend to fall apart quickly and are greatly affected in outdoor environments. If it’s raining, they rip. If the wind is blowing, you may need to pop in a few extra staples to keep them from blowing away. Additionally, it’s hard to see where your shots hit the target once a good amount of distance is added.
Steel targets have gained a massive amount of popularity in the last few years and for good reason. It delivers you an instant level of satisfaction whenever you hear the ding. It’s a rush - the instant feedback can be addictive (PING PING > PEW PEW) and you always know when you hit the target at longer ranges!
Steel targets come in a wide variety of different configurations and Action Target produces the widest variety of steel targets I know of. Their selection includes a little bit of everything from standard IDPA style silhouettes, hostage targets, targets shaped like animals, and reactive steel targets like plate racks and dueling trees.
These different targets come in different sizes which allow shooters to train different skills including speed and precision with reactive steel like plate racks as well as standard defensive training with IDPA style silhouettes. The instant gratification of hearing the PING of the steel and seeing the targets react can make shooting a lot more fun, which means you’ll do more of it!
The biggest drawback of using steel targets is the potential danger to shooters on the range. If you don't maintain a safe distance and angle them correctly, a steel target can create ricochets or splatter which could potentially hurt individuals on the range. That being said, this issue is more an issue of human error rather than a drawback of the steel targets themselves.
Shooting steel does make precision a tough goal to measure. If your target is 8 inches wide and you hit 4 inches off, you are still hitting the target. That makes it hard to diagnose and correct issues you may have when shooting.
Additionally, these targets are considerably more expensive than paper targets, although they can be used for years without issue. I’ve used the same steel targets for years and hit them with thousands of rounds and all they need is a bit of spray paint to bring them back to life.
The bottom line is, this is 'merica so you don't have to pick one or the other when it comes to maximizing your training! A steel plate is a fun way to train to be quick, fast, and precise while paper targets will apply those same skills into a realistic attacker.
Being a well-rounded shooter involves not only multiple guns, holsters, and ammo types, but different types of targets as well!
Which targets do you shoot? Do you prefer one over the other for different drills? Which targets do you think give the most bang for their buck?
Sound off in the comments, we want to hear from you!
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. Travis has trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army.
He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and pursues a variety of firearms based hobbies.
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