Jeff’s Five Favorite Targets

A good variety of target presentations ensures you don’t get bored

With so many different types of rifle and pistol shooting it can be a real challenge to pick the best targets for your money to take to the range. However, after 30 years of shooting these are my top five picks for getting in some great practice, and they can be used for rifle or pistol.

I hadn’t thought about it before this article, but the favorites listed here are definitely multipurpose, somewhat portable, and can be used with handguns or long guns. It’s important to have a degree of portability if you don’t own a place to shoot and have to transport them back and forth to the range as I did for many years.

One of the best, longest-lasting general use targets on the market

USPSA/ IPSC cardboard target– This target is used across the country for practical pistol competitions and is hard to beat for general handgun practice. The semi-silhouette shaped target has scoring zones perforated in it to allow scoring matches or your practice sessions. The thickness of the corrugated material allows for taping the holes and getting lots of rounds on target before they reach the end of their useful life. 

These targets can be used at indoor ranges or with stands on outdoor ranges. They can be used as-is for handgun speed drills or as backers for target dots for longer-range rifle shooting.  I have gone through thousands of these over the years and put countless pasters and tape on them to cover the holes.

The type of stand will vary depending on location, some areas use spikes on the bottom that are forced into the ground, while other areas where the ground is too hard for spikes utilize a wide stand sitting on top of the ground. Targets are usually stapled to 1” x 2” uprights or hung on hangers at indoor ranges.

These targets are licensed by USPSA, made by a variety of manufacturers, and sold by distributors across the country such as Target BarnMidway, and Shooters Connection. They are a bit heavy when you buy a 100-target box so find a supplier close to your location to minimize shipping costs.

They may eventually need to be replaced but these will soak up thousands of rounds first

Auto Popper– These small steel targets will take a licking and keep on ticking. The spring-loaded face plates flip backward when hit and then the spring stands them back up to be hit again. I only use the ones made from AR500 steel to allow using for either handgun or rifle shooting. 

At close range, they are great for handgun shooting and you don’t have to worry about walking downrange to reset steel. The small size keeps you honest when practicing, but makes larger targets easier in the future as your reward. Mixing a couple of these in with larger targets makes for a good drill, forcing extra focus and precision along with the speed of the larger targets.

Stands raise targets off the ground and springs set them up as fast as you can hit them

At longer ranges they can be used for action or precision rifle shooting and depending on the distance the target size can prove very challenging. The immediate feedback of the target slapping backward when hit is definitely rewarding and never having to reset it makes for lots of practice with no wasted time. 

In addition to handgun and rifle, you can also use the auto poppers for action shotgun practice; making this a very versatile target that can be had for a reasonable cost. A handful of these in a line is equivalent to a plate rack at a much lower cost.

Smaller face plates make the Auto Poppers even more difficult

Placing several of these at different distances and shooting from different positions makes for a good day’s practice with a rifle. Buying a quality target of AR500 should provide years of service and thousands of rounds of fun. The units I’ve used for years are made by MGM and have an MSRP of $119.99 though several manufacturers now produce them.

The Red Stitch models that mount on top of a 2×4 are interesting since you can easily mount them at different heights behind barricades or over the shoulders of BC zone targets as shoot / no shoot targets.

VTAC target brings provides more styles to one target than any other

Viking Tactics Target– This multi-use paper target was developed by Sgt Major (retired) Kyle Lamb. Both sides of the VTAC target are printed with target designs for different uses. One side has 4 round 8” bullseye targets printed on a one-inch square grid background. In addition, there are 5 other target images on that side that can be used for a variety of training drills. 

This side is great for zeroing in your new gun or for precision practice with pistol or rifle. The lightly printed grid ensures easy corrections to get dialed in.

Precision or Action shooters can both use this target

The other side has an anatomical human image that also has skeletal structure lightly shaded in and critical zones boxed in for defensive shooting training. This side also has a dashed outline of a typical USPSA type target so it could be used for practical shooting drills. 

This option provides a lot of information to work with on a single target. Kyle knows what’s important to capture on a target and provides accurate feedback to your performance for a variety of purposes. 

The 23” x 35” heavy paper stock target will take a bunch of rounds as long as it is hung on a relatively solid backer to prevent tearing while shooting. Using white and black pasters to cover your holes will make them last even more rounds during a practice session. Check them out at Viking Tactics.com . Prices vary depending on the source but run between 60 cents to a dollar each depending on quantity from VTAC.

Many variations of a BC target are available, all are close in size

Steel B- C Zone– The B-C zone target is a representation of those scoring areas on the USPSA target. This makes for a smaller target than a full USPSA target since the D scoring zone is not included. Practicing on a steel B-C zone ensures that you will be getting hits since your practicing on a smaller target than what is used in competition. 

The B-C is also fairly close in size to the vital zones for defensive shooting practice. Utilizing a steel target means you can do lots of shooting and not have to worry about taping up paper targets. Targets made of AR500 will take years of banging with handguns and will stand up well to rifles at distance so long as steel-tipped or cored ammunition is not used.

Easy to move stands make changing drills a snap

This type of target is used by many professional trainers in their classes. The target faces typically hang at an angle to minimize bullet splatter and potential ricochets back at the shooter. The stands separate from the faces to allow easy transportation. 

I use mine for rifle practice as well as handgun. Placing these out to distances around 500 yards is great prep for 3 gun or tactical practice and you can hear when you hit them so no need to run downrange checking for hits.

Portability is important so break down stands are a must

There are lots of similar variations and shapes of relatively close sizes. Check out Viking Tactics or MGM for a sample of the various models available. As with the bulk paper/ cardboard targets, weight matters so look at shipping costs as well when considering a purchase.

Speed and precision are both challenged while using the dueling tree

Dueling Tree- Shooting on a steel dueling tree is definitely the most fun of my 5 favorites. A dueling tree typically has six targets that swing from one side to the other around a center column when hit. These are great for individual practice; hitting the 6” steel plates at speed with handguns or at distance with smaller caliber rifles.

However, the real fun and what the target system is named after is when two people start with three plates on each side and work to swing all the plates to the other shooter’s side in a pseudo duel. When the shooters are of equal skill level the duel can last awhile and include reloads before someone wins.

The pressure of standing shoulder to shoulder with another shooter swinging plates back and forth can definitely add a bit of stress, especially if you get a plate or two behind. However, the more often you work under pressure the easier it gets. 

Armor plaid center post stands up to the abuse of missed shots

The six-plate dueling tree is the least portable of my favorites but it is a target system that works when your alone or with a group. Red Stitch Targets make a four-target unit as well that would be easier to transport but they are not quite as good for actual dueling.

As with the other steel targets, the big benefit is that you don’t have to go downrange to reset or stand plates back up, they just swing back and forth. I like shooting more than I like resetting and pasting targets.

Some manufacturers weld the plates to the hinge pins while others bolt the two parts together. I tend to prefer the weld unit as the bolts, even with jam nuts, will work loose with enough beating on those plates by the bullets. However, the bolt units make for easier plate size changes and plate replacement.

Cost varies depending on model and manufacturer; the Red Stitch 6 plate unit shown is $385.

Imagination is the only limit to your practice with thee five targets.. have fun

Final Thought– In addition to being multi-purpose and portable, these five targets are also fairly reasonably priced. The steel units will also give you years of service and the paper ones will take more than their share on bullets before needing replacing. I’ve found that all are good values for their purposes.

Safety First– Ensure you use frangible ammunition and/ or maintain a minimum safe distance when shooting steel targets to prevent danger from bullet fragments. Always wear eye and ear protection while shooting.

Get your targets from a close supplier and your new blaster from GunsAmerica and hit the range to try them out.


About the author: Jeff Cramblit is a world-class competitive shooter having won medals at both the 2012 IPSC World Shotgun Championship in Hungary and more recently the 2017 IPSC World Rifle Championship in Russia. He is passionate about shooting sports and the outdoors. He has followed that passion for over 30 years, hunting and competing in practical pistol, 3gun, precision rifle and sporting clays matches. Jeff is intimately familiar with the shooting industry – competitor, instructor, RO, range master, match director. Among his training credits include NRA Instructor, AR-15 armorer, FBI Rifle Instructor, and Officer Low Light Survival Instructor. As a sponsored shooter, Jeff has represented notable industry names such as: Benelli, 5.11 Tactical, Bushnell, Blackhawk, DoubleStar, and Hornady. He has been featured on several of Outdoor Channel’s Shooting Gallery episodes and on a Downrange TV series. Jeff’s current endeavors cover a broad spectrum and he can be found anywhere from local matches helping and encouraging new shooters as they develop their own love of the sport, to the dove field with his friends, a charity sporting clays shoot, backpack hunting public land in Montana, or the winners podium of a major championship.

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