Monday, February 24, 2014

Build a Steel Gong Target for Rifle Plinking

Update 6/11/15: if the State Department gets their way, this post will be illegal.
I'm not taking it down.  They will have to make me.
Like the 3rd segment of almost every A-Team episode, this is the time on "The Backwoods Engineer" when we build stuff.

Let's build fun stuff to shoot at the range!

I got a great idea for a steel rifle target from my shooting buddy Nick S.  When I saw his "gong" target at the range last month, I knew I had to build one.  You should, too.

Buy this Portable Saw Horse from Lowe's Home Improvement:

... and drill a couple 1/2" holes in the top near the ends, put some 1/2" bolts through there, and on the underside, put double clevises on each of the bolts, for attaching the steel chains for the target plate.  Or, drill two holes on each end of the sawhorse, and use U-bolt-type chainplates like the ones used on boats.

Cut (or have cut at the hardware store) two 18" long steel chains, using at least 3/8" thick and
preferably 1/2" thick chain.  Attach these two short chains to the clevises or U-bolts, so they hang down.

If you don't want to fool with all finding all that hardware, the same guy (ShootingTargets7) on Amazon who sells the steel gong targets (see below) sells a mounting kit  that includes chains.  But them chains look mighty weak to me.  I put 1/2" chain from the hardware store on mine.

Now, using 1/2" bolts, lockwashers, and nuts, attach one of these AR-500 steel "gong" target plates to the two chains:

Be sure to use extra-long bolts, as in the mounting kit, on the plate, so that it angles downward like this:

Mounting (thanks ShootingTargets7)

From "The Home Schooled Shootist"
This is an 8" diameter plate, 1/2" thick.  It is approximately 8 MOA at 100 yards.  As a member of the unorganized milita, this is good for your training with your battle rifle.   In The Home Schooled Shootist, shooting instructor and government tough-guy Joe Nobody teaches the ability to hit a US-standard 8-1/2" by 11" paper, as a representation of the vital areas in the human torso.  This plate is slightly narrower and a few inches shorter in the vertical dimension.  So, if you can hit this plate consistently, then you should be able to make consistent vital-area hits on a man at that distance.   Well, plus or minus the difference between fighting for your life, and plinking a steel gong on a straight range.

You really, really want a good laser-cut AR-500 (armor-plate) steel "gong" target.  Not "flame-cut"; that weakens the hardness of the steel on the edges.  That "500" number is the Brinell (indentation) hardness, and is an indicator of how well the plate repels rifle bullets. The "gong" I used is only $46 from Amazon, and I paid $8 shipping (YMMV).

If you get soft steel, or flame-cut AR-500, you may find that your target plate is bullet-degradable.   (Get good chain, too.  It is bullet-degradable, as well.)   For more on the steel required for these targets, check out Action Target's bulletin.

I can tell that the plates linked above really are the hard armor-plate steel.  I have shot at least 3 magazines (90 rounds) of 55gr FMJ into mine from 100 yards so far, and only surface pitting from the 5.56 mm rounds is evident.  

This is an inexpensive but effective gong target system.  I have spent $54 total for the gong, $30 plus tax for the sawhorse, and about $15 for the chain, bolts, etc.  That's a total of about $100.  Similar targets (that do a little more, admittedly) from Action Target go for over $300.  I can build 3 of these targets for that.  Caldwell has a gong target with stand, but that thing looks flimsy compared to the sawhorse.

The one I built isn't that heavy, either.    The whole thing weighs around 50 lb, I'd estimate.  Not too hard for an old out-of-shape hillbilly like me to tote 100 yards to the berm at the range.

Here's a picture of mine after being shot a while with my AR-15 and my Ruger 10/22:

The only real problem I had was that if I shot regularly, like every few seconds, I could build up enough "swing" to cause the whole target to fall over, like this:

I guess I will have to get some kind of spikes and attach them to the legs.   The legs are extensible, but making them longer seems to make the whole thing a little less stable.

Let me know in the comments if y'all build one of these.


  1. Mark here with ShootingTargets7 just wanted to give you a shout out and thanks for showing off my products.
    Looks like a nice target stand you have there!

  2. Thanks Mark! I plan to make some more, and of course I will document them here at the blog. You have a great product there.

  3. Update 9/1/14: over 1,000 rounds and counting. The only thing I've seen so far that has put a divot in AR500 target is the .22-250 varmint round at 70 yards. That tore a chunk of steel out, but did not go through.

  4. i'm making one out of a metal saw horse right now I will let you know how they work out. My saw horses were on sale for $9.99 each bringing my cost way down

  5. Hiys, Backwoods Engineer.......Any reason for downwards deflection of gong besides simple safety?

  6. Rollin -- yes, it's about safety. With a downward angle, most of the bullet fragments hit the ground, instead of coming back at you.

  7. Update 3/19/15: over 2,000 rounds and still plinking! I've been through 3 sets of chains, and two sets of bolts now, but the AR-500 plate is still good to go!

  8. Late to the party as usual!
    I like gongs. I visited a friend whose club's range had gongs. I shot the gongs better at 200 yards than I shot paper at 100, and it helped me in that fall's CMP regional games.
    Are you using soft points? If not, how chewed up is the gong?

    1. Hi Windy,
      I use cheap practice ammo (FMJ, jacketed, 55gr) and sometimes M855. The gong is not "chewed up" at all except on the surface. And I now have over 3,000 rounds into it, and still going!

    2. Thanks for the tutorial! I just built one and will be testing this out tomorrow with some 223 and 22lr. Total cost including gong was about $70.

    3. Thanks, Ariel! Glad you built one, and hope you enjoy it. Mine is still going strong, over two years later.