I enjoy shooting steel targets. I like the quick feedback and the ease of set up. I don’t have to go down range to confirm a hit or tape holes. However, steel targets are not always the best choice for the range. In fact, depending on what you want to accomplish, they may be detrimental to your practice. Paper targets might make the best range target for you.
Consider this recent experience we had with a rifle student. The student purchased a rifle and had someone else zero it. The gunsmith who installed the scope and sighted the rifle in, presumably did little beyond a bore sight zero or laser zero. So, the shooter went off to the range and began to engage 100-yard steel targets. These targets were about torso size so as one can imagine, with a scoped rifle, at that range, they were not a considerable challenge to hit from the bench. Fast forward to our class and the student finds, despite their confidence, they are considerably off the zero. By nearly half a foot. Had that student taken the time to use paper, range targets, they would have known much earlier and could have come to class with their rifle properly sighted in. What’s more, good paper targets for zero will include a grid pattern so you can see how much to change the elevation and windage to fine tune your zero.
Proper paper targets are also essential when you want to develop the come ups (that is, knowing how much elevation to add for various distances). Shooting at steel will only get you so much information. Shooting a paper target will give you much more precise information. Even in this day and age, where we can get ballistic information from the internet, or ballistic apps, I still like to put in the work and shoot paper targets at all possible distances that I might engage. Yes, this is time consuming, but the paper target will give you the full information about your ballistic assumptions. So, if my ballistic app tells me add a certain number of MOA, or MILS, or distance, I’ll make the scope changes, but, then shoot it on paper targets at the prescribed distance to confirm this. For this type of precise work, I will use a paper range target that has grid squares, preferably that matches the type of scope I am using. Since I usually use scopes with MOA adjustments, I like paper targets with one-inch squares. This tells me right away how many clicks to use for various distances, and if my ballistic app is correct.
I also like paper targets for developing wind leads. If I am lucky enough to shoot at longer distances, in winds, I can then use the same grid pattern on the paper target, to confirm how much correction to give for wind. This information can go in my log book or otherwise gets noted for future range use. Most gun range targets designed for a rifle will have some type of usable grid pattern.
I also find paper targets useful for handgun shooting and training. For one thing, I can find printable paper targets on the internet and bring them to the range. This is also useful for rifle shooting but for long range shooting, I like paper targets that exceed 8 x 11 inches. There are a great number of fun paper targets one can find on the internet. The nice thing about the paper target, is while it does not give the same instant feedback of steel, it does give more precise information about shot group. This will help you diagnose shooting errors such as trigger pull problems and the like. I sometimes see students who loose all sight focus when shooting steel because they are looking for the target to react. The shooter is not looking at their sights. With a paper target, once we get to a slightly longer distance, the holes are not easy to see and it is easier for me to convince the student to have more sight awareness.
People like steel targets and I also find them fun. But some paper range targets are also great fun. My oldest daughter loves shooting the zombie paper targets. She also likes some of the funny paper targets that have unusual shapes. When my daughter and I were preparing for a hunt, I printed paper targets from the internet, using a picture of the type of animal we were hunting. We could even draw precise aiming points on the target to get the best possible shot placement training. The nice thing about this, is the target can be printed to scale, so we could practice with a .22 caliber rifle just as easily as our hunting rifles, just at reduced distances. With some paper range targets, we can use fun areas for shot placement practice. Like shooting the top button of a person on a printed target. Or we could play, “Who can shoot closer to the left nostril.” Steel targets do not always give that kind of precise feedback.
Here at California Tactical Academy, we have a wide selection of fun paper targets. We have targets with proper grids for firearm zero, we have paper targets with animals for hunting practice, and we have fun targets with a variety of “bad guys” for the defensive minded shooter. We even offer targets that “bleed” when struck.
I know steel targets are popular and fun. But do not discount the paper target. The feedback and training value can be fantastic.