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Rimfire, Air Guns and Laser Plinking: Then and Now

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Article first appeared at Cheaperthandirt.com

Cheaperthandirt – If you love shooting, you are likely no stranger to joys of plinking. A .22 rifle a pocket full of shells was, and still is a fine way to spend a day, but it is becoming something of a lost art.

While not as long in the tooth as some, I have fond memories of being a kid plinking my way through the hills and forests. Pinecones were trophy bucks, man-eating tigers, and about to be expired enemy soldiers. The end of a branch, or a piece of hanging fruit were no safer, most were members of a hostile Indian tribe unlucky enough to have crossed paths “the Duke” and me.

I came by it honestly. Dad introduced me John Wayne and the shooting sports at about the same age. In the process, he fostered a love for the outdoors and the world of plinking when he gave me my first .22 rifle. It was a single shot bolt action, as was his first. He said it would teach me to make every shot count. Later, when squirrel or rabbit came in season, I learned what he meant. A second shell stashed between my lips in the corner of my mouth may have yielded the edge for a second chance, but it was unlikely. However, hunting for live game was different than those early adventures when no tin can, bit of bark, or pinecone was safe.

Later, I got my first semiautomatic—it was a game changer. Instead of Indians (pinecones) hiding one at a time, they attacked in war parties. Often there were only three, but I can remember as many as 10 attacking all once. Fortunately, the tin can soldiers waited patiently atop a log for me to topple them one after another; I was a sharpshooter with the skills of any great western stagecoach driver. A bandit in black dropped with every shot—at least in my own mind. Some people called them misses, but in my mind one of the baddies had simply (luckily) jumped out of the way of my bullet and required a second or third shot. In time, a follow up shot was seldom needed.

Other lessons were learned from plinking. For instance, the art of plinking took more than just a steady hand and good aim. It took money! Shells were cheap then, but not free. In those days, boys had to earn the money to buy their own ammunition. Dad’s contribution did not come in the form of opening his wallet, it came in the form of chores or a nudge toward the neighbor with overgrown grass or weeds in a flower bed. We learned the art of making a deal by pushing a lawnmower up and down the block, going door-to-door asking if we could mow the lawn for .25 or .50 cents. Gas was cheaper then, but we did not know that—the mower ran on boy power not gas power. Push hard, and the blades spun faster. We earned our fun.

Reactive targets are targets that spin, pop back up, or otherwise move in some way.
Reactive targets are targets that spin, pop back up, or otherwise move in some way.

My friends and I worked together and fought (plinked) together. Like soldiers in the field, if you were short on ammo… well, that was how you discovered who your true friends really were. A buddy who would split his last 10 rounds with you was a brother for life.

Sadly, plinking is fast becoming a lost art. The days of a young shooter looking at a recently drained tin can as an adventure waiting to happen, a virgin target, are gone. Who shoots pinecones when they have video games to amuse them?

Plinking is a lost art? Maybe, but it does not have to be.

True, letting an eight-year old out of the door after grabbing a gun with a pocket full of shells, and yelling, “I’ll be home before dark!” it frowned upon. Perhaps for good reason, but that does not mean the art of plinking has to die because the times have changed.

Let’s Go Plinking

A .22 rifle or pistol is still a viable plinker. The guns are not expensive and the ammo is cheap by comparison. Start with a single-shot bolt action. The time spent reloading will slow the action—ensuring you are not burning through boxes of ammo at video game speed. It also adds a level safety, one cartridge loaded just before the shot is easily and safely managed. Once fired, you know the gun is safe and a lesson on muzzle safety can be reinforced. With a semiautomatic, after the first shot another round is loaded. This requires unloading before additional instruction.

Champion Dueling Tree Target

Grab your favorite shooting buddy and have yourself a friendly competition. Targets move easily from side to side for fast action and hours of fun. Solid steel construction ensures you will have many historic feuds with your fellow shooters in the years to come!

There is also the matter of accuracy. As my father taught me, if you only have one shot you tend to strive to make it count. However, if you have a 10 shots… pew, pew, pew and accuracy is forgotten.

Targets are simple. If you have the land and the proper backstop, a roving course through the woods and a touch of imagination will be all you need. If that is not available, an afternoon spent in tin can alley would not be wasted.

Reactive Targets

Ready for some action? How about a little friendly competition? Champion makes bouncing ball and reactive star targets. Toss a couple out in the yard and let the plinking begin! Every hit moves your target farther down the range making it just a bit harder to hit. The first one across the finish line wins!

What about a steel dueling tree target? Two shooters step up to the line and engage their line of targets. The first one to flip all the targets to the opponent’s side wins. But watch out, your opponent can flip them back. Mind your ammunition and watch your reloads. The fastest is not always the most accurate and you do not want to give your opponent unanswered opportunities. With dueling targets you’ll learn safety, accuracy, strategy and why the real thing beats video games every day of the week.

Champion Reactive targets
Add a little flare to your day of plinking with couple of reactive targets from Champion.

Have a youngster and think a .22 LR is a bit much for a starter? No problem. Many a tin can has fallen prey to Dead Eye Dave and his trusty BB gun. Tin cans can be set up (even in the backyard of a house within the city limits and a suitable back stop) and the fun will never end. The price? You can get a Daisy Lever Action Kit for under $40 and 250 pellets for about $3. After that, your only investment would be time well spent with family and friends.

Still not convinced? Images of Mrs. Parker telling Ralphie he is going to shoot his eye out running through your mind? Perhaps you live in an apartment building in the city. All hope is not lost;LaserLyte has the solution designed just for you.

LaserLyte offers a kit that includes a blue laser-emitting gun that cannot be loaded with a real bullet so it is completely safe. In fact, the only thing the blue gun can be loaded with is a few small batteries good for about 50,000 shots of fun. The kit comes with three reactive Plinking Cans for hours of training (indoor or out) without the cost of ammunition or the cleanup.

VisiColor target with 10 shot-group

Admittedly, this was the author’s best small caliber group of the day — 10 shots from a low ready. Ultimately, it won’t be about the size of your practice groups but the successful employment of the skills you build when in a gunfight, competition, or hunting situation.

The system goes something like this. Set up the three plinking cans on a table, bench, or even on the floor. Stand back—as far as you dare—aim and shoot. A miss is a miss, but a hit is rewarded by watching the can topple over. That’s right, a laser can knock the can from its roost. You see, there is a small post in the bottom of the can. When the reactive plinking target senses a hit, the pin pops out of the bottom and the can tumbles just like it was walloped by a good ‘ol .22 LR!

Plinking Safely

Whatever your shooting goals, make sure plinking is a regular part of your training and always have fun. You also need to add a healthy dose of safety of course. Many ranges discourage plinking because shots can skip off the ground, rocks etc. so know your backstop and what’s beyond it. You also don’t want an elevated muzzle. Even a little .22 LR can travel about two miles.

There is also the matter of targets and good stewardship of Mother Earth. Glass is a ton of fun to shoot. You can see it breaking in just about any good western on TV. Of course the movies have clean up crews, because broken glass remains forever. It is unsightly, can be a hazard to people or animals, and sets a poor example for youngsters. Pack it in; pack it out!

In addition to these few simple rules, and basic gun safety that must be exercised anytime firearms are involved, all you need is a bit of imagination, pew, pew, pew, and a penchant for fun. Want to bring plinking back with me?

Growing up in Pennsylvania’s game-rich Allegany region, Dave Dolbee was introduced to whitetail hunting at a young age. At age 19 he bought his first bow while serving in the U.S. Navy, and began bowhunting after returning from Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Dave was a sponsored Pro Staff Shooter for several top archery companies during the 1990s and an Olympic hopeful holding up to 16 archery records at one point. During Dave’s writing career, he has written for several smaller publications as well as many major content providers such as Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times, Outdoor Life, Petersen’s Hunting, Rifle Shooter, Petersen’s Bowhunting, Bowhunter, Game & Fish magazines, Handguns, F.O.P Fraternal Order of Police, Archery Business, SHOT Business, OutdoorRoadmap.com, TheGearExpert.com and others. Dave is currently a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!


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