Best Practices for Preparing Youth for Hunting -- The Value of Plinking

“It always seems impossible, until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

preteen girl plinking

My 2 Cents on Plinking

Shooting at a tin can at a distance no greater than the child can be successful is an important first experience. Shooting at paper targets is an important part of the practice and has great value but for the new shooter it can take all the fun out of shooting. They probably cannot see if they are hitting the paper or not. If they are not, there is little or no immediate feedback to learn from, to make corrections from.

When in the 60s my father put a length of 2x4 on wooden blocks less than a foot from the dirt embankment. He put a ½ dozen tin soup cans on the plank. He had me lay down no more than 25 feet away with my aunt’s 1940ish Remington 511 Scoremaster .22 and a box of 50 .22 Shorts. When I squeezed the trigger that first time the adrenaline was just as though I was shooting my first bull elk. I missed but I could see by where the dust kicked up on the embankment that was all the encouragement I needed, the dust gave me immediate feedback and the confidence that I knew I could hit it. Before long I had the sight picture figured out. Knocking that first can off the board was great. Hitting that first Campbell’s Soup can be a rite of passage for me as important as my first rabbit or deer. Plinking was the catalyst to get me started on my journey with nature and engineering.

By the next weekend I moved up to .22 LR and dad moved me back to the deck where the men shoot from, he adjusted the sight and soon I was hitting the cans again but now from 50 yards. In a few weeks we modified it a bit to have the cans hanging from strings so that I did not have to keep setting up the cans. Over the next few months, dad and a few of his friends mentored me on breath control, trigger squeeze, and body form. From that point forward I was shooting twice on Saturday and twice on Sunday. It was something I looked forward to each week from junior high through high school. The soup cans went to little sausage cans swinging in the breeze, I didn’t hit them all the time but the challenge is what made it fun. I grew into paper targets but plinking never grew out of this boy and shooting at tin cans turned into shooting 12 gauge shotshells off the plank or tied to the string.

In our camps most of the beginning shooting is plinking. We typically gather the broken clays from the trap range and set them up with varying degrees of difficulty. The orange painted white clay offers immediate and obvious positive feedback. We also have an old oxygen welding bottle made into a gong set up at 100 yards. The kids will work at it and work at it and when they finally hit the gong they will be so excited to tell me how high they had to aim to hit the gong. They will also tell me they could see it hit the bottle well before they could hear it, which gets the whole discussion going on the speed of sound and the velocity of the ammo.

I consider shooting trap as plinking for duck hunters and it is also a big part of our program for the older campers it also gives us an endless supply of broken clays for the kids to shoot at.

Teaching Teamwork When Plinking

“Plinking Extreme” is a fun contest that requires teamwork. Our campers will remember this for a lifetime. I first did this at a Big Horn Mountainman shoot in the 90s. It requires both a shotgun shooter and a rifleman and they have to work together. It is great, some kids will resonate shooting shotguns others rifles. The shotgun part is a bit tougher so the teams tend to have the older more skilled students on the shotgun and the younger ones on the rifle. This is also a fun parent and child team activity. How it is setup is easy, an empty soda can is set on top of a soda can filled with water. The teen with the shotgun when ready will say, “Pull,” the young man or girl with the rifle will shoot the can on the bottom, if hit just right the top can will be launched skyward with a spray of water. The shotgunner then shoots the can out of the air. The backbone of our rifle program after graduating from the .22s is to our lever-action rifles chambered in 45 Colt which works perfectly for this contest.

Shooting trap and targets are serious for the teens but shooting this contest is full of laughter and pats on the back. In short order, the teens are back handloading both the shotshells and the .45 Colt cartridges and talking strategies for next time.

Some of the kids we will never see again, others become a part of our family. It is common for these young adults sitting around the campfire to bring up “Plinking Extreme,” or some others of the plinking games staff or campers have come up with. Our reward is knowing we are making memories for a lifetime. For myself, the little farm is gone, my father is gone, but the fun and laughter we shared will last a lifetime.

"When he was young, I told Dale Jr. that hunting and racing are a lot alike. Holding that steering wheel and holding that rifle both mean you better be responsible. "
—Dale Earnhardt
"Some people fast, some people go on a cruise or visit a day spa. I get out in the woods with a rifle or a bow. That's my release. "
—Chris Pratt