Many families have 4th of July traditions that involve some sort of noise, usually sparks, and maybe even gunpowder. For our family, July 4th has always been a day to make a little noise with firearms while we spend time with family. I’m going to share a few ideas for a carnival-style shooting gallery that you can put together to have fun with your family.
Make the 4th Fun!
Some of my earliest memories of shooting were made while shooting BB guns. My siblings and our family friends would shoot BB guns in our basement or an empty field near our house. With our dads, empty soda cans, BB guns and eye protection, we would have a blast on the 4th of July. Sometimes we would challenge ourselves with small targets. We always helped our younger siblings enjoy and learn too.
Whether your memories are plinking at soda cans in the backyard or a game at the county fair, you can create your own carnival atmosphere at home. Keep it light-hearted, maybe come up with a prize, or make your own family trophy ... but whatever you do, make sure that your game starts with safety.
Explain the rules of firearms safety to your friends and family. You can find the 4 rules of firearms safety online, but reiterating them with each “contestant” is a way to help young people learn. You can even create no-shoot or penalty targets to force them to exercise judgement about what they’re allowed to hit. In addition to following safety rules, make sure everyone has eye and ear protection.
If it’s just BB guns that you shoot, ear protection is not required. This is one reason BB guns make great teaching tools for firearms safety and a simple way to introduce young people to safe firearms handling. Another plus to using BB guns is that you do not even need a range—shooting them is something that can be done in the backyard or indoors if the weather isn’t good. NOTE: even BB guns require eye protection!
Step Right Up!
Another simple way to make this activity safe is to build a shooting bench or table. This can be as simple as a folding table, or sawhorses and a sheet of plywood that you secure with a few screws. But something sturdy that you can set firearms and ammo on will create a place that muzzles can stay oriented downrange and will keep people from turning with firearms. Establishing an “unload and show clear” policy before you set a firearm down is great practice for this sort of plinking.
Make sure that your shooting gallery is set up for various heights and size people. Something like a bag or rest that young people can use while they aim will help level the playing field in your carnival game. You could even do head-to-head competition, by lining up soda cans and allowing two contestants to knock over their own set. A .22 rimfire rifle on a bipod is the perfect platform for this!
Pick a Target, Any Target!
One of my fondest memories of plinking as a kid is shooting tiny, plastic chickens and pigs with a BB gun. The farm animal type that many of us played with as children. The sight alignment required to hit one from 20 feet away was legit! But you can use any number of objects as targets: empty soda cans, 2 liter soda bottles, fruit, vegetables, dollar store toys, rubber targets that you can “roll” by shooting ... the possibilities are endless. A few things to keep in mind are that you don’t want to leave a mess on the range, so avoid glass or items that will shatter or fragment and could pose a risk.
If you decide to shoot anything larger than BB guns or .22 rimfire, make sure you consider your berm or impact area. Do not shoot metal targets from closer than 10 yards with a pistol or up to 50 yards with a full-bore rifle. ( A .223 rifle projectile will go through steel and damage it, so sticking to .22 rimfire is a much better choice for this type of plinking, and the 10 yard rule is about the average closest distance that most people conform to with .22 rimfire.)
Go Out With a Bang!
You can even purchase exploding targets for 4th of July. Tannerite and other brands offer targets to make your own little contribution to the sound of freedom. Be aware that these are generally not allowed by commercial ranges, and are going to require that you have permission from whoever owns the land you are shooting on. There are also safety concerns—follow all distance requirements and eye and hearing protection definitely need to be worn. But they are fun, and even come in .22 rimfire compatible packages. But these are definitely a serious target that requires serious supervision. You need to understand risk of fire in dry areas and have proper adult oversight.
Spending time with your family and friends while engaged in enjoyable pastimes that help them incorporate safe firearms handling is a way to build future gun owners who are better prepared to share these same skills with others. A holiday contest of skill and accuracy can give kids who might have otherwise not had an interest in shooting a chance to see what it is that we all love about firearms ownership.
Challenges using iron sights and optics will allow you to teach skills in how to use firearms, as well as allow time to become familiar with them in a setting that’s just about having fun. So while sparklers and fire-crackers are very traditional means of making noise on the 4th, don’t forget other ways to celebrate and share a little knowledge in the process!
Checklist for 4th of July Range Day
- Guns: BB guns or .22 rimfire
- Ammo: BBs, .22 rimfire (If you are shooting larger calibers, make sure you are at a range with a suitable berm or backstop)
- Targets: Soda cans, matches, small toys, 2 liter bottles, fruits or vegetables
- Eye Protection: make sure these fit the heads of young people and they can see through them.
- Hearing Protection: foam plugs are often a better fit for young people with tiny heads, but must be inserted correctly. If you use over the ear muffs, make sure they seal around the ear and over eye protection.
- Shooting bench or sturdy table to set firearms on.
- Shooting bag or rest.
- Log or stand for targets.
*If you shoot on a public/private range, you might be required to only shoot certain types of targets and unable to bring your own. If you are on your own property, ensure that you choose targets which won’t break into pieces and require a lot of clean-up.