Precision Tactical Eq

Consulting and equipment for the discerning firearms enthusiast.

Magnetic Steel Target Stencil

This is a follow up to the Steel Target Selection post I did – many people contacted me asking where they could get that stencil. So, I decided to do a post on the stencil, and about shooting steel for practice in general.

If you’re just here to buy the stencil, it’s available here:

http://www.soloperformance.com/Precision-Tactical-Equipment-Magnetic-Target-Stencil_p_12205.html

Steel is popular to shoot for many reasons. It’s easier and faster to spray a steel target than to go staple up new paper, and the instant feedback is satisfying and fun. That sort of binary hit/miss feedback is wonderful for competition (at least for the scorers), but if you only shoot to hit the target, you’re not getting the best practice you can. If your only goal is to score a hit, you’ll tend to only shoot precisely enough to make a hit. If you make the steel target small enough that hits are tough, then you miss out on the feedback, because so many of your bullets just sail clean past the target, and you don’t know if you missed high, low, or to the side. Shooting a small steel target in gusty winds is often a waste of time. You know when you made a good call (or got lucky), but if you miss, you don’t have any idea if you held off too much, or too little.

Shooting that 4" steel target at 400yd is satisfying when you hit it, but the 8" above it is probably more useful for training. 

Shooting that 4" steel target at 400yd is satisfying when you hit it, but the 8" above it is probably more useful for training. 

The real advantage of steel for the long-range shooter is that it lets you spot impacts out past 1,000 yards, with a decent scope. Even my economical SWFA 5-20x50 HD lets me easily see hits at 1,000 yards. In order to maximize the utility of the steel at long range, I prefer to size it very large, so that I’ll never miss the plate cleanly unless I make a huge mistake like dialing for the wrong range, or the wind is absolutely howling and I blow the call. That way even my “misses” get plotted for me to see, and comparing where you think the shot should have gone to where it actually went is critical to developing your long-range shooting skills.

The splash from a 6.5 Creedmoor at 600 yards is very obvious, even in this grainy cell-phone-through-the-scope photo. With my eye to the scope, the scoring rings and numbers (barely visible at all here) are clear and legible. 

The splash from a 6.5 Creedmoor at 600 yards is very obvious, even in this grainy cell-phone-through-the-scope photo. With my eye to the scope, the scoring rings and numbers (barely visible at all here) are clear and legible. 

My main plate is a 24” square, which I use from 600 to 1000 yards. I wouldn’t mind a 30-36” gong for 900-1200yd, as occasionally I’ll have a shooter with issues getting on the 24” steel at 1000. If this is just for a precision shooter with good drop data and zero, 24” should be fine unless the wind is awful where you shoot.

In order to give an aiming point, I originally just painted a dot in the center of the target. This works well, especially if you have a scope with a ranging reticle to plot your “misses” that still hit the plate. However, I realized that a little more fidelity would be handy. I don’t shoot much F-Class, but even for non-competitors, translating groups to F-Class scores is a nice benchmark to see how you’re shooting. If you can clean an F-Class center, you’re shooting well! If you’re dropping 6s… you have issues, and should probably shift back to closer range until you have them sorted out. 

Back when I satisfied my competitive urges racing cars, Solo Performance Specialties always made the best vinyl, so I called up Dave to make this stencil. We went through a couple iterations to get a product that’s durable and shows up well on the target, and I’m really happy with the result! Full disclosure – I’m not making a penny on these, which is why I had SPS do the sales on their page. I wanted to keep them cheap and utilize SPS’s e-commerce site (and shipping account) rather than try to skim a few bucks off into the PTEQ coffers. So a big thanks to Dave for doing this, and please support him by buying a stencil!

I keep a stencil on the hood of my range truck for a couple reasons - convenience, and in cold weather the engine heat softens the material. Don't do this if you care about your paint!

I keep a stencil on the hood of my range truck for a couple reasons - convenience, and in cold weather the engine heat softens the material. Don't do this if you care about your paint!

Now, as far as using the stencil, it's best to start with a clean, white-painted target. If you don't give the paint a couple minutes to dry, it'll stick to the stencil. So, I usually spray the target white at the end of the session, and then use the stencil at the start of the next session. If I forget to do this, I'll just spray it white first, get my 100-yard zero, and then head back out to apply the scoring rings. 

Start with a plain white-painted target.

Start with a plain white-painted target.

Slap the stencil on there - being magnetic, it just sticks. 

Slap the stencil on there - being magnetic, it just sticks. 

Spray the holes...

Spray the holes...

And remove the stencil! It literally takes 30 seconds start-to-finish. 

And remove the stencil! It literally takes 30 seconds start-to-finish. 

When you shoot the target, you'll get instant feedback, just like using an electronic target. Because the splash where the paint is removed is so much bigger than the bullet, sometimes tight groups can appear as one hit, and of course as you fill up a target with hits, it'll get harder to discern which is which. 

There are 5 hits here - the two at the top of the 10-ring are both doubles. I was able to see where each shot hit, as the spot grew substantially which each shot. But, this is still a limitation of the system. 

There are 5 hits here - the two at the top of the 10-ring are both doubles. I was able to see where each shot hit, as the spot grew substantially which each shot. But, this is still a limitation of the system. 

If you only have a few hits, just use white paint to touch-up the target - there's no need to re-spray the whole thing. I often do this mid-session:

Still looks plenty good from 600yd away. 

Still looks plenty good from 600yd away. 

So there you have it - hopefully you'll find the stencil useful, whether you're an F-Class shooter or not. Obviously it can be used at any range, but only correctly mimics the F-Class scoring rings at 600yd. I even use it for Service Rifle, utilizing the entire white plate as my aiming point, and using a spotting scope to check my impacts.