Monday, November 9, 2009

Reactive Targets

Several months ago, I wrote a post on the different types of gun owners. One of the things I have never understood is how someone can go to the range, shoot 2-5 shots from one gun and then pack up and leave. What is even more baffling to me is the people who take 2-4 hours to do this. I usually judge how well a trip to the range went based on how much ammo I return home with. One or two boxes, that was a good trip. Four to ten boxes, it must have been busy and I wasn't able to do all of the shooting I wanted. Zero boxes means that I had a blast (pun very much intended). No one was there and I had no obligations at home that would make me need to leave before the ammo ran out.

Some may ask how much ammo I take to the range. Well, usually on the order of 500 to 2000 rounds. This is spread between as many as six different calibers depending on how many firearms I took. A few days ago when I went, I was trying out some various ideas for reactive targets. For those who get a thrill out of putting a little hole on two intersecting lines, I ain't one of you. Sure, when I have the patience to sit down and take my time, I can put holes in an 8 inch circle at 200 yards with iron sights. However, to me that isn't gratifying for more than about 5 minutes.

Now there is a myriad of reactive targets that one can buy. Tannerite being the foremost among them, however at $5-10 per shot, it can get a little pricey if you are trying to do it 500 times. Steel targets that are designed for target shooting (basically a thick steel plate) are fun as well and quite economical at around $20 per target. Being the frugal guy that I am, I like to find a variety of things that are enjoyable to shoot and cost effective. Looking at the list below, you might notice that anything with the possibility of an explosion (however small) is a good option for me. If you do want to delve into the world of explosive targets, please don't be stupid about it. Explosives can and will hurt you without taking a second thought. Start out with someone who knows what they are doing, as you gain experience then you can venture on your own. So, without further ado, here is the list of inexpensive reactive targets I have used along with my review of them. I included a video of several of them for your viewing pleasure.

Pots and Pans: Price - Free to $3-4. Good for about 100 shots. These are an excellent taget for any distance type of shooting. Try to find ones with a handle (to stick in the ground) and a shiny back side (which make them easier to see). At 100 yards the report is audible with hearing protection on - a nice THUNK! At 200 yards you have to be paying attention to hear it. At 300 yards, you probably won't be able to hear it. Since pans come in a variety of sizes, it is also nice to be able to know that you are shooting at a 6 in, 8 in, 10 in, or 12 in target. .22LR will easily go through most common pans (aluminum and stainless steel) even at 300 yards (so any centerfire will as well). Be sure to ask your wife or mother if it is OK to use the old pans, because if you are a halfway decent shot, they won't be good for cooking when you're done. Cast iron cookware can be used as well. Just don't use it up close (less than 10 yards) to avoid richochets.

Fruits and Vegetables: Price- Free to $5. Good for 1-100 shots depending on caliber and type. This tried and true standby is especially good with high powered hollow points (read rifle/hunting ammunition). The high water content should cause good expansion which tends to show the exploding effects. If kids are watching, be sure to match the caliber with the size of fruit or vegetable to give them the maximum show. Thin skinned apples are obliterated by anything over 9mm (use thick skinned oranges or grapefruits instead). Tomotoes are great for .22LR. Melons of most types are good sized for 7.62x39 through .30-06. Lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, and brocoli just eat up bird shot. Some stores might be willing to sell (or give) you their old produce at a steep discount. I usually just use what we forgot to eat from the fridge.

Milk Jugs: Price - Free. Good for 1-100 shots. These are great when filled with colored water. Better still, if the range day is going to be, fill partway (2/3) with water and then put it opened in the freezer. Take it out when the temperature of the water is just above freezing and cap it immediately. As the air and water inside warm up, they will both expand, creating a low pressure target. The great thing about this is you can still recycle the jugs after blowing them apart. Who new being green could be so fun!

Cans: Price - Free. Good for 1-100 shots. This standby is invaluable. With BB guns, you can make a dent and not continuously punch holes through them. With a .22 you can see how good aim you are by slicing one in half. Then there is the setting cans up on a ledge/table and shooting them off cowboy style. Its plain to see why this cheap alternative has been a mainstay for plinking for more than a hundred years.

Phone Books: Price - Free. Good for 100-1000 shots (depending on if you mulch). Whenever you think there is not enough paper in the world, the phonebook company prints another one. Thousands of companies print catalogs that they will send you for free too! Paper is actually a pretty decent stopper of bullets compared to the price of the materials. The reason they don't make paper bullet resistant vests is because you still would need 7 inches of it. That being said, tape some of these big books together and you can trap all sorts of bullets. Frankly, it would make a great science experiment for a young shooter (if his or her school doesn't go ballistic about the proper handling and use of firearms). Close range with birdshot is also a great way to turn a phone book into confetti!

Shoes: Price - Free. Good for 100+ shots. Shoes wear out eventually. The nice thing about shooting them with larger caliber weapons is they will jump. Kids love to see shoes jump (especially with no one in them). Steel toed or shanked boots have the advantage of a muffled but still audible report.

Old office equipment: Price - Free. Good for 100+ shots. Had a bad day at the office? Is your company getting rid of an old fax machine? Go Office Space on it! Be sure to get permission from your company before taking the old office equipment. One thing you will quickly learn as you shoot up office equipment, Hollywood has no concept of ballistic penetration.

Balloons: Price - 2-3 cents. Good for 1 shot (unless you miss). Balloons are very versatile. You can shoot them plain. Shoot them with powdered substance inside. Shoot them with a liquid inside. Or shoot them with a flamable liquid inside and an ignition source nearby for great fireball creation. Balloons are very good for long distance shooting (300+ yards) - the colors will usually contrast with the surroundings, you can make them almost any size, and you definitely know when you have hit one.

Pressurized Bottles: Price - 1-25 cents. Good for 1 shot. No I do not mean propane cylinders. I am talking about plastic coke bottles which you pressurize with dry ice or baking soda and vinegar. The goal here is to get the bottle near the rupture point (50 psi - 250 psi depending on the thickness) and then hitting it with the bullet to make a nice report. I am still in the experimentation process of figuring the correct amounts of vinegar and baking soda (remember the goal is maximum pressure without it exploding prematurely) for various types of bottles. The fact that materials science keeps getting better (and bottles are made with less plastic) compounds the problem and makes me believe I'll be experimenting my whole life, which I am OK with.

Paintballs: Price 1-3 cents. Good for 1 shot. These are great for .22LR through a pistol or a rifle. They provide a small target (about 3/4") that leaves a satisfying mark when hit. The only problem I have is a quick way of attaching them to the target. Currently, I pull a line of tape and then put one on every 2 -3 inches as I apply the tape to the cardboard. I am open to any other quick methods of putting these up.

Shotgun Shells: Price - 20 cents. Good for 1 shot. I'm not sure why I hadn't thought of this sooner, but a friend told me about it a month ago and I had to try it. I used .22LR shooting at 12 gauge bird shot (no sense wasting the money for buck or slugs). I put the shotgun shells in three different setups: 1) through drywall, 2) through 2x4, and 3) implanted in 2x4 (i.e. no through hole). The drywall was nice, I was hoping for a bigger hole though. The 2x4 also was OK, I was still wanting more. The encased 2x4 was great! It splintered out the end of the wood. If you are going to try this, use a 3/4" spade bit to make your holes (at least 4 inches apart). Push (don't pound with a hammer) the shells into the hole. Keep the targets at least 25 yards away.

Muzzleloading caps: Price - 5-10 cents. Good for 1 shot. Think of these as a smaller, cheaper version of shotgun shells. The targets are now only 1/4" diameter at most. Which leads to my favorite idea so far...

Muzzleloading caps w/ black powder: Price - 5-10cents. Good for 1 shot. There is unlimited potential with these. How big of a blast is dependent on how deep and wide your hole is and how high you fill it with black powder. The large puff of smoke from ignition is unmistakable and seeing a sturdy 2x4 obliterated has a satisfaction all its own. I'll definitely try different shapes of combustion chambers and maybe add some fireworks chemicals in the future to create a pleasing display.

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