Scavenging For Free Targets: “When You’re A Hammer, Everything’s A Nail”

    Scavenging For Free Targets

    With the exception of the guys that seem content doing mag dumps into the dirt, shooters typically want to shoot at something. The targets that people choose are almost as varied as the firearms they choose to shoot with; anything from professionally made targets bought online or at a sports store, to a piece of garbage found along the roadside. I’ve run the gamut of all sorts of targets myself, but sometimes, the best targets, are free targets.


    On occasion, I’ve had access to steel targets, and I’m not sure there can be anything more invigorating than having a friendly race to shoot the middle of an odd number of steel plate targets. However, since my access to steel targets is limited, I turn to far cheaper options for my standard range trip. First stop, the recycling bin. Cereal boxes, either in their boxy, or fully flattened state make for nice, free targets that can be of a standard size if you only subscribe to one brand of cereal, or mostly standardized if you switch up your morning sugar grains once in a while. The cereal boxes can either be used as a backing to catch misses on a smaller target or used at various distances. My favorite use of a cereal box is to open them fully and try my pistols at 100 yards. That way I have my own set standard size to measure my improvement.
    Scavenging For Free Targets

    Half a cereal box makes for a chest box sized target for defensive drills. Image from the S2Delta scope review.

    Using recycling as free targets

    Add a bit of spray paint for an aiming point or for better visibility. Image from the CZ Phantom review.

    The next option for free targets is, of course, tin cans and plastic bottles. Used tin cans can be a great target that gives some instant feedback for free, compared to much more costly steel targets.  Since tin cans are such time-tested free targets, I won’t spend more time discussing them, other than to say that even if you don’t cook, tin cans can be gathered from recycling bins that are next to the street if you’re not too bashful.
    This option may not be available to everyone, but my small town has a dedicated appliance shop that has given me permission to grab larger appliance boxes from their cardboard recycling bin.  Using large pieces of cardboard can be great for shooting at longer distances with pistols, shotguns or rifles.
    cardboard makes for great free targets

    Author’s first time shooting at 500 yards. A large piece of cardboard helped! No, the boy wasn’t a target.

    TFB’s Luke C. wrote about a couple other free targets that you can read about in his Rimfire Report HERE.


    Although steel can be found for free, you really have to be looking for it. I’ve been fortunate enough to find several pieces of steel on the roadside, town-wide “junk days” and even buried in my own yard.  Thus far, the best piece of steel I’ve found was a broken road grader’s blade on the side of the road that I was more than happy to introduce some bullets to.  There is a difference between hardened steel, which can shrug off rifle rounds, and rolled steel which will stop pistol rounds with ease, but hardly seem to slow a rifle bullet down at all.
    free targets

    Steel pipe I found during a town’s “junk days”. Image from the S&W 625 review.

    free targets for shooting

    A 1″ thick road grader blade took 7.62x54R rounds like a champ.

    You can see TFB’s Miles V. discussing the safety considerations of shooting steel HERE.
    free targets

    The cardboard, steel, and clay pigeons (found intact at the range) were all free.

    UPDATE: Whether you shoot on public or private ranges, remember to take your used targets with you, or put them in a trash bin if they’re provided.  Leaving your range better than you found it can benefit everyone.  It’s also important to remember that others may be coming to shoot for the first time ever, and first impressions matter.
    What kind of free targets have you scored for your range trips?  What’s your favorite free target to shoot at?
    Doug E

    Doug has been a firearms enthusiast since age 16 after getting to shoot with a friend. Since then he’s taken many others out to the range for their first time. He is a husband, father, grandfather, police officer, outdoorsman, artist and a student of history. Doug has been a TFB reader from the start and is happy to be a contributor of content. Doug can be reached at battleshipgrey61 AT, or battleshipgrey61 on Instagram.