There’s nothing like the instant gratification that comes from whacking a steel disc and watching it dance. However buyer beware, not every AR500 steel gong is the same.
The main problem with gongs that I’ve encountered (other than my propensity to shoot off the chain) is their durability.
The cheap ones can break, particularly when you’re shooting them with 7.62 AK or .308 rounds. I found this to be a problem recently with an off-brand item I purchased on eBay. After a few visits to the range, I hit one of the rabbit-ear like tabs (which secure the bolt and chain) and it simply popped off.
Fortunately, I found a solution from a company called Shootsteel.com out of Minneapolis. They manufacture a variety of steel targets and unlike the junk I bought on eBay, they make quality components, from both 3/8” and ½” thick AR 500 hardened steel. We tested a 12” diameter gong (made from ½” steel) and it has withstood everything we’ve thrown at it. This particular item is priced at $77, but you can get their 3/8” model for $42.
In addition to gongs and rectangular plates of various sizes, Shootsteel.com manufactures a variety of other products such as reactive targets, target frames and plates that can handle rounds of up to 50MG.
Along with the gong came a 36 x 36 A-Frame style conduit gong stand, a bolt kit and rubber hanger, which is different from other systems that I’ve encountered. Instead of hanging the gong in a conventional manner, with a chain, this system uses a rubberized strap fastened to a very solid, tear-dropped shaped steel link suspended from the top of the frame. On either side of the link there’s a collar that you can adjust to keep the links properly spaced. (You don’t need to have the Shootsteel.com frame to use their gong. It will easily hang on any other frame).
The Shootsteel.com system was easy to easy to assemble. All you do is plug the conduits into the brackets and latch them down with locking pins. Then it’s just a matter of hanging the hefty gong. The only tool you’ll need is a crescent wrench and a socket wrench to bolt the gong to the strap.
They also provide a cool little stencil so you can spray paint the Shootsteel.com logo on the gong.
How does Shootsteel.com differentiate itself from the competition?
In addition to their unique hanging system, I would say the quality of the steel. Their website has some good info that discusses properties of AR500 steel. As the website states, “each mill has slightly different alloys and heat treatments”. In addition to choosing the best steel for the job, ShootSteel.com only uses CNC laser cutting on AR500 steel targets.
There’s a reason for this.
When steel is cut, heat is generated and in the words of the Shootsteel.com website, “heat is the enemy of hardness”. Laser cutting uses a highly focused beam of energy to cut through the steel, thus introducing minimal heat which in turn keeps the steel’s innate strength intact.
Shooting the steel
We used this product exclusively at 100 yards or more. We tested both magnum type handguns (.41 and 10 mm) as well as .223 and 7.62 AK rounds on this target system. As one might expect, the .223 rounds were deflected like BB ammo on the ½” AR500 steel. The .41 magnum rounds didn’t stand a chance and were reduced to snowflake-like bits of lead. The manufacturer suggests if you’re going to shoot a .308 or anything under, the 3/8” gong is plenty sturdy. The ½” steel the gong, which we opted for, will probably last longer than the frame!
As a rule if you’re shooting a pistol the target should be no closer than 10 yards, whereas magnum calibers should be used at 25+ yards. For rifle use place the target no closer than 100 yards. The rule of thumb is that the velocity of the bullet will deteriorate the target more than the weight. The velocity at impact should be less than 3000 ft/sec to prevent damage to the steel targets thus high velocity rifle rounds should only be used at longer ranges of 200 yards or more. The manufacturer suggests not to use steel core or armor piercing ammunition with steel targets–otherwise you’re going to get a steel plate that resembles Swiss cheese.
One quality we liked about the Shootsteel.com product was that the frame weighed only 25 lbs, a great deal less than similar systems. For example a similarly sized from from Custom Metal Products which is constructed with angle irons and a solid steel rod instead of conduit, tips the scale at 40 lbs plus, almost double that of the Shootsteel system. The upshot: It’s easy to assemble and transport. Even one person can set this up on a range visit.
There’s a lot of thought and engineering that has gone into this deceptively simple looking product, both in terms of design and metallurgy.
The takeaway is that you need to be selective about purchasing your target system. Target manufacturers may claim to use armor plate or ballistic tested steel but with Shootsteel.com you get the real deal.