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Reactive Targets

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Ready for a more engaging, more exciting time at the range? Put away the paper.

Sure, when you want to zero a rifle, or work on drills with a pistol, paper targets are useful. Paper has its place within any training regimen, as well as the shooting sports. However, when it comes down to the pure thrill of seeing and/or hearing your target react to a solid hit, paper just doesn’t compare to a reactive target.

There are many different types of reactive targets, suitable for all manner of firearms from pistols, to rifles, to shotguns, and even airifles, airsoft, or laser trainers.

Man-shaped torso metal reactive shooting target

One thing all reactive targets have in common is that they move or give off some other indication of a hit. They react with each successful shot. In general, there are two types of reactive targets. Static targets don’t necessarily move, but may give some other indication of a hit such as a noise or light flash. Dynamic targets are those that move, with some spinning, some falling, and some just jumping around.

Static Targets

Metal targets hold a special place in my heart. There’s nothing quite like the sound of lead ringing a 10-inch plate of AR500 steel. Steel targets can be static in that they don’t have parts that move, unless hung by rope, chains or some other method. These static targets are still reactive in that they ring—a loud “gong” sound—with every solid hit.

Steel reactive targets come in a number of forms. The most common is the static gong-style target. These are often hung from a stand or mounted on a pole attached to a ground stand. They don’t move much; only swing back and forth a bit. However, they produce a resounding ringing noise when hit solidly. Even from a distance approaching 1,000-yards, it is fairly easy to hear the distinct sound of a hit.

Dynamic Targets

Next are the dynamic metal targets. Spinners, swingers, falling plates, dueling pistol trees, even reactive hostage targets that  make up this category. Breaking it out further, we get into automatic resetting targets, and those that must be manually reset. Spinners, swingers, and dueling pistol trees are also considered automatic resetting targets. Using either gravity or the force of the bullet impact, these targets return to a position where they are ready for targeting once again.

Back of reactive metal shooting target

The technology of resetting targets has come a long way. MOA Targets, for example, has a steel target called the Mozambique in the shape of a torso with a reactive center plate and a reactive head plate. A solid hit on the head fells the plate. Resseting the head plate is accomplished by a solid hit on the reactive center torso plate. Other designs use springs or weights that automatically return the plate to its default position.

I’ve used a number of reactive targets over the years. One of my favorites is the bouncing tumbling sort such as Do All Outdoor’s “Hot Box” target. Each hit on the target causes it to bounce and tumble erratically. It’s great practice for those wanting to improve their first shot hit probability because it requires the shooter to reacquire the target and calculate an accurate range to ensure a hit on the next shot. Of course, there are others that don’t move so much, such as Champion’s DuraSeal wobbler target. To say these self-healing targets are durable is quite the understatement. I’ve hit my own Hot Box target with everything from .44 Magnum wadcutters to .50 BMG API. Granted, it showed some significant wear and tear from the .50 BMG rounds, but afterward, it was still in one piece and remains usable a number of years later.

For training at home, reactive targets provide a welcome relief from hours of monotonous dry-fire drills. Laserlyte laser training inserts and laser pistols, when paired with their laser-sensitive reactive targets, breathe new life and bring excitement back into your daily training routine.

Sporting Clays

Of course the most common type of reactive target, one which very few people even consider when thinking of reactive targets, areclays.

Shotgun shooters who compete in skeet, trap, or sporting clays are intimately familiar with the speedy little orange disks. Like other reactive targets, there is a distinct sense of satisfaction watching your shot turn a clay target into a blooming cloud of orange dust. Clay targets aren’t solely limited in their use to shotguns however.

Place a dozen or so clays against your berm, or set them in clay target holders and you can engage them with a pistol or rifle.

Metal target hit with a .50 BMG round


Let’s talk about safety for a brief minute. Almost every reactive target, especially metal ones, are designed for use only with specific loads out from specific types of firearms at specific ranges of distance.

Using, for example, a pistol-rated target with a rifle can permanently damage the target. Worse yet, using a target designed for use with a rifle or pistol, at a range that is too close to the shooter, can result in splash-back or a ricochet that is capable of seriously injuring or even killing the shooter or someone at the firing line. For this reason, it is important to know and understand the limitations and safety guidelines developed for your reactive target—especially metal targets.


Not all ranges allow reactive targets. Even more disallow metal targets. If this is the case, and you don’t have access to a range that allows reactive targets or static steel targets, there is another option. A number of companies have begun using reactive paper targets.

Most shooters are familiar with the Dirty Bird brand of paper targets that produce a nice splatter pattern around each hit. Birchwood Casey also has a line of zombie targets that “bleed” with each hit.

Spice up your training or make your time at the range more engaging and exciting with a reactive target. If you’re taking a new shooter to the range, I highly recommend reactive targets. The feedback is instantaneous. There’s no need to walk to check the target or pore over a spotting scope to see if you have a hit. There’s not much that beats the thrill you get when seeing your target instantly react to a solid hit, and sometimes that’s all it takes to bring that new-shooter grin to the face of someone just discovering the joy of shooting.

Which type of reactive target is your favorite? Tell us in the comment section.

Daniel Scott is a long-time firearms enthusiast, hunter, collector, and has worked at various times as a firearm expert, hunting guide, as well as an executive protection officer (bodyguard). He has been a regular columnist at Western Shooting Journal and published in American Shooting Journal, GunUp the Magazine, and online including AmongTheLeaves.com where he blogs regularly. Daniel makes his home in Fort Worth with his wife and four dogs.

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