Gun Vocabulary — What is Spalling?

There are a lot of different terminologies thrown around about ammunition so it’s not unusual for some of it to get confusing. One term you might have heard and wondered about is “spalling.” In this video, Eric of Iraqveteran8888 talks about what it is and what it means. Learning more about spalling is a great way to expand your overall gun knowledge and become a better-informed shooter.

What is Spalling?

Spalling refers to incidents when parts of a bullet flake off the projectile upon impact with the target. Merriam-Webster defines “spall” as “to break up or reduce by or as if by chipping with a hammer.” That definition can be confusing when it is applied to bullets. The issue of spalling should not be confused with ricochets, which refers to bullets or large parts of bullets impacting a solid target like steel and bouncing back at the shooter. Although similar, they are technically not the same thing.

How to Shoot Steel Safely

Spalling is most common on steel targets.
Spalling is most common on steel targets. (Photo credit: Iraqveteran8888)

Eric talks about how to safely shoot steel targets at length in his video. There are some things to keep in mind when shooting steel:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for setup and use.
  • Shoot steel head-on, not at an angle from one side.
  • Adhere to the manufacturer’s recommended distance guidelines.
  • Only use calibers the steel is rated for according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.
  • Make sure the area around the target is clear of anything that might be damaged by spalling.

Also, shooting steel does have some inherent risks, so (as always) be sure and wear your eye and ear protection.

How Dangerous is Spalling?

How you hang and use steel targets matters for safety reasons
How you hang and use steel targets matters for safety reasons. (Photo credit: Iraqveteran8888)

Although ricochets and backsplash are more directly dangerous to shooters, spalling presents its own problems. The flakes and pieces may be smaller, but they can still leave a mark. Eric demonstrates how far spalling reaches by taking shots at steel plates in a damp environment so viewers can see the pieces of metal fly and impact the dirt. It’s possible for spalling to reach out around three feet to either side of a steel target and it can extend a significant distance in front of the target.

Check out the video to see for yourself what it can look like:


Some of Eric’s viewers contributed some good points and observations in the comments section.

Viewer Jacob Bothel said he learned about spalling with a plastic drum set up next to a steel target, “…there was a copper and lead embedded in the drum in almost a straight light. pretty cool to see that and learn that stuff from non-dangerous means.”

Another viewer points out that spalling is something to consider when choosing and wearing a ballistic vest. Eddie Jenner, Jr. said, “This also goes for getting shot while wearing body armor. That’s right, that spalling is going to go into your legs your arms your chin your neck. Think about that. If you didn’t get your body armor coded from the manufacturer you can use quick seal rubberized coating to help with stopping some of the spalling or at least slow it down some. The best way is to tack weld quarter-inch angle iron around your AR 500 body armor to help the coating Catch and stop the spalling from going into your body parts arms legs neck chin etc.”

Have you had trouble with spalling? What have you done to stop it at the range? Tell us in the comments below.

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

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