A recent episode of The Practical Pistol Show had an interesting discussion of how to set up a home range for USPSA practice for under $500 (language NSFW):
The recommendation to use non-falling steel (8″ plates instead of poppers) is very interesting for a few reasons.
One, it’s cheaper, which if you’re building a home range is important.
Two, it highlights the difference between matches and practice. In a match, you want falling steel so you can clearly score it without having to rely on the RO calling hits. In practice, you’re responsible for keeping yourself honest. Even if you didn’t hear the steel ding, but you think you edged the steel plate during a practice drill, it’s like barely breaking the D-zone perf. Yes, technically it’s a hit for scoring purposes, but you still suck.
Three, it’s easier to set up. Efficient practice is about making setup and teardown easy on yourself as possible so that you’ll do it more. Even if you have a Texas Star or a drop turner, you’re probably not dragging it out to practice on it for 30 minutes before moving on to another drill. So you’ll dedicate one practice session to it a year, if that. I personally tend to use mini-poppers because I can grab one in each hand out of the steel shed and drag them out to practice but never more than that. Having some lightweight steel plates that break down in to stand, mount, and plate would make setup even easier.
Four, poppers tolerate sloppiness. I personally have had much lunch eaten by round knockdown plates at matches recently because my elevation on steel has been sloppy. The front sight will be centered in the notch but too high or low, and I’ll squeeze off the round. On a popper, if it hits high, it’ll definitely knock the steel over. Even if it hits low, on a well-calibrated one, shooting 133pf 9mm to have a comfortable cushion at the chrono, the popper will still go over. A round plate will not. Try again. Making practice hard is a good thing.
So stop trying to make your practice exactly like matches, buy some steel plates, and go shoot.