How Steel Targets are Made! (D-M Targets Factory Tour)

Ever wonder how steel targets are made? Seth Gardner, owner of D-M Targets, walks us through the process!


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About Steel Targets

Above: Seth Gardner, Owner, D-M Targets

Gardner explained that he thinks of steel targets as a system. It’s not just the shape and steel you hit, but also the hanger and how targets are transported. It’s also important to factor in affordability. As a precision rifle competitor and avid shooter, Gardner has seen first hand the failure points of many targets and used them to improve his targets. He explained target geometry is critical as are the hanging system, welds, and weld location. 

The key parts of the steel target are the target and target design, target material and thickness and hanger and hanging system. You want the target to stay on, be reactive, loud, and fun to shoot at. 

Designing Steel Targets with Seth Gardner

When Gardner first visited Ultimate Reloader, I consulted him about chain targets. I soon learned these are more prone to failure than other hanging methods are. D-M targets offers two hanging methods, the traditional hook and key hook.  With both of these, there is mechanical separation between the target and the hanger which assists with energy dissipation for longer target life and better acoustics.

Seth Gardner Welding an AR500 Steel Target Hanger

When steel targets are hung rigidly without much room to move, it is harder to tell if and where you hit the target. The hanger and target also absorb all of the energy extremely quickly which can be damaging over time. 

The Centerfire Target Process 

While DM-Targets manufactures a variety of targets, I specifically asked Gardner to explain the process behind building a centerfire target. The first step when working with a new shape, like a rock chuck, is to draw it in CAD. He’ll then play with a few different versions of it, consulting pictures and converting them to silhouettes. Once he has a shape he’s happy with, he’ll look for the center of gravity and fine tune the hanging system for reliability, reactivity, and acoustics. 

Once the drawing is complete, he’ll cut the shape and test it. Most targets are extremely similar, so not much fine tuning needs to be done, but occasionally he’ll adjust the mounting location. 

Plasma Cutter, Cutting an AR500 Steel Target

All D-M Targets are made out of AR500 steel. The reasons for this could be covered at length. Gardner explained target thickness depends on the use case. Small targets are  generally thicker to help with longevity – the larger the mass, the more energy the target will be able to withstand. More mass in the right places also helps with reactivity. Small targets tend to react more violently and you don’t want it to dance around in circles. The most common thickness is ⅜”. 

D-M Targets starts with 4’ x 8’ sheets of steel. They use a forklift to place them on the ShopSaver CNC which uses a water-bath plasma. It cools the steel as it’s being cut and helps cut down on fumes. 

Selecting AR500 Steel

The number of targets cut at a time varies. It depends on the inventory and customer order. Gardner isn’t afraid to cut ¼ or ½ sheets, but he prefers to cut full sheets, especially for hangers. He’ll also often fill dead space on target sheets with hangers.

After cutting, he lets the small targets air dry before he tumbles them. With larger targets, they cut down sharp edges with a grinder. 

Finishing a Steel Target

Another consideration is shipping. Gardner said there was a huge learning curve in learning to ship heavy things across the country internationally. D-M Targets works hard to keep prices in check, which allows them to offer free shipping over $200. 


D-M Targets is a family-owned business which sources its steel from the U.S. They are also a part of the shooting community, so they use their own products and work with match directors to solve problems. 

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Order a variety of steel targets from D-M Targets!

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