Ultimate Guide to Shooting Targets

Michael R Crites


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shooting targets - cover

Zig Ziglar famously said, “if you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” While he wasn’t speaking directly about shooting, it still applies. A day at the range would be terribly dangerous, boring, and unproductive if you were not aiming at — and consistently hitting — a target. 

Every shooter should have several shooting targets on hand, and it doesn’t hurt to have a variety of different styles of targets to keep your skills sharp regardless of your firearm of choice. Luckily we’re here to help you choose the best targets for your situation — whether splatterburst targets or precision shooting training, we have you covered.

In This Article:

Shooting Target Comparison

Below is my list of the best shooting targets for 2021. I list the best choices in terms of value, performance, design, and cost.

Click on the name to head to the product page, read reviews and check prices or skip ahead to the list of shooting targets.

Caldwell Sight in Target 16” Black and Orange (10 Pack)Best Sight-In Target
Caldwell Orange Peel Sight-in Target (5 Pack) Best Splatterburst Targets
Caldwell Silhouette Dual Zone Target (8 Pack)Best Silhouette Target
Thompson Target Life Size Deer Vital Organs (5 Pack)Best Vitals Target
Daisy Shatterblast 2” Disk Targets (60 Count)Best Air Rifle & Rimfire Targets
White Flyer Biodegradable Clay Targets (180 Count)Best Clay Targets
Shoot Steel ¼” AR400 Economy Static PopperBest Steel Popper
Shoot Steel ⅜” AR550 Static BundleBest Static Bundle
Shoot Steel ½” AR550 Gong BundleBest Steel Gong Bundle
Shoot Steel ½” AR550 Modular Target System
Best Modular Target System
Shoot Steel Dueling TreeBest Duelign Tree
Shoot Steel ⅜” AR500 Texas StarBest Texas Star
Champion DuraSeal Bowling Pin Wobble TargetBest Self-Healing Target
Caldwell Duramax Self Healing TargetsAlso Great
Sonic Boom Exploding TargetsBest Binary Target

Why listen to us?

When I began shooting my BB gun as a kid, I shot at paper and cans, but as I graduated to the larger guns, I discovered the variety of targets, and now I own and use many of the products listed below.

My target choice comes down to my shooting goals for the day (more on this later). I’ve wasted money on targets before, and I don’t want you to have that same feeling of getting duped that I had; that’s why I would buy (if I haven’t already) all the products on this list.

Shooting Target Reviews

1. Caldwell Sight in Target 16” Black and Orange

Caldwell’s product line focuses on range shooters. They manufacture several different target styles to suit the variety of shooting needs you may have on any given day.

Everyone needs paper targets to sight in their firearm. The black and orange contrast on Caldwell’s Sight In Target is ideal for both rifles and pistols — shooting indoors or out. The 1-inch grid line and numbers along the edge give you an idea of how much you need to adjust your sights or scope, helping speed the process of zeroing your firearm.

The multiple shooting zones mean you can keep shooting this target after zeroing in your firearm, which adds to its utility and saves you money.

If you own a firearm that needs to be sighted in, you need this bullseye target because it makes sighting in your gun that much faster.

2. Caldwell Orange Peel Sight-in Target

Few things are as satisfying as prepping a new target.

Caldwell also makes peel and stick targets, another spectacular option for sighting your firearms.

The smartly-named “Orange Peel” (ha) Sight-in Target may not offer any olfactory scratch-and-sniff satisfaction, but it will stick to virtually any surface so you can sight your gun in without worrying if your target is going to fall off and blow away.

You can purchase these targets in a variety of sizes and quantities so buy ‘em cheap and stack ‘em deep, as the say.

The best feature is the dual-color flake-off technology. Unlike traditional paper targets, these high visibility splatter targets allow you to easily see the point of impact with bright, contrasting bullet holes. The colors also change from white to neon yellow, depending on where you hit the target. White is a hit in the bullseye or outside of the target, yellow is a target hit.

If you’re having trouble finding where your bullet hit the target while sighting in your gun, then the Caldwell Orange Peel Sight-in targets are for you. I love using these targets when shooting at the range because I can quickly find my shot.

3. Caldwell Silhouette Dual Zone Target

Another paper target Caldwell makes is their silhouette targets.

The Caldwell Silhouette Dual Zone Target is excellent for practicing defensive shooting or law enforcement officer training. While it’s designed for defensive skill development rather than sighting in a gun, it still can be used for that purpose in a pinch.

The high visibility flake-off technology allows you to see where your bullet struck the target so you can quickly adjust. The Center mass is marked, and the target is 12” by 18”, which makes a tremendous defensive shooting target.

If you conceal carry or own a firearm for home defense, then the Caldwell dual-zone silhouette is a target you should own.

4. Thompson Target Life Size Deer Vital Organs

Life Size Deer Vital Organ Sight in - Paper Hunting & Shooting Targets (18"x25", 5 Pack)
  • Anatomically correct life-size deer profile with skeletal structure & vital organs
  • Double lung aim point has been proven to be the most effective for taking down big game
  • Excellent targets for sighting in your slug gun

Thompson Target specializes in, as you might imagine, targets. They offer targets for all aspects of shooting — ranging from sighting in a firearm to hunting and self-defense training. If you need a paper target, Thompson Targets makes one that’ll fit your needs.

The Life-Size Deer Vital target is designed for the deer hunter who wants to practice shot placement before entering the woods to make a clean, ethical shot while hunting.

The vitals are both anatomically correct and clearly marked, providing the hunter with a target for the most ethical shot. The target’s 1-inch grid can also be used to sight your scope for hunting season, helping this target serve double duty.

If you’re a deer hunter, it never hurts to practice ethical kill shots by familiarizing yourself with target anatomy, and this target gives you the best of both worlds. Even if deer aren’t your preferred prey, Thompson Targets offers other hunting targets that give you the same dual benefits of anatomic familiarity & sight-in grids.

5. Daisy Shatterblast 2” Disk Targets

Daisy Shatterblast Breakable Refill Target 2" Disks (60 Pack), Hunter Orange
  • Daisy's ShatterBlast Breakable targets are interactive hunter orange, biodegradable and non-toxic
  • The 2" diameter targets are 1/8" thick and shatter when you shoot 'em with BB guns and pellet rifles
  • For use with a ShatterBlast Target Holder or Sixshooter target system sold separetly

For many years, Daisy has been a staple in the BB gun and air rifle market and are well known for their low-barrier to introductory shooting.

These targets are an excellent way to get newcomers excited about shooting because they can see the target break when they hit their mark. These are stationary targets, far too small to be thrown, and offer an interactive shooting experience for air and rimfire-caliber firearms.

The Shatterblast targets are designed for BB guns and air rifles, but small calibers like .22LR can also be used — just avoid shooting the target holder.

If you plan to introduce anyone to the sport of shooting, then the Daisy ShatterBlast Clay Targets are an ideal choice.

6. White Flyer Biodegradable Clay Targets

White Flyer is one of the most recognizable names in clay targets. They’ve made their White Flyer targets in the USA since 1892 — when Benjamin Harrison held the highest office in the land.

Used with shotguns for safety reasons, clay pigeons mimic birds flying through the air or rabbits running along the ground. Trapshooting with clay pigeons, in turn, helps you sharpen your small game hunting skills.

White Flyer clay targets shatter when hit and are biodegradable, which means you don’t have to worry about picking up every little piece of clay after you’re finished shooting.

White Flyer Clay targets are perfect for trap shooters and small game hunters who need to practice on the cheap.

7. Shoot Steel ¼” AR400 Economy Static Popper

Shoot Steel offers a wide selection of highly durable metal targets to provide hours of fun at the gun range. Their targets will suit multiple calibers depending on the metal you choose.

This popper style of steel target is a lot of fun to shoot because it makes sound and moves when your bullet connects. It’s also inexpensive compared to other steel targets and incredibly easily set up — you just stick it in the ground and start plinking away.

The ¼” AR400 Static Popper is designed for handgun calibers up to .45 ACP. It does not offer the extremely durable performance of higher-rated steel that can handle magnum or rifle calibers.

This target is ideal for handgun competition shooters and anyone looking to add a small-caliber steel target to their shooting range.

8. Shoot Steel ⅜” AR550 Static Bundle

Steel targets are incredibly durable and can last years.

Shoot Steel is a reputable manufacturer that not only offers individual targets, but you can purchase a bundle of steel targets to expand your range target variety quickly.

This static target bundle is great if you want to buy multiple targets. Steel targets are expensive because they last forever and are heavy to ship, but they become much more affordable when you bundle them. Static targets do not move when the bullet strikes unless suspended.

The AR550 steel used for these targets can handle any handgun caliber and short action rifle calibers up to a .308 Win or a 6.5 Creedmoor. The bundle is targets-only — it does not include mounting hardware or stands — so be sure to plan for mounting & hardware purchases separately. The good news is that these are cut to mount with a simple 1/2” carriage bolt, so mounts can be as cheap as a bolt and a few 2x4s.

If you’re looking to add several static targets to your range without breaking the bank, The Shoot Steel ⅜” AR500 Static Bundle is the option for you.

9. Shoot Steel ½” AR550 Gong Bundle

shooting targets - painted gong
The "ping" of hitting a steel gong is one of the great pleasures in life.

Shoot steel offers a bundle in their ⅜” and heavier ½” AR550 gong targets. Their target options are CNC laser cut to keep from weakening the metal, which holds up to years of fun. The gongs move and make that classic “gong” noise when they are struck, even from long distances, making them very fun to shoot.

Like the above static bundle, the ½” gong bundle includes the targets but no mounting hardware. The five-piece bundle gives you a single 8” gong and three 4” gongs, so you get some variety in the bunch and their ½” AR550 steel construction will hold up to nearly any caliber you can get your hands on.

The gong bundle is the best option for the shooters looking to add a little movement and sound to the range.

10. Shoot Steel ½” AR550 Modular Target System

Shoot Steel created a unique steel target with their Modular Target System. It’s super simple to set up — with no welding, steel posts, or chains involved.

The ½” AR550 15.6” x 30” steel target is designed for any caliber you own up to .300 Win Mag for short (100 yards) and long-range shooting. The heavy-duty build is sure to last multiple lifetimes of shooting — this is one your kids will fight over when you’re gone.

The unique design means you don’t need any tools to assemble the target, which literally takes seconds. The base will withstand a direct hit, and you can position the target at different angles to compensate for terrain or distance. The target and base will lay flat for easy storage when finished shooting.

11. Shoot Steel Dueling Tree

Shoot Steel introduces their take on an old favorite, the dueling tree. This is one of my favorite targets to shoot because I’m competitive and enjoy the idea of trying to outshoot someone.

The Dueling Tree takes shooting to another level of fun by incorporating a game. Two shooters can safely square off and see which one is the quickest and most accurate with this target.

Shoot Steel designed their dueling tree to be as portable as possible while maintaining the necessary heavy-duty build to handle rifle calibers. They claim the targets won’t get hung up when an indirect hit occurs, unlike other brands of dueling trees.

As a competitive person who enjoys shooting with my friends and family, I highly recommend this product to anyone for hours of friendly competition and fun.

12. Shoot Steel ⅜” AR500 Texas Star

Shoot Steel has another of my favorite styles of targets, the Texas Star. They spent two years designing this target to ensure it delivers on their promise of being the most rugged, portable, practical, and functional Texas Star on the market.

The Texas Star hones your ability to shoot at moving targets while staying in one location, making it, in my opinion, the ultimate target. Once the first target is hit, it falls off, creating a weight imbalance which spins the star on the central axis. As you knock other targets off the star it jump left or right, making for a very active target until all targets are knocked off.

While it sounds easy in theory, it takes a lot of practice to master.

The 8” targets are constructed of ⅜” AR500 steel and can handle a wide variety of calibers. The tension spring that holds the targets onto the star can be adjusted to better suit the caliber you are shooting.

I recommend this to any shooter looking to increase both the fun and difficulty of shooting steel targets.

13. Champion DuraSeal Bowling Pin Wobble Target

Champion Duraseal Bowling Pin Wobble Target
  • Re-active, wobble-and-bobble design returns upright after being shot
  • DuraSeal material handles hundreds of rounds yet still keeps its shape
  • Easy-to-see white bowling pin shape with red base

Champion offers targets and shooting accessories at an affordable price. Their wide variety of products ensures they are sure to have everything you need for a day at the range.

This bowling pin reactive target is fun to shoot because it moves when you hit it. The bowling pin wobble design eliminates wasting time walking downrange to reset the target or bring it back closer like you will with rolling targets — plus the 3-D construction means you can shoot at it from any angle.

The DuraSeal technology allows the material to “self-heal” so you can shoot it with hundreds of rounds and notice a minimal change to the shape.

If you’re looking for a reactive target but uninterested in dropping considerable coin on a steel target, the Champion DuraSeal Bowling Pin Wobble target will give you hours of enjoyment.

14. Caldwell Duramax Self Healing Targets

Caldwell offers self-healing targets alongside their line of paper and steel options. These can be shot thousands of times using any caliber from a .22lr to a 50 BMG.

You won’t find a better target for the price; the ability to be repeatedly shot and still be used makes self-healing targets the most economically friendly target on the market. Not only are they inexpensive, but also highly visible, exciting to shoot and watch jump and roll downrange.

The Duramax Self Healing Targets is built for use with pistols or rifles and are available in both box or ball-shapes. As they are reactive targets, each hit will prompt them to move downrange when your bullet connects, so you will have to stop at some point and move them back closer to keep shooting.

Less designed for sighting in a forearm, but more more for fun range time, these targets are an excellent addition to any shooter’s collection. They won’t break the bank, and they’ll last for thousands of rounds.

15. Sonic Boom Exploding Targets

Sonic Boom manufactures binary targets, which explode when shot with a sufficiently powerful projectile. They offer ½ lb, 1 lb, and 2 lb jars of exploding targets.

If you like your guns loud, then you will love binary targets. Not only do you have the initial boom of the gun going off, but you get the secondary boom from the exploding target.

Sonic Boom produces stable chemicals, even after mixing them, in an easy-to-see fluorescent orange jar. You must be more than 50 yards away and use at least a 40-grain rifle round that moves at more than 2,200 fps. Sorry pistol fans — pistol ammo will not initiate the explosion.

If you own or have access to land outside city limits and it is legal in your state, binary targets are a fun way to cap off a day of shooting. Be sure to check your local and state laws before you purchase (and maybe give your neighbors a heads up if they have pups that get spooked.)

Shooting Target Materials

Targets can be constructed from several different materials, each with its own pros and cons, which we discuss below.

Paper Targets

Glock 22 Target
Paper targets often have adhesive backing to allow you to stick them to whatever your heart desires.

Paper targets are the cheapest targets, and are best for sighting your guns and comparing accurate with other shooters.

However, they have a few shortcomings. Paper shooting targets are not reusable. Nor do they offer much feedback if the bullet has struck them. Some paper targets will turn a different color, but most require looking for the hole, which can be a challenge at a distance.

Paper targets come in all shapes and sizes with different prints and layouts depending on your shooting goals and needs, and shooting paper targets are viable with any caliber you own.

Clay Targets

Clay targets are relatively inexpensive, depending on all the same factors that impact ammo prices and where you buy them. They are used for competitive trap shooting and practicing for small game hunting.

While priamrilly useful for shotgunning practice, there are smaller clays designed for use with BB gun, air rifle, or rimfire rifle. Both types of clays shatter once they’ve been shot, so they’re one and done.

Shotgunning clay pigeons are standard sized, which means they’ll fit any thrower on the market.

Steel/Metal Targets

shooting targets - range set up
Steel targets have such a variety that they make for great range setups to vary distance, size, and difficulty.

Steel targets are the most expensive kind of target, but you can shoot these targets over and over again. If you buy a quality metal target, you’ll likely never have to replace it. You will, however, want to buy more to add variety to the targets at your range, and possibly grab some spray paint to reset the color once you blast if off after a few hundred rounds.

The biggest shortcomings of steel targets are that they are not designed for sighting in a gun and cause the bullet to spall & splatter. They need to be mounted properly and shot from the appropriate distanaces to prevent hurting yourself or someone else. They are also, you know, heavy.

Steel used on targets is rated on the Brinell hardness scale, which ranks the material’s hardness, expressed in the number which follows the AR in the steel’s rating “e.g. AR400” — the higher the number the harder the material.

AR, as it relates to steel hardness, stands for “Abrasion Resistant” which means they’re through hardened, meaning the steel is as hard in the center as it is at the surface. This is critical as a product which is only surface hardened does not provide the required ballistic durability to last for hundreds or thousands of rounds without deforming, and nobody wants a 2,500 fps projective ricocheting back at them off a malformed steel target.

Metal targets offer the widest variety of shapes and sizes, and multiple scientific range studies have found they also happen to be most fun to shoot.

Polymer Targets

Polymer targets offer the best value — they can be shot thousands of times and are relatively inexpensive.

Self-healing targets are often reactive, which means they move, wobble, or jump when a bullet strikes them. This feature makes them highly entertaining to shoot, but it also means they are not suitable for sighting in a firearm and they may need to be reset into position once they’ve reached the end of your available shooting lane.

Binary Targets

What is Tannerite - open container
Binary targets are both expensive and exciting. They may only last for a single shot, but it's quite the show.

Binary or exploding targets are the most expensive targets per use. They are also the most exciting. When a projectile traveling fast enough strikes the target, it initiates the chemical reaction that causes an explosion. Therefore, they are only good to shoot once, but it’s quite a trick.

Binary targets are dangerous, so you must stand at least 50 yards away, preferably farther, to avoid injury.

Shooting Target Styles

To coincide with the various materials available, there are also different types of targets.

Accuracy Targets

Accuracy targets or bullseye targets are typically paper and allow the shooter to see how tight they can get a group of shots relative to a particularly-sized bullseye.

They generally use circles or diamonds that form the bullseye and help the shoot better align their shots, so they are best for precision shooting.

Feedback/Dynamic targets

A familiar sight indeed.

Feedback targets move or change color when the bullet strikes. When a round punches through a paper feedback target, it displays a different color to help the shooter place their shot, whereas clay targets shatter. Polymer targets will wiggle or move after being struck, and metal targets will make a loud “gong” and move when you connect.

Dynamic targets are the most fun because you can see the effects of your bullet on the target, but only the paper feedback targets are good for sighting in a firearm.

Static Targets

Static targets are mounted to a post, so they don’t move before or after being shot. They can be paper or steel. Static paper targets are excellent for sighting in a gun, but static steel targets are not — however steel targets can hang on a post or chain for years.

shooting targets - squirrel target
For those interested in sighting in their "minute of squirrel".

Skill-based Targets

Skill-based targets are some of the most fun to shoot. However, the shooter must be proficient with their firearm, or you’re going to have a bad time.

Examples of skill-based targets are the Texas Star and the Dueling Tree. The Texas Star begins with static targets; once the first target is knocked off, the rest spin. That’s when it gets tough, and the shooter must have their timing, reaction, and trigger control down.

The Dueling Tree works best with two shooters trying to knock all the targets on the other shooter’s side. One must be quick and accurate to win.

Why Use Shooting Targets

Whether you have a single, shallow shooting lane or huge areas available, shooting targets are a must for anyone who wants to improve their skills & have fun at the range.

The variety of targets available on the market is largely driven by the number of needs shooteres have — be it to practice, sight in a firearm, or develop skills. Different targets are used for different situations — it all depends on your goals for the day.

If you recently purchased a new rifle and scope, you will want to sight it in, so your shots land where you intend to put them. Sighting in a rifle will require a different target than training with your self-defense handguns. With the former, you would want a paper target with a bullseye, and the latter would be best with a paper or steel silhouette.

While long-distance shooting is fun, you’ll likely not be using the same target as you would if you were at the range with your family for a day of fun target shooting. Long-distance shooting requires a static steel target, whereas target shooting with the family will likely involve reactive steel or polymer targets that keeps things fresh with every shot.

Price Ranges vs. Features

Targets cover a wide range of prices depending on the material, size, and purpose. You can expect to pay as little as a few dollars for a pack of paper shooting targets to well over $1,000 for some steel targets. Let’s dig in a little more.

Under $50

You have many options if your budget is only $50 for targets. You can purchase multiple packs of paper targets, a couple of polymer targets, binary targets, and sometimes you can find clays and static steel poppers for under $50. 

$100 – $500

Now we are entering the average steel target price range. Some companies will offer bundles that cut the cost of individual steel targets. These targets will be static or gong style AR500 or AR550 steel. 

$500- $1,000+

When you pay this much for a target, it better be worth it. The targets in this price range are steel and are dynamic. The Texas Star and the Dueling Tree are the two most common targets in this range.

How We Selected Our Recommendations

I would love the opportunity to spend the day shooting targets for our publication — be it precision shooting or trying my skills at the range. However, it’s not economically feasible. I have shot many very similar targets to the ones recommended above.

Rather than present a never-ending list of all the shooting targets on the planet, we selected those which we felt best represent the price points laid out above — giving you a solid representational list to serve as a jumping-off point for your own research (you are going to do you own research, right?)

For the products I could not test personally, I relied on online reviews and my experience with similar products to make the best decision possible.

We aim for all thriller, no filler, as they say.

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We use years of experience, deep research, and hands-on testing to scrutinize our product recommendations and provide you with as close to objectively accurate results we humans can muster. If you’ve found different results in your own testing, think we missed something important, or otherwise need to adjust our work, please let us know. If it’s noteworthy we’ll consider integrating your feedback into our article. After all, it takes a village. 

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