By Thomas Conroy
Midwest –-(Ammoland.com)- Like any other sport or hobby, shooting can be done on the cheap, if you want.
And I’ve run across plenty of shooters who take pride in shooting on the cheap, even when they don’t have to.
While cheap plinking is certainly possible, frugality is not always the best policy when it comes to the shooting sports. I have learned, many times over, the truth and wisdom of the old saying “You get what you pay for.”
If you’re serious about shooting, then it is probably better to “cry only once” when you buy, and lay down some long green for really nice things that will make your shooting that much more enjoyable.
So here’s my list of the Top 5 Really Expensive Things that every serious shooter should try to own at least once in a lifetime.
5. Moving Target Systems
I like printing groups on paper with an accurate rifle, but that gets stale after a while. Moving targets can make almost any kind of shooting a lot more fun in a hurry.
For shotgunners, there’s nothing quite like the Crazy Quail ( www.crazyquail.com ) system. It’s a carnival ride for clay target machines that spins and whirls, flinging up to 1,632 clay pigeons at every direction, angle and speed imaginable. The Big Quad, equipped with 4 clay-target machines will cost around $18,000. Sounds pricey, but I know people willing to spend more than that on a used bass boat. I have fished off many bass boats, and shot Crazy Quail once. I know which one I’d rather plunk down 18 Grand for – Crazy Quail! And I don’t consider myself to be much of a shotgun guy, either.
If you’re a rifle or pistol shooter, you can have a moving target for a lot less than the Crazy Quail Big Quad. Action Target’s Portable Runner ( goo.gl/U9VxZJ ) will cost around $1,500 from retailers like Brownells. It can be set up anywhere it’s safe to shoot, and runs on a rechargeable battery system.
For even more flexibility, you can also get remote-control targets that can move in any direction at different speeds, like the Target Tracker ( www.targettracker.net/shop/ ) , available in several models for right around $2,000.
4. Expensive Optics
I’m a rifle guy, and I cannot tell you how much it annoys me to see a good, accurate rifle topped with a nasty cheap scope. It annoys me even more to hear some shooters brag about how they spent $100 to scope their $1,000-dollar rifle.
With optical devices, you really do get what you pay for. And if you enjoy shooting, you need to own some serious glass, on at least one of your guns. One example would be the $3,000 scopes from US Optics ( goo.gl/z6Zi1b ) . For rifle shooters, these babies have every bell and whistle, and can help you reach the absolute maximum ranges.
What? You’re not a spec ops sniper engaging insurgents in the mountains? Even if you’re just shooting paper targets at the range and hunting deer once a season, a high-quality, lower-power scope like a Swarovski Z6I ( goo.gl/JZovC7 ) can really improve the experience.
I used to think that the $300 scope at the department store was just as a good as the fancy-schmancy scopes with prices of at least 4 digits. I realized my error the second I picked up a Swarovski and looked through it. There is simply no comparison in the optical quality and clarity of a high-end scope alongside a bargain basement scope. And that’s not considering durability, toughness, and the repeatability and precision of the click adjustments, either.
The same goes for any other shooting-related optics, like spotting scopes or night vision or even thermal imaging sights ( goo.gl/euFP8R ) that can cost more than $10,000.
If you’re trying to shoot in the dark, or hunt varmints at night, nothing beats having top-notch gear that actually works well.
3. Large Amounts Of High-Quality Ammo
We’ve all either seen it or done it. Somebody saves up for a nice gun, and then ends up shooting the cheapest ammo possible through it. Sure, that imported steel case stuff costs less, goes bang, and functions well enough, but it’s not always the most accurate, and can leave your gun downright filthy after a long shooting session.
And don’t get me started about using those cheapo handloads you bought out of the back of a van at a gun show. That’s a great way to turn your gun into a very expensive pile of scrap metal and wood splinters.
Then there’s the guy who buys only one or two boxes of really good ammo, and shoots only four or five rounds on the rare occasions he actually takes his gun out of the safe, because he thinks the ammunition is just too expensive. That’s no way to improve your shooting skills, much less enjoy owning and shooting a nice firearm.
Ideally, we all should find ways to afford lots really good ammo and shoot it up, frequently. I’ve fired tons of cheap ammo, and slightly smaller amounts of really good ammo. I find good ammo to usually be more than worth the cost. Good ammo is more consistent and made with better-quality components, improving repeatability and precision. Does it sound a little kooky to run your AR-15 with ammo that costs over $1.00 a round, or shoot your .308 with ammo that costs around $2.00 a round, like Winchester ASYM Precision Ammunition ( goo.gl/FHrJWg ) ? How much do you like hitting targets and having your gun run reliabliy and smoothly at the range? How about at a shooting match?
And when it comes to hunting ammo, you really do need to get more-expensive, high-quality ammo made for hunting, and practice frequently with it. You owe it to the game you hunt to have the skill to make ethical shots, and to use good ammo that will quickly and efficiently put the animals down.
2. Truly Custom Guns
If you are into guns at all, and find any sort of pleasure or fun in target shooting, competition shooting or just backyard plinking, you owe it to yourself at some point to own a custom gun.
Because there are so many types of guns, and so many types of shooting, here’s how I’ll define “custom gun” in this case.
For this article, a custom gun is one built to your personal specifications, with the accessories and upgrades you want to help you perform better at your favorite type of shooting. Maybe that custom gun is a $20,000 Perazzi Shotgun with the length of pull and cast set just for you? Or is it a $6,000 contemporary Pennsylvania flintlock crafted by a known artisan? Or maybe it’s a $5,000 handbuilt 1911?
And I want to be clear. I’m not talking about guns that are merely expensive. If you really want, you can drop close to a cool million on a rifle from VO Vapen. And I don’t mean rare, museum-grade collector pieces either, like an original Colt Walker or one of the .45 ACP Lugers from the U.S. Army tests of 1907.
The gun I’m talking about is not supposed to be the Mother of All Safe Queens, and won’t be displayed under glass that’s surrounded by state of the art security systems. The gun I’m talking about may cost quite a bit, but it is built and designed to be shot, a lot, by you, at whatever type of shooting you like best. The gun I’m talking about is going to be fired, and most certainly will get some scratches and dings on it.
My personal favorite custom gun is a professionally-accurized Remington 700 that cost me more than $2,000 about 16 years ago, and would probably cost me around twice that if I bought it brand new today. I have taken that rifle to shooting classes, and competed in matches with it. I’ve spent hours upon hours shooting long-range targets, both by myself and with buddies.
Over the years, that rifle has brought me way more than $2,000 worth of fun and enjoyment, and is still running strong.
That’s what I mean by a custom gun – one that you will shoot and shoot and enjoy for years, perhaps a lifetime. And getting that much enjoyment over a lifetime of shooting is easily worth a few thousand dollars.
1. Land To Shoot On
This is, by far, the most expensive thing on the list. More and more urbanites are getting into shooting, and owning their own piece of rural land that’s safe to shoot on may seem like a dream. But if you can ever make that dream happen, it can provide freedom and fun beyond anything you may experience at a formal, commercial range or organized gun club.
Before I moved to my present home, I used to live on about 30 very rural acres in a gun-friendly state. In one spot, I made a berm out of old tires completely covered with several feet of rock-free river bottom soil I had trucked in. That became my pistol and short rifle range, where I could back up to about 50 yards. On another section, I had a large hill that served as a natural backstop for my 200-yard rifle range. And so long as I kept my shots pointed to the west, I could shoot aerial shotgun targets pretty much anywhere on the property.
Whenever I wanted to shoot, I just grabbed a gun, ammo, and eye and ear protection, and sauntered out the door. If I wanted to test a new batch of handloads, the range was only 45 seconds away at a slow walk.
I was very safe on all my ranges, and insisted that anyone else who shot with me also followed all the standard safety rules.
But so long as we practiced safe gun handling, we were free, totally free to shoot whatever and however we wanted.
We shot cans of shaving cream and cheap two-liter sodas by the cart load. We secured an axe to a log and tried to split soft lead bullets on the edge. We tried to light strike-anywhere matches with .22s. One year, I gathered up about 20 leftover Halloween pumpkins and invited a bunch of friends over for the Great Pumpkin Massacre.
I was so free on my own personal ranges that I hated going to official gun clubs or commercial ranges that had all sorts of rules about approved targets and ammo, set shooting positions and prohibitions against “rapid fire” shooting. Now that I live inside city limits, I really miss the freedom of my personal backyard range.
Land is expensive, and a big commitment, and you need to do your homework before you buy a piece of property to shoot on. Are the people in that area accepting of backyard target practice? What are the laws regarding shooting in that locale? Can you actually shoot safely on the property without endangering anyone else? Do you plan to live on the property, or just use it as a range, and maybe a hunting area? These are all questions that must be answered before you get your own place to shoot on.
But if you find that perfect piece of land to shoot on, you’ll have a place to put your moving target system, get the most out of your high-quality optics, and burn all the really good ammo you want through your favorite custom gun.
Your own little slice of ballistic heaven on earth.
Thomas Conroy is a firearms aficionado and writer who lives in the Midwest.