Is Shooting Steel Safe?


April 18, 2011, 04:25 PM
Is shooting steel targets safe? If so, at what range and with what (9mm, .45, 308....)?
Why is it safe? Is the target out of plum causing the projectile to hit the ground instead of me? or.........?

Am I stupid for thinking it's not safe? OK, you don't have to answer that.


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April 18, 2011, 04:36 PM
In theory, steel is fine to shoot. In fact, most hard plinking targets are steel, and long-range targets are often the same. It's also a great way to test impact/penetration, and audibly lets you know when you hit.
As for a good idea - most of the time they are hung up, so when the round hits, it disperses the energy into the target, which "shakes" it off.
If the round were to ricochet off a hanging target, likelyhood is it will be thrown down, or to the side, or somewhere other than straight back. Thus, yes, steel is good to shoot at, but don't put a steel plate on the ground, or braced against something, and ESPECIALLY not facing straight back at you.
Look up on YouTube a video of a gent who's Barrett .50 took his earmuffs off for him at moderate range (150-200yds?). He shot at a steel plate resting on a gravel/sand hill backdrop, it pinged and came straight back.

I will say - for long range shooting, i.e. 800+yds, often a target will be set on the ground, as it is less likely to move, and with that range from the target, a ricochet is more likely to land on the ground rather than in you.

Carl N. Brown
April 18, 2011, 05:07 PM
Let me emphasize: swinging steel target.

One of the last range trips I made, I fired .22 LR, .380 and .38 Spl at my steel swinger target just after a rain had smoothed the sandy clay soil of the range.
The bullets struck the plate perpedicular and splatted. There was a groove of sorts cut in the soft mud beneath the target by the lead and jacket fragments with very little backsplash apparent toward the firing line: the splatter was mainly usually in the plane of the face of the steel target. (I would be in serious danger of fragments standing ten feet to either side of the target, more so than ten feet in front of it.)

25 yards gave plenty of safety margin. I would recommend a minimum of 15 yards from a steel target with pistol or .22 rifle. Others might recommend more caution (maybe 25 yards). Always use eye protection (safety glasses) in shooting especially with solid background (rocks, steel targets, etc.).

Observing fire at steel pigs at 100 yards in centerfire rifle on a rainy day with standing water at the target line shows more backsplash in front of the target than with pistol or .22 rimfire, but most is in the immediate area of the target.

More emphasis: A steel target stuck in the ground or with solid backing may act as a spring and toss fragments back. Swinging or falling steel target are more likely to dissipate the impact enegry.

April 18, 2011, 05:15 PM
not sure see video (

dont know what this guy was shooting at.

April 18, 2011, 05:22 PM
That video is a terrible example if you're trying to argue against shooting steel, for two reasons:

1. The guy is firing a rifle capable of 1000 yards at steel only 100 yards away. That slug is gonna have a lot of excess energy that has to be expended somehow.

2. The steel was straight up and down, which is a perfect recipe for a ricochet.

Anyone can get hit by a ricochet if they're an idiot, ya know? If steel is set up properly and the shooter isn't doing something stupid, the chances of being injured are pretty low.

April 18, 2011, 05:27 PM
it has never happen to me but i have heard and read were some have been hit when shooting at wood back stops.

wasn't trying to sway one over the other just anything can happen when shooting at
wood steel ice rocks cans bottles trees

April 18, 2011, 05:37 PM
I'll echo Kingpin's sentiments. I took a firearms class and I asked the instructor why we weren't shooting the AR at any of the steel targets.
"They're too close, and the velocity is too high" He explained, and told me a story of a shooter that ignored the "no rifles on steel" rule and promptly got a copper jacket in his neck. Prompt medical attention kept the fella from purchasing agricultural land, but barely.
"Pistols and .22 rimfireonly, here" he concluded.

April 18, 2011, 05:51 PM
Excellent thread here.

April 18, 2011, 05:51 PM
I would advise not shooting at metal targets any closer than 15 yards, I start mine at 25 yards.

Even when my 12” gong target is at the 50 yard line, winds will blow the lead shards down range and on to people. I have not measured the exact distance but I think in heavy winds shards were carried at least 75 yards in the air. These shards at this distance weigh no more than tinsel, which is why they float in the wind, the heavy stuff falls near the target, but they are annoying to the other shooters and Club members complain and moan at Club meetings. Once the whiners got metal targets banned, but enough pistol shooters came out on another day and made the case and provided conditions that were acceptable.

Having seen lead blast paint off my target frames, I do believe that up close, lead splatter can hurt. Regardless of distance, always wear eyeprotection.

I use a ½ mild steel plate. Pistol bullets dent the plate, rifles bullets will dig holes. Don’t shoot rifle at mild steel. When I am shooting cast bullets in my rifle, I put the targets out at 100 yards, and even at that distance with lead, rifle bullets cause shallow pits and hit the gong hard.

These metal targets are consumable and require rewelding at times.
I think my 303 Brit did this with 200 grain lead bullets.

April 18, 2011, 06:03 PM
Yes shooting steel is safe, depending upon what you mean by SAFE. If the plates are angled to deflect towards the ground you won't get ricochets back at your. Are they completely safe? No. Even with angled plates you can have fragments scattered back at you. It is no fun to have a shard of brass stick into the skin of your forearm.

Paper at close range is obviously saver because there is no chance that you'll get fragments scattered back at you.

April 18, 2011, 06:08 PM
I've heard that using soft point rifle bullets on steel is best in reducing a chance of ricochet. How much truth is there to that statement?

I plan on shooting the 1/2" AR500 plates from Jake w/ my AR-15 using 6.8 SPC ammo, but only @ 200 yards minimum. Plus they'll be hanging off chains too "gong" style.

Chris Rhines
April 18, 2011, 06:45 PM
Is shooting steel targets safe? Yes, as long as you aren't a complete muppet about it.

What ranges? Pistol and shotgun, no closer than 8-10 yards. Centerfire rifle, I start at 100 yards. You can shoot .223 safely at 50 yards, but it's really hard on the steel.

For best results, use high-quality AR500 steel plates, angle them towards the ground, and set them up so that they can move a little. Retire your plates if they get cratered.


April 18, 2011, 07:12 PM
I shoot many thousands of rounds a year at 3/8" and 1/2" plates, at ranges of 40 feet to 1000 feet. Some are swingers, some are on legs stuck into the ground. We shoot 22LR in handguns and rifles. Centerfire handgun calibers, whether in handguns or rifles, primarily with lead, some plated and occasional FMJ.
High power rifles at 100 yards plus.
No 22 Magnum at steel closer than 50 yards. We had a ricochet last year and a piece of a jacket drew blood through a t-shirt.
Eye protection mandatory at all times, no matter what.

chris in va
April 18, 2011, 07:52 PM
Anyone can get hit by a ricochet if they're an idiot, ya know?

Guess I'm an 'idiot' as you described things. Our IDPA course has us shooting steel poppers at 10 yards that are set up perpendicular to the firing line.:scrutiny:

April 18, 2011, 07:59 PM
Small amounts of spall coming back can and does happen when shooting at steel targets.

This is why eye protection is so important. I've never seen an injury worse than a small cut from shooting steel targets.

April 18, 2011, 08:03 PM
Guess I'm an 'idiot' as you described things. Our IDPA course has us shooting steel poppers at 10 yards that are set up perpendicular to the firing line.

Pardon me. I was framing my response in terms of the fellow in the video that was posted. Not everyone who gets hit with shrapnel from shooting steel is an idiot.

Average Joe
April 18, 2011, 09:01 PM
They are safe, only if you are far enough away. I have seen ricochet and steel fragments fly off them, but if you are at least 50 yards away you should be OK.

April 19, 2011, 08:54 AM
It sounds like most agree that it is safe (mostly).

Pistols (.38, 9mm, 40sw, 45acp): Min distance somewhere between 15 & 25+ yds.
Carbine (.223): 50 yds? 100yds? I assume ammo type makes a difference. I typically plink w/ Hornady 55gr FMJ.

How much out of plum does the steel need to be?

I guess I'm a little fearfull because I tryed to nominate myself for a Darwin Award many years ago. M855 at Steel I-Beam at +/- 50yrds. FYI: Not a good idea!

1911 guy
April 19, 2011, 09:15 AM
I prefer shooting steel, as it has a very satisfying ring to it when you get hits and a deafening silence after the shot if you don't. I do shoot a lot of paper, though.

Like driving a car or anything else with a machine involved, safety is all in how you carry out the action. Proper distance from the steel, targets angled downward and calibers appropriate for the targets and distance involved.

Anybody who shoots steel often enough will eventually get hit with a bit of jacket material or lead spatter. Wear glasses and the worst you'll get is a small cut if you happen to get hit.

April 19, 2011, 10:42 AM
dont know what this guy was shooting at.

It's been edited. Watch the video again, and you'll notice that from the start of the vid until the time the "ricochet" comes back (roughly four seconds in) he's not wearing a hat. Then the hat suddenly appears flying backwards off his head.

M2 Carbine
April 19, 2011, 11:17 AM
I've been shooting steel targets in the back yard since about 1968.

In that time I've been hit by "splash back" many times. Maybe as many as four times a sliver of bullet has scratched the skin enough to draw a drop of blood.

I do a LOT of 22LR and 38 Special timed shooting between 5 to 7 yards. Never a problem.

My steel is just everyday steel plate so I keep the bullet velocity between about 600 to 1,100 fps, except 22 LR.
The bullets fragment on the steel and the dust and fragments fly off the steel 90 degrees to the shooter.
Over 1,100 fps the bullet will damage the unhardened steel plate.

Bullets under about 600 fps are a problem because the bullet doesn't fragment completely. It's common for bullet chunks as large as half the bullet to fly back past the firing line.

Even as far away as 50 yards most handgun bullets will blow apart.

Is Shooting Steel Safe?
Few activities are completely, totally safe.
Even with reasonable care could a bullet shot at steel come back and hurt you? Yes it can, but it you shoot steel with reasonable care, the odds are against it.

April 19, 2011, 11:27 AM
I would say that it is a lot safer than the 75 mile trip each way that I make to Fort Worth every week on I-35W and I-30.

April 19, 2011, 02:43 PM
In all the posts above, I believe I only saw 1 person mention the correct response to the OP.

Shooting steel requires the plate to be set at an angle towards the ground. I shoot at steel all the time and have never had an issue of flyback with the steel at an angle. In reality, it would be extremely difficult for the fragments to come back towards the shooter.

My plates are welded to a piece of angle iron (with a little stub out to get the angle) and mounted in 5 gallon buckets filled with concrete. This allows for the steel to flex a bit also.

Owen Sparks
April 19, 2011, 03:19 PM
The short answer: It all depends on the smoothness of the steel and what you shoot it with.

I tried to shoot steel with a BB gun a while back and got hurt when one bounced back and hit my lip. I have shot the same steel plates thousands of times with lead pistol bullets over the last 15 years without incident.

Somebody posted a video a week or so back, something along the lines of “Amazing slow motion bullet impacts” that showed bullets hitting things in super slow motion. It was very revealing. In the first part it showed rifle bullets striking steel. The rifle bullets made deep craters in the steel and material blew back in the direction of the shooter. They then shot glass, gelatin and various other things before shooting steel again with pistol bullets. The bullets fragmented without damaging the steel and the debris sprayed 90 degrees to the side. All that was left was a coin sized disc that fell harmlessly away.

Lead behaves sort of like a dead blow hammer when it hits a harder material while steel bounces off steel. That is why BB guns are so dangerous with hard targets and lead pellets are not.

M2 Carbine
April 19, 2011, 04:40 PM
The bullets fragmented without damaging the steel and the debris sprayed 90 degrees to the side. All that was left was a coin sized disc that fell harmlessly away.

I call them "Dimes" and they are common with the lower velocity rounds at 50 yards.

April 19, 2011, 05:00 PM
When we shoot USPSA I get pelted with richochets all the time. They usualy dont hit very hard but sometimes they will break the skin and leave welts. I just make sure to wear eye protection and not worry about it too much.

April 19, 2011, 05:07 PM
I shot steel for the first time a few weeks ago and it was a blast. I was hit once or twice with bullet fragments but it was still fun. Just make sure its a good distance away and your are wearing your safety glasses.

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