When I go shooting, I hate having to waste precious range time doing things other than shooting. Setting up and checking my targets are some of those range-day time sucks that A) aren’t fun, and B) don’t increase my proficiency one iota. Grizzly Targets invited us to test this beefy 3/8″ self-resetting target made of AR500 steel. As soon as we started shooting at it, I realized that a target like this has the potential to completely transform the way I spend my range time. Durability is everything in a steel target, so we didn’t pull any punches. We tested this thing much harder than any safety guidelines — or common sense — would dictate . . .
And it passed with flying colors.
AR500 is a medium-carbon manganese steel alloy, heat treated to through-harden it to a Brinnell rating of 500. ‘AR’ stands for ‘Abrasion Resistant,’ and the hardness and toughness of this steel makes it good for armor applications. Grizzly Targets uses a 14-inch slab of galvanized 3/8″ AR500 steel for the target plate. The AR500 plate is cut with a low-temperature laser cutter, which doesn’t produce brittleness like higher-temperature plasma cutting can.
The target plate is shaped like a stylized 1/5-scale human silhouette. The ‘head’ area is 2 inches wide by 3 inches tall, and the ‘torso’ area is 4 inches wide. It also happens to be exactly the size and shape of a standing prairie dog, so it’s a perfect practice target for varmint hunters.
The photo above shows how the target plate is attached to the base by a hinged baseplate (also of AR500) and two large Grade 8 hardened bolts. The hinge has a coil spring to keep the target upright, but it’s sprung weakly enough that its own weight will pull it down. You can tie it back with a loop of string so it will take up less room in the back of your truck.
The target plate is bolted to the hinge with large Grade 8 hardened bolts. Grizzly’s Jeremy Griffin explained to me that welds would be a weak point, which eventually crack as the target plate flexes slightly under impact. The bolts allow a little bit of (literal) wiggle room, and they’re also easily replaced if the heads are somehow shot off.
The base and legs are made from galvanized mild steel. They’re not bullet-resistant like the target plate, but they’re angled to present an extremely small cross-section to the shooter. The legs are attached by hardened screws that allow them to rotate a little and absorb some energy if they’re struck by a stray shot.
I think it would take numerous rifle hits (all in the same spot) to critically damage any of the legs, and if you did chew one off with your M240 you could make yourself a whole set of replacement legs for $10 at a hardware store. With this in mind, we didn’t bother to abuse the target legs; we shielded the base and legs with a section of log during testing.
We didn’t give the Grizzly much of a warm-up during testing. We walked the target out 15 yards and clobbered it just above the hinge with a 12-guage rifled slug. It slapped the hell out of the target plate and knocked the whole target a couple of feet downrange through the gravel. I was briefly worried that we’d trashed it with the first shot, but all it did was blast away most of the galvanizing. What looks like cratering is just the lead of the slug that melted itself onto the plate, and that little line that looks like a crack in the back of the target plate is just a chip in the galvanizing.
We pounded it with more slugs and some buckshot from 15 yards, and even at that ‘danger close’ range some solid-copper shotgun slugs only left the mildest dimples in the AR500 steel. One of our slugs hit the target in the ‘neck’ area and put a just-perceptible curve in the steel. The buckshot didn’t even leave a mark.
After we ran out of slugs, we gave the Grizzly target a breather while we slapped it around with some 9mm FMJ. We had great fun here, taking turns and getting a nice cadence going. The target resets quickly, but if you want double-taps you’ll need to pause for a split-second between shots. Maybe a stronger spring would reset more quickly, but the existing spring is easy to fold flat for transport and storage.
After that I pulled out my .44 Magnum Henry Big Boy and blasted the Grizzly target at 15 yards. The Henry’s 240 grain bullets at 1700fps are certainly no slouch, but they’re pretty weak sauce compared to shotgun slugs. They splattered perfectly on impact, and didn’t leave anything but lead and copper smears.
For a final test, I fired a box of .308 FMJ into the Grizzly target from 50 yards. This is exactly half of what some people recommend as the minimum range for centerfire rifles (others aren’t so risk-averse) but the results just were so dull they weren’t worth filming. I’d shoot the target, it would flip down, it would flip back up, and I’d shoot it again. No dings, no dents, no damage at all.
At 50 yards I also managed to hit the Grizzly with more than 50% of the offhand shots from my SIG 9mm, but these impacts were so anemic that we could barely see the target flip down. We could, however, hear the tell-tale ‘clink’ of each hit through the bang of the pistol’s report. That sound, I can tell you, feels pretty good.
As far as reliability is concerned, the Grizzly target seems 100% solid. Our testing was brutal, and the Grizzly shrugged off monstrous impacts from solid-copper shotgun slugs at point-blank range. Ordinary handguns can’t hurt it at any distance, and a .308 can’t even scratch it from 50 yards.
Grizzly claims that this target will last thousands of rounds of .223 before replacing the target plate. It’s even made to handle the .338 Lapua, although repeated edge hits will eventually cause chipping. Griffin predicted that most .338 shooters will run out of ammo (and money) long before they wear out their Grizzly AR500 target. I see no reason to question either of these predictions.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle?
Setting targets sucks, and for rifle shooting it sucks harder the farther you set them out. If your target is 300 yards out, you’ll travel more than a mile just setting it up and shooting it, checking it just once, shooting some more, and then retrieving it. That’s a lot of trigger time wasted, and a good steel target can take some of these tedious round-trips out of the equation. Less target maintenance means more trigger time. They’ll also save you time, gas and paper targets. Hell, they’re so eco-friendly you should get to use the carpool lane just for owning one.
How does the Grizzly target work as a practice and training aid? How about ‘awesome?’
Steel targets can completely change the way you spend your range time. If you’ve got a couple of standing plates or self-resetting targets like this one, you’ll spend much more shooting time actually shooting. You’ll never wonder if you missed the target, and you’ll never have to call the range cold to mark your hits. USPSA rules mandate a minimum distance of 23 feet for steel targets, and the Grizzly’s 4-inch wide plate makes a very easy pistol target at this range of just under 8 yards. It’s still fairly easy at 15 yards where we were shooting. At 25 yards it’s a challenging pistol shot, and at 50 yards it’s damned difficult.
For rifles, the 4″ plate is a dead-simple shot at 50 yards and it’s almost a gimme at 100 yards if you’re prone or if you’re good offhand. A real marksman with a precision rifle will bang this gong out to 300-400 yards, and possibly much farther if they can really dope the wind. It’s really nice getting instant feedback from the target, audibly telling you if your shot was true or wide. It builds your shooting skills quickly, because you instantly connect the correct sight picture and the proper trigger squeeze with the gratifying ‘clang’ of a hit.
About the only thing it’s not good for is sighting in a new rifle or pistol.
I hate to be a safety nag, but you always have to wear impact-resistant, full-coverage eye protection when shooting steel. You should always wear it anyway, but bullet splatter will come back at you from steel targets sometimes. It can’t do anything awful to your clothing or body, but it will f*ck you up if it goes in your eyes.
Lead contamination is also a concern, because steel targets get covered with lead dust and bullet splatter. Getting some lead residue on your fingers is difficult to avoid, but you can keep it out of your bloodstream by thoroughly washing your hands before eating or touching your face. Painting the target plate with white or hunter orange spray paint after use will trap the lead residue, prevent rust, and make it a more visible target.
Despite our antics here at TTAG, you should observe the recommended minimum target distances. They’re not meant to protect the target from you, they’re meant to protect you from bullet splatter. I’ll never abuse a steel target like this again, and you should never do it at all. One thing we didn’t test is steel-core Soviet surplus ammo, because shooting steel at steel virtually guarantees a truly bad result. The steel cores can either crater or penetrate the target plate, or ricochet back uprange at high velocity.
If you’re not shooting steel already, you should be. (Provided that you have access to a shooting area where it’s allowed.) It saves a ton of setup time, and it gives better practice and training feedback than paper targets. Keep a safe distance, avoid steel-core ammo (and steel BBs or shotgun pellets too) and always remember your eye protection.
The Grizzly Reactive Auto-Reset 220 is an excellent self-resetting ‘pepper popper.’ It’s highly recommended for its utility and extreme durability. The Grizzly folks might be horrified to see what we put their baby through, but it came through with flying colors. I’ll be happily ringing this gong for many years to come.
[Update: the list price of the Grizzly Reactive Auto-Reset 220 was originally listed at $135, but this was a short-term promotion. At the time of this update (April 2013) the list price is $179 plus shipping, and tax if applicable. Grizzly's CEO apologizes for the confusion, and didn't mean to mislead anyone.]
(The test target was supplied by Grizzly Targets.)