Plinking: The American Shooting Sport
Readers undoubtedly engage in quite a variety of shooting sports. Many concentrate on shooting shotguns or muzzleloaders, while others may pursue the practical pistol sports. Then there is 3-Gun competition, high power, or metallic silhouette and a host of other shooting activities to participate in. Regardless of one’s main interest, I’d be willing to bet that darn near everyone out there still enjoys a good old relaxed plinking session where there is nothing on the line but having a good time—and maybe introducing a youngster to firearms in a fun and safe manner.
In times past it was not uncommon for most folks, from all walks of life, to have a firearm of some sort in their mode of transportation. Since the days of the horse and buggy, and later the automobile, people gathering for almost any social occasion would often engage in informal shooting matches. Picnics, family reunions, Grange meetings, and even church socials would often be punctuated by the sound of friendly gunfire in times past. Alas, times have changed and many folks’ ability and right to casually haul guns around has been restricted in many parts of this great nation. However, there are still places where freedom from government restrictions is mostly the norm and in these areas informal plinking is still a time honored tradition.
I can remember as a kid in the ’50s, going out of town with my dad on weekends to a place where he washed his first new car with water from a creek that flowed under a huge (to a boy) concrete and stone railroad trestle. It was always an occasion as I was allowed to take along my .22 rifle and after the car washing, a plinking session would ensue. My dad had a Remington bolt-action .22 and I had my old hand-me-down Savage Model 1911 .22 short bolt action repeater.
We shot beverage cans full of water, old shotgun hulls, and, for a real challenge, Necco Wafers. Despite engaging in many other shooting disciplines during my lifetime, I have been an unrepentant plinking addict since my earliest days as a gun owner.
Plinking today—it’s not logistically as easy as it once was for many folks to get out to a safe place to shoot. In many locales the only option is a public or private range. If one is lucky, public land can offer up an informal shooting site, but these are not as common as they once were, especially in parts of the east.
Another traditional venue for plinking in the past was the local dump. Shooting rats and bottles in a dump was great fun but with the advent of “sanitary landfills” these target-rich environments are pretty much a thing of the past. If, like we do, you have enough land to shoot on, consider yourself lucky.
Regardless, times have changed and plinking now comes with more responsibility than in the past. For starters, it is no longer acceptable to trash the landscape with debris from makeshift targets. Why we thought this was OK in times past is beyond my understanding but it was the case in many areas. Whether on a range or out in the countryside, shooters need to clean up after themselves and others. The other thing that has changed is the outlook on personal safety. Everyone involved in a plinking session (even casual observers) should wear eye and ear protection.
Also, as much as I hate to say it, shooters today need to be more aware of the image they project to the public at large. Like it or not, the antigunners are watching us and all shooters need to be aware that we are the face of our sport. ‘Nuf said! The beauty of casual plinking is that there are absolutely no rules governing the pastime other than those common sense safety rules we’ve all committed to memory. There are no courses of fire to adhere to and no limits on the firearms used. For a good old plinking session to be fun you only need whatever firearm you already own. There is no need to go out and buy some special gun or to have one modified in order to be more competitive. Over the years, I have plinked with everything from the .45- 70 in a Sharps rifle to the lowly .22 short fired out of a 2 inch S&W Kit Gun. Often my plinking endeavors have involved whatever gun was with me at the right time and place. Large or small caliber, long or short gun; anything will fill the bill as a plinker.
However, the most commonly used cartridge for plinking is the .22 Long Rifle. It is the plinking cartridge of choice for the majority of shooters in America. Although a bit hard to come by as this is written, Americans normally consume over a billion .22LR rounds per year, and I’d bet most of it goes down range during plain old plinking sessions. Match grade ammunition is not required for plinking. We all know that some .22 rimfire firearms show distinct preferences for ammunition.
From left to right: Iver Johnson 22LR conversion on a Kimber Rimfire Target frame, a Walther PPKS in 22LR, and Colt Ace Conversion unit on an aftermarket aluminum frame
But, it has been our experience that most of the economy bulk packed ammo on the market is more than adequately accurate, in most firearms, for plinking. Around our place, we have a few favorite firearms that get used quite a lot for plinking mainly because we, like most folks, prefer to carry and use certain firearms more than others. In the handgun realm, we seem to favor .22LR auto pistols of the 1911 variety. A couple of old Colt .22 conversion units have served us well for many years and recently we’ve added a Commander length conversion unit from Iver Johnson Arms to our 1911 plinking battery. An old Walther PPKS in 22LR is also used sometimes as is any number of centerfire pistols. We do however also use revolvers for a fair amount of our plinking. Either a Ruger Stainless Convertible Six 22LR revolver or any one of a number of S&W revolvers can often be found in our hands. One of our true all time special plinking revolvers is a 1960 vintage S&W K22 Revolver with a gold bead front sight and a buttery smooth action.
Rifle wise, we occasionally use my wife’s Stevens Crackshot .22 for plinking sessions. This is her “garden gun” and it resides permanently near the kitchen door (behind the wooden potato bucket) with ammo close at hand in a little basket on a nearby shelf. A little occasional plinking with this tiny single shot keeps Helen in practice for the garden raiding vermin so common here in the country. Probably the most used plinker on our place is a Ruger 10/22 autoloader with a Bushnell TRS-25 red dot sight on it. Ruger 10/22 rifles are so common nationwide that I’d just about bet there is more 22LR ammo run through this Bill Ruger creation each year than any other single .22 rifle on the market. It seems that almost everybody has one of these fun little plinkers and those that do not, seem to want one.
Ours was purchased second hand years ago for $125 and has been worth every penny. The Marlin 39A is an iconic .22 rifle and the old Kimber of Oregon .22LR bolt guns are the epitome of class and accuracy.
Both of these rifles make great plinkers as well as serving us in the squirrel woods each year.
Remember, it doesn’t matter much what one plinks with as long as the guns are safe and serviceable. New or old, economical or expensive, .22LR or bigger, even air guns; all can offer great enjoyment in an informal shooting environment.
Targets for plinking can run the gamut from traditional paper to commercial steel and polymer reactive targets. Those improvised from soda cans (fill them with water), wood scraps, or old cartridge boxes and shotgun hulls can also serve. And don’t forget spoiled fruit like apples or, even better, overripe tomatoes.
About the only thing not kosher in this day and age are targets of glass.
S&W K22 revolver (top) ; S&W AirLite 22LR Kit Gun (bottom)
Most large sporting goods outlets have a pretty good selection of targets suitable for plinking. There are metal targets that spin when hit and some that disappear and then re-appear when a re-set plate is hit. There are polymer prairie dogs and ground squirrels that spin and some are mounted on springs so they move. And then there are those designed to roll around on the ground when hit, adding moving targets to the mix.
The variations on the theme are endless (and only limited by one’s imagination) but the goal of fun shooting is the same with all of these types of targets.
Turning a plinking session into a game can keep things interesting and keep the shooting from degenerating into a general blasting session.
Keeping plinking interesting is critical for young shooters. Make the targets big enough to guarantee success at first and remember that young folks don’t have the attention span of adults. Know when to call it quits with kids. Elimination games, increasing ranges for easily hit targets, or shooting until only one person hasn’t missed a given target can add to the enjoyment of a plinking session for more experienced shooters.
And don’t overlook trick shooting, like using a mirror to shoot behind you or splitting playing cards on edge.
Although plinking doesn’t require a lot of shooting gear, we find it nice to have a few extra items that contribute to both safety and convenience.
Although not mandatory, we like to have handguns safely ensconced in holsters when not in use. This frees the hands for setting up targets and loading magazines and eliminates folks walking around with the guns in their hands. Second best is a table or bench to set them on. For long guns, again a table is nice to have or, even better, a portable gun rack. When rimfire plinking, we like to have some type of simple belt pouch for keeping bulk .22 ammo close at hand. If shooting centerfire auto pistols, a tarp to catch brass eliminates a lot of rooting around for the reloadable empties and, if you’re an AR fan, a brass catcher attached to your rifle can be pretty convenient.
Last but not least, have a basic tool kit, some cleaning gear, and some lubricant with you as “Murphy” is still alive and well.
And finally, don’t forget an extra set of eyes and ears (and some extra ammo) for that unexpected visitor that is bound to show up when they see how much fun you are having just plinking away. Good shooting!