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was wandering around the 2016 SHOT Show when I saw the new AR500 Steel Champion Center Mass Targets. These rifle rated targets come in a wide range of sizes, which got me thinking about how I could use them to make a “know your limits” type of target array for recreational shooters. The know your limits concept uses a series of targets, usually arrayed together and growing smaller with each target. In competition the shooter is allowed one shot at each until they miss. The shooter gains points for each target that they hit, but with the first miss all the points are lost. The idea is to “know your limits” and stop while you are still ahead. The targets used in serious competition can be very small and extremely difficult to hit by the end of the series. That’s all well and good for hardcore, experienced long-range shooters with highly tuned skills and equipment. But, for simple, fun recreational shooting it makes sense to make the targets difficult, but not impossible. That way every shooter has fun. My idea here was create a recreational set of targets that can be challenging to experienced shooters and still rewarding to newbies. The Build Making the Rack

The rack for the challenge was made by the author from some 2x4s and Champion steel targets.
The rack for the challenge was made by the author from some 2x4s and Champion steel targets.author photo

I made an eight foot wide rack from 2x4s that I bought locally, using a couple of the Champion 2X4 Tripod brackets.

These brackets will hold an upright in the center and three legs to form a tripod. I made the legs and the uprights all four feet long, so each tripod would require two eight foot 2x4s. I suspect you could get by with smaller legs, but my shooting range is on a slope and I wanted maximum stability, which the four-foot legs supplied.

These Champion 2X4 Tripod brackets make building the rack a cinch.
These Champion 2X4 Tripod brackets make building the rack a cinch.mfg photo

I bolted another eight-foot 2x4 to the uprights. This all breaks down to fit into my truck, and can be assembled in minutes with a couple of wrenches.

Hanging the Steel Targets

I wrapped 18-inch sections of chain around the horizontal 2X4 and bolted them into loops with short bolts and locknuts. This allows me to slide the chains along the horizontal section to position the targets easily.

I mounted the targets to the long hanging ends of the chains using cold-shut chain links. These are open chain links that can be closed with a hammer. I picked them because they were less expensive than other options and I needed several, so I cheaped out.

Hanging the targets took a little creativity and a few trips to the hardware store.
Hanging the targets took a little creativity and a few trips to the hardware store.author photo

But the open chain links didn’t stand up to multiple bullet strikes and we were constantly fixing targets. Before the next range session I will change them out to carriage bolts with locknuts. The targets have a square cut out on each side designed to use carriage bolts.

It’s frustrating to call a cold range and then travel 500 yards to put a target back in place after a bullet opens up the link. That said, this is not a maintenance free type of target. It’s inevitable that the chains will be hit and at times stuff will break. After all, rifles hit very hard, which is half the fun; watching those metal targets dance and sing after a solid hit.

Just bring some tools, a few spare parts and a good attitude.

The author mounted a 66% IPSC target, an 8-inch square, an 8-inch gong, a 33% IPSC target, and a 4-inch gong, which is tiny at any range. All targets are from Champion and measure 3.8-inch thick, plen
The author mounted a 66% IPSC target, an 8-inch square, an 8-inch gong, a 33% IPSC target, and a 4-inch gong, which is tiny at any range. All targets are from Champion and measure 3.8-inch thick, plenty to stand up against rifle strikes.mfg photo

Choosing Targets

Starting on the left, I mounted a 66% IPSC target. Next I used an 8-inch square followed by an 8-inch gong. Then a 33% IPSC target followed by a 4-inch gong, which is tiny at any range. All these are 3/8" thick so they can handle rifle strikes.

To finish out the targets I hung a tennis ball on a braided wire to use as a no-penalty bonus target. A tennis ball measures 2.7 inches in diameter and can withstand multiple bullet strikes. They are less than two bucks each for the cheap brands we buy for our dogs to play with.

The Rifle and Cartridge

At the same SHOT Show Savage introduced their new MSR10 Long Range Rifle, which I ordered in 6.5 Creedmoor. Savage has gone full bore (pun intended) into the AR rifle market with their MSR line.

Savage MSR 10 Long Range.
The Savage MSR 10 Long Range rifle.mfg photo

This rifle is built on the larger MSR 10 platform, which is based on .308 Winchester size cartridges.

The MSR 10 Long Range is available chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor or .308 Win. and features a smaller frame than other company’s similar rifles, plus it comes with a non-reciprocating side-charging handle. It has a BLACKHAWK! two-stage target trigger and Magpul PRS adjustable buttstock. The barrel features 5R rifling and is finished in Melonite QPQ.

The 6.5 Creedmoor model has a 22-inch barrel with 1:8-inch rifling twist rate to allow using heavy bullets. This is a big rifle at 43 5/8-inches and ten pounds. That means it sits well on the bench for long range stability.

The author used 6.5 Creedmoor rounds from Federal Premium in a an MSR10 rifle from Savage.
The author used 6.5 Creedmoor rounds from Federal Premium in a an MSR 10 Long Range rifle from Savage.author photo

Part of the reason for picking the 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge is that Federal Premium had also introduced Gold Metal ammo with the Berger Hybrid open tip Match 130-grain bullet in that cartridge.

Berger bullets are a favorite of long range shooters for their extreme accuracy and high ballistic coefficient, which is a measure of aerodynamics or its ability to resist slowing down in flight. I had previously tested the .308 Winchester version of this ammo and found it to be some of the most accurate factory loaded ammo I have tried. I was eager to wring out this new 6.5 Creedmoor load.

The G1 Ballistic Coefficient for this bullet is high at .560, and coupled with a muzzle velocity of 2,875 feet-per-second this load shoots very flat. With a 200 yard zero it is 1.6 inches high at 100 yards, 6.9 inches low at 300 yards, 20 inches at 400 yards and 40 inches at 500 yards. I zeroed the scope on the Savage rifle and found the load to be accurate.

The Challenge and The Shooters

With all these new products I decided to call our informal, “just for fun” shooting match the “Know Your Limits Challenge.” Our shooters pretty much covered the gamut of experience. In fact, I don’t think we could have designed a better team to represent diversity of skills.

I have been writing about guns for a living for decades and have a lot of competition and long range shooting experience. Mike Brookman is a pretty experienced shooter including some 3-gun competition and had been messing with long range shooting for a couple of years. Henry Heck is relatively new to long range shooting, having recently bought a rifle, and has done a little bit of shooting. Finally, Mike’s wife Darlene had never been shooting before the first challenge.

Even lefty shooters like Mike Brookman love this new Savage MRS 10 Long Range rifle.  He says it's very user friendly with the side charging handle and that it "doesn't spit the empty brass in my face
Even lefty shooters like Mike Brookman love this new Savage MRS 10 Long Range rifle. He says it's very user friendly with the side charging handle and that it "doesn't spit the empty brass in my face like a lot of AR style rifles." --BTauthor photo

We were shooting from a bench using a good rest. The day was warm, but a cold front was moving in causing shifting and gusting winds. Although mild, they proved to be a challenge. Or at least I thought they did.

The first challenge was at 300 yards. I dialed in the drop for that distance, allowing the shooter to hold the crosshairs on the center of the target. With three runs through each I think everybody managed to hit all the steel targets at least once. Darlene was the first to hit the tennis ball. Not the first to try, but the first to hit it. Not bad for the first time ever shooting.

Later in the day we moved the targets out to 500 yards and it got interesting. The first run went OK for most of us, but later runs proved tougher and tougher. The hold off for the wind got larger and kept changing. I could not figure out why.

Later I solved the mystery. The scope has a side focus for parallax and I had instructed the shooters to turn the knob on the side to focus the scope. It turns out that someone (nobody is confessing) was turning the windage adjustment knob on the other side of the scope! That was moving the point of impact back and forth with little rhyme or reason. It wasn’t that the wind that was changing, but the zero on the rifle. Our mounting frustration in not hitting the targets quickly turned to laughter once we figured it all out. By then we were tired and out of ammo anyway. The point is, nobody left the range without a smile on their face.

Isn’t that what shooting is about? Having fun?

Darlene Brookman is shooting for the first time ever
Darlene Brookman shooting for the first time ever. She held her own in the challenge and was the first to hit the tennis ball at 300 yards! The low recoil of the Savage MSR 10 Long Range rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor made it a perfect choice for a new shooter. Henry Heck spotting and Darlene's husband Mike Brookman recording the results.author photo

Winner, Winner

It doesn’t matter who “won” (OK, it was me) but that we all had fun. We are already planning the next challenge and word had gotten around so the group is growing larger by the day with lots of people wanting to try this game.

Setting up your own Know Your Limits Challenge is easy, all you need is a place to shoot, some targets, a good rifle and plenty of accurate ammo.

I highly recommend the Champion Center Mass AR500 targets as they are inexpensive, last a long time and they ring like a church bell when you hit them.

Not only is this project a lot of fun for everybody, but it’s also a great way to learn about long-range shooting.

There is something to be said for the instant gratification of ringing a target so far off you thought it was impossible to hit.

Another shot of Darlene at the bench.
Another shot of Darlene at the bench.author photo