Last year when Caldwell introduced its line of AR500 steel targets, they quickly began flying off store shelves which made them difficult to find. With the stock replenished this year, I managed to snag three IPSC steel target sizes the company makes (full size, 66 percent and 33 percent) and spend time with each on the range.
When targets are sold in multiple sizes, often the first thought to go through a potential buyer’s mind is the cost. While the the 33 percent-sized IPSC steel target costs $150 less than the full-sized one, price shouldn’t be the only deciding criteria. Instead, prior to purchasing IPSC steel targets, consider which sport you want to practice for and let that guide you towards not only the proper target, but also the correct mounting system.
The full-sized Caldwell IPSC-style steel target ($189.99) weighs 48 pounds, while the 66 percent ($104.99) weighs 21 pounds and the 33 percent ($39.99) comes in at a svelte 5.3 pounds.
Whether you enjoy long-range shooting as an organized sport or a casual hobby, the full-sized IPSC steel target is likely best for you. The old saying, “Rifle shooting starts at 700 yards,” alludes to the distance where wind becomes a realistic factor for striking a silhouette-style target—at least with cartridges such as .308 Win. Although it’s tempting to consider one of the smaller targets to simulate this further distance, by doing so you are cheating yourself out of valuable D.O.P.E that can only be gathered at real distances.
Dimensions for the full size steel target (in inches): 30 L x 18.25 W x 0.4 D.
Some advice: When placing these heavy 48-pound steel plates, it’s best to use the two outer mounting holes with either straps or chains. The impact from a magnum cartridge is enough to knock them over if using a 2x4 stand, and the sheer weight alone might be enough to rip a T-post straight out of the ground.
USPSA and IDPA
For USPSA and IDPA, you may expect a recommendation for full-sized targets. After all, they measure to nearly the same outer dimensions as the official cardboard targets used by both organizations. However, do you really want to build a training routine where you associate deltas and -3s with success? If you are training with full-sized steel you won’t get accurate audible feedback, because even a lousy edge shot will leave you feeling satisfied. Using the 66 percent IPSC steel targets makes better sense—your hits will better represent the best or second-best scoring area at typical distances.
Dimensions for the 66 percent size steel target (in inches): 20 L x 12 W x 0.4 D.
With the 66 percent-sized IPSC steel targets weighing less than half of their full-sized counterparts, the simple 2x4 bracket system is robust enough to withstand most pistol calibers for a true “set it and forget it” range setup. Additionally, the MSRP of $104.99 makes the 66 percent-sized IPSC steel target a little softer on the wallet—allowing you to more easily buy two or three of them—which is enough to practice transitions and even some light stage planning.
Competitive 3-gunners should buy the 33 percent-sized IPSC steel targets. Since the majority of rifle shots are within 300 yards, the 4- to 5-inch drop at this distance (zeroed at 100 yards) doesn’t leave the target’s 10x6-inch surface. As such, you can simulate realistic holds at 100 yards, and with wind not a major factor inside of 300 yards you aren’t cheating yourself while training with the 33 percent size.
The Caldwell 33 percent size IPSC steel targets can double as knock-down shotgun targets.
At $39, the 33 percent IPSC steel targets are inexpensive enough to purchase en masse; and with a size similar to typical knock-down shotgun targets, they can be used to practice for those as well. Plus, since they weigh only 5.3 pounds it doesn’t take much effort to keep them up. Simple T-posts and T-post hangers will do the trick, and the result is an inexpensive, portable target system.
Caldwell IPSC steel targets work just as well for casual target practice as they do for competition training. In addition to using them for match practice, I will paint them different colors for call-out drills, using one to block off the other, and even camouflage them to see who can find them the fastest when positioned in thick brush. Along with the IPSC-style targets, Caldwell also sells other shapes such as coffins and polygons. All are ⅜-inch thick and rated to withstand impacts of up to 3,000 f.p.s., which we tested with .338 Lapua Mag. I also appreciated how each Caldwell IPSC steel target was finished with multiple square mounting holes that accommodate ½-inch carriage bolts. This made for easy, one-wrench installation and also eliminated any bolt-head protrusion which is nothing more than a recipe for ricochet.
The square mounting holes paired with carriage bolts make setting up these steel targets a piece of cake.
Even though steel targets cost a little bit more, they will last virtually forever. Since a 50-cent cardboard target only has a lifespan of about one range session, over time steel will pay for itself. Then again, you will likely spend more time shooting, so when you factor in your ammunition costs it may be a wash.