Shooting paper is the simplest target solution out there, there is no denying that. Although it sets up quickly and is readily available it does have a few issues, such as needing constant repair and replacement. All of these breaks in the action cut into your shooting time and disrupt any rhythm that you be developing as you find your groove. Even worse, if you’ve just discovered an issue in your technique, you may have to choose between pasting your target or immediately correcting the error while it’s fresh. Steel targets don’t suffer from this malady. Because cardboard targets cost roughly 50 cents each, over time the steel targets do pay for themselves. Shooting accessory giant Caldwell is no stranger to the target market. However, it has never offered steel IPSCs…until now.
Introduced in 2020, the three sizes of Caldwell AR500 IPSC Steel targets are finally in steady supply both on the company’s website, as well as with many local and online retailers. The lineup includes a full-sized version that stretches the standard 18” x 30” that comprises the cardboard original, a 66% that measures 12” x 20”, and even a “baby IPSC” that is reduced to 33% to 10” x 6”. Each target is 3/8” thick and is rated to take an impact at 3,000 FPS thanks to that AR500 construction that is properly cut and heat treated. Before hitting shelves each target is powder-coated in the trademark Caldwell yellow, which also helps protect both the edges and your fingers.
In my testing, I set the targets up for a variety of pistol and rifle drills. I liked using the full-sized IPSC for personal protection work because it very closely represented a man-shaped target. At 18×30 there was no need to get closer to it to “simulate” a larger target, so I didn’t need to use frangible ammo. (Lord knows where I’d find any these days anyway).
At 12 yards I was able to draw and index with little to no use of my sights, just as I might need to do in real life. Caldwell doesn’t list a recommended safe distance but USPSA will disqualify you if you engage steel (with a pistol caliber) closer than 23 feet for safety reasons. So be sure to use good judgment, set your target up correctly, and only use proper ammo. Remember what is safe with one cartridge might not be with another.
The targets have three mounting holes, so they can be hung with two straps, or bolted to a T-post or 2×4 bracket. These holes are square and hold a carriage bolt so you can lock the nut down without the need for two wrenches. I set both the big guy and the 66 percenter into a 2×4 bracket so I could easily position them about the range. A fun routine that I found was to put the mid-sized target in front of the full-sized target to practice hostage scenarios or to represent hard cover. Another fun drill is to work with a buddy and have him or her call out “front” or “back” to induce a bit of stress and decision-making.
The 33% IPSC is small and mighty. Although it only weighs a shade more than 5 pounds, it’s still rated for the same impact velocities as its big brothers. At $39 these are small and inexpensive enough to scatter throughout the range for multiple target engagement practice. These make terrific shotgun targets when mounted to a post, or great long-range rifle targets when two straps are used. Their light weight means they react violently when struck, alleviating any doubt that you hit your target, should you miss the *PING!*.
After several weeks, and over 1,000 rounds of basically everything under the sun we found that our targets needed nothing more than a coat of spray paint to look brand-new again. We also enjoyed leaving them out in the elements, as they didn’t exhibit any signs of rusting or pitting. Not having to take them down also means not having to set them back up again and between the two processes, we put at least another 20 minutes onto each shooting session. It might sound trivial but when you only have an hour or two to spare it makes quite a difference.
For more information, visit caldwellshooting.com