Reaction Time

By Brad Fitzpatrick

ammo and targets sitting on a log outside

I enjoy shooting rimfires whether I’m hunting, punching paper or simply plinking in the backyard. But my favorite targets are reactive ones, and I don’t think there’s a time when I’m at the range with a rimfire pistol or rifle that there isn’t at least one reactive target in my bag.

So, what exactly is a reactive target? Simply put, it’s a target that reacts in some manner when struck by a bullet. In some instances, such as with steel spinners or wobble targets, you’ll simply see the target move and that reaction indicates a hit. Others like balloons or binary reactive targets explode on impact. Regardless of the type you choose, they’ll add lots of fun to your rimfire range time.

Safety First

Any time you handle a firearm safety is your first priority. Treat all guns as if they’re loaded, keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction and your finger off the trigger until ready to fire. And always wear hearing and eye protection. I enjoy shooting steel spinning targets, and I have several at the range to add variety to a day of plinking, but always following manufacturer guidelines when shooting steel. The Champion steel targets I shoot recommend firing from a distance of at least 25 yards with 22 LR ammunition and 100 yards with 22 WMR and 17 HMR ammunition. Shooting closer risks ricochet. And, of course, always be certain of your target and what’s beyond it, and only shoot manufactured targets that are designed for rimfire.

Cheap Thrills

Reactive targets range in price, but they offer a lot of range time for very little money. Balloons make great, inexpensive reactive targets, and that’s the first target that I ever shot as a child. I still like balloons since they’re very cheap (a nickel apiece or less when buying bulk) and they can be blown up to different diameters to make the target harder or easier to hit. New shooters especially enjoy balloons because a bullet strike anywhere on the target results in the same reactive pop. Clay targets are another great, affordable option for shooters, though they don’t offer the same dramatic reaction as a balloon (not always a bad thing—I oftentimes get four or five shots per clay target before it completely breaks apart) they still offer instant feedback.

Metal targets sitting on the ground

Balloons and clay targets are great fun, but my favorite reactive targets have always been wobblers and spinners. I classify “wobblers” as anything that bounces, rolls or flips when shot, such as Champion’s DuraSeal Soup Can (or a soda can, for that matter), and while the cost of these targets is more than you’ll spend on balloons and clay targets, you’ll get many more shots from a single target. Steel targets generally last quite a few shots, and since the price starts at about $20, they’re an excellent value. Champion’s DuraSeal targets are made from self-healing material that can withstand several rounds, and filling the can with water enhances the reaction when shot.

The primary reason to choose reactive targets, though, is they are fun—lots of it. Seeing a balloon pop, a steel plate spin, or a DuraSeal can spew water offers instant positive feedback to the shooter which, in turn, improves your shooting skills. New shooters can handle low-recoil rimfire ammunition, and you can fire 50 or 100 shots a day without punishing your shoulder or wallet.

man looking down the scope of a rifle

Setting Up Your Range

Every range needs a good backstop that is tall and deep enough to stop any bullets. In front of that backstop you can arrange an array of targets: I prefer a couple steel spinners with at least two plates that are small enough to be a challenge at 25 yards and a half-dozen reactive DuraSeal spinner and wobbler targets. I also have a wooden target frame from which I hang balloons, and young and experienced shooters alike love to try to pop all the balloons of one color without striking balloons of another color that are hanging beside them. For about $100 you can set up a backyard rimfire range that offers a lot of challenging shots and will provide hours of fun. For perspective, you might spend close to that on a single steel plate for centerfire firearms.

man and women walking outside carrying metal targets

Ammo Choice

There are lot of great ammo options out there for shooting reactive rimfire targets, but my favorites include CCI’s 45-grain Quiet-22 Semi-Auto, which reduces volume while providing enough oomph to spin steel targets, and Clean-22 Suppressor Pour Packs. The pour packs, which function like the milk carton that came with your elementary school lunch, make it easy to access ammo without spilling it. If you’re shooting steel, then Clean-22 Steel Challenge ammo works perfectly.

No matter what ammunition you choose, you’ll have more fun with a reactive target range. More fun means you’ll shoot more. And the more you shoot, the faster you’ll build your skills.