In 1857 Smith & Wesson developed the first metallic cartridge in the United States, the .22 round. Since its inception, the .22 has remained a remarkably consistent feature on shooting ranges and in gun cabinets across the country.
Preppers love the .22 for its availability, affordability, and the ease with which they can be stored and carried, however others dislike them for their lack of stopping power. Almost every shooter will have fired their first shots from a .22, probably at some dirt bank covered in improvised targets.
For those who don’t know, this is what plinking is – informal shooting (usually with family or friends) at an almost infinite list of targets, from empty cans to terrapin shells, or for the more creative, blocks of clay or ice to homemade targets. Whilst kids may plink for fun, it’s important to remember that plinking is as good practice as the most exclusive range, and practice makes poor shooters good and good shooters great.
Why do we plink?
Plinking can be casual or competitive, and those competitions can range from measuring pin-point accuracy to high-volume shooting at reactive targets. However, we should take a moment to remember the main reason for plinking – fun. People plink because it can be done almost anywhere, is the cheapest way to shoot stuff, involves spending time outdoors, and offers a more engaging shooting experience than established target ranges.
Considering the 160-year history of the .22, the range of firearms available is truly extensive. Pistols and rifles can be found spanning every corner of the market that are ideal for plinking, with the 1931 S&W Model 17 being viewed by many as the best plinking pistol, and the classiest plinking rifles costing up to $2,500. Plinking is an easy and cheap activity that can be done by a perfectionist working on their skills, or shared among a large group as a social activity. Furthermore, for many people, plinking is the only practical way to keep up their marksmanship as a target range may be hours away.
Whether you’re a hunter working on your accuracy, someone learning the ropes of shooting, or a group of kids hitting bottles for fun, the chances are you’ll be using good old .22 Long Rifle rimfire cartridges. They are perhaps the most “user-friendly” ammunition ever made – negligible recoil, low noise level, and very cheap.
Despite these attributes and the 160-year-old heritage of the calibre, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a decent supply of .22 LR. Are the difficulties being faced by the supply of .22 LR leading to a decline in plinking?
.22 LR Shortage
A range of factors can explain the difficulties in tracking down .22 ammunition. Increasing demand from a growing population, and higher numbers of people wanting to spend a day at the range could be using up the available .22, which, if you consider the capacity constraints imposed on factories, makes a lot of sense.
If a factory wanted to produce more .22 to satisfy growing demand, they’d have to produce less ammunition of another, more profitable, calibre. More people are entering the shooting sports community, however fewer of them are pursuing hunting, preferring instead to blast away at the range – spending much, much more ammunition than a decent hunter.
Another explanation can be found in the practices of the large ammunition manufacturers. In order to simplify their distribution chain and increase profits, many believe they now only deal with a half-dozen of the major big-box outlets, leaving thousands of Federal Firearms License holders with an unreliable supply. Many people may have even feared the federal government under the Obama Administration was trying to corner the market of .22 LR ammunition, and hoarded as much ammunition as they could.
More and more these days, .22 ammo is back on the shelves. The most likely explanation is a combination of all of the above: the perfect storm of economic, political, and social issues have made the .22 more difficult to get hold of may finally be at an end. Without the trusty old .22, plinking, that institution of gun ownership, may well be on the decline. Other calibres will drive up costs, wake the neighbors, and pose more of a risk to those doing the plinking.
Of course, it could be a change in social attitudes, the spread of anti-gun ideas, or merely the fact that the kind of kids who were plinking a generation ago are now perfectly content taking shots on Call of Duty rather than in the woods that is leading to a decline in plinking – and if it was all about having fun, maybe that’s ok.
Featured 10/22 image courtesy of Rugger