‘Plinking’ a good, fun way to sharpen shooting skills for hunting

My how life has changed. One of my fond memories of growing up in rural Pennsylvania was regularly shooting a .22 rimfire rifle. Under my father’s guidance, I learned to safely shoot his Remington pump-action .22 rifle. My dad was not much for punching paper, so our targets were usually discarded cans or sometimes cocoa tins or other containers filled with water.

The cans were fun targets. They moved, fell over or made a sound when hit, and the ones filled with water would usually explode in a spectacular fashion when struck with a tiny .22-caliber bullet. This very informal type of target shooting is commonly referred to as plinking.

For a boy of 10 who had been raised on John Wayne, Alan Ladd and Randolph Scott westerns, shooting was a mini-adventure. Popping tin cans was almost as good as John Wayne shooting an outlaw off of his galloping horse. By the time I was a teenager, it was Clint Eastwood shooting the bad guys.

Dad’s rifle was topped with a scope that, especially by the standards set by today’s bright optics, one could barely see through. However, the rifle-scope combination was dead-accurate when my dad pressed the trigger. At my young age, the rifle was much more accurate than I was. In the beginning, every shot that I took was a deliberate coached effort, but I loved it when my dad would knock over a dozen cans in a row in rapid-fire fashion. That little pump could really kick out the lead, and I could not wait until I was able to do that.

Fortunately, guns did not seem to have the negative connotation that they do with many people today. Plinking was common. Ammo cost about 60 cents for a box of 50, and a brick (10 50-shot boxes packaged together) could be found on sale for as low as $5, or only a penny a shot. Rimfire rifles were just another instrument with which to have inexpensive fun and, as I grew older, to use for hunting crows, squirrels or rabbits.

Of course a “brick” of .22 ammo, depending on brand and type) will set you back somewhere between $19 and $35 today. That is a far cry from the 1960s price, but still pretty inexpensive fun.

It should be no surprise that my first gun purchase, at age 16, was a .22 rifle. I selected a Mossberg lever-action .22. With the exception of its pistol grip, it was modeled after a western-style saddle gun and was aptly named, “The Palomino.” Of course, I had seen many such saddle guns in the old movies I had watched with my father.

Unlike my western heroes, I topped my .22 with a 4X Herter’s scope, specially made for .22 rifles. Quite a few bricks of ammo were loaded into its 14-shot tubular magazine and sent on their way out the barrel.

The fun really began when my brother John was old enough to purchase his own .22 — a nice auto-loader. That purchase was followed a few years later by younger brothers Paul and Frank when they came of age. For a few years, we had four shooters who could plink at the same time. This led to informal target-shooting contests to which we always looked forward.

As I grew older, moved away and was married, shooting became less a part of my life and I got away from plinking all together. Living in Altoona for six years didn’t help, either. Now that I am semi-retired, I have had a desire to revisit that activity; so, at my brother John’s recommendation, I purchased a solid little Marlin model 60 auto-loader. This rifle is also legal for small game hunting.

This has led to a few family shooting sessions that everyone has enjoyed. Many cans have been riddled with quarter-inch-diameter holes and, with hundreds of shots fired, I can safely say that the gun is broken in.

Plinking is a great activity for beginning shooters. Targets — the tin cans — tend to be larger than a bull’s-eye on a paper target and cans spinning, flying or just falling over provides shooting gallery-type action. Success is important for new shooters and it begs them to come back for more. Keep the plinking easy, simple and fun. The new shooter can decide when to make it more challenging.

Games are possible even with one .22. For example, at 20 yards, shooters can take turns shooting five shots each and see who knocks over the most cans. With two or more rifles, or even .22 handguns, the games have more action. Set up soda cans of different brands, one type for each shooter — five cans each. Then see who can knock their five cans down first. Too easy — move back 10 yards and try it again. New shooters can be handicapped with larger cans, using fewer cans or by placing their cans closer to the firing line.

There are now paper targets that enhance informal .22 shooting. The targets, reveal bullet holes with a bright chartreuse or orange halo. The halos provide instant feedback because they are easily visible at normal .22 shooting distances, and shooters do not have to walk up to the target to see their hits. You can purchase them many places. I now use them for sighting in all my rifles. The innovative targets add to my plinking fun.

Plinking is a little more complicated now than it was during my youth, so I will offer a few words of caution. Some neighbors might be alarmed if they hear a lot of unusual shooting. You need to be the judge of that situation and also make sure that the cans are picked up and properly recycled after your plinking fun.

Although a .22 long rifle is a small, relatively low-powered cartridge, its 40-grain bullet leaves the muzzle at about 1,255 feet per second and can travel up to one mile. Proper caution should be used when firing any rifle. Always be sure of your target and use a suitable backstop, such as a stone-free embankment.

All of my youthful-plinking, thousands of rounds, was done without the use of hearing protection. Then there were deer rifles, varmint rifles, shotguns, and many hours of chainsaw and lawnmower use. The total of this loud noise has taken a toll on my hearing and, today, all of my non-hunting shooting is done while wearing proper hearing protection. You should follow that advice, too.

Rediscover the youth within you. Buy a “brick” of .22 ammo, find a safe location, line up the cans and have some good, old-fashioned, plinking fun.

Categories: Bloggers on Hunting, Pennsylvania – Mark Nale

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