blazing bullet with black background

Can Bullets Ricochet Off Steel Targets?

When it comes to firearms training or recreational shooting, safety should always be a top priority. One common concern that arises among shooters is the potential for bullets to ricochet off steel targets. This concern stems from the belief that steel targets, due to their hardness, may cause bullets to bounce back uncontrollably, posing a serious risk to the shooter and those in the vicinity.

In this blog, we aim to delve into the reality behind this myth and separate fact from fiction. Let's dive right in. 

What Is Bullet Ricochet?

 smoky bullet

Credit: Envato Elements/ orcearo

Before getting started with this blog, it's crucial to understand what we mean by a ricochet. In the context of firearms, a bullet ricochet occurs when a projectile, instead of being absorbed or embedded into a surface upon impact, deflects or bounces off in an unintended direction. This sudden change in trajectory can pose serious safety risks for both the shooter and any bystanders in the vicinity.

Can Bullets Ricochet Off Steel Targets?


bullet flying towards target
Credit: Антон Фрунзе -

Ricochets can occur off many different surfaces, including water and rock, but for the purpose of this blog, we're interested in steel targets. These types of targets are built to withstand the high-speed impact of bullets. However, their toughness also means they can sometimes cause bullets to ricochet. So, yes, bullets can ricochet off steel targets.

What Makes Ricochet More Likely?

Ricochet risks aren't present in all shooting scenarios. They tend to increase under specific conditions. Here are some primary factors that can escalate the potential of bullet ricochet when shooting steel targets:

1) Target Material and Hardness


targets far away
Credit: Envato Elements/ MargJohnsonVA

The first and most critical factor is the hardness of the steel target. Ideally, steel targets are designed to withstand bullet impacts and effectively neutralize the bullet upon collision. However, this is typically true only for hardened steel targets.

Soft steel targets, although more economical, tend to degrade rapidly and can eventually become a safety concern. These targets lack the necessary hardness to shatter the bullet upon impact, which increases the likelihood of facilitating a ricochet instead of preventing it.

2) Bullet Design


bullet on ground
Credit: Envato Elements/ Bykfa

The type of bullet used can also significantly affect the likelihood of ricochet. For example, bullets with a steel core are more prone to ricochet because of their inherent rigid nature. This rigidity, while beneficial in terms of penetration power and longevity, reduces the likelihood of deformation when the bullet strikes a target.

Deformation, or the flattening and spreading of a bullet upon impact, often serves as a natural mechanism to lower ricochet risks. However, steel-core bullets, due to their sturdy composition, do not deform as readily, making them more likely to bounce back or deflect when hitting hard surfaces like steel targets.

3) Impact Angle


man shooting gun

Credit: Envato Elements/ orcearo

The angle at which a bullet hits a target also plays a significant role in whether it will ricochet. For instance, if you hang steel targets at an upward angle, this could have unintended consequences. The bullet can bounce off the tilted surface, ricocheting in a direction that is hard to predict. In some cases, this might mean the bullet ends up heading toward the shooter or even innocent bystanders.

Effective Strategies to Reduce the Risk of Ricochet

Bullet ricochets, while a natural outcome in shooting, are not inevitable. With an understanding of the factors contributing to ricochet risk, shooters can take steps to mitigate potential dangers. Here are a few effective strategies to reduce ricochet risks when using steel targets:

1) Position Your Targets at a Downward Angle


man shooting at target
Credit: Envato Elements/ Tonefotografia


Angling your steel targets slightly downward can drastically minimize ricochet risk. This simple trick helps ensures that when you shoot steel targets, any potential ricochet is directed toward the ground, away from the shooter and spectators. You can use steel target hangers or target mounting brackets to help achieve this optimal angle.

2) Choose the Right Bullets


bullets in case

Credit: Envato Elements/ akophotography

As we discussed earlier, the type of bullet you use can have a big impact on ricochet risk. So, consider choosing bullets with softer cores (like lead) for a safer shooting experience with steel targets.

3) Use High-Quality Steel Targets


steel target with bullet marks

Credit: iStockphoto 

The quality of the steel targets you use can also affect ricochet risk. It is strongly advised to avoid lower-quality, soft steel targets and instead opt for a high-quality hardened steel target design. These targets are typically constructed with smooth, flat surfaces and angled edges, which help guide any potential ricochets away from the shooter and individuals nearby.

When selecting steel targets, it is important to consider the specific type of shooting practice. For pistol shooting, AR500 steel targets are generally acceptable. However, for rifle practice, it is recommended to choose AR550 plates. These heavier plates are specifically designed to withstand rifle shots, ensuring longer durability and minimizing the risk of significant pitting or damage.

4) Consider Using Reactive Steel Targets


reactive steel target

Credit: Mr Target

Reactive steel targets offer a unique feature in shooting practice—they move or tilt upon being hit. This reactive movement serves a dual purpose: not only does it provide instant feedback to the shooter, but it also adds an extra layer of safety by directing any potential ricochet toward the ground.

5) Use Bullet Traps for Indoor Ranges


bullet traps
Credit: Action Target

When shooting at indoor ranges, where space is more limited, using sand-filled bullet traps can be a good idea. These traps are designed to capture bullets upon impact, preventing them from ricocheting.


Understanding bullet ricochet and how to minimize its risks is an important part of shooting safety. Whether you're a novice shooter or a seasoned marksman, applying the knowledge and precautions outlined in this guide will help to ensure that your target practice sessions are both enjoyable and safe. So next time you head out for some target practice, remember these tips - they could make all the difference!

While we're on the topic of shooting targets, are you in search of quality paper targets for your shooting practice? Check out EasyShot shooting targets. Our paper shooting targets are not designed of superior quality but also allow for easy visibility, providing you with instant feedback on your shooting skills. Shop with us today.

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