When it comes to selecting reusable targets, I have always felt that steel reigns supreme over paper. Steel targets allow you to get more shooting time in a given session, as there's no pausing to replace or repair targets. Steel also has its signature audible report, indicating hits for situations and distances where visual confirmation is simply impossible. Steel is also waterproof. Leave it in the rain, and all you have to do to knock the rust off is fire your first shots.
Just like paper, there is correct steel for specific range-training purposes. For 2018, Birchwood Casey released a number of steel options in its World of Targets line, including “mission-specific” steel for every shooter. Here are my top five picks from the company's new lineup, along with a primer on how I personally use them to train students at Renaissance Firearms Instruction.
1. The Spoiler Alert: Designed for Long-Range Rimfire
Paper falls short when shooting 22 LR out to extreme distances. Hits in the black are next to impossible to see and much time is spent searching through a spotting scope to confirm your shots. Average steel also falls short, as the impact is so light it can barely be heard, if at all. The low energy at these extended ranges seldom moves the steel as well, eliminating the possibility of visual confirmation. The Spoiler Alert, one of Birchwood Casey's newest options, solves these problems for us by providing positive feedback of a hit at distance.
The idea behind the Spoiler Alert is pretty simple: a 6-inch steel gong is mounted to a steel backer, and the two pieces of steel are separated by a spring. On impact, the steel clanks together like a pair of cymbals, creating an extremely loud report. We tested ours out to 400 yards and still were able to hear hits, even through standard passive ear protection. We found the two plates on the spoiler alert also made different sounds depending on where the round hit, so we could easily tell if a shot was centered in the yellow or off the edge on the black.
2. The Bushwacker: Perfect for Rapid-Paced Rimfire Competition
The Bushwacker is another new rimfire target for 2018, consisting of two linked paddles. Once one paddle is struck, it stays down and forces the other one up. We used ours at 200 yards and worked on immediate engagement. When my shooting partner hit his, it raised mine. My goal was to get my time down and respond as fast as possible. This is a great drill for prairie-dog hunters, as often the window of opportunity to dispatch an unsuspecting dog is tight. When shooting by yourself, I found it very useful because you don’t have to listen closely for a hit or focus to see if the target is swaying from impact. If you hit, you have all the time in the world to confirm, and you never have to pause to reset it.
3. Gongs: Built Durably for Classic Transition Training
Gongs are the grandfather of all reactive-steel targets. There is nothing simpler than a gong, and they are extremely versatile. The biggest hurdle for many is how to hang them. Birchwood Casey now provides a two-in-one 2X4 topper that allows you to hang gongs on a simple hook or a spring-loaded bracket that provides the proper angle while still allowing them to resonate loudly.
Gongs are great for practicing stationary transitions with pistols and are the staple of Steel Challenge. We hung a set at 25 yards and engaged them with a Breda USA B12i shotgun, a Canik TP9 and a Walther Arms P22. All three firearms gave us a positive ping, and the plates and holders took a surprising among of punishment. The birdshot from the shotgun didn’t damage the plate or plate hanger and gave a satisfying “PONG” when struck. Transitioning from one gong to another is always a great speed-building drill.
4. The Boomslang: Ready for Long-Range Rifle Work
Plain and simple, the Boomslang is built for heavy-duty use with rifles. The 0.5-inch thick AR 500 is rated all the way up to .338 Lapua Mag. and deploys in seconds. The portability makes it perfect for setting up anywhere on the range, forcing shooters to practice range estimation. We took our Boomslang out to the distance range, where we have more than a mile with safe backstops.
Two of us took turns engaging it, then picking it up and walking an arbitrary distance. The Boomslang allowed us to rapidly redeploy and set up unknown-distance targets, previously a skill-building exercise that involved moving a heavy, cumbersome steel-target setup. The Boomslang did require soft ground, as it does need to be stabbed in about 2 inches to gain its support, so it’s not ideal for those shooting in mountainous terrain.
5. Handgun Dueling Tree: Set Up for a Head-to-Head Challenge
Shooting takes on a whole new form once the stress of head-to-head competition is introduced. The Handgun Dueling Tree pits two shooters against each other as they work on sending their paddles to the other person’s side. The first to clear his or her side of the tree wins. This target forces shooters to balance speed with accuracy, the core of any practical shooting sport.
If I have two students who are interested in competing in USPSA or IDPA, I like to use a dueling tree as an introduction to stress shooting. It also puts them on a timer without having to use an actual timer, and it also gives me a method of involving stress without forcing movement. The dueling tree is our go-to target for teaching proper follow-through and multiple-target engagement strategies. Students naturally want to follow a hit target as it swings to the other side, wasting valuable time. The proper move is to keep your eyes on the front sight and listen for the report. Only then do your eyes move…to the next plate. Enough failed tree runs usually solidifies this concept, and shooters quickly learn what to do with their eyes.
These five targets cover quite a bit of practice scenarios and they make for a great all-around training kit to keep today’s marksman fresh. We enjoyed our work and every day find new ways to use the Birchwood Casey steel targets we have.