Stainless steel target and .223 FMJ


I went to the range with my son. There we met a rather young Iraqi War vet (US Navy). He was shooting .223 FMJ at this 1 inch thick stainless steel target. He prefers it because it makes sound when hit, makes sense, my type of logic. What interested me was that some shots actually breached the entire thickness. I asked him if it was AP, no, just regular FMJ. Only a small percent of hit went through, maybe 5%. Is it because of entry angle or imperfection inside steel or something else?


He may have been hitting spots that had repeatedly been hit already, and those stressed spots would be weakened?


Are you sure it`s a stainless steel plate.
The back site looks rusty.



In Cowboy Action Shooting we use nothing but steel targets. I don’t think I have ever seen a stainless steel one. We have lots of targets similar to the one shown. By the way, when they get this shot up, we scrap them - it increases the possibility of richochet, even with lead bullets, at the short ranges we shoot. Of course, with lead bullets at the velocities used in CAS, even at the short ranges they are fired at, the targets last for years.

We don’t allow the shooting of jacketed ammunition on the steel plates. There is a real danger of richochet, sometimes straight back. There have been a couple of frightening videos on the web about this. One is is bounce back with what I seem to recall was a .50 BMG round shot from a rifle - it took the shooters hat off. About one-half inch lower and it might have been the top of his head. At one range I shot at years ago, we had the core from a military round - probably steel core, I don’t recall - come back 100 yeards and penetrate a guy’s cheek, on his face. Fortunately, it did not seriously injure him, but it could have been a disaster. We know it was a core because he got it for a souvenir from the doctor that took it out of his face.

Personally, I would not shoot a jacketed round at a steel target at under 300 yards, and longer with the .50 BMG. JMO.


It is quite possible that I misinterpreted steel as “stainless”. The target was at 100 yards.


Stainless steel is softer than steel


Many people think that “Stainless steel” is some sort of impervious wonder material. In fact it has little iron content compared to other steel types. It is more than often softer and lacks tensile strength. It still corrodes, it is just that the “rust” is different in colour and less noticeable at the start. It is more resistent to rust in general but not magically so. So many rifle barrels are ruined in a couple of weeks by shooters thinking they do not have to clean their new rebarrel. Some high nickel content stainless steels are harder to work than the soft stainless steels used in most commercial rifle barrels. In machining and chambering these more common SS barrels, I and others have found them to be very soft.
Stainless steels also have a slag coating after smelting and rolling like other steels. They can be coloured by various means, though formulae are few, expensive and well guarded within industry. The former is probably the reason for the colour of the rear of the plate.

The penetrative abilities of softpoint sporting ammunition is astounding. Armour piercing ammunition of ordinary hard core design is meant to use the energy to better advantage, not be some magic type that penetrates several times that which a softpoint or fmj can achieve.
For example, German WW2 8x57 AP rounds with case hardened steel cores can penetrate about 11mm (7/16") of steel armour plate at 100 metres range, with the plate at 90 degrees to bullet strike. The rare and expensive Tungsten carbide cored rounds at a higher velocity with special powder could achieve about 19mm (3/4") of the same. Ordinary ball rounds can punch through 8 or ten mm (5/16" or 3/8") at closer ranges without blinking on the way through.
Forget what you see on TV shows. That includes very ill informed “myth busting” shows.

Don’t try shooting holes through metal plates. Plates that move when hit, have marks in them already or are laying on a angle are bad but even well set up plates can and will send bullets back through your body!! I have seen the results of this.
Armour piercing capabilities of many different calibres used as military service ammunition are published in several books on the subject. As I have said they are only a partial improvement on the penetration of the ball round anyway.
If a crossbow quarrel can penetrate a thin steel clad 8" thick solid oak door more than four hundred years ago, don’t you think high velocity, high rotation pointy bits of metal can penetrate right through light armoured vehicles and their personnel without hardened cores? All that energy has to go somewhere.
I urge people to realise the potential energies of small arms ammunition and dangers of shooting plates without controls.


I have a steel target that I removed from a range. 42gr frangible unjacketed .223 left large, deep, “splash” gouges similar to what is shown in the photo. Hirtenberger compound frangible (copper base, plastic tip) left similar damage, with some of the plastic tips embedded deeply in the targets.
Standard XM193 and other typical FMJ/JSP/JHP commercial ammunition routinely penetrated the target fully.

Even “rifle rated” steel targets frequently list “softpoint only” or 100yd minimum safe distances in their fine print.

5.56x45mm and similar cartridges, with high velocities and small diameter/frontal area projectiles, are the Debbil Himself on steel targets.