Where is the needle pointing on your personal cabin fever meter?
Are you really sick of being indoors, yet at a loss for a good excuse to head outdoors?
In fact, this is the time of year when I do a lot of shooting.
No, I’m not inclined to sit at a cold benchrest, as valuable as load testing may be. And I’m not inclined to confine myself to dedicated shooting ranges much of the time either.
This is my time for informal plinking, or more accurately in my case, to practice offhand shooting. Snow alternating with mud is plenty of incentive to stand up for your shooting, just as the tall grass of fall will force you to do a lot of your shooting while standing fully upright.
But shooting in locations away from dedicated ranges carries a heavy burden for the shooters.
Over and above all other considerations is safety. You have to guarantee not only your own safety, but that of others. Yup, we’re right back to Hunter Safety 101, all the things you learned about safe backstops and tight controls on muzzles and gun handling in general.
The rules are important at a range, too, but they’re doubly important when you move away from the tight security of the range.
When picking a shooting location we look first for one with a safe backstop, but then we go one step further. We pick a location that makes it virtually impossible for other outdoor enthusiasts to get close, much less to wander into our field of fire.
On the road system that means staying away from well-used areas and choose a pullout big enough for one vehicle or barely two, plus no other pullouts in the immediate vicinity. It also means we have to have a good view of the surrounding countryside, even as we also have the safe backstop.
We take additional steps step beyond mere safety. We don’t like to disturb other people, whether they were in the area before us or arrive after we do. If there’s anyone around we move on, or if they arrive after us, we quit shooting.
I’ve had the experience of others showing up and wanting to shoot in the same locale, but I’m as concerned about their safe practices as my own. When other shooters arrive, I not only stop shooting for the time being, I make contact with them.
We talk over our respective shooting arrangements, and sometimes even elect to shoot together in the same spot. It gives me a chance to size up the new shooters’ safety awareness, and lets me demonstrate my own safety consciousness to their satisfaction.
If I don’t like their attitude or awareness, I leave. Plain and simple, I don’t want to expose myself or my companions to the newcomers’ carelessness, and I don’t want to be in the area should their lack of safety result in problems for others.
One more point, and then I’ll climb down from my soapbox and quit preaching.
I’m also very concerned about mess. All it takes is a trip to the end of the road in Monashka Bay to share my concern. What a stinking mess, which along with unsafe shooting in a popular recreational area leaves a mess that gives all of us a bad name.
Cleanup means leaving the spot so spotless and unaltered that no subsequent visitor has the slightest clue that I was shooting there. Leave a mess, and for months or years afterward all shooters will have a black eye.
So with all that in mind, how do I go about setting up a safe shooting range and enjoying myself while keeping the land clean?
I carry my target backstop with me. In fact it’s just a large cardboard box onto which I can tape my targets. The box is handy for picking up your own mess and that of others when you quit, and in the meantime it holds targets securely when you add a few rocks to the bottom in case of wind.
If I’d rather use alternate targets, I bring those from home, too.
The reactive metal targets that spin or flip when hit are ideal for rimfire .22s and air guns, but informal targets are fun, too, and usually better for higher power arms.
Gone are the days of using glass bottles for targets. There’s just no way to adequately clean up the mess, and for years to come visitors to the spot will have to watch out for broken glass.
I used to use clay pigeons for targets, but they too leave a mess, even if they eventually weather and disappear. It takes years for that to happen, and I’m concerned about our image as shooters.
So what in the world can we use for targets?
This time of year that’s easy. Ice chunks make great targets, and they explode into a white mist when you hit them. I’ve also used light colored pebbles or small rocks laid against the dark soil of a backstop.
You have to clean up the mess, but plastic soft drink bottles filled with water also make great targets. They explode in a great white cloud when you hit them, yet the pieces are big enough they’re easy to clean up afterward and drop in the recycling bin.
The most fun I’ve had, though, was using things like crackers or pilot bread that shatter when hit, but dissolve quickly once you’re through shooting. At closer ranges you can use small candies like Necco wafers.
In my experience, though, when you lay small targets on the ground they’re easily covered by a shot and you can’t tell whether you hit or not. Stretching a string between two stakes provides the ultimate way for shooting small targets. Life Saver candies are great because they have such a handy hole in them for hanging.
You can also use paper clips to hang crackers or pilot bread from strings simply by straightening the clip into a “Z” and pushing one end through the holes in the crackers.
It takes a little more planning, but for offhand shooting at longer ranges, especially with high-powered arms, I’m really fond of balloons.
If there’s no breeze, a rare day on Kodiak, you can simply hang them with string. If their movement on the breezes is too challenging, try cutting holes in your cardboard box slightly smaller than the inflated balloon, then shove the balloons into the opening for a friction fit. Just be sure to pick up the balloon bits when you’re through shooting.
Another source of mess, as well as wasted money from my perspective, is spent ammo. While you certainly can’t reload rimfire ammo, the accumulation of spent brass on the ground can turn into quite a mess.
I’m a reloader and as a matter of course I pick up all my centerfire cases for future use.It’s one of the big reasons I don’t shoot semi-autos in the field all that much. I just hate losing all that brass, or at the very least spending long periods scrabbling around looking for it on the ground.
The alternative when shooting a rimfire or semi-auto in a fixed location is to spread a tarp on the ground in the area where empty cases are landing. At the very least it helps save all that valuable centerfire brass. But even when shooting rimfires, you can easily clean up when the empties are landing on the tarp rather than the ground.
In closing there’s yet another good reason to use a large box as a target holder when shooting. It’s a dandy container not only for your own trash a shooting session, but also that of slob shooters who drove home without cleaning up.
Even when I’m not shooting I always keep a few garbage bags under the seat of my truck for cleaning up messes others leave behind. Although it’s not my mess, I clean it up to help our sport.
Shouldn’t we all be doing that?