How Close Can You Safely Shoot Steel Targets?

For gun enthusiasts everywhere, steel targets have become a prevalent form of target practice, and for good reason. 

Steel targets are specifically designed to be used for target practice and engineered to maximize use and minimize risks. Many people who don’t fully understand steel targets often wonder how safe they are for shooting. 

You can safely shoot steel targets as close as 15 yards with handguns and 100 yards with rifles, which is a standard operating procedure. However, the weapon’s caliber, the target quality, and other factors, all play roles in the risks involved with shooting steel targets and must be considered. 

This article will go more in-depth about all the dos and don’ts of shooting steel targets. We will discuss what type of steel is best for target practice and the appropriate weapon and which ammunition can be used. Every circumstance is different, and we’ve done our best to cover each scenario. 

Why You Should Use Steel Targets

When it comes to guns and shooting, with all of the other options out there for target practice, some people wonder why they should even bother with steel targets. There are paper targets, clay pigeons, cardboard cutouts, and so much more, so what’s so unique about steel? 

The main reason gun enthusiasts love steel targets so much is that they’re very user-friendly. 

When practicing with a rifle at a long distance, it’s often difficult to determine if you have hit your mark or not. This is never a question with steel targets as you will be greeted with a loud dinging sound. 

Steel targets are also reusable. With paper and cardboard targets, you’re constantly having to replace them and change them out. On the other hand, steel targets are meant to last much longer and be much more durable than the alternatives. 

Quality of the Steel Makes a Big Difference

The quality and thickness of the steel target you’re using make a big difference in safety distance. A good steel target is designed to destroy the target upon the first impact, deterring the possibility of a ricochet accident. A well-made steel target should be composed of AR 500 or AR 550 grade steel. 

Steel targets should always specify the steel type and minimum safe shooting distance for each caliber of weapon. If the instructions say the minimum distance for handguns is 10 yards (9.14 m), then listen to the instructions. If the instructions say 20 yards (18.2 m), then the minimum safe distance is 20 yards (18.2 m). 

Most shooting accidents occur because of carelessness and not following best safety practices. If you show responsibility and respect around guns, nearly all accidents are avoidable. 

There may be the occasional errant ricochet to no fault of the shooter, but these incidents are few and far between. 

General Guidelines and Safety Standards

Here are a few general rules to keep in mind when using steel targets: 

  • The thicker the steel is, the closer you can be to the target 
  • The softer the bullet is, the closer you can be to the target 
  • The larger the caliber, the further away you should be 

Every gun and situation is unique, but there are best practices to be followed. Assuming you’re following the specific instructions for each steel target and paying close attention to the thickness of the target, you can have a good idea of minimum safe distances. 


The absolute minimum recommended distance for handguns, depending on the ammo, is 15 yards (9.14 m).  If you’re using a high-caliber pistol or high-velocity ammunition, 15 to 25 yards (13.72 to 22.86 m) is recommended to avoid ricochets or fragment wounds.


Rifles are much more powerful than handguns, and the minimum distance is therefore greater. 100 yards (91.44 m) is usually the minimum distance allowed for shooting a steel target with a rifle. 

Not all rifles have the same firepower, so this may not always be necessary, but if you’re not sure about the quality of the target, 100 yards (91.44 m) should be the minimum. 


To be on the safe side with shotguns, you should keep a minimum distance of 25 yards (22.86 it ism) between you and your steel target. You should also make sure to examine the target closely after every shot to make sure the steel isn’t getting dimpled.

Dimples or dents in the target can lead to unpredictable ricochets and fragment spreads in use. 

Angle and Integrity of the Steel Target Matters

Using a steel target that is angled downward can also decrease the risk of ricochet accidents. The target should absorb most of the bullets’ impact, but there’s always a small risk involved with firearms and steel. 

Angling the target is not one-size-fits-all, however. Ensure you know the proper angle for every kind of bullet used. 

If you notice the steel target you’re using has started to develop dings and dents or cracks, immediately cease using the target. 

A steel target that has been compromised will only increase the risk of accidental ricochets. A damaged steel target will also be less likely to absorb the impact of a bullet fully. Be smart and use caution anytime you’re discharging a firearm. 

Your steel target should be smooth and free of any surface damage. A good rule of thumb is that the softer the target, the safer it is. The steel used to make a good target is often the same material that the gun is made of. 

No matter how excellent or thick the steel is, however, if you use the wrong ammunition with the wrong target, you increase your chances of an accident. 

Contact Action Target

The most important thing to remember when shooting steel targets is that you should always veer on the side of caution. 

Guns are powerful weapons and must be respected to be appropriately used. If you have any doubts about the quality or integrity of your steel target, then change it out for a newer one. 

If you’re afraid the bullets you’re using are too soft or hard for a specific target, then use a different bullet or get another target. Carelessness and nonchalance are the leading causes of accidents involving steel targets. 

With over 30 years of experience, Action Target can help you build the perfect range for your unique needs. Whether you’re building a commercial range that caters to casual or tactical training or a law enforcement range to better prepare your officers, our experts can help with the challenges of building a range. Talk to one of our representatives in your neck of the woods here