....February 2006 ~~~~ Editor:  Cliff Hanger ~~~~
Splatter Isn’t Necessary by Calamity Jane Canary SASS 40978 Life

  I notice there’s a lot of chatter about “bounce back”, splatter, and the (supposed) role “wimp loads” play in people getting hit with lead. I have also noticed that getting hit with splatter seems to be quite common and seems to be regarded as one of the hazards of the game. 

  I don’t believe it HAS to be this way. 

  Being the anal-retentive (engineering) type that I am, I decided to give some serious thought to the matter of shooters and spectators being hit by lead at Cowboy Action matches. 

The Research

  Prior to constructing our targets and stands, we did a little research. First, we polled the people on The SASS Wire about target construction and occurrences of splatter or “bounce back” and we received some good advice on target design and stand construction (as well as some BS that doesn’t make sense to anyone who passed high school physics). We built some targets and did some experiments in the winter snow to see where the bullets and fragments went with various loads, from “hot loads” right down below “wimp loads”. 

  One of the first things that was apparent was that there is no such thing as “bounce back” from a properly designed and supported target and that splatter is predictable and controllable! 

  “Hot loads” disintegrate when striking a target and the debris flies off in a predictable pattern from the target face as “splatter” 

  If there is nothing in the debris path to deflect the debris back toward the shooter, the debris all lands within the “spray zone” and safely down range. Very light loads (right down to hand-thrown), strike the target, impart their energy to the target, and fall to the ground within a foot or two of the target. The lower the bullet velocity, the more of the original mass that is retained in the slug that falls to the ground and the less of the bullet mass that goes off as spray. With a high velocity round, most of the bullet’s lead goes off in small fragments as spray within the spray zone. 

  With multiple targets, it is important that two targets together do not form a "double bounce" path back to the firing line (or other points behind the line). 

Target & Stand Design

  To lessen the chance of ricochet, our targets and stands were designed to ensure there are no "included  angles" approaching 180 degrees (see Figure 2). For this same reason, we do NOT use re-bar for target stands since re-bar has a textured surface which creates an unpredictable deflection of the spray; we use hot rolled steel rod which has a smooth surface. 

  Our targets are all made from 3/8 or 1/2" mild steel plate. They were laid out in AutoCAD (to preclude any 180 degree included angles) and CNC cut by a local steel supplier (to ensure smooth edges). 

  Our stands are tripods (with three links of chain welded to the rods to form the pivot). The back leg of the tripod is planted firmly in the ground so that it is at right angles to the firing line (this ensures that the target will remain at a right angle to the firing line) and the two supporting legs are positioned BEHIND the target face and out of the spray zone. 

  Our hangers (target mounts) were designed to ensure the target is free to swing (when hit by a bullet), will always hang with the target angled slightly downward (when viewed by the shooter), and that the target will remain parallel to the firing line during the match. The hangers are simply short length of iron pipe that have been slit on the bandsaw. One tab is bent into the  pipe so the hanger will slip on to the stand a few inches. The other tab is bent into a hook to hold the target see Figure 3.

Figure 3

  Secured to the back of each hanging target is 2 links of "binder chain" (Binder chain is a flat chain that will only flex in one direction - it's cheap!) (see Figure 4). The chain ensures the targets don't rotate from side to side in the breeze. The binder chain is bolted to a threaded hole in the targets and the end of the bolt (facing the shooter) is ground off flush with the target face (see Figure 5). The chain is attached slightly below the top of the target to ensure the target angles slightly downward (with the bottom of the target farther away from the shooter - see Figure 6) 

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 6

With the target hung in this manner, it will remain parallel to the firing line (as set by the rear leg of the tripod), will hang at the proper angle, the feet of the tripod are behind the spray zone, and the joint in the tripod is behind the target. All this combines to leave the spray zone free of any obstruction that could redirect bullet  fragments back toward the firing line.

These are some of our targets

Figure 7
Target Placement

  Even with good targets and stands, it is very important that the targets be placed correctly and that the splatter pattern is considered when doing the range setup for a match. 

  Placement of each target must consider WHAT is within the spray pattern! Other targets, props, even rocks or stones on the ground can provide a second surface that will direct spray or bullet fragments back toward the shooter. This should (hopefully) be in the mind of the stage writers when laying out target patterns but the final check should be made by the Range Safety Officer after the targets are set out. Stand beside each target facing the firing line, extend your arms out parallel to the target face, and see what is close to the plane of the target, with the splatter zone. Bear in mind that splatter can travel a long distance and will fan out in a full circular disk parallel to the target face - anything within that zone WILL be hit by splatter. 

The Worst Targets and Stands

  Among the worst targets I have encountered for spray and ricochet are round pipes suspended vertically - they are virtually guaranteed to cause spray and ricochet all over the range. Any flat target that is placed at an angle to the firing line WILL put spectators and other shooters within the spray zone. Re-bar stands, because of their textured surface, WILL send spray in unpredictable directions. 

Calamity’s Challenge

  If anyone anywhere experiences “bounce back” or splatter from targets designed, supported, and placed as described in this article, please carefully record the details and forward them to me (pictures would also help). In my humble opinion, there is no reason that any Cowboy Action shooter needs to experience splatter at a match. This is a hazard we can eliminate but only through careful study and analysis. Assuming “this” or “that” is the reason someone got hit is not good enough - urban legends and suppositions wont cure the problem but science can. 

  We are in our second year using “Calamity’s super deluxe engineered targets and stands” and have not had a single case of a shooter being hit by spray or bullet fragments. I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be that way at every range!

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