Plinking is a rite of passage and anyone who claims to have had a great childhood can probably also credit this to the distinct “plink” sound cans make when they are hit and fall to the ground. Who would think hitting cans would cause such pleasure? I really don’t know how anyone can go without a game of “knock the can over” with a handful of rocks at the very least. Don’t worry, if you never experienced this, it is not too late and even as an adult I try to find opportunities to hone my marksmanship and have a little fun in the process.
You don’t have to be young to enjoy a little plinking/target shooting on the trail. Shooting paper targets is one thing, shooting something visually and audibly reactive like a can is another. While plinking can be done with thrown stones, a slingshot, or BB gun, my preferred plinker for the trail is a .22 rimfire pistol. As a kid you might have lined up cans just to knock them over. As an adult, you can find different ways to vary your training and learn more skills with a humble little .22 and this practice may save your life in a pinch.
Plinking is usually done with a rifle or handgun but for this blog, I’m focusing on the latter. Keep in mind, plinking is fun but before we have fun, we must exercise caution as firearms are not toys. That said,there are many choices and manufacturers offer different pistols chambered in .22 for target shooting and hunting. Rather than telling you to purchase one pistol over another, I’ll simply say this, find the one that works best for you. It should feel good in the hand and point well. It should point well and if it is lightweight, that is a bonus too. My personal favorite plinker is the Buckmark made by Browning and the upgrades available for it are purchased from Tactical Solutions. You’ll find both of these companies offer exceptional equipment and the combination offers the shooter great advantages.
A quality firearm should be fed quality ammunition. Luckily, the .22 is not the most expensive animal to feed. Even 100 rounds of premium grade ammunition from a company like CCI will cost less than a couple cups of coffee from your favorite Seattle-based coffee company. Since cost is not really a factor, try out multiple ammunition types to see which yields the best accuracy and reliability. One important and overlooked aspect of recreational marksmanship is cleaning up the brass mess you leave behind. Brass can be an eye sore and laying down a tarp or PDW Wool Utility Blanket will make policing up the spent casings much easier.
Range rules exist when you are not on a formal range. If you can protect your eyes and ears, be smart about your health and safety. You never know when a round can ricochet off of a rock or hard surface. I personally don’t skimp on my shooting glasses and use a pair of Oakley Tombstones. Hearing protection can be bulky and for a diminutive .22, a simple pair of foam plugs will prevent that sharp crack of the round from hurting your ears.
You probably don’t want to walk to the trail with your pistol in hand and just as a rifle needs a sling, a pistol needs a holster or case to safely carry it when it isn’t in your hand. I use a specific kydex holster from Tactical Solutions for my pistol but there are many options available. Find a good holster that holds your pistol securely, concealed if necessary, and one that protects the trigger guard.
While not a requirement, a quality suppressor will make your plinking even more enjoyable. Suppressors reduce the noise, help with recoil and mitigate muzzle flip. Let’s face another well-known fact too, suppressors help satisfy our James Bond alter egos we developed watching the movies all these years too. Just make sure to always carry a copy of your Class III tax stamp with you.
It’s almost impossible to go on a hike and not find other people’s litter. Aluminum beer and soda cans are scattered across all God’s creation and one man’s trash becomes the trail marksman’s treasure. Sometimes, you’ll spot litter set up as a range and this is an indicator not to camp in this area as those using the makeshift range may not realize you’re camping there. Drive along any road in the backcountry and you’ll spot bullet holes in signs. Be more responsible and pitch in by when you see old “range” waste left behind. Pack out what others did not when you can.
Keep in mind, just because you can carry a pistol doesn’t always mean you can discharge it legally. Make sure where you are headed has no laws against target shooting let alone possession of a firearm.
Should your location be legal to target shoot, make sure the “range” is appropriate too. Your .22 caliber round has the potential to travel a mile and a half. Sure, it is just a .22 but it is still a firearm and shouldn’t be treated like anything less. Make sure where you are shooting will serve as a good backstop with plenty of elevation behind it. If you have a dead tree to back your target up against, your bullets will embed and trap there. Whatever you do, don’t place your cans or target atop or in front of a rock as that can make bullets ricochet. Keep in mind, bullets can skip off water and a pond, lake, river and stream are not a suitable backstops.
Trail/backyard plinking is fun for all skill levels. The beginner can focus on strict accuracy under a watchful eye. This could mean hitting 10 cans with 10 rounds or hitting one can with every round. As skill improves, the marksman can see how quickly they can hit all 10 cans. Difficulty can be increased with increased distance. The 7 yard marksman might be confident at that range but can he/she hit their target at 25 yards? More variations of training include setting up moving targets by suspending cans from tree branches with twine.
When you feel like you’ve exhausted all possible ways of shooting, try out different shooting positions. Learn to shoot prone, seated, kneeling, with your strong hand, with your other strong hand. You can also incorporate drawing and shooting from your holster but keep in mind the limitations of your firearm and your ability. Don’t sacrifice safety for fun and don’t try anything you are uncomfortable with unless you have a good coach who can safely walk you through the learning process.
Importance of skills for Survival:
Plinking is more than a rite of passage. Plinking reinforces good habits and marksmanship that can be a real lifesaver in the great outdoors. Many of the trail pistols available are extremely lightweight and don’t burden the outdoorsman if he/she chooses to carry one. In an emergency, a trail pistol can put a bunny in the pot or a bird in the stew. After all, if you can hit a small aluminum can, you can hit a small animal that could feed you for a meal or two. 50-100 rounds of ammunition can feed you for a long time and a box or two of ammunition weighs less than a couple energy bars.
A common misconception in the survival community is the idea of harvesting a large game animal that will feed you for weeks. The reality is, smaller animals are more plentiful and usually easier to feed yourself with. I’m convinced I could sustain myself very well in the great outdoors with short-distance shots and a quick handling handgun. In a real emergency or survival situation, you’ll want the ability to hit your target and if you’ve made plinking and target practice a habit, this won’t be a problem.
****Danger Warning**** Please exercise good firearm safety around handguns and rifles. At the very least, control your muzzle ( to ensure zero bodily harm and minimal property damage) and keep your finger out of the trigger guard and off the trigger until you have a sight picture and you are ready to fire. Know your target and what is behind it and always know the status of your firearm. If you are uncomfortable around firearms, seek out a reputable instructor and learn how to safely handle the tools of the modern-day survivor.