In the deserts of Nevada, practicing the defense of the nation against extra-terrestrial aliens is more than just a pastime; it is a calling and an imperative. So, I spent a rather windy weekend day in the desert outside of Las Vegas with a group of like-minded individuals shooting some steel targets.
For those that haven’t had a chance to shoot anything but paper and pop cans, steel targets provide for a durable target that provides instant audible feedback. They are quite handy to teach new shooters on, are largely unaffected by wind, rain, or adverse conditions, and are incredibly ‘green’ for those concerned with such.
The steel targets that we trotted out were made by a Nevada-based small business, MOA Targets in Reno. I first met Mitch Gerlinger, the “Chief Guy in Charge of Stuff” at MOA Targets (seriously, it is on his business card), at the Cola Warrior West shooting event last year in northern Arizona where he graciously provided targets for the entire event. His custom targets produced for the competition were frustrating and did exactly what they were meant to: emphasize the shortfalls in each shooter’s fundamentals at distance. Serving as a showcase of his ability to produce custom steel, the Cola Warrior targets took the form of various video game-inspired monsters and left many shooters cursing his good name.
After crossing paths with him again at Cola Warrior West 2 this past April on his mountainous ranch in Reno, I was able to walk away victorious from a side challenge with a 3/8” AR500 custom Alien target with spaceship shaped POPQUIZ reactive swinger. This very target, used in both the inaugural and second running of Cola Warrior west, had seen nearly 200 shooters before being awarded to me. This is the target we used to hone our marksmanship skills on in preparation for an extra-terrestrial invasion.
Since every shooter at Cola Warrior West 2 walked away with an A-Frame Starter Kit https://www.moatargets.com/your-first-steel-targets/moa-targets-starter-kit-package-deal, I had two targets to setup, and the others in the group brought their own MOA targets out in the desert to play. Including a round handgun target, nearly a half-dozen 12” round gongs, a second suspended 6” square, and Wolfman target from the inaugural Cola Warrior West competition that stands nearly 3 feet tall before being mounted on the stand.
The basic A-Frame kit comes with two A-shaped AR500 steel pieces, two pieces of fire hose, the target, and hardware to put it all together. This particular setup needs a quick trip to the local hardware store before heading to the range. With the addition of four pieces of 1/2” diameter conduit for legs and a 2×4 piece of lumber for a cross piece, you are ready to assemble and shoot.
My alien required only two 2×4 pieces of dimensional lumber (with enough left over for my A-Frame cross piece) to make up the legs for the Battle Born target stand and one for the upright. A couple minutes with a wrench and it breaks down for easy transport and storage. For an impromptu range trip, a couple swipes with a can of spray paint and a few turns of a wrench and you’re ready to shoot.
Something that’s not really mentioned but has proved to be a good idea is bringing along some wood shim wedges also available at your local hardware store. On uneven or sloped ground, you can throw a couple of shims in the back of the target stand upright bracket to make sure your targets keep a forward angle and ensures most of the spall off the target is directed downward instead of back at the firing line.
Having shot some steel matches, taken a number of weapons courses, and shot a few Cola Warrior competitions, I’ve had occasion to shoot steel but never owned a steel target before winning my first last month. So, after throwing a new coat of paint on my used alien, a new set of lumber for supports, I trotted my targets out into the desert about 15 yards in front of our firing line. The remainder of the targets were strewn out to distances of around 300 yards.
The steel sang out with confirmation of hits, and remained noticeably silent upon the misses. Fun was had by all and some good observations were made:
The POPQUIZ swinger is easily activated by a direct handgun hit at 15 yards and beyond, though 12ga birdshot was unable to do the same. A quick dose of 00 buck confirmed that the swinger would respond, however at that distance if a heavier load is used.
For those not familiar with shooting steel, safety is a paramount concern. When applying highspeed projectiles to a hardened steel object, the projectile impacts the steel and then disintegrates, slinging lead and jacket fragments around the surrounding area. This material still retains enough energy and mass sufficient to injure or kill.
To illustrate the amount of ‘splash’ coming off a target, I positioned a 2×3’ piece of foam core board approximately 5 feet to the side of the steel alien, parallel to the direction of fire. After a string of 50 9mm rounds, the foam core was perforated by countless pieces of jacket and lead from the projectiles, most retaining enough energy to pass cleanly through the foam core board 5 feet away.
After recovering the board and thinking I had enough in the way of evidence to reinforce how important safety is when shooting steel, I feel a sting in my wrist and find that even on the firing line, I was struck by a jacket fragment off of a steel target.
The jacket fragment retained enough mass and energy to lodge itself under the skin and required having to be pulled out with a pair of pliers. Nothing that a band-aid couldn’t cure, but really underscored the need to have a first aid kit handy and maintain adequate distance from the targets. Cleanup of the firing line provided another example to reinforce this idea when a huge jacket fragment was found behind the line of fire. When compared with the small fragment recovered from my wrist, I can only assume that being hit with the much larger jacket fragment could have resulted in a more hospital-based removal effort than my own owie.
The targets we shot in the desert were all made by Reno NV based small business MOA Targets. If you are looking for a target that will last a lifetime, look no further than the high-quality steel coming from these folks. Mitch and company also produce a line of targets optimized for USPS flat-rate shipping boxes, and offer cheap or no-cost shipping like their POPQUIZ AR500 Hostage Target that retails for $115, shipping included. Larger targets, of course, will cost a bit to ship because, despite how creative Mitch is with his targets, I don’t believe he has a way to somehow make steel lighter for shipping purposes.
They offer a wide variety of targets, from a basic gong starter set all the way up to the flagship Mozambique and Mini-Mozambique (Mini MO) reactive targets. If you need a custom design, give Mitch a call and he’ll probably be able to make it an armored steel reality.
Looking to purchase a steel target, but not sure what thickness steel you need? A handy flowchart for target selection can be found on the website http://www.moatargets.com.
And as far as durability goes, my alien saw use in two separate competitions with countless shots in between and a fresh coat of spray paint was all it needed to look brand new again. Other targets drug out to the desert that day had been hit in excess of 10,000 times by 9mm and 22lr rounds and look no worse for wear. When used with the correct rounds, these targets are nigh indestructible.
In short, shooting steel is a tremendously fun way to practice in a way that provides immediate feedback, and they make a fantastic steel target for all budgets. When you go out to shoot some steel, just make sure to pack your first aid kit, wear eye protection, and keep an eye on target distance. When in doubt, remember MOA’s motto: We don’t stand behind our targets, because that would be unsafe.