Plinking: More Than Just for Fun

ruger single six and steel plate
February 14, 2024  
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It is not hard to get good training these days. There are plenty of classes you can take and plenty that can be grasped from them. But gun training, just job training, is increasingly codified. These days, a bachelor’s degree is required but a master’s is preferred to do basic data entry. In the gun world, there are endless classes to take, friends to make, and enough certifications to chase. But what if you just learned the skill on your own, refined it, and just did the job? What if you just hit the range more and maybe try to make it fun. That is where plinking comes in.

Plinking is often derided as nonserious and noneducational because of its lack of rigidity. There are no timers or paper targets to worry about, nor do you need the latest or greatest gear, nor do you need to have studied under xyz person. In truth, though, that lack of rigidity in plinking reflects the lack of it in real life. For that reason, plinking is an invaluable tool that rehumanizes the shooting experience and helps you sharpen your skills in unexpected ways when things get more serious.

Plinking: What Is It?

To quote the holy scriptures, Wikipedia, plinking is defined as “informal target shooting done for leisure, typically at nonstandard targets….” I will wager some of you had your first shooting experience popping tin cans with your favorite BB gun or .22 rifle. Any other initiation might be seen as unAmerican, but there are plenty of gun owners who didn’t have that experience. We live in a world of square ranges, paper targets, and draconian rules.

But if you can be a plinker, no gun is off limits, and no target is either. From air guns to rimfires to muskets to big bore rifles, you can shoot just about anything from playing cards to cars if you can find the space to do so. The only pressure comes from the watching eyes of friends and family who are in on the action.

Plinking and Training: Why Plinking Is for Serious Shooters

Because there is no pressure and no standardized guns or targets, plinking has become a very non-serious approach to gun ownership. Compared to the structure of a classroom and Q-targets, going to a random corner in the country to shoot at milk jugs and clay birds seems like a definitive step down.

I have dipped a toe in the training world and gone waist deep into plinking and over the years I have come to realize that plinking is a legitimate training aid. The application of plinking is particularly compelling because of the nature of the targets. Plinking targets vary in size and in behavior.

When you are shooting for real, targets are going to vary in size. The neat and generously sized paper silhouette is just that… generous. Smaller steel targets like half-sized D-28s that represent the vital zones of the intended target are closer to the reality. The benefit of plinking targets is that you can start out large and work your way down to ridiculously small sizes. If you can get down to popping clay pigeons at ten yards with your everyday carry handgun, you can be sure you can hit something the size of a braincase.

The challenge gets even better when working with multiple targets and transitioning between them. With plinking, a shot on paper does not count. On a hit on the intended aiming point matters and you will know it when and if you get a hit. And once hit, how will you follow through to the next? As odd as it seems, a lot can be gleamed from transitioning between soda cans compared to controlled pairs in the shoot house. In either scenario, you will find out whether you or your equipment are up to the task, but the size and scale of plinking targets force you to concentrate.

Where size varies, so does the behavior of plinking targets. They ping, bounce, explode, and react with bullets in interesting ways. That is what makes plinking an enjoyable and relaxing endeavor. But I always found target behavior to be the most applicable aspect of plinking to real shooting. In real life, targets are both dissimilar and size and do not react like you expect. We do not have the foresight to know where a criminal threat or a game animal might come from or when or how. With multiple plinking targets, you have to choose which one to engage first and once you score a hit it is on you to decide what happens next. Did you actually hit the target? Does it need to be hit again? Can you move onto the next and which one is next?

ruger single six plinking

My Ruger Single Six is my favorite plinking gun. It also happens to be the handgun I carry on the range for shooting varmints. I like to shoot sixteen-ounce water bottles at further distances. Over the last year, this revolver has accounted for four nutria and two armadillos with no misses.

One of my favorite targets range from 16 oz soda bottles to one gallon milk jugs filled with water. The difficulty varies, but whenever they are hit, they tend to jump and bounce on the ground. Hitting them again will often make them bounce again. This forces me to focus on sight alignment, sight picture, and maintaining a good trigger press and follow through to follow the target to deliver more hits if necessary, as the target moves to another unexpected location. You can take your time with this, but it is fun and has more realism when you pick up the pace.

How To Plink Safely

There is no formula for plinking effectively aside from remembering the unchanging firearms safety rules. However, since the targets tend to be reactive, eye and ear protection is strongly recommended. We can lump these together as Rule No. 1.

Rule No. 2 is to have fun. Take out any firearm you have, grab a safe target, and go have fun. But if you are not sure about the guns and equipment to start with, I do have a few recommendations.

A rifle or handgun chambered in .22 Long Rifle are great first firearms and an essential part of any gun enthusiast’s collection. .22 LR ammunition is cheap to buy. The firearms chambered for them can be as cheap or as expensive as your heart desires and all of them boast very little noise and no felt recoil. This allows you to take the anticipation of recoil and noise out of the equation and work on the essentials of sight alignment, sight picture, and trigger control. It is also appealing from a plinking perspective because you are out so little money having a fun afternoon.

22 long rifle cartridges

The .22 LR is the quintessential plinker’s round, but just about any firearm in safe operating condition will suffice. Indeed, the bigger you go the more you will probably get out of plinking as a training exercise. It is more useful to plink with the firearm you intend to use for personal protection or hunting so you can play off that noise and recoil and work to keep the training fundamentals consistent. Then you will be able to set expectations for yourself and your gear for real shooting.

clay birds

A .357 Magnum vs a couple of orange clay birds? Why not?

Targets are as various as firearms you can use. I am partial to the aforementioned bottles and milk jugs, but I am partial to clay birds. They are small in size, and most brands are biodegradable. Birds also do not necessarily shatter when shot. Sometimes you can drill a hole right through them while leaving them intact, requiring a skilled follow-up shot to shatter the rest of the disc.

I also like shooting steel targets of various sizes, though they are not always available or handy to lug around. Likewise, you have to be particularly careful with steel targets as lead splash from the bullets could ricochet. If you want to shoot steel targets, it is safer to be some distance away and a recommended distance is often available from the manufacturer. The use of rocks and bodies of water is also potentially unsafe as both can cause ricochets. But standing too close to any solid target is potentially unsafe. I happened to take a ricochet to the shin from shooting at a treated 2×6. As always, exercise caution but remember to have fun too!

Terril Hebert

Terril Hebert

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