Steel – pros and cons (mostly pros)

Once you shoot steel you’ll not want to stop.  Steel is a great training aide, and some very valuable training for the street can only be done with it.  Here’s the pros:

  • You get instant feedback as to whether you hit or missed.  No more taking your eyes off the sights (or whatever the training situation dictates you look at) in order to look at the target.
  • Past 7 yards or so, you have a hard time seeing your bullet holes on many targets, anyway
  • No more walking down to the target to assess
  • No more taping
  • It is WAY more fun than shooting paper
  • It’s the only way to tell if you’ve hit multiple targets at speed
  • Targets are not expensive

Here’s the cons:

  • If you are shooting a large steel target, you can’t tell where its been hit, so you may get sloppy with accuracy.  On the other hand, you can get steel targets of almost any size, including quite small ones.
  • 7 yards is the closest safe distance because shards do come back and hit you.  Because not every day is California here in Massachusetts, if the temperature is above 60 and the sun is out I’m likely to be shooting in shorts and without a shirt (sorry to ruin your dinner).  Most steel sessions leave me with a little blood from a nick.  Eye pro, dude.
  • Just as your hits are instantly apparent so are your misses, and it can get really frustrating when you keep missing.  Overcoming that is actually a good thing for your mental training though.

Bottom line: the pros outweigh the cons.

Lest you think that buying steel targets is expensive, consider what we did at our club.  We asked anyone who wanted to shoot steel to throw in $20.  We had a couple/few dozen takers.  That bought a good supply, and each contributor got a key to the locked steel storage shed on the range.  New “steel club” members’ contributions keep funding a variety of new steel, and we were able to afford a plate rack (actually, two) and a dueling tree.  Plate rack drills are one of the staples of competitive training and most instructors I know consider them to also be a staple of street-relevant skill building.

Our club bought their stash of steel from Karl at GT Targets.  Easy to to business with and very reasonable prices.  I once wanted a special size target and he ginned it up and shipped it to me for a very reasonable price.

Finally: I hit this point often and hard because it’s the part of self-defense that most people foolishly omit. If you carry a gun for self-defense, you have to know the law. Invest the money you’d spend on shaving a tenth of a second off your splits with Andrew Branca’s book or seminars — it’ll pay far greater dividends. Visit this link to learn more, and use the discount code “streetstandards” for a 10% discount.

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4 thoughts on “Steel – pros and cons (mostly pros)

  1. Great post. It makes me want to go out and buy some steel. (:
    One interesting thing about steel is that many people use the instant feedback to shoot fast. What tends to happen is that our shooting errors get calibrated to just hit the edge of the steel.
    This is great if the steel is the size we want to hit like an eight inch circle. Not so good if it’s too large.
    I remember being shot over and over in the right arm during force on force by many SWAT officers. That weekend I noticed some of them had shot our painted steel and all the hits were in the far left corner. I stood in front of it and the hits and my arm matched up.
    I promptly talked to the boss and suggested that we buy small steel only (8×10). They refused but they reduced the size of the torso targets to skinny guy torso’s at least. Now they will at least hit me in the ribs. Still to large but we do what we can do.

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  2. As an aside if you are willing to spray paint the steel you can tell where the hits are. Plus the paint can give an indication on how our different sights work against different colored clothes. Get’s expensive but doable for working low bullet count drills.

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  3. Great post Ralph. One thing worth mentioning is that there is steel, and then there’s steel. A look at the manufacturing and performance characteristics required of steel purchased for use in Steel Challenge matches was certainly eye-opening to this quite experienced shooter.

    I doubt it makes much difference at distance, but at typical defensive pistol ranges the difference between “good” and “bad” steel could be meaningful.

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

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  4. While hits on steel are very rewarding, if you miss, another disadvantage is that it’s virtually impossible to tell whether you missed high, low, left or right. That’s less of an issue with a conventional bullseye target in the middle of a large sheet of cardboard.

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