|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
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.
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
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
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.
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)
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
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.
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!