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Minimum safe distance for steel targets?

Discussion in 'Blackpowder' started by Legionnaire, Apr 10, 2012.

  1. Legionnaire

    Legionnaire Well-Known Member

    I bought a number of AR500 steel disks to use as targets. I've read a number of threads about steel, and have learned a lot about how to set them up. I've built a couple of portable stands from which to hang the steel so that they hang at an angle to deflect splatter and ricochets downward. But I still have a specific question for all of you who shoot steel on a regular basis:

    What is considered the minimum safe distance for shooting steel with lead round balls and hard-cast bullets at black powder velocities? 10 yards? More? I've never done any cowboy action shooting ... what are the shortest distances there? Thanks!
  2. duelist1954

    duelist1954 Well-Known Member

    At my range they have a minimum distance sign 11 yards from the hanging steel plates.
  3. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Well-Known Member


    In CAS the SASS handbook recommends setting pistol targets out between 7 and 10 yards.

    I have been splattered by lead many, many times. Typically it is because targets are pockmarked and dented. Even if a steel plate is hung properly , so it is slanted back around 10 degrees or so at the bottom, if the surface is in poor shape; pockmarked, or warped because it has been hit so many times, there is no predicting where splatter may go. When a target is properly hung, bullets will shatter on impact and the splatter will be directed pretty much straight down. It is always interesting to watch the splatter after it has rained. If there is a puddle in line with a target, one can see a line of splatter impacting the puddle.

    Target placement is everything. If the shooter is shooting a shotgun at an angle towards a target, it is almost guaranteed that spotters standing an equal angle away will be splattered by pellets.

    This is why eye protection is required at all CAS matches. It is a good idea not just to have safety glasses on, but side guards for splatter that may come from an angle. When I am spotting, I always face the targets directly, so that a stray piece of lead does not make it past a side guard and hit me on the side of the face.

    Even so, with Cowboy Action shooting it is a given that you are going to be hit by splatter. I have been hit by solid bullets that did not break up, but more often it is lead splatter. One time I had a piece of lead imbedded in my cheek and it took a few weeks before I realized it was still there, when it started to emerge from my skin.

    It's pretty interesting when you see a whole bullet coming right at you. It has lost most of its energy but it is still moving fast enough that you can't dodge it in time.

    Bottom line, whatever distance you choose, be sure to be wearing adequate eye protection.
  4. Legionnaire

    Legionnaire Well-Known Member

    Thanks. Seven yards seems pretty close to me, and since I'm not doing action shooting, I'll probably make eleven or twelve my minimum to start out with. My plates are hung from short lengths of chain to help absorb some of the impact; won't eliminate ricochets, but should help. I'll have to remember to take and post a picture ...

    Hear you loud and clear on the eye protection.
  5. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Well-Known Member

    More important than absorbing impact is the angle they are hung at. A plate cannot react fast enough to absorb impact before the bullet starts bouncing someplace. Most plates at CAS matches have a hanger welded on to the rear of the plate near the top. The hanger will have a hole in it to hang the plate from. Mounting the plate this way from the top rear tends to angle the plate back slightly at the bottom. Something around 10 degrees or so. You do not want your plates hanging straight down, that will tend to send any splatter or bounces straight back at you, regardless of whether they are free hanging or not. See if you can rig something so that the target is angled back slightly at the bottom. You don't want to just drill a hole in the plate and hang it from that.
  6. BCRider

    BCRider Well-Known Member

    As Driftwood said the ONLY time I've seen lead fly back to the firing line was when the surface was badly pockmarked from being shot with ammo that was too fast for the steel and left dents or other surface features.

    Hanging the plates so they angle a little forward at the top helps direct the spatter downward but make no mistake. For the slight angle suggested there is still a LOT of side spatter and even some up off the upper side. You can see this if you set up some wood out to the sides about 4 feet. At the end of a session the wood will have a band of rough shark's tooth like lead pieces stuck in it. You'll also see further signs in the dirt below the target of a line that matches the face of the target extending out to either side a good distance from the sheet of lead spatter.

    But with targets in good condition with smooth faces the spatter will be out along the face of the steel. Any, and it will be none to very little, which does tend to come back towards the firing line will have very little energy. Similar to being lightly hand tossed at you.

    Since you got AR500 you'll never see any of the BP guns even begin to damage the steel. It will take shooting at them with some seriously fast rounds to leave any sign of damage. It's not the bullet weight which does the damage but the speed. Light but stupidly fast .223 or other ultra fast velocity small bore rounds can do just as much damage as a 7mm Magnum rifle round. Yet a .68 cal minie or round ball won't even make the steel breath hard.

    But something you WILL need to watch is lead buildup on the surface. The very soft lead used for round ball can adhere to the surface and act like pock marks to reflect some of the spatter back. Painting the targets on a regular basis while shooting will act as a lubricant or release agent to help avoid this. If you shoot at the raw steel with soft lead round ball often and don't want to paint it at least check fairly frequently for signs of this lead adhesion. I have yet to see any signs of such a thing on actual targets. But I've helped clean up a range with steel deflectors on the backstop and found a lot of lead buildup on the supports that was stuck on well enough that we had to work a wood chisel in under the edge and then peel the lead off the steel. So it's worth watching for.
  7. Legionnaire

    Legionnaire Well-Known Member

    Here's a pic of the stand; I plan to peg the front edge down. Steel is 1/2 inch, hung so as to face downward approx 10-12 degrees. Base is steel, uprights and crossbar cheap lath sprayed black. If hit, frame will splinter rather than ricochet; easy and cheap to replace when needed. I'm figuring the AR500 steel will last a lifetime ... the frame, not so much. :)


    Attached Files:

  8. wittzo

    wittzo Well-Known Member

    We shoot Scholastic Steel Challenge which is for youth. The maximum caliber allowed in SSC is .38 special. In regular Steel Challenge they allow up to .45 ACP and .40 S&W, which might make AR500 necessary to prevent cratering from longterm firing. Ar500 plates should never blemish if properly maintained with paint if they're only shot with .22, 9mm or .38 and equivalents. The SSC also requires the plates to have pockets on the backside so they hang off the top of 5' 2X4's. The plates end up leaning forward with a 10-12 degree slant to the ground to drive spatter downward in front of the target.

    The minimum distance from plate to shooter box for either competition is 10 yards, but you can still get hit by spatter from a .22, so safety equipment in front of the observation area is strictly enforced.

    A friend and I decided that anything closer than 10 yards is too close for .45 when we were each stung by large chunks of spatter at about 5 yards.

    Your rig is set up as good as it can get, especially with the downward tilt. That's a recommendation from all I've read about shooting steel. The chains are a bonus, that will disrupt spatter even more for larger, heavier bullets. At home, I've got my plates mounted with grade 8 hardware, but I shoot them with rifles at 50 and 100 yards. So far the bolts have survived up to .30 rifles, but the chains get cut all of the time.
  9. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Well-Known Member

    Howdy Again

    Your set up looks good, particularly with the backward slant of the target. However I will caution you that the raised bolt heads will tend to direct splatter in unpredictable directions if they get hit.
  10. SleazyRider

    SleazyRider Well-Known Member

    Any drawbacks to welding a couple of loops on the back, instead of bolts?
  11. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Well-Known Member

    That would be better. It is best if the entire surface of the plate is flat.
  12. Legionnaire

    Legionnaire Well-Known Member

    Reading elsewhere, there is some concern that welding can soften armored steel to the point it can be cratered or penetrated. No first hand knowledge; just reporting what I read. My plates came pre-drilled (laser cut, I think) with two holes, which is why I mounted them this way. Probably no problem when they are set out at rifle distances. I'd prefer a perfectly flat surface, but this is what I have. I still plan to set a 10 yard minimum.

    In any event, thanks for the tips and feedback. Good stuff.
  13. wild willy

    wild willy Well-Known Member

    Bolts are better than welds.You may not have any problems with low velocity but with faster rounds you have to use hard bolts you will pop the heads off soft bolts.You might have to use lock nuts or double nut to keep the chains tight
  14. Busyhands94

    Busyhands94 Well-Known Member

    I'd say about 50 feet is good for most calibers. With a muzzleloader shooting large soft lead projectiles you might want to get further back. I routinely shoot .22 rimfire at steel and airguns but keep it at about 50 feet, no lead has hit me or anyone shooting with me so far. Just remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I've gotten kinda strict about everyone wearing shooting glasses when I take the family plinking, someone losing an eye would be absolutely dreadful.

    As for the method of attaching the chain to the target, what about welding a few lugs of steel on the back and drilling some holes in them to accept the chain? I figure if you get a good enough weld it should hold up, the surface would be nice and flat without anything sticking out, and if you break the chain with a bullet you can still swap it out. Perhaps you could even use a shackle or some kind, the possibilities are endless. I'm sure you'll come up with something that works well.

  15. 27hand

    27hand Well-Known Member


    One bit of information I don't see is the requirement to wear a billed hat, bill forward to prevent downward angled spatter from dropping behind your safety glasses.

    My opinion on the round bolts is that there is a minimal chance of oddball deflection just as there is for hitting the edge of the plate, sections of chain or deflections from stands.

    Welding on Ar500 doesn't soften it enough to matter for most pistol calibers. Even flame cutting it only affects a few thousanths off the edge.

    Your pic shows a pretty decent setup.

    I shoot handgun rounds as close as 7 yds, even at mild steel which pocks just a bit unless 357, 41 or 44 mags are used. These rounds make too deep indentations which should be negligible or your AR500 plate.

    My pic is mostly mild steel targets but were shot no closer than about 15 yds. Some were shot with a pistol caliber carbine (9mm) which eventually was disallowed due to the dents in the support pipe (schedule 40 steel).
    The flat surfaced mild had literally thousands of hits and were hung from a swing type support. A facing grinder took the edges off the dimples between shoots. The rectangular plates were 1/2" thick and eventually started to bend. the spring plates were 3/8" and angled forward on the 2" steel supports. The 2 Colt Speed plates are resetting poppers from MGM targets and are AR500. Although a few people were hit by spatter, none were cut AFAIK.
  16. Legionnaire

    Legionnaire Well-Known Member

  17. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Well-Known Member

    Howdy Again

    Just shot the first cowboy match of the year today. Targets were close. Pistol targets were probably less than 20 feet away. Rifle and shotgun targets were a little bit farther out. This is completely typical for cowboy action. And I got hit with splatter 3 or 4 times over the course of the day. A big brimmed cowboy hat is pretty good at keeping spatter (and ejected rifle brass) from getting down between the safety glasses and the eye.
  18. rodinal220

    rodinal220 Well-Known Member

    Of all the matches Ive shot over the years I cant recall shooting closer than 10 yards on steel.
  19. J-Bar

    J-Bar Well-Known Member

    I have no interest in nor connection to the Action Target Company. I just like their "Evil Roy" Targets (named after a champion cowboy action shooter).

    I treated myself to several of these targets a couple of years ago, and have been very pleased with the design. The frame gets everything out of the way of splash off the target face. I have shot these at 5 yards with lead bullets out of revolvers, rifles, and lead shot out of a 12 gauge shotgun during cowboy action practice sessions, and have not once been hit with any splash back.

    I wish all the cowboy action matches I shoot had targets this well designed.


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