Paper vs Steel Targets – Pros and Cons of Both

    In the past, I’ve seen this debate all over, whether it’s online or in a gun store. There is a common misconception that you are only allowed to shoot paper or steel and one MUST be better than the other. The truth is both paper and steel targets have advantages. Both can be beneficial for new and experienced shooters so we will walk through the Pros and Cons with each.

    Paper Targets

    Paper targets have been around for a very long time. Most people grow up on paper targets because reliable steel targets have been increasing in popularity over the last couple of decades. Paper targets are cheap to buy and can be made for what your needs are whether its a full body silhouette or smaller targets for working fundamentals. Paper is also incredibly useful for zeroing rifles or red dots on pistols. It can be tough to see the exact impact on steel when zeroing a firearm. Where paper its fairly easy to make adjustments and do follow up shots without having lead splattering affecting the group.

    There are a few different disadvantages to shooting paper targets as well. For starters, it can be very difficult to figure out if you hit the target once you start shooting at longer distances. It usually takes walking down to the target to see if you hit it or not. Another problem with paper targets is they get worn out fairly fast when shooting drills. One of the issues I have is shooting out a hole in various paper targets. It usually ends up with me shooting through a hole rather than hitting a target and seeing results.

    Steel Targets

    Steel targets can be a great training tool and are really enjoyable to shoot either alone or with friends. When bringing a new shooter to the gun range, there isn’t a more rewarding sound than a target ringing after you hit it with your first shots. It gives new shooters instant gratification. Steel Targets let kids feel the excitement of connecting shots on target and helps build their passion for shooting at an early age. Steel targets are great for long range shooting as well, where you’ll instantly know if you hit or not rather than walking to the target. If you start adding things like Dueling Trees or Texas Stars into the mix, it becomes incredibly fun to shoot with friends. Its a great training tool for target transitions and tracking, and can become incredibly competitive between shooters.

    I am a big fan of steel targets but there are a few downsides to steel targets as well. First, steel is usually fairly expensive to get into and takes longer to set up than paper targets. The second downside with steel is that it can create bad habits if shooters only use steel targets. When people shoot steel, it’s easy to develop a “that’ll do” attitude when shooting and as long as they hear the target ring, they think it’s good enough. Paper targets make the shooter focus on accuracy and are typically a good option for fundamental training.

    Don’t get me wrong, this is possible with smaller steel targets but is usually easier with paper to change up drills on the fly. The last big issue I have with steel is potential ricochets or splashback from the target. I’ve gotten hit by jacket pieces and lead before and its something shooters need to be mindful and prepared for. If you can be safe and use steel targets appropriately, they can be a great training tool.

    Overall Thoughts

    When at the range, I think there’s a place for both in a good shooter’s line up. I love paper for more technical and precision shooting whether its handgun or rifle. I also love paper targets for zero my optics on and still think its a nice way to test your skills with accuracy. Steel targets are great for its immediate feedback, and durability compared to paper targets. I tend to use steel more for training with a handgun because it lets the shooter get feedback quicker and helps diagnose issues faster.

    I still use paper targets every range trip though and use both as tools to train different aspects of shooting. If you would like to get reviews on any of the steel targets above just leave a comment below for me, I’ll gladly do a write up on them.  Let me know what you guys use more at the range. Thank you for all the ongoing support and stay safe out there.

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    I’m an avid shooter and love educating whether it’s at my job or in the shooting community. I’m an average joe that really loves talking with other people about firearms and other passions.
    I’m active on Instagram on @fridgeoperator.