Plinking is difficult to define, and that is how I like it. To place boundaries on recreation, or what may even advance to an art form, is an exercise in frustration.
I disagree with hardcore instructors who claim that all shooting that isn’t structured is simply ‘making brass.’ I am a hardcore instructor as well, and I completely enjoy shooting for its own sake and would hate to give up plinking.
Anything that encourages the learning of proper trigger press and sight alignment is good. Another great advantage of plinking is that you may just find that the wife and kids will come along to plink much more readily than if they are sighting the rifle in for hunting season or engaging in personal defense practice. They may just get the bug and make an affair of it.
Plinking includes firing at the inoffensive tin can, modern, purpose-designed plastic targets, dirt clods, or even rocks at suitable range. The clay bird is a good choice. Firing at targets at known ranges is fine for sighting in but when the range isn’t known, marksmanship comes into play, and we learn how to handle our firearm. This used to be called Kentucky Windage. Kentucky Windage has brought home a lot of game not to mention the effect on Redcoats.
Plinking is far from the province of the novice. Sure, it is a good beginning to get used to the firearm, but those that have mastered the firearm also engaged in plinking. “How will the Glock perform at 100 yards?” or “Can I hit that rock in the desert with my .308?” may not be exact practice, but it sure is fun.
As long as safety is followed strictly, you need no rules for plinking. Plinking is for fun. You can make a little contest out of it if you wish, but don’t get too serious. Just make brass.
Get the kids out!
Unfortunately, today many kids have been raised by video games. Not long ago, I flew over the Rockies and experienced a brilliant sunset, as a young man to my right remained buried in his cell phone screen. There is more to life than texting and more to life than shooting, but when shooting you must have your attention on the task at hand.
Getting involved may mean reactive targets. Paper targets work sometimes, particularly the Zombie breed, but steel reaction targets and the Newbold plastic targets work even better. Have an indoctrination for safety, and be certain that they realize that the firearm may malfunction, short cycle, or jam. This happens with .22s—especially if they are not gripped properly.
Get on with business!
There are many good targets. A tin can filled with water makes quite a commotion when hit. You can even stack the cans and aim for the bottom can, double tap, and perforate each neatly! This really impresses beginners, but do not wear it out. Balloons are great fun too. You do not have to center punch them to get a great reaction. As marksmanship progresses, it is good to concentrate on trigger control, sight alignment, and sight picture— quickly getting the sights on the target.
The .22 caliber rifle is the natural first choice for plinking. Recoil is light, economy is foremost, and the rifles are very accurate to 100 yards. Everyone enjoys firing the .22 rifle. The pistol is much more difficult to master, but a quality .22 caliber handgun leads shooters into the proper marksmanship pattern for centerfire firearms.
I have enjoyed using the .22 caliber handgun with a red dot sight as just one example. I have learned the best setting for the red dot (I do well with the highest brightness setting). In short, plinking leads to proficiency with all firearms and with iron sights, red dots, or scopes. But don’t make it a practice exercise all of the time. Fun is fun. I know plenty of good shots that have never engaged in any sort of practice other than plinking, and they take game on a regular basis after simply sighting the rifle in. No, they are not prepared for a combat course, but they are prepared to defend their home.
A rather pleasant exercise has been called Mini Sniping. This is using a precision (or at least very accurate) rifle at ranges far short of its potential, but using reduced targets. Driving a tack at 15 yards is quite possible with a good quality scope and rimfire rifle. Likewise, using reduced-size targets at range of 50 yards or less is good practice with .223 and .308 rifles. Plinking is a lot of fun, and while stretching the definition, it is plinking to me.
Another type of plinking is perhaps my favorite. I like using centerfire handguns for plinking. Most of them are fun shooters that I would not carry for personal defense, and most are not useful for hunting. I just like to see what they are capable of. One example is the Beretta Jetfire .25 ACP self loader. This little jewel is well made, reliable, and surprisingly accurate. I have managed to hit balloons with it at 25 yards. A drawback in plinking with this handgun and the .22 is that as the range increases, bullet strikes are more difficult to spot in the dirt or on the berm.
A class of plinkers that are surprisingly accurate are the military grade .32 ACP pistols such as the Colt 1903 and the CZ 50. A firearm that is a plinker’s dream, and which I enjoy very much, is the Tokarev 7.62 x 25mm pistol. The Tokarev doesn’t kick much and the 1400 fps cartridge shoots very flat. I use the Red Army Standard loads and enjoy these accurate loads. The Tokarev has never failed to feed, fire, and eject—it is pretty useful in 100 yard plinking.
While it has some utility for personal defense with the Wolf JHP loads, I have other choices. Just the same, I’d rather have this 9-shot 7.62 x 25mm pistol than any .32 H and R Magnum or compact .380 ACP for personal defense. And, if your pistol is accurate enough, this is a good coyote gun.
But it all begins with plinking. One of the best plinkers of all is the 9mm pistol. Accurate, reliable, economical and a great fun gun, the 9mm high capacity pistol makes plinking enjoyable and even therapeutic.
Among the best big bore plinkers are the .357 Magnum revolvers. I use a good quality hard cast bullet from Magnus Cast Bullets in the .38 Special cartridge case. A 148-grain full wadcutter at about 800 fps is right, although I have loaded the 196-grain RNL at 900 fps for long range plinking. At 50 to 100 yards and plinking at dirt clods and such on the berm, the Python, Model 19, and Ruger GP100 are excellent plinkers.
This builds familiarity with the firearm, and quite often I fire double action. Scoring a hit at 100 yards with the .357 in the double-action mode brings exhilaration and instant feedback. Not that it is the norm, plinking involves a lot of misses, and that’s just fine.
Another favorite for plinking is the single-action revolver in either .357 Magnum or .45 Colt. Cowboy action loads from Winchester do a great job for most chores. After a bit of familiarization, you really can throw the gunfighter gun about and get a fast hit using just the front sight. For some reason, I almost never plink with my favorite carry and service pistols, the 1911 .45. I suppose I get enough time in practicing tactical shooting with these!
Sometimes a shooting session is filled with surprises. As an example, I drafted my wife as a rater in a test program. She took to the .30 caliber carbine and promptly ate up a box of Hornady’s 110-grain FMJ loading. More satisfying than the .22—and with little kick—she discovered what generations rediscovered about the .30 carbine. This is a great plinker that is fun, accurate enough, and builds familiarity with what is still a great home-defense carbine. Plinking is full of surprises and an all American pursuit. Get started now!
Are you ready to go plinking? What is your favorite plinking gun? Do you have a favorite plinking game? Share your answers in the comment section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
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