Steel Plate "Sport" Shooting

By Wally Lucas

I am an avid shooter of numerous pistols and rifles and I have access to a private range in central Wisconsin that allows me to shoot at 225 yards. On some occasions I can shoot 1/4 mile (depending when the crops are harvested). I shoot into a sand berm with an embankment immediately behind it.

For targets I use a variety of heavy gauge steel plates suspended from steel rods attached by free-swinging chains. The targets consist of a 3.5" by 10", 6" by 18", 6" disk, and 12" disk.

I have concerns about using jacketed bullets that might tear up steel targets, and are also very prone to ricochet. Years ago I switched to shooting cast rifle bullets, most of which use gas checks.

I have found it to be most enjoyable to use cast bullets, and the cost per round is much lower than when shooting jacketed bullets, allowing many more shots per dollar. For the past 5 years I have averaged 2,500 rounds per year, which would not be possible if I used jacketed bullets.

Rather than mess with numerous powders I concentrated on using Alliant Unique which can be purchased in 8 pound containers at considerable savings. What's amazing is how accurate the cast bullets and reduced loads are in my rifles. I use stock rifles with no special modifications and scopes that would be considered non-premium.

Following are the calibers (rifles), and loads that I have found to be most accurate and enjoyable to shoot.

.223 Remington (Remington 700 BDL)
55 grain RCBS RNF-GC
8.0 Unique

.22-250 Remington (Remington 700 Varmint Special)
55 grain RCBS RNF-GC
10.0 Unique

.243 Winchester (Remington 700 ADL)
95 grain RCBS RNF-GC
11.0 Unique

7mm Rem. Magnum (Remington 700 BDL)
168 grain RCBS RNF-GC
18.5 Unique

.30-06 Springfield (Remington 700 BDL)
180 grain RCBS RNF-GC
16.5 Unique (military brass)

8 mm Rem. Magnum (Remington 700)
180 grain SAECO RN-GC
19.5 Unique

.378 Weatherby Magnum (Weatherby Mark V)
265 Lyman RNF-GC
29.0 Unique

.444 Marlin (Marlin Model 444)
240 Lyman RN (no GC, sized .431")
17.0 Unique

.45-70 Government (Marlin 1895)
405 Lyman RNF (no GC, sized .460"
16.0 Unique w/filler wad

I use my automobile top as my rest with appropriate Hoppe's shooters bags to cradle the rifles. When doing so, I am standing while firing.

The .243 and the .30-06 are by far the most accurate, with the .22 calibers just slightly less so. On a calm day, when I am concentrating, I can hit the 3.5" plate at 225 yards shot after shot. As the targets are at the north and I am shooting from the south, the sun offers excellent lighting and the sand berm behind the targets allows me to spot the misses. This is important, as I must be both the shooter and spotter. I have found it to be extremely important to know where the bullets are striking.

As cast bullets are moving slower than full-house jacketed bullets, one can easily see the strikes. With full power loads it is almost impossible to see the strike, as by the time you blink the bullet has already impacted. As you know, one must be able to determine where the bullets are striking in order to make adjustments to hit your target. Cast bullet shooting is a bit more challenging that shooting factory loads or equivalent handloads, as the trajectory is not as flat as with regular velocity ammo.

Surprisingly, the three magnums regularly hit the 6" plates at 225 yards with many shoots connecting with the 3.5" plates. I have broken many chains and bolts when they hit the smaller plate "just right". The big bore .444 and the .45-70 hit the 6" plates about 50% of the time, with the .444 being slightly more accurate. When the winds are calm, I can hit the 12" plate with the big bores with every shoot, so often that it becomes boring. With the 6 x 18" and the 12" plates I can "read the plate" and tell where I hit scored by how they swing when hit.

The whole point of this is to shoot a variety of calibers and to hit the plates as often as possible. I have obtained much satisfaction from this type of shooting and feel that many others might as well. The cost is relatively low and the lead bullets are easy on barrels. As I have a nice collection of rifles I feel obligated to fire a few hundred shots (or more) through each of them every year.

I also use drained old oil filters and empty 1 pound propane cylinders, which make wonderful long range plinking targets. (Of course, I do pick then up and dispose of them after the session is over.) Using the .30-06, I have made fallen propane cylinders dance all over the place by carefully placed shots. I am one of those that doesn't do well paper punching, but I enjoy hitting reactive targets.

Back in the 1980's I used to shoot at various sizes of plastic bottles filled with water using full power jacketed ammo. I recall one long shot with the .444 Marlin: a 240 grain JHP bullet connected in the center of a water filled plastic milk jug. It looked as if a bomb had gone off, and that was at 350 yards! I always wear ear protection and I still heard the blast when that jug exploded over 1,000 feet away. These days I don't have the energy to carry and set-up such targets, but the cast bullets on steel plates do very nicely.

By the way, I do not use hard cast bullets, as linotype is almost impossible to find. I use wheel-weight metal. As I cast a bullet I drop it into water and that hardens it sufficiently. The secret to cast rifle bullets is that they must be slightly oversize to the bore of the gun.

I also make by own bullet lube using 50% candle wax and 50% lithium based grease. It is messy to make and has to be done outdoors, but it is just as good as Alox.

Hopefully others will discover this "sport," and I think that many will be amazed how much fun it is to shoot cast bullets at long ranges with their regular rifles.

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Copyright 2004 by Wally Lucas and/or All rights reserved.