DIY Simple Steel Target Hack For Night Shooting

    Can you see the steel target hack? Hint: Its not the LEDs

    If you are fortunate enough to have access to a range that let’s you shoot at night, then shooting targets in the dark is one of the most fun and challenging things to do with a gun. Lately my friends and I have been shooting well into the late night. However I am the only one with night vision, so I came up with this steel target hack to help my friends shoot at night.

    So a problem arises when trying to see things in the dark especially when they are far away. Most weaponlights are not designed to light up targets past 100 yards. My friend Kyle got the new Surefire Duel Fuel Scoutlight and we tested how well it works at throwing light downrange. While 1500 lumens is a decent amount of light, the problem is that the reflector is too small. Small reflectors are not designed to throw light down range. And more lumens does not help all that much. I found that my older KX9T turbo LED head works better at throwing light down range. Even though the KX9T head is 1,000 lumens when paired with a decent scope I can see a steel target at 200 yards. But we could not see that same target using 1,500 lumen Scoutlight.

    Surefire M972 with LED upgrade and M3LT both are 1k lumens.

    Normally I use my Gen 3 Autogated PVS-14 to see targets at night and when paired with a good IR illuminator I can see out to 400 yards. But as I said, my friends do not have night vision. So I came up with this simple steel target hack for steel targets. 3M reflective tape is the key.

    I stuck a 3M reflective sticker to one of my steel target stands.

    steel target hack

    The red is still in the spall zone so it still gets chewed up but the white reflective sticker is far down enough it stays relatively clean.

    In the top photo you can see a line of red LEDs. That is my Magneto Speed target hit indicator. It helps the shooter know they hit the steel. If you hit the target, the LEDs flash red. If you hit the stand, it does not light up. While the target hit indicator works great, it only helps confirm a hit. The 3M tape helps you ID the target at night.

    Here is a photo I took with my phone of my steel target hack at night. I am using the KX9T LED head on my Surefire weapon light. The closest target is only 50 yards. You can barely make out the 100 yard steel. Both the 50 and 100 yard steel do not have 3M tape. The two targets above the 100 yard target have my steel target hack 3M tape and they are 200 and 300 yards respectively.

    Here is the same photo but I highlighted the targets.

    This steel target hack even worked at 400 yards near the top of the hill.

    Those 3M reflective stickers work so well that you don’t even need a powerful flashlight. I was able to use my handheld Firstlight USA TORQ and still see the 3M tape. And that light just runs on two AA batteries and only puts out 150 lumens.

    Here is what the 400 yard target looks like at dusk. This was before I went out and stuck 3M stickers on it.


    With enough light I can see the 400 yard target with a decent scope. I had my friend Paul hold my Surefire Hellfighter and had him aim it at the target. Excuse the poor image. I was holding my phone with my hands while trying to aim the scope at the target. You can see the 3M tape reflectors easily. The bottom reflector was taped onto a wooden stake and driven into the ground just below and slightly behind the steel target. This will protect it from being hit by spall fragments.

    I outlined the steel target so you can see it better.

    One issue with using 3M reflective stickers is that you can’t just slap them on a steel target and start shooting. Well actually you could but they would not last long. The spall from the jacket fragmenting off the steel will remove the sticker in short order. So it is best if you can attach the sticker to the stand. Or onto something else near the target.

    Next time we go shoot, I will try taping a plastic card to the back of my steel target. Have it stick out from the edge of the target and then attach a 3M reflective sticker to the plastic card. Since the steel is 3/8″ thick, the card and the sticker should be safe from being hit by spall off the target. I will also try pushing the targets out further just to see how effective the 3M tape is. If I can see the 3M tape I know where my target is. The real challenge is that you need to know your gun and bullet drops. There is little to no feedback when shooting at night. You won’t see bullet impacts near the target so you won’t be able to adjust accordingly. Know your limits and be a safe and responsible shooter.

    Edit: At SHOT Show 2019, my friends borrowed this target. They had it set out to 1280 yards and I tested the hellfighter. I was able to see the reflectors from 1280 yards away with the help of the Hellfighter.

    Nicholas C

    Steadicam Gun Operator
    Night Vision & Thermal Aficionado
    Flashlight/Laser Enthusiast
    USPSA competitor

    Any questions please email him at [email protected]