What Makes A Good Steel Target

Shooting steel targets is one of the best training implements that you can put into your shooting regimen and can help you improve your rifle or pistol shooting. Seeing the reactionary targets drop or hearing the ping of the steel can be exhilarating. If you are looking for some steel targets to shoot, there are a few things you need to know first. Not all steel targets are created equal; anything softer than AR500 and AR550 can deform with repeated round impacts.

So, don’t grab a hunk of scrap steel that you sound in your backyard from ten-yards away. There are different types of steel targets for various applications, calibers, and distances. Some targets specifically designed for long range shooting while others are perfect for close-range pistol shooting and will minimize the amount of shrapnel that is sent back at the shooter due to the type of steel used, as well as the angle of the target and target stand.

There are plenty of good quality steel targets out there; it depends on what you want to use for. What makes a good steel target depends on what you will be using it for.  If you are shooting from close to medium ranges with either a pistol or a carbine, there is a large variety of reactionary steel targets and plates that can be used. If you are shooting from a long distance with higher caliber rifles, make sure that the steel is rated to be shot with the caliber of the round that you will be using.

AR500 Steel

AR500 steel is the standard for pistol shooting at close distances because it minimizes shrapnel and can be shot safely as close as ten-yards. When shooting AR500 steel targets, the round will splay, and the majority of the round will be deflected approximately  20 degrees up or down, rather than back at the shooter or randomly in any direction.

Random ricochets are possible with weaker steel because this steel can dent and deform due to repeated impact. The key takeaway here is not to shoot steel that isn’t rated for the round you are shooting at it. Only shoot steel that is sufficient for the application, there is no reason to shoot steel rated higher than you need and will cost you substantially more with little to no benefit. 

Everything you need to know about steel targets is available below.

Want to improve your marksmanship? Read our blog, 5 Gun Targets to Increase your Marksmanship

Choosing the Right Steel Target for Your Needs

1/4” AR500 steel is rated for centerfire handguns up to 45 ACP.  It also works with 38sp, 9mm, 40S&W, and other similar calibers. Great for shooters looking for a deal on handgun targets.  

3/8” AR500 steel is designed to handle impacts from magnum handguns and rifles up to 308. ⅜” is also great for 223/5.56, 5.45×39, 7.62×39, and other similar rounds.

1/2” AR500 Designed for rugged daily rifle use, including 300 and 338 magnum rifles

3/4” AR500 Designed for 50BMG, also works with 416 and 408 calibers.

For more information on Steel Target selection, go to https://guntargets.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/what-is-ar500-steel/


Best Steel Targets

AR500 Metal Targets by Shooting Targets 7

These steel targets are very high quality and are very affordable. They are bead blasted AR500 steel that is laser cut to minimize plate damage as opposed to plasma cutting. These targets have no signs of edge chipping due to the laser cutting process. They also offer a “Gong set” that saves the buyer money and includes 3″, 4″, 6″, 8″, 10″, and 12″ gong plates. Buying the packaged Gong set deal saves the buyer a substantial amount of money and maximizes the training potential of these targets and get the best bang for your buck. The buyer can also change the thickness of each target variant so that they can be used for different applications. The thickness available include 3/16″, 3/8″, 1/4″, and 1/2″. 1/2″ thick AR500 steel plates are rated to withstand impacts from 308 and 338 Lapua rounds.

Looking for another target option? Read our blog, The Best Silhouette Targets

It is important to note that these specific target variants are not designed to be used in conjunction with a target base stand. Instead, they are meant to be hung from a cross beam or some other hanging platform. If you do not have a cross beam set-up or hanging stand and would rather use targets with a traditional target stand, then these are probably not the steel targets for you.

  • Available in bundle pack to maximize training applicability
  • Gong style targets must be used for hanging or specialty stand
  • Great value available in a variety of sizes and thicknesses

AR500 Dueling Tree Paddles Steel Target DIY 6 plate kit- 6″ From Bullseye Metals.

These steel targets are designed to be reactionary targets and are extremely fun to use for 1-on-1 competition. They come with six reactionary knockdown targets and are best used if shot in rapid succession to practice speed and target transition. Merely set the targets up side-by-side with a few inches space between them and try to knock all targets down in succession with no misses successfully.  This set of targets will highlight deficiencies such as target fixation which is coming out of your sights to see if you hit the target rather than immediately transitioning to the next target. This is a prevalent problem for beginners and experts alike.

Looking for rifle targets? Read our blog, The Best Rifle Targets for your Next Range Day

These targets are made of ⅜” thick  AR500 Steel that is deburred, submerged plasma cut, and abrasion-resistant.

  • Great for improving target transition speed and accuracy
  • Comes with six targets
  • Great for competition style training


AR500 12×20 x 1/2″ Silhouette steel shooting target & full portable 2×4 stand

This steel target/ target stand combo is an excellent value and is extremely practical and portable. It comes in the standard silhouette design which maximizes its training applicability as opposed to other smaller targets and has a quick and easy setup. All you need to have is a 2×4 that is your desired height, and you are ready to go, and if you get it on Amazon.com the shipping is FREE! The specialized mount kit holds the target at a 20-degree angle so that rounds are deflected to the ground. This target works for almost all common pistol and rifle calibers, including 9mm, 45ACP, .223, 30-06 & 308 as well as most other high powered rifle calibers.

Want to add more pistol targets to the collection? Read our blog, Top 7 Pistol Targets

  • Traditional silhouette design
  • Quick & easy setup
  • 20-degree angle deflects rounds in the safe direction
  • Free Shipping on Amazon
  • High Quality


Steel Shooting Targets – IDPA Knockovers – 10pcs by Magnum Target

This set of targets are great for setting up different scenarios with the added benefit of being reactionary. They are easily movable and do not require a target stand or mount because they can be placed and shot on any flat surface. This makes them extremely practical and useful for training that requires scenarios to be changed often and rapidly for maximized training value. The pack comes with ten total targets and is an extremely good value with FREE shipping available on Amazon.com

  • Extremely practical
  • No stands to setup
  • Can be moved easily by changing up training scenarios
  • Reactive knock over design
  • A36 Steel

Don’t have the finances to buy new targets? Read our blog, Free Printable Shooting Targets

Set includes two 9in.x5in., two 6in.x3.25in., two 5in.x 2.75in., two 4in.x2.25in. and two 3in.x1.5in. IDPA knock over targets

Reactive Steel Targets

Reactive steel targets offer a substantially superior training benefit to shooters of all types over traditional paper or cardboard cutout targets. They can be used over and over and let the shooter know immediately that they have made contact with the target, even at great distances.

There are many different types of reactionary targets ranging from reactionary plate style targets that are meant to be used with pistols or carbines at close to medium distances that fall after one round, to long-range reactionary targets that have cutouts for “flippers” or metal pieces that flip out of position when being shot to leave no doubt as to whether the correct area was hit by the round or not. This is an excellent training tool because the flippers can be used dually for hostage scenarios when flipped away from the center mass of the target, or as a vital area indicator when flipped in (or behind the cutout of the target) For more information and examples of reactionary targets go to https://www.mrtargetonline.com/product-category/reactive-steel-targets/

Steel Target Stands

If you are in the market for steel targets, be aware that there is a large variety of targets to choose from with multiple mounting platforms and stand designs. Choosing which stand to use depends on the user’s preference as well as the range specific requirements and setup.

Static Steel Target Stands

The static targets are perfect for handguns and rifle calibers of 5.56 and smaller in most cases. They can be set up and taken down extremely quickly and allow the shooter to engage the target with follow-on shots rapidly. They can be set up and taken down much more easily than gong style targets. These stands simply sit on the ground and have legs to prevent the steel target from tipping over when shot (unless specifically designed to be reactive). These are useful because they often use a 2×4 hold the target up from the stand which has multiple benefits. The 2×4 will be substantially lighter than an additional hunk of metal and can be cheaply and quickly replaced if it gets shot up. Also, the height of the 2×4 can be changed easily by cutting it to a different height for the desired training application.


Full Target Stands, Top Mounts & Stand Bases for AR500 Steel Targets

Hanging Stands

These stands allow targets to be hung from them so that they have more of a reaction when shot. These are often called Gong Targets and have their benefits and difficulties. You will need more gear to go with a hanging stand because it requires a stand with a cross-beam for hanging the targets as well as at least two chains for holding the target in place after being shot to ensure it does not spin after impact. Only specialized targets that are designed to be used with hanging stands should be used. This stand type can take significantly longer to put together and break down but is a relatively popular option among steel target shooters. Its popularity is largely because they work well with higher caliber rifles and magnum handguns.


Viking Adjustable Target & AR500 Gong Stand
Field & Cave Gong Target Stand








How to Hang Steel Targets

  1. T-Post Mounts
  2. 2×4 Mounting Systems
  3. Chains
  4. Firehose
  5. UHMW Polymer
  6. Inner Tubes
  7. Rebar Target Stands
  8. Shepherd’s Hook Holder

Should I Buy Cheap Steel Targets?

If you find a great deal on some quality steel targets, then go for it, but make sure the target you are buying is made of steel rated to handle impacts from the rounds that you will be using, or you might as well be shooting a cardboard target. If you shoot a steel target rated only for .22 rounds with 7.62 rounds, the target will be rendered completely useless after one or two shots and will be dangerous to shoot because of deformations. Once a steel target becomes deformed or dented the rounds will be sent in unpredictable directions after impacting the target. The rule of thumb is to buy steel targets that are one size bigger than you may need to ensure that they never become deformed and so you don’t need to buy more if you want to use a larger caliber round in the future.

Learn how to let us design your next shooting target

Rounds to Use When Shooting Steel Targets

DO NOT use green tip, bi-metal, or any other type of penetrator or specialty ammo at your steel targets unless you love throwing away money, and don’t mind getting hit by a ricochet. These types of rounds will dent or go through some steel targets and render the targets useless and make the projectiles unpredictable after contacting the steel due to severe deformations in the steel.  If the target becomes concave, it has a good chance of sending rounds straight back at the shooter.

How to Paint Steel Targets

If you’re getting ready to purchase a steel target, one of your concerns might be the paint. Yes, it will come off over time. Some steel targets even come without paint to help the consumer save money. In either case, you can paint the target yourself or paint the target when it needs a little TLC.

Prep Steel Targets

The first thing you want to do is prepare your target. If you don’t properly prepare it, the paint might not stick as well or and it’s going to look like a metal piece of crap—completely up to you. But if you’re taking the time to paint it for the aesthetics, we’re guessing crap isn’t what you’re going for.

Make sure you clean your target of any dirt or debris. If your target has rust on it, which it may if it came unpainted, simply clean it off so the paint sticks.

Paint Steel Targets

After you’ve adequately prepared your target, the next step is to actually paint it. Now, you can use whatever kind of spray paint you want. But, keep in mind, some paints are meant specifically for metal surfaces. Your best bet is to get that kind. Why, because it will last longer and they tend to help with protection against rust.

After you’ve selected the perfect paint for your target, follow the directions on the can. Make sure you hold the can at least 12” from the target. If you decide not to follow our direction, you’ll end up with a bunch of drips and paint globs on your target. Again, like paint selection, it’s up to you.

Touch-Up Steel Targets

If you’re just looking to touch-up your target, it’s not too hard. Do a little sanding to get rid of any flaking paint and rust. Yes, it’s that simple. And re-paint as needed.

Best Paper Shooting Targets

Other shooting targets that are very useful for almost any training application are paper shooting targets. Because of their low price and the infinite amount of designs and applications, paper targets are an excellent alternative to steel targets. They provide an excellent reference for shot groupings and are lightweight and easy to transport. However, you can not shoot them all day like steel targets because paper targets will naturally tear after many rounds and round placement will no longer be identifiable. Here is a list of some great paper targets to try out that will enhance your shooting abilities and maximize range time.

The Essentials Target

The Essentials Target is designed to give you an essential set of drills that will maintain your current proficiency level. The exercise takes 150 rounds to complete and covers multiple aspects of pistol marksmanship to include slow aimed fire, weak and off-hand shooting, target transition, trigger speed changes, drawing, magazine reloads and controlled multiple shot groups.

The Essentials Target
  • Measures: 23″ x 35″
  • Unlimited amount of shooting combinations
  • Designed to maximize range time
  • Made in the USA
  • This product is designed to be used specifically with the Essentials Shooting Guide.

The IQ Targets (Pistol & Rifle Specific Variants)

The IQ Target is designed to create thinking among shooters. The infinite combination of shapes, colors, numbers, and letters allows an instructor or student to create a wide variety of shooting problems. Students can be given simple commands such as “shoot all the triangles” or more complex scenarios such as “shoot at the squares and triangles that contain a number.”

The idea is it forces the shooter used to thinking and shooting rather than punching holes in paper. The 3 in. Shapes make the target suitable for close-in pistol work or long-range shots. The larger 5 in. Shapes are suitable for close quarters and short range rifle drills.

IQ Rifle Target
IQ Pistol Target










  • Measures: 23 x 35 in.
  • Unlimited amount of shooting combinations
  • Pistol targets: 3 in. shapes
  • Rifle targets: 5 in. shapes
  • Made in the USA

The Kill Zone Target

The Kill Zone Target comes with an overlay of the basic human anatomy. This collaborative target with Max Ordinate Academy is designed to give shooters the ability to see how their rounds would affect the human body.

Kill Zone Target
  • Measures: 23″ x  35″
  • Standard human anatomy design
  • Made in the USA

Best Defense Targets

When selecting a target to train for concealed carry scenario, you should choose a target that is going to represent what you may face in real life. There isn’t a target on the market that can thoroughly prepare you to shoot a human being if the time arises, but they can aid in the development of positive muscle memory and develop smooth draws through repetition. You should select a target with an anatomical figure or picture of an assailant, so you become familiar with identifying target points on a body. Shooting simple bullseye targets are decent for building accuracy, but if you need to use your pistol in a real-life scenario, you also need speed and muscle memory to go along with it, so use a target that is similar to what you will see when you need to pull the trigger for real. The Active Shooter Target is an ideal target for this application

 Active Shooter Target

The Active Shooter Target pictures an armed and nefarious individual used for self-defense and close-quarters training. The target has vital zone boxes to help shooters visualize key locations of effective shot placement.

Read more about The Best Shooting Targets

  • Measures: 23″ x 35″
  • Multiple scenarios
  • Designed to maximize range time
  • Made in the USA

Blue Man Target

The Blue Man Target allows shooters of all levels to improve their shooting skills, focusing on accuracy and target transitions. Capable of being used with rifle or pistol training, this target allows shooters to understand the importance of their shot placement, becoming more proficient in their shooting fundamentals and abilities.

  • Measures 23″ x 35″
  • Shoot/no shoot capable
  • Made in the USA

Need work on your target transitions? Read our blog, This Drill is Designed to help work on your Target Transitions

Thinking About Getting Your Concealed Carry Permit?

If you are thinking about getting your concealed carry permit but have questions about the process and standards for your state USA Carry is a great resource that has all the information you need for your state and the process for getting your concealed carry permit. https://www.usacarry.com/concealed_carry_permit_information.html