When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to get my first BB gun. It was Big Time, Big Deal. I remember fondly shooting with my Dad. The target we enjoyed most was an ordinary pocket-sized matchbox (empty, of course) perched on a cardboard box. When the BB smacked it solidly, the matchbox would spin and twirl through the air like it had been hit by a howitzer.

If you want to get kids involved in the fun of shooting air rifles and air pistols, one great way to do it is to use reactive targets. Reactive targets do something when you hit them. They break, fall over, spin, or fly through the air when you clobber them with a BB or a pellet.

There are a number of commercial reactive targets available today, but what kid could resist the thrill of hunting dinosaurs? A trip to my local dollar store yielded 50 plastic dinosaurs in a bag for just a buck. Put them on the ground in front of your safe backstop, make sure markdeveryone wears shooting glasses, and let the hunt begin.

It doesn’t hurt if you jazz up the shooting with a little dramatic narration: “Look out for that tyrannosaurus; I think he’s going to attack!” “Welcome to Jurassic back yard, where only the brave survive.” Or: “You’ve got one shot left, can you stop that triceratops?” Well, you get the idea. If it gets too easy, move back, shoot from cover, or set a time limit.

Perhaps my favorite reactive targets are balloons. You know immediately – Bang! – when you hit one, and they add the element of sound to reactive target shooting. All you need is a cheap bag of balloons and a roll of tape to stick them to your backstop. Even better, you can easily vary the size of the target. If you have a beginning shooter, blow the balloons up really big to make them easy to hit. As he or she grows in shooting skill, you can decrease the size of the balloons to increase the challenge.

And if somebody in the household is a superb marksman, no problem: set up a cluster of balloons tightly around a paper bull’s-eye target. The object then is to put as many pellets in the bull’s-eye as possible without hitting a balloon. The first person to break one loses.

There’s almost no end to the fun you can have with reactive targets. If you don’t have dinosaurs or balloons handy, crackers, cheese puffs or cherry tomatoes will do, and they explode or break in a very satisfactory fashion. A warning though: don’t shoot at tennis balls, hard rubber balls or other resilient spheres – they tend to ricochet pellets and BBs directly back at the shooter.

Finally, some people may ask, “What’s the right age for a child to begin shooting an air rifle or air pistol?”

There are really two parts to the answer. First, the child has to be old enough and sufficiently strong to lift and handle the airgun safely. Second – and most important – they must be old enough to understand that an airgun is not a toy; it’s a real air rifle or air pistol and must always be treated with respect and handled safely.

elliott-jockJock Elliott’s writings have appeared in Precision Shooting, Airgun Illustrated, Addictive Airgunning, GunGames, U.S. Airgun and The Backwoodsman magazines. He is also a regular contributor to SHOT Business and SHOT Daily.

He lives with his family in upstate New York and competes in air rifle field target competitions when he can. When he isn’t writing about airguns or playing a mean banjo, he helps high technology and health care organizations communicate with their critical audiences.