Shooting steel targets at the range or in competition is a blast. The unmistakable “ding” that resonates when the target is hit is a nice change from the typical paper or cardboard targets shot at the range. While steel targets are shot at ranges across the country on a regular basis, certain precautions should always be taken when shooting them. Here’s some interesting information about steel targets and what happens when bullets hit them.
There are common, yet non-life threatening injuries that can occur under normal conditions when shooting steel targets. The most common and frequent injuries are small cuts and scratches caused by tiny fragments hitting the shooter or bystanders at a distance normally inside 10-yards from the target. Even tiny fragments at close distance can cause serious eye and can also cause injury to soft, unprotected parts of the body. While it’s encouraged to where appropriate clothing at the range, it is mandatory to wear eye protection at all official and legitimate gun ranges across the country.
It is commonly known in USPSA shooting circles that fragments rebounding from medium-weight 140 to 180 grain high velocity handgun bullets hitting steel targets can rebound great distances. Some have reportedly bounced back 150 feet (50 yards) and penetrated denim clothing. Higher-velocity bullets fired from long range shoulder firearms have even greater distance wounding potential, thus requiring greater safe distances from the targets being shot.
What happens to the bullet when it hits the steel target? When hitting an upright steel target at a 90-degree angle, the bullet usually splatters due to heat and fragments into many smaller pieces of bullet jacket and core. (See video below.) Provided the impact plate is flat and smooth, these fragments splatter off it at angles between 0 degrees (that is, flat along the surface of the plate) to 20 degrees from the surface of the plate. This 0-20 degree “splatter pattern” extends in 360 degree cone (like a clock face) from the impact point. The splatter pattern cone then extends up range and out to either side and down to the ground as well as up in the air from the impact point. This is another reason why it’s critical to always wear eye protection when shooting.
NOTE: The United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) practical shooting handbook. Rule 6.0 requires a minimum safe stage distance of 10-yards, 30-ft from any steel being engaged.
Check this slow motion (600 fps) video out of bullets rebounding after hitting two steel targets.