A while back, we got a message from a friend asking if we knew anything about WWI tank armor. We didn’t, but with the power of the internet, we figured it out fast. Short version, 1/2″ AR450 is roughly equivalent in spec to what was used by the Brits. The whole project was put on by and documented by our friends at https://www.forgottenweapons.com Full article linked below.
MOA Targets currently makes targets from four different steels. 3/8″, 1/2″, and 1″ AR500 for rifles, and 1/4″ AR400 for service pistols and rimfire. The 500 & 400 part is the Brinell hardness, where 400 is softer than 500.
We’re always working to improve our data and widen the use of steel targets. Being based in northern Nevada, we’ve got lots of wide open spaces to shoot long range. 300 yards is common and up to 1000 yards isn’t unusual for long range shooters out here. Recently, we figured out at what distances you can shoot the 1/4″ AR400 pistol targets with rifle.
The tl;dr is 556 at 300 yards, 308 at 500 yards. Limits on use are: 2500 fps at the target (as opposed to 2800 fps with AR500) and 1000 ft/lbs of energy at the target. The details of the test are below.
Our testing was primarily conducted with 5.56x45mm 55gr ammo fired from a 16″ barrel AR15 and 7.62x51mm 147gr ammo fired from a 16″ barrel AR10. The initial test was at 300 yards.
At 300 yards, 5.56x45mm put a visible hit on the metal target but did no damage. The 7.62x51mm dented the target pretty badly.
At 800 yards we got a great ring sound off this thinner than usual rifle gong and no damage. Ditto when we moved in to 600 yards. At 500 yards, the sound was excellent, and we did a careful examination for damage on the target. No damage noted at 500 yards.
At this point, we discontinued the test, as the math showed that if we moved in much closer we would start seeing deformation of the target. At distances less than 500 yards, long range shooters typically aren’t using a very large target, which reduces the need for a thinner (lighter) gong.
Advantages with using 1/4″ AR400 for long range rifle include: reduced weight and cost by going with the thinner material; improved sound return by going with the thinner steel; improved visibility of swinging target when struck, by reducing target mass.
Disadvantages with using 1/4″ AR400 for long range rifle include: increased minimum engagement distance to prevent damaging the target, 300 yards for 556 instead of 100 yards with 3/8″ AR500 and 500 yards for 7.62x51mm (308WIN) instead of 100 yards with 3/8″ AR500; and explaining to your friends why you are using 1/4″ AR400 and what that means.
The minimum distances are recommendations only. These distances are based off the calibers and conditions as tested, with a result of a maximum velocity of the projectile at the target of 2500 fps and a maximum energy at the target of 1000 ft/lbs.
That means you’re gonna have to break out your ballistics charts before you go throwing rifle projectiles at pistol targets.
As a follow up to the new 1/4″ AR400 long range kit we did the same thing but in 3/8″ AR500, so you don’t have to worry about the increased minimum engagement distance. Same package details but in 3/8″ AR500. Out the door at $150, plus $100 for a second 10×20″ gong if you want to go big.
I’ve realized there is an elephant in the steel target showroom. While there are significant benefits to shooting AR500 steel targets, there are drawbacks that must be discussed. The big three criteria for pretty much anything you may deal with in life will be (in no particular order) cost, safety, and effectiveness.
COST- Steel targets, especially commercially built AR500 targets, rated to handle everything from 22LR up through 50 BMG, are expensive. MOA’s line of gongs, the most simple of targets, average about $4.75/lb. A standard 8″ diameter 3/8″ AR500 target (5.35 lbs) with two holes is $25 from MOA is $4.67/lb. For that price, you can get a whole packet of shoot and see or sight in paper targets. Simply put, AR500 steel targets are about the most expensive option out there for steel targets, even before getting into the reactive targets.
Expensive, yes. However, if used per manufacturer direction, a typical AR500 steel target will last thousands to tens of thousands of rounds. With standard pistol calibers (9x19mm, .40S&W, .45ACP), a 3/8″ AR500 target will effectively never fail. With standard rifle calibers (5.56x45mm, 30-30 Win, 7.62×51) a 8″ diameter 3/8″ AR500 target will last several thousand rounds before replacement is required. Larger targets, due to increased surface area, will last even longer. You’ll need to do a major overhaul on your rifle before you’ll need to replace your target, if you follow manufacturer recommendations for use.
Shipping costs can be quite high on steel targets, due to weight. MOA uses US Postal Service Flat Rate shipping for as many target options as possible, and offers $5, $20, and free USPS flat rate shipping on many targets.
SAFETY- Safety is always a primary concern when using firearms. Shooting steel, even at manufacturer recommended distances, includes a degree of risk of projectile and target material rebounding and striking the shooter or bystanders. This risk exists with any sort of target that is not fully penetrated by the projectile, and backstops which do not fully engulf the projectile.
The deformation process which occurs when the projectile strikes the target surface transforms a good portion of the kinetic energy of the round into thermal energy. The higher the degree of deformation, the more energy converted to heat energy (as evidenced if you’ve ever picked up the deformed remains of a projectile immediately after striking a target). A portion of the kinetic energy is transferred to the target as kinetic energy (that’s what makes it swing) and a small portion as thermal energy. The goal is to leave as little energy in the projectile as possible, so that any pieces which do come back are slow and small. AR500 target, being much harder than copper and lead, typically tend to cause projectiles to flatten and fragment (pistol projectiles) or completely disintegrate (rifle projectiles). Mild steel, on the other hand, tends to deform with the projectile and often will not flatten or fragment projectiles as effectively as AR500. Rifle velocity projectiles will often crater mild steel, which adds to the hazard. Steel core projectiles raise the hazard significantly, as the steel core tends to not deform and can separate and rebound dramatically.
Target angle and ability to swing also should be taken into account. The safest steel targets will be made of hardened steel (AR400 for velocities less than 1200 fps, AR500 for velocities up to 2800 fps at the target) that can swing freely with strikes, and that angle slightly towards the shooter (5-20 degrees). The 5-20 degrees angle recommendation is based on industry standard recommendations, and should be measured not from the ground, but from the shooter position.
Steel targets are commonly used in competition at both pistol and rifle ranges with great effectiveness. Millions of round are safely fired every year from a wide variety of platforms, at varied distances, and of many calibers. Manufacturers have recommended minimum distances and competitions have additional requirements for steel target use. These limitations are in place for a reason. Pay attention to manufacturer recommendations, club rules, and competition guidelines, and be safe.
EFFECTIVENESS- Steel targets are excellent training aids. Few other targets provide the immediate feedback that steel targets do. A visual cue (swinging, falling or other movement), combined with the audible ring of the projectile striking steel is irrefutable, the shooter hit the mark. Setting zero on a steel target can require a large piece of steel, depending on how off the firearm sighting system is, which can be expensive. A freshly painted piece of steel is fantastic for zeroing a new rifle, or confirming zero. Where steel targets fall short is for measuring grouping, as tight groups obliterate individual strikes quickly. The minimum safe distance requirements limit the effectiveness of steel targets for training self defense and close quarter battle situations, where cardboard may be more appropriate.
For individual use, steel targets allows one to call their own hits when practicing without walking back and forth to the target after every drill. The ring of projectile on steel is effective at pistol range and rifle. When shooting long range, a spotting scope may not even be required to confirm hits on long range targets, due to the delay in the return ring at the speed of sound. Engaging multiple targets in a single string is made easy with steel targets, and many ingenious mounting methods for the targets exist.
Hybrid range environments, such as USPSA, IPSC, IDPA, and 3-Gun often include a mix of steel targets at appropriate distances and cardboard and clay targets at closer distances.
Steel targets are commonly used in competition settings because of the ease of scoring hits (audible or visual cue), easy of resetting targets (paper must be taped or replaced every time), and low cost over time. Once purchased, steel targets rarely need replacement, even after years of heavy use. Competitors often purchase steel targets to practice on outside of organized matchs. Standard shapes such as the NRA Steel Silhouette series (chicken, pig, turkey, and ram), have a long history of use and are available in a multitude of sizes and thicknesses.
CONCLUSION- Used properly, steel targets are a safe, cost effective, and highly effective way to train with firearms. Used improperly, you’re liable to hurt yourself (or someone else) and ruin some expensive steel in short order. Read the directions, use common sense, and have fun.
A while back, an MOA customer contacted me with a “Is this normal?” type question regarding 5.45x39mm leaving pits on AR500 steel. I shoot quite a bit of 5.45x39mm myself, but all of it is milsurp 7N6 steel core ammo, which should not be shot at steel targets. The customer in question had been shooting a variety of 5.45, none of which was steel core. To answer the “Is this normal?” question, he kindly returned one of his targets to me and included a box of each type of ammo he was using for testing.
MOA started cutting a QA/QC target out of each sheet of AR500 used in making targets, to act as a test bed a couple months ago. It also provides a great excuse to have more targets for the MOA range. The Customer Target is from an older, pre QA/QC batch. AR steel is through hardened, not surface hardened. The hardness should be consistent throughout the sheet. However, as this is the real world, and the testing is destructive. Each batch is tested, not each sheet, and not each section of sheet. Pitting on factory steel is not uncommon, and softer and harder spots can exist. Additionally, the method used to cut the steel can affect hardness. MOA Targets uses a 4,000 watt CNC laser to do the cutting. It makes nice, smooth cuts, and has a heat affect zone (HAZ) typically less than 1/8” on 3/8” AR500. Torch cutting will have a far larger HAZ, as will plasma. Water jet has no HAZ, but is much, much slower.
For control, three known standards (known to me, anyhow) were used as well as the various 5.45 loadings. Controls were 7.62x51mm DAG milsurp with a 150 gr lead core nickle washed steel jacket projectile, 5.45x39mm milsurp 7N6 with a 52 gr steel core copper jacketed projectile, and 5.56x45mm XM193 with a 55 gr lead core copper jacketed projectile.
The QA/QC target from a recent 1/2” AR500 batch was used for the test, as a standard to test the Customer Target performance against.
All testing was conducted at 100 yards on MOA’s private range.
Test ammunition, provided by the customer, included Wolf 60 gr, 69 gr, and 55 gr loadings, and Silver Bear 60 gr, all lead core with a copper washed steel jacket. Additionally, Hornedy 60 gr VMAX was provided, which is lead core with a copper jacket and a polymer ballistic tip.
At the conclusion of the test, it was evident that both the QA/QC and the Customer Target performed well within expected spec, but that the QA/QC target (from a more recent batch) appeared to be harder.
And that’s how we do science at MOA Targets.
PS: For the curious, the customer will be getting his target and ammo shipped back to him, along with some “Thanks for helping out with science” steel from MOA.
MOA Targets has a confession to make. We’re really, really conservative with our steel ratings. We state our minimium distances based on industry-wide standards to ensure safety (12 yards for pistols, 100 yards for rifles), and to minimize damage to the targets (distance varies by caliber and target thickness, see target descriptions on website for details).
Until a few days ago, we had not personally tested our steel with 50 BMG. As a result, we rated our 1/2″ AR500 for 1,200 yards, and our 1″ AR500 for 600 yards. After some pretty extensive testing, we’re ready to update those numbers.
Our test platforms were McMillan and Barrett bolt action 50 BMG rifles, each utilizing Hornady 750 grain A-MAX ammunition.
Our testing began at 800 yards, and the range was decreased after each stage of the test until failure of the target (pitting or denting) was noted. Pitting is caused by excessive velocity, denting is caused by excessive energy distribution. Steel core or jacket can cause premature pitting, holing, or cratering of the target. More information on pitting vs denting available in a previous blog post.
The targets were produced by MOA Targets for this test. We used a CNC plasma cut 12″ diameter 1″ thick AR500 target, with one 1.25″ mounting hole ($191, free shipping) and a 4,000W CNC laser cut 10″ diameter 1/2″ thick AR500 target, with two 0.42″ square mounting holes ($55, flat rate eligible). A well used laser cut MOA full size IPSC Metric in 3/8″ ($187) was at the line as well, so we tested it, just for drill.
Targets were mounted on a 36″ MOA Battle Born stand and top plate, using MOA chain hang kits. An old floor mat was used to stabilize the targets and reduce swing.
At 800 yards from the line, target results were:
1″ AR500 – no pitting of the target surface, or deformation.
<– 1″ AR500 hit at 800″ –>
Due to target hanging malfunction (I screwed it up), we failed to engage the 1/2″ AR500 at 800 yards. The 3/8″ AR500 took perceptible but minimal damage. No pitting, but there was detectable deflection of the plate, observable from both the target surface and the back of the plate.
Based on the 800 yard results, we discontinued tested the 3/8 AR500, and moved in to 400 yards to continue the test.
At 400 yards, we observed slight deformation of the 1/2″ AR500, and no pitting or deformation of the 1″ AR500. For comparison, we put one round of Singapore milsurp M33 steel core ball ammunition into the 1″ AR500. Minor (3-4mm) pitting of the plate surface was observed using the M33 ammunition at 400 yards. No denting or deflection was observed. For safety reasons, MOA does not recommend using any steel core or jacket ammunition on steel targets, ever, and considers the warranty void if magnetic ammunition is used on a MOA target.
At 300 yards, we changed the setup a bit, and hung each target on it’s own stand, but had run out of Battle Born Top Plates on the MOA Skunkworks range. Turns out they’re important.
At 300 yards, the 1/2″ AR500 target displayed notable deformation, and testing discontinued on 1/2″ AR500 target.
The 1″ AR500, however, was a different story.
At 300 yards, the 1″ AR500 showed no pitting, target surface deformation, or backface deformation. So we moved in to 200 yards.
At 200 yards, the 1″ AR500 showed no pitting, target surface deformation, or backface deformation. So we moved in to 100 yards.
At 100 yards, the 1″ AR500 showed no pitting, target surface deformation, or backface deformation. So we called it a day, because we didn’t see any need to test the safety guidelines, and 100 yards is as close as rifles should ever be fired at steel.
MOA will be updating the website and flow chart to reflect the results of these testing activities. Hence forth, 3/8″ AR500 will be rated for 1,200 yards with 50 BMG, 1/2″ AR500 will be rated for 600 yards with 50 BMG, and 1″ AR500 will be rated for 100 yards with 50 BMG. We’re still super conservative, but now we’ve got field testing to back it up.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I hope the information is helpful. Please keep MOA Targets in mind for all your target needs.
This is a follow up to my previous post How to choose the correct steel for your shooting needs. There are two primary ways that steel is affected by bullet strikes, pitting (cratering in the extreme) and denting. Pitting is material removal from the strike face, caused by super-heating the strike face. Think of an asteroid hitting the earth.
The asteroid is insignificant in size related to the earth but it’s moving pretty fast. That kinetic energy is converted largely into thermal energy when the strike occurs. The thermal energy weakens steel surface enough to eject some of the steel. It also affects the temper of the steel, weakening it to allow future damage. High velocity, low sectional density (small diameter), and hardened projectiles such as steel core and armor piercing all tend to cause pitting of steel targets. Varmint rounds tend to be small diameter and very high velocity, and can cause pitting and cratering far exceeding what you’d expect for something used to shoot rodents.
Harder steel target surfaces resist pitting better than softer surfaces. For our purposes the Brinell Hardness scale (HB) is used for relative hardness. Per wikipedia, pine wood is about 1.6 HB, lead is 5-22 HB, depending on alloy, copper is 35 HB. Mild steel is 120-180 HB in my experience. Hardened tool steel, similar to what is used for AP core ammo, is 600-900 HB. Pure tungsten is 2570 HB.
For target purposes, I use 400 HB (pistol) and 500 HB (rifle) abrasion resistant (AR) steel. Why abrasion resistant? Because at the 400+ HB hardness, typically the material is sold as industrial plate steel for uses that need abrasion resistance. It doesn’t hurt anything for our use, and it’s what’s available at a reasonable price.
While the difference between mild steel and AR400 is pretty significant, the difference between AR400 and AR500 is less so, but still notable. It’s enough that you don’t want to use your AR400 pistol targets for rifles until you get several hundred yards out. The difference between AR500 and AR550 is barely perceptible. At 2570 HB, tungsten targets might last you forever, but it has a scrap price of about $15/lb (steel scrap is about $0.10/lb right now). Tungsten is about twice as dense as steel (0.54 lb/cubic inch as opposed to .28 lb/cubic inch), so an eight inch diameter, 3/8″ thick tungsten target would weight over 10 lbs, and probably retail for over $600.
Denting or deformation is caused by exceeding the strength of the material. Total energy is useful if you want to cause denting or deformation. Heavy projectiles tend to dent targets, as opposed to pitting them. They tend to be slower than their light projectile cousins, the 168 grain .308 (2700 fps) as opposed to the 55 grain .223 (3200 fps). Thicker targets resist denting and deformation better than thin targets.
Impact velocity, projectile hardness, projectile mass, and angle of impact are your factors that affect your targets, assuming the target isn’t the variable. The softer the projectile (no steel jacket, steel core, or AP), and the further away you are from the target, the longer that target will last. Total energy of impact decreases as you get further away from the target, due to drag in the air reducing your impact velocity. Angling the target reduces the energy absorbed as well. Make sure you always angle the target in a safe direction.
In a practical sense, here’s what all this information means to you. If you’re getting pitting on your target, going to a thicker steel won’t help. 5.56×45 M855 is going to pit AR500 at 100 yards, even if you upgrade to 1/2″ or 1″ steel from your current 3/8″. The only way you’re going to stop the pitting is to stop using steel core M855, move target further away, or go to a harder target.
If you’re denting your target, you’re in luck. You can go to a harder target (assuming you’re using mild steel), a thicker target (if you’re using a rifle), or simply move further away. It’s unlikely that you’re using a projectile that’s too hard or too fast if you’re denting instead of pitting the target. It is, however, possible to dent and pit (crater) a target at the same time. If you manage that, you’re doing something terribly wrong. That, or you need a medal for your creativity.
tl;dr – Hard targets resist pitting, thick targets resist denting
I stayed at a buddy’s place this weekend, and he’s got some steel from me on his home range. One plate is an old piece of mild steel I scrounged for him, the other was an early prototype target for his department (he’s a deputy in CA).
I took the opportunity to take a couple photos and write down my observations, because I typically never have mild steel on my ranges. If I’m going to shoot pistols, I’ll downgrade to 1/4 AR400.
The targets have been up for about a year. It’s a pistol range, but occasionally a rifle sneaks onto it. When something other than a non-magnum pistol caliber is used on the range, he’s careful to make sure it only goes at the AR500 target. As a result, the mild steel target is holding up very well, but the difference between the two is obvious when you look at it close.
I’ll probably be swapping out his mild steel target for more AR500 this summer, before the surface turns into a moonscape.
As of May 5, 2014, targets have been hung for about one year. A total of approximately 2,000 rounds fired down range, the majority of which are 40S&W.
Places paint has been removed and repainted with no impact mark are from 9mm, 40S&W, and 45ACP. On this private range owned by a law enforcement officer, pistols are used as close as seven yards. MOA recommends no closer than 12 yards for pistols due to concerns of lead and copper jacket splashing back.
There ya go. Thought you guys might enjoy this. As always, use common sense. I personally wouldn’t have mounted these the same way that my buddy did, there isn’t enough forward angle, it’s against a hard backstop so it can’t swing, and he shoots at it closer than I recommend. Plus, ewww, mild steel target?
How to choose the correct steel for your shooting needs
Or: Why shouldn’t I just get the thickest steel plate I can find and use it for all my shooting?
Let’s get cost out of the way first. As steel is ultimately sold by the pound, the thicker the steel, the more you are paying for the same target surface area. The thicker the target, the more weight you have to move to and from the range if you don’t have the luxury of having a permanent range to use, and you’ll need to use a sufficiently heavy stand to hold the target for you to shoot. Therefore, it behooves you use the thinnest steel that will safely and reliably handle your long term shooting needs.
Secondly, a discussion of modern commercial steel. The typical steel you’ll likely find laying around is referred to as Mild Steel, or A36. It is easily welded, cut, formed, and drilled. It has a Brinell Scale hardness of 120-180, typically. It is the backbone of modern society, and can be bought in your local hardware store, picked up as scrap from local shops, and salvaged from various sources. It is also completely unsuitable for use as a safe, long lasting firearms target for anything other than small caliber, relatively low velocity, rimfire platforms such as the 22LR and 17HMR.
In thicknesses less than 3/8”, modern handgun calibers such as 9x19mm, 40S&W, and 45 ACP will leave dimples, rapidly causing an unsafe shooting surface on mild steel.
Magnum handgun calibers will leave deep dents, and may even penetrate the relatively soft mild steel. At 100 yards, centerfire rifle calibers such 308 will fully penetrate 1/2” mild steel, and lesser calibers will leave deep craters.
To get enough mild steel to stop rifle rounds at 100 yards, you’re looking at about 40 pounds of steel per square foot (one inch thick), and a surface that will rapidly be a moonscape of jagged edges, pits, and ricochet inducing odd angles. As I stated, mild steel is completely unsuitable as a firearm target .
Abrasion Resistant (AR) steel comes in various hardness (typically 400 and 500, Brinell Scale) and thicknesses. AR400 and AR500 steel is commonly used as wear plate on construction equipment, dump trucks, mining process equipment, and farm equipment. It is, effectively, the same thing as mild steel, but with better quality control, and a heat tempering process that hardens the steel through its entire cross section. AR400 is generally less expensive than AR500, and is therefore more commonly available. It is, alas, too soft to handle centerfire rifles at 100 yards, pitting visibly.
3/8” AR500, on the other hand, will readily stop non-magnum rifle calibers at 100 yards with little to no visible damage to the steel. Happily, for our purposes, AR500 plate can take a real pounding.
At 200-300 yards, 3/8” AR500 is sufficient to stop magnum rifle calibers without damage. It is suitable for all standard magnum and non-magnum handgun calibers at 12 yards (including 500 S&W, with minor crushing of the plate surface and your hands), shotgun slugs at 50 yards, non-magnum rifle calibers at 100 yards, and magnum rifle calibers at 200-300 yards. Simply put, 3/8” AR500 will do the job for most shooters out there.
A quick diversion back AR400, which I so callously discarded as too soft. While 3/8” mild steel is unsuitable and weighs 15 pounds per square foot, it turns out that relatively inexpensive ¼” AR400 steel is useful. ¼” AR400 will readily stop standard handgun calibers such as 9x19mm, 40S&W, and 45 ACP, and is only 10 pounds per square foot. For non-magnum pistol shooters, who will never have a rifle on their range or are just getting into shooting steel, ¼” AR400 is a very practical answer to the age old question of “what am I going to shoot at today that I don’t have to clean up?”
So why would you ever buy ½” AR500 or 1” AR500 steel? For the average shooter, it is overkill to go to ½” AR500, and nearly comical to go to 1” AR500. However, for those with limited distance on their range and magnum rifles, it is helpful to step up to ½” for magnum rifles at less than 200 yards. ½” AR500 will wear longer than 3/8” AR500, and it resists deformation from repeated impacts. These features of ½” AR500 make it useful for law enforcement, public and private ranges and clubs, and other high volume shooters. 1” AR500 is pretty much exclusively used for 50 BMG.