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Why you should stop plinking and start training at the gun range

Everyone likes to practice the things we are good at, but when it comes to firearms training, we need to work to improve our weaknesses


For firearms training, plan your objectives.

Photo/Todd Fletcher

It’s time to go to the range and do a little shooting. You pack up your range bag, check to make sure you have your eye and ear protection, and grab your favorite blaster. After checking to ensure you have the rounds to feed it, off to the range you go. When you get to the range, you get everything set up and loaded, set up your choice of targets, and throw on your eye and ear protection.

Now you have a choice to make:

  • Should you practice the things you are good at or should you train to improve your weaknesses?
  • Are you going to spend time sending rounds downrange for recreation, or are you serious about improving your performance?

Everyone likes to practice the things we do well. It makes us feel good about ourselves. But let’s be honest, we should be working to improve our weaknesses. This is the difference between plinking and training at the shooting range.

Plinking [pling-king]: to shoot at for practice or amusement, as with a rifle

Plinking is what most gun owners and shooters do when they go to the range. It is mostly about entertainment, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Plinking can be a fun family activity that is a pleasant and inexpensive way to spend a day.

People who plink may have a firearm in the home for personal protection, but they are not that interested in concealed carry or formal firearms training. Their skill level may be low, but they still want to get some practice. Plinkers are generally happy hitting a tin can with a .22 rifle or a human silhouette with a handgun at 10-15 yards.

Most gun owners, including hunters, do not shoot many rounds. When they go to the shooting range, 100 rounds seem like a lot. When they decide to get formal training, they are amazed anyone could shoot more than 250 rounds in a day.

Training [trey-ning]: to develop or form the habits, thoughts or behavior by discipline and instruction

The discipline it takes to train means each round has intent and purpose. Each draw from the holster is done with the expectation that your life and the lives of your loved ones depend on it. Training can be very enjoyable, but the primary goal is not recreation or entertainment, it is performance improvement.

For firearms training, plan your objectives. When you arrive at the shooting range, have a game plan for what you are going to do. The intent is to enhance skills and perform to higher standards. You should have the self-control to stay focused on those objectives. This can be challenging when you are working on difficult skills, as it is easy to lose focus and start practicing the techniques at which you already excel.

Training means knowing when it is time to seek professional instruction in order to push your individual limits to get better, faster and more accurate. A second set of eyes helps identify weaknesses and target areas of needed improvement. A quality firearms instructor will give you new ideas on ways to improve your weaknesses when practicing on your own. They can help you self-diagnose and self-correct your mistakes so you can work on improving your skills outside of class. In other words, you don’t know what you don’t know. Instructors can help bring your previously unknown weaknesses to light so that you can work on turning them into strengths.

Firearms instructors also need to seek other professional instructors to help them improve as shooters and instructors. As shooters, we may not be aware of the “gremlins” that can creep into our skill set. Another instructor can improve our shooting skills by observing what we do, how we do it and providing feedback to make us better. As an instructor, if you are looking for a new or different way to present information or design courses of fire, take a class from another instructor. It is a great way to recharge your batteries and get motivated all over again.

I am not saying that shooters should spend all their time and money firearms training. Plinking is not a waste of time. As a child and into my teenage years, plinking exposed me to firearms, shooting and the tremendous responsibilities that go along with gun ownership. If it wasn’t for plinking, I may not be a firearms instructor, competitive shooter or a gun owner today. I am sure this is true for many gun owners and shooters. In fact, we owe it to our children, teenagers and young adults to introduce them to responsible firearms handling and shooting. Plinking is a great way to make this introduction. However, if you want to improve your skills or plan to carry a firearm, you need to get serious about firearms training. We don’t know what we don’t know.

Todd Fletcher is the owner and lead instructor for Combative Firearms Training, LLC providing training for law enforcement firearms instructors from coast to coast. He has over 25 years of training experience as a firearms and defensive tactics instructor. He retired after more than 25 years as a full-time police officer and over 31 years of law enforcement experience.

Todd is a member of the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) and the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA). He is a member of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), and was selected as the 2022 ILEETA Trainer-of-the-Year. He is also a member of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI) and won the 2023 IALEFI Top Gun Award. He can be reached at