While not as long in the tooth as some, I have fond memories from childhood, plinking my way through the hills and forests. Pinecones were trophy bucks, man-eating tigers, and unsuspecting enemy soldiers. The end of a branch or 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 my love of plinking honestly. My dad introduced me to John Wayne and the shooting sports at about the same time. In the process, he also fostered a love for the outdoors and the world of plinking when he gave me my first .22 rifle. It was a single shot, 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. However, hunting for live game was different than those early adventures when no tin can, dirt clod, or pine cone 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 droves. 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 western stagecoach driver in the movies. 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.
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, but not free. In those days, boys earned 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 who might support my hobby by allowing me to give their lawn a haircut. We learned the art of making a deal by pushing a lawnmower up and down the block, going door-to-door and 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. We earned our fun.
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 indeed.
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 pine cones when they have video games to amuse them? Is plinking is a lost art? Maybe. But it does not have to be.
True, today it is frowned upon to let 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!” 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 safely reinforced. With a semiautomatic, after the first shot another round may be loaded. This requires unloading before additional instruction.
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 (one of the bays at your local outdoor range) would not be wasted.
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 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 trigger puller is not always the most accurate. 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.
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 air gun. Tin cans can be set up, even in the backyard of a house within the city limits—given a suitable backstop, 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 that make 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.
The system goes something like this. Set up the three plinking cans on a table, bench, or even 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!
Whatever your shooting goals, ensure plinking is a regular part of your training and always have fun. You’ll need to have a 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 .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.
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 back plinking with me? The holidays are just around the corner and there is never a bad time for gun fun with the family.
Do you have a favorite plinking memory? Share it in the comment section.
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