As local communities continue to update Covid-19 regulations, local destinations for outdoor recreation may be closed. Please visit official websites for the latest information.

Bored, Bored on the Range? Here’s the Fix

Liven up your shooting sessions.

By Michael Pendley

Bored, Bored on the Range? Here’s the Fix
Image Courtesy of Cheryl Pendley
Adding a bit of friendly competition to your practice time makes things more interesting. Here the author (right) and his son duel it out on their farm with a balloon challenge.

Practice makes perfect. We’ve all heard it. We know it’s true. To truly master a task, be it playing the piano, putting a ball through a hoop or hitting a bull’s-eye, you have to put in the time to build the skills and muscle memory required to be proficient. 

Be it an everyday carry pistol for personal protection, a favorite hunting long gun or a variety of firearms from your personal collection, repetitive shooting practice builds familiarity that can make the difference in a high-pressure shooting situation. But let’s face it. Practicing something the same way, time after time, sucks. Even something as much fun as the shooting range gets stale if all you ever do is punch paper targets. This can be particularly true for young and new shooters, the very people who can benefit most from extra practice time. 

The answer? Make range time fun again. Here are a few ways to make that happen:

Use Reactive Targets for Instant Feedback

Image Courtesy of Cheryl Pendley
Reactive steel targets give instant feedback on hits and misses.

Punching paper is fine, but stopping after each shot to reel it in, walk to the target or peer through a spotting scope to check your impact point takes a lot of time and isn’t that much fun. 

Using targets such as inflated balloons of various sizes to accommodate various skill levels, different sizes of clay shotgun targets, or even ice cubes of varying dimensions let you know in an instant whether your aim was true. 

Don’t want the hassle of blowing up balloons or cleaning up clay pigeon shards? Look into any of the steel reactive targets on the market today. Designs run the gamut from dueling tree models that flip targets to either side of a central post when hit to simple plate targets that flip backward with a bullseye. Many of these can be reset by shooting a trip target or by pulling a rope attached to a reset lever, saving the shooter a trip downrange. Steel gongs that emit a satisfying twang with each hit let you know instantly if your aim was true and are a good choice for long-range practice when you don’t want to travel downrange after each shot to check your target. 

Make it Competitive

Image Courtesy of Cheryl Pendley
Set up a tic-tac-toe match at the shooting bench. First one to clear a row without being blocked by their competitor wins.

A little friendly competition makes everything more interesting. Set up a match with a buddy or a family member to see who can be the first to clear a row of targets. 

Here are a few target games my family enjoys shooting:

  • Balloon Race—This is great fun for two shooters. Tape two parallel rows of equal-sized balloons down on a wide wooden board. At the word “Go!” each shooter attempts to be the first to bust each balloon in his or her row. Have two shooters of different skill levels? Make one row of balloons smaller for the more experienced shooter and blow the others up larger for the less-seasoned shooter, or double the number of balloons on one side for an extra challenge.
  • Tic-Tac-Toe—This one is more about marksmanship than about speed. Place a home-made and good-sized tic-tac-toe board against your range’s backstop. Tape a balloon in each square. Each shooter takes a shot at the square they want to mark. A miss means no square and the other shooter gets a chance. Keep up with who hit what square on a tic tac toe board drawn on a dry-erase board or piece of scrap paper at the shooting bench, and the first shooter to complete a row of three busted balloons without being blocked by their competitor wins.
  • Dueling Tree Match—Commercially produced dueling tree targets that rotate the aiming spot to the opposite side of a central post when hit are the perfect competition setup for a pair of shooters. Start with equal numbers of targets on either side of the central post. Both shooters can shoot simultaneously or take turns trying to flip all the targets to the opponent’s side of the post. Your shooting partner is about to put all of his or her targets on your side? Shoot a couple to flip them back over. First shooter to clear their side wins.
  • Kick the Can—Have access to an outdoor shooting range with flat, open spaces? Go old school and toss out a few empty aluminum soda or food cans. Take turns shooting at the cans, with each hit knocking it farther from the shooters. (Remember to only shoot the can if it stays in front of the backstop. Any can that skews off-center and no longer has a safe backstop behind it is off-limits). First person to miss and not move the can loses. 
  • Fun Paper Target Games—Many companies are now making super-fun target games printed in standard target sizes. If you have a range that allows only paper targets, all is not lost. Birchwood Casey has a wide selection of paper target games, everything from a “You sunk my battleship!” design and a game of pool to a racetrack scenario, target “golf” and a “dart” game. Many of these targets are printed on white paper with the splash-style ink that instantly shows a hit by exposing an easy-to-see white ring around the bullet hole with every hit.
  • Time Yourself—All alone at the range? Compete against yourself by adding a timer to your shooting practice. Start the timer, clear a selected set of targets by hitting each one, then stop the timer. See how many times in a row you can beat your own best time. This is where reactive targets like balloons or moving steel really shine, since they tell you immediately if your shot was a hit or a miss. 

Image Courtesy of Birchwood Casey
Birchwood Casey Battle at Sea Target

Range Safety

Matching skills with a shooting buddy brings out the competitive juices. That can be a fine thing in any sport, but this isn’t about a ball and a bat. This is about firearms. Always practice range safety no matter how heated the contest. 

  • Make sure all range areas are clear—no one in front of the firing line—before handling firearms. 
  • Keep all shooters behind a marked line while shooting to prevent anyone from stepping into another shooter’s lane. If targets need to be reset of pasted, all shooters should be ordered to clear their firearms, leave them open and empty on the bench and step back from the firing line until those heading downrange for target maintenance have returned safely behind the firing line.
  • If a third person is available, have them stand behind the shooters to monitor the range and prevent any unsafe situations that might occur. This is especially helpful and easily accommodated when you have a group of friends who can take turns pulling range officer duty and shooting.
  • As with any shooting practice, always wear appropriate hearing and eye protection while on the range. 
  • Always make sure your range space has an adequate backstop and know what’s beyond that backstop before commencing firing. 

Keep Your Range Clean

No one likes showing up at the range to find it littered with trash. That includes empty ammo boxes left behind on indoor ranges and expended brass that hasn’t been swept forward of the firing line. Outdoors, always pick up your targets, including tiny bits of balloons, clay targets, tin cans and other refuse once your shooting session is over. You should also pick up your empty brass and take it with you when you leave. 

By introducing some of these shooting games to your practice schedule, you’ll shoot more often, stay at the range longer, and you’ll have far more fun than you will repeating the same boring drills over and over on the same boring target. Over time, that extra practice—practice that shakes things up a bit, makes you study the target and your sight alignment more and has you perfecting your trigger squeeze—will pay off in improved shooting skills for the long run, and next to the fun, that’s the biggest benefit of all.

As local communities continue to update Covid-19 regulations, local destinations for outdoor recreation may be closed. Please visit official websites for the latest information.

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