By Troy Hoepker
There’s little I enjoy more than punching paper with a rifle fed with a new load to see how accurate it can shoot as well as how tightly I can place the groupings with my own skill. When achieved, those microscopic groupings are very self-satisfying and a lot of fun. But let’s be honest here; which is more fun, punching the same old boring paper all the time or shooting things full of holes and watching them fall over, blow up or disintegrate into thin air? Well, naturally, shooting stuff is more fun!
The ideas are really endless when it comes to targets such as fruits and vegetables, cans, balloons, etc. and how we can mount them or have fun shooting them up. Try a few of these ideas, or items included in this article and set aside a day for a shoot-a-thon. Just be sure to use the rules of firearm safety, wear your eye and ear protection, always have a good backstop beyond your target always and clean up your messes when you’re finished.
Shooting steel is a lot of fun because it’s reactive, it sounds great to ring the bell and its life as a target is long lasting given that you’ve selected the right material and thickness for what you’ll be bouncing off of it. Whenever shooting a steel target, you want to consider a few things. First, how will you be hanging it safely? Hanging steel with chains, a piece of old conveyer belt, or a heavy duty mudflap lets the gong swing backward when struck helping deflect the fragmenting pieces of your bullet into the ground safely. Hanging it with a slight tilt from top to bottom also helps the bullet splash away correctly. Secondly, the material you choose plays a large part in not only safety but also how long your gong will last. Softer steel can dimple or get cut by an impact and when a second impact hits those spots again it can send off a ricochet where you don’t want it. If you are using a .22 on some steel targets, it may handle it fine but once you grab a .44 or a .308, you’ll turn your target into an unsafe one. So it’s wise to choose hardened, abrasion resistant steel like AR400 or AR500. These types of steel are specifically alloyed to yield the properties that make them extremely tough and abrasion resistant.
This is definitley a target that you want to place in front of a berm or tall backstop and placed away from people, buildings and other objects that you wish to keep free of debris. The target will deflect debris at roughly a 20-degree angle. Many manufacturers suggest staying back more than 15 yards with a pistol and 100 yards with a rifle. The higher the velocity of the round, the further back you should shoot from. So for rifle rounds traveling at 3000 fps and above, 200 yards and beyond should be as close as you get. Lead round nose ammunition is more forgiving as well.
I built my gong stand out of wood but will change the stand to a metal one next. The wood frame can get pretty chewed up from fragmented bullet parts after time. If you have some welding skills or a welding shop around the corner, have them build you something.
Building a plate rack is pretty easy and it’ll be one of the most used targets that you’ll ever own. The ideas are endless but I used three, eight-foot 2×4’s and cut them in half and screwed together a frame, so the stand height is 48 inches tall. Each of the three cross-members is also 48 inches long. Then underneath I added some feet for it to stand. Before screwing it all together, I used a ½ inch router bit and cut a channel all the way down each cross-member so that I could place clay pigeons or other targets into the channel so they would stand up vertically. Then I drilled several small holes and ran a short piece of thin wire through for hanging targets such as the pop cans you see in the picture. They can be customized however you would like. Some people add a spinner target or two on the top of the rack or attach some clips for hanging balloons or other things. Build two of these and have competition shoots. Once the wood begins to get chewed up, I can quickly cut a new piece and replace it.
Dueling trees are endless fun. You can purchase a metal swinging one like the one in the picture or make your own. The idea behind a metal swinging dueling tree is to shoot all the targets on one side of the target and get them to swing over to the other side of the target while your opponent does the same. The first person with no more of their own colored targets on his or her side of the tree wins. Other games can be played as well. A homemade dueling tree is easy to make as well. A simple 2×6 or similar material will work. Cut it to roughly four feet tall and then add a couple of wooden ground stakes at the bottom so that it will stand on its own. Then hammer in five or six long nails every 8 or 9 inches on each side of the board leaving a couple of inches of the nail exposed so that you can shove fruit, vegetables, or whatever you’d like onto each nail for a target. You can tie on balloons, or slide on pop bottles. Another idea is to cut slits into a wooden ground stake and slide spent shotgun shell casings into the slits on each slide of the stake. Aim for the rim of the shotgun hull and try and knock them all out before your opponent.
Lay out a golf ball, a tennis ball or one of those self-healing target balls in front of you. Have your opponent do the same with their own ball at equal distance away from them. The idea is to shoot the ball enough times to get it past the finish line which will be at a predetermined distance away from each of you. Think of it like a football field where the winner crosses the goal line first. Golf balls can really move when hit and so can other rolling targets like Do-All’s Impact Seal Dancing Ball and both absorb .22 bullets well. The finish line can be as close or as far away as you would like. For a long-range finish line start with a pistol and then once your ball crosses the halfway line, grab the .22 rifles to get it the rest of the way. You can also play the same game with a walking steel target and a closer finish line.
Tee It Up
Drill holes in a 2×4 or similar material and slide golf tees into each hole. Mount whatever you’d like onto the golf tees and have some plinking fun. Golf balls really zing off the tee when hit but you could also place paint balls, eggs, or grapes to name a few for some splatter effect. Golf tees and range balls can easily be found for free or cheap and the tees elevate the target up off of the base a couple of inches. Build a couple of these for competitive shoots. If you don’t want to shoot things off of the tee, stick some lollipops down into the holes for targets.
Take a 2×4 of desired length and cut a dado in it down the length of the 2×4. The dado width only needs to be blade width or slightly wider. Set your table saw blade or circular saw blade cutting depth to ¼ inch. After you’re done you can slide Saltine crackers edgewise into the dado and they’ll stand up for some fun target shooting. They explode rather well and the birds will clean up your mess when you are done.
Feeling lucky? Tape a deck of cards to a sheet of cardboard face down. Go back the desired distance and shoot five cards of your choosing. Have your opponent do the same. Now flip over your five cards and see who has the best five-card poker hand. The same can be played with seven-card poker or any other card game you can think of. It’s also a fun wagering game. Another fun thing to try is to turn a single card sideways and mount it to a clip or clothespin attached to a post. Have two posts, two clips, and two cards and see who can cut through the card first by shooting it in half. Another fun game is to attach some plastic forks to a piece of wood, slide a playing card in the spokes of each fork and shoot the cards. You can play poker that way or just shoot a certain spot on the card that your opponent picks out. Kind of like the game of “horse” or “pig” in basketball.
The ideas are endless with balloons and they are just plain fun to pop. Kids especially enjoy shooting something like a balloon. Put a little talcum powder or chalk into the balloon and it’ll make a nice dust cloud when it explodes. Add helium to the balloons and attach them all over your shooting range at varying distances. Time yourself or others on how long it takes to pop your balloons and deduct time for missed shots. Assign each participant a color of balloon that is his or hers to shoot. Line up balloons and see who can pop theirs the fastest when someone yells go. Attach them to cardboard and play Tic-Tac-Toe. Turn the cardboard around and attach just a few balloons and play a version of Battleship. First one to guess the right locations and pop their opponent’s balloons on the other side of the cardboard wins.
Target shooting doesn’t have to be the same ordinary shooting of paper targets. While that style of practice is definitely important and has its place, sometimes it’s fun to take a different approach to shooting. Use some of the ideas I discussed above next time you go to the range and have some fun! Remember safety first!