ADVANCING THE KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS OF PROFESSIONAL FIREARMS INSTRUCTORS
Not only are steel targets fun to shoot and offer immediate feedback on the application of marksmanship fundamentals, but for instructors the use of steel targets also means maximizing allotted training time...especially if the training involves rifle engagements beyond 50 yards.
Rifle training between 50 and 100 yards on paper targets means there is a lot of time wasted walking up and down range to check targets for accuracy. And while that is necessary when practicing precision shooting or zeroing a rifle, that is not the best option when conducting practical gunfighting drills.
Instructors should not waste valuable training funds buying steel targets that are NOT rifle rated. Even if the steel targets are not used in rifle training, they will last forever for handgun training, and eventually instructors may want to incorporate steel targets into their rifle training.
The most common rifle rated steel plate on the market is AR500, which virtual every reputable steel target company offers. AR stands for "abrasion resistant" and the number represents the Rockwell Hardness rating. Anything below AR500 is not rifle caliber rated. Most manufacturer's recommend shooting AR500 steel targets at 100 yards and greater. This is not to prevent splash back because you can shoot steel targets that are properly designed and in good condition as close as 15 yards and not getting any splash back. The 100 yards minimum recommendation is to help extend the life of the steel target. That is because AR500 steel is only "through hardened" which means it is hard enough to prevent the rounds from penetrating through the steel. However, if the velocity of the projectile is high enough, it can still pit the surface of the steel. And after the surface has pitting, the chances of getting splash back is increased. Having a 100 yards minimum recommendation helps prevent surface pitting.
The problem with that is the vast majority of rifle shootings in law enforcement occur inside of 100 yards...and that is where instructors want to train their rifle operators. So, either AR500 steel targets are rarely used because instructors don't want to damage the targets, or they are used regularly to support their rifle training inside of 100 yards and they have to replace the steel targets on a regular basis.
Instructors should invest a little more money and purchase AR550 steel targets. AR550 steel is "surface hardened" which means the surface is much harder to pit at closer distances. In fact, AR550 steel targets, that are designed with a downward angle and pivot on impact to reduce stress, can be shot at 50 yards regularly with rifle rounds (except steel penetrator rounds) without damage to the surface...so now practical rifle drills can be conducted between 50 and 100 yards regularly, and valuable training time is not wasted walking down range to check paper targets. In addition, most targets come in 3/8” thickness. I would recommend getting 1/2" thickness for greater durability and to help minimize warping.
Steel targets should not be any larger than 12"x18"...or equivalent to an IPSC C Zone...as that represents an effective hit to a human torso. Any targets larger than that can give a false representation of a shooter's capability. Obviously, smaller targets present a greater marksmanship challenge for shooters...and there is nothing wrong with that!
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National Law Enforcement Firearms Instructor Association (NLEFIA)