Here's the deal, my brothers and sisters in camo: We all like shooting, and we all want to be better at it, right?
There is an overabundance of volumes that have been written about shooting and marksmanship dating to the muzzleloader cap-and-ball days, and now we have more videos than you could ever watch and more instructors than you could ever take classes in a lifetime. After a while, you can soon reach overload on shooting technique, which covers everything from stance to sight picture to trigger squeeze to eye dominance to the best way to lay on the ground and fire a rifle.
Among all the vast quagmire of the shooting and firearms world, when you boil it all down to the sticky residue in the bottom of the can - and get past the inflated egos of many supposed firearms gurus - one truth is undeniable and always shines through: We get better at shooting by doing it.
Nothing takes the place of going out and burning powder. Doing it over and over (correctly) only makes us more familiar with the weapon and improves our marksmanship. And here is the kicker: It needs to be fun! If the gun doesn't fit you, the recoil is hammering you and the report is too loud, you are not having fun. Most of us humans tend to quit doing things that are not fun, and when we quit practicing, our shooting skills go out the window.
There is a remedy for all this, and it is called plinking, a term you've seen me use before in this column space.
So what is plinking, and how do you do it? Well, as opposed to going to a regimented (perhaps commercial) range indoors or outdoors, it's more informal shooting at targets that are already there or are placed without a lot of fuss. Sites range from the backyard on a big enough piece of property to an open field. The targets could be natural, such as stumps, or man-made, such as tin cans - hence the PLINK! sound that gives the practice its name.
What could also be classified as plinking is a time-honored method many of us grew up with in learning to shoot firearms: We went to the local dump.
Did changes in solid waste disposal cause a decrease in our marksmanship skills?
You see, back in the day, getting rid of trash was a little different than it is today. In the late 1950's and through the following decade, when I was running the woods and river banks with a BB gun and later a .22 rifle, most communities had some form of local trash dump, as opposed to today's use of large landfills and recycling programs to dispose of things we no longer need or want. We don't like to think about it now, but years ago a town or neighborhood trash dump was commonplace.
So what was in the dump? A bit of everything. Household trash was the most common, but usually many other items could be found. Old furniture, mattresses, tree trimmings, the odd television (people actually bothered to repair TVs back then), even a junk car or two was usually present; anything you wanted to get rid of went to the dump. The inclusion of food items such as table scraps and other edibles brought various animals to the dump - including, at times, a thriving population of rats, which we shooters were glad to take of.
So why am I boring you with this dissertation on the terrible practices of solid waste disposal in the past? Simply to show you this was a place where one could go and shoot - mainly .22 rifles and pistols, as well as BB and pellet guns - and it was a target-rich environment.
The local dump had a couple things going for it that made it a good place to shoot and improve your marksmanship. First, as noted, there was no shortage of targets. Cans and bottles were the most popular, and with a semiautomatic .22, you could make a Campbell's soup can really dance. Second, the dump was usually located in an isolated place, away from town and houses, so there was no problem with shooting too close to any inhabitants. All of this added up to a great place to burn powder, although sometimes we did this with just BB guns and pellet rifles, meaning no firearms were present.
Don't have your own dump? No problem.
Thankfully we don't have many local trash dumps still around, but you can still come up with some unusual and fun targets for plinking. Like many things in life, you are only limited by your imagination. The standard plinking fare of aluminum drink cans is easy, of course, but the sky is the limit for other options.
Life Savers or other hard candy can be set up on edge or suspended with string, old golf balls make dandy targets - you can set them up on a tee – and empty shotgun hulls are natural plinking targets. Maybe you have some eggs in the fridge that are past the expiration date; they are fun when hit with a .22 bullet, as are water bottles with a little food coloring added. How about this one? Put some jelly in the middle of a white paper plate, then hang it up and wait for the flies to land, à la Jed and Jethro on "The Beverly Hillbillies."
For paper targets, you can use anything from conventional small-bore rifle targets to playing cards and pictures of game animals from a hunting magazine. All of this is done, of course, under adult supervision for the kids, and everyone needs to wear safety glasses.
Again, you are limited only by what you may think of here as targets, and maybe you are seeing that many of these targets are similar in some way to what we might have found at the trash dump.
You may not have a dump to go shoot at these days, but you can still get in some serious plinking with a Daisy Red Ryder, a Gamo pellet rifle or whatever .22 has captured your attention for the time being.
So do it safely, but go be a kid again.
"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.