Many years ago, Nick gave me a steel target as a thank you for helping him find a job in Texas. Years later, I still have it, and while it’s much worse for the wear, it still faithfully serves out on the range at the family ranch. Little did I know at the time that I would become hopelessly addicted to ringing steel. Over the years, I’ve amassed a tidy little collection of targets, but one of my favorites is one that I picked up after this year’s Texas Firearms Festival — a very large, very heavy dueling tree made by Action Target . . .
If you’ve attended the festival, you know that Action Target is a flagship sponsor each year, providing all the steel targets for participants to blast away at. In my opinion, there’s no better laboratory for durability testing that the two day festival. Each year, I show up a day early to help assemble all of the factory fresh targets along with the Action team from Provo, Utah. And each year, I see them at the end of the weekend.
The photo above is from one of the shotgun fields where the Kel-Tec team punished their targets from about 20 yards or so with 00 buck and 1 oz slugs. For two days. Thousands of rounds later, the only thing that seemed to suffer was their target stand which is made of 1/4″ mild steel and shaped in such a way to deflect incoming projectiles.
This is an extreme duty case, and a not entirely unexpected result. While this stand would be considered unsafe (ricochet risk), I present this photo to show that something Action Target considers “light” duty is still able to withstand a terrible amount of abuse. With that in mind, I jumped at the opportunity to pick up one of their dueling trees on my way home from the festival.
The stand for the tree is made of a similar mild steel, but ‘mild’ is sort of a subjective term. The hits you see above were from 115 and 147 grain 9mm rounds fired from about 10 yards. They haven’t seemed to fundamentally distort the metal at all, and really only scuffed the paint. Spread around the tree are also various rifle hits from 100+ yards. There are distinct impressions in the metal, but that’s about the extent of the damage. I’d honestly hoped for more damage, but I can’t seem to hurt it.
The Dueling Tree comes in two flavors. The first is the Standard edition, geared towards handgun only shooting, which features AR 500 paddles. The second is the Heavy Duty version, tested here, which features AR 550 paddles and is rated for rifles past 100 yards or under 3000 fps. Having shot at the paddles with rifles, pistols, and shotguns from distances ranging from “safe” to “please don’t do that,” I can confirm that these paddles are the real deal. They have hundreds of hits on them at this point, and fresh paint is all that’s needed to restore them to their former glory.
Speaking of paddles, the design is geared towards longevity and simplicity. There are no springs, hinges or other wear prone parts. In fact, the hinge assembly that’s welded to the “tree” is made of 1/4-inch AR 500. The paddles themselves, at six inches in diameter, are either AR 500 or AR 550 depending on model, so the hinge mechanism is essentially wear proof. The paddles can be removed for transport by swinging them to the middle point of their travel, and lifting up. Simply reverse the procedure to reinstall. Not once in the hundreds of rounds I fired at this target did that system fail me.
As the tree is designed to lean forward fairly aggressively (to deflect ricochets down), this system uses gravity to hold the paddles in place. This creates a minor problem, and resulted in the only gripe that I have. Namely, the paddles won’t reliably complete a full rotation with 115 gr. 9mm unless they get hit towards the outside of the paddle. Slower moving heavy rounds like .45 ACP get the job done, and bumping up to 147 grain in my 9mm fixed this problem completely.
I’d like it if the angle of the tree could be changed slightly depending on what you’re shooting. More vertical for 9mm and the factory setting for hard-hitting magnums and rifle rounds. I ended up digging the backside feet into the dirt a bit more, and that seemed to help. If your range is hard packed dirt, you might bring along a few 2×10’s to elevate the front if this presents a problem for you.
The last point worth addressing is cost. At $449 for the standard model and $549 for the heavy duty model, this isn’t the cheapest steel target out there. And at roughly 110 pounds assembled, it isn’t the most mobile item either. If you don’t own any steel targets, there are probably better first purchases to make. This is a specialty item that straddles the line between recreational and commercial usage. In fact, the first time I ever shot one was at SIG SAUER’s Academy.
That out of the way, if you’re getting serious about your pistol shooting, this is an awesome tool to have at your disposal as it forces you to master the fundamentals while incorporating target transitions. Six inch targets are still relatively small, especially at ten yards or more. They seem to become infinitely smaller when you’re “fighting” someone who is trying to move them to your side.
The best part about the dueling tree, and the place where it really make sense financially, is when a range trip includes more people than just you. As you can see in the video above, racing each other on the dueling tree is a great deal of fun, and presents an ever changing challenge for your shooting. It adds an element of stress to shooting that can force you to make mistakes.
That sort of stress is instrumental to making you a better shooter. If you’re the least bit competitive, you’ll find yourself spending hours on the tree with your friends. Assuming you learned how to share in school, and you can find a couple people to go in on one, it can end up being pretty affordable.
Specifications: Action Targets PT Dueling Tree (Heavy Duty)
- Height: 5’
- Weight: 110 lbs.
- Paddles: 6” diameter
- Steel Grade: 3/8” AR550
- Handgun Shooting Distance: 10 yards+
- Rifle Shooting Distance: 100 yards+ using ammunition below 3,000 fps
- Price: $549 – $449 for the AR 500 model that is rated for pistols only
Ratings (out of five stars):
Build Quality * * * * *
At 110 pounds and five feet tall, it’s the size of a small human and built for the end of days. With the exception of the hinge piece at 1/4″ AR 500, everything is 3/8″ steel including the angle iron that forms the tree and the paddles which are AR 550 in the HD model. The hardware used to assemble it is incredibly stout, and the welds look like stacks of nickels.
Function * * * *
A dueling tree, by its nature, is a specialty item. If you need to hear steel ring, there are more cost-effective ways to get your fix. But if you want to start competing against your buddies or working on target transitions, a dueling tree is a fine way to do it. I had difficulty getting the paddles to move with lightweight 9mm bullets, so if that’s primarily what you shoot, plan on finding a way to angle the tree backwards a bit so the plates swing a bit easier.
Reliability * * * * *
I took it to a bachelor party and let a series of idiots shoot at it with a variety of guns including shotguns at about 10 yards. A fresh coat of paint and it looked factory new again. The only thing that seems to hurt it even slightly is shooting at the target frame at close range with a rifle. The AR 550 paddles remain unscathed. Hell, it hasn’t even rusted even though it’s been outside for six months.
Overall Rating * * * *
With the exception of the paddles not swinging with lightweight 9mm, the dueling tree has been absolutely fantastic. Otherwise, it’s built like a tank and is standing tall six months into my ownership, something that likely won’t change for years to come. Yes, it’s expensive, but that cost buys a really well built target that will last a lifetime. Find a friend to split the cost and it becomes a lot more tolerable.