Plinking is a great way to hone your marksmanship skills – or just have some good old-fashioned fun! Mike Morton runs through a few different types of target…
Informal target shooting, better known as plinking, is a great way to put some shots downrange. Because there’s none of the pressure you’re under when targeting live quarry or taking a crucial shot in a competition, you’re free to concentrate on your shooting. Plinking for fun is a fantastic stress-buster, but there are other benefits: it helps you keep your skills current, and is an invaluable way of getting yourself acquainted with a new rifle.
Paper targets are great for testing and precision work, but it’s really rewarding to shoot reactive targets that give you immediate feedback when they’ve been hit. Let’s take a look at what’s out there…
The simple spinner is one of the cheapest and most popular types of plinking target. It’s a source of great satisfaction when you hear the thwack of the pellet and see the target spin round its axis. Animal-themed spinners, with a variety of life-size airgun quarry head designs, are perfect for the hunter because you can learn to target your prey under controlled conditions. The painted surface will reveal each pellet strike, so you’ll be able to tell if you really did hit the kill zone. The paint will eventually get shot off, but if you keep a spray can to hand, you can top up your target.
Animal-themed targets can be a big turn-off for some people, but there is a plethora of alternative designs, usually with circular or square shapes to aim at, such as the Double Spinner from Nockover Targets (www.nockover-targets.co.uk).
RIGHT AND WRONG: screw-in spinners
We’ll go into garden range safety in more detail in another article, but be aware that a strike on a spinner doesn’t always result in the pellet stopping dead. Spent ammunition hitting a top spinner can ricochet upwards and backwards, so be aware of your boundaries if you’re shooting in your garden. Most large spinners of this type work by having an opposing counterweight, and these make excellent targets too. They’re often smaller than the main target, so offer more of a challenge; and in this case spent pellets are deflected downwards, which is safer. Most plinking targets are designed to be shot with legal-limit rifles, so if you want to shoot an FAC-rated airgun you’ll need to locate a rimfire-rated target – not to mention somewhere safe and legal to shoot it.
A variation on the regular stick-in-the ground spinner is the screw-in spinner, such as the one from Jack Pyke (www.jackpyke.co.uk). The Mini Screw In Air Rifle Spinner Target is screwed into a wooden object such as a tree, gate or fence post. Just be careful about your backstop: by design the spinner will be positioned to one side of its wooden support, not in front of it, so don’t rely on that big oak tree as a backstop.
Perhaps the best-known type of plinking target is the resettable style, such as the Flip-Up Crow Field Target from BSA (www.bsaguns.co.uk). A hit to the central kill zone will make the whole target fall over backwards, after which the target can be pulled back up again using the supplied reset cord. Some targets use metal reducers to shrink the size of the kill zone and make a successful strike more difficult.
The Hunter Practice Rabbit, another offering from Nockover, can be set on the ground and staked in place, although it’s heavy enough to stay put under its own weight if it’s placed on grass. A shot to the head sees the yellow disc topple, after which a shot to the reset disc in the chest will see it pop back up again without the need for a reset cord. This particular target is extremely well-made and the mechanism is reliable at all normal airgun ranges – just make sure to oil it from time to time.
If you’ve ever shot ducks at a fairground, then the gallery knockdown type of target will be familiar to you. When you shoot each animal it falls over when hit, then when they’re all down you shoot a central reset target to flip them back up, meaning the fun can start all over again. Targets like this have the additional benefit of acting as a pellet catcher, reducing the risk of ricochet and collecting all that harmful lead, which can then be disposed of safely. In practice, I’ve noticed that .22 pellets seem to work best with this type of target. Although legal-limit guns produce similar levels of energy regardless of calibre, velocity is quite different, and a faster-flying .177 pellet won’t always knock down the target.
The Flip-Target (www.flip-target.com) offers a different experience. Its special polymer is designed to withstand around 2,000 shots, but could last even longer. Similar types of flip target are available from other manufacturers. When one of the discs is hit the whole target will flip away from the shooter, presenting the next target at a different angle and at a greater distance than the last, so each subsequent shot gets more challenging, bringing range estimation into play as well. It’s easy to get carried away when shooting a target like this, so ensure you have a safe backstop for every shot. Fun must always come second to safety.
Chalk targets such as the Shoot-N-Smash from Bisley (www.bisley-uk.com) are traditionally associated with rapid-fire and breakable disc target competitions, but are steadily growing in popularity for plinking. The disc must be rested against a safe backstop or hung from a nail or twig, then when it’s shot it explodes in a grin-inducing cloud of chalk dust. The regular white target disc has nowadays been supplemented by coloured discs as well as a variety of different shapes, including animals. Check out chalktargets.co.uk for some additional styles. Do remember that if you’re pinning the target to a wooden board, make sure it’s soft wood with a safe backstop behind, as pellets can ricochet straight back off hard wood surfaces.
If you’re looking for more bang for your plinking buck, FireCap targets offer explosive fun. The FireCap system uses the same type of ring caps that are used in toy guns. A hinged stainless steel target plate is placed over a ring cap once it’s been seated on the target’s firing pins. The target plate is then held in place by a powerful magnet. A pellet hitting the plate causes the caps to detonate in an explosive flash, a loud bang and a cloud of smoke. The FireCap is available on its own, which can be screwed to a suitable backstop, or on a spike that can be driven into the ground. The 8-ring caps it uses can be bought in toy shops or online and work out at just a few pence a pop, delivering great-value fun. If you want more, a Magnum Edition is also available.
Explosive Action: Using the FireCap target
Firebird Targets makes two types of target for airgun use, and shotgun and live-fire targets are also available. The 40mm airgun variants come in standard or quiet format. The standard targets explode when hit, delivering flash, smoke and noise, while the quiet targets tone down the noise considerably. However, they still make a bit of a racket, so consider your neighbours if you’re intending to shoot these in your garden. Each target is single-use only and costs about £1, so you may want to use these sparingly as a reward for making more challenging shots.